10 nostalgic pedal cars (and boats and bulldozers) at auction this week
Elmer Duellman never lost his childlike fascination with anything on wheels, and his passion for cars, motorcycles, and toys made Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum in Fountain City, Wisconsin, a destination for enthusiasts from across the United States. Armed with a wealth of knowledge and insatiable in his pursuit of rare treasures—especially antique pedal cars—Elmer became something of a legend in the Midwest. His celebrity status grew when he became one of Mike Wolfe’s go-to guys on American Pickers, and his friendship with Wolfe gave us a glimpse of one of the largest, if not the largest, pedal car collections in the world.
Now, three years after Elmer’s death, his jaw-dropping collection, which includes more than 120 automobiles, 175 motorcycles, 250 bicycles, and 700+ pedal cars, is about to cross the auction block. The museum officially closed last weekend, and soon its contents will be scattered to the wind, just as Elmer had requested when he became ill and knew his time was growing short.
Online bidding for the Mecum auction is already underway for many items, with the auction officially taking place September 14–17.
“It’s a celebration of his collection,” Les Duellman, the eldest of Elmer and Bernadette Duellman’s six children, tells Fox News. “He wanted the cars to get back out in the hands of collectors and create great new memories with them.”
If you can’t find something in the auction that interests you, you might want to consider a new hobby. The sale includes pedal cars, pedal tractors, pedal planes, pedal trains, pedal boats, pedal bulldozers, military pedal cars, wooden ride-on toys, trikes, wagons, bicycles, scooters, coin-operated cars, clocks, thermometers, advertising signs, oil cans, counter displays, hood ornaments, railroad signs, outboard motors, snowmobiles, sleds, car engine parts, and, of course, actual cars and motorcycles.
Elmer said in a 2018 television interview that it all started simply enough.
“As a young child I never had a toy,” he told Wisconsin’s KARE-11. “There were eight of us. My mom passed away when I was seven years old, so we had no money. I went to an auction one time, and I saw these toys. I bought them for a quarter and 50 cents. Some people, they’d laugh at you, but pretty soon they weren’t laughing. They were bringing me toys that they had at home to sell.”
Although the family is selling the majority of the museum’s contents, one thing the Duellman siblings are hanging onto is their father’s 1932 Ford pickup. It not only served as the museum’s truck, it was also Elmer’s hearse (at his request) after his death on July 29, 2019.
If real cars are your thing, three of the 120+ available caught our eye: a 1963 Chevrolet Corvette convertible, a 1963 Studebaker Avanti, and a 1964 Amphicar 770. There’s also a cool 1965–68 Polaris Star Car, “for the snowmobiler who wants to Go All Summer,” which has already been bid to $7500, and a 1957 Quarter Midget Racecraft car, which is up to $1300.
Without a doubt, however, Elmer Duellman was best known for his pedal car collection, which began with his first pedal car purchase—a 1905 wooden car—at a swap meet in 1971. Already in his 30s by then, Elmer got to know other collections and studied old toy catalogs to learn more about pedal cars, which flourished in the years between World War I and WWII and later experienced a resurgence in the 1950s and ’60s.
Lest you think Elmer was in it alone, Bernadette was a willing partner—or at least, an understanding one. The two owned a series of automotive businesses over the years, and as Elmer’s collection grew, the two started Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum in 1994 so they could share his passion with the public. The museum, located 245 miles west of Milwaukee on a picturesque bluff just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota, fills five buildings.
It’s difficult to choose a handful of favorites from Elmer’s eye-popping fleet of pedal cars, but we gave it our best shot. The auction includes two recognizable gems, a red Austin J40 and a blue Austin J40—British pedal cars that are well-known for their prominent role in the U.K.’s annual Goodwood Revival—but we just couldn’t take our eyes off these 10.
Built by the Gendron Iron Wheel Company and sold under the “Skippy” brand name, this well-worn but eternally stylish pedal car wears its original paint, which has held up reasonably well for being 86 years old. Judging from early bidding, which has reached $2000 as of this writing, it is a highly sought-after model.
You get the feeling that Elmer loved collecting pedal cars so much that he just had to scratch that itch by creating some that didn’t exist, like this Camaro SS. It was custom-built (beautifully) by expert sheetmetal fabricator Jerry Anderson.
Here’s a pedal car model that you don’t see often. It’s kind of surprising that the market wasn’t flooded with these bulldozers back in the day, considering how much kids seem to enjoy watching heavy machinery do its thing. Bidding has already reached $2.5K.
This chain-drive kiddie car has battery-operated lights and comes with a trailer, neither of which are common among the many toy cars in Elmer’s collection. It also has a side-mounted toolbox.
One of several custom-built pedal cars that Elmer commissioned, this #43 Plymouth Superbird pays homage to the life-size car driven by NASCAR’s Richard “The King” Petty. It was a creative collaboration between Duellman and Jerry Anderson, using measurements from one of the actual cars that Elmer owned at the time to create a 55-inch-long replica. Bidding has already reached $4750.
Another collaboration between Duellman and Anderson, this red and white #71 Charger Daytona honors driver Bobby Isaac and wears K & K Insurance livery, as well as branding from Goodyear, Union 76, Champion Spark Plugs, and Ingersoll Rand.
The third of these Dodge-Plymouth builds, this pedal car is modeled after the production Charger Dayton and wears iconic Go Green paint.
To a certain age group, Roy Rogers was “The Man,” a singing cowboy who got the girl (Dale Evans) and rode a cool horse (Trigger). His kids’ TV show also included a memorable 1946 Willys CJ-2A named Nellybelle, the favorite mode of transportation for his sidekick, Pat Brady. Clearly pandering to Rogers’ many young fans, Hamilton produced a miniature version of Nellybelle. The pedal car is listed as a 1951, but it’s wearing a 1954 license plate.
One of three Murray pedal boats produced in the 1960s, the Skipper model was the mid-level model between the top-of-the-line Jolly Roger and the economy Skipper Run-A-Bout. The 46-inch-long boat is about 45 inches long and has a plastic outboard motor in the rear. This Murray is missing a few pieces, including the propeller, but it isn’t missing a wheel—Murray designed it with three.
In the 1930s, notorious gangsters like Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd got plenty of headlines, and brave lawmen like Eliot Ness, Frank Hamer, Melvin Purvis, and Walter Walsh were celebrated for their brave pursuit of justice. Oddly enough, this very adult world of crime trickled down to kids pedal cars. Exhibit A: This 1936 G-Man Cruiser made by the Marx Toy Company, complete with hood-mounted machine gun. Regardless of how well the concept wears in 2022, this kiddie car is steeped in history, and the kid who owned it in 1936 was the envy of his friends.
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