Bob Peoples the Hometown Hero: Part 8
Published 9:24 am Thursday, September 8, 2022
By Alex Campbell
Bob Peoples stood backstage during the Red Shield Boys Club Variety Show on March 4th, 1949 in Johnson City, TN. A hometown crowd assembled to raise money to help expand the local Boys Club, see some local talent, and witness the strongest human on earth try to increase his deadlift record of 710 pounds.
Most likely his friend, Bob Hise, loaded the plates on the bar for each warmup lift. Peoples would chalk his hands and tighten his lifting belt before bending down and ripping the bar off the floor. As his warmups increased in weight, he saw the constant shuffle of performers past his backstage perch. Through the curtains he heard the vocal strains and the drum rolls as well as “oohs”, “ahs”, and a smattering of applause.
Peoples worked himself into a lather with close to 600 pounds in his warmups, and now it was time to rip through the curtains and unleash the energy, determination, and rage that he had stored in his body through his last six months of training. The MC called his name for the crowd, but he needed no introduction. His life in the community was the only testimony he needed in the Scots-Irish settled hills and hollers of East Tennessee.
When he strode onto the stage his stockinged feet made a patter against the wooden planks, but no one could hear it through the roar of applause from the crowd. His neighbors heard of his lifting prowess since the first time he competed at the 1937 Tennessee State Weightlifting Championships in Chattanooga. Surely the talk around the community only increased when two years later he became the state Weightlifting champion and insisted on deadlifting after the show where he recorded a 600-pound lift, enough for the southern record. Later they heard of his epic showdown with “the Louisiana Leviathan”, Bill Boone, in Chattanooga and eventual head-to-head matchup with the Pudgy and Les Stockton in Nashville.
Peoples and his epic strength were no stranger to the locals, but to see him walk out onto that stage bare-chested wearing nothing but his weightlifting trunks was a side most had never seen. Now the crowd witnessed his long and sinewy build as he approached the bar. Huge slabs of muscle peaked out from under his armpits as the muscles of his back attached at nearly his waist. His almost bony wrists looked so frail in comparison to his lunchbox sized fists. As the MC gave the play by play and Bob Hise watched from the sidelines, Peoples prepared his body to lift a weight that was around 650 pounds. His nervous and muscular systems were so primed for this event that the weight flew up to lockout so quickly, that the crowd barely had time to yell for their local boy. The bar thundered back to the platform as he walked away to prepare for his next lift. The crowd had just barely had their appetite whetted when they realized they would have to wait to see his next attempt while the other acts performed.
Backstage, Peoples and Hise spoke, and it was obvious that Mr. Deadlift was perfectly peaked that night. He chose the next lift of around 700 pounds, which no other person in the world could officially lift. We are not sure of the actual number of his second attempt, only his last, but Peoples would have wanted to get close enough to his limit to feel exactly where it was without getting too close to tax his energy too much. As Peoples’ turn came, once again the MC worked the crowd as the weight was piled onto the bar. Now it was time for Peoples to return to his adoring public. He strode out onto the platform to the echoing applause of the hometown fans and took his place behind the bar.
The crowd was slack-jawed as the gawked at the tremendous bulk of all the weights on the bar compared to the diminutive size of Peoples, especially as they could only see him from the front with his massive and densely muscled back hidden from view. As he crouched over the weight ready to pull his second lift, the crowd roared in anticipation. Peoples drew in a huge breath then breathed half of it out as he braced his midsection to begin the pull.
This time the weight felt a little heavier as he lifted a weight that was just under his world record of 710 pounds. But soon the bar was moving as the weight crept up his legs. Because of his long arms, which allowed him to stand erect and still scratch the top of his knees, the lift was complete again before the crowd was even aware of his strain. The crowd roared their approval once more as he returned the weight to the floor.
The adoring audience smiled, laughed, and slapped one another on the back as they all shared in the completion of the lift. Now the stage was set for Peoples to attempt a new world record in front of his hometown crowd, however, they would soon learn that nothing comes easy in the sports world when both man and equipment are pushed to their limits.
To be continued…