Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fast Times at the Auto Museum

You've probably noticed that we haven't posted anything on the blog for awhile. We've been quite busy at the museum the past few months, with many visitors and lots of projects. The glorious summer weather has allowed us to get many of the museum cars out for some exercise, so Brad, Willy, and the pit crew have been very busy rotating cars through the shop and taking them for drives.

The guys also finished up structural restoration of the old Fageol Safety Coach, which we transported to the the entrance of Denali National Park a few weeks ago. It is presently on display at the McKinley Chalet Resort. You can read about its rescue and preservation here and here.

Our latest acquisition is a circa 1928 Edwards Pioneer Road Grader. John Hoegberg discovered the pull-type grader frozen in the tundra while mushing his dog team near Central in 1998. He used his Belgian draft horses to pull the grader to smooth out his mile-long driveway each spring. Sadly, John died suddenly last winter and we purchased this rare grader from his estate in May. We plan to spruce it up a bit and display it outside the museum.

Our historian, Nancy DeWitt, recently finished up another book for the museum. Titled Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers, this books brings Alaska's colorful automotive history to life in a charming collection of stories and more than 75 rare photographs. We expect the books to arrive in mid-September. If you would like to be notified when they do, please let us know.

Speaking of books, we've got another one in the works. This one is on our historic fashion collection and will feature a few hundred photographs of our most loved dresses and accessories. We have been working with Greg Martin Photography to capture high-quality images of the garments, and visitors have enjoyed watching the photo shoots. We will have the books designed and printed this winter. Again, if you would like to be notified when they arrive, let us know.

Next month, we will bid good-bye to Nancy when she and her husband move to Boise, Idaho. She will be working on our fashion book and perhaps a few other projects from afar, so she isn't done with us yet. If you're lucky, you might catch her at the museum over the next few weeks, overseeing the clothing shoots or going for a few last rides in some museum cars.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Curved Dash Oldsmobiles in the Far North

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Try as I might, I have found no evidence that a Curved Dash Oldsmobile like the one in our museum was ever in Alaska in the early 1900s. It appears, however, that at least two made it to the Yukon. 

I recently came across a photo in the Yukon Archives labeled, “Dr. Paré and Fitz Horrigan driving the first automobile in Whitehorse, a 1903 Oldsmobile.” The date in the background is June 29 1904. Doctor Louis Alphonse Paré had joined the Northwest Mounted Police in 1887 and was assigned to treat members of the NWMP in the Yukon in 1898. He handled many cases of typhoid and scurvy, and amputated more than a few frozen limbs. Fitz Horrigan was a NWMP Inspector. The CDO they rode in had probably been shipped to Skagway, Alaska, and then transported over the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Whitehorse.

At least three different automobiles have been credited as being “the first” in Dawson City, located more than 300 miles north of Whitehorse. The actual first ones appear to be two, 12-passenger surreys of unknown make that arrived in 1901. Two references I found, however, state that an Oldsmobile was Dawson’s first motorcar. According to the March 19, 1904 issue of The Automobile, “The first automobile to reach Dawson City, Alaska, was a regular stock Oldsmobile without special equipment. Ferdinand de Journal of San Francisco drove the little car over the rough trail. He had great difficulty obtaining fuel, gasoline costing about $10 a gallon, which, however, is not such an appalling figure when it is considered that it costs about $15 a day to feed a horse on the same journey.”

I assume this was a different CDO than Dr. Paré’s, and I seriously doubt that de Journal drove the automobile to Dawson. A Locomobile driven by George Potter in 1912 is well documented as being the first to finally conquer the trail between Whitehorse and Dawson. More than likely de Journal shipped his CDO down the Yukon River to Dawson from Whitehorse, or up the Yukon River from St. Michael on the west coast of Alaska.

An article published in the New York Times on December 15, 1907, also referred to an Oldsmobile runabout—most likely de Journal’s—as being the first in Dawson City two years prior. Sadly, it did not fare well in the far north. “After a somewhat checkered career it met its fate one day at a narrow turn of the road, when a big six-horse stage, going in the opposite direction, appeared around the bend. There was only room for one vehicle. The road was bounded by a steep cliff on one side and an embankment of the other. The little auto ran out as far as it could toward the bank, the two occupants climbed down the declivity, while one of the leaders on the stage, frightened at the noise of the engine tried to turn around. The veteran driver swung his long whip over the mettlesome horse, and as the team straightened out in a lively gallop, one of the heavy wheels of the mountain stage hit the little motor car square in the centre, crunching it as easily as a stack of cards.”

