Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Studebaker. Who are these guys?

Interesting family story! The Studebaker family immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1736. John Studebaker married his wife -- don't remember her name -- and had 13 children; only ten lived to adulthood. John, a blacksmith, was too kind and quick to accept credit. For this reason, the family was always in debt and John moved the family west multiple times in order to start fresh.

In 1852, Clem and Henry Studebaker opened their own blacksmith shop and began producing wagons. They were later joined by their three brothers, John, Peter, and Jacob. By the Civil War, they were selling wagons to the U.S. Army and eventually they became the largest wagon manufacturer in the world! Their company motto was their father's motto: "Always give more than you promise."

In 1902, the Studebaker Brothers produced their first electric cars.

In fact, J.H. Studebaker was quoted:
"(Gasoline-powered vehicles) are clumsy, dangerous, noisy brutes which stink to high heaven, break down at the worst possible moment and are a public nuissance."

Only a couple years later, the company went on to produce those clumsy gasoline-powered vehicles. In 1954, Studebaker merged with Packard Motor Car Company -- beautiful cars! The Studebaker Company was around until 1966. You may have heard of the Avanti?

Although the Studebaker Collection is not as expansive as the ACD Museum, they have done a great job with signage and displays. The collection ranges from the early horse and buggy days (they even have the buggy Lincoln rode to the Ford Theater on that fateful night).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

South Bend, Indiana

After a fun dinner with the Dutch, I decided to stay in South Bend instead of continuing with the group to Omaha. I said goodbye Thursday morning at the Super 8 and met up with family in the area. I wish the group a wonderful journey to San Franciso. What fun!

For more information about the Alice Ramsey Centennial, visit Emily's blog: http://www.aliceramsey.org

If you are interested in my travels, stay here...Bass Lake/ Pentwater, MI and Chicago are next. Anyone have suggestions for Chicago?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What a duesy!

Hey. That's the ACD Museum slogan. Get this: in 1930, the chassis (undercarriage) of a Duesenberg cost $8500. Keep in mind, the average annual American income was under $1000 at this time. With the body, you were looking at $13,500. Talk about big bucks.

Where have all the Maxwell's gone?

There were two Maxwell break downs today. If you are researching road trip cars, you might cross Maxwell off the list.

First the radiator went out in Howard Joiner's replacement Maxwell -- you remember his 1910 had engine trouble yesterday and had to return, so be brought out another. This problem occurred less than 20 miles outside Napoleon. Poo.

Next, Emily heard more knocking in the 1909 Maxwell and pulled over immediately. Seems like a trend, doesn't it? The crew pushed the car in Tim and Barb's trailer and were able to make the Lincoln Highway Celebration in South Bend. Sally, Emily, and Christie gave talks about Alice Ramsey's and their own experiences thus far and the Maxwell was on display. Unfortunately, the Dutchmen and I missed the event as were still swimming around in the rain.

The photo above was taken at the ACD Museum. You see the problem part of the Maxwell engine. Actually, the problem is with the front rod, but you get the idea, right?

Tim, Barb, and Rich have reloaded the Maxwell and are on their way to a shop 30 miles from here. I'm unsure of the status of Howard's Maxwell. I'll keep you posted.

My turn to drive the Spyker

This photo was taken outside the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in, you guessed it -- AUBURN! The engine is on, I am in the driver's seat, but I can assure you -- the car didn't move. Today was absolutely fantastic -- borrowing a word from Stijnus -- for the Spyker and its riders (this becomes important later). We left around 8:30am, stopped for coffee with Tim and Barb at a gas station, where we decided to take a small detour to the ACD Museum. We were happy we did. The displays are awesome. The car collection is magnificent, the lighting is sharp, the original building is lovely, and the signage is well-written, concise, and fun! Did you know a Michigan automobile manufacturer called Checker Motors produced the original Checker Cabs? And they were fancy! We met Sally's son, Sam, and his family at the museum and were bummed that Sally hadn't made it -- not because she didn't want to. We also slipped next door to visit the American Truck Museum. Interesting, but not as impressive as ACD. I did see a short film on a semi truck (without trailer) that drove over 225mph before blowing a tire. That was impressive.

