History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training – Number 10

Posted by in Dr Ken Leistner on June 18, 2014 Comments off

The Jackson Barbell.

Doing most of my training in the garage, I had an awareness of what was going on throughout the country, due to my obsessive reading habits. I scoured the local newsstands for Muscle Power, Mr. America, and Strength And Health. When it first hit the press, York’s Muscular Development became a favorite because it had a monthly powerlifting/odd lift feature and unlike what was typical for Strength And Health that focused upon Olympic lifting, articles about those who specialized in the bench press, squat, or deadlift. I discovered Iron Man magazine and because the first issue I saw featured Olympic lifting champion Norbert Schemansky on the cover, it motivated me even more to get stronger. All of the other magazines, save the occasional issue of Strength And Health, featured well muscled bodybuilders on the cover, sometimes paired with a good looking young lady in a bathing suit, sometimes in a posed shot.

Seeing a champion lifter as the featured athlete really drove home the point that strength was king. Wow, this was wonderful stuff and for those who weren’t alive or aware of the dissemination of information circa the early 1960’s, long before the internet or personal computers were in anyone’s consciousness, it was motivating and exciting to read about the training, contest results, and personality features drawn from all parts of the U.S. Locally, the lifting and bodybuilding crew was small enough, even in the New York City and Long Island area, that we all knew each other, by sight, by reputation, or through sharing a workout at one of the very few real gyms. When Tony asked me to enter a scheduled Odd Lift contest in Manhattan and be part of the group of storefront gym competitors, I was elated yet a bit anxious. Tony also said that we would change the usual training procedures and do some specialized work for the contest so that we would be ready for the actual lifts as done in competition. To me, this was truly the big time.
Tony also noted that if we used both the York Olympic bar and the Jackson Olympic Barbell set that we had in our small facility, our lifters would have an advantage. This was the first exposure I had to “contest preparation” and some of the lessons from that initial experience have been put into use even until this very day. We had a pair of one hundred pound York plates that had been sold as “standard” plates but these had been drilled out so that they fit an Olympic bar with its two-inch or in the case of the York bar, “almost two-inch” portal. With a chance that the contest organizer would have, and use one hundred pound plates, we would at least squat and deadlift with them because, as Tony explained even to the more experienced men that had been convinced to join in the planned fun, “the hundreds feel different than forty-fives on the bar” and of course, they do. The Jackson set was a mystery to me, an unknown only because I had never before seen one in any of the other garage or storefront gyms I had been to visit, nor at the local YMCA’s in the City or Brooklyn. York was the ubiquitous set and Jackson was, in my mind inferior if it wasn’t pictured in the magazines. I was incorrect.

History Supplement: Ray Rigby

Almost everyone in the sport of powerlifting who had an interest in the international scene and/or lifting at the top level, knew that Ray Rigby of Australia was close with Kathy and me. When I played football and did security work in the entertainment industry, I could have stood next to Ray and looked as if I was a bit more than his little brother. Unfortunately, at least for appearances, when Ray and I were friendly I was no longer 232 pounds but rather, 165-180 at my height of a cut under 5’6”. At 6’ and 300-315 pounds, Ray by any standard, was a big man! Round faced and usually smiling, Ray may have given the air, especially when visiting our home in New York and bundled up against the cold weather, of the jovial fat man but he was anything but that. Hard as stone everywhere, including his abdominal region, every muscle in his body was athletically gifted and instantly responsive to his commands. I have no doubt that despite his relative lack of height, he had the athleticism to play offensive guard in the National Football League had he received exposure to the game and the appropriate training. Incredibly strong, Ray was also incredibly intelligent, witty, and funny. Ray passed away from complications of his diabetic condition on August 1, 1998 and we have yet to have a houseguest that Kathy and I have enjoyed as much. Ray’s family was in the supermarket business and Ray was a nurse, yes, a very large, very strong, male nurse, the equivalent of a licensed Registered Nurse in the United States. He was also licensed in Australia in Acupuncture and had formally studied nutrition and other classes and subjects that would help him in his profession as well as in his athletic pursuits. In time, Ray convinced his father to sell the supermarket and the family founded what eventually became the largest privately owned nursing home in the country until it was purchased by the Australian government. He could have retired but instead, he and his wife Carolyn began their own Amway business and in typical fashion, quickly built it into an extremely lucrative and successful enterprise.