It is always rewarding to discover articles about the first automobiles in the Far North (even if the story has an unhappy ending), and more so to find photos to match. Most of the first autos shipped to Alaska and the Yukon were big touring cars, so I was surprised to learn about these CDOs. It sure must have been easier to push one through the mud than a big Pope-Toledo or Thomas Flyer!

Are you 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, April 15, 2015

A Minneapolis Tri-Car in Alaska

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

While searching for information about the first motorcycles in Alaska, I came across an interesting ad in Juneau's Alaska Daily Dispatch newspaper. Dated June 20, 1912, the ad was for a "Minneapolis Tri-Car Delivery Van." Its dealer, William Merchant, was the agent for Pierce and Indian motorcycles. He was also the agent for Ford, Overland, and Garford automobiles.

The Minneapolis Motorcycle Company advertised the Tri-Car as "a throughly reliable, dependable and guaranteed car," not "a motorcycle equipped with a makeshift van.” But, it was essentially a three-wheeled, 5 hp single-cylinder motorcycle with a storage box mounted between the two front wheels. Joe Michaelson designed the Minneapolis motorcycle engine, and he and brothers Jack, Walter, and Anton developed its sister motorcycle, the Michaelson.

Walter is credited with designing the Michaelson Tri-Car, as it was more commonly known. An excellent description of its engine, transmission, and starter can be found here. It was advertised as being cheaper, lighter, and easier to maintain than an automobile or horse-and-wagon.

It appears that Juneau resident Harry Raymond bought the “one-lunger” Tri-Car, which was well known for its noisy cough. “When it started up the street the sourdoughs took to the hills for the noise it emitted was like nothing ever heard before in Alaska,” according to one reporter. “Mothers used to scare their children by even mentioning the ‘terrible monster’.”

The Tri-Car’s next owner used it to deliver ice, “and with age its explosive qualities in the matter of sound only increased.” It must have been quite a spectacle in Juneau!

The Tri-Car will be featured in the museum's soon-to-be-published book, "Extreme Motoring: Alaska's First Automobiles and Their Dauntless Drivers."

Are you 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, April 1, 2015

In the Shop: Fageol Safety Coach Update

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

We're slowly making progress on stabilizing the Fageol Safety Coach that once carried passengers into Mt. McKinley National Park. We have it in the carpentry shop at the Fountainhead Development corporate office in south Fairbanks, rather than at our shop in the museum. Below are some comparison photos taken on January 7 and March 29.

Brad recently drilled out all the corroded screws from the multiple door pieces and window frames. Pete has been busy building a new floor and a framework to support the sides and top. He is a MASTER at woodworking, and it's been impressive to watch his progress.

Most of the sheet metal was in good enough shape to reuse, which is remarkable considering that the coach was parked outside unprotected for many decades. With the exception of the wood and a new top, most of the the bus will remain original. 

We have finish trim parts on order and the top material is en route, so we are pretty much on schedule to have the coach to display at the McKinley Chalet Resort this summer. 

Many thanks to Pete for his great work!

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, March 25, 2015

A "Fat Man" Steering Wheel

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

One of the things I noticed when I first climbed into the driver's seat of an antique car was that I didn't need to move the seat so I could reach the pedals. That was a good thing, since the seats in early cars weren't adjustable. It was not a good thing if you were tall, which in the early 1900s seemed to be anything over 5'8" or so. The steering columns and wheels were also fixed in place. Until collapsable steering columns became available in the late 1960s, drivers were at risk of being impaled on the column in a crash.

The rigid steering wheel also posed problems, not just for people "of goodly proportions," but really for anyone entering or exiting the driver's seat because of the wheel's large size. Steering wheels designed to solve the latter issue became a popular aftermarket option in the 1910s. Nicknamed "fat man wheels," they could be rotated out of the way by pressing on a lever. Depending on the manufacturer, the wheel either tilted up or to the right. To read about some examples, check out this article from Hemmings Motor News.

We recently received a donation of a Spencer fat man wheel, which Willy is demonstrating here. In the early 1920s, the Spencer Lock Tilting Steering Wheel was made to fit on Ford, Dodge, Overland, Maxwell, Star, Gray, and Chevrolet cars. The "spiders" (spokes) were "attractively designed die cast aluminum, highly polished."

