Thursday, October 30, 2014

Meet Our New Mechanic

We're pleased to announce that Brad Dietrich has joined our museum staff. He comes to us after 40 years of work as an automobile mechanic. While his career has had him fixing everything from Rolls-Royces to Subarus, he says that nothing has had him as excited as the opportunity to work on the amazing collections of classics that the museum has collected.
Working on the Model T engine for our replica race car

When not working on cars, you'll find Brad working on his small produce farm here in Fairbanks (Bender Mountain Farm--they have the most amazing potatoes!), or cruising local rivers and trails via boat and snowmachine. There's a good chance, though, that working at the museum will bring an addictive new hobby to his antique car!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hershey Annual Swap Meet 2014

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

When I arrived in Hershey, PA this year for the annual swap meet I was greeted by rather decent weather. It didn't rain until Saturday morning, and then not too much, so it was much better than 2013 when we almost got washed away. It appeared that visitor numbers were down, but they were spending money and the vendors seemed busy.
This early original, single-cylinder Cadillac was a great looking survivor, and I would have brought it home if owner was selling. It was one of those cars that reached out and called my name, saying, "I would fit into Fairbanks just fine!" The owners were driving the car/pickup around the meet and it appeared to run smoothly like a Cadillac should.

This was a first for me, as I had never seen a Model T converted to a 4x4 like this. It was a very crude but clever job, and looks like it would have worked fine. It really makes you appreciate how these old cars got modified and used.
If you have never made it to the Hershey fall swap meet, you should go just to see what all is there. It always amazes me to see some of the things that show up at a swap meet for old CAR parts. I never thought I would see a pronghorn mount or a bear rug for sale there, but there they both were. I didn't bother to stop and ask what he wanted for them.
It is rather hard to imagine a scene like this--a nice warm day, and not having to elbow your way thru the aisles between the rows of vendors. Granted, this photo was taken early in the morning, but it is normally much busier than what I encountered. I think the rain last year must have scared some folks away.

I didn't find a lot of the parts we needed, as most are rather rare items. I did, however, find this and thought, "Wow, this would be perfect for the wife!" Then either common sense or fear made me rethink that idea.

There are always treasure collections that you can't walk by, just in case the part you need is nestled in one of the piles. And no, I did not buy the full antelope mount standing near the trailer.

So, another Hershey meet has passed, and I'm already planning to go to the 2015 meet.  I know our parts will be there!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our Kelsey Motorette Has Arrived!

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Our first three-wheeled car, a 1911 Kelsey Motorette, arrived last week after a freshening and new paint job by Murray Motor Car in Monroe, WA. This tricar has two wheels in front and a single driving wheel in the rear. “One more than a motorcycle, one less than an automobile," boasted its inventor, "with the low cost and light weight advantages of the former, the comfort and reliability of the latter.”

After a brief association with the Eisenhuth Vehicle Company selling Compound automobiles, Cadwaller “Carl” Washburn Kelsey became the sales manager for Maxwell-Briscoe autos and soon built up the most powerful sales organization in the industry. A master of publicity stunts, it was Kelsey who convinced Alice Ramsey to drive across the continent in a Maxwell in 1909. After a falling out with Ben Briscoe later that year, he formed the C.W. Kelsey Manufacturing Company. 

The first Motorettes were introduced in September of 1910. The prototypes had a tendency to roll while cornering, so an anti-sway bar was added to counteract this problem. This stabilizer rod was mounted crossways in the front and connected to the ends of the axle. This forced both front springs to work up and down together and kept the car frame parallel to the road surface. The single rear wheel connected to the chassis by a pair of flat leaf springs, which further improved stability. Kelsey claimed that because the Motorette was always on a three-point suspension, a bumpy road could never twist or throw out of alignment any part of the car.

Kelsey Motorettes were initially powered by a 7 HP 2-stroke, 2-cylinder opposed engine that was air-cooled. In 1911, Kelsey switched to water-cooled engines and boosted the horsepower to 10. The first models carried a gas tank behind the seat, while later ones, like ours, carried a radiator there. Top speed was around 25 mph, and fuel efficiency was 30 mpg.

Kelsey’s intent with the Motorette was to offer a high-quality pleasure vehicle at a price within reach of the average man. At $385, it was well below the price of the Model T, which cost $900 in 1910 and $680 in 1911. In addition to reducing costs by having one less wheel to buy tires for, the tricar design eliminated the need for a rear axle and differential. Advertisements proclaimed the car’s simplicity (“a healthy girl of ten can crank it”) as well as the quality of materials used in its construction. In yet another publicity stunt, Kelsey had two men drive a Motorette from New York to San Francisco in the winter of 1911. The feat proved that the Motorette’s reliability, strength, and durability were the equal of big, expensive cars.

