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