Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Warren Lincloln Travis - Ray Van Cleef

Travis at work with his special backlifting scale machine.
This is the machine that he employs to set his endurance and speed records.

Warren Lincoln Travis lifting a cannon plus a barbell on a shoulder strap.
The total weight is about 1500 pounds.

Travis posed with the world's largest dumbell, weight 1650 pounds empty.
Loaded with sand it would weigh 3750.

Warren Lincoln Travis – Dean of American Strongmen
by Ray Van Cleef (1940)

In delving into the history of strongmen, I do not believe that it would be possible to find a more outstanding American representative than Warren Lincoln Travis. If it were necessary to provide substantial evidence to prove his being deserving of this exalted rating, this would be but a simple manner, for Travis has established his admirable reputation as a champion strongman athlete by genuine accomplishments. A man of his calibre who has achieved success by applying the adage “Actions speak louder than words” in his athletic endeavors has quite naturally, during the course o his long career, performed an almost countless number of exceptional feats of strength. To relate them completely would require so many pages that the number would be comparable with that of a lengthy book. Space limitations not permitting this, I shall restrict this article to a concise amount of significant information I possess pertaining to his athletic career.

While I am fully aware that the vast majority, if not all of you, are familiar with this renowned strongman, still there are many facts concerning his accomplishments which are not widely known. Thus, my main objective is to reveal as many of these lesser known facts as possible so as to provide a fuller appreciation of Travis’ ability as a champion of strength.

Though I have acquired an extensive amount of knowledge regarding Travis’ strongman career through my years of personal association with him, I wish to acknowledge that a considerable portion of the data to be stated in the following paragraphs was supplied to me through the generous cooperation of my friend, George Russell Weaver. Weaver, who is an ardent physical culturist and an expert authority on this subject, had a number of visits with Travis, during the course of which he had him relate in detail the majority of his noteworthy achievements as a strongmen athlete. It was through this direct source that Weaver obtained most of the information he furnished me with.

When one thinks of Warren Lincoln Travis, he automatically associates him with back and harness lifting, in the same way as Arthur Saxon’s name is linked with the bent press. This is to be expected, for he has been establishing records and winning championships in tests of strength of this nature for more than forty years. However, despite his international fame as a champion back and harness lifter, comparatively few persons are acquainted with highest official records. Though these records were established many years ago, before the majority of the present generation of physical culturists were born, their obscurity is not due to the long elapse of time, for if Travis had retired after he created these great records they unquestionably would still retain the prominence which they are so deserving of.

The fact that this champion, not being content to rest on his laurels, continued on with his strongman activities was chiefly responsible for these records becoming so unfamiliar to weight lifting fans of the present period. The reason for this is because during the years that have passed since he performed his highest records, he has accomplished a number of remarkable lifts in official competition which were so outstanding that most persons, who were not acquainted with these earlier records, have assumed that these are Travis’ world’s record lifts.

This misconception pertaining to Travis’ records originates largely from his participation in the weight lifting tournament that was sponsored by the National Police Gazette in New York City on March 20, 1918. In winning that competition, which all strong men were eligible to participate in, he made a Back Lift of 3,657 lbs., a Harness Lift of 3,582 lbs., a Hand and Thigh Lift of 1,498 lbs., and One Finger Lift of 557 ½ lbs., and a Teeth Lift of 311 lbs. Many are under the impression that these lifts are Travis’ best records. This belief is erroneous, for these feats of strength were but five of a group of ten which were all accomplished within a period of thirty minutes in this contest. While all of the lifts performed in this prodigious demonstration of strength and endurance are exceptional, none of them represent the highest poundage that Travis lifted in these tests of strength.

The majority of Travis’ best records in back and harness lifting were achieved ten or more years prior to the contest, mentioned in the above paragraph. On November 1, 1907, he accomplished the following lifts, at a bodyweight of 185 lbs., at the Brooklyn Athletic Club in the presence of numerous athletes and authorities on weight lifting. Back Lift, 4,140 lbs., Harness Lift, 3.985 lbs., Hand and Thigh Lift, 1,778 lbs., Two Finger Lift, 1,105 lbs. Iron weights were used in all of these lifts. This Back Lift is the highest official record in which “live” weight was not employed. The Two Finger Lift is also a genuine heavyweight record. Following the creating of the world’s records, the Police Gazette magazine published a report pertaining to this unparalled lifting performance.

While this 4,149 lb. Back Lift is Travis’ highest official record, he has on several occasions exceeded this poundage. However, in these instances he lifted “live” weight on his backlifting platform. On one occasion he lifted 25 men, all of whom were wearing overcoats, on his ponderous backlifting platform which weighed 365 lbs. The total of this lift would come to 4,240 lbs. if one were to assume that the men, thus dressed, only average 155 lbs. each. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that Travis surpassed his official record when he accomplished this gigantic lift.

