The past comes to life at the Okoboji Classic Car Museum

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Toby Shine leans on a 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS convertible parked in front of a replica of The Peacock, an eatery and bar that once stood in the Iowa Great Lakes. Okoboji Classic Cars, and the adjacent museum, was a labor of love for Shine. See more photos from the museum on page 14 of today's Daily Reporter. (Photo by Michael Fischer)

Museum open to the public

The Okoboji Classic Car Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All tours require a $10 daily membership that can be used as credit toward purchases within the museum showroom gift shop.

The restoration shop is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The museum is located at 810 Jeppeson Road, West Okoboji, just off Iowa Highway 86. The business is approximately one-half mile west of Perkins in north Milford.

Owned by Toby and Sylvia Shine, the Okoboji Classic Car Museum features a collection of classic cars, with the museum showroom cars available for purchase.

Due to popular demand, the Shines decided it was time to open the museum to the public.

"Sylvia and I have received a lot of community interest in opening up what we've developed here in West Okoboji with Okoboji Classic Cars," said Shine.

For more information, check out Okoboji Classic Cars online at

Cruising Grand Avenue with the windows rolled down and music on the car radio.

Waving to friends while on a slow roll through Arnolds Park.

Stopping by the lake to dip in a toe, then off to the amusement park for an evening of fun.

For so many who grew up in Spencer and the Iowa Great Lakes area, those memories of growing up include those touchstones. While the songs on the car radio may have been different, the feelings for the carefree days of youth are the same.

Local businessman Toby Shine remembers those feelings as well. And for him, like so many others, those memories also included some special cars. While for many, going back in time to those earlier years is a sentimental journey, Shine decided to make the experience real.

He and his wife Sylvia have created a car museum, attached to his newest business, Okoboji Classic Cars, which does far more than simply display his collection of classic vehicles and show off the work of the auto restoration shop he opened.

For those of a certain age, the scenery of youth has changed. The Tangney Hotel is now the Dream Center. The Fun House has disappeared from the West Okoboji lakefront. And, if you asked a teen today about Stub's House of Plenty or Feldmanns in downtown Spencer, they wouldn't have a clue about those longtime businesses.

Walking into the museum at Okoboji Classic Cars, however is a trip back in time. You can stroll down Grand Avenue, look at the window display at The Camera Shop, and check out the fashions at Eddie Quinns. Gazing at a giant mural of West Lake Okoboji at the "magic hour" of dusk, a visitor marvels at the sight of the old Queen and Empress boats plying the calm waters.

The 65,000 square foot museum, along with the state-of-the-art restoration shop, began as simply an extension of Shine's love of classic cars.

"This is a hobby that really got out of hand," Shine explained. "All we really wanted was a man cave, and now we have a man cave on steroids."

The museum quickly became much more than one man's dream, as Shine shared his vision with a wide array of artisans and local construction experts.

Jerry Uittenbogaard of Sheldon recalls getting a phone call from Shine, wanting to know "a price for a metal building." It became apparent through the following months that Uittenbogaard and the over 150 individuals who have worked on some phase of the project, that it was much more than a simple steel and concrete structure.

"I could say this was a once-in-a-lifetime project, but very few people get a chance in their life to ever work on something like this," Uittenbogaard said.

The building itself is impressive, measuring 160-400 feet, with multiple bump-outs housing mechanical functions of the operation. Spencer architect Paul Maurer was also in on the project from the beginning, consulting with Shine and Uittenbogaard to design the structure.

The restoration shop houses the very latest in equipment, from downdraft paint booth, to custom upholstery shop, to the latest in equipment. Cars can be stripped totally down and brought back to showroom condition. Customers from across the country entrust their valuable vintage autos to the staff of eight. Everything is done in-house, with experts trained in every facet of the process.

Once you walk through the pristine white environment of the restoration shop and into the museum, you move back in time to the 1960s.

That magic took stringent research, attention to detail, and a talented artist. Shine called on Jack Rees, a well-known local artist, to breath life into the dream. Rees has embarked on a project far bigger than he had ever imagined. The 20,000 square feet of large wall murals planned, and an additional 8,000 to 10,000 smaller segments, don't just evoke the area in 1960s, his lifelike work could be world record-setting.

According to Rees, the world record for one person's mural work on a single project totals about 18,000 square feet - about 10,000 square feet less than the museum work will cover when complete.

"Toby had a vision, and it just continued to grow," Rees said. Rees was assisted in his task by a well-known sign painter, Marty Mummert. His business, Marty Mummert Studio, located in East Berlin, Penn., is recognized as a premiere creator of custom, vintage signs. Mummert made several trips to the area to paint signs constructed on site. The project relied on the research of local residents, museums and cities to ensure each store and its signage, looked as historically accurate as possible.

The Shines sourced materials for the window dressing of each store, ensuring it is accurate for the time period and each store. They have had a great deal of help from the community. Volunteers have also assisted in the window dressing.

"It's really become a community project, with people hearing about the museum and bringing things in," said Eva Shine, daughter of Toby and Sylvia.

That community spirit extended to the workers. Uittenbogaard said he asked his wife, a seamstress, if she would be interested in sewing curtains for the store windows.

"I don't think she anticipated the number of curtains she would be sewing!" he said. The couple also took on the project of ensuring even the second floor windows showed signs of life, with lamps, artwork visible on the walls and curtains. Some lights in those upper stories are on, some off, and others dim - reflecting a typical day in the life in the 1960s.

While Shine began the project envisioning a private space to house his car collection, adjacent to the restoration shop, it had become apparent that public interest in the museum was very high.

"We weren't going to open to the public because we worried about damage being done to the cars," Shine said. "However, we've had so much demand, from people who heard about it from friends who had seen the project, that we really felt it needed to be open."

Visitors will be guided through the space, with details explained to them, and information on each car, detailing its providence.

The museum had its public debut three weeks ago, when the Shines hosted a large reception for the Iowa Association of Business and Industry's annual conference, held in Okoboji. The crowd on hand enjoyed a dinner, prepared in the complete catering kitchen on-site, just off the fully-functioning Peacock Lounge, and danced to the period-appropriate music of The Rumbles.

Now, the doors open to the public, allowing everyone to enjoy classic automobiles in a setting that takes everyone back to the "Good Old Days."

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