After leaving the museums, we headed west and stopped at a diner for a quick lunch. Shortly after we left, the rain came. Stijnus pulled into a tractor yard/ graveyard and we had self guided tour of rows and rows of late models. No one came out of the shop to greet us, so we drove in. Good timing too. The rain poured down. We took our photos posing on large tractors and dried out a bit. Will and Jan put the hood up on the Spyker, but there is no windshield or side windows!
The next couple hours were very wet. We made it into South Bend, but couldn't find out accommodations, the Super 8 (more 8 than super say the Dutch). After asking 4 locals for directions, driving to Michigan, and two phone calls to the hotel, we finally made it. Warm showers for all, a swim in the mini pool, and off to dinner. First restaurant was a bust -- no beer -- so our taxi driver drove us to Gippel's (?).
I forgot to tell you yesterday, Jan told me he sells "pot plants." Language can be very fun! Potted plants is what he meant :-)
Ah, another funny story. People frequently ask where these men are from (their accent gives them away). A frequent answer is Iceland, but yesterday Stijnus mixed it up and said Georgia. "No way," replied the girl, "they have a different accent."
"You've never been there then, have you?" Stijnus replied. End of story.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Snook's Museum #2

Snook's Museum

The Spyker outside Snook's Dream Cars Museum. Even the bathrooms were great -- I have a photo. Please write if you would like to see it.

A day with the Dutchmen in the Spyker

We left Mario's Spa (wonderful place, by the way) at 8:15am. Jan and I shared the plush backseat and watched Stijnus' head burn from the intense sun (good news: he picked up a Ducks Unlimited hat shortly thereafter). We were traveling with Howard Joiner, his daughter, Jenny, and friends Bobby and Joe. Howard has a 1910 Maxwell Model E, which looks similar to the 1909 Model Alice drove, but has a better oiling system. A ways down the road, Howard's Maxwell made some horrible sounds and started spitting out parts via the side of the engine. I'm not sure what the problem is at this point, but it's not looking good...I'll keep you posted.

We stopped at Snook's Dream Cars Museum (http://snooksdreamcars.com/) in Bowling Green and enjoyed watermelon and refreshments. The outside of the building looks like an old-time Texaco. The showroom shined with cars ranging from a 1931 Ford Model A Pick-up to a 1968 Alexis Ford (RACE CAR)! My favorite may have been the 1936 Auburn.

Next stop -- Proteam, the world's largest Corvette dealer. YIKES. At first look, you'd think they had 20 cars for sale. A nice man, who eagerly confessed to having over 200 traffic violations, gave us a tour of the three buildings behind the main showroom. Talk about Corvettes -- I found one I would like to own (see photo -- Stijnus and Will are inspecting the quality).

Hunting for food this evening produced Blimpie and Taco Bell. Don't come to Napoleon in search of good eats.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mechanical Trouble with the 1909 Maxwell DA

Touring with old cars can be a lesson in mechanics; things are bound to break. Below are some of the problems our mechanics have encountered with the Maxwell:

Problem #1: The right rear brake (as there are only two brakes in the Maxwell, they are both rear) was being -- accidentally -- oiled by differential.

Discovery: Tim found that the car's rear end had been assembled with sealed bearings encased in grease. This means you don’t have to oil or grease them on a regular basis, right? When the mechanics assembled them, they thought “sealed” meant the grease could not escape from the bearing, when in fact; they needed another seal to contain the grease.

Combat: The mechanics used felt (3/8” thick) to make a donut, which they slid over the axle. This slowed the oil from dripping onto the brakes. In addition, Tim drilled a small hole in the rear end housing between the inner axle bearing and outer axle bearing. Instead of leaking onto the brakes now, the oil leaks onto the road. Safety first.

Tim mentioned this problem would not have surfaced had the Maxwell been a parade or show car. When it comes to touring hundreds of miles, oil leaks become more important.

Problem #2: Broken spring shackle. The weld broke on top of the u-bolt.

