Monday, June 30, 2014

Owen Magnetic Update

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

In the fall of 2012 we sent our 1917 Owen Magnetic Model M-25 touring car south to Murray Motor Car in Monroe, Washington, for some work. The Owen Magnetic was one of the most unusual and technologically advanced cars of its time, and was essentially an ancestor to today’s hybrid cars. It was most notable for its attempt to defeat the problem of shifting gears by means of an electromagnetic transmission designed by Justus B. Entz.

The Owen Magnetic’s drive mechanism had no direct connection between the internal-combustion engine (A) and the rear wheels. Instead, the engine powered a generator attached to the rear of the engine's crankshaft and caused a horseshoe-shaped magnet (B) to spin. This imparted energy to a steel armature (C) fitted into the air space inside the whirling magnet, causing it to spin via magnetic imbalance. This in turn induced current in the armature (E) of a conventional electric motor (D), which provided the energy to turn the drive shaft and propel the engine's rear wheels.

This continuously variable transmission produced an unlimited number of forward speeds, leading to the Owen Magnetic being marketed as “The Car of a Thousand Speeds.” The transmission, which also served as an electric starter, regenerative brake, and battery charger, was controlled by a small lever on the steering wheel. Speed was regulated by a separate lever.

The Owen Magnetic was one of the most expensive U.S. automobiles produced at a time when the average car cost about $1,000 and a Ford Model T cost less than $400. Its exceptionally smooth, quiet ride and beautiful coachwork by Baker, Rauch & Lang appealed to wealthy clientele, especially those who had trouble shifting. Celebrities, including Italian opera star Enrico Caruso, were drawn to the elegance and smooth operation of this “aristocrat of motor cars."
What color should we paint the wheels?

The top of the block on our Owen Magnetic was cracked into the water jacket, so we sent the car back in the truck that delivered our Biddle and McFarlan. We figured while it was in Al and Paul Murray's hands we'd have them repair some body cracks and repaint the car a dark gray. By the time they are finished it will be in show condition, and we plan to display it at the Pacific Northwest Concours at the LeMay Museum before sending it back north.

Of the 974 Owen Magnetics built from 1915 to 1921, only about a dozen are known to survive. We acquired this one from J. Parker Wickham.

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, June 25, 2014

Midnight Sun Cruise-In Was a Wet One

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Fairbanks is experiencing one of the rainiest Junes on record, but we managed to pull off most of the Midnight Sun Cruise-In events in between showers. Friday actually started out hot and sunny, which gave Willy and the crew a window to try to get the Stanley steamer running (to no avail).

Fred and Judy Keller from Wasilla showed up in their Radio Flyer wagon car that afternoon, and Fred graciously gave me a ride around downtown Fairbanks. That car definitely turns heads and makes people smile!

We officially kicked off the weekend on Friday evening with a cruise to the Salmon Bake. Despite a hard rain that afternoon, the clouds were clearing as the cars gathered. In fact, the weather looked so promising that Wilma Vinton put the top down on her '68 Mercury Parklane convertible before departing. A good decision, as the sun stayed out the rest of the evening.

Alas, we awoke to a cloudy sky Saturday morning and only had two hours of show time before the rain arrived. Just over 90 cars were entered in the show, with a good contingent from points south including Anchorage, Homer, Glenallen, Eagle River, Willow, Seldovia, Cantwell and Wasilla. Oh, and North Pole. I often forget that North Pole is south of Fairbanks!
The morning was certainly made more lively by Bruce Campbell's 1914 Model T calliope car, Kelley Rivers' juggling show from his 1973 VW "clown car," Kayla Rivers' unicycling and juggling skills, and Bub Larson's hay wagon. You can see more photos from the show here.

We had a good turnout of spectators, although many did their spectating from their cars once the rain started. We had to cancel the steam and electric car demonstrations, but the Fairbanks-Morse engine demo and the valve cover car distance contest went on as planned. Congratulations to Jim Brand, who "Red Ram" car (right) smoked the competition with a run of 124'.

To our surprise, the rain quit just as the hardiest drivers headed out for the Tour de Fairbanks. The evening ended with a banquet inside the museum that included the awards presentation and a slide show by Al Murray on forty years of car restoration.

Congratulations to the following People's Choice Award winners:

Pre-War Ford: Dale & Ingrid Dryden, 1931 Model A taxi
Hot Rod/Modified: Chuck Ice, 1923 T-bucket roadster
Muscle: Travis Lunney, 1973 Chevy Camaro
Vintage: K.B. Bettisworth, 1949 Buick Super
Baby Boomer Classic: Rod & Birgit Benson, 1958 Chevy Corvette
Millennial Classic: Paul Carlson, 1976 Toyota Landcruiser
Miscellaneous: Fred & Judy Keller, Radio Flyer wagon car

Many thanks to all who came to the show (especially our out-of-town guests!), the Vernon L. Nash Antique Auto Club, everyone who volunteered, and Seekins Ford for sponsoring the People's Choice Awards.

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!

