1979 – “Jumbo” the Mechanical Elephant – Restoration by Larry Gavette

In 1979 an American named Larry Gavette, who lives in Waterford, M.I., U.S.A., took his daughter to Bald Mountain Riding Stables for a pony ride. There he found a some-what dilapidated life-sized mechanical elephant and he bought it,  trailer and all, for 125 dollars. It was in poor condition and at first he wondered whether or not to scrap it, but then he decided to find out as much as he could about it; before long he was hooked.

He discovered that previously a firm (Cunningham's Drug Stores) had used the elephant to advertise Jumbo photo-prints and also Jumbo Milk Shakes; they had sold it in 1953 and then bought it back again in 1961 when they donated it to an organisation known as Channel 56 Auction which was an outlet for some charity fund raising. Jumbo was won by the riding stables where Larry eventually discovered it, a victim of weather, its hide fabric and papier-mache tusks damaged by vandals, its head separated from its body.

Larry spent the next winter repairing and rebuilding the elephant body and working on the engine and mechanical gadgetry; after many hours of labour the restoration was complete and the animal mobile again. Once the technical problem had been solved Jumbo was able to amble along at 8 m.p.h. The previous owner had claimed that it had been driven at 16 m.p.h. but that it had been the "scariest ride of his life!" Jumbo was then turned into a company, Pachyderm Limited to engage visiting carnivals and similar spectaculars giving rides to children as he did when first built in Thaxted, U.K. in the early 1950s.

Even after Larry had got Jumbo on the road he had not exhausted his obsession. He still wanted to know how such a creature came to be made, who made it and where had it come from.

Thirty years on, although Larry has since passed Jumbo on to a new family to care for him, we can enjoy Larry's obsession and thorough research that even led him across England at one time, through the content on this website on Frank Stuart's Mechanical Elephants. We all thank you Larry.

Hi Honey, guess what I bought today?….OK.OK..I'll leave it outside then…

A delapidated Jumbo sitting on Larry Gavette's lawn.

Too big to bring indoors, so a winter shelter is built around it…

Stripped down to the frame…

In the enclosed Patio, the head and rump with their new papier-mache underpinnings was what that room looked like most of the winter.

First walkies – sans hide…

The inner-padding going on the hind quarters.

Anne Weber (Edmunds), the soon to be driver (mahout), stitching Jumbo's nether regions…

…that's the second largest pair of long john's I've ever seen…

…the white muslin on the legs and trunk matched the original in purpose, being to hold the shapes as there were "belt loops" sewn completley around the fabric with banding material slipped in the entire circumference to maintain the shape. The leg muslins were removed when the second skin replaced an earlier damaged one, it was too much trouble to get at the feet for inspections and maintenance trying to hold the materials of the inner and outer leg coverings up.. Eventually zippers were added to the inner leg skin so the whole skin could be pulled right out of the way…

Larry's wife Sue stitching the stomach flap…

Larry's wife Sue with daughter Adrianne painting the new "howdah" (passenger seat)…Well, someone's got to take the photos!

The new hide (referred to as "masking") being fitted. The original hide was used as the pattern for the new one.

…not long now…

Nearly there…just a bit of tooth whitening to attract the girls….particularly on your first date!

All dressed up..check. Hide brushed..check.Teeth white..check. Big "J" medallion..check. Ramps ready..check. Sue's approval..check. What are we waiting for then? Let's go…

Anne Weber (Edmunds) putting Jumbo through his paces in two parades during his second career in Michigan. Anne did all the driving in almost all the parades and events Jumbo participated in, traveling all over Michigan and parts of Canada. The trailer is a reproduction of the trailer used in the movie Smokey and the Bandit 2.

Jumbo in a parade with 'mahout' Anne Weber.

Local news reporter Erik Smith comes out and does a news piece on Jumbo. Larry Gavette, his daughter Adrianne, and Erik go for a ride down the street.

Jumbo, proud of its new trailer.


The inspiration for the new trailer – Smoky and the Bandit 2.

A look at the building of a new trailer for Jumbo, the mechanical elephant. This was done in 1979.

Larry Gavette (2011) standing beside a full-size tracing of the original Frank Stuart Mechanical Elephant "Potsy". The tracing was made by the late Maurice Radburn.

All images and videos courtesy of Larry Gavette.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 at 4:42 pm and is filed under Walking Machines. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

6 Responses to “1979 – “Jumbo” the Mechanical Elephant – Restoration by Larry Gavette”

  1. larry Says:

    Reuben, thank you so much for giving the old girl a new chance to show her stuff. Brings back every glorious memory, and a few that weren’t so. ride on.

  2. Hieronymo Says:

    This is an amazing collection of mechanical pachyderms! Thanks for compiling and sharing.

  3. Donald Fish Says:

    I have a picture of me as a child standing in front of Jumbo,and leaning against his leg with other kids in the riding seats on his back.the picture was taken by Cunninghams for promotion of pictures and of jumbo,it was used in posters.Love to hear from you.

  4. ken stalter Says:

    Jumbo is almost done again

  5. David Gold Says:

    The only thing I have to add is that a few years ago I ended up with some what I think are English ad sheets, one of which reads, JUMBO THE MECHANICAL ELEPHANT giving out BUMPER XMAS PARCELS in the "Land of Make Believe" at COZENS, Admission Free, of course. I can only assume, because I have been unable to verify it, that Cozens was a London department store. This newsprint poster is about 32"x22". 8/7/14

  6. Rich Wise Says:

    Larry: When I was about 14 years old, I worked for Cunningham's helping load and off load young children on/off Jumbo. A conversation I had this evening brought back the memories. If you are interested please email me and possibly we can chat about my experiences way back then – guessing it to be about 1951/52 era. Happy trails