Paul Kelsey bought his first old car in 1928. He lived in Peterson, Iowa, at the time and attended a car auction in the town square. “I made a bid for this old Maxwell and darned if it wasn’t knocked down to me,” he told writer Robert Hegge in a 1955 article. “My heart almost came to a stop because it went for $5 and I didn’t have $5.” Kelsey found a friend at the sale and borrowed the money.
By 1934, Kelsey had restored the car for all of $10 and he and his wife decided to drive it to the East Coast from a new home in Albert Lea, Minn. The following year ,the couple made another trip in the Maxwell, heading to Los Angeles, Calif., by way of Portland, Ore. “We saw a lot of the country at our speed,” Kelsey said. The Maxwell went 35 mph and the trip took four months.
Kelsey worked as a toolmaker for International Harvester during World War II. Later he owned a candy shop. His antique car collection kept growing and, sometime in the late 1940s, friends suggested that he could operate an antique car museum in Florida, where tourism was booming after the war. Kelsey started off to Florida, but stopped in Camdenton, Mo., near Lake of the Ozarks. He decided put up a 60-ft x 180-ft building and opened a car museum there.
Admission to the museum was 50 cents. For that visitors got to see the Maxwell and a few dozen other cars. The Kelsey family built living quarters in the museum for themselves and their son John. In 1955, John Kelsey was 12 years old. The lead photo in the March 1955 Car Life article showed him sitting in a 1914 Stutz Bearcat outside the museum. Paul Kelsey was driving the car.
In the 1970s, Paul Kelsey realized a need for better antique car tires. He approached several big tire companies about his concerns. All of them said they were not interested in that market, but Paul loved old cars and kept trying. Eventually, Goodyear Tire & Rubber listened to him and Kelsey became the exclusive distributor of original-style reproduction Goodyear tires.
Tomorrow, the boy who was 12 years old when the museum was one-year-old is turning 70 years old. John Kelsey’s birthday is May 17.
John is the current owner of Kelsey Tire Co. (www.kelseytire.com). Kelsey is still the exclusive distributor of vintage Goodyear tires. And yes, John still has the 1909 Maxwell that his dad bought in 1928 and the 1914 Stutz Bearcat!