Albert Heaton

"The Dizzy Whirl To Nowhere"

Biography

Born on March 15, 1915 in Toronto, Albert Heaton is an 89 year old former 6-day bicycle racer living with his wife Lucie, son Paul and grandson in Alton, Ontario. Al Heaton was an all around athlete and sportsman. He started his athletic career as a speed skater, then road cyclist and also taught horseback riding. When the opportunity arose to ride in an amateur 6-day race Albert took the chance and was found to have both the speed and endurance necessary to be a winner. Eclectic in his sports interests Albert was also involved in auto racing and boxing.

Albert's athletic skill, sharp wit and racing insight were best put to use participating in 6-day races. Albert raced in 6-day events as both an amateur and professional between 1936 and 1938. He participated in 14 events in both the USA and Canada and won a 6-day event in Ottawa as a member of a trio team with Bobby Walthour Jr. and Roy MacDonald. Albert was still riding his bike until his 87th birthday.

The tracks were constructed for both speed and safety but spills were still part of the race. Albert spoke of how the pine wooden track would become almost polished after several days of racing. The track maintenance officials would have to take a sander to the track to roughen up the surface and make it less slippery. In this race, Albert crashed going around the corner and sliding sideways down the track. Some of the crashes were very serious where a rider would collide with other riders or in some cases literally go flying over the top, on the corners of the track. When Albert won the Ottawa 6-day race in 1936 he stated that he fell several times skinning his knees on the wooded track. In the October 1937 6-day race at the Mutual Street Arena in Toronto, Albert Heaton was paired with Freddie Zach as the Canadian-Swiss team. There were many spills and crashes from the start of this event. Within the first hour of competition Lew Elder and his partner, Ted Harper crashed on the steep bank of the track that was called 'suicide bluffs' and suffered track burns. On Monday night during an all out jam Elder crashed into the right straightway and went tumbling down with his bicycle to the bottom of the track. Elder had a deep gash on his leg and was forced to retire from the competition.

Of the thirteen two man teams there were always 5 or 6 teams that were "in the Race" and the other teams in most cases were "at the race". 6-day bike racing was a business, professionals doing their job. The working agreements and money allotments were different for each rider and was something that the riders worked out with the promoter. In the three years that Albert raced the 6-day circuit he worked out several contracts with the promoters. Albert mentioned that money was not something that was talked openly as the riders were happy to ride for their paychecks. The 6-day racers would move by truck and car from city to city and had to work hard assisting to move equipment and set up the track.

Heaton described how important it was to be fit in order to be competitive. He spoke of the jams, which were events that would go on for 45 minutes to an hour or more at an intensive pace, as the riders would sprint for "primes". Premiums could be money or merchandise such as a refrigerator. The racers would discuss amongst themselves who would be competing for the "primes".

The stress of such a high level competition that a 6-day race demanded, the riders needed to have both power and speed for the sprints as well as endurance for the constant riding of the multi-lap events. In some instances just like today the racers would use performance enhancing drugs to cope with the stress. Heaton described one famous racer as being "goofy and crazy" at times, "three planks short of a load". Some racers had "tool kits" that includes special medicines like essence of peppermint to assist them at competitions.

In 1937, Heaton and Zach stormed the first hour of the International Toronto 6-Day Bike Race in front of close to 5,000 fans at the Mutual Street Arena. At the end of Day 2 Heaton and Zach were in third place 2 laps behind Torchy and Doug Peden, who were in second and Jimmy Walthour and Laurent Gadou in first place.

Hal Walker, a sports reporter with the Toronto Globe and Mail described Albert's effort at the 1937 Toronto 6-day in the following manner. The headline read "Walthour-Gadou Retain Lead, Only Sprint Points Separate Peden from First Place... Heaton's Aggressiveness a Feature. " One lap behind the leaders is the Swiss-Canadian combination of Al Heaton of Toronto and Freddie Zach. They have 133 points, more than any other team in the race. Heaton's spectacular work has been one of the main reasons this duo is so close on the leaders.