As an athlete, one would be hard pressed to look at Ray’s hard but roundish physique and see him as a multi-talented track and field athlete, but he was and at the highest levels. Among his many accomplishments outside of lifting, were representation of his country internationally as a 220 pound hurdler (believe it or not), wrestler as Pan Asian Champion, and he was named to the Australian Olympic team as a shot putter. Older readers of Strength And Health magazine will remember the article featuring Ray prior to the 1968 Olympic Games where as part of the Australian team, Ray participated in the pre-Olympic competition designed to acclimate athletes to the high altitude conditions of Mexico, and as an Olympic weightlifter, not as a shot putter, Ray wowed onlookers with both his performance as a seventeen-year old competitor, and his eating prowess. Photos of the two or three foot long sandwich that Ray snacked on as part of an eating regimen that would have staggered the entire defensive line of the Green Bay Packers drew comments from readers for months. In one of my POWERLIFTING USA Magazine columns, I described one of Ray’s three week visits to our home, and noted his huge food intake and his preference for what he termed “American sandwiches” which were stacked with meat and cheese relative to those he had to endure in his homeland. Of course, he would shovel three or four sandwiches, large ones, two or three times daily, in addition to quarts of apple juice and his regular meals. Yet, as aforementioned, he was as hard as granite.


Ray was also one of the funniest men to be with and rarely did I see him in bad humor or troubled to the extent that anyone in his company would wonder if he had a care in the world. Completely devoted to his family, after selling the family owned nursing home, developing the new Amway business, and raising and racing greyhounds, Ray would walk his children to school in the morning, walk back to the school yard to see them during their recess time and bring them lunch, and then be there for them upon dismissal so that he could walk them home. Did I yet mention that he also was a powerlifter? An Olympian as a shot putter and Olympic lifter, an international competitor in track, field, and wrestling, Ray was also a world class powerlifter. Before the days of internet and e mail, Ray and I would exchange letters and one or two phone calls each month so that I could write his training programs, receive feedback, and make any necessary adjustments, a procedure we followed for many years and continued when he was the coach of the Australian Women’s Team. He would move in with us, despite his wife’s astonishment that anyone would be happy with a 300 pound houseguest, for up to a month at a time to prepare for the World Powerlifting Championships and also did so during his shot put comeback in order to make another Olympic team. He was intent on making the statement that he had been a member of Australian Olympic Teams in three different decades, an accomplishment he was rightfully proud of. As a lifter he came to powerlifting after a severe auto accident that resulted in a loss of vision due to glass puncturing one eye, and low back dysfunction that would need monitoring and control for the remainder of his life. No longer able to perform as an Olympic lifter, he turned to powerlifting and was predictably successful despite doctors’ warnings that he would never be able to again lift anything heavier than a bag of groceries. His drive and determination, obviously a requirement for an Olympic level athlete, never wavered and Ray won two Bronze Medals at consecutive World Championships in an era that found him competing against the likes of Bill Kazmaier at his all time best. I would gather different groups of lifters to help spot the huge weights Ray would use and all of us would be caught up in the wave of enthusiasm and motivation Ray brought to the sessions. I don’t believe I have met anyone who seemed to enjoy each and every grueling day of training as much as Ray did and it was contagious. After we watched him squat and deadlift 800-plus in one workout, I made the most obvious tongue-in-cheek statement of the decade when I noted that “This is bullshit, I’ll never even hold the records in my own garage!” which of course brought gales of laughter from all present. Typical when Ray was with us, my lifts would skyrocket and my weight would increase by ten to twenty pounds because when he would eat, I would most often join him.


