Thursday, June 20, 2019

Odds & Ends On Grimek - Irvin Foss

June 17, 1910
November 20, 1998

I have followed with great interest the articles which have appeared in various magazines following the passing of my good friend, John Grimek.

I worked for the York Barbell Company in 1945. I also trained at the gym which was then located at 51 North Broad Street in York, Pennsylvania. In those days the York gym was the mecca for the best weightlifters and bodybuilders in the country. I worked at various types of jobs in the office. 

I was just a young feller in those days, 18 years of age. I had been training since I was 15. When I arrived in York I had no idea where the gym was located. It was summertime - and hot! I was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and walking from the YMCA after getting a room for a week. Here I am looking for York Barbell when a fellow walks up to me and says, "Pardon me, but you must train at the YBBC. Could you give me directions to it?" I thought that was really funny. So we walked together, asking various people how to get where we wanted to go. I was from a small town outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, and my new friend was from an even smaller town in Ohio.

After I'd been hanging around the gym for a few days, John Grimek must have felt sorry for me. Believe me, money was tight. I remember the first time he asked me to join him and Steve Stanko for lunch. I couldn't believe my own ears. While we were eating, John told me he had found an opening for with the company. There may have been a tear in my eye. I was so grateful, I could hardly speak. Then John ended up paying for the lunches as well. I noticed he would always do this when I was short of money . . . which was quite often, I might add. 

I was lucky to be able to go out to lunch with these two great fellows on a number of occasions. It was always John who would tap me on the shoulder and say, "Irv, time for lunch." 

No matter what restaurant we went to, people would always be staring at us. (I should say they would be staring at John and Steve.) I remember one time when we had finished our meal and John and Steve meandered out while I was still trying to dig up the money to pay. I was having some trouble because the dude was trying to clip me out of about 49 cents. Just then the door swung open and John stuck his head in and said, "Irv, what the heck is wrong?" I didn't even have to answer. The money suddenly appeared on the counter. I just smiled at the fellow behind the counter and walked out. John said, "Dang it, Irv. I have to watch after you like a young pup." Then he laughed and slapped me on the back. 

There's a book by John D. Fair, entitled Muscletown USA, that covers the slangfests with Weider, Lurie, Hoffman and Grimek. 

John did not involve himself in such trivia. 

I was there. I know. I remember when Dan Lurie issued his challenge to Grimek. Lurie made the comment that, without question, Grimek was the best-built man in the world. Then Lurie proceeds to say, "However, I feel I am the most muscular man, and thus challenge you to a contest to determine the winner." (The words are not verbatim). 

York isn't far from New York City. One of the fellows who worked and trained at the York Barbell Company had a car and knew his way around New York, so he asked me if I wanted to share expenses and head up that way over the weekend. We could stop in and see Lurie and also see the Mr. New York City physique contest at the same time. Sounded great to me. 

When we got there, I remember walking into the gym and first seeing Dan Lurie. He was doing dips between parallel bars. I remember thinking to myself, "Well, he is muscular and well built, but he's much too small to even consider competing against Grimek." It was a joke. A publicity stunt? We walked out shaking our heads.

That night we attended the Mr. New City contest. It was the first such contest I had ever seen. I think Vic Nicoletti won.        

 With his 1947 Mr. New York City Trophy

At some point during during the contest we heard a fellow who was sitting behind us say, "I sure wish Grimek was here to put on some muscle control and posing for us." I turned around to look and recognized the guy from seeing him in the pages of Strength & Health magazine. His name was Kimon Voyages. He was known for his great leg development. 

"While at the Old Timers dinner in October 1989, I sat next to Kimon Voyages, the winner of many “Best Legs” awards. He was a squat devotee. He would squat in the usual way. He also used the modern power squat, going down to the thighs parallel position. He also used a squat in which he started at the deep position, i.e. all the way down to begin. He recovered only to the parallel position and then returned to the deep position, repeating this for the required number of reps."

 - Charles A. Smith

Voyages - left
Sammartino - right 
Tom Minichiello - center 

The trip to New York was great fun. My only regret was not having the time to visit Sig Klein's gym and meet this great iron game athlete. Sig and John were close friends.

Of course, Grimek accepted Lurie's challenge. However, John made absolutely clear that the contest would have to be open to all. As John said, "Who is to say that either one of us is the most muscular man in America?" The contest took place in New York City and Grimek was the winner. Dan Lurie finished well down in the pack. 

I remember when Clarence Ross also challenged Grimek. This was another cheap publicity stunt. Let's face it. During his prime John Grimek reigned supreme.

My family moved from Minnesota to Santa Monica, California. I was really distraught. I didn't know whether to go with them or return to York, so I wrote John explaining my dilemma. He answered me, and felt I should go with my folks to California. He said, "There are more gyms on the West Coast than in the rest of the states put together." He went on to say, "The weather where you are going is ideal year round, not only for training but for anything. I think you'll miss something if you don't go out there for a while and look around. Chances are you may never want to visit York again. Nevertheless, do advise me of your plans and let me know whether you will travel west or come back east." 

So I went with my family to Santa Monica. We were within walking distance of Vic Tanny's gym, and that's where I started training. I met some nice guys as John said I would. I trained with George Eiferman and Pepper Gomez. I also saw Steve Reeves, Clarence Ross, Eric Pederson, Armand Tanny, Joe Gold and many others. 

The 1948 Mr. USA contest was coming up, and all talk was that John Grimek was going to enter. In fact I saw large billboard signs advertising this very fact. I remember telling Pepper Gomez none of the bodybuilders stood a chance of beating Grimek. Pepper scoffed at me. He said, "Heck, all Grimek has is good arms, chest and legs. He doesn't have any pecs, lats or abs." I said, "You and everyone else who thinks the same are in for a rude awakening. After you see Grimek in person, I would like to hear what you have to say." 

