By Bob Chambers
This is Chambers’ Corner ….. the occasional occupant of a corner of this blog, where Bob Chambers, an Evening Tribune photographer from 1957 to 1970, will present some of his photographs from that era ……
With the Niagara Regional Exhibition being held in Welland in the next few days (Thursday, Sept. 17 to Sunday, Sept. 20) this picture from my file seems to be appropriate. It takes us back to the days of “Hell Drivers”. In the years from 1934 (when Earl “Lucky” Teter started it all in the US) to the late 60’s, many groups travelled from fair to fair, or doing special events at race tracks, putting on shows of precision driving and deliberate crashes. All the major automakers actually sponsored some of the shows.
Here, in Welland on Friday night, Sept 14, 1962, the Trans Canada Hell Drivers are wowing a packed grandstand at the fair. This is WAY better than reality TV, this is the REAL thing. When a 1947, OK, maybe a ’48, Nash comes flying through the air to demolish a 1949 Hudson, you didn’t know what would happen. After all that guy named Lucky Teter, had been killed doing a similar stunt a few years before.
Look at the safety precautions …. a sash cord holds the driver’s door closed …. there’s some sort of helmet being worn ….. along with unseen but sensible things, like no gasoline in the targeted Hudson and very minimal in the flying Nash. The trick in the business was having just enough fuel in the tank to make sure it lasted until takeoff from the ramp.
The local sponsor was a Welland Nash dealer, Keenan Motors, but who is Muriel Tessier? Surely the sign painter didn’t want to advertise his high-quality work. (Maybe it was the same guy who painted the Niagara College sign in the previous Chambers’ Corner) The crowd is certainly, “all eyes forward”, and has more women in it than I might expect. Also, please recall that in 1962, the word “Hell” could not be used in polite conversation. Your mother would certainly be teed off if she heard you say it. But when The Hell Drivers were in town, well, “What the Hell?” Even newspapers could use it.
And as for calling it the NRE, that came much later …. in 1962 it was the Welland Fair, or more likely just, “The Fair”. And squeezed into the space between Denistoun Street, Maple Avenue, and Prince Charles Drive, it was a popular place, walkable (for some) and parkable if you got there early, or had a friend with a driveway.
Were you there that night?
– Bob Chambers, Tribune photographer 1957 -1970.
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Editor’s note: Chambers’ Corner appeared on the blog a few years ago as a recurring feature, this submission in September, 2015. It is presented here unchanged. The series has been rebranded as Chambers’ Corner Revisited and is appearing at the request of readers. It will be on the blog weekly, on Wednesdays.