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.