A FEW WORDS ABOUT DAN PORTELL
by Linda Portell
| I guess you could say
that getting involved in pedal cars was a step that was meant to be for Dan. You
see, cars run in his blood. Our first date was in a Model A Ford in 1968. Our
dates were sometimes in his parents' garage so he could work on his car or paint someone
else's car, so I would guess it was inevitable that he would someday get involved in pedal
At the present time, we own four collector cars; a 1956 Corvette, a 1937 Ford Truck with a sweet little 454 engine under the hood, a 1947 Ford Truck that is original and a 1928 Pierce Arrow Series 36. Don't ask me how many pedal cars we have...they seem to just show up or they are breeding like rabbits. Dan said to me one time, "Linda, all I want is one pedal car to sit in our little office area in our shop." I finally figured out that he "JUST HASN'T FOUND THAT ONE PEDAL CAR YET."
| In the mid 1980's, Dan
and I went to a carousel horse auction in Ohio. That is where we started seeing
these cute little pedal cars showing up. We soon discovered that Allan Herschel, who
was a maker of carousel horses, had used the pedal cars on many merry-go-round
rides. He also had been seeing the cars turn up at car swap meets.
Dan's first restoration was a little T-Bird car that he had picked up at a swap meet for $10. He restored the car and gave it to a friend of ours to put in his speed shop.
|The first parts that Dan had to make were for a Steelcraft ACE. You should have seen this one, Ha! Ha! I had one of our carousel horses in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, for their yearly celebration. I had our horse outside a shop for people to see when here came Dan pulling this little thing behind him. This car had a small tricycle turned upside down for a rear end and I believe it had baby buggy wheels on the front. I still don't know what looked funnier...the car, or Dan pulling it behind him. It is true when they say men do not grow up. He took the car home and to all of our amazement, turned it into something I was proud to have in our home.|
|In buying these cars, Dan quickly realized that in order to have this as a hobby, he would have to manufacture many of his own parts. Only a few parts were being made at this time.. He received a lot of help from Ron Doan, the master of pedal cars. Dan could call Mr. Doan and ask questions and he was happy to help Dan with many problems. Dean Hile was just as helpful. He and his wife Jean have been a wealth of information and great friends through the years. Once we became involved in the hobby, we soon met Van Eden. There was the man with the wheels!!! At that time I believe he was making two or three different wheels. He and his wife Joyce were a big help to us. The Ellsworth's were getting started in the graphics part of the hobby about the same time. The graphics were not so easy to get at this time. You would trace a graphic off of your car, send it to Bob and he would then make a new one for you. Bill Smith of Speedway Motors gave Dan much information through the years also. When we started in this hobby, everyone helped each other because information was so difficult to come by and I guess you could say that most of us had to "FLY BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS" on some of the restorations.|
|Dan really got an education when he met Fred and David Weber from St. Louis, Missouri. They had one of the finest collections of pedal cars in the United States. They asked Dan to do some restoration work them. The big cars started rolling into our shop. I made the mistake of telling Dan one day that the American National Tandem cars were common...(meaning common around our shop.|
|That is when he informed me that they were definitely not a common sight. At this time, Dan became known for his restoration work and for manufacturing needed parts. Thanks to the Webers, Dan's education on pre-war cars became extensive. There was no way anyone could have learned as much about them without having access to the pre-war cars.|
time came when Dan had to return to Chrysler Corp. He had six years left to get his
retirement from them. It wasn't easy leaving something you love as much as the pedal
cars to go back to work, but the retirement was important. He may have gone back to
work, but he didn't stop buying pedal cars. They were still breeding like rabbits
around here! I still don't know if he will ever get them all restored. The
one good thing about going back to work was the fact that he was in skilled trades.
He was a Tinsmith for Chrysler.
There have been some changes to the pedal car hobby since we came back. I would have to say the biggest change is the reproductions being made overseas. This has hurt the hobby a bit, but it is on its way back. The new people that are in it will make it strong and keep it going for many years to come.
|The most difficult restoration had to be the car sent to us in a box. It was an American National fendered car. It had, and I use the phrase loosely, a wooden frame. The termites had eaten away the frame!!! The lady who owned it said there was SOME frame work that needed to be done. The only thing holding this car together was sheet metal and bolts. Dan restored the car and the owner was happy with the results. It was lucky for her that we owned a car like it so that Dan could get the frame measurements to restore it back to its original condition.|
|The pedal cars have been a large part of our lives for many years. Our granddaughter thinks they are all hers and Grandpa doesn't argue with her. She gets in them and tells us that she is going shopping for a while. We let her play in most of them because that is what they were made for. Although we big kids collect them, they have always belonged to the little kids. We have sat and looked at one of our cars and tried to picture the child that was lucky enough to get this toy for their birthday or Christmas. Can you imagine waking up Christmas morning to a brand new fire truck???? That happened to a man one Christmas...not too many years ago. We received a call from a lady whose husband had this pedal car on a shelf in their garage. It had been his as a little boy over 50 years ago. His father had gotten it for him in a trade for some wood he had milled. The man's wife wanted to have it restored for him for Christmas. She asked me what to do? They didn't live close to us. She had a body shop she trusted, so we worked with the body shop to get this done in time for her husband's Christmas gift. We shipped the parts to the body shop along with the color code and the way it should be painted. We called Ellsworth to get the correct decal set and sent pictures of how they were to be applied.|
Christmas drew near, the lady asked me how she was to wrap a pedal car. I told her
since it was a fire shelf car...not to wrap it, just hide it in another room until it was
time for him to receive it. I told her to wrap the old license plate...and she did.
I asked her to call me to let us know how it went. Christmas morning rolled
around. The phone rang and it was her. She said her husband was crying.
He unwrapped the license plate, looked at her and looking puzzled asked her, "what
the hell is this?" About the same time, one of their sons was pushing his car
down the hall with the bell ringing loudly. The man stood and said, "THAT CAN'T
BE MY LITTLE CAR." He got on the phone to thank Dan and me for the great gift,
but it was his wife who had done all the work. This is one of the stories that Dan
and I have of helping people in the hobby. It doesn't matter if you have one pedal
car or 100. What matters is that you love the toys and the feeling you get every
time you look at them.
Our other interests are street rods, classic cars, slot machines, juke boxes and, of course, carousel horses. When we have company, people ask us, "why do you have all these things?" Our answer is....why don't you? We love what we do and if the time comes when we no longer have the passion for it...then we will stop. I DOUBT THAT WILL EVER HAPPEN!
You want to know about my efforts??? Well, I get to do a little bit of everything. There are times I have to help him unload sheets of metal and help cut the metal. I am getting really good at spot welding (I pull the handle down for him) ha, ha. My favorite job is scrutinizing his work. At times I get to pick out the colors for a car. I do the computer work and take care of doing the catalogs. We both love this hobby, so it is not a job to us. It is simply play time.
The future for Dan Portell is....he will continue to restore his pedal cars...make more parts...and enjoy doing what he does. The catalog will gain about 40 more pages this next year.
Do you know the difference between men and boys....and their toys?????
Mama doesn't have to buy the toys for the big boys....and they have more of them!!!!
GOTTA LOVE IT!!!!