Special Correspondent Juno Kim got a tour of the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks last month. It’s owned by the folks who operate the Wedgewood Resort. In fact, it’s right next door. This is her report. –Scott
Let’s travel back to the early 19th century in America. Think of American engineering and innovation. Automobiles started running on the streets. People traveled miles to look and take a photo with the new invention. It cost as much as a house or more at that time. There were as many carmakers back then as there are social media channels now. And of course, think of the hats and functioning yet enchanting dresses.
That’s the feeling you get at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. To be honest, it’s not the first thing visitors think to find in Interior Alaska. But here we are. It’s one of the most popular places in Fairbanks but I didn’t think much of it before I stepped into this place. This museum is so much more than just automobiles, which I thought it was. It’s a museum for the history of automobiles, a collection of antique clothes, also the automobile history in Alaska.
The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is on the grounds of the Wedgewood Resort. All of the suites have fully-equipped kitchens, full-sized fridges, spacious living rooms and separate bedrooms. Take advantage of special springtime savings starting April 21. Savings also are available at Sophie Station Suites…which is closer to the airport.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum is a labor of love and passion for the owner and the managers. We met Willy, Vinton the manager of the museum, working on a few different antique vehicles in his garage next to the exhibit hall (including the Brush model, pictured, above). He represents the soul and spirits of this museum. He lives and breathes antique cars. He talks about the cars with such affection and with deep knowledge. I really didn’t know that there were this many carmakers in the US back in the day. Now we know a few names, Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, and so on. But there were names that I’ve never heard of but made beautiful and innovative cars. The range of the car collection begins in 1898 with Hay Motor Vehicle and continues up to our 1936 Packard 1408 series dual windshield Phaeton. Many other rare automobiles are included, like the only 1906 Compound, a 1920 Argonne, and a 1921 Heine-Velox Victoria. All the cars were so much more stylish than what we have now. What went wrong? I wondered.
The most amazing thing about this museum is that most of these antique cars still run! All but three of the museum’s cars are operable and many get driven on a regular basis as weather permits. Yes, the cars are not just sitting pretty collecting dust. Willy works on the cars regularly and those cars are out and about. Hard to believe, right? You can see video footage of the cars running behind the museum. .
I have to share my favorite automobile in the museum: 1926 Fordson Snowmotor. It looks and sounds like what it does. Look at the “wheels”! Wouldn’t you want to see one of these machines roaming around the streets of Alaska on a heavy snow day? Look at the recent videos to see this amazing machinery running in the snow!
Don’t forget the dresses! I was more into clothing than automobiles as they were equally fascinating and representing the era. “Driving dresses”, hats, accessories, and party dresses were set with the cars in the same period. The 1920s fashion is still talked about, and you can imagine why. Like in a movie; a couple in a beautiful car with an open-top, woman’s scarf and fringes of the dress floating back as the car runs. Some of the dresses were patterned with automobiles.
There is one more highlight that I want to point out, the very first car in Alaska hand-built by Bobby Sheldon. Young Robert “Bobby” Sheldon built Alaska’s first automobile in 1905 to “dazzle a young lady in Skagway, Alaska.” Although he had never seen an automobile before, Bobby Sheldon assembled buggy wheels, a marine engine, some tin and two bar stools into a functional runabout that could travel 15 miles per hour. He wasn’t entirely successful with his endeavor but he did leave us with this legacy.
You won’t believe what you’ll find in Fairbanks, Alaska. That’s why it’s important to explore with an open mind. I didn’t expect to find a perfect 1920s style hat in Fairbanks but I did, at the automobile museum. Make sure to put Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum on your list!
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