I've been pushing and pulling on iron for more than 60 years. Therefore I feel qualified as a gymologist (one who specializes in gyms of all kinds). I have earned a few trophies for Olympic lifting, power lifting, and body building along the way.
My love affair with the iron began when I was about 13. A school friend told me his dad had purchased a 110 lb. barbell set and would I like to see it. I went to Augie's house after school. He had the weights in his bedroom and we each took turns to see who could lift the most over our heads. We finally got the bar loaded to about 100 pounds. Augie failed to lift it. My turn. I got the weight over my head and suddenly lost my balance. The bar was now stuck in the bedroom wall. Boy was his dad mad! -- no more lifting at Augie's house!
That incident led me to look for a real gym. Before that could happen I saw an ad by
One of George Jowett's mail
in a comic book. He was selling muscles by mail order. I sent for his free booklet. That little book was just what I needed. It had exercises that could be done with or without weights. I started on my way to muscle madness. Soon those exercises were not enough. I needed weights.
The local YMCA was the answer. I found that kids could only go to the Y on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After a few months of training at the Y, I begged them to let me go three days a week. Actually the two days were just enough at the time to keep my motivation and still not over train. There were two men that had considerable knowledge and muscle to inspire me and my fellow teenage strength seekers. Tony Vynanek had won the Mr. Iowa and was an Olympic weightlifter. With his help I eventually was able to train on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings.
My mom and I moved to Ames, Iowa part way into my sophomore year. About the only working out was a few curls, dips and presses with the limited weights at school. I did handstand presses against a wall. A friend offered to take me to Des Moines to to visit Ben Sorenson's gym. I tried all the equipment. Sorenson did not have a leg curl so he had me lie face down on a bench while he held my legs as I tried to do leg curls. After the 30 or 40 mile drive home, I thanked my friend, stepped out of his car and my legs collapsed and I fell down. That was a lesson never to be forgotten. That was one of the few, if not the only real gym in the state of Iowa. Later we moved back to Cedar Rapids where I continued to train at the Y.
My next encounter with gyms and gym owners came after graduation in Seattle. I found a gym in downtown Seattle run by two men who were trying hard to provide a place for those in the area to workout. This gym was upstairs over a Chinese restaurant. When ever anyone would drop a weight the old Chinese man would run up and complain that plaster was falling in his customer's soup.
It was also in Seattle that I went to the Elk's Club to visit with a short barrel of a man. He had a variety of pulley weights set up. He had a challenge to anyone who could follow him through a workout using 25 pounds and the pulleys.
After Seattle I went to Portland, Oregon. There I met the great bodybuilder, Sam Loprinzi at his gym. Sam was a true gentleman and a tribute to the weight world. He was an uncrowned Mr. America.
Oakland was the place to be in the '50s if you wanted to train with champs, so I thought. Again I checked into the Y where I had a few workouts. Ys in those days had sparse equipment, but adequate. There were a number of gyms in Oakland. Ed Yarick, Jack Delinger, Jack LaLanne and several lesser known gyms. Across the bay in San Francisco Walt Baptiste had a weight/yoga studio.
After a five mile walk from the Y I was able to visit Delinger's little gym. Jack was out back getting a tan. I had never seen anyone so massive. I went LaLanne's only to find him not in. He was away filming his tv shoow.
Jack Delinger, Walt Baptiste and Clancy Ross
A chain of fitness centers called American Health Studios was in Oakland. I found Mr. America, Clarence Ross managing one of these clubs.
Running out of money I returned to Kennewick, Washington. Where my mom and sister had moved. No jobs or gyms there so I decided to join the Marine Corps.
Marine boot camp was a different kind of training. They had us run and do pullups and pushups. My drill instructor told me I had better do some pullups. I did 19! He was satisfied. I ran five miles fo the first time. All the walking I had done prior to the Marines paid off. My first duty station was Camp Pendleton.
