Scott Elzey—Racing Collector

Midget car owned by Coxie Bowman

Writers learn to follow leads for stories. I wrote this article about Scott Elzey for Collector News magazine after a friend had told me about Mr. Elzey’s tree with a bicycle hanging in it at the end of his lane to his home. Yes, a bicycle hangs among the branches of his big hackberry tree. How did it get there? Mr. Elzey put it there! Then Mr. Elzey took me for a ride in his airboat on the Wabash River- that became an article for the Ossian Sun Riser.

After interviewing Mr. Elzey about his bike, he took my husband and me to his man-cave —the restored loft of his barn he has converted into a racing fan’s dream. Doesn’t this look like a great place to relax and spend time with friends? I wrote a different article about his love for collecting racing memorabilia for the News-Sentinel newspaper.

Enjoy the story!

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As a teen during the late 1960s, Scott Elzey of Uniondale, Indiana, accompanied his grandfather Coxie Bowman on weekend racing trips across the state of Indiana and into the eastern half of the United States, as well as Canada. During the week, Bowman operated a Texaco gas station in the small town of Ossian, Indiana. Bowman might have appeared to be content earning a living at sedately filling the gas tanks of cars. But on the weekends he wanted high speed, excitement, and high stakes. He raced midget cars.

Racing items hang from Elzey's restored barn walls

Though small in size, midget cars could reach speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Prizes were set accordingly as midget race winners earned $800-$1000, an enviable amount in the years following the Depression. “Grandpa started racing in the 1940s and continued for 30 years,” said Elzey. As he watched his relative race in nearly every state in the nation – 43, to be exact — Scott Elzey gathered racing ticket stubs and other racing souvenirs that represented life on the racing circuit.

Today, those ticket stubs and dozens of other racing memorabilia are part of a collection Elzey has displayed at his farm outside of Ossian. The items are not in Elzey’s home, but in his barn’s hayloft. Rid your mind of cobwebs and dust motes. There’s nary in sight in this loft that is covered with drywall and adorned with carpet, plush sofa, big screen TV, and custom-made bar.

It seemed natural with Elzey’s collection of racing items to design his retreat with a racing theme. As Elzey began to collect larger car parts at Internet sites, he initially stored the items in the century-old house he and his wife, Deanna, had remodeled. He knew the day would come when he would need more space to display them. In 2006, they designed a floor plan to convert the hayloft to a game room to accommodate Scott’s racing collection.

Among the items he has collected over the years are two midget race cars his grandpa raced in. The midget chassis that sits on the loft floor was built in 1972 in Indianapolis, Indiana. After purchasing the car in 1987, Coxie Bowman lowered the front chassis, gave it the present red and white paint scheme and the number “33”, and cut the hood to accommodate the engine with the lowered chassis.

When floor space in the loft became too tight to accommodate the second midget car, it was no problem. Elzey hung the remaining car, one Coxie Bowman had built, from the ceiling.

That’s not the only large item suspended from the ceiling in Elzey’s loft. A 12-foot hydroplane racing boat hangs in one corner. Although no Elzey family memories are attached to it, it is present because it upholds the room’s racing theme.

A third midget, partially completed, is perched atop Elzey’s stairwell leading to the loft. According to Elzey, this car is unique. “Grandpa was building that car when he died,” he said. “It had an independent front suspension, which was later outlawed by various midget racing associations. And the driver sat on the left side of the engine, not behind it and not on the right side, as all the other cars were set up. Sadly, the car was never finished so these technical innovations were never tested.”

Random car parts like sheet metal from race cars are tacked to the walls, along with racing posters and framed black and white photos of Grandpa Bowman. In several he is standing beside one of his midget cars after winning a race. He placed in dozens of races during his lifetime.

Elzey completes the racing theme with National Hot Rod Association drag racing lights, which flash red, yellow, green, adding pizzazz to the ‘man-cave’ when plugged into an outlet. An antique racing car steering wheel, brake lever, and fuel pump, the type used when fuel was pumped by hand, hang on a wall. A nearby shelf holds helmets from Indianapolis racing driver Bobby Grim and others.

Just to make sure no one gets bored Elzey added arcade games in keeping with the racing theme. “We always had a game room in our home with pool table and pinball machines while I was growing up,” said Elzey. “I developed a love for games from my father.”

Even the room’s basic functional pieces contain a racing theme. Cam shafts serve as rail ballasts. Gearshift knobs work as coat hooks, and exhaust pipes and radiator hose provide a nifty look as banisters. On his custom bar Elzey implemented an aluminum diamond plate and checkered pattern seen in racing decor.

