A few months ago, I penned a column from material supplied to me by Peggy Harvey Street. She and her late husband, A.J., were once acquainted with 304-pound weightlifter, Paul Anderson, 1956 Olympic gold medal winner. Recently, two readers added their recollections of this famous strongman.
One responder was Richard “Dick” Church who said, “Hello Bob, I always look forward to the Monday paper when I can see what you folks are writing about that will bring back some memories of good old Johnson City.
“The article about Paul Anderson of Elizabethton caught my eye. I too met Paul back in the 1950’s. I started riding motorcycles while I was at Science Hill High School in about 1953. One of my motorcycle friends in those days was Jim Hardin who rode a BSA 500cc one-lunger (one-cylinder) motorcycle. I also ran with James Moss who rode a BSA 650cc twin identical to the one I rode and Van Wilson who rode an AJS 500cc one-lunger one.
“One day, we got together and decided to take a cycle ride up to Elizabethton to visit Paul Anderson. Jim Hardin had evidently met him before and I remember being told that he was ‘The World’s Strongest Man.’ When we got to Paul’s house, we were invited in to visit. All over his living room floor were improvised things Paul used to work out.
“There was a large block of concrete that looked as if it had been cast into a large round bucket. A canvas strap came out of the top of it. Paul demonstrated how he would sit in his easy chair, lean over, put the strap around his huge neck and lift and swing the concrete block off the floor. We were shown numerous photographs of Paul performing all kinds of unbelievable feats of strength.
“One photo, I remember, showed him harnessed to the front of a railroad steam engine, leaning forward as if he were pulling the train. For all I know he might have been pulling it.
“Before we left, we all went outside where Paul admired our motorcycles. He was very interested in taking a ride on one, so Jim cranked up his BSA and had Paul sit on the buddy seat right over the rear wheel. Well, Paul at over 300 pounds along with the normal rider who himself was probably about 200 pounds was just a bit more than the suspension of the bike had been designed for.
“I recall the whole rear of the cycle was squatted down so much the front wheel barely touched the ground. I am not sure the rear tire would even rotate as it was probably rubbing against the rear fender and probably flattened at that. It was decided that we probably couldn’t accommodate Paul’s wishes to take him on a motorcycle ride.”
Richard indicated that this was the only visit they made to Paul’s house and he completely lost touch with his career until he read my article in the paper. He said it was good to recall the memory of this superstar.
My cousin, Larry Reaves, said my column also brought back a memory for him: “Bob, when you lived on Johnson Avenue, you and I went to the corner of Knob Creek and Market Street where (West Side Esso Servicenter) was having a grand opening. They had Paul Anderson there as a guest.
“There was a barbell lying there on the pavement that he was going to lift. I remember that you and I “tried” to lift it; we couldn't even roll it. We were only about eight or nine years old. It is funny how you remember thoughts like this.”
Larry and I fully agree that if we were at that Knob Creek service station almost 60 years later standing beside Paul Anderson’s barbell, we still couldn’t budge it.