Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Rolling Thunder

by Al Myers

USAWA Grip Star, Matt Graham, lifting 275 pounds on the Rolling Thunder in training this past weekend. (photo by Bob Burtzloff)

One of the popular “grip toys” introduced by Randy Strossen and IronMind Enterprises is the Rolling Thunder.  This grip device is different from anything else.  I have never read about any type of  gripping device similar to this used by Old-Time Strongmen.  It is indeed a novel, unique idea!!  Thanks to Randy and his promotion of it – the Rolling Thunder is now well-known within the “grip circle” and lifters in general.  IronMind sells it for a modest $59.95 plus shipping, as advertised on the IronMind Website.  For a price like that, buy the original and don’t waste your time trying to make your own or buying a knock-off.  Afterall, don’t you want a original Rolling Thunder!

The Rolling Thunder consists of a rotating  sleeved handle  with 2.375″ diameter PVC, over a fixed handle shaft.  It attaches to a loaded vertical bar.  It is a one-hand lift that tests the grip like none other!  When you lift using the Rolling Thunder, the handle feels like it wants to “roll” out of your hand allowing the weight to crash to the floor making a sound like thunder, and thus the name Rolling Thunder .   It has been on the market since 1993.  Randy initially promoted it by asking this simple question, “Will anyone EVER lift 300 pounds on the Rolling Thunder?”. It took several years, but finally the grip phenom/professional Strongman from England Mark Felix, broke this magic barrier.  Felix currently holds the World Record at 301 pounds, set January 18th, 2008.  The Rolling Thunder has gained such popularity that contests are ran that focus on it only. The Gillingham brothers have helped popularize it by having it as part of their GNC Grip Gauntlet, which they run in their booth at the Arnold every year.

The Rolling Thunder is not a USAWA event, but is often pulled out after meets for impromptu competitions.  Last spring after the USAWA Dino Gym Grip Contest this was the case.  Andy Durniat amazed everyone when he broke the Dino Gym record with a lift of 230 pounds!  He did this AFTER the grip competition!!!

I consider anyone who can lift over 200 pounds on the Rolling Thunder as National Class, and those over 250 pounds World Class.  The Rolling Thunder can be very humbling – often it seems “easy” moving up in weight, only to reach a point when you add another 5 pounds it becomes impossible!!  If you don’t have a Rolling Thunder, go to IronMind Enterprises and order yours today.  It will be an investment that you won’t ever regret.

Real All-Round Strength

by Thom Van Vleck

Anthony Parker demonstrating the "strength" of his hair

Prof. Anthony Barker is not one of the most well known strongmen.  He is perhaps better known by those he influenced, namely Warren Lincoln Travis and Bernarr McFadden, to name a couple.

Barker also practiced early “All Around Strength”.  He was famous for not only having strong muscles, but being strong all over!  He would do all the “normal” strongman training, but he would also train his jaws with teeth lifting, he would practice lifting with his hair, he did deep breathing to develop his lungs, he was even know to work on developing the muscles in his face!

He claimed to have done 500lbs in the teeth lift and a one arm bent press of 250lbs.  He was said to “cultivate” his “luxuriant, wavy hair” and massaged his scalp daily as part of his training.  He would allow any man to jump for 6 feet onto his stomach as he lay on the floor.  He would roll spoons and crumble china plates to increase his hand strength.  He was an expert boxer and was said to have hit the heavy weight champ Bob Fitzsimmons so hard he knocked him across the room!  Fitzsimmons had beat Jim Corbett and was the first ever three division champ….so he was no slouch.  Barker would even allow a helper to jump off a 4 ft height right on his face to prove his well developed facial muscles.  Barker also did all the feats of lifting people in every way imaginable.  One of his favorite feats was to lift a 250lb barbell on his shoulders and then have two big men hang on the ends.  He would begin to twirl around often sending them flying!

Now, today, I think we realize that some of his “strength”, such as his hair, was more genetic than developed and I don’t think I’m going to let anyone jump on my face any time soon (even if it might be an improvement).  But really, have we lost something becoming so specialized in our training?  In the USAWA we pride ourselves on having literally hundreds of lifts that can be competed and records recorded.  But the old time “All-Rounders” literally “DID IT ALL”.  My grandfather trained that way, coming up with all kinds of unique physical feats and stunts to challenge himself.  Now I’m beginning to think that the Old Timers had it right.

So, be like Prof. Barker, and think like a real All-Rounder!

Apollo – William Bankier

by Dennis Mitchell

A classical strongman pose by William "Apollo" Bankier.

