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. 

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