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SC Rewind: Life In The 1930s

Published: December 29, 2018 11:51 am ET

Last Comment: January 2, 2019 10:52 am ET | 12 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this the last 'Rewind' for 2018, Robert Smith delves way back in time to revisit the decade of the 1930s and recall some of the people, horses involved with harness racing and tough times that then plagued the sport. A number of great old photographs help to depict the times.

The decade of the 1930's truly defined what "tough times" were all about. The stock market crash, the so-called "Great Depression" and a general downturn in virtually every facet of life was the fate of everyone back then. Few people were spared the agony that went with the times. Harness racing in both Canada and the U.S. struggled mightily but it did continue on. Purses were low, horses brought record low prices at auction and to put it mildly money was about "as scarce as hen's teeth" as the old saying went. The strength and resolve of the people involved eventually prevailed. Those people who stayed in did so not for the money but for the sheer love of the game.

Horses race single file at Salem New Hampshire's Rockingham Park in this 1930's photo. This was a once popular track for both breeds that drew huge crowds. Photo shows a nice view of the hubrail (Leslie Jones photo)

At this time very few actual harness raceways were in existence; Roosevelt Raceway the first big venture in night racing didn't open until 1940. The racing season which usually began in May and ended in October was played out at many of the large U.S. State Fairs and in Canada at most fall fairs and exhibitions across the land. During the winter months the real "diehards" attended harness races at Dufferin Park in Toronto where they often raced on the ice.

Despite the hard times and scarcity of money people still loved to attend a good old harness race as the pictures from back then can attest. It looks like those who were involved in hat sales were all pretty well off. (Leslie Jones Photo)

I have assembled a few short stories, with pictures included where possible, to recall this period in time now some 80 to almost 90 years ago.


(Photo by Guy Kendall)

The decade of the 1930's literally belonged to the great trotter Greyhound and to a lesser extent Billy Direct, a free-legged pacer. Greyhound was a champion of the people and he raced at nearly every track then in existence. Despite winning the 1935 Hambletonian and nearly every other race in which he participated he retired with earnings of just shy of $39,000. Many of his public appearances were for exhibition or publicity purposes thus carried no purses.

Despite the scarcity of cameras back then a huge number of photographs of Greyhound were taken. To this day pictures of Greyhound are immediate collector's items and many have been preserved and displayed. When Grand Circuit racing first came to Canada in 1935 and two weeks of events were held at Toronto's Thorncliffe Park, this great grey horse was among the visitors. He was a winner in each of his starts during his only visit to Canadian soil.

(Photo by Guy Kendall)

Shown above is a photograph of Sep Palin driving the gray gelding, Greyhound, wearing saddle number four, at the Kite Track at Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Thursday, July 30, 1936. During the first heat of the Pine Tree Trot for Horses with Records Faster than 2:04, Greyhound set a new track record of 2:01. During his career from 1934-1940, Greyhound set a total of 14 world records including the 1:55 1/4 record for a gelding trotter which stood for 32 years. Greyhound is still widely considered to be the greatest trotting horse to ever race in the United States. As the horse aged, his coat turned from gray to nearly white, accounting for the champion to appear much lighter in color in later images.

Shown above are two grooms at work on the backstretch of Rockingham Park in New Hampshire in 1935. (Photo by Leslie Jones)

The Canadian Pacing Derby At New Hamburg, Ont. Held 1936-1957. Later moved to Ontario Jockey Club and still in competition.

Shown above is a great view of the 1937 Canadian Pacing Derby at New Hamburg, Ont. This is a cover shot from the August 8, 1984 issue of The Standardbred when I gave a three-part history of this great race and its traditions. The leading horse is Peter Chilcoot owned by the Hon. Earl Rowe and driven by Clint Hodgins who went on to national stardom. The background view speaks volumes about the yesteryears of our sport.

In August of 1936 the first edition of the Canadian Pacing Derby was held at New Hamburg, Ont. It drew an estimated 8,000 fans who watched the first of 21 consecutive Derbies held at the fabled Fountain Park. The first ever race was won by a horse named Better Times owned by Mr. J.W. Koch of London and driven by the great Canadian reinsman Floyd Milton who originated in that area. It soon became the most popular event of the season for harness racing in Ontario and perhaps all of Canada. Thanks to gate receipts, entry fees and contributions from local interests, a purse of $1,350 was offered for the inaugural. That was considered a lot of hay!