For my last six months in the Marine Corps I was transferred to The Marine Corps Air Station near Santa Ana, CA. I was assigned to the MP division. While on guard duty I met Sargeant Sam Griffiths. Sam was in charge of the base gym. I had seen pictures of Sam in Iron Man magazine. When Sam was on recruiting duty he would go out to high schools and give the kids a strength exhibition as well as telling them about the Marine Corps. Some of Sam's feats of strength were: Bench pressing more than 300 pounds unassisted, push ups with the heaviest person in the room, and back breakers (shoulders only on a bench then going into a shoulder stand and lowering his body down until it was parrallel to the floor with only his shoulders on the bench}. Sam would place a 300 pound barbell on the floor at one end of a flat bench that had no uprights to hold a bar. He would deadlift the bar to his waist, sit down, lay back on the bench while bridging and pulling the weight to his chest, then he would bench press the weight.
After the bench press was done he would reverse the procedure and place the weight back on the floor. I doubt if many or any realized what a feat of strength they had witnessed. Pat Casey, the first man to bench press 600 pounds, called Sam's unassisted bench press amazing. That gym had a very good weight room. I started workout again with some regularity. Sam needed someone to run the gym nights and weekends. I was told no one ever gets transferred out of the MPs. Sam was not your usual NCO. When he wanted something to get done It got done! I was transferred to Base Special Services, the gym. We had the brig prisoners work at the gym from time to time. Sam treated those men with respect not the way NCOs usually treated prisoners. They had committed minor offenses such as bar fights or awol. As a result they were in the brig (military jail). Once they found out that Sam treated prisoners as human beings instead of trash, all the prisoners wanted to work for Sam at the gym.
While at El Toro I went to Muscle Beach. This was in the early 1960's. It was a period when names like Zabo, Hugo Labra, and George Eifferman held court in the “dungeon” aka Muscle Beach gym. Somewhere I still have a photo of Eifferman and myself. I wanted to show Sam I had actually met George. Sam had been a competitor in a Mr. America contest where he and Eifferman competed. I believe it was the year that George won the Mr. America contest.
Hugo Labra became a very encouraging friend.
I didn't see Zabo for a couple of years. Hugo told me that a friend of his, Sal Castaza, was working at the aircraft plant where I was employed. Sal had held the California bench press record at one time. I looked up Sal and ultimately was in his team at work. I worked out with Sal at the Glendale gym.
Pat Casey and his excellent Russian Olympic Set
On Saturdays I went to Gene Mozee's Pasadena gym. What an adventure that was. Pat Casey also found his way to that gym on Saturdays. The first time I met Casey He and I were alone in the gym. Pat asked me to spot him. He was going to do five singles with 500 pounds! Most of us would lift the weight off the uprights with a hand off and lock our arms before lowering the weight to the chest. Pat did not inform me that he did not lock his arms but would simply lower the weight to his chest. Five hundred pounds on the bar and I helped Casey get it off the rack. Immediately that huge weight went down to his chest. Oh no!! I thought I had killed him when the bar began to slowly come back to arms length. What relief!! Pat went on to be the first man to bench 600 pounds. Pat was not only a super strongman but a great human being.
Don Howarth also worked out at Mozee's.
There were some mystery strongmen at that time I met one of them, Richard Kee. There were all kinds of rumors about Kee. Some said they had sneaked into the gym about 2:00 a.m. once to see Kee workout. He never worked out when any one was around including Mozee. It was rumored that Kee and Chuck Ahrens had a virtual strength feud. Of course a contest between them never happened. The mystery became more legend.
I did meet a close friend of Ahrens, Steve Marjanian
, a legend himself. Steve did an incline press with 400 pounds at a contest on Muscle Beach, Venice, CA.. This was the contest that my friend, Sal Castanza, urged me to enter. While working out with Sal I struggled with 75 pounds for reps in the curl. Still Sal thought I might do well in the incline bench. He wasn't very supportive for me in the curl against a post. Talk about “odd lifts”. I was lucky in both and won 181 pound class with a 300 incline and a 165 pound curl. On the way home Sal kept saying “In the gym you couldn't come close to a 165 curl. I just understand it!” I always did better in competition.
I meet some more of the greats!
