Museum staff deal in living antiques

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Museum Owner Timothy Cerny (left) tells journalism students how the car in the background was once owned by film star, Wallace Reid, who had previously covered the hood in nickel. After being restored by museum staff, Cerny said this car went on to win awards in car shows. Adam Tanner/ Sun Star Photo credit: Adam Tanner

The Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks not only collects and displays automobiles, it restores them to their former functionality and luster.

“We’re actually a living museum,” said Willy Vinton, museum manager. “So all but three cars in this building right now run right and get driven. And two of those we could drive—we choose not to—and one that we cannot drive.”

Students shifted quietly around the automobiles displayed. On the hardwood floor pristine cars glisten under the lights in shades of green, orange, cream and red. The sleek shine of the paint contradicts the style of the bodies, which would look out of place puttering down the road today.

“Actually the paint is better than original because this car would’ve originally been painted probably with a brush and the paints that they had had at the time were not as durable or as bright,” said Timothy Cerny, president of Fountainhead Development and museum owner. “They were layers of lacquer and they tended to crack, some you know, would peel and this is modern automotive paint that will withstand literally decades looking in this condition providing nobody does anything to damage it.”

As it is, the cars look new. Hoods are propped open, showing the functional engines that have been repaired and fitted back into the car body. The refurbished cars in the collection rest adjacent to rusted counterparts, automobiles from the early 1900s that have yet to be restored.

“In many cases, you know, we generally try to preserve as much of it as possible,” Cerny said. “Where you’ll generally find rot is around the bottom of the doors so we may have replaced the wood and metal on the bottom of the doors.”

There is a visual timeline throughout the museum floor: in photographs and in fabric. Surrounding the cars decorating the museum’s interior are mannequins, clothed in period appropriate attire; the velvet gowns and beaded dresses displayed outside of glass cases are replicas of original clothing housed in a different room, inaccessible to the casual visitor.

“We wanted everyone who walks in that door to find something that interests them and the clothing is very connected to the vehicles,” Cerny said, his voice mingling with the light, jazzy music echoing throughout the building. Cerny, who says he came to Alaska in 1979 following college, has several businesses, ranging from hotel ownership to building generators that can survive in the Arctic. The antique cars, however, are more than a business.

“It’s a passion,” Cerny said. “This is not a for profit venture and would not be a for profit venture outside either.”

The museum receives visitors from across the globe. Cerny said last winter, six people flew up from Brazil, stayed at the museum until it closed and flew back to Brazil. The museum currently offers audio tours in Chinese, Japanese and German, but are working on Spanish translations, according to Cerny.

From the rusted wooden cars closest to the entrance to the hot rods gleaming near beaded gowns in the back, the museum showcases a history of America’s auto-manufacturing progress.

“So far in America we’ve had over 2,600 auto manufacturers fail and so the oldest car you’ll see in here is 1898,” Vinton said, “and one of the challenges I always give people is there’s absolutely nothing in the modern cars today that you can’t find the origins of in this building.”

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