Swindling The Swindlers
The trust busters traveled their merry way throughout America “swindling the swindlers” of matdom.
Jack Sherry, a half breed Croatian and Alaskan Indian was another of the trust busters who enjoyed a short moment of glory in baiting the combination. Then Mondt, acting as Lewis’ buffer, took Sherry on in a “shooting” match and subdued him.
John Evko also fell before Mondt and Lewis.
Probably the most overrated of all the trust busters was Hans Steinke of Germany, whom Jack Curley of New York advanced as an opponent for Lewis. Steinke refused to meet Lewis outside of New York City and inasmuch as Curley had, at the time, sufficient influence to sway the State Athletic Commission enough to compel Lewis to meet Steinke under his promotion, Sandow shunned New York City and Steinke received official recognition as champion.
“It didn’t matter that Lewis wasn’t recognized in New York State,” says Sandow. “We made thousands of dollars outside of New York and couldn’t fill our dates. So we let Steinke have the title and starve with it.”
The fact remains, however, that Sandow’s refusal to concur with the opinions of Lewis and Mondt that they should go into New York and clear up the Steinke title claims, led to a later day breach which was to give Mondt the upper hand in wrestling throughout the United States and relegate Sandow to the highways and byways of rural America.
Perhaps it was because Sandow was well aware of the many programs he staged that he feared to test the prowess of his stalwarts too much, but this very temerity oftentimes led to Billy trusting persons whom Mondt and Lewis both knew were awaiting the chance to double-cross either of them.
Wladek Zbyszko, brother of the famed and capable, albeit ancient, Stanislaus Zbyszko, tried to “hook” (as the wrestlers term a double cross) Lewis during a program bout in Rochester, New York, back in the early twenties. Half blinded from trachoma, most dreaded of all mat diseases, Lewis sensed Wladek’s object and took all fight out of his opponent by breaking his arm.
Sandow’s whip-cracking, and growing insufferable ego, made it easier for trust busters to get their work in.
Ed White of Chicago played upon Sandow’s lack of confidence by turning up one day with a “Masked Marvel” and challenging the entire wrestling world with him. White’s masked wonder received columns of publicity and Sandow quaked in his shoes. Lewis and Mondt champed at the bit in their anxiety to go to the post with White’s wonder man.
“Listen to me,” Lewis begged of Sandow. “That fellow’s getting a lot of publicity, especially in Chicago. Now if you let me shoot with him we might draw a hundred thousand dollars, and that’s important money. We can make a deal with White and if the fellow beats me leveling up and shooting the works, then his champion can work with us and we’ll make a lot of money.
The game needs a new face. It’s getting tired of me.” “Nope,” ruled Sandow. “You stay champion until I get a better man to take your place.” It wasn’t long thereafter when White matched his boy with a preliminary lad for a bout in an out of the way Illinois wrestling club, and his “Masked Marvel” was not only unmasked, but found to be John Freeberg, a run of the mine grappler, whom Lewis had thrown many times in Sandow’s basement gymnasium.
Again a bluffer had been able to hold Sandow at bay.
Lewis had won his title from Joe Stecher in 1920. Mat experts who witnessed the contest have called it the greatest display of skill and science ever viewed, between two well conditioned athletes. Lewis dumped the crown to Stanislaus Zbyszko in 1921, but regained it the following year when he defeated the elder Zbyszko.
The Pole had proved to be a colorless champion so, on March 22, 1922, Lewis took back the title, before a capacity house. The bout drew nearly seventeen thousand dollars. Tom Law was the promoter.
It had been the belief of Mondt, Sandow and Lewis that a Polish champion would bring out the Pole following, but when their judgment proved to be wrong, Sandow, Lewis and Mondt took the crown back. It was at this point that the Sandow-Lewis-Mondt combine began its greatest promotional work and wrestling was placed upon the profitable basis which lured the trust busters.