William Bankier was born in Banff Scotland, December 10, 1870.  His parents were school teachers.  As a youngster he was fascinated by the circus, and at the age of twelve he ran away from home to  become a laborer at a circus.  This lasted only a short time as his father soon caught up with him and took him back home.  After a few months at home William once again ran away to get  employment on a ship.  A shipwreck ended this job and he ended up in Montreal Canada where he got a job working on a farm.  It was hard work and low wages.  He was now fourteen years old.  He had an opportunity to join Porgie O’Brien’s road show, so he left the farm and once again he ran away.  One of the acts in the show was a strong man and William spent any free time he had watching and learning from him.  William was now fifteen years old.

While the strong man was a good performer he was also a heavy drinker, and one day was unable to perform.  William performed in his place, and while he was not as accomplished as the strong man he put on satisfactory show.  As the strong man missed more shows, William continued to perform in his place and continued to improve and progress as a performer and strong man.  He stayed with the O’Brien show for about a year, and then joined William Muldoon’s entourage of athletes.   Muldoon changed William’s name, and he now became, Carl Clyndon the Canadian Strong Boy. At this time he also added wrestling to his act.  After a time he felt it was time to move on and he teamed up with Jack Kilrain, a former heavy weight boxing champion.  He remained with Jack until he was seventeen years old, and added boxing to his other talents.  His next move was to team up with “Buffalo Bill Cody’s” wild west show.  From there he joined the Ginnett Circus for three months, and once again was on the move.  While still performing as Carl Clydon  he was spotted by one of the owners of the Bostock Circus, known for having the best performers and acts.  It was with the Bostock Circus that he became a truly polished and outstanding performer.  One of  his most outstanding acts was to do a harness lift with a full grown elephant.  No tricks were used, it was a true lift.

While in Bournemouth England, at the suggestion of Sir John Everett Millais, who later was President of the Royal Academy, Carl Clydon changed his name to Apollo.  He traveled around the world  performing to large audiences.  He was an excellent performer and hailed to be as good as Sandow.  This was in 1899.  He even challenged Sandow to a contest in weightlifting, wrestling, running, and  jumping.  Sandow did not accept his challenge.  Apollo opened his act with a posing display.  He was not a big men standing 5’6.5″, weighed 175 pounds, had a 47″ chest and 15.75″ arms.  His legs were exceptionally well developed.  In the event known as the “Tomb of Hercules” he could support a piano with a six person orchestra and a dancer.  He could jump over the back of a chair either frontwards or backwards wile holding a 56 pound weight in each hand.  He would end his performance by offering ten English pounds to anyone who could carry a large sack off stage.  Many people tried, including Arthur Saxon, and could not do it.   Apollo would finish his performance by carrying the sack off stage.  The sack weighed 475 pounds.  After retiring from the stage, Apollo became a wrestling promoter, and later teamed up with Monte Saldo ( who we will write about in an other article ) and opened the Apollo-Saldo Academy.  Many well known amateur and professional wresters, boxers , and jiu-jitsu competitors trained at the Academy.  William Bankier, better known as Apollo, died in 1949 at the age of 80.

Donald Dinnie: Scotland’s Jim Thorpe

by Thom Van Vleck

A classic photo of Donald Dinnie with a few of his awards.

In 2006 I visited Scotland and while there made a visit to the “Dinnie Stones” to take a crack at lifting them.  The stones have a become part of the legend of Donald Dinnie.  A legend that is long and complicated and not unlike the American sports legend, Jim Thorpe.  Both men seemed gifted to do just about anything they wanted to athletically.  They were strong, fast, and agile and could seemingly adapt to any sport in a quick manner.  In other words, they were ATHLETES!

Dinnie was born at Balnacraig, Birse, near Aboyne, Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1837.  He competed in over 11,000 athletic competitions in a 50 year span.  Thorpe was born near Prague, Oklahoma in 1888 very near where my father was born and he and I share a birthday of May 28th and Thorpe likely competed in 1000’s of different athletic events in a career that lasted over two decades.  A strict comparison of these two athletes would be difficult.  I do know that Jim Thorpe and Donald Dinnie both threw many of the same implements, such as the 56lb Weight for Distance, the hammer, the shot, the javelin, and ran in many of the same types of distance events.  But in many ways it’s like comparing Muhammed Ali with Joe Louis….they weren’t at their best at the same time.

