A labor of loveCarlton Bump’s car continues to wow onlookers
When Carlton Bump taught art at Washington High School, his students remembered his open and caring attitude. They remembered how he was always there to help his students and how well liked he was. They also remember his project that monopolized every spare moment of free time.
Today Bump’s handcrafted car — dubbed the Gazelle — is still a favorite of car shows throughout the state. While licensed as a 1936 Ford with a 1948 Mercury V8 engine, Bump completely designed and handcrafted the vehicle. The body was constructed from resin and fiberglass cloth inside a plaster of Paris mold. The dash is completely custom. Many of the metal parts of the vehicle still bear hammer marks from where Bump crafted the metal into the shape he had engineered when designing the car in 1953.
“Since I decided to name my car after a fast-moving animal, a Gazelle seemed to be appropriate; hence, the name,” Bump wrote in a manuscript called “Reflections in a Rear View Mirror.” “The car was certainly not built in a year, as I spent the better part of 10 years working on it during summer vacations.”
Records Bump kept showed that over 4,000 hours of work had gone into the completion of the car.
Today, after having been in storage for 33 years following Bump’s death, Pat Tobin now shows the vehicle he refurbished after obtaining it several years ago. Tobin points out little imperfections, such as hammer marks and the trunk not being even on the back, as part of the hand-built car’s character. When he shows the vehicle, he also has a folder full of photos and information chronicling the history of the Gazelle from inception to completion. Several photos showed Bump using copies of The Washington Evening Journal to help shape the plaster. The hand-drawn sketches in the folder included the design of the car, as well as specific parts. It was originally envisioned with a hardtop, but the finished product is a convertible.
“I was doing one at the very same time,” Tobin said.
The Jan. 31, 1956, edition of The Washington Evening Journal reports Tobin, then 19 years old, was hand-building a sports car from the chassis of a 1940 Ford. When he learned that Bump’s car was available, he said that he had to try to get it.
“I always knew where it was,” Tobin said. “Bob (Marie, who had the vehicle stored) always said that he would fix it up.”
Tobin is unsure how Marie came into possession of the vehicle. He said that Marie had done electrical work on Bump’s house and had gotten Bump’s Lincoln running. He said after Marie died in 2006 his wife, Joyce Marie, had agreed to sell Tobin the vehicle. He declined comment on the amount.
“I said I wanted it because I had been building one just like it,” Tobin said. “I went up and got it.”
He said that the vehicle wouldn’t run after having sat in storage for 33 years. Tobin said that he set out to work refurbishing the vehicle. While he didn’t totally restore the engine, Tobin said he might as well have. He replaced many items on the engine.
Tobin said that working on a car in this matter is something that people have to want to do. He said that he has modern tools to help form the parts he needed, while Bump would have had to do much of the work using hand tools. He said that Bump would have used hand files to form the body of the car.
Tobin said that he has shown the vehicle on the square several times during Corn Country Cruisers shows. He said that he has shown it in Mt. Pleasant at Old Threshers. He has also shown it in Des Moines at the Salisbury House. He has also been invited to the Concourse de Elegance in Milwaukee, Wis.
Among the pieces that go with the car, Tobin has included an 180,000-stitch portrait of the car his daughter had given him for Christmas.
In addition to working as an art teacher in the Washington School District for 35 years, Bump was also active in the community. Bump was key to the planning of the 150th Washington anniversary. In 1976, he sculpted a bust of George Washington for the town. A replica is now on display in Central Park. His painting of the coffee club is still featured in the Frontier restaurant.
During a car show, Tobin said that someone had inquired about buying the Gazelle.
“I told him that he may be able to bid on it at my estate auction,” Tobin said with a laugh.
Tobin said that Bump had tried to sell it at one time, but had not had any luck. Tobin said that Bump had determined The Gazelle was a failure because several of the designs were in use by various car companies by the time the Gazelle was completed.