Besides the tremendous lifts, such as these that he has accomplished, Travis has performed a number of extraordinary feats in which he supported enormous poundages. The heaviest amount of weight that he supported was 5,095 lbs. This record was accomplished while lying on his back, by having a considerable number of men seat themselves on a long plank which rested on his knees, and on a bar which he held in his hands while the arms were fully extended upward. Another of Travis’ most outstanding supporting feats was that of turning around three times in one spot while supporting a weight of 1,155 lbs. across his shoulders. This poundage was comprised of a thick-handled stage bar bell, 7 feet, 8 inches long, weighing 495 lbs., plus the weight of four men who hung onto the ends of this huge bar bell while Travis supported it across his shoulders. Travis exceeded this poundage by a considerable amount by using steel braces on his upper body. In this way he was able to stand erect while supporting 1.800 lbs. across his shoulders.

Travis’ acts have been featured in vaudeville and with circuses, not only on the basis of his records as a champion strongman, but also because he displays his Herculean power in feats of strength which are so spectacular that they actually astound the audiences who witness them. One of his most sensational stunts was to resist the pull of six horses while lying face-down on a ladder. Another was to hold, by his hands, a horse while hanging by his knees and sliding down a wire. A daring feat of Travis’, which also provided sensational appeal to the spectators, was that of having two automobiles run over his body at the same time. Another impressive stunt was the one in which Travis, while standing on top of an elevated platform, supported a revolving carousel upon which 14 persons sat, by means of a harness belt attached from about his hips to the carousel directly below the platform. The combined weight of the apparatus and the persons on it that he supported in this spectacular feat of strength totaled at least 3,000 lbs. or more, generally.

Though Travis has specialized in harness and back lifting and devoted a considerable portion of his efforts as a strongman to originating and perfecting spectacular feats of strength to employ in his stage exhibitions, he has also indulged in performing numerous bar bell and dumbell lifts. His ability in these latter types of lifts is quite unknown because of his remarkable records as a champion back and harness lifter more or less completely overshadowing them. Still his records in standard barbell and dumbell lifts are very creditable as the disclosure of some of them will readily prove.

In the Pull-over and Press on Back without Bridge, Travis performed this lift with a barbell of 290 lbs. which had 13 inch spheres and a 1 ¼ inch handle. His best record in the Bent Press was 270 lbs. This lift was accomplished with an exceptionally long barbell, nearly 7 feet in length, with a 3 inch handle. Most all of his barbell lifts were performed with cumbersome barbell that were especially difficult to lift because of the large diameter of the bar.

Travis’ most outstanding dumbell lifts are as follows: Two Dumbell Clean and Jerk, 229 lbs. (117 right, 112 left); Two Dumbell Continental Jerk, 260 lbs. (130 right and left with 3 inch handles); Two Hands Curl with Dumbells, 170 lbs.

As noteworthy of all of these lifts are, they are more remarkable when one takes into consideration that not only were the barbells and dumbells that Travis used awkward to handle, but he did not specialize on these lifts sufficiently to be able to utilize his strength to the maximum degree of efficiency. Had this champion strongman concentrated on practicing such lifts, instead of performing them spasmodically, he unquestionably would have surpassed all of his best records on them.

Despite the fact that Travis’ hand is only of average length, measuring 7 ½ inches, and has especially short fingers – for the length of his middle finger is only 3.1 inches – he has succeeded in performing a great number of varied feats of hand and finger strength. All of them are extraordinary and many are truly phenomenal. Through intensive training on feats of this nature, Travis has developed his hand and finger strength to such an exceptional degree that if made him superior, in many tests and stunts, to those who have the advantage of possessing a hand larger than average. Travis’ hands are very thick and muscular, with many muscles that are seldom used in ordinary movements developed to a high degree through the varied exercises he has practiced.

Among the many tests of finger and gripping strength that Travis has succeeded in performing, which have not been duplicated, the feat which the greatest number of persons have attempted in vain to equal is one which does not seem very difficult to accomplish. The weight employed in this test consists of a bar of flat iron, with a hole two-fifths of an inch deep near one end of the bar and a place near the other end to which iron washers are attached. Travis has lifted this object when it was weighing 10 lbs. by inserting his middle finger into the hole with the palm of the hand facing downward. In performing this lift in the manner in which Travis does it, the middle finger must be kept straight and be free from contact with the index and third fingers. So far approximately a thousand persons, including Arthur Saxon, Hector De Carie and John Davis, have failed in their attempts to duplicate Travis’ success in this novel finger lifting feat.

In his stage exhibitions, Travis has demonstrated his finger strength by performing impressive stunts that would be appreciated by the general public. One of them was to tear a stout tobacco tin in two with his hands. Another was to rip two 1,200 page telephone directories together into halves. He also would tear two 2 ½ decks of playing cards combined together.

