Bob Peoples the Hometown Hero: Part 9
Published 10:55 am Thursday, September 22, 2022
By Alex Campbell
The bustle of humanity crammed into the auditorium was anxiously waiting to witness their hometown hero, Bob Peoples, attempt to break his own world record in the deadlift. The final few acts at the Red Shield Boys Club Variety Show in Johnson City, TN in 1949 prepared for their time in the limelight, but to be honest, they all knew they were just a sideshow attraction to the main event. Peoples already completed two successful lifts on the night and was preparing for one final assault to push the record even higher. As the final acts performed, the crowd managed a polite smile with a few smattering claps, but they were waiting for the headliner.
As Peoples patiently waited backstage his mind drifted back to the proceeding months. He worked so hard the previous year to prepare for this one moment. He tortured his body through excruciating workouts while using the various lifts and equipment he designed to specifically push his body beyond its limits. He was able to get extra rest as his obligations as a farmer required little of him during the previous winter months. Now, his entire plan was coming together. He felt great, the first two lifts seemed easy, and his hometown crowd was urging him on. Now, there was only one final obstacle to overcome.
Peoples and Hise first had to decide how much weight they wanted for the final attempt. We know from Peoples own records that he attempted 727 at an exhibition he did in Johnson City just a few weeks before. Peoples recorded that it was a close miss, but with the unofficial setting, it would not have counted as a record anyway. But we do know that he had felt that weight a year before and was close to it. Peoples decided to ask for 725 pounds, and as the previous acts completed their part of the show, it was time for the final epic showdown between Peoples and gravity to commence.
The MC informed the crowd that the Tennessee Hercules had called for 15 pounds over his world record of 710. The crowd went wild. It was exactly the ending they hoped for when they plopped down their hard-earned money for a ticket. They would indeed get to see their friend, neighbor, and hero attempt a world record. However, a problem was discovered as the loaders began to pile the weights onto the bar in preparation for the final attempt.
The bar was loaded all the way to the end of the bar with no room for another plate. In fact, there was not even any room for the safety collars to keep the weights from sliding off. Yet, the weight was still shy of his 725-pound request. Peoples heart sank when he heard this. He realized he had pushed his body so hard for this opportunity that it would be denied him at the last minute. And all of this, not because of a fault of his own, but because his physical limits had outpaced those of the equipment and technology of the day. He literally was a man ahead of his time.
The crowd grew unruly as they began to see the drama unfolding onstage. Many had waited their entire lives to see their hometown hero break the record and even paid their hard-earned money to do so. Realizing the predicament, they were in, the promoters scrambled for a solution. After some scurrying, it was decided that they could hang plates on the bar by tying some small plates with strips of cloth. Eventually, after attaching these additional plates, they were able to achieve the desired 725 pounds. Peoples released a sigh of relief and the crowd let out a mighty cheer as the weights were tied to the bar and Peoples readied himself for his final lift.
Fortunately, Bob Hise later recounted what he witnessed that night. At first, Hise noticed a hush descend over the entire crowd as the local strongman approached the bar. But finally, the silence was shattered when an old mountaineer yelled, “That’s our man! Come on Bob, I know ye can lift that dang weight!” And with that, the entire auditorium exploded in a cacophony of sound. Men yelled, women squealed, and children stomped their feet. The energy pulsated through the hardwood floor and up the white stocking feet of their hero.
He settled his weight down over the bar as he secured his monstrous hands onto the heavy load. Again, he took that monstrous final breath and released half of it as he pushed his stomach against his lifting belt to stiffen his midsection against the crushing force of the weight. And with that, we again pick up from the recollection of Hise who said, “It seemed like an eternity before the barbell left the floor.” Some in the crowd began to wonder if the weight would move at all, but Peoples felt every creak and movement of the weight and knew that at some point either he or gravity would have to relent. Peoples knew which one it would be.
Soon the weight lurched from the floor and when the crowd saw it, they lost their minds. As the weight climbed higher so did the noise from the audience. However, as the bar reached his shins Peoples felt the bone crushing effects of a weight that was four times his own mass. The load wanted to pull him forward and round his back. He fought so hard against the weight that his mind went back to the time he carried the barrels over the swaying bridge until he almost collapsed the entire bridge and risked his life.
He pushed his body so hard that conventional lifts no longer produced a stimulating effect, so he had to create new ones. But as he thought back to the pain and suffering he heaped upon himself, the bar inched further from the floor. By now the weight was almost to his knees and inching very close to lockout when it slowed to a standstill. By now he was almost out of air as the edges of his vision became blurred and he could no longer hear. His vision tunneled to a point in front of him where he could make out just a few faces of his faithful following where he could see the mouths moving yet could detect no sound.
Peoples focused again on one final triumphant push to finish the lift but he knew he was also in a race against time. Soon his body would be out of oxygen and he would begin to lose consciousness. He knew the final push had to be made soon. His records, “Up, up it went and with a final heave mighty Bob Peoples stood erect.” And when with that last heave, his frame stood tall as the judges gave him the motion to put it down. As the stars formed in front of his hazy vision, he loosened his belt and sucked in a monstrous breath. The lift was declared good, and Hise recorded that it was one of the most thunderous applauses he had ever witnessed. The floor reverberated as the crowd sent wave after wave of adulation crashing against the stage as the crowd finally received exactly what they paid for.
But Peoples had been fooled before by reweighing the bar and coming up short on his first attempt at 700. He could not breathe his final sigh of relief and allow himself to enjoy his triumph until the scales were brought out to declare the weight official. For those final few minutes, Peoples and his mountaineer faithful would be left to hold their breath in anticipation.