This week's 'Rewind' takes a slightly different approach and as the title suggests Robert Smith has assembled a few short stories about some interesting happenings from days gone by. Hope you enjoy!
LOGGING, LUMBERING AND HARNESS RACING
Last year when my birthday rolled around I got a rather interesting card from our youngest daughter and her family. It didn't contain a dollar bill like in the old days but it was special. As most people know, birthday cards have fallen in popularity in recent years as new forms of digital communication take over. Also unfortunately people don't always pay too much attention to an "old fashioned" card when they do get one. They just gloss over it, set it aside and move on with the day. Well the one I got last year had some thought behind it. My family have heard me talk enough about spending all my time as a youngster around my father's sawmill and logging operation to know that I would appreciate this one.
From this old photo taken at Ewen, Michigan in 1893 stems a question. I am aware that several people well known in harness racing circles over the years have also been involved in lumbering and logging. If you can think of any of them please send along their names as part of this week's trivia. Timber!
Note - I do know that around 1970 there was a horse named The Logger.
The old mill as I remember it so well.
THE WINNINGEST HORSE FROM 1970 - Fifty Years Ago
In days gone by we didn't have the technology to collect statistics and facts the way we do today. Data such as results, averages, earnings and so on were all kept manually and many were not available for publication until the year was completed. Early in any given new year a lot of facts and figures were published once the "gatherers" were certain they had everything tabulated. At that time people who were interested in such things had a lot of good reading as they pored over the mountain of statistics (nothing like what we have today) and compared them with previous years.
One category that seemed to always draw a lot of interest was when the name of the horse who had won the most races was announced. In 1970 that honour went to a Maritime owned horse named Thinks Dream. This year the seven-year-old gelding owned by Helen Louise O'Brien of Lower Sackville, N.S. was what you might call "busy" as he started in 101 heats and his win total of 24 topped all horses competing during the 1970 season. He also had 26 second-place finishes and was third 21 times for a 70 percent top-three finish rate.
Six of the 10 leaders in the pacing division were from Maritime Canada while another was owned in Quebec. The seven-year-old trotting mare Fresh Yankee, the Harness Horse of the Year owned by Duncan MacDonald of Sydney, N.S., finished third in wins for trotters with 20 victories as well as being North America's top money-winning trotter.
Thinks Dream and his connections appear in the Exhibition Park winner's circle following a victory in a two-mile event during the 1971 season. From left is Doug Colwell, E.P.R. Gen. Mgr.; Helen Louise O'Brien, owner; and driver Laurie O'Brien. (Sorry but the other fellow just behind the horse was not named in the photo). This horse made a lot of trips to the winner's circle in 1970. My thanks to Jerry McCabe for supplying this photo and related info.
ALMOST ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
Thanks to old photographs we are able to travel back in time and recapture the glory days that once existed in the sport of harness racing.
Prior to the race day described below a group photograph of the drivers and caretakers was shot in the stable area at the famous Maine track Bass Park named after its original owner. A sign advertising Chesterfield cigarettes as well as posters for upcoming area race days are seen in the background (Photo courtesy of Northeast News)
On September 26, 1923 a world record was set at Bass Park in Bangor, Maine for the fastest four-heat race over a half-mile track. It was reported by The Horse Review as "the greatest day in Maine’s history for speed revels" when Margaret Dillon 1:58 3/4, Sir Roch 1:59 3/4 and Single G 1:58 1/2 came to the Queen City. It was the first time that three 2:00 pacers had ever appeared together on a Maine track. A crowd estimated at 20,000 gathered at Bass Park for the occasion. Gates opened at 7:00 a.m. and 1,200 extra bleacher seats went on sale at 8:00 a.m. Single G’s driver, Ed Allen stated to a reporter from the Bangor Daily Commercial that the track was very fast and one of the best he had ever driven on. Single G's owner, William B. Barefoot, explained to the same reporter that his famous pacer, now 13 years old, got his name when one of his grooms pointed out the white "G" on the horse's forehead. After a mighty struggle which saw the track record lowered in consecutive heats by Margaret Dillon in 2:04 1/2 and then by Sir Roch in 2:04 1/4, Single G won the last two heats in 2:05 1/2 and 2:05 3/4 to win the race. Single G raced for three more years, returning to Maine in 1925 to defeat the great John R. Braden in a match race at Presque Isle. The memory of "the horse that time forgot" is kept alive by the Single G Memorial Association located in Cambridge City, Indiana.
