By Dan Bethune
St. Thomas is an industrial city; and for most of the 20th Century, it was a great place to find high paying industrial jobs.
As a result of this industry, St. Thomas also has a rich history of hot rods, muscle cars, and drag racing. By the late 1950’s, there were enough hot rods and enthusiasts in St. Thomas to support two separate car clubs.
In the late 50’s, if you wanted to go drag racing in a controlled environment, you had to travel to Kohler (Cayuga) Dragway or Detroit Dragway. These could be especially long journeys in the days before the completion of the 401.
Something had to be done.
The two car clubs decided to join forces, and the “Gear Jammers” car club was born. The Gear Jammers even had a clubhouse where they would meet, although there is some dispute about the location of the clubhouse. The two locations most often mentioned are:
1) Talbot Street; at the present day McDonalds, in a garage that was located right where the drive thru speaker is today.
2) #3 Highway, just east of St. Thomas, approximately where Dowler Karn is today.
The number one priority of the Gear Jammers was to establish a local drag racing facility. The resourceful group of guys were able to negotiate a deal with an employee at the St. Thomas Airport. Although the employee was not officially authorized to do so, he allowed the Gear Jammers access to one of the runways on Sundays only, provided they did not build any permanent structures on the site.
Success! The Gear Jammers bought timing equipment, and built a mobile timing tower. The tower was built on wooden skids, so that it could be slid into place, and be put away at the end of the day.
A hurdle that they had to contend with was an obsolete piece of legislation called “the Lord’s Day Act”. This Act prohibited selling admission tickets for events like drag races on a Sunday. The Gear Jammers got around that issue by selling “One Day Memberships” for the Gear Jammers Car Club. This allowed the card holder to attend their event…for that day only.
The racing action began in the summer of 1960, and it was a huge success. There were so many local racers that were happy to have a close place to race that they had all the patrons the Gear Jammers could ask for.
Everything went well that first season, and into their second season, until one fateful day in August of 1961. At the end of a long hot day of action, the guys neglected to pull the timing tower back away from the runway. Later that week, a provincial Member of Parliament landed at the airport, only after making evasive maneuvers to avoid the tower.
That killed the racing at the airport. Ironically, that final race was the first one where the Gear Jammers were able to provide trophies. Their business had grown significantlyl.
What would the Gear Jammers do next? Would they be able to resume their racing program?
Stay tuned to find out.
Thanks for reading.