My Big 12
set arrived in 1953, when I was a junior in high school. It had all the
gadgets: Iron Shoes, with straps similar to those found on roller skates of
the day, kettlebell handles, wrist roller, neck harness, long bar, 2 dumbbell bars
with chromed (or, at least, I think tinned) sleeves to put in between the
plates for your hand grip. I don’t recall a long sleeve for the big bar. Four
25 lb. plates were included and an assortment of smaller, of course. You could
make a 'Swingbell
.' Remember that idea? Collars for all bars were drilled for a
bolt and I even got a wrench with the set to use for tightening them. The
wrench was immediately lost or purloined by my father for his tool box. I
swiped his pliers.
my long suffering father. Being a ranch boy who survived the Great Depression,
he was neither convinced that lifting would help me nor that I wouldn’t be
better off getting a part-time laborer’s job. He was also imbued with the then-current belief of coaches and most athletes that weight training would make a
person “muscle bound,” cause heart problems, or convert me to wearing silk
But, as there wasn’t a mine, mill or hayfield anywhere near
our house in suburban Dallas, Dad gave in and bought me the York set. I forget
the price, perhaps $39, and my father wasn’t real happy with THAT, either. He
was sure I would dink around with the weights for a week or two and lose
interest, and he could convert the plates into fishing boat anchors.
To his surprise, the back yard was soon filled with muscle
heads and aspiring wrestlers, amateur and pro, and half the old wooden two car
garage taken over to house a primitive gym against the coming winter. My pals brought
over some of their bars and plates and we cobbled up a squat rack of 4 x 4’s,
laid a pipe across the rafters for chinning, built a platform from 4 x 8
plywood sheets once used for a model railroad layout, and thought we were set.
1953 York Big 12 Set Ad
First things first. One fellow showed up with a three by five
metal sheet, maybe stainless, with one side a mirror finish. Where and
how to hang it became the game. All other progress stopped til that was solved. Some
things are important.
There were some downsides. The kettle bell handles were tried
a few times and then set aside. The Iron Shoes were tried for extensions and
leg curls, but not consistently. Strapping them on and then getting in position
for leg curls was a hassle. Also, we had no bench. One could not in those years
go to any corner discount house and buy a weight bench for two reasons: 1.) The
Bench Press did not yet have universal popularity as organized powerlifting was
ten years in the future, and, 2.), What discount store? Woolworth's 5 & 10?
So we used a surplus US Army wooden ammunition box.
My musician older brother wanted no part of our efforts, but
he approved. When I would train out in the backyard (working on my tan) I would
occasionally lose a snatch or other overhead lift. Dropping from over seven
feet, the 25 lb. plates would sink in the Bermuda grass about five inches,
leaving ruts that caught lawn mower wheels, infuriating my father. I had
permanent grass cutting duty from then on. My brother smirked.
This backyard iron rodeo went on for a couple years. In the
spring of 1955, I entered several AAU weightlifting contests at the old Dallas
YMCA. One cold March evening I was training inside the old home garage which
was constructed of 4 x 4s, 2 x 4s and 6s, and thin 1/2" x 12" horizontal siding.
You can guess what happened. The
makeshift platform gave under foot while I had 220 lbs. overhead, I lost the bar
forward, tried to run under it, and made a hole in the side of the garage
roughly the shape of a barbell with a 190 lb. boy attached. It was a scene out
of a Tom & Jerry cartoon where the bulldog throws Tom through the wall, leaving
a cat-shaped black hole. My brother observed that I was only fifty-five percent
murdalized. My father was not amused, but later he did come to my meets, much
to my surprise.
That was the last of the garage gym. I trained at the YMCA or
the SMU field house from then on. My friends went off to colleges here and
there, as did I, and I joined the Army in December of 1955. My Dad moved my Big
12 set over to the basement of the Baptist church we went to, but I still have the
books and courses shipped with it. It was a grand time. I am still
in contact with a few of my old pals. We wish we could do it all again.