Grandpa Coxie Bowman passed away in 1996. He never saw his grandson’s eclectic display of racing memorabilia. But he might have suspected his influence on the younger man as in 1980, Scott Elzey began attending major racing events. So far, he has witnessed 46 events, including the Indianapolis 500 Race, NASCAR and Formula 1 races. He still attends midget races in Fort Wayne. Of course, the ticket stubs become a part of the collection.

At this point Elzey’s hayloft/game room looks filled with racing items. Who knows? If Scott Elzey continues to buy racing items, he may need to find another farm building to convert.

The End

Scott Elzey’s airboat

Scott Elzey directs his airboat and passenger on the Wabash River

Scott Elzey is an unusual guy. This story of his airboat might be out of season (I wrote it this past summer when the river’s water level was high), but it is so unconventional (how many people do you know own an airboat?) I had to share.

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As a child, I heard the story of Sacagawea, the famous Indian maiden who accompanied those famous explorers, Lewis and Clark, on their western explorations. I had always tried to imagine what the trip would have been like two centuries ago when she sat in a canoe floating up and down various rivers. To amuse herself during the long days, did she watch the sky for fascinating bird life? As the group had expertly propelled their canoe past austere cliffs and bluffs of grass, had she relished the quiet and peaceful journey with little noise to intrude?

A small inkling of what it would have been like for Sacagawea occurred to me as I floated on a river on a recent summer evening. I scanned the sky for life and spied a bird with long legs and a skinny body. A blue heron? Possibly. Trees with roots barely keeping them upright dotted the river’s edge as we drifted past. Had Sacagawea seen similar trees, I wondered, and feared at being caught under one of the monoliths as it suddenly loosened and fell?

To be honest, the similarities between me and Sacagawea ended there. I was floating on a river, but it was to the east of the Mississippi, specifically the Wabash River in Wells County. The possibility that Sacagawea ever traversed that waterway is slim. Second, the boat we rode in was not made of beech wood but aluminum. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the air around me was not filled with the soft slap of canoe paddles but the ratchety thunder from the boat’s 65-horse power gasoline engine. The boat’s pilot and I wore mouse ears for protection. Thankfully that nice engine enabled us to travel at 30 miles per hour.

I was on an airboat owned by Scott Elzey of Ossian.

Sacagawea and I shared another similarity — we both traveled on boats with paddles. By state law Elzey is required to carry a paddle, fire extinguisher, life preservers for each occupant, and title paper and proof of insurance for the airboat. It’s good to know if we ran out of gas we could row ourselves back to the easement Elzey had created along the river’s edge behind his property for the airboat to enter the water.

Elzey and his family live on a farm that borders the Wabash River. Elzey had learned much about the outdoors from growing up in Wells County and shadowing his grandfathers who were outdoorsmen. Desiring to share that same love of the outdoors with his family, Elzey bought aluminum, custom-built mosquito airboat in 2006. “I had been on the Everglades in an airboat and really enjoyed it,” he said. “I wanted to recreate that same experience here.”

Typically, Elzey’s season to navigate the Wabash in his airboat begins in June after spring rains raise the water level high enough for him to float over rocks. By mid-July, the rainfall has lessened to the point that Elzey cannot navigate the river. This year’s number of heavy rains has enabled him to extend his airboat excursions through late summer.

As we skimmed the water’s surface, we spied other humans also enjoying the stream. Three boys, possibly middle school age, climbed among the rocks and brush scattered along the edge. Did they feel like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as they explored, I wondered. The night before Elzey offered to take me and my husband for rides on his airboat, he had spotted a bald eagle. On past trips he has seen a golden eagle, ducks, blue heron, fox, and coyotes. “I think it is amazing what wildlife we have in Wells County,” he said.

We motored about one mile in towards the east, then turned around and went as far as the Uniondale Bridge at the other. Elzey showed me an area on the river he may have discovered called ‘Boiling Springs’. “I had read historical documents about church picnics that were held along the river in the 1920s at this place about the size of a kitchen table,” he said. “The area spouted forth hot, not boiling, water.”

The area is scarcely as big as the geyser Old Faithful, but it’s possible the water trickles set apart by rocks next to the river’s edge could be someone’s attempt to mark the area for easy future reference.

Whether the area was the place of long-ago memories or not, riding Scott Elzey’s airboat certainly created a memorable experience for my husband and me. It doesn’t say so in the history books, but I’m sure Sacagawea never had it this good!

The End

Reprinted with permission of Ossian Sun Riser