Section 5: The History and Fate of the Silvercup Rocket
Mid-1950's to Early 1960's - The idea to construct a "life-sized" rocket to help promote Rocky Jones and Silvercup Bread was developed by executives of the Detroit-based Gordon Baking Company during the summer of 1954. The rocket took three months to build at Gordon's Chicago truck shop where they repaired and maintained their delivery trucks. The tube frame was built specifically to be attached to an International R-185 Roadliner truck that would be used to tow the ship around to various publicity events and state fairs across the Midwest.
The Silvercup Rocket made its debut at the Michigan State Fair on September 3, 1954 (although the rocket is not mentioned in the 1954 program). During the run of the State Fair that year (9/3-9/12/1954) it is estimated that the ship received 100,000 visitors. (The following picture is from that 1954 State Fair.)
A uniformed Space Ranger attended the rocket and gave tours. Items inside the rocket included an interplanetary radio that could receive (recorded) messages from Rocky Jones, an interplanetary TV that could also contact Rocky (via a rear projected sound film on the screen), cockpit levers that made a jet engine sound when pulled or made the sound of space guns, bunk beds, oxygen tanks and a map of outer space. As a reminder of who sponsored the rocket, kids were given a miniature loaf of Silvercup bread when they exited the rocket.
1954 Official Pass given to kids who toured the traveling Rocky Jones Silvercup Space Ship
International Trail Magazine, March 1955
This issue of the official magazine of the International Harvester Company had an extensive article on the beginnings of the Silvercup Rocket. (The pictures from this magazine are used throughout this page.)
Some pictures of the rocket in 1954. The photo on the right is from a color slide labeled "Atlantic City, NJ 1954" and was taken after the rocket debuted at the Michigan State Fair.
This is a brochure announcing the upcoming Michigan State Fair in September 1955. Inside is a picture featuring the Rocky Jones Rocket Ship as an attraction (picture is from the 1954 Michigan State Fair).
The rocket is listed in the 1955 Michigan State Fair program as a "Permanent Exhibit" located in the Kiddie Playland (which can be seen at the bottom of the map below). This is the only year it is listed as being sponsored by the Gordon Baking Co. (after this year it is always sponsored by Silvercup).
Here are some other vintage pictures of the rocket from the mid to late 1950's.
The following color picture is from a recently discovered slide taken on 8/9/1956. I believe 26th & Drake is in southwest Chicago. The black and white photo was found in the files of the Kearny, NJ Police Department.
Here is an article announcing the return of the Silvercup Rocket to the 1956 Michigan State Fair.
Here is the 1956 Michigan State Fair program and the listing for the rocket.
This photograph was found in a group of pictures taken by a Toledo photographer at the Michigan State Fair on 9/2/1956 (written on back). Notice that inside the radar dish near the tail of the ship is written SILVERCUP BREAD.
The 1957 Michigan State Fair program and listing.
1958 Michigan State Fair program and listing.
1959 Michigan State Fair program and listing.
1960 Michigan State Fair program and listing.
This is the last time the rocket is listed in a Michigan State Fair program. In 1961 there was a new Parachute Jump in the place where the rocket was located then in 1962 an exact replica of astronaut John Glenn's capsule made it's debut. I guess by then why would kids need to visit a TV fantasy rocket when they could see one just like the kind that was actually going into space.
Early 1960's to mid-1980's - In the early 1960's a contest was held with the grand prize being the actual rocket. The winner was a family in St. Ignace, MI, which is located on the north end of the Mackinaw Bridge. At some point most of the original artwork was removed or defaced and the craft was renamed "Space Ship Mars". The rocket was moved to a park in Sault Ste. Marie, MI and served simply as a roadside attraction. The following picture was taken in September 1979 by a tourist who noticed the remains of a rocket as he drove by (Photo courtesy of Don Howe).
Both of these pictures were taken about 1980. Notice the bridge to Canada in the background of the second picture.
(Courtesy of Jeff Duntemann.)
