Forgotten Fiberglass is evolving.
We’re expanding our authorship to include more articles from folks who have interesting stories to tell – and fascinating background as well. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new friend of fiberglass (for me – and all of you too)….Bob Peterson.
As you’ll find out in Bob’s story below, his dream of fiberglass specials goes back nearly 60 years. I asked Bob if he would like to write up his story on the acquisition of his Kellison. Bob delivered in spades. Not only did we get a story about a newly acquired Kellison – we got a story about a fiberglass adventure and a lifelong dream.
Who could ask for more? The perfect fit for Forgotten Fiberglass!
So….without further adieu, I have the pleasure of introducing you to Bob Peterson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Friend of fiberglass, Kellison J-2 owner, collector, restorer, artist, author, and now friend of Forgotten Fiberglass.
Take it away, Bob….
1954 Was A Good Year
By Bob Peterson
“Can I go to the movies this afternoon?” I asked my mother.
“No,” She replied.
I pleaded, “It’s a good movie about cars.”
“You have seen the movie six times,” she answered.
I tried again, “I’ve got the money.”
“You’ve spent all the money you have saved for the last month on that movie. You are not going again!” she finalized.
A movie that I watched six times as an eleven year old is how my interest in fiberglass cars started. That is five years before I could get a drivers license. The Idaho Special driven by Tony Curtis generated an interest in me that has lasted these many years. It has taken 57 years for me to realize a dream that started in 1954 when the, Johnny Dark, movie debuted. I now own a Kellison J-2 fiberglass bodied car.
This is a story of my recent adventure of traveling to Western Montana from Eastern Iowa in early March 2011 to pick up a J-2 that I purchased.
The car was originally listed on Ebay but was never sold. I had contacted the owner for dimensions, etc. when it was listed. I didn’t want to get into a bidding war so I stopped bidding very early in the process. I kept track of the process as I knew what the reserve price was. When bidding stopped, the reserve had not been met. I was very happy to learn the car wasn’t going to change hands. I just thought that someday I would find another fiberglass car. I tried to forget about the J-2.
After several weeks went by, I was still thinking about the J-2. The thought of what I would be thinking five years from now started to haunt me. Would I regret not buying the J-2 when I had the chance? There weren’t many built. I’ve heard the figure of 8 total produced and only three known to have survived.
I called the owner and asked if he still had the car. He laughed and said, “I’m not sure. I can’t see it anymore. But, It’s probably there under the five foot snow drift.”
“Is it still for sale,” I asked.
“Yes, but it’s a cash deal only,” he replied in a sharp voice.
“Is the price the same as the Ebay reserve listed price?” I responded.
“Ya!” He snapped back.
He’s not the friendliest guy I’ve ever dealt with. I understand his position. I’m sure he’s dealt with every type of buyer out there.
“I’ll buy the J-2,” I said.
Over the next three weeks travel plans were finalized. I just hope the weather cooperates during my trip. Traveling through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana in the winter can be a serious and dangerous undertaking.
Before I leave, I have to modify my small open trailer. It is 12” to short and 5” to narrow for the J-2. Since I fabricated the trailer originally, it will be easy to modify. It took a week to create and install the extensions. I double checked the dimensions of the J-2 and the modified trailer dimensions. The car will fit. I will take all of my tie down straps, bungee cords, chains, ratchets, etc. You never know what you might need or what might happen when you haul a car on a trailer. ‘Pray for the best and expect the worst’, is a good slogan to follow when trailering a vehicle.
Monday, February 28 is travel day. Everything is loaded. I’m off on a 1,200 mile adventure to Montana to acquire the car of my 57 year old dream. I have planned a four day trip, two days to Montana and two days returning if the weather is good. The national weather forecast states clear weather across the northern states. The Iowa driving was easy. The Minnesota driving was also easy with wide open spaces as towns are farther apart. South Dakota is similar to Minnesota with wider open spaces.
I hope to get to Murdo, SD. at the end of the day, which is half way. While at the motel in Murdo I found out there is a huge auto museum next door. I’ll stop on my way back. On to the Bad Lands and Black Hills of western South Dakota. The very beautiful landscapes are a serene wonderland when snow covered. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to view this part of the country in the winter. I’m an artist so I really enjoy the scenery, any scenery, boring or beautiful, and with or without snow.
Elevations during the trip rise from 700 feet in Cedar Rapids, IA to 5,000+ at Bozeman, MT. When you leave Rapid City, SD and enter Wyoming the elevation is 3,000 feet. Weather at the higher altitudes has an attitude all its own. The skies were clear but you would never know it at the mountain passes with 40 mph winds blowing loose snow into a wintry blizzard that suddenly stops as you leave the high passes.
This was common in Wyoming and Montana on I-90. The scenery of the last 50 miles to Bozeman is incredibly beautiful. The foothills of the Rockies are impressive near Bozeman and it makes the long drive worthwhile.
I arrived Tuesday, March 1 at 4 PM after 20 hours of combined driving time. Time enough to transfer the title and load the car while there is still sunlight. Loading a car at night is not recommended, as it’s too easy to forget or miss something. By 8 PM I am on the road with the J-2 securely loaded. My goal was to get to Billings, MT later that evening. I arrived at Billings at 10:30 PM.
