The Long Journey to York Barbell: Part II

by Thom Van Vleck

In part I of my story about my trip to York Barbell and I detailed my trip.  Now, I’m going to share my feelings about my trip.

The current York Gym

May 28th, 1064 was the date of the Missouri State Championships in Olympic lifting.  How do I know?  Because my Uncle Wayne won that year and he told me that when he got home with the rest of the JWC gang he said I upstaged him being born that day.  He said they all headed down to the hospital to see me.  It was literally a couple blocks away.  Later, he would give me that medal because of the significance of the date he won it.  Without Wayne, I’d never been a weight lifter and I would not be half of what I am today.  Without my Uncle Phil, you could halve that again and without my Grandfather Dalton, I’d be nothing today.  So me wearing that medal was like them being there at York with me.  That medal has been to every lifting meet, highland games, strongman contest, and USAWA event I’ve ever been to, including a couple trips to Scotland where I “dipped” it into Loch Ness.

So, you can see, lifting has been a big part of my family.  It’s not about winning, it was always about getting better.  Being stronger, healthier, and self improvement.  York Barbell was always a part of that.  I practically “teethed” on a 5lb plate.  I remember taking an interest in throwing the discus and not having one, so I took a 5lb York plate out and practiced with it!  In 1963, my Uncle Wayne ordered a Jackson International set and he told me that he sold it partly out of feeling disloyal to York….plus he said his York sets (and the JWC had several by then) were superior in his mind.

Thom Van Vleck checking out the Cyr Dumbbell. My grandfather told me a story about it when I was just a kid.

But the opportunity never came up to travel to York.  Phil told me they talked about it often.  They would lift and talk about meeting Tommy Kono, John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Bob Hoffman and the rest.  They would day dream of lifting in the York Gym  with the greats and seeing where all the weights were made.  But time and circumstance intervened and the dream faded away.  Until now.

So when I went out, I had a lot riding on this trip.  I needed to soak up every detail and take lots of pictures.  I even called both of them in the museum and gave each one a walk through.  They both asked me if I saw the Sandow Statue or the Grimek statue.  They knew a lot of the stuff that was in there!

Thom with the Grimek statue....I don't think he's impressed with me.

Overall, it was a great trip.  But later, I did get a little melancholy.  York is well past it’s pinnacle.  But then again, I  remember stopping at Peary Radar’s old Ironman Headquarters in Alliance, Nebraska a few years back.  It’s all long gone and not a thing remains as is the fate of a lot of the other American barbell makers.  At least York Barbell is still there and it seems the guys that work there appreciate the history.  Mike Locondro told me that the event we attended (Wounded Warrior Project Strength Fest) was all about getting York back to were it belongs….but more than that he told me that his Uncle was John Grimek’s brother in law and to him it was not just about “company policy” but it was personal.  That gave me hope and took a little of that melancholy away.  Maybe York isn’t what it was, but it seems to be rising up again!

On a side note, I traveled 15 miles to the west of York and went by the burial place of my Great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather (yes, that’s right….6 “greats”).  He was a Lutheran pastor that has been credited with starting over 50 churches.  His home still stands and members of my distant family still occupy it.   I hope to go back some day and see some more and meet some of my relatives…the dead one’s and live one’s!

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