A racing scene from around 1915 at Bass Park in Bangor Maine. Take note of the elaborate judge's stand which includes several levels. Because of its location, the State of Maine was on the itinerary of many Canadian horse people who lived in the eastern part of the country.
MATTS SCOOTER FALLS TO CONCUSSION
Nov. 13, 1988 - It was Sunday the 13th, not Friday the 13th, but the great Matts Scooter closed out his career and the 1988 season on a "sour" note. The $25,000 Mohawk Invitation was billed as the final career start for the fastest Standardbred of all time by virtue of his 1:48.2 time trial at the Red Mile in September that year. While it was intended to be a glorious send off for Matts Scooter it didn't quite end that way.
Concussion, a three-year-old son of Storm Damage driven by Steve Condren, turned out to be the spoiler as he left quickly and then yielded the lead to driver Mike LaChance. Concussion stalked Matts Scooter into the final strides finally overtaking him with a winning time of 1:56.1. Third in the contest was Cimmaron for Randy Waples. Most observers were overwhelmed by the outcome, somewhat convinced that it was more a case of a fresh horse catching a horse that had campaigned tough all year. Co-owner Charles Juravinski said after the race "I'm shocked, I'm totally deflated."
An omen of doom for Matts Scooter preceded the race. Prior to the evening's races starting driver Mike Lachance's driving silks were stolen out of his car. On this night Lachance had to borrow the red, white and black colours of local trainer Butch Elliot who joked "My colours will never go that fast."
Note - This event turned out to not be his final race as Matts Scooter returned for a four-year-old campaign in 1989 and was then retired to stud duty
A WILLING PAIR
This little tale has absolutely nothing to do with harness racing but it is I think a great picture for anyone who has even the slightest interest in horses in general. It portrays a way of life that once existed when horses were the main source of power on farms and for that matter in much of industry and commerce. To me the sight of a team of horses plowing a field conjures up a beautiful image and portrays much more than I can write.
I am reminded of a story that concerned an elderly gentleman who once lived in the area where I grew up. I did not ever meet him but his story I remember and many of his descendants I knew very well.
Old "John" was a serious farmer, a true steward of his land. One day he was out in the field plowing and the going was slow. He inched across the field, stopping regularly to rest his horses and also used the pause to have a few puffs on his pipe and just generally gather his thoughts. His team was poorly matched, one a tall black horse who walked smartly and held his head up high. The other was brown and much smaller, carrying his head down and was always trailing his mate.
On this day a city dwelling relative had decided to pay a visit to his uncle's farm. Noticing that Uncle John was plowing in a field adjacent to the road, he parked his car and watched as the old gent and his team approached. Unwise to the ways of farming and knowing little about horses, he searched his mind for something meaningful to start the conversation.
"You sure have nice team of horses, Uncle John." Following a rather lengthy pause which made him wonder if he had said the right thing came the following reply. "Yes, about the best thing I can say about them is that they are a willing pair; one horse is willing to do all the work, and the other is willing to let him."
Quote For The Week: Sign outside a hearing aid clinic: "If you can't hear, please come in here."
Who Is It?
Can you correctly identify this young fellow from days gone by? Clue - he has barely changed.
Who Else Is It?
Can you put a name on this driver from 50 years ago. Also any other familiar faces you might spot? (Abahazy Photo Collection)
Be sure to stay tuned during the coming week to see the correct answers and don't forget the Trivia question.