Wednesday, March 2 at noon I was approaching Rapids City, SD. Mt. Rushmore is just 30 or so miles south of the city. I had to visit the great monument as I have never been there. While traveling through Rapids City a driver pulled out in front of me, I slammed on the brakes, didn’t hit the car, I heard a big thump, and saw the J-2 sitting two feet farther forward on the trailer than how I had loaded it. I drove a block further where I could safely look at the damage to the J-2. The car had no damage.
But, when I hit the brakes the J-2 broke the rear tie down strap and moved forward and over the built in trailer front tire support. The front tire was now resting in front of the tire stop. The car would have to be lifted up 10” and pulled back at the same time. I couldn’t reload the car as I didn’t have the means to do it. By pure chance the front cross member of the J-2 chassis was now sitting on the trailer tongue. The car is very secure as it sits on the tongue with no chance of the body or frame moving or either being damaged.
I continued to Mt. Rushmore while thinking of ways to get the car back onto the trailer. I had no solutions. It could ride all the way to Cedar Rapids this way with no problem. I spent an hour at the great sculptures of the presidents by Gutzon Borglum. It took seventeen years to complete the project. Mr. Borglum died just before the monument was finished.
On to Mitchell, SD where I’ll spend the night. As I arrived in Mitchell I thought of a great idea for getting the car back on the trailer. I’ll purchase a ‘come-a-long’ winch at a parts store. With a strap over the rear axel and a winch, I can pull the car up and over the tire stop and back on to the trailer. The thought and process sounded good.
As soon as I arrived at the motel, I looked for a Tractor Supply store in the phone book. For those who are not familiar with the Midwest, Tractor Supply has got a lot of stuff you need. Amazing! There is one in Mitchell and it is not far away. I will buy a ‘come-a-long’ in the morning.
Thursday morning, March 3 arrived bright, cold, and clear. A good day for a car and trailer rearranging act, I hope! Tractor Supply has a ‘come-a-long’ winch for $50. Price was not a consideration at this time. I’ll know in a few minutes if my idea will work. I hooked a strap over the axel, connected the hand operated winch, and started pulling. The front tire wouldn’t start over the tire stop. It would if I assisted. However, I can’t lift the tire and crank the winch at the same time.
Across the parking lot I see a Tractor Supply employee loading seed bags with a forklift. I walked over and asked if he could assist me when he finished loading the seed. He said that he would help. After a few minutes, he drove over and asked what I needed. I told him that if he ran the hand winch and I lift the front tire that we could get the tire over the tire stop. He said that was too much work.
He suggested that he lift the tire with his forklift and that I run the winch. He pulled up to the tire and gently lifted it to where it needed to be. With just a couple of strokes with the winch handle, the car slowly slid over the tire stop and back to its proper place on the trailer.
I thanked the forklift operator Bob, an employee at the Mitchell, SD Tractor Supply store. Again, many thanks go to Bob. What a great person to take the time to help a stranger from Iowa with an unusual car on his trailer. Mitchell, SD does have friendly people.
There were many gas stops on the way back from Bozeman, MT. At every stop, people would guess what they thought the car was. Some guesses were Aston Martin, Ghia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Austin-Healey. Not a single person had heard of Kellison. The humps in the roof were noticed and commented on by all who viewed the car.
The 350 or so remaining miles to Cedar Rapids was uneventful. The J-2 now sits by my garage. A 57 year old dream has come true. I do have the doors, hood, and other misc. parts for the car. The body does need some reinforcing and some repairs. The door hinges for the J-2 were a special Kellison part. If anyone has a set, please contact me. I am also looking for a windshield template for the car.
All of these are minor as I consider myself an expert in fiberglass. I have worked on many major fiberglass projects over the years. Several of these are listed on this web site. I am wondering how many Kellison bodied cars were ever in Cedar Rapids. Most likely, none has rolled on these streets. Now one has a home here. Nineteen fifty four was a good year.
Any parts or history information on the J-2 would be greatly appreciated. Please contact me: Bob Peterson, 3232 Vine Avenue SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403, 319-364-6859.
Some Notes On The Kellison Company
The Kellison company was in full production in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s. These were my high school years. Fiberglass car ads were many in the hot rod and custom car magazines that I read. I always found the fiberglass bodies fascinating. The term, Kit Car, had not been used in the early days of fiberglass body production. They were referred to as: sport car bodies or custom car bodies. My car is listed in the 1959 Kellison catalog as a J-2 kit & J-2 coupe kit.
The J-2 is a unique car in that the roof has two bubbles for your head clearance. These bubbles (roof bumps) start at the windshield and travel rearward across the roof, down across the rear window, and onto the rear deck. The rear window looks like a sea gull in flight. These humps are unique to the Kellison J-1 and J-2 bodies.
A couple of European sports cars have used much smaller roof bumps similar to the Kellisons. Most of these are designed for pure racing cars. I like the humps because they are so unique and original. I really think that if I told someone that the car ran in the 1962 24 hours of Le Mans race in France, they would believe it because the body style is that convincing.
I am writing a story on the Kellison Engineering and Manufacturing Company that will be published here in Forgotten Fiberglass in the coming months.
As he mentioned above, Bob has offered to help and be the resident Kellison historian for us and will be authoring another article about Kellison in the near future. I look forward to reviewing his work and learning more about this interesting car company – and even more about our new friend – Bob Peterson
Thanks again for sharing an excellent story Bob. It makes me want to go watch Johnny Dark a sixth time too.
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
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