Ray’s lifting legacy is glorious, lengthy, and very well known on his home continent. He was hugely successful as the coach of the Australian Women’s Team that ruled the World Championships and totaled numerous records over the course of a number of years. His only regret during that period, especially in light of the fact that he loved to coach and help others improve, was his attempt to psych up multiple-time World Champion Bev Francis. After giving her what he termed “a light tap to the side of the face” to get her up for a record attempt, they both immediately realized he had dislocated her jaw. “She got the record, we fixed her jaw, and she was a good sport about it, no harm done.” as he explained. Ray served the lifters of his nation as a World Team representative, an administrator, coach, and in every way possible to help the sport to grow and prosper. Right up to his passing, he would walk out to his home gym and train, always trying to improve, even when facing the ravages of his uncontrolled diabetic condition. Ray remains in our memory, one of the absolute nicest and favorite people Kathy and I have ever known. That today’s generation of lifters did not know him or have the chance to benefit from his ability to teach and motivate is an understated tragedy.


Quite of the few locals I was to learn, actually knew Andy Jackson because as a New Jersey resident and one of “the old guys” he had been around the Metropolitan New York City lifting scene for years. The basement of his large home in Springfield, N.J. housed his machine shop and I can only imagine what the neighbors thought when they saw the truck from a foundry in Hamburg, PA dump perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of unpainted, unfinished casted plates in his driveway. Jackson would take these plates and drill, machine, and mill them to what was then, state-of-the-art calibration. Jackson produced an Olympic set that appeared to be like others I had seen but he also had one that was very different. Jackson’s “usual” Olympic barbell was his No. 1-A and as Andy himself said it, this set was “the acme of perfection for weight lifters…” He noted that he used steel that was “aircraft quality” and conformed “to U.S. Navy and Army specifications for extreme strength and flexibility.” The revolving sleeves utilized “special Hyatt or Orange aircraft type roller bearings, two bearings to each sleeve” and this allowed one to “spin the bar with the slightest touch of the fingers.” The reference to aircraft quality components that met military standards gave a real credibility to any item that could make that claim. The late 1950’s and early 1960’s marked the beginning of the Space Age and Race To The Moon between the United States and Soviet Union and everyone over the age of ten knew that only the most durable and toughest of materials were going to make that trip! Experienced lifters also knew that Jackson was a craftsman who did in fact make a great product because of all of the “hand labor” that was involved.


The “other” Olympic barbell set that Jackson sold was the Number 5 Olympic Type Revolving Sleeve Barbell and this was not immediately recognized by some. The shaft appeared to be of standard size and at 1-1/16” it was. The outside sleeves however unlike a “regular standard” bar, were revolving Olympic type sleeves but they were 1-5/16” in diameter which in effect, took a standard type of bar and converted it into an Olympic type of barbell with revolving sleeves. The last few generations would be shocked to learn that the only way to have a “revolving bar” as part of your standard and usually sold barbell set, was to insert the bar into a chromed sleeve that fit around the shaft. One removed the adjustable inside collars, slipped the sleeve over the bar, reattached the inside collars and with the crude “pipe-within-a-pipe” configuration, now had a makeshift, revolving barbell set. This was not to say that with heavier weights it always made a smooth or complete rotation and the probability of jamming one’s wrists when cleaning or worse, trying to snatch anything more than 200 pounds was an ever present danger. The odd sized revolving bar, looking very much like its Olympic weightlifting bar cousin and nothing like a typical standard bar, made the Jackson Number 5 Set stand out when placed on the gym floor with other sets. The plates were the outstanding black enamel, deep-hubbed Jackson plate and they looked great with their large white painted lettering. The purpose of the Jackson Number 5 Revolving Sleeve Barbell was to present to the lifting public, a standard type of set that had the advantage of an Olympic barbell with its revolving sleeves and other made-to-last features without the expense of buying a “real” Olympic lifting barbell or set. Jackson’s bar was a “live” one and had very smooth action, to my memory and according to the comments made by many others, as smooth as the top rated York bar. Jackson’s No. 1-A Olympic Barbell was in the eyes of many, even better than York. We had the use of two very good sets so knew we were absolutely well-equipped.