Brains and Brawn… Bob Peoples and the Louisiana Leviathan

Published 12:29 am Saturday, September 25, 2021

BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Bob Peoples had missed nearly 6 months of training because of his various jobs and responsibilities. If he thought it was going to be easy to get his strength back, he was in for a rude awakening. He was 36 years old now and as he got closer to 40, no gains came easily. But he had made up his mind that he was going to break the 700-pound barrier in the deadlift, no matter what. 

The first time he trained after his busy season which did not allow him to lift at all was July of 1946, and he was severely disheartened when he realized he had lost so much strength from his extended break from the weights.

His maximum deadlift had dropped from 651 pounds down to almost 400. Not to be deterred, he began to consistently train with the 1946 Tennessee State Weightlifting Championships on his mind. He would only have until September to regain his lost ground. 

He trained hard, sweating through the humid summer air of the Tennessee mountains. He carved out time whenever he could to make sure he had time for his workouts.

He also trimmed all of the fat from his workouts, reducing them to the least sets and reps he could making sure he was hitting his goal lifts and weights but not overtaxing his body. 

By the time the Tennessee State Championships came around, he was reasonably happy with his progress. He was able to press 185, snatch 220 (which was a new state record) and jerk 230. But after that official lifting was complete, it was time for the real show to begin.

He was able to equal his best in training with a Deadlift of 651 1/4 pounds weighing 175. 

After the disappointing last year of training, Peoples was finally beginning to see that he was again within striking distance of becoming the first man to officially lift 700, but he could never have known that toiling away in the swamps of Louisiana was another man equally as determined to stake his claim to the same record. 

This mountain of a man was absolutely gigantic for those times.

In a day when the average man was 5’7” and the heavyweight class started with any lifter weighing over 181 pounds, Bill Boone was a monster of a man. His thickly muscled frame, calloused hands, and strong back made him a legend around the oil fields of Shreveport, Louisiana.

This was a time when there were few sports stars outside of baseball and boxing, but those men seemed an eternity away in the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest.  To all of the wide-eyed children in the swamps of Louisiana, they wanted to grow up to be the larger-than-life physical specimen named Bill Boone.

This goliath from Shreveport, Louisiana was 6 feet tall and weighed 280 pounds in his prime. His chest measured 56 inches, waist 43, thighs 30, neck 20, and arm 20 inches around.

He was a huge, imposing man who much like Peoples made his living with brute strength and hard work. He toiled in the oil fields in a day before machinery had taken much of the grunt work out of the profession.

And like Peoples, there were stretches where his job prevented him from training as he wished. 

As destiny would have it, this man-mountain had also set his sights on the 700-pound deadlift goal and was pushing his body to its breaking point to achieve it first. In fact, the rumor was that Boone had already lifted 700 pounds twice in training and there were witnesses to attest to it.

In the sport, however, it doesn’t matter what you do at home on in front of your friends. That is good for rumors, creating buzz, and feeding the excitement, but what matters is what can be done in official competition. 

Although the mountains of East Tennessee could be an isolating place before telephones, television, and social media were commonplace, the rumors had trickled into Peoples that Boone was ready to officially assault the 700-pound barrier very soon. 

Peoples found a renewed vigor and trained like he never had before. His training records show that he completed his own back-breaking 700-pound deadlift in his hand-dug dungeon.

The following week, he pushed his limits by straining out 600 pounds for 7 repetitions. Peoples collapsed to the floor wiping the blood from his ripped callouses and the sweat from his brow. There was a slight smile on his face as he knew his hard work was paying off. He too was ready to make the 700-pound lift. 

The table was set for an epic showdown between Mr. Deadlift, Bob Peoples, and his arch-nemesis, Bill Boone, the Louisiana Leviathan. In the fall of 1947, in Chattanooga, TN, Boone and Peoples were invited to go head-to-head to provide a stage to see who would be the first man to break the 700-pound barrier.

Boone lumbered all the way from Shreveport and Peoples sauntered down the mountains to meet one another for this epic showdown.  

Boone’s long drive from Louisiana led him to the YMCA in Chattanooga the night before the event where a room was supposed to be waiting. There was some sort of mix-up, and after a couple of hours, Boone had to settle for a small rollaway bed in a room already occupied by several other men.

He tossed and turned for a measly five hours of fitful sleep. But maybe it was more than the lumpy mattress keeping him awake. The following day he would have a date with destiny against a man named after the very lift in which they would be competing.

And if you think Mr. Deadlift was going to be intimidated by some outsider traveling all the way to Peoples’ home turf in an attempt to embarrass him in front of his East Tennessee mountaineer faithful, then you didn’t know Mr. Deadlift very well.