Just over 200 Kelsey Motorettes were produced from 1910 to 1912, including several that were adapted as motorized rickshaws, with the driver sitting behind the passengers. In 1913 C.W. Kelsey announced plans to build 300 electric Motorette rickshaws for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, but this never came to fruition.  Only a handful are Kelsey Motorettes are known to survive. We hope you will come see ours!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Archival Photos and Provenance of Our Compound Automobile

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

As the historian for our museum, it doesn't get much better when a piece of history is found for one of our automobiles. Or, in this case, some vintage photographs.

Awhile back, Albert Nippert sent us the negatives of some photos of our 1906 Compound Model 7 1/2 light touring car. The photos were taken in 1940, and show the car "as purchased" by Nippert's friend Walter Levino, owner of the Levino Auto Shop in Peerskill, New York. It was complete and in good, unrestored condition.

Levino was this Compound's third owner. Its original owner was John Unser, the chief engineer and supervisor of the EHV Co. (manufacturer of the Compound). Unser quit driving it in 1912, and in 1934 sold it at auction for $17 to Howard S. Hall. Hall displayed the Compound in the the showroom of his father's Nash and Dodge dealership in Carthage, New York. It was there where Levino, a Pine Camp soldier, discovered it. He was able to buy it from Hall's widow in 1940.

Courtesy of David Bishop
Levino held onto the Compound until 1951, and then sold it to Henry Austin Clark, owner of the Long Island Auto Museum in New York. Clark described it as "one of the cleanest original cars" he had ever seen and claimed that he "ran it as is." The registration states the car was green in color, as shown at right.

In 1964 William Harrah purchased the Compound at an auction of Clark's autos. While in the Harrah's Automobile Collection in Nevada, the car received one of their no-expense-spared, Gold Star restorations beginning in late 1964. It was painted gray and upholstered with burgundy seats. Bill Harrah is shown at right (seated next to the driver) after its restoration. My notes show that General William Lyons of California was the Compound's next owner, but I have been unable to confirm this.

Photo at Magee Museum in 1993
 courtesy of David Bishop
The Compound traveled back to the eastern U.S. after being acquired by Bill and Doug Magee. The Magees had a collection of pre-1915, Connecticut-made automobiles and a small museum at their Meadowview Farm in Middlefield, CT. They installed a new top and side curtains, painted the wheels, added gray Michelin tires, and totally rebuilt the Compound's motor. They took it on a VMMCA 1 & 2-cylinder tour in the mid-90s in Barstow, KY, but it broke down.

Carl Schmitt of Walla Walla, Washington bought the Compound at an auction of Magee automobiles in 1998. We purchased the car from Carl Schmitt's estate in 2008, and are very happy to have this unique car in our collection. We are also delighted to have such a detailed history of its ownership, and thank Albert Nippert and David Bishop for sharing their photos with us.

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

2014 Museums Alaska / Alaska Historical Society Joint Annual Conference

by Derik Price
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Last week I attended the 2014 Museums Alaska / Alaska Historical Society Joint Annual Conference, held this year in Seward, Alaska.  I can’t believe it’s been four years since I attended the 2010 Conference when it was last held in Fairbanks.  There were about 3 dozen presentations (some concurrent) over the four day event, spread out around the historic downtown Seward area.  All the speakers and events I attended were first rate, and I really can’t say enough about the quality of the presenters both Associations lined up for the event.  We were all treated to some really great speakers and, surprisingly, really great weather as well.

The events were held in at least four separate buildings in downtown Seward.  All close together and an easy walk.  It turned out to be nice to visit numerous places.  Some, any visitor might have on their list, like the Alaska Sea Life Center  -  A seriously great experience right here in Alaska.  To the Qutekcak Native Tribe office for some background and information about the traditions of numerous regional Alaska Native Peoples and tribes.  The Seward Community Library and Museum hosted a number of seminars as well, and when you catch their building in the sun it’s nothing short of ‘illuminating’.  It’s covered in iridescent shingles which change color in the sun - reminiscent of Beetle Elytra. 

The very first presentation I attended was a pre-conference Workshop entitled Gallery Exhibits for Community Spaces – co-hosted by Jeanne Brako, Curator, Center of Southwest Studies, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO, and Jack Townes, Exhibition Designer, Skycraft Designs, Estacada, OR.   The duo showed numerous low cost and high quality techniques for designing exhibits, as well as construction techniques for more elaborate, yet still affordable, displays.  As part of a hands on demonstration the attendees separated into teams to fabricate differing kinds of displays.  Our little team built a Mannequin out of Either Foam, batting, a pillow case and some 'Flexible Form' to display a Haori.  