I guess my quest for strength and muscles was relentless. So was my desire to meet some of the greats. That led me to meet Vince Gironda, Larry Scott, Jim Morris, Bill Pearl, Clarence Ross, George Redpath, Sam Loprinzi, Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider. Each meeting was enlightening to say the least. The really nice guys were Sam Loprinzi, Larry Scott, Bill Pearl, Jim Morris, George Redpath and Joe Weider
. I have already mentioned Sam Griffiths, George Eifferman, Gene Mozee, and Jack Delinger. Some others were so impressed with themselves that the conversation included only themselves.
After a year in Burbank I moved to San Diego to attend college. The Marine Corps and my years training taught me to set goals and go for them at any cost. It was in San Diego that I worked and lifted for Lloyd's lifting team. The gym was at the back of a record store owned by Lloyd Baker. Maylen Wiltse ran the gym. Looking back at that little gym, it almost seems impossible that so many champions trained there. That gym wasn't much bigger than a two car garage. The great Ralph Kroger,
bodybuilder, Olympic lifter, and power lifter was there. Ralph went on to place high in the Mr. America. Homer Brannum was a national Olympic lifter in the 148 pound class. Stan Levin gave everyone a run for their money in the 132 pound class. Bill “animal” Frank held court in the 181s.
Leo Stern was still the master trainer. Leo had on of those upstairs gyms. It was equipped to the hilt unlike Lloyd's. Bill Pearl and a host of other champion bodybuilders had trained there. I had to check that place out. Leo was cordial, too pricy for this college student and he had the air of a drill instructor. That was one reason the Corps and I separated! Leo was still the best!
An interesting situation arose for Lloyd's gym. Our gym was in the heart of San Diego. All the sailors on shore leave came right by the record store. Did I mention that Lloyd also had a dance studio above the record store? Lloyd did a lot of business between the three. Right across the street was The Seven Seas locker club where the sailors could rent lockers for their uniforms and civilian clothes.
I'm not sure how it began but Seven Seas opened a gym and the feud was on. Both gyms wanted to sign members, especially sailors, to a contract. Some of those poor sailors didn't have a clue what they were signing. I think the gyms got the idea from the Vic Tanny and American Health studios. Not illegal but close.
As a student at San Diego State College I found it more convenient to train in the school weight room. At the time it was very well equipped. I soon found myself in charge, I got to put all the loose weights back.
One incident stands out in my memory: One of the candidates for a Masters degree asked me to do an experiment for his paper on physical fitness of weight lifters. Part of the project had me ride a stationary bike for a time and check my pulse and endurance. This guy thought he had a sure thing and would somehow prove weight lifters had no endurance. He tested me. He tested me again. He couldn't believe the results I gave him. I had a lot more endurance than he expected. This couldn't be! What he didn't know was I rode my old bike to school and around town a lot. Thus my endurance was far more than expected. I never told him what the real story was.
It was in San Diego while working at the Fiesta Spa, health club for those that just wanted to say they belonged. UGH! That's where I met John McWilliams.
Another nice guy with huge muscles. John had to cut his short sleeve shirt up the seam to accomadate his huge arms. Hence he always wore a sport coat. I remember John walking into the weight room and grabbing a pair a 55 pound dumbbells and began doing some curls.
After graduating from San Diego State I moved to Bakersfield, CA. There were two places to workout. Babe's Gym, was another upstairs gym. One could get their cardio workout just climbing the stairs. My choice was the local YMCA another upstairs weight room. I pity the guys who had to drag those weights and equipment up to those various gyms.
I opened a small gym, aka the oven, that was extremely hot in the 100 degree Bakersfield summer. I had a small following of high school kids getting ready for football and other sports. We did have a couple of strong men working out. Roger Jones was squatting and deadlifting 600! I later moved to larger quarters. We had a pretty good power team.
Those were exciting and wonderful days. Many aspiring bodybuilder and weight lifter had been helped on their journey to muscledom. Nothing lasts forever here on earth. The gym business was eventually closed after eleven years. The gym was gone but the great memories will linger for a lifetime.