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Rocket Motors from 1958-60


Finding Rocket Motors from 1958-60 is very difficult, and locating pristine motors from this time is next to impossible. These two beautiful Rocket Motors were constructed on Vern's rocket motor-making machine Mabel. More than likely, these motors were made by Vern, Gleda or Jim Berns. You just don't see these anymore, and they definitely belong in a museum. Many collectors have never even seen an original Denver Motor - even after many years of collecting.

Rocket Motors courtesy of the Andy Andres collection


Rocket Motor Mailer, 1959


Back in the very early days of Estes Industries, rocket motors were shipped in canvas Rocket Motor Mailing bags. I learned from Vern that these bags were used for an extremely short period - months at best - and finding one that survives is next to impossible. The bags were eventually supplanted with the red tube mailers, and are extremely difficult to locate. The example here from Vern's private museum dated May 8, 1959 may be the lone surviving piece.

Rocket Motor mailer courtesy of the Vernon Estes museum

1961 Denver Catalogue


The 1961 Denver Catalogue is the rarest of all the Estes catalogues, and its very unlikely any new copies will be discovered. At present, its estimated that less than 10 survive (only 200 were made). The catalogue featured just one kit - The K-1 Astron Scout, stitched together on Gleda's sewing machine, and was only 20 pages.  The 1961 Denver Catalogue is considered the "Holy Grail" of Estes catalogue collecting.



K-1 Astron Scout, Type I & Ia, 1961-63


Early K-1 Astron Scout kits were packaged and mailed in the same red tubes Estes was using at the time to mail rocket-engines. The kit fit perfectly into the tubes, and the sturdy construction kept the contents in new condition. Its a safe bet to assume that nearly all of these were opened, built and flown, and finding one that survives today is a very difficult at best. Even the tubes they were shipped in could be used as body tubes in home-made designs, all the more reason finding a complete Type I or Type Ia Astron Scout is very, very difficult.

K-1 Astron Scout, Type Ia from the Higgins collection

K-2 Astron Mark, Type I, 1962


The K-2 Astron Mark instruction and face card sheet underwent a subtle change early after it's initial release. The Type I has the words "Manufactured by" in a round Arial font, and was only in use for a very short time. Soon after its release, the font was changed to a Serif type font, and is much more common. This Type I Astron Mark is  stapled closed and is very difficult to obtain in any condition.

K-2 Astron Mark from the Higgins collection

K-8 Astron Skyhook, Type I, 1963

Early K-8 Astron Skyhook kits were packed with PM-1 and stapled closed. The kit was one of the best sellers at the time, so locating one in any condition is extremely difficult. The Type I Astron Skyhook had the crude, hand-drawn rocket-graphic on the Facecard making it highly sought after by collectors.

K-8 Astron Skyhook from the Higgins collection

K-9A Man-In-Space, 1963


The K-9A Estes Man-In-Space from 1963 may be the rarest of all Estes kits. Here's why: In 1963, the Estes Man-In-Space was offered as a free kit (with a $5 purchase) in the April/May 1963 Model Rocket News. In the August/September 1963 issue of the Model Rocket News, the kit was renamed the Astron Spaceman, and would make its debut in the 1964 catalogue. That means that for just four months, you could obtain a Man-In-Space as a free kit with a minimum $5 order (what kid had $5 in 1963?).  Add to the fact that the kit contains the easily crushable BT-60N, and you have a rare, fragile kit that is impossible to find.

K-9A Estes Man-In-Space from the Higgins collection

K-5 Astron Apogee, 1963


Finding an original, short-body K-5 Astron Apogee from 1963 will take years, assuming there are any left to be discovered. This rare kit was only in production for less than a year until being supplanted by the K-5 Astron Apogee II in 1964. Packed with PM-1 and stapled closed, this is one of the rarest, and difficult to obtain of the K-Kits. Many collectors who are building a complete collection of K-Kits will tell you this is one of the most difficult kits to obtain in any condition.


K-19 Astron Invader!, 1965


Finding a K-19 Astron Invader from 1965 will likely take very careful searching. This rare kit was only in production for 18 months, making it one of the shortest kit production runs in the company's history.  Perhaps the high skill-level required to build her was to blame for the lack of interest in this beautiful glider, and as such you just don't find these anymore. This pristine example here is one of a few known surviving kits. Locating a K-19 Astron Invader in any condition is next to impossible.

K-19 Astron Invader! from the the Higgins collection

Open House Materials, 1969


The Estes Open House event that took place on March 2, 1969 was the crescendo at Estes before the acquisition by Damon Corp. These invitations were sent to heads of local businesses, the governor (who could not attend) and many other important people of the time. The handout was given to the guests who attended.  This example may be the lone surviving pair, located in a box of materials from the late Jean Fowler's estate. Jean worked at Estes, and after retirement this item remained with her until its sale in 2007.

Estes Open-House materials courtesy of the Joe Warner collection

K-36NF Saturn V, 1969


The K-36NF is a non-flying version of the 1/100th scale Saturn-V that had a very limited production run in 1969. 300 kits were delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in time for the launch of Apollo 10, and an additional 300 kits were shipped the following week. Of the 600 kits that were produced, this example is one of but 3 known. During the race for space in the mid to late 1960's, the Kennedy Space Center hosted alot of visitors, and as such, these kits sold quickly. Many of the kits ended up built or taken back abroad, so finding a K-36NF is next to impossible.

K-36NF courtesy of the Earl Cagle collection

K-59 SPEV, 1971

The K-59 SPEV has the distinction of being the last true K-Kit from the golden age. According to Bill Simon, the SPEV was a Surplus Parts Elimination Vehicle created to eliminate spare parts in the warehouse. According to Simon:

"The story behind that is that John Hood, our warehouse manager, used the visual system of inventory control: if the bin in his warehouse looked to be near empty, he’d tell George Miller, our purchasing agent, to order more. At some point orders from Euclid, our body tube supplier, were slow coming in, so John, on his next weekly round, would dutifully note that the BT-xx bin was empty and tell George to order more. George in turn would place the purchase order. A few weeks like that and we ended up with a 50-year supply of a couple of items. The “Surplus Parts Elimination Vehicle (SPEV)” was purely a way to correct the imbalance, and it was discontinued as soon as it had done its job."

The SPEV is one of the most difficult kits to obtain. Given the kits history, the SPEV holds a special place among collectors. It signifies the end of the golden age and gives us an insight into how Estes dealt with their surplus parts.  Not too many SPEV's were produced, and as such, it's very difficult to locate in any condition.

K-59 Facecard from the the Higgins collection



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