Christies auctioned the contents of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in 2010. Roy’s stuffed and mounted horse Trigger was sold for $266,000 to cable network RFD-TV, which also bought the stuffed remains of Roy’s dog Bullet for $35,000. RFD-TV will use them as studio props when it begins airing Roy Rogers movies this fall.
Roy Rogers’ saddle sold for $386,500, his guitar $8,750, and a pair of his boots fetched $7,500. The jeep Nellybelle sold for $116,500 and Roy’s silver-dollar-studded 1964 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle brought in $254,500.
Dale Evans’ preserved horse Buttermilk sold for $35,000. Dale’s handwritten lyrics to the ‘Happy Trails’ theme song sold for $27,500, and the crowd spontaneously sang the tune at the end of the sale. Total raised by the auction: $2.98 million.
– News report on 2010 Christies auction of contents of Roy Rogers Museum
The painting above was reproduced as a postcard in the Roy Rogers museum. The original acrylic painting ‘Roy and His Pals’ by Sean Sullivan was also sold in the 2010 Christies auction, for $10,625.
The ‘Roy Rogers Show,’ broadcast on television between 1951 and 1957, developed out of the series of B-movies made in the 1930s and 1940s starring the ‘King of the Cowboys.’ It featured a 1946 Willys CJ-2A Jeep named ‘Nellybelle,’ which had some unusual bodywork. It was in fact owned by Roy, but was driven in the show by his comic sidekick, Pat Brady. The name apparently developed out of Pat riding an ornery mule in the earlier movies, and addressing it with phrases like “Whoa, Nelly!”
A contest advertised in the June 1st, 1954 issue of ‘Look’ magazine indicates that Roy and Willys (and Post Cereals) had made some kind of arrangement to promote the new Willys CJ-3B. But in response to a question in March 2003, Roy Rogers Jr said he is certain that his father used only the original 1946 Jeep on the television show. Roy Jr. says he is too young to know the details of the origin of his father’s Jeep. Despite the apparent armor plating around the front, which bears a strong similarity to the U.S. Army’s armour installation kit, he says he is not aware of ‘Nellybelle’ having been military surplus. But Pat Brady was a tank crewman in World War II, so that may have influenced the decision to armour the Jeep.
In ‘Hard Luck Story,’ an episode about an insurance scam, ‘Nellybelle’ is suffering from engine problems. At one point Pat has to resort to kicking a tire to get her started, and at another point he refers to her as a ‘moving junk pile!’ Note some differences on the Jeep in this episode – the spare tire is gone, and a tow bar, rear fender flares, and a set of what look like dual wheel adapters have been added. In a shot taken outside the jail where Roy is being mistakenly held, Pat has to get Nellybelle to backfire to cover up the sound of Dale shooting the lock off the jail door to rescue Roy (photo below). This same episode begins with a wild stunt in which Nellybelle starts rolling down a hill by herself, and Roy chases her on Trigger and leaps from his saddle into the Jeep to bring her to a safe stop. Dale says: “Roy, you shouldn’t have taken a chance like that for Nellybelle!” But Roy replies “Well, she’s part of the family, Dale.”
‘Nellybelle’ was among the most popular items of Roy Rogers memorabilia sold during the currency of the TV show (and since), and jeep models were sold in various forms. A small diecast model was marketed by Stuart, and a 15″ plastic ‘Nellybelle’ was sold by Ideal, complete with a trailer, character figures and Trigger the horse. Marx made a large pressed-steel version, as well as a plastic model in its Roy Rogers Rodeo Ranch Set. The pressed-steel Marx model was the most accurate in colour to the original: with a plastic Pat Brady driving and Dale Evans in the passenger seat, it was 11.75″ long and 5″ wide, and included the cut-out below the windscreen on the passenger side through which Roy Rogers shot his gun. You can see the cut-out clearly in the studio shot of the original ‘Nellybelle’ below, but this detail was not included in the pedal car ‘Nellybelle’ introduced by Hamilton in 1954.
Roy Rogers was the only 1950s TV cowboy character to have a pedal car. Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy had bicycles in various sizes, which were well-advertised – Hopalong Cassidy’s merchandising tie-up was the industry’s first major promotion of this type, and many ‘Hoppy’ bicycles were sold. Davy Crocket had a small child’s bicycle, as well as various wagons. The Lone Ranger also had a bicycle – a Hercules – but this model is undocumented, and probably only sold in England.
1954 Roy Rogers ‘Nellybelle’ Jeep
Hamilton Steel Products, Chicago
The name ‘jeep’ appears to be an abbreviation of the army term ‘GP’ (‘general purpose’). Production of the Willys MB, better known as the Jeep, began in 1941, shared between Willys, Ford, and American bantam. 8,598 units were produced that year, and 359,851 units were produced before the end of the war. Willys-Overland ranked 48th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts. In total, 653,568 military Jeeps were manufactured.
Willys did not resume passenger car production after the war, its first postwar product being the CJ-2A Jeep, an MB stripped of obviously military features, particularly the blackout lighting, and with the addition of a tailgate. The CJ-2A was among the first civilian vehicles of any kind to be equipped with 4wd from the factory, and it gained popularity among farmers, ranchers, hunters, and others who needed a lightweight vehicle for use on unimproved roads and trails. In 1946, a year after the introduction of the CJ-2A, Willys produced the Willys ‘Jeep’ Utility Wagon based on the same engine and transmission, with clear styling influence from the CJ-2A Jeep. The next year came a ‘Jeep’ Utility Truck with four-wheel drive. In 1948, the wagon was available in four-wheel drive, making it the ancestor of all sport utility vehicles (SUV).
Hamilton introduced their ‘Nellybelle’ pedal car jeep in 1954, at the height of the TV show’s popularity. As well as the grey jeep with white wheels, there was a blue one with red wheels. Although ‘Nellybelle’ in the TV show was never shown with a hood fitted, the ‘top bow’ was a permanent fixture on the Hamilton jeep; the windscreen folded flat. A chain-driven ‘Nellybelle’ was added a few years later, and Hamilton also made other jeep variants including army and air force models. Hamilton’s jeeps were the leading brand, popular throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but Steger had a model out and so did Garton (later). Probably the earliest American pedal car jeep was made by Sherwood Toys of Walden, NY, announced in 1948. Triang in England brought out their jeep in 1953, and Belgian toy-maker Torck made a similar version to Triang for the European market.
1954 ‘NELLYBELLE’ PEDAL-DRIVE JEEP
1956 ‘NELLYBELLE’ CHAIN-DRIVEN JEEP
1957 NELLYBELLE PRESSED-STEEL MODEL JEEP
1957 SEARS XMAS AD: HAMILTON NELLYBELLE PEDAL CAR JEEP
ROY ROGERS TV SHOW PHOTOS: THE REAL ‘NELLYBELLE’ JEEP
HAMILTON STEEL PRODUCTS
1845 West 74th St, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Hamilton Steel Products, Inc was an Illinois corporation organized in 1933, with its principal place of business in Chicago, Illinois. It was a manufacturer of garden equipment and children’s toys. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1965.
ROY ROGERS EPHEMERA
I create displays for museums around the world, so I’m always interested in ephemera to complement one of my pieces. The image above is a reproduction metal sign featuring one of Sears Roebuck’s 1957 excellent adverts for Roy Rogers cowboy outfits.
Of various original Roy Rogers items to accompany ‘Nellybelle’ the jeep, probably the most striking piece is the life size cardboard cut-out model of Roy Rogers himself…
1950s HAMILTON PEDAL CAR TRAILER
Hamilton Nellybelle jeep info with thanks to –