The most colorful and greatest of all the trust busters was a gawky farmer lad named Fred Grubmier. In the years he tormented the champions and near wrestling greats, “Grubby,” as he was known, traveled the length and breadth of America shooting at other trust busters as well as Lewis and Stecher. Many a narrow squeeze had the so-called tough guys of matdom when they were trapped on the mat with Fred.
Grubby it was who “rung in” on Jack Sherry when the latter was busting the Sandow trust throughout Minnesota. Sherry was traveling with a carnival and had a thousand dollar cash bond up to meet all comers. The troupe reached St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Grubmier appeared upon the scene, accepted Sherry’s challenge, posted a like amount and proceeded to bust the trust buster by dumping him to the canvas two falls inside of one hour. Sherry left the carnival just ahead of the irate midway operator’s shotgun.
During those early twenties this writer often ran across the hand of Grubmier in many a bonecrushing contest. His very appearance would lead the unwary into traps, from which they found difficulty in extricating themselves.
Perhaps Grubmier sprang upon some unsuspecting trust buster like Plestina, Pesek, Pojello, Freeberg, or Evko, while they were touring with a carnival or circus, offering to wager thousands no man could beat them. The racket was that those challengers from the audience were part and parcel of the program and the trust busters had little trouble subduing their opponents at the right moment. The challenge money was usually posted with some responsible town official just to make the dodge look on the level and this fact gave Grubmier his advantage.
The Grubmier modus operandi ran true to form. This chronicler witnessed many of them. The joust always began in the same way.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are offering two thousand dollars to any man in the audience who can stay with the uncrowned champion for ten minutes. Furthermore, folks, we are willing to make a side bet with anyone who thinks the “champion” cannot throw him inside of twenty minutes. Don’t be bashful, men, step right up and lock grips with the champ. There’s two thousand dollars awaiting you if you turn the trick.”
It was the usual carnival spiel, or then again it might be the manager of some new wrestling threat touring the byways with his “trust buster,” and offering to take on all comers. Not forgetting, of course, a few bone-crushing hirelings planted in the audience who responded at the proper moment and after some semi-serious clowning, would be thrown by the alleged master of them all.
At times the offer to meet all comers proved to be an expensive proposition. Onto the stage would amble an angular rustic, clothed in dirty overalls, wearing manure-caked boots, a battered felt hat and a tattered mackinaw coat with a cheap, half-smoked stogie dangling in his mouth.
With his appearance the audience would guffaw, for the yokels remembered him as the half-wit farmer who had been hanging around town betting the boys in the poolroom he could beat them at foot racing, cards, billiards, pool, weight lifting or hay pitching, and always he lost.
No wonder they laughed.
Even the manager and his “champion” couldn’t hide their smiles. Sometimes a small carnival band would be in the pit and the always alert orchestra leader would clown to beat all by having his boys play “Hearts and Flowers.” Truly, a sorrier sight than Grubmier had seldom been seen on a wrestling mat.
After a brief conversation with the scarecrow who posed as a man, the wrestling manager would hold up his hand for silence and then announce:
“We have a courageous opponent here for the champion. His name is Fred Grubmier. He is six feet three inches tall, weighs two hundred pounds exactly, and wants to meet my man.” Then turning toward Grubmier, the manager would inquire facetiously: “Don’t you want to make a side bet with the champion just to make the contest more interesting?”
It was the old carnival racket of taking any unsuspecting yokel into camp who might have a little cash and thought he could wrestle.
“Wai,” the candidate for the slaughter would drawl in reply, “I ain’t much of a hand at bettin’, but I sold some stock recently and me an’ a friend in the audience have about four thousand dollars in cash between us and maybe I’ll take a flier. I think I’m pretty good and can beat your man.”
More laughs from the spectators. They were recalling the yokel’s absurd bets around the pool rooms. They knew he couldn’t wrestle his way out of a paper bag. They were as interested in covering all the Grubmier bets as the “champion” and his manager were.
The manager, of course, couldn’t believe his ears. To find a sucker in this out of the way place was almost too good to be true. After a little bargaining he would accept the proposition and a side bet of say, two thousand dollars, in addition to the originally offered carnival purse for staying with the champion, which would be posted with the local constable.
