Reconstruction: The Protos
We need to have the Protos appear as it did in New York City on February
The chassis for the Protos started in July 2006. We were very fortunate to have actual drawings and schematics in a 1:10 scale from the Siemens Archives in Munich, the company that ended up buying into the Protos firm in the fall of 1908. During our research and filming trip to Munich in February 2006, we were able to obtain very clear photos of the actual Protos as it looked when it entered Paris. The cooperation of the Deutches Museum, the Siemens Archive, and Herr von Siemens have greatly aided in the construction of an authentic replica for the film.
Phase 1: Chassis. The challenge was to build a chassis that exactly replicated the original Protos. With the aid of high quality drawings, new photos, and archival photos, the build team at Wadson's has been able to manufacture many of the old parts through CNC machines. For example, the rear spring mounts were set off from the chassis as opposed to a modern spring system; as a resuslt, they had to be built from scratch. As well, the front axle had a definite curve to it as did the front chasis cross member on which the radiator sat. In the pictures you can see the CNC version which will replace the one in behind.
Another challenge has been giving the car a correct right-hand drive with a shaft that would appear original.
For safety and ease of operation, the brake system is a GM disc brake system on a Ford spindle and bolt pattern. The rear brakes are drum based. The next stages will see the chassis completed with steering, brakes, front axles/springs ... and then on to the metal work for the hood and fenders. The firewall and the toebraces are now roughed in.
The motor is simply a small 4 cyclinder carburated truck engine and transmission. It will never be seen in the movie but will be detailed and spruced up.
The brass work has just been purchased from Stan Reynolds' Sales in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Some modifications will need to be done to the headlamps, but in general they are in excellent condition.
The Coach Building: The fabrication of a frame is one thing; the construction of the superstructure and coach building is something else. While we had very good schematics on the chassis, there was very little information on how exactly the Protos was constructed since it was a one-off car built solely for the Race.
With Jeff Howe of Howscenics and Marty Shostak of Shelmar Construction as the leads, hours were spent pouring over photos of the Protos in order to come up with an authentic design. And then the work began.
Ivan Siemens and his team are meticulously recreating the Protos, as it appeared when it arrived in New York in February 1908. Made from plank wood, even the seats are hand-made to replicate the original design.
We know that the Protos was radically changed in Vladiovstock; one of the challenges, therefore, was to create a Protos that could then be easily reworked into the version that sped across Siberia, Asia, and Europe.
The canvas and hoops were another challenge, as very few pictures of the Protos’s trek across America exist. But we have found just enough to ensure historical accuracy.
When the coachwork is completed, it will go back to Wadson’s for final metal work, painting, and detailing. Ray Fowler will be in charge of the final lettering and prop detailing on the cars. He was one of the drivers in the 1985 Great Race Challenge that saw the original Thomas from the Harrah Collection once again speed across America.
Wheels: The wheels and rims have been one of the largest problems to solve as they need to be wooden artillery style spokes but the hub needs to fit to a modern disc/drum system. The answer with the help of Dale Anderson in Prince Albert Saskatchewan, Wayne Wadson, and the machinists at Stamco Fabricating in Edmonton. An elegant solution, we’ll post pictures as soon as the prototype arrives in Edmonton.
Phase 2: Coachwork, upholstery, paint, canvas. Soon.
Keep watching as we progress with this build ... and soon the Thomas Flyer's chassis.
UPDATE:Hans Koeppen’s Protos chassis is now out of paint and put back together, complete with brass sidelights and brass radiator. The headlights for the Protos were purchased from George Holden of Veteran Auto Lights in Syracuse, New York State. They will be installed before the Protos goes back to have the coachwork added.
Today, October 31, 2006 the car was fired up and drove! It was a very exciting moment for all of us.
The Thomas Flyer, Protos, Zust, and de Dion wheels are being created by master wheelwright Dale Anderson. Using steel rims from a variety of sources, the wood needs to be steamed and bent into the correct arc for each size rim and then carefully dried so as not to crack the wood. Too much pressure or too fast a drying process can render these wheels brittle and dangerous. But, when executed by a master like Dale, you end up with beautiful wheels of the correct vintage.
The hubs for the wheels are also being custom made. Designed by a collaboration of all three fabricators on this project, the final working drawings and actual machining fell to Stamco in Edmonton, Alberta. A two piece steel system will lock the wooden spokes to the felloes and the hub, ensuring a tight perfect fit.
One of the challenges was trying to get the hub size as close as possible to the 1907 size of approximately 9 inches yet still have enough room for a Ford bolt pattern on disc brakes. We think we have succeeded.
May 15, 2007
There was much less guess work with the Protos simply because of the schematics that the Siemens Corporation was able to provide. As with the other cars, Dale Anderson’s artillery style wheels really took the car to the next level of authenticity. Yet all the cars were built with safety for the actors the main concern. The Protos went before the cameras March 25, 2007. Next, a stop in Buffalo (aka Fort Edmonton).