Many years ago I can recall talking with one of the original Derby organizers, Dr. T. C. Kilpatrick, a local medical doctor who along with a handful of other caring citizens organized this race. He said one of the main reasons it was started was to raise the morale of the people who were so downtrodden at that time. Attending a day of racing was a good way for everyone to forget about the cares and woes at least for a day.

Toll Gate Retired In 1936

One of the great Canadian owned pacers of this era was a horse named Toll Gate who starred for many years on Maritime tracks. His years of racing were from 1930 until his retirement at the conclusion of the 1936 season. At one time he was part of the power laden stable of Vic Fleming and competed successfully on the Grand Circuit taking a lifetime record of 2:00 1/5 over a mile track. Mr. Sweeney, the one-time mayor of Bridgewater, N.S., reportedly purchased this horse over the telephone. In the years between 1934-36 he piloted this horse to 11 track records in the Maritimes. In recognition of his great accomplishments Toll Gate was inducted into the Canadian Harness Racing Hall Of Fame in the year 2000.

Two Young Future Hall of Famers

The above pictured two young gentlemen were just starting out their driving careers when this picture was taken in 1938 at The Cumberland Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maine. The racing events during this time of late fall were referred to as "The overcoat circuit." The gent on the left was just 18 years of age at the time while the slender young lad on the right was three years his senior at the tender age of 21. Both eventually were Hall of Famers; the man on the right made both Canadian and U.S. induction. (Photo by Guy Kendall)

Can you correctly identify these two young fellows? As always the correct answer will be given during the coming week.


January 2, 2019 - 10:52 amThis week's photo was an

This week's photo was an excellent example of the good black and white photography that existed 80 years ago. Apparently Joe O'Brien was pretty recognizable but the fellow on the left created a tougher task to identify. He was Adelbert "Del" Cameron a great all around horseman from that era. He was a two time Jug winner and three time Hambletonian winning driver. Thanks for sending in your best guesses.
Also thanks to Leon Siple for his accurate report on Greyhound from his father Carl's scrapbook. Upon further investigation I did indeed find out this memorable horse made a trip to Toronto as a two-year-old in 1934 with results exactly as reported. I stand corrected that 1935 was NOT his only trip to Canada.

December 31, 2018 - 2:51 pmDel Cameron and Joe O'Brien.

Del Cameron and Joe O'Brien.

December 30, 2018 - 2:42 pmJohn f. Patterson, sr and Joe

Ron Davis SAID...

John f. Patterson, sr and Joe O'Brien

December 29, 2018 - 9:56 pmRobert: The Greyhound story

Leon Siple SAID...

Robert: The Greyhound story made me think about my Dad because he often talked about having seen him race in Toronto. I got out Dad's scrapbook and found a scorecard for the Toronto Centenial Grand Circuit 1934. Greyhound raced in a 2yr old trot called The Can. National Trotting Assoc. Stake which raced under a 3 heat plan for $1500 He finished 2nd,7th and didnt compete in the 3rd which was won by Silver King. Heats 1&2 were in 2:11 & 2:09. The two young guys look like Del Cameron and the one and only Jiggling Jesus.

December 29, 2018 - 3:43 pmJohn Patterson Sr. on left

Ron Davis SAID...

John Patterson Sr. on left and Joe O'Brien on right

December 29, 2018 - 2:36 pmThe gentleman on the right

The gentleman on the right would be Joe O,Brien I am not sure the name of the gentlemen on the left

December 29, 2018 - 1:38 pmLooks like Del Cameron on the

Mike Adams SAID...

Looks like Del Cameron on the left and Joe O'Brien on the right

December 29, 2018 - 1:38 pmBill Haughton and a Joe

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Bill Haughton and a Joe OBrien

December 29, 2018 - 1:06 pmOn the left; I take a guess,

On the left; I take a guess, Frank Irvin

On the right; Joe O'Brien

December 29, 2018 - 12:35 pmI will say the two young

David Darocy SAID...

I will say the two young gentlemen are Del Cameron and Joe O’Brien. Another great article as usual Mr. Smith and Happy New Year to all.

December 29, 2018 - 12:26 pmJohn Simpson? And fittingly

Gord Brown SAID...

John Simpson? And fittingly Joe O'Brien

December 29, 2018 - 12:25 pmPretty sure the guy on right

Tom Foley SAID...

Pretty sure the guy on right is "Canada's" Joe O'Brien. Is that Stanley Dancer on left?

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