Races of all types were pleasant pastimes in the life of the pioneer, even with all the hard work demanded of them. Most family histories relate stories of the kinds of races held in those early years.
The young pioneer boy was proud when the girl next door saw him win the 100-yard dash, and he was always excited to join in a race with his favorite riding horse. They talked about their horses like the young men and women of today talk about their sports cars and their motorcycles.
We quote from the Pioneer McCarty story: "They took part in the social life of the pioneers, and enjoyed horseback riding, racing, fishing, and bobsled riding."
Lowell pioneers Abram and Horatio Nichols were involved in a very different kind of race. Like many of the early settlers, they raced to file their settlement claim, only to find it claimed by someone with a faster horse.
Whenever a picnic or outdoor gathering was held, the program included several kinds of races -- 50-and-100-yard dashes, sack races, fat man races, and a contest to see who could hitch and unhitch a team in the fastest time.
The following is from an article about the Lake County Fair in a 1911 'Lowell Tribune': "The racing card for the week is already sure to be a drawing card, owing to the large advance entry list in the two stake races, and the class races promise to full equally well."
In the same edition, there was an article about the Union Sunday School picnic at Oakland Park in Lowell. There was a parade from the churches to the park, with a brass band from Lake Village, and bringing up the rear was a wagon full of food things to eat. More than 500 people enjoyed the program of races and tournaments. The 100-yard dash was won by Earl Bailey; the 50-yard dash for young ladies was won by Gertrude Dickinson; the 50-yard dash for boys was won by Truman Kline; and the three-legged race went to John Castle and Ora Lloyd. Gladys Buckley was first in the 25-yard dash for girls; Fern Pletcher won the hitching contest, and Leon Bailey won in "the goose hangs high."
On July 4, 1916, there was a big celebration at Fred Hayden's Grove, three miles west of the town of Belshaw. Music by the Lowell Boys Band, speeches, songs, races and contests were on the day's program. E.C. Pulver, Charles Minninger, and Cecil Minninger were on the committee for the athletic events, which included foot races, ball throwing, broad jump, a three-legged race, sack races, high hump, tug of war, fat man's race, and shoe race.
A special feature of the day was the potato polo race on horseback, with Leon Bailey in charge. The races were followed by an exciting baseball game between the Belshaw Giants and the star team from Orchard Grove. Then followed horse racing, with several races run under the direction of George B.Bailey, himself an expert horseman. Fireworks and dancing completed the day's celebration.
In the later years of the 1800's and early 1900's, mechanical minds were busy inventing the horseless carriage, and in a short time auto races were popular. In 1909, the forerunner of the famous Indianapolis 500 automobile race was run in Lake County, Ind.
The race for the Indiana Trophy was run on June 18, 1909, with cars made by Corbin, Buick, Marion, Ford, Chalmers Detroit, Locomobile, Fal-Car, Moon, Renault, Stodard-Dayton, Knox, Apperton, and Fiat. Joe Matson won that race, driving 10 laps in his Chalmers Detroit with an average speed of 52.2 miles per hour.
Both races that weekend began on the "Nine-mile Stretch" (SR 55) just south of Crown Point, raced into town, and turned south to travel 'the dangerous curves' on the way to Cedar Lake, turned south again towards Lowell at Ray's Corner, (now Coleman's), and came speeding into Lowell on Clark St., for there was no bridge on Mill St. until the 1920's.
Grandstands were built at Crown Point, Cedar Lake, Creston, and in at least two sites in Lowell. One location on north Clark St. was advertised "to be safe from the cars and the racers could be seen for two miles on the fastest part of the course." The other stand was across the street from the Civil War Monument on Commercial Ave.
A walking bridge was erected over Clark St. at Commercial Ave. and another one arched over Commercial Ave. near the monument. A larger viaduct was built for horses at the corner of Main and Clark.
Businessmen Spindler and Hill offered free seats in front of their store on Commercial Ave. The National Guard was called out for traffic control during the races and for the practice.
A speed of eight miles per hour was recommended at the Clark St. and Commercial Ave. corner, and this was obeyed by the so-called 'reckless drivers' to keep from smashing thru a barricade of straw bales and into the windows of Ed Pixley's jewelry store.
On Sun., June 19, 1909, the longer race for the Cobe Trophy was run, with the cup presented by Ira Cobe of the Chicago Motor Club, the main sponsor of the two-day races. A few of the drivers kept their machines at Lowell; one of them, Louis Strang, kept his at William Tramm's blacksmith shop near Schmal's Hotel on West Commercial Ave. Young Master Harold Love, now a retired businessman of Lowell, had the privilege or riding in Strang's racer in a practice run. Love told us that his mother was not as happy as he was when he told her of his exciting ride.
Tickets for the grandstand at Clark St. were on sale at the hotel, according to an old ad in the Tribune. Lowell businessman Earle "Babe" Tanner told us that he saw the race from the corner of Commercial Ave. and Oak St. on the east part of town, and said that he enjoyed it, even though there was quite a wait between racers. He was also impressed by the soldiers with their rifles on their shoulders.
Twelve cars were entered in the Cobe Cup Race, driving 17 laps, or 395.66 miles. When all the smoke and dust cleared at the end of the race, Louis Chevrolet, a Frenchman, was the winner. He drove a Buick, and kept an average speed of 49.26 miles per hour.
Most of the townspeople were glad to be rid of the speeding drivers in their roaring machines, but those involved in the grandstands and other business enterprises connected with the race were very disappointed, since for them the end meant financial disaster! The following year the race was shifted to the quiet Indiana countryside near Indianapolis, and soon the Indianapolis 500 Auto Race was born.
Horse lovers resisted automobile races at the Lake County Fairgrounds for many years, but in the early 1920's, auto and motorcycle races became popular there. Horseracing was still the star attraction for county fairs for many years, with races on the dirt track around Fancher Lake. We wonder if Pioneer Fancher would believe his eyes if he could see the commotion that now takes place on his pioneer claim of the 1800s.
Horseracing was also popular around Lowell, for there was a track west of Lowell on the Nichols property, and much later there was one at the end of Joe Martin Rd. in the Kankakee Valley. There were many tracks in Lake County, including the well known Roby Racetrack, a popular place for both horse and auto racing. Another type of racing favored Cedar Lake for many years and still going strong is sailboat racing on the lake.
Racing has taken quite a turn from the foot racers of the pioneer era to the roaring jet-propelled drag racers on U.S. 30.
The Cobe Race of seventy-five years ago will be retraced on Sun., Aug. 12, 1984, when about 150 antique and classic cars will tour the same route. This tour will be sponsored by the Crown Point Sesquicentennial Committee, and will be aided by the Winamac Old Auto Club.
The Three Creeks Historical Assn. is planning to don period costumes and greet the old cars when they arrive in Lowell sometime after 1:30 p.m. in the afternoon, and they cordially invite everyone to join them at Senior Citizens Park downtown to enjoy watching the largest collection of old cars in years. Bring a folding chair and enjoy the afternoon.