New information about Don “Marvel Man” Haynes reveals he kept up his welded-in-the-car act for years and that it wasn’t everything it seemed. Photo courtesy George Kramer

'Marvel Man' gig was quite a ride

The Marvel Man may have been a little less marvelous than everybody thought. A former employer says Don Haynes, who claimed to live inside a sealed car, actually was able to slip out of the vehicle.

And history buff Ben Truwe, of Medford, found that The Marvel Man kept his act going around the country for years after he disappeared from the Rogue Valley.

"The story changes from time to time," Truwe says.

In 1949, in Ashland, Haynes had himself welded inside a Kaiser automobile and toured the country after betting he could stay in the car for a year and visit all 48 states.

Newspaper accounts identified him as a 39-year-old truck driver and former merchant seaman who had a $25,000 bet with a Grants Pass or Ashland rancher named Mauldin or Mulden.

Haynes was given a brass-band send-off on Feb. 18, 1949, in Ashland. He left in a Kaiser fitted with a commode and a typewriter and bars welded over the windows. He returned in March 1950 saying he'd fallen short of his goal and was looking for a job.

The Mail Tribune ran a story about Haynes in April 2006 after Ashland historian George Kramer bought a postcard of Haynes in his Marvel Man car online, and another story in March of this year when locally produced photos of Haynes and the car turned up in a thrift shop in Camano Island, Wash.

After the March story, Kramer tracked down Otis Roley, whose Marvel Man photos had been inadvertently donated to the Second Chance Thrift Shop and wound up in Kramer's hands. Roley, now 90, operated a Shell station at Sixth and M streets in Grants Pass. He told Kramer in a recent e-mail that Haynes rented a room in Grants Pass and worked for him one summer.

Roley says Haynes got the car from a Kaiser dealer. The point of the stunt was to prove he could tour the country and never leave the car.

But Roley remembers the car as having removable floorboards, ostensibly so that Haynes could stick his feet through and walk the car for exercise.

"I think he told me that he was able to slide out when he had car trouble and needed to shower and clean up," Roley writes.

The Daily Tidings reported in 1949 that 2,500 people attended a "sealing ceremony" in Ashland before Haynes roared off toward California with a police escort. Roley remembers Haynes being sealed in at his gas station, with about 100 people in attendance.

Haynes returned to the Rogue Valley in March 1950 saying he'd lost track of his advance publicity man and given up just short of his goals. Then in July 1950, he popped up in Iowa, described as "a man who collects gubernatorial pajamas." He got the PJ bottoms of Iowa Gov. William S. Beardsley, which he said would become part of a quilt to be auctioned off on a radio show to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Jack Mueller, of the Kaiser-Frazer Owners Club International, says that a mystery man named Mauldin or Mulden, with whom Haynes made his barroom bet, was neither from Grants Pass nor Ashland, but from Montana. Mueller says Haynes went to the Kaiser factory in Willow Run, Mich., for the car, and arrangements were made to have the Marvel Man stop (for a fee) at dealerships.

"The end is ... rather vague," Mueller writes.

But Truwe tracked Haynes much farther. In 1951 Haynes "managed" a Roy Fay, a Wyoming cowboy who also was welded into a car but dropped from sight. In 1958 Haynes and his wife were welded into a car for a time. After that Haynes kept it up alone for another five years. Clips from newspapers around the country tracked Haynes as he tried to keep up a schedule of driving 10,000 miles a month.

In one of the most unusual episodes of his original adventure, Haynes drove back to Ashland in April 1949 to visit his wife as she was giving birth to a daughter (the couple also had a son). A photo shows the Kaiser, with Haynes inside, being lifted to the hospital window by an industrial hoist.

The pajama-collecting theme surfaced in February 1950, when the Charleston, W.V., Daily Mail reported that Haynes made a bet with Art Linkletter, of the radio show "People Are Funny," that he could collect the pajamas of the nation's governors.

In 1958 Haynes and his wife, then billing themselves as "The Nomads," turned up in Terre Haute, Ind., in a new Mercury Voyager station wagon. In a stunt that brought new meaning to the term togetherness, they said they would spend 18 months visiting all 48 states. They were followed by a couple pulling a travel trailer and doing the cooking. The Nomads turned up in Idaho, California, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, New York, Texas and elsewhere.

"You'd be surprised how interesting it's been," Haynes, then 51, told a reporter for the Lima (Ohio) News in 1961. He described himself as a former ad man and said the stunt began as a bet with Linkletter. He claimed to be making $200 a day through earnings from sponsors.

He said in North Carolina in 1962 that he was from Georgia, that his wife was in Florida, and that Art Linkletter would be making a film about him.

In 1963, in Hammond, Ind., he was in a car wreck, and a doctor treated him for minor injuries through the car's bars. He later pleaded guilty to failing to yield the right-of-way after the judge brought the court to the car.

In 1964 he told the Modesto Bee he was headed for the New York World's Fair. He was selling 10-cent postcards like the one George Kramer would buy four decades later.

Later that year, a columnist in Ohio printed a 1961 bulletin from the TV show "People Are Funny" disclaiming Haynes and his stunt and saying that Haynes was not associated with the show.

"Many years ago, Don Haynes was a contestant on (the show) when it was a radio show only ... " the bulletin said. "We would appreciate any information you may have concerning Don Haynes' present whereabouts."

After that Haynes disappears from the record again. He would be 90 or more today. But the way Ben Truwe sees it, even that's not necessarily the end of the story.

"The son should be findable," he says.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

Share This Story