by Thom Van Vleck
I have to admit, I don’t have the patience to do pure research. The long hours required make my eyes glaze over. When I read, it goes like this: I pull a book off a shelf, thumb through it, find something interesting, read it until I get bored, then move on. As a result, I gather information in bits and pieces and it kind of becomes like a puzzle to me. Waiting for the next piece to make the overall picture more clear. I have a lot of “puzzles” going on at once and I kind of like it that way.
As of late, one of these puzzles has been focused on Dave Webster and the Dinnie Stones. I had wrote most recently about “Darth Vader” lifting the stones and that the article in Ironman was not really clear if Dave Prowse (Darth) lifted the stones with straps or without. That article was written in the 70’s. Last night I was reading Webster’s book ” Scottish Highland Games” that was printed in 1973. In it, he makes the statement on page 131 of Prowse’s feat, “A good feat, but Dave wore hand straps which make a great difference”.
Dave then goes on and details what was certainly the second lifting (if not the third….I’ll explain that later) of the stones without straps. Now, I realize that Gordon Dinnie, a descendent of Donald, has a website (www.gordondinnie.com) that details lifts, but if you read Webster’s book you find some details that don’t match up….making for an interesting “puzzle”. These are the details I’m going to focus on. My intention is not to point out mistakes, because these aren’t mistakes. My intention is to provide information where I have found it and let you decide.
In Webster’s book he credits Jack Shanks, from Ireland, with lifting the Dinnie Stones “correctly”. Which Webster explains as lifting both stones with no straps. What I find funny is that in my mind “correctly” would be to lift the stones and carry them the width (not the length) of the bridge. However, “correctly” seems to have come to mean simply lifting the stones….or carrying them the prescribed distance! Gordon Dinnie’s website seems to confirm Shanks feat, but gives him credit with carrying the stones the equivalent distance, which Webster makes no mention of. Gordon Dinnie also credits Imlach Shearer with lifting the stone assisted two years earlier and unassisted the same year as Shanks (1973). What Gordon Dinnie does not make explicitly clear is if Shearer did the unassisted lift before or after Shanks. I say this because Gordon may not have considered Shearer’s feat the same if he simply lifted them while Shanks carried them!
Now, earlier I mention Jack Shanks being possibly the third man to lift the stones “correctly”. Webster states in his book that in 1955 in Aberdeen at the “Highland Fling” a 78 year old man named James Law came forward and stated he lifted both stones in 1911, but did not carry them. So, perhaps he was the second, after Dinnie, to life the stones “correctly”….or perhaps some other man, after a hard days work and a few brews in the Potarch Inn, lifted those stones on a bet or whim and their feat and name is lost to history. Not to much of a stretch to believe that could have happened!
Then there is the story of when Louis Cyr came to visit Dinnie and they visited the stones. Dinnie picked up the smaller stone and then carried it a distance. Cyr did the same and beat Dinnie’s distance. Webster points out that Dinnie was 63 years old at the time and Cyr was much younger and in his prime, but Webster seems to be clear that Cyr did not lift both. Webster also tells of a man named William McCombie Smith would regularly lift the bigger stone unassisted and was the only man to do this. Webster then states that after that, Henry Gray and John Gallagher also lifted the big stone unassisted before Prowse came along.
Another story involved Bill Bangert. A man from Missouri often credited with bringing Scottish athletics to America and beginning the modern “wave ” of success it has had the past 40 years. Bangert made a ring and harness to carry the stones that undoubtedly made the feat much easier…..and he received a little grief then and since then for this “cheat lift”. But he did carry the stones across the road and back and I don’t think he tried to claim he did any more than that!
On another “final” note (at least until I read some more!). I also read that at one time one of the rings broke and a different ring was attached. It was not clear which one (the smaller or the larger one) but if it were the smaller ring….that changed the dynamics dramatically. I lifted each stone individually with straps and that small ring was considerably more difficult. Then there is the concern that the stones are being slowly chipped away and who knows how much weight they have lost, being dropped over and over. Maybe they will soon be place in protected custody like the original Apollon’s Railroad Car Wheels, where nobody will ever lift them again! In which case, we may not ever know who was first, but we may know who was LAST!