Monday, June 16, 2014

In the Shop: 1907 White Steam Car

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We recently had another interesting work session with our big White Steamer.  In 2012, we attempted to fire it up for the first time. We'd been told by numerous steam car enthusiasts that Ryan Thurber was the guy we needed, so we flew him up from California to educate us on the fine points of our car. Ryan has a long history of White steam car experience, and a great working knowledge of its systems.  On his first trip here we hand fired our car, built up the pressure and temperature, and ran the engine. But, the "newly rebuilt" flow motor would not operate. We spent a full day working with it, but discovered that the cylinder was machined out of round--even 125 lbs of air pressure would not move it!

Ryan returned home and I searched for a replacement flow motor. Two weeks ago Ryan and his son Christian again spent a few days with us working on the car, fitting the new rebuilt flow motor secured from Evan Price. We hand fired the car, but had trouble getting the pilot light to burn clean. When we fired the boiler with the flow motor, it backfired (I guess we don't need arm hair anyway). This caused us some concern so we built a set up that allowed us to fire up the pilot light remote from the car. This revealed the problem--the pilot housing had been rebuilt in a way that it would not burn properly, and would not direct the fuel flow to heat like it should.

Ryan took the pilot light back home with him, and with the help of a couple of great steam car guys he will get one rebuilt and tested, and then return this fall to see if we can bring this great car back to life. It's been a long process, but we will win!

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!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Built Like a Mack AB Flatbed Truck

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Back in 2009 we purchased three vehicles at auction from the LeMay Collection in Washington state. The 1905 Advance steam traction engine and a 1918 Duplex flatbed truck have been on display outside the museum for some time, but the 1917 Mack AB flatbed truck was put into storage.

Recently, we moved the Mack into our carpentry shop to get it ready for display. It won't be a driver, but will make a nice addition to our outdoor exhibits. The AB, introduced in 1914 as a replacement for the Mack Junior, was Mack's first standardized, high-volume model series. It was offered in 1-, 1 1/2- and 2-ton forms. Over 51,600 ABs were produced between 1914 and 1936.

The AB was powered by a 30-HP, 4-cylinder engine with pair-cast cylinders. It originally came with a three-speed transmission and had a worm-driven rear axle; in 1915 chain drive was offered as an alternative. Top speed was around 15 MPH.

John William Frame Photograph Collection P228-64;
Alaska State Library
Unbeknownst to us when we purchased this truck, Mack ABs played an important role in developing Alaska's Richardson Highway. As you can see in the photo at right, though, it wasn't easy! In 1905, the Alaska Road Commission (ARC) was created to oversee improvements to pack trails, mainly the Valdez-Eagle wagon trail (and soon after a spur trail to Fairbanks). Although the ARC declared in 1914 that it made "no pretense of having built roads adapted for automobile travel," motorized traffic began taking over the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail in the late teens. During that time the ARC expended great effort into widening the Trail, bridging small streams with culverts and larger ones with wooden structures, and laying down corduroy over permafrost sections. Their workhorse was the Mack AB truck, and the John William Frame Collection in the archives of the Alaska State Library has a great series of photos of the ARC's Mack ABs taken in 1919.

Except for their soft tops and dump beds, the ARC trucks look identical to ours. Once again, we have a great old vehicle to help us tell the story of Alaska's automotive history! Watch for the Mack to be put on display later this summer.

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!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Busy Anniversary Week

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

June 1 was the 5-year anniversary for our museum's official opening. It seems like only yesterday when we opened our doors for the first time! We had a very busy week leading up to this milestone. Visitor traffic has really picked up now that the cruise tour groups are hitting Fairbanks, although we are seeing a lot of independent travelers, too. No matter where they're from, they can't resist putting on some old-timey clothes and getting in our 1911 Everitt for a photo.

Last week Willy stayed busy leading tours in the museum while helping me put some finishing touches on our newest exhibit: Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers. We have organized an impressive collection of original Alaska cars and several others identical to the first ones to arrive in Fairbanks. Exhibit panels tell the stories of our early motorists and their adventures and inventions. These are also vividly displayed in our large collection of historic photographs, including many newly discovered ones, displayed throughout the museum.

Another fun feature in our Alaska exhibit are four videos compiled from the film archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. You can see modified snow vehicles in action, watch cars traveling down the old Richardson Highway and crossing the Tanana River on the old cable ferry, and see a variety of early cars motoring around several Alaska towns and Mt. McKinley National Park. We really hope you will come to the museum and see the Extreme Motoring exhibit this summer.

Last week we sent another book off to the designer, this time a coloring book that will appeal to children and adults alike. It's a "Ride Along with Bobby Sheldon" coloring book that highlights his inventions and adventures, and it is whimsically illustrated by Fairbanks artist Sandy Jamieson. Hopefully we will have the books ready to sell by late July.

As if this wasn't enough to fill our week, we had a booth at the annual Vernon L. Nash Antique Auto Club car show at the Carlson Center over the weekend. Many thanks to volunteer Ron Dane for driving our 1911 Ford Model T depot hack to the show, and to volunteer Rod Benson for helping man the booth. It was a fun event and there were a lot of great-looking cars at the show. We'll post photos over on our Facebook page later this week (you don't need a Facebook account to view our page).

Many thank to all of you who made our first five years such a success. Now on to the next five!

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!