Then the rough clad yokel would strip down for action and the crowd would get another laugh. For this Ichabod Crane-like granger disdained the usual wrestler’s paraphernalia, preferring his long red flannel underwear and bare feet when he went to the mat. Usually Grubmier had persuaded the manager to appoint the constable or some other town notable to referee, just to make matters straight. In most cases the confident pilot would give his consent.
The signal would be given and both men would lock grips. The “trust buster” would apply a few holds to his plowman opponent just to test him out. To his consternation he would find they were broken easily. More punishing holds would be locked onto his emaciated scarecrow adversary, only to have them again broken with ease.
Then would it dawn upon the onlooking manager and his luckless matman protege that the rube opponent was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The “trust buster” would work feverishly but without success to pin the ringer as quickly as possible, and save the bets and bonus money. The alleged tiller of the soil would fight off his adversary successfully.
Suddenly both would go to the canvas. The “ringer’s” legs would lash out like a serpent’s tongue preparing to strike. Desperately the “trust buster” would scramble frantically to avoid them. With deadly sinuousness Grubmier’s legs would girdle his opponent’s midriff and the amazed “champion,” manager, and audience, would witness the amazing and almost unbelievable sight of a strong, weighty man picked up bodily and twirled from side to side with confusing and dizzy rapidity.
The “trust buster’s” arms would flap helplessly while the python-like limbs of his adversary squeezed his midriff tighter. The shock of being tossed hither and thither in the labyrinth of Grubmier’s legs finally befogged the opponent’s brain. He was being kayoed without benefit of a punch to the jaw.
Grubmier’s hawk like eyes watched his opponent’s contortions. At the proper moment Grubby would shift to a punishing frog scissors, a hold of his own invention, and slowly the “trust buster’s” shoulders would be pressed to the mat.
There would be charges of frame-up, etc., on the part of all the luckless concerned, but when the smoke of battle had cleared away, Grubmier and his friend would collect their bets and the special forfeit money, climb into a wheezy old model T Ford and move on to another town where they knew a carnival with another “champion” was shortly scheduled to play.
Sometimes Grubmier rung in on wrestlers dressed as a farmer. Then again he might be a lumberjack just in from the camps with his winter’s earnings. In mining towns he was a sourdough who had struck it rich.
He employed a multiple of disguises and caught the unwary off guard. Lewis and Mondt, touring with Miller Bros. Wild West Show just managed to stave off defeat at the hands of this Iowa country bumpkin.
The adventurous pretender became the scourge of the Sandow-Mondt-Lewis combine and all the so-called “trust busters.” He broke carnivals and took the wrestling crooks into camp with his innocent and sucker-like appearance.
Fred Grubmier came out of Harlan, Iowa, in the early twenties, and in company with a wealthy neighboring farmer, named Pete Fromm, who raced harness horses, he toured the country as a ringer.
“I got the idea one time when Plestina came to our town to wrestle and take on all comers,” explained Grubmier.
“I used to wrestle around the farm and with the boys in the village. I developed my combination hook and frog scissors hold by exercising my legs with buggy and freight car springs. Plestina and Joe Marsh came into Harlan and had in tow a big backer with a lot of money. They offered to take on all comers and Plestina threw a lot of fellows in the village.
“Fromm, who owned the neighboring farm to my folks, thought of trying me out with Plestina and bet two thousand dollars on me. I hooked Plestina and we decided to go to another town where another carnival was playing with Karl Pojello taking on all comers. We cleaned up again, so we started reading the Billboard Theater Magazine and watching the carnival routes.
“In one season we made about fifteen thousand dollars. This is better than horse racing. A fellow has to spend a lot of money on fancy feed, transportation and care of horses, and with a wrestler you only have to spend a ‘ few dollars a day to keep him alive.’ So, from then on we went around hooking the wise guys.”
A farm angel and a mat devil!
The fellow who busted the trust busters!