The next two pictures from this era were taken about 1984 when the rocket was purchased and began its trip south.
Circa mid-1980's to 2003 - The rocket was purchased by Wayne Huddlestun in approximately 1984 and relocated to his farm near the small western Michigan town of Montague. The new owner intended to restore it, but instead it sat in his salvage yard gradually rusting away. The rocket was rediscovered in about 2001 by space opera fan Don Souter who took the following pictures, including a few of the interior (being used to store miscellaneous things).
2003 - The rocket was later located and purchased by Greg Ward, the senior curator of the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI. The Air Zoo is an aircraft museum that has experts specializing in restoring old aircraft. One of the projects they took on was to bring the craft back to their workshop in Kalamazoo and to bring the Silvercup Rocket back to its original glory. The following pictures are of the rocket being loaded and shipped to Kalamazoo. The last picture was taken Spring 2004.
2005 - Here are some photos of the recent restoration. The rocket has been sand blasted and primed. The interior has been stripped and cleaned. The rocket is currently in storage pending funding for further restoration.
2009 - As a fan of the Silvercup Rocket that lives only about an hour and a half from Kalamazoo I decided to go see it for myself. On 8/7/09 I drove to Air Zoo and met up with Greg Ward. After getting a great behind the scenes look at their restoration area Greg took me to see the rocket, which is in pretty much the same condition as previously reported. There has been more work on the interior to remove a thick coating of sealer and to paint the entire interior with a primer to stabilize its condition. I also saw that many of the original parts of the craft have been stored, including the doors, bunk beds and some of the instrument panels.
I would like to add that I believe that the rocket has ended up in the right hands. Greg showed me some other restorations that the Air Zoo has performed and the results are magnificent. They have a strong desire to bring the rocket back to its 1950's appearance and have the talented team to do it. In the not too distant future they intend to start a drive to raise the funds to complete the task. I sincerely hope that fans will be generous and show their support for this project. I will post other updates as I get new information.
January 2010 Update - Here is an announcement by Greg Ward from the Air Zoo to that I was happy to forward to all the various people that I have had contact with regarding Rocky Jones and the Silvercup Rocket over the years :PLEASE... HELP US SAVE THE SILVERCUP ROCKET
January 2010 - My name is Greg Ward, Senior Curator of Aircraft & Space Artifacts at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum. Located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we're more affectionately known as the Air Zoo in recent years. We celebrated our 30th Anniversary in 2009. Our museum is an Affiliate Member of the Smithsonian Institution and we preserve and display artifacts for the National Air & Space Museum. Proudly, we are noted for the quality of our restoration work.
Rocky Jones Silvercup Rocket
On September 10, 2003 we completed a transaction to secure the Silvercup Rocket. Shortly thereafter every square inch of this artifact was painstakingly documented with digital photographs and full-sized patterns. All interior components were labeled, removed and preserved. The entire rocket was then dry-blasted and primed to remove and stop the corrosion process. At that point the Silvercup Rocket was placed into short-term indoor storage.
Now fast-forward to 2009... The Silvercup Rocket has been moved back into the Air Zoo's Flight & Restoration Center and is now in queue for a thorough restoration.
Rocky Jones Fans... We would like to hear your story!
Did you used to go visit Rocky Jones and the Silvercup Rocket in person, watch the Rocky Jones Space Ranger TV show or read the comic books? No matter which, we would like to hear from you so that we may preserve these memories forever.
If you please, take a minute to drop us a note. We would appreciate the opportunity to form a list of folks who may wish to follow the progress of the Silver Cup Rocket restoration. Please feel free to stay in touch because beginning soon exciting sponsorship opportunities will become available at all levels. All of my contact information is listed below.
For U.S. Mail only...
Greg Ward - Air Zoo Senior Curator of
6151 Portage Road / Portage, MI 49002 USA
Hours: 0800-1630 EST, Monday-Friday
Phone: (269) 382-6511
Phone: (269) 382-6511
Sources of the preceding pictures: