The local tie to the Indianapolis 500

Published 10:15 am Friday, June 17, 2011

Column: Between the Corn Rows

One of the automobiles driven around the Brickyard as part of the Indianapolis 500 centennial on May 14 was a 1914 Stutz Bearcat car driven by John Kelsey of Camdenton, Mo. John was repeating a drive his father, Paul, made in 1952 on the same track with the same car as part of another Indy 500 celebration. And 59 years ago both the car and driver had a very close connection with Albert Lea.

As I mentioned in several previous articles and columns, Paul Kelsey had started a local antique automobile museum in 1949. The first site of this museum was in what’s now the Ad-Art building southeast of the city on U.S. Highway 65.

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Paul was really interested in antique vehicles. He was always looking for automobiles from an earlier era. In 1951 he happened to become aware of a 1914 Stutz Bearcat car in storage in what I assume was a nearby part of north Iowa. Paul purchased this car for $1,250 and brought it to Albert Lea to be a part of his museum’s display of antique vehicles.

Paul decided to move his family and 35 antique vehicles to Camdenton in 1953 and set up a new museum. Camdenton, by the way, is a community of about 3,000 people located to the south of Lake of the Ozarks and the city of Osage Beach, Mo., and 60 miles north of Branson on U.S. Highway 54.

By 1954 the move to Missouri was completed for Paul and his wife, May, and son, John. His son was born in Rochester and attended St. Theodore’s Catholic School before the move to Camdenton.

The Kelseys reestablished their popular antique car museum in Camdenton. It operated until 1994 when May died. Paul died in 1998.

John started Kelsey Tire Inc. of Camdenton in the late 1960s. His firm has gained a reputation among car enthusiasts as being the sole national distributor of classic Goodyear tires from the 1930s to the ’70s.

Because of his involvement with this phase of automotive equipment, John Kelsey was inducted into the Tire Industry Association’s Hall of Fame on Nov. 9, 2009, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.

So far there have been several obvious indications as to why John Kelsey should have been invited to take part in the Indianapolis 500 centennial observance last month. Now here’s another. His 1914 Stutz Bearcat automobile may be the only one of its kind still in existence.

John told a writer for the Lake Sun newspaper of Osage Beach that his 1914 Stutz Bearcat hadn’t been run since 1969. He and his wife, Janice, went to Indianapolis to be a part of the historical event and she rode with John on the 2.5 mile trip around the famous track. This car, incidentally, was taken in a trailer from Camdenton to Indianapolis and back in a trailer, according to John.

Earlier this week, I had a short telephone visit with John. He said in 1952 his father drove the Stutz Bearcat from Albert Lea to Indianapolis and back. He added that his father was also given a speeding ticket for driving this car 85 mph on the highway between Albert Lea and Glenville.

Historically, the 1914 Stutz Bearcat has an interesting connection with the Indy 500. One of the 1914 models, but not the one in the Kelsey collection, was driven by Barney Oldfield in the 1914 race and came in fifth in an event that year which was dominated by European drivers.

Cornstalk comment

Here’s a special salute to the children and their parents who are taking advantage of the excellent playground and recreational assets of the city’s park system on days and evenings when weather conditions are just right for outdoor activities.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.