I found out from John that because his wife, Angela, was expecting, chances were slim indeed that he would enter. He made it clear that his wife and family came first. I still bought tickets for my mother, brother and myself. So were were there, hoping that John might be present. 

I still remember the groan that came from those in attendance when Vic Tanny read the telegram from Grimek stating that he would not be able to attend the Mr. USA contest because of personal reasons. I believe Clarence Ross won with Steve Reeves placing second. That's the way I remember it. The winner received a check in the amount of 1,000 dollars. That seemed like a lot of money to me!      

 Mr. USA 1948

They also had a bench pressing contest. Whoever could bench press 300-pounds the most times would receive 50 bucks. I believe the late Floyd Page was the winner. I can't recall the number of reps - in the high 20s for sure. I remember he really bounced the bar off his chest. 

I met Al Stephan, who was the 1946 AAU Mr. America, in York after he won the Mr. America contest. He was very strong in the barbell curl and bench press, but at the Mr. USA he bench pressed the bar so slowly that the crowd tried to egg him on to press faster. He just took his time and even smiled and he pressed. I can't remember how many reps he made or where he placed in the bench pressing contest, but I know he was well over the 20 mark.

When Stephan was in York I remember his standing with his back against one of the support beams that went from the ground floor up through the floor of the gym located on the second floor and then on up to the ceiling. He was very easy curls with the Olympic bar and the large plates. I also recall Stephan siting down on the incline bench and doing some fairly heavy incline presses with ease. Of course that was a challenge to one and all, so Stanko walked over, grabbed the bar, and couldn't even start it off his shoulders! This angered Grimek. I knew John did not like anyone to show up Steve, so he grabbed the bar, sat down on the incline bench, and pressed it more times than Al Stephan had. Then John turned to Stanko and said, "Steve, take a wider grip, for gosh sakes." Stanko did as John suggested and pressed the bar easily. I was sure smiling to myself.

Grimek was there for the 1949 Mr. USA contest.

He took first spot, Ross was second, and Reeves came in third. However, I failed to see my good friend Grimek compete. Not being able to find a job that was worth a hoot, I had moved on. I ended up in Everett, Washington and have lived in the Evergreen State ever since, working the West Coast Telephone. We opened a gym up in Everett in about 1960. I was also AAU weightlifting chairman for the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years. 

Made my first trip back to York in 1963 to see the Senior National Weightlifting Championships and AAU Mr. America contest which was held in Harrisburg PA. 

Vern Weaver won the Mr. America.

I couldn't resist posting this photo of Leroy Colbert. 

My wife, son, father-in-law and my mother-in-law all had a nice visit with John and Angela at their home. We had a great spaghetti feast. The weather was very hot. 

Bob Hoffman wrote this in his book entitled, Weightlifting

"The 1963 national championships were staged by the York Barbell Club at the Zembo Mosque in Harrisburg. The hottest weather in half a century with very high humidity prevented some of out lifters from doing their best." 

After about six years in the gym business, we threw in the towel. 

Grimek told me the largest cash prize prize he ever won was the 1,000 dollars at the 1949 Mr. USA contest. He said, "Man, look at the purses they pull down now. That would give a person a reason to train!" How true. 

I remember having dinner with Doug Hepburn and some of his weightlifter friends at a Chinese Restaurant in Vancouver, BC. 

Doug Hepburn.
Resting between lifts. 

Demonstrating his strength. 

Doug had a gym which, like mine, eventually failed. I told him we would have made more money if we had opened a saloon. We both laughed like hell. We had a great evening together. I remember asking Doug who he considered to be the best bodybuilder. Doug replied, "Is there another one besides Grimek?" Again we laughed and laughed. I told this story to John, and he laughed too. He said, "Darn, I wish I could've been there that night with you and Doug." Yes, it would have been quite an evening. 

On occasion Grimek could get silly. What prompted this idea on his part I'll never know, but he decided we were going to try to hold him down in the floor. He lay flat on his back on the York Barbell gym floor. The floor was wood and you could get slivers in your feet walking barefoot. Five of us knotheads were selected by John to be participants. I wavered for some time, but he finally talked me into it. We were all just young dudes. One of the fellows was pretty darn strong, more advanced at the time than the rest of us. John was laughing like heck as we positioned ourselves over his prone body. I ended up sitting on his stomach with my chest against his. I was looking right into John's face. I don't know how many times he asked, "Are you ready?" 

I finally concentrated on using both hands to help hold down his left arm. Our team of idiots was not well prepared or experienced for such an event. Finally we all agreed we were ready. I remember John winking at me . . . 

All hell broke loose. I was hit in the head by elbows, knees, and the floor at least a dozen times . . . or so it seemed. 

John arose from this insane encounter laughing hysterically. And guess what? 

He wanted to do it again! 

I was still trying to remember my name and where I was. I told John, "I will never do that again!" He just kept laughing and laughing. You had to be there to appreciate what we had been a part of. 

John would get like this to break up the monotony of training, I guess.

Back to Pepper Gomez. He and Eric Pederson were wrestling in Everett, so we went down to see the match. After the wrestling was over, I waited until the crowd had cleared out. Before long Pepper came walking out of the dressing room. I walked up to him and said, "Remember when we trained together at Vic Tanny's gym in Santa Monica?" He smiled and said he did. I knew he had watched the 1949 Mr. USA show that Grimek won. I also knew that he and a buddy of his, Gene Meyers, had traveled to York and there had been a write-up and pictures about them in Strength & Health

I asked him, "What do you think of Grimek now?" 

He laughed, and said," You were RIGHT! In person Grimek is INCREDIBLE!" 

I smiled to myself . . .  
for a long time after that.  

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