Background: When the rod went out (more about this problem later), Tim performed some routine maintenance including tightening up the axle bolts. During the procedure, a bolt mysteriously broke in his hand. At this point, he realized the items manufactured specifically for this car were surface welded, as opposed to welded all the way through. There are 8 of these springs on the car -- and 16 potential spots -- where the welding could have snapped.

Solution: As to not chase the problem across the country, the mechanics decided to remove all of the spring shackles and have the welding ground down and re-welded with a deep, penetrating weld.

Again Tim mentioned the difference between touring and show cars. The weld looked nice and would have functioned properly in a low-use situation. When it came to high miles and bumpy roads, however, the weld did not hold up.

Problem #3: Lost a rod. Emily heard a knocking in the engine and stopped 30 miles before Cobleskill.

Background: This was a twofold problem:
1. The design of the Maxwell -- poor oil circulation design?
2. Too conservative on the amount of oil they ran through the drip system.

Originally, the mechanics set a target of 1 drop per second. Figuring this was too little, Tim increased it to 3 drips per 2 seconds. As it turns out, it should have dripped much more considering the upstate NY hills.

Solution: New babbitt (mixture of tin and lead) had to be poured. I hear Ziggy from Albany is the only babbitt maker in the state of NY.

Problem 4: Lost rod a second time at Steve Bono's near Bauckville.

More to come! For now, we are up and running in Auburn, OH. Successful, 200 mile day!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

REO Speedwagon

The pretty red car to the right is a REO, built by Ransom Eli Olds. Olds was the man to who manufactured the first Oldsmobile in 1901. The Oldsmobile was the first car to go mainstream and became the best selling car in America at that time. Circa 1904, Olds became unhappy with the company and split. He named his new company REO after his initials. REO Speedwagon named their band after a car! Who knew?

Steve Davis informed me that REOs manufactured trucks until relatively recently. Do you have one?

Wheels in Buffalo

The group has reunited in Buffalo -- with the Maxwell! Yesterday morning, we visited the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, but the car had to stay behind for repairs. Rich drove as far as Albany (3 hours one way) to have another replacement babbitt bearing made. In the end, they found a leaky oil tube leading from the pump to the front cylinders. That tube has been replaced and the oil seems to be flowing.

We were well received in Buffalo. In fact, a group of car guys affiliated with the Pierce-Arrow Museum gave us a ride around the baseball field in their cars. Photos to come.

Today we will take the Maxwell to visit Niagara Falls. We've reunited with the Stryker!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Waterloo, NY

The day started off great. Emily, Christie, Sally and I climbed into the Maxwell and drove through the rolling hills of upstate New York. The scenery was spectacular. Though super loud and windy, I really enjoyed being in the backseat and waved at everyone we passed. The group stopped in Bouckville for a lovely catered lunch and met several members of the Model T Club.

Do you know why Henry Ford offered car paint color options at the beginning and end of the production of the Model T, but stuck to black for the middle years?

Why was it not uncommon to see an early Model T driving backwards up a hill?

With older cars, things happen. We've made it as far as Waterloo, but the Maxwell is 70ish miles south. It seems to be the same problem we ran into before: the front bearings are not getting oil. Therefore, the bearings (which are special Babbitt bearings) are being pulverized/ mutilated -- especially the front bearing as we drive up the hills. A good group of mechanics is working on the Maxwell tonight and will continue in the morning. I hear Ziggy from Albany will be casting another bearing for the car.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The car is FIXED

And we are off in the morning. The group has had tremendous support from the local car club in Cobleskill. Thank you to everyone, especially Cliff, Ron, Tim and Rich -- the mechanics.

Public Humiliation in Cobleskill

Waiting patiently for the Secret Caverns tour to begin. Had we any other choice?

