News Column

Hyndman man's Kelly-Springfield Tire collection goes on display

June 29, 2014

By Greg Larry, Cumberland Times-News, Md.



June 29--CUMBERLAND -- It was a bittersweet end to the late Frank Burkett's decades-long hobby of collecting Kelly-Springfield Tire Company artifacts and memorabilia when on Sunday family and friends gathered at the Allegany Museum to celebrate the donation of the more than 700-piece collection to the museum.

Burkett, who worked at The Kelly for 38 years, died in March of 2013. His wife, Bette Burkett, died this past May.

"Mom wanted to make sure it got down here because it's what he wanted," said an emotional Cathy Benton, daughter of Frank and Bette.

The family members were sad that Frank and Bette were not there to see the collection go on exhibit, but happy that the memorabilia had found a permanent home where the public can enjoy it.

Originally from Cumberland, Burkett, a World War II veteran, began working at The Kelly in 1949. His family later settled in Hyndman, Pa. Burkett started as a worker and later became a foreman in the tread room. He remained at The Kelly until his retirement in 1983.

"He was very proud of where he worked," said Sheldon Benton, Cathy's husband.

Burkett didn't collect a lot while he was employed but began to accumulate anything he could find after his retirement.

"It all started with collecting ashtrays. It snow-balled. He loved it," said Jeff Sturtz of Cresaptown, a grandson.

Originally a maker of carriage wheels, The Kelly Springfield Tire Company, headquarter in Akron, Ohio, expanded in the early 20th century by opening a plant in Cumberland in 1921. The plant lasted for more than 60 years until, like many manufacturing firms in the Unites States, it closed its doors in 1987. The Kelly was one of the largest companies, employing more than 3,000 at its peak, to ever operate in Allegany County.

"When the guys came back from World War II they wanted a good job and they weren't afraid to work hard for a living. They made this country great and The Kelly helped them do it. I don't want people to forget what made this area what it is," said Cathy.

The extensive collection includes clocks, signs, flags, tools, tires, tubes, paper weights, booklets, security tags, ID badges, patches, lighters, countless promotionals items and much more. One of the items that Burkett cherished most was a Kitty Kelly doll.

"It was his favorite," said Cathy.

Burkett knew an elderly women in Ellerslie, according to Cathy, who had one of the dolls; for twenty years Burkett waited and wondered about the doll.

"He was in the bank one day and the daughter of the women said, 'I have something for you.' She gave it to him. He was on cloud nine," said Cathy.

Also contained in Burkett's collection is a wide variety of shells and munitions. As many did during the war effort, The Kelly-Springfield retooled a portion of the plant to make ammunition. Bullets up to 50-caliber and large-scale shell casings for boat-launched artillery guns were produced at the plant.

The Allegany Museum already had a sizable Kelly-Springfield display at the museum. Gary Bartik, museum president, said the Burkett collection will add tremendous depth.

"This is the largest single donation by an individual, Frank Burkett, to the museum. Many of the items are rare. It's truly a collection given from the heart and soul. It's Franks's life," said Bartik.

Burkett's entire family helped in collecting. They would find things at auctions, flea markets and online and present them to Burkett as gifts. Although The Kelly had plants in Tyler, Texas; Freeport, Ill.; and Fayetteville, N.C., Burkett was most delighted when the item would say Cumberland on it.

"He never went anywhere without a hat or jacket or something that said Kelly-Springfield on it," said Cathy.

Sturtz feels the era of The Kelly-Springfield sets an example of what this country can do.

"I think Frank would want everyone to come in and realize what people could do when they put their mind to it," said Sturtz.

"It was a great place to earn a living. People didn't have to have their wives working. Mom didn't work after I was born. The Kelly made the American dream possible," said Cathy.

Bartik said the memorabilia took countless hours to inventory. He is please that the collection has found a permanent home. The items took up an entire garage bay at the Burkett home.

Bartik said, "I think the comment that Cathy made when we were departing out of the garage says it: 'This will do daddy proud.' I think daddy is proud today."

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

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(c)2014 the Cumberland Times News (Cumberland, Md.)

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Source: Cumberland Times-News (MD)


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