I like Dinnie because he’s a legendary figure, but was a real man that may have actually been able to live up to that legend.  Fittingly, he was born the son of a stone mason.  He won his first event when he was 16 and beat a strongman in a wrestling meet and won 1 pound sterling.  He had a reign as Scottish Champion from 1856 to 1876 and when his best track and field performances  are compared with the 1896  Athens Olympics (the first modern Olympics) he could possibly have won 7 Gold medals, a Silver, and a Bronze.  This would have indeed put him in a class with Thorpe!

Thorpe had a lengthy list of amazing wins and feats in basketball, football, track & field and baseball.  Dinnie won over 2000 hammer throwing contests, over 2000 wrestling matches, 200 weightlifting meets, and some 500  running and hurdling events.  I read that in 40 years he was undefeated in the caber toss in 1000’s of contests.

Another area they have in common is their images endure today and sell products!  Dinnie, while still alive, endorsed a soft drink in the United Kingdom called Iron Brew or today is know as Iron Bru.  His image is still regularly seen as is Thorpe’s.

Dinnie, like Thorpe, did barnstorming to earn money while displaying his athletic prowess.   Dinnie first toured the United States in 1897 and earned a small fortune doing it and was still touring New Zealand and Australia at age 60….and winning!  William Wallace is a legendary patriot, maybe the greatest patriot, of Scotland and when a statue was done of him, they used Dinnie as the body model as he was considered the perfect man.  Thorpe was studied extensively by Doctors at one point who were trying to figure out just why he was such a great athlete.

Finally, these two great athletes share a similar end.  During their day, they were often hates as much as they were loved.  Other athletes hated them because they often made them look bad and took all the prize money.  Thorpe earned a fortune in his lifetime but died broke.  Dinnie, it is said, earned what would be equal to 2.5 million dollars in today’s money, but also had to rely on charity at the end of his life.  I don’t think this takes away from the luster of their careers, indeed, to me it only adds to it.  These men lived big and stayed that way.  I read of a famous person who was suffering from Parkinson’s and was still working as hard as ever.  A reporter asked them, “Shouldn’t you rest more in your condition”?  The man looked at her and said, “Rest for what… I can die well rested”.  I think these men lived with that same sentiment, and I can respect that.

Louie Cyr’s Dumbbell

by John Grimek

John Grimek prepares to lift the famous Cyr Dumbbell.

The Cyr dumbell we had was always a bone of contention.  Men from all parts of the country came to see if they might get it overhead.  It weighed “only” 202 pounds empty but it could be loaded with lead shot to over 270.  We never loaded it over 269 ½ pounds, and even then it defied most men who tried it.

One time, Milo Steinborn and four or five other wrestlers stopped by on their way to Baltimore.  Milo had Primo Carnera with him – truly an impressive individual.  When Carnera shook hands you could feel your whole hand being swallowed by something that felt like an octopus.  Because all the men were wrestling that evening none of them cared to train that afternoon, but most of the lifters kept on training.  In the center of the gym was the awkward Cyr dumbell that seemed to be in the way of everyone.  Without thinking I picked it up off the floor and tossed it aside so it wouldn’t be in the way.  I remembered the huge hands Carnera had when he shook my hand, and knew if anyone could handle this weight it was him.  I called out to him to try it. He smiled as if to say, “that’s easy,” and no one would doubt him.  He came over, very casually gripped the stubby handle and made a half-hearted attempt to lift it.   A look of surprise came over his face as the weight slipped from his grip.  I offered him some chalk to absorb the moisture of his hand.  With some disdain, instead, he grabbed the handle and though he lifted it a little you could see that the weight was a great surprise to him.

The Cyr Dumbbell now resides at the York Barbell Museum.

I tried to explain that there was a slight technique to handle this weight.  He just kept looking at me and the awkward hunk of iron mass that was defying him.  I chalked up, especially the heel of my hand, gripped the weight and tossed it a few feet to one side.  Carnera only growled.  However, I feel sure that with his banana-like fingers he could have done things with that Cyr dumbell that no one else could do.  Others felt much the same way about this big man.

I must point out that many men who tried to lift the small clumsy dumbell failed.  This awkward hunk of iron required lots of practice before one learned the little details needed to be successful at lifting it.  No one played around with this weight more than I did; and eventually I was the only one who lifted it off the floor to an overhead position using one and only when it weighed 254 pounds.  Stanko was the first man who picked it up off the floor in one sweeping movement.  Unfortunately, I do not remember how much it was loaded to at the time.  The weight of that dumbell was always being changed.  It always looked formidable and defying. Those who tried it remember that only too well.

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