Secret Caverns

Margaret (Emily's mom, lodging coordinator, and much more) gave four of us a ride to the caverns. We had originally set off to find Howe's Caverns, but were persuaded by a great Trip Advisor review and absolutely tacky signage (see photo) to continue down the road to the Secret Caverns. Plus, we wanted to know the secret. Todd was painting when we arrived, but convinced us to wander outside and participate in some public humiliation (see photo in next posting) while he cleaned up and prepared for the tour. We descended a steep, wet staircase into the cave (130 ft down!) Tour guide Todd, also a member of a death metal band, told us the story behind the founding of the caves -- a farmer lost a couple cows to its depths -- and led us to the spectacular 100 ft waterfall at the end of our 1/8th mile walk. Supposedly, Todd used to drink the water and encourage his guests to do the same until one day a patron told him how filthy cave water is! Interestingly, the temperature in the cave remains a steady 52 degrees F year-round.
Todd ended up giving us a ride back to the Super 8 -- well halfway, anyway. Christie and I ran the rest. Best tour guide ever!

Broken down in Cobleskill

Welp, looks like we get to spend a day in lovely Cobleskill. The good news: there are some good looking caverns down the road. The bad news? The car is a bit more broken than orginally expected. Tim and Rich are out and about trying to locate parts and welding services to get the Maxwell back in good shape. We'll be off to Seneca Falls tomorrow morning. I'll keep you posted on the exciting happenings of Cobleskill.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Spyker

Two fine men from somewhere near Rotterdam, Netherlands are joining us for the first two weeks. The Spyker is owned by Stijnus, who completed the Peking to Paris trip in 2005 and again in 2007. His nephew, Jan, is along for the ride.
The photo to the right does not do the car justice. I'll try for a better one tomorrow.
Update: Not knowing how their car would hold up in the days to come, the Spyker left this morning for Seneca Falls. We will meet up with them in Buffalo, NY. I missed my tiny window of opportunity for a better shot. Don't worry.
PS. Like most Dutch I have met, Stijnus has a sense of humor. Jerry Chase, a board memeber of of the Horseless Carriage Club of America, and his wife, Joyce, joined Stijnus and Jan in the Spyker yesterday. Seated in the back, they wore clear ponchos to shield from the pelting rain. Stijnus commented -- 'You look like two giant condoms.'
Update 2: Stijnus and Jan are cousins. Lost in translation. After referring to each other as "my nephew" for the past few days, I can finally set the record straight: they are cousins. I was wondering how it was possible that your uncle was also your nephew...

Arrival in Cobleskill, NY

Last night, I woke up to thunder, lightning, and pouring rain at 3am. This morning, as I took the ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan, I hoped the weather would clear up. No such luck. Akin to Alice's experience in 1909, it stormed for our departure from 1930 Broadway in New York. We waved good bye to our send off group and left promptly at 9am. Isabelle and Peter Ramsey, and their son, Andrew, joined us for the day. Peter is the grandson of Alice Ramsey and was very close to her. He imparted some of Alice's driving advice: look at the tires. The tires tell you where the car is going. Not the windshield, not the person, but the tires. Ah, and those are the tires on the car of the vehicle approaching you -- not your own. Haha.

We pulled into Tarrytown and the original site of the Maxwell-Briscoe factory around 10:45am. Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1997 and all that remains are cement foundations. During the drive, a clasp snapped on the underside of the Maxwell and Rich (leader of the drive and owner of the Maxwell) used this stop to hunt down a welding shop. The rest of us went gathering for lunch. We met up with some friendly enthusiasts from the local car club and many of the cars joined us!
Next stop was Vassar College, where Alice went to college, although she did not graduate. We had an extremely warm welcome, including a reception with lemonade and brownies. I love brownies.
A clanking in the engine led us to stop in Durham around 8pm this evening. The Maxwell needs some repairs and the mechanics are hard at work as I type. I hear a part will be ready by morning and we should be able to continue as planned -- though a bit later.

The Car Club of Cobleskill made us a fine picnic dinner. I was so hungry from sitting all day that I ate a hot dog for the first time in YEARS!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

New York here I come!

