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Sheboygan County, Wisconsin Genealogy & History

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This article was contributed by: Debi Daniel

When Then Was Now - Driving Club: Horsing Around

Two Gentlemen of Sheboygan, Edwin Imig, left and Thomas Franey were instrumental in the operation of the Gentlemen's Driving Club of Sheboygan. Imig is a member of the derby Day committee for several years, while Franey served as trainer for several of the horses belonging to members of the Gentlemen's Driving Club of Sheboygan.

Back around the turn of the century, horses were the only way to get around, and they got around quite well at the old Sheboygan Driving Park.

The park was the scene of many a harness race in those days - crowds of more than 3,000 would be on hand to watch the trotters or pacers and the drivers of the Gentlemen's Driving Club.

Club Formed by Horse Lovers

The club was formed in 1901 when about a dozen men hitched up their sulkeys to horses and began competing among themselves. Most of the men were prominent businessmen, but all were horse lovers and amateur drivers.

The day of the club's annual derby and parade was likened to "another Fourth of July" when everyone turned out to watch the horses and drivers, decked out in full colors, parade through the streets of Sheboygan prior to the big races at the Driving Park.

The track that made them famous {or that they made famous} was located on what is now Cooper Avenue about a block and a half west of the intersection of Calumet Drive and Geele Avenue.

The second annual derby was held on June 20, 1902 and the mile-and-a-half long parade drew a considerable crowd as it wound its way from the old post office "promptly at 12:30 p.m."

Satin Invitations Sent Out

Invitations, printed on cardinal red colored satin, were sent out to a number of sportsmen in the city.

The invitations read:

"The Gentlemen's Driving Club of Sheboygan has named June 20th as the day for holding its annual Derby Day and Matinee Races. You are cordially invited to join us in the parade.

"We would be pleased to have all that participate in the parade decorate their horses and vehicles with the club colors, which are carcdinal red and royal blue, or the stable colors of their favorite horse or horses.

"An interesting race program has been arranged which will take place at the Driving Park immediately after the parade.

"Trusting that we may have your patronage in making Derby Day a success, we remain,

Yours respectfully,

"The Gentlemen's Driving Club Derby Day Committee,

R. L. Whitehill,
E. P. Ewer,
Edwin Imig

Those three names were prominent in the driving club throughout its brief existence, but there were others, just as well-known.

Many Stories About Horses and Drivers

There were W. E. Tallmadge and his horse, Tommy H.; E. B. Garton and his horse, Maurine; N. E. Schils and his horse, Chlorine, to name just a few.

There are numerous stories about both the men and the horses and accounts of races among them that could fill a book.

For example, there's the story of the midnight grudge match between Charles Fairweather's horse Vetrix and George Snow's Prince Charles. Snow, who then lived in Milwaukee and was later to move to Fond du Lac, was sort of a conniving fellow and he had the race "rigged".

The two drivers set up the race after neither was satisfied with the results of the day's matinee races. Each claimed that his horse was teh fastest and that he was the better driver.

It was so dark that night that lanterns had to be hung at the wire so that the winner could be determined. The horses and their driver's were lost in the darkness soon after they left the starter's gate.

Snow, intending to use the dark of night to his advantage, had it arranged that two caretakes{sic} were to jump out of the darkness and cut the hobbles on his horse's legs, allowing the horse to gallop instead of trot. He figured this ploy would give him a great advantage over Fairweather. {It probably would have - had it worked.}

Fairweather Wins Anyway

Only one of the two caretakers managed to cut the hobble, while the other slipped and cut the tug instead. That left Snow's horse unable to either trot or run {and with the tug cut, it left Snow unable to control the animal}. Fairweather easily won the race {and the champagne which went to the victor}.

The story, as told by trainer Tom Franey, has it that about 25 or 30 Sheboygan businessmen that same night offered many a toast to to{sic} Snow's health as they drank the victor's champagne.

One of the most popular horses was Edwin Imig's Voltaire, which is said to have never lost a race that had over three starts.

The rsaces were all begun with a flying start, and if the judge felt the horses were not straight in line when they crossed the starting line, he would ring a bell, calling for a re-start of the race.

Voltaire, it was said, understood what that bell meant, and would pull up immediately and return to the starting area, while the other horses continued on until their driver could get them under control and turn them around for the re-start.

Voltaire - A Unique Horse

If a race had several re-starts, naturally, Voltaire was less winded then the other horses and easily captured the event.

Voltaire was also a good horse with the 4-wheel carriage, but he had a "thing" about cemeteries. It was said he wouldn't walk through one. When Edwin Imig or the trainer tried to get him to walk through a cemetery, Voltaire would rear up and refuse to go futher{sic}.

"He just wouldn't go through the cemetery, no matter what you tried," says Edwin's son Richard, of 1629 N. 7th St., who submitted the pictures of his father, the trainer and Voltaire.

But there was one day, according to Richard, that Voltaire went through a cemetery, "My grandmother, Mrs. Adam Imig, and Mrs. Gus Kent had Volatire out one day and were going to put some flowers on a grave," he relates.

"Voltaire didn't even blink when they got to the cemetery, but walked right in. My grandmother was surprised and later told my father that 'Voltaire was ready for the soap factory,' because he went into the cemetery."

The horse raced all over the state, but Edwin found that the horse wanted someone to be in the boxcar with him at all times - so a trainer, Eugene Stahl, had to ride with the horse in the railroad car during the trip.

Well-Known Club State-Wide

The Gentlemen's Driving Club of Sheboygan, shortly after its formation, because well-known around the state and at one time or another, held state championships or track records at several tracks.

W. E. Tallmadge's pacer, Tommy H. at one time held the state championship, while Maidino, owned and driven by Gus Schrage was the trotting champion of the state.

At the county "free-for-all" held in Plymouth on Sept. 12, 1901, three Sheboygan horses, Tallmadge's Tommy H., Schrage's Maidino and R. L. Whitehill's Miss Calhoun, raced almost neck and neck with Tommy H. the winner.

The results of the races were acclaimed far and wide as one of the most spectacular amateur performances in the state. It was reported that none of the horses either faltered or broke stride during the heats.

That same year saw the formation of a statewide driving association with races held in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Appleton, Marinette and Janesville in addition to Sheboygan. The association's activities culminated with a series of championship races held the next year.

Automobile Takes Over

Tallmadge and his horse Tommy H. retained the state pacer championship in a race at State Fair Park in Milwaukee. Earlier that year, in an inter-city race at Milwaukee {with drivers and horses from Milwaukee, Sheboygan, Green Bay, and Fond du Lac competing}. Sheboygan came away with all the first places, but one. In that heat a Sheboygan horse and driver finished second.

A victorious "welcome home" ceremony was held at the railroad station and a parade followed through the streets of downtown Sheboygan.

Among the other drivers and horses listed by the club back in 1901 were E. B. Garton, Maurine; Peter Reiss, Bessie V.; A. W. Schramm, Aaron S.; Theodore Zschetzsche, Floris; Paul Joerns, Ray W.; C. J. Ewer, David Harum; Dr. Muth, Zion; W. E. Weeks, Marguerite; George W. Schmidt, Ben H. G.; Otto Foeste, McWilton; T. M. Bowler, Olesa; Theodore Fleisher, Sheboygan Boy; Thomas Franey, Dorothy Deadwood; Nick Frank, Roxie; and Arthur Koepsell, Lena.

The club lasted for about five years before the automobile took over as the national mode of transportation and interest in harness racing died out.

Bits and pieces of the driving club still surface every now and then - mostly in memories and scrapbooks of relatives of the "gentlemen" who went around and around at the old Driving Park.

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