One of Travis’ most outstanding feats of finger strength was a test of pinch-gripping power in which he lifted, with two hands, a rectangular block of iron 4 inches wide, weighing 210 lbs. up off the ground. He performed this remarkable feat around the year 1907 when he was in his prime. Among the numerous other extraordinary stunts that can be classed as tests of pinch-gripping strength that he has performed is his Clean and Jerk lift of two 67 lb., 3 inch thick barbell plates. He performed a similar feat in which he Clean and Jerked one of these 67 lb. plates and a 60 lb. dumbell with a 3 inch handle together. Another wonderful feat of this same type that Travis performed was that of snatching a maple plank which weighed 140 lbs., from off the ground to arm’s length overhead. This plank was 12 inches wide by 3 inches thick by 12 feet in length. Travis had a larger plank which was also 3 inches thick, weighing 210 lbs. that he could pinch-lift off the ground with two hands.

Since the beginning of his career as a strongman athlete, Travis has been actively interested in performing endurance lifts to test his strength in relation to stamina and speed. One of his first public demonstrations of endurance lifting was an impromptu one, resulting from someone asking him how many times he could lift a pair of 10 lb. dumbells overhead. Without any preparation he immediately proceeded to test out his stamina and strength on this lift. In performing each repetition, he lowered the dumbells down to the floor after he elevated them to arm’s length overhead. He succeeded in performing 1,600 repetitions of this lift in one hour and 27 minutes. This remarkable demonstration took place at the Brooklyn Athletic Club on April 14, 1897, when Travis was twenty-one years of age.

In the year of 1903, an amateur strongman named Gilman Low acquired considerable fame by doing a back lift a sufficient number of repetitions in succession to exceed a total of more than a million pounds. Low performed this feat by lifting 1.000 lbs. 1,006 times in consecutively on a special machine for backlifting. To accomplish this required 34 minutes and 35 seconds.

This record of Low’s inspired Travis to endeavor to surpass it. After devoting considerable time during his training to practicing repetition backlifting for endurance and speed, he was prepared to establish a number of amazing records. On November 3, 1907, he greatly improved on Low’s million-pound lift by doing a 1,000 pound back lift 1,000 times in succession in 9 minutes time. Two days later, Travis created another remarkable record by lifting 1,000 pounds 500 times in 90 seconds. He also lifted 3,000 pounds 50 times in 20 seconds. In doing this speed lifting on the special scale machine for backlifting his legs would move with amazing rapidity in order to accomplish as many as 5 lifts per second. Of course his legs are placed so that they only have to move but a short distance in performing the lifting on this machine.

After nearly thirty years had elapsed since he established these endurance and speed backlifting records he decided in 1935, when he was 59 years of age, to demonstrate that, despite his chronological age, he still retained the greater extent of the strength and stamina that he possessed in his youth. To prove this he proposed in his youth. To prove this he proposed to endeavor to equal or approach the records in speed and endurance backlifting that he accomplished when in his prime as a strongman. After a period of training he made an official test of his ability on February 28th an on March 14th of that year. On the first date he succeeded in equaling his record of backlifting 1,000 pounds 500 times in 90 seconds. At the next test he again succeeded in equaling another of his records when he did 1,000 repetitions of a back lift of 1,000 pounds in 9 minutes time.

This past year (1939), Travis decided that he would test his strength and stamina by repeating the endurance and speed backlifting by utilizing his special scale machine for this purpose in the same manner as he had in the past. Allowing time for a brief period of training, he arranged that he would perform this demonstration in public, on or near the date of his sixty-third birthday, which was February 21, 1939. This official exhibition was accomplished on February 26th in the presence of eleven expert witnesses including Harry Shafran, George Russell Weaver and Prof. Anthony Barker. Before performing the back lift Travis lifted 300 pounds with his teeth, and tore two telephone books, whose total number of pages was 1,604, into halves together. Following these feats of strength he succeeded in lifting 1,000 pounds 1,009 times in 26 minutes and 30 seconds, employing the backlifting machine. This result was quite disappointing to Travis, for the rate of speed for the lifting was considerably slower than his usual pace. The decrease in speed can be attributed to a number of disturbing factors which tended to hinder him on this occasion. Had conditions been satisfactory he would have unquestionably performed this test in much less time. This can be readily demonstrated by mentioning that during one of his training periods only about two weeks prior to this official test he lifted 1,000 pounds 1,000 times in slightly more than 18 minutes.

As outstanding as the numerous records and many remarkable feats that Travis has accomplished during his long career as a champion strongman are, I think that his greatest contribution to weight lifting is that he serves to be a sterling example of the fact that lifters have a longer span of activity than any other type of athlete. In most forms of sports the participants are either “has beens” or “all washed up” in their early thirties, while a weight lifter such as Travis continues to remain an active strongman champion while in his sixties. Just as Travis’ accomplishments provide inspiration, so should his longevity as an athlete yield encouragement to all weight lifters to continue on with their endeavors.

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