Tomorrow morning, I'll take the train to New York City where I'll join the others for the start of the road trip. Hey -- did you know they didn't have maps in 1909? In fact, there weren't road signs either. The Blue Book was printed to help travelers make their way across the states.
In her journal, Alice Ramsey notes a particular incident when the 1908 Blue Book read “Drive 11.6 miles and take a right at the yellow house.” Though she paid close attention to the odometer, Alice could not find the yellow house. Turns out, the gentleman who owned the (once yellow) house decided it needed new paint. Knowing his house had been cited as a landmark in the Blue Book, he decided to paint it green. He said something like, "Now watch what them car drivers do."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alice's Maxwell Car Specs

Alice picked up her 1909 Maxwell on May 12, 1909. The sticker price was $1500, but it was loaned from Maxwell for the journey. Below are some of the Maxwell specs:

  • 4 Cylinders
  • 30 Horsepower
  • The originally 14 gallon tank was swapped for a 20 gallon tank. It resided under the front seat. As the car did not have a fuel gauge, to test fuel level, one had to lift the front seat cushion and dip a stick (similar to a yard stick, I imagine). Awfully convenient, right?
  • Weight: 2100 lbs
  • Two spare tires were affixed to the driver’s side door, which was on the right side of the car. With the two tires, the door was inoperable, meaning the driver had to exit through the passenger door.
  • Two sets of brakes on rear wheels – one external contracting and the other internal expanding.
  • Oil lamps (which had to be covered when it rained, and boy did it rain!)
  • Top speed of 42 mph
  • A steel metal pan underneath protected the motor from road damage. These have been eliminated in today’s cars.
  • Tires had a canvas foundation and the surface was extremely smooth making traction through mud impossible. Chains were required during much of Alice’s drive. Not only were the chains tough on the tires themselves, but also on the passengers. Bumpy! Weed was the most popular brand of chains back then. Do they still exist?

More on Alice

Alice was only 22 when she climbed aboard the Maxwell bound for San Francisco. She left her husband, John Ramsey, a well-known lawyer 23 years her elder, and 2-year-old son, John, in Hackensack, NJ (15 miles from NYC). John Ramsey was not a car enthusiast, but he did introduce Alice to cars. After she expressed an interest in owning her own horse, John bought Alice a 1908 Maxwell. Alice entered the Montauk Run where she was introduced to Maxwell Sales Manager, Carl Kelsey. Mr. Kelsey was impressed with her driving skills and suggested the cross-country drive as a publicity gimmick for Maxwell. And so began her journey.

Surprisingly enough, John seemed to support Alice's long drives as he continued to purchase new cars for her. After the original cross-country trip, Alice completed the trip another 30 times.

How did you get involved in the re-creation of this drive?

To be thorough, I will start in Alaska:

Last fall (2008), Fountainhead Development poured an enormous cement slab adjacent to the Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary and Wedgewood Resort. Over the past 9 months, that slab has evolved into the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, which opened its doors June 1st. The Museum is home to an impressive automobile collection – 66 cars ranging from the late 1800’s to 1938, with 50 on display at any given time -- a vintage fashion display, and over 50 large-scale photographs (you don’t need glasses for these ones!) showcasing automobiles in early Alaska.

It was in the name of this Museum that I attended the Puyallup Swap Meet in February of this year. Here, I chatted with car buffs, ate greasy food, perused people's bizarre collections, and met Bob Junell who mentioned he had some graphic design work for me. Needless to say, Bob introduced me to the Alice Ramsey Centennial Drive and even recommended I fill a vacant seat in the 1909 Maxwell.

Who was Alice Ramsey?

Don't worry. I hadn't heard of her either. Alice Ramsey was the first woman to drive an automobile coast to coast. In 1909, nine days after the “Ocean to Ocean” group set off on the race from New York to Seattle, Alice and her posse – two sisters in law, and a young friend -- left 1930 Broadway in New York City for San Francisco.

You may have heard of the great “Ocean to Ocean” race. Six cars competed -- all driven by men -- and two of the cars were Ford Model Ts. Four of the cars made it across the nation and the winner was a Model T! The car and its crew completed the journey in 23 days.

Unlike the “Ocean to Ocean” drive, Alice’s drive was not a race. To Alice, it proved that a woman was perfectly capable of driving from coast to coast without assistance from a man. For Maxwell-Briscoe, it was an ingenious publicity stunt. In 1909, the population of the United States was 80 million, yet only 155,000 Americans owned cars. Surprisingly, there were 290 automobile manufacturers. The manufacturers needed to convince the American public that cars were better than horses. What better way?