The Spencer steering wheel also featured a lock and key. When locked, the steering wheel spun but would not turn the car's wheels. It could be locked when the wheel was in either the down or tilted positions. The Spencer Manufacturing Company boasted that this theft-prevention feature would pay for the steering wheel by reducing an owner's insurance rate. Printed in the wheel's center is the slogan "It Locks. It Tilts." We hope to put this wheel on display 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. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On the Road for a Bus and a Buick

by Willy Vinton
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I recently took a quick trip to the Las Vegas area to scope out a few vehicles. After grabbing a rental car at the Vegas airport I headed for Sun City, Arizona, to check out this 1931 Buick Series 90 roadster.

You can see that it's a very nice car. I looked it over thoroughly and took it for a drive around the area. The detail throughout looks correct and very nicely done, and the car would be a nice addition to anyone's collection. We decided it wasn't a perfect fit for our museum, so watch for it to show up in a future auction.

While in Sun City, I had the opportunity to meet a few other collectors and see their toys. I had a good time, but my trip was too rushed. This area has a lot of other automotive treasures that I would like to see when I have more time in the future. Maybe then my camera battery will not fail me, like the darn thing did on this trip.

One of the main reasons for my trip was to check out the collection from Jim Rogers' Sunbelt Classic and Antique Auto Museum being sold by Mecum Auctions. I had never heard of Jim Rogers and his collection of more than 230 cars. His museum in Las Vegas was not open to the general public, but he did allow events to be held there.

The collection's 1926 REO Speedwagon bus was of interest to us, as we would love to transport visitors around Wedgewood Resort in a neat old bus or coach during the summer. The REO was a nice, older restoration that had deteriorated over the last 25 years or so. Much of the exterior had suffered from the dry climate, which caused the wood to crack and delaminate. The bus would require major wood work and a new paint job to make it presentable for a few more years.

It doesn't appear the bus windows were made of safety glass, so that's something else we would have had to replace to make it a passenger vehicle.

The engine compartment looked very tired, as if nothing had run for a least 25 years. The water pump was about half made up of JB Weld to seal the corrosion of the housing and tubing. I had no way to know if anything worked, or when the engine had last run. None of the cars at the auction were started, only parked with photos displayed on a screen. The REO sold for more than twice what I thought it was worth for its condition, and hopefully its new owner will give it the TLC it needs. Someday we will find the right bus for our use.

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, March 11, 2015

On the Road: LeMay - America's Car Museum

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

A few weeks ago I wrote about my recent visit to the LeMay Family Collection in Tacoma, Washington. From there I traveled to its sister museum next to the Tacoma Dome: the LeMay- America's Car Museum (ACM). The two museums are very different but have one major thing in common. That is, a LOT of vehicles to see.

Many of the cars at the ACM are from Harold LeMay's estate. Others are from private collections. The building itself is huge (165,000 square feet) and there are four floors to cover. The upstairs gallery is very spacious, presently featuring a display of Ford F-Series trucks and some beautiful antiques and classics from Harold LeMay's collection. From there I followed a ramp lined with an interesting exhibit on Custom Coachwork down to the first lower level. Each of the lower floors features autos parked in rows (in no discernible order), exhibits, and interactive rooms such as a children's play area, slot car track, and racing simulators.

The cars in the centers of the lower floors had some real jewels hidden in the rows. Because they were parked nose out in between pillars, I couldn't get good photos of them. Some lacked signs or just had a laminated identification label that was hard to read if the light was reflecting off it. A few had more informative signs. As someone who writes the signs for our museum, I can't imagine the work involved to do so for 350 vehicles, but do hope they can eventually display more information about the vehicles. Fortunately, the ACM has a lot of helpful docents on hand to answer questions, just as did the LeMay Family Collection.

Each of the two ramps between the floors was lined with informative exhibits, including British Invasion, Route 66, and Alternate Propulsion. The latter included steam and electric cars (like the 1912 Standard Open Tourer "Electrique" at right), plus a solar-powered racer. I'm just surprised the Flintstones car wasn't parked in this section!

1994 Barris Custom "Flintmobile"
One could easily spend all day at the ACM reading the exhibits, studying the vehicles, and taking a break to play, or eat in the cafe. It was a bit of overload for me to try to take in both it at the LeMay Family Collection in one day. Regardless, I recommend that you do see both museums if you visit the Seattle-Tacoma area, not just the ACM. Each offers a completely different visitor experience. I loved the history of the Marymount facility that houses the LeMay Family Collection, and wandering through the buildings there was like I was on a fun, barn-find expedition through Harold LeMay's estate. The vast upper level of the ACM building made me feel as if I was in a very fancy, oversized showroom. As Eric LeMay said to me, it's like comparing a Nordstrom store to Sears. Both would make good anchor stores in a mall. One is all shiny and upscale, while the other is less formal but just as fun.