I also attended a number of sessions on incorporating Social Media into your Museum or exhibit.  Typically you think of doing a blog or having a Facebook page principally to promote your business and get people interested in visiting your location.  But Social Media can also be used as an important research tool.   In the session ‘Social Media 3.0’ the two presenters Maite Agopian and Theresa Bakker, both from the UA Museum of the North detailed the development of the Blog used to in association with their Exhibit - Denali Legacy: 100 Years On The Mountain.  Without spoiling your reading of the story, you come to find out is that the Blog itself helped develop a significant portion of the history (and locate artifacts) behind the historic event.

The Joint Conference was well attended, with a wonderful variety of subjects and venues, all supported by well organized speakers and study materials.  I can't say enough about the terrific effort these two organizations, along with countless volunteers and local businesses, put into the activities.  And last, but certainly not least, the Resurrection Bay Historical Society as the Host.  I'd like to thank them all for putting together such a great event!  

Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain - used with permission of the University of Alaska Museum of the North. 

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Automobile History: Recommended Reading

by Derik Price
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of our museum's goals is to educate and inform visitors about early American automotive history and development. Some of the truly fascinating aspects of this early period are the stories behind the famous (and infamous) people who made it all happen. We have several exhibits inside the museum showcasing a few of these individuals, but unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough space to give visitors an in-depth understanding of these early pioneers. However, during our research we have read dozens of books on the subject, and so I thought I would provide a list of some of our favorites. An Amazon link to each is included.

Pioneers, Engineers, and Scoundrels: The Dawn of the Automobile in America (paperback). This book is an exhaustive study, and yet, one of the most entertaining and thorough books about the people behind America's early automotive history. This should come as no surprise, as the author was one of the foremost researchers of early American automotive history, Beverly R. Kimes. She and Henry Austin Clark, Jr. coauthored THE encyclopedia on the subject - Standard Catalog of American Cars (paperback).

Next up is a terrific background book about the history of early electric vehicles. I found it quite interesting, and a pretty fast read. Surprisingly, it isn’t overly technical and as a bonus, it is available cheap on Kindle: The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History (kindle). I enjoyed this one as it details early issues surrounding the (chicken-and-egg) problems of charging stations, range anxiety, battery swapping, and all the other modern day discussions we are having surrounding electric vehicles, except 100 years ago!  

We also enjoy entertaining books about fun and interesting people. One of our favorites in this category is Bud & Me: The True Adventures of the Abernathy Boys (kindle), a wonderful story of two brothers (5 and 9 years old) who, in 1910, drove their Brush runabout from New York to Oklahoma, by themselves! The book details many rich and colorful family stories of the boys' travels, from near-harrowing breakdowns to meeting the President of the United States. The book is just plain entertaining and heartfelt from beginning to end, and is available in our museum's gift shop.

Another favorite is Alice’s Drive (paperback), a book about the first woman to drive across the country, in 1909.  In addition, there is a wonderful children's version of this story: Alice Ramsey’s Grand Adventure (kindle).  This is a great little story to read to a child, or give them as a gift.

Speaking of kids books, I have a 7-year-old, and I’ve read my daughter a couple hundred books by now--many of them, over and over and over.  One book in particular I always read to her when we visit the car museum is Tin Lizzie (paperback) by Peter Spier. It’s a wonderful story that you will simply never get tired of reading to your child, and they will be interested in the story from 3 years old (due to the wonderful artwork) all the way up to early adulthood.  

And I just can’t help but give honorable mention to another terrific kids' book, Rattletrap Car Big Book (paperback).  This is a physically BIG BOOK as the title suggests, so it is especially fun to read to a group of (younger) kids. They can all see the pictures, and it has reoccurring parts that kids can join in saying out loud. It’s a little expensive, but the entertainment value is just plain huge and worthy of your (child’s) collection.  

I hope this list helps you out with some Christmas gift ideas and a few worthwhile books to add to your winter reading list. But more importantly, reading (and giving) books like Tin Lizzie, Alice Ramsey's Grand Adventure, and Bud & Me to children will give them a glimpse into America's early automotive pioneers and adventurers. And, just maybe, you'll inspire some to look into this huge part of American history, which isn't taught in schools. However, the lessons of overcoming adversity, pioneering spirit, imagination, engineering curiosity, and so on, are valuable and simply timeless.  

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying right here at Wedgewood Resort. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!