WEST OKOBOJI, Iowa | Toby Shine has rewritten the former Chevrolet advertising slogan. For Shine, the phrase is, "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and cars, cars, cars," and lots of them.
Music from the 1950s and '60s is piped into Shine's recently opened Okoboji Classic Car Museum and Restoration Shop where only three of the classic cars (those on loan from family and friends) are not for sale.
Always a fast-car enthusiast, Shine and his staff have also recreated much of Spencer's downtown and the Lakes area of half a century ago inside the museum, including parts of the Arnolds Park Amusement Park.
The museum stems from an idea that Shine said came to him years ago. "It's a long-time idea. Spencer was very important to me as a young man growing up there, and the Arnolds Park Amusement Park, too," not far from where his family had a summer home near Terrace Park Beach.
But speaking of the cars, Shine admits, "It's a hobby that's gotten out of hand."
WORKING SHOP ALSO AN EXHIBIT
Best-known for his third-generation scrap-metal and car-recycling business in Spencer, Shine has been quietly involved in the classic car restoration business for many years, with a cramped shop near his family's Pelican Ridge development on Lower Gar Lake. The new restoration shop adds more modern equipment and allows for an expanded staff in a showroom environment.
Ottumwa businessman Kendig Kneen, president and part owner of Al-jon, which makes car crushers and other recycling equipment, shares Shine's passion for automobiles. Kneen's family has several cars being restored here, including a 1969 Camaro and a 1958 Jaguar XK-150.
"Toby has a phenomenal thing here -- something really special for the area," Kneen said while touring the site with Oklahoma car dealer Wayne Eidson earlier this month. "What Toby's really done here is provide a huge canvas for various artists to do their best work. And he has some extremely skilled artists."
In the shop, Bob Kirschbaum's pride and joy is the dynamometer that measures the power engines produce. Long in the mechanical side of the restoration business in Spirit Lake, Kirschbaum also has an appreciation for searching out original equipment replacements instead of imported parts.
One recent project, a 1968 Ford Sunliner (retractable hardtop) in nearly mint condition had engine problems that required rebuilding the original block to preserve the original engine serial number and the collector value of the vehicle.
"You have to keep everything as original as possible, anytime you do restoration. Anything you delete from the car takes the value down," Kirschbaum said.
A TALE OF TWO COMMUNITIES
The Lakes half of the museum features images of the Roof Garden Ballroom that was demolished in 1988. That section consumes more than half of one wall, along with the Fun House and the Tipsy House that still stand at the Arnolds Park Amusement Park.
Also in the museum is the 7,000-square-foot West Lake Okoboji sunset mural that takes up an entire wall and parts of the two adjoining walls, from floor to ceiling. The State Pier in the mural is almost life-size.
The West Okoboji sunset is "very accurate," artist Jack Rees said. "That's right where the sun sets at the summer solstice."
Rees has spent more than six months on the museum project thus far, and says he is only about one-quarter done with the project that also involves the many storefronts and detailed interiors.
Looking at the perspective that makes the mostly two-dimensional walls appear to be three-dimensional, Shine said. "Obviously, we're really proud of what Jack Rees has done."
When the museum is complete, a mock-up of Tony's Drive-In -- the restaurant that served the first pizza in the area -- will be surrounded by cars and carhop mannequins. Pizza was less than two bucks according to Tony's posted menu board. The menu priced a roast beef sandwich at $1.60. Strombolli was similarly priced, "unless you wanted the green peppers. That was a nickel extra," Shine said.
Behind Tony's will be another drive in, the Lakeland Drive-In Theatre that was also located in North Milford. The two-story concession stand will project movies of the era across the room, above the cars parked beneath.
PERSONALITIES SHOW IN SPENCER
On the other side of the museum building, Rudy's Speed Shop is on the east side of Spencer's Grand Avenue, featuring an old Ford flathead speedster and what Shine termed "an old-school dragster, with the motor still in front, and a parachute to stop it." There's an Indy car from the 1930s parked there, too.
There are two 1957 Lincoln Premiere convertibles just down Grand, "an example of the 'big boat' cars," and a 1975 Olds Delta 88 sitting next to a 1949 Cadillac convertible sitting in front of Stub's House of Plenty, a landmark in downtown Spencer until the 1980s. The Stub's recreation includes mannequins of servers and patrons inside the establishment.
The long-closed Feldman's Department Store is at right, along with Bjornstad Hardware and Bjornstad Drug Store, where the 1931 fire that destroyed Spencer's downtown began. Both storefronts carry the proprietor's names carefully hand-painted in the display window.
But the place Shine likes best is the old Farmers Trust and Savings Bank building that is today an office building at Fourth and Grand. Shine likes to point out the detail of the Roman "U" being a "V" in the word "Trust," engraved on the building.
Next to a '67 Camaro, Shine explained, "Here's a car we completely re-did in our shop. It's now a pro-touring car. If you look at the mirrors underneath, it looks as good underneath as it does on top. Everything was done in-house - the interior, the motor, all the mechanical, all the body work."
The work was done with Shine's eight-person staff, which he's looking to expand.
"We're looking for people who understand restoration -- with no deviation -- that they're either perfect or they're not," Shine said.
Next to the Camaro is a 1932 Ford Pickup, "an absolutely original, gorgeous car that probably sold for less than $1,000 in 1931," Shine said. "It'll bring a whole bunch more than that now."
Patrick Kennedy, a car fan who grew up in Spirit Lake and now lives near Nashville, Tenn., recently toured the museum with his wife Amelia. "This is incredible," the Spirit Lake native said. "It's a neat combination to have it look the way it did back in the sixties."
Less enthusiastic about cars and the recreations of street scenes she was less familiar with, Amelia Kennedy said she was most impressed by the West Lake Okoboji sunset mural. "It definitely replicates the sunset here, the clouds and the texture of the painting. Now you just need the breeze and the smell at the lakes."