Be prepared to pay $5 to park at the ACM and a fee to try out a racing simulator or the slot cars. They offer admission discounts for AAA members and State Farm policy holders.

1906 Cadillac Model M Tulip Tourer

1930 Duesenberg Model J Convertible

Slot Car Track

1907 Pierce Great Arrow

1921 Stutz Model B Fire Engine
1960 Nash Metropolitan
1899 Baldwin Steamer

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The First "Station Wagons"

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

As U.S. cities became linked by railroads in the early 1900s, trains became the primary conveyance for overland, long-distance transportation. Hotels and resorts that sprung up along the routes to serve rail travelers used horse-drawn wagons to carry customers and their luggage to and from the railroad depots. These were known as hackneys, or depot hacks.

Automobiles soon replaced wagons at the hotels, starting with surrey-type rigs like the Rapid shown above. Later, hotel owners purchased a chassis from a manufacturer such as Buick or Ford, and had a custom hack body made by a coachbuilder.

The term “station wagon” developed after depots started being referred to as railroad stations around 1910. The Ford Model T was perfect for converting into a station wagon (among other things). It was called a hack if the rear seats were forward-facing, and a jitney if the benches faced each other.

The museum's depot hack was built by Dick Figge of Ohio, who took a standard, 1911 Model T chassis and a Model A crankshaft and built a C-cab body from birch and cherry wood. The C-cab term derives from the unique shape of the cab and roof.

While neither the paint color or hack body are original to our car, it is very eye catching. It draws a lot of attention when we take it to parades, shows, and events like the Golden Days kick-off. Willy was once pulled over while driving the depot hack through downtown Fairbanks. Apparently the policeman just wanted to know what Willy was driving, and if he could take his photo with it. We certainly weren't speeding!

The body on our 1917 Ford Model T Snow Flyer is also a hack, this one made from ash. This Sunday, March 8, we will be giving rides in the Snow Flyer to kids starting at 12:30 p.m. Please drop by!

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

Reference: Evolution of the woodie station wagon at

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the Road: LeMay Family Collection

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I recently traveled to Seattle, Washington, for a vacation and decided to spend a day visiting the two LeMay museums in Tacoma. I started off at the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount, which is less well known than the newer and flashier LeMay – America’s Car Museum next to the Tacoma Dome.

Harold LeMay made his fortune hauling garbage, and it’s clear that he loved to spend his money on old cars and trucks. It doesn't appear that there was a particular theme to his collecting--if it was an old vehicle, he wanted it! That is reflected at Marymount. The numerous cars seem to be arranged rather randomly, and many lack signs or much information about them. Still, it is incredible collection to see, and this history of the Marymount facility is as interesting as the cars. I really enjoyed my visit.

The original buildings were all part of the Marymount Military Academy run by the Sisters of St. Dominica from 1923-1975. Eric LeMay, one of Harold’s grandsons, gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the former housing complex, chapel, visiting priest’s quarters, and miscellaneous collections that aren't open to the public (though the chapel and some rooms are rented out for events). The cars are displayed and stored in the old gymnasium, auditorium, swimming pool, indoor rifle range, shower room, and several newer storage buildings. Expect a surprise each time you round a corner into another room.

I had been told I would see warehouses filled with cars, many fork lifted onto shelves, and parked so tightly that it was hard to fully appreciate them. The cars were indeed packed into the warehouses, but it was still fun to cruise the rows of trucks and automobiles looking for favorites. It's amazing how many marques and styles you will find. There is more elbow room in the main Red Building, and the gymnasium is quite spacious. I had to chuckle at the cars parked up in the bleachers!

You won't learn a lot about automobile history at this museum by reading signs, but they have excellent docents to fill in the blanks. And you will be blown away with the sheer number and variety of cars and how their styles changed over time. There are some very nice and rare vintage vehicles in the collection--Harold LeMay had a good eye and his vehicles here are very well preserved. I especially loved seeing trucks that I had never heard of before, and how could I not love the stiletto art car? Sweet Tucker, too. There's something for everyone here, including some interesting memorabilia and even a few vintage fashions.

Do go if you get the chance. And stay tuned for a post about the LeMay - America's Car Museum.