Retro Rumblings – Mayberry Mick
It was a hot Friday afternoon at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. This was in the mid-’90s. A call came over the radio that an unauthorized police officer was directing event traffic at the top of Grand Ave.
A few of us loaded up in golf carts and raced over there. When we arrived on scene, there was a man who bore a striking resemblance to Barney Fife of Mayberry. So striking that he had the exact same uniform Don Knotts wore in the popular television show. He had the same hat, and definitely the same car – a 1963 Ford Galaxie, the exact year, make and model as Fife drove in season four of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
The man was Minnesota’s Mick Kieffer, a hobbyist who had successfully turned his obsession with Barney Fife into a dazzling doppelgänger. In addition to his uniform, he wore white gloves and blew a whistle. He was doing a damn good job of directing traffic, too! We all sat and smiled and laughed. Barney Fife had indeed come back to life and he was policing our Heartland Nationals. What a trip.
When Gary Meadors arrived on scene, he was so impressed with Kieffer he instantly started taking photos with him. It was at that point Mick and his wife Kathy became part of our extended event family. He was welcome to direct all of the show traffic he desired.
The next year Kieffer showed up in Iowa again. There was a fella named Don from Photo Sports who gave Gary a Sheriff’s helmet so Gary could be on par with Kieffer’s costume. The two men had great fun playing it up for the crowds.
For several more years Kieffer appeared at the Heartland Nationals, becoming part of the event’s fabric. Eventually he was invited to other regional events before coming West to do his thing at the West Coast Nationals some 2,000 miles from his Minnesota home.
I vividly remember loading up in the ’63 Galaxie squad car with Mick (in full dress), Kathy, and two of their friends who had come out with them. We left Pleasanton early morning and drove into the big city of San Francisco for a pre-West Coast Nationals media appearance. The traffic leading up to the Bay Bridge was horrendous that morning. After waiting in traffic for over 45 mins, a fellow motorist pulled up next to us and shouted “There are five of you in that squad car. Why aren’t you in the carpool lane?” Duh! That was on me. The Kieffers never let me live that one down.
We drove through some rough neighborhoods in San Francisco on our way to meet the TV crew. You should have seen the reactions we got, even from skid row. People, including some strung-out drug addicts, were waving and hollering at Mick a.k.a. Barney. They couldn’t believe it. Other motorists were howling, too, at the fact Barney Fife had come back to life to visit their fair city. It was awesome.
That’s the power of classic cars and nostalgia. From the front row to skid row, everyone cracks a smile and feels good when they take a brief trip to the good old days.
When we first met Mick in Des Moines that first year, he had been dabbling in his Barney Fife routine for a while. He was a regular at Back to the ’50s, as well as birthday parties, corporate events, and car shows in and around the Gopher State.
Mick was an electrical engineer during his working days before transitioning into semi-retirement. After he put away his electrical tools, he and Kathy owned and operated a trophy and merchandise shop in St. Paul named MPL Specialties. It’s still open to this day with Kathy at the helm and they have added screen printing services to the business.
When Mick’s health began to decline in 2007, he and Kathy decided to part ways with the ’63 Galaxie squad car as his car show appearance days were over. After one last hurrah at Back to the ’50s, they chose to sell the car at the 2008 Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale. To make the experience as cool as possible, the Barrett-Jackson people asked Mick to don his Barney Fife suit one last time and drive it across the auction block on Sunday, January 20. That was his last ride in the car. The gavel fell at $28,000 – not too shabby for a car he paid five grand for.
Mick passed away August 23, 2010 after getting a deadly staph infection in his lung also known as MRSA. Truth be told, Mick fought lung issues his entire life. He never complained. Instead, he fought his way through it to do what he loved – provide for his family and play the role of Barney Fife.
At his celebration of life, Kathy and her children greeted friends and family for over six hours. There were hundreds of classic cars outside on display. That’s how much of an impact Mick had in his home state of Minnesota. He was beloved by so many.
Looking back at our experiences with Mick, it’s not a reach to say he was one of our favorite characters in the four decades Goodguys has been doing events. There are so many characters that have come and gone but Mick Kieffer stands out among the top. He, Andy Griffith, and Don Knotts are no doubt whistling that famous theme song in the great beyond.