DIY Refurbished 1950s Youth Football Helmet: 1954 Pittsburgh Steelers
Over the summer a trip to my local flea market was quite successful when I found several vintage youth helmets for quite cheap. One of the helmets I bought was a 1950s youth football by Hutch. This model in particular was a Heisman Trophy winner and Notre Dame Halfback Johnny Lattner model. Lattner also played one year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1954. That is the year I decided to model my refurbished helmet after.
About the Helmet
Lattner was one of several players who had signature helmet models. Unlike today, most of these signature models were generic uniforms and not licensed replicas of whatever team they played for. There is not a lot of information on these uniform sets, but I can tell you this helmet is only a bit bigger than a mini replica helmet. I’m not sure who these uniform sets were intended for, but either kids were really tiny in the early 50s or these sets were mostly worn by babies. Below is a picture of the finished helmet next to a mini helmet and a full sized high school football helmet. The helmet is most likely from the 1950s and came with jersey pads and pants like the one seen here.
1954 Steelers Helmet
For most of the first few decades of the Steelers existence they had helmets painted yellow. This remained true as they switched to plastic shelled helmets in the 1950s. For the 1954 helmet, the year Lattner played for the Steelers, the team had a yellow shell with a single black stripe down the middle with no uniform numbers on the side. They would not add numbers to the helmets until a few years later.
Step One: Primer Coat
The first step to refurbishing this helmet was adding a good couple coats of primer to cover up the original red shell. Red is one of the harder colors to cover up, but a good coat of primer will make it all but disappear. I mainly use Krylon and Rustoleum which both work about the same. For this helmet i used white primer.
Painting The Facemask
Unfortunately this helmet had the facemask secured with rivets, so instead of drilling them out and risk cracking the shell, I decided to just cover with tape. Most of the players in 1954 did not wear facemasks, so for the single bar mask on this helmet I went with the traditional classic gray. I used newspaper ads and painter’s tape to cover up the shell and painted just the mask classic gray.
Painting The Stripe
The first step in the shell was painting the single black stripe. For the stripe I used Gloss black. I also decided to paint the stripe first and then cover and paint the rest of the shell. It probably doesn’t make a difference, but i thought it would be better to paint over the primer with the black rather than paint over the gloss yellow. Using painter’s tape and newspaper I masked off the rest of the helmet and applied several coats of gloss black paint.
Painting The Shell
For the yellow shell I used a darker yellow paint that is called Gloss Golden Sunset.
After waiting a few days for the mask paint to cure I taped it up and prepped the shell for the gloss coat. This helmet was in surprisingly good shape, so it didn’t need much sanding work. It was all ready to be painted yellow. Once again I covered the mask with Painter’s tape.
Clear Coat And Polish
The final step for this helmet, as it is for all of my helmets, is to apply clear coat and polish. I try to go with at least seven or eight coats of glossy clear coat for my helmets, which will allow plenty of margin of error when wet sanding and polishing. For the clear coat I once again mainly use Krylon or Rustoleum brand paint. They both have several variations of clear coat in Gloss, Satin and Matte finishes. For this helmet I used glossy. All of the different kinds of clear coat usually work the same as long as you are using acrylic paint, not a lacquer. After a few days of drying time the helmet is ready for a wet sand and polish. Some people start off with 1000 grit sandpaper or lower and work their way up to 3000. I mainly use just 2000 and finish it with a 3000 grit automotive sponge. Dip the sandpaper or sponge in some water and then gently sand to polish the clear coat and give it a nice shine. The step requires some time and quite a bit of elbow grease, but will give your shell that professional glossy shine. Once you are happy with the shine of the shell or your arm is too tired to continue you can apply plastic polish and buff to give it that last silky smooth finish.
Here is the finished 19654 Pittsburgh Steelers Helmet