At the half way mark of the Toronto 6-day event, Heaton and Zach were now tied for second place with Peden brothers and the team of Russ Fielding and Al Crossley. All three teams had completed 1,232 miles and 5 laps and were one lap behind Laurent Gadou and Jimmy Walthour. Heaton and Zach led the points category with 204 points.

Day four of the Toronto 6-day event saw Heaton and Zach in the lead and setting the pace winning sprints and taking an eight point virtual lead over the Peden brothers 283 points to 275 points. Gadou/Walthour and Fielding/Crossley were in third and fourth place, respectively. All four teams were tied in the miles completed with 1,702 miles.

The last two days of the Toronto 6-day bike event saw the Peden Brothers of Torchy and Doug crush the other riders in the points division... 1443 points to the nearest rivals, Gadou and Walthour, at 620 points. The Pedens' completed the race with 2,437 miles and 6 laps tied with Gadou and Walthour and thus winning on points. Tied for second were Fielding and Crossley with Heaton and Zach only one lap behind the winners.

While Albert and his teammate did not win this Toronto 6-day event they did show that they had the skill, ability and tough attitude to power those straight-aways, maneuver though tight corners and stay in competition for the win.

Albert Heaton was interviewed for this article in the fall of 2004. He still is very interested in sports and bicycle racing. He had excellent observations on Canada's performance on the track at the Athens Olympics. When he was going through his address book looking for a contact, he mentioned they might have more information on the 1930's 6-day racing.

He showed me the address and telephone number of a friend who was an up and coming boxer in the late 1960's. His name was Cassius Clay.

Albert Heaton is still a 6-day racer at heart, speaking of the energy, excitement and thrills. He hopes that one day the spectacle of 6-day racing will return to Canadian tracks. We hope so too!

Arnold Devlin
Eugene Vandal
Nov 2004

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Palmares

  1. Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1936 Amateur Six-day Race
  2. Albert Heaton (Can) / Russ Hunt (Can)

  3. Madison, Wisconsin 1936 Amateur Six-day Race
  4. Albert Heaton (Can) / Russ Hunt (Can)

  5. Ottawa September 28-October 3, 1936 1st Place
  6. 3-man format: Albert Heaton (Can) Roy McDonald (Can) and Bobby Walthour Jr. (USA)

  7. Montreal October 10-17, 1936 4th Place
  8. 3-man format: Albert Heaton (Can) Russ Hunt (Can) and Max Hurley (Can)

  9. Cleveland January 11-17, 1937 7th Place
  10. Albert Heaton (Can) / Reggie Fielding (Can)

  11. Milwaukee January 22-28, 1937 6th Place
  12. Albert Heaton (Can) / Laurent Gadou (Can)

  13. Saint Louis February 2-8, 1937 5th Place
  14. Albert Heaton (Can) / Henri Lepage (Can)

  15. Indianapolis February 15-20, 1937 9th Place
  16. Albert Heaton (Can) / Harold Nauwens (USA)

  17. Kansas City March 17-23, 1937 3rd Place
  18. Albert Heaton (Can) / Henri Lepage (Can)

  19. Pittsburgh April 1-7, 1937 6th Place
  20. Albert Heaton (Can) / Fred Spencer (USA)

  21. Philadelphia April 25-May 1, 1937 5th Place
  22. Albert Heaton (Can) / Jakie Gruber (USA)

  23. Toronto September 28-October 3, 1937 4th Place
  24. Albert Heaton (Can) / Freddie Zach (Swi)

  25. Milwaukee February 23-March 1, 1938 DNF
  26. Albert Heaton (Can) / Fred Spencer (USA)

  27. Pittsburgh April 10-15, 1938 6th Place
  28. Albert Heaton (Can) / Freddie Zach (Swi)

Albert Heaton competed in 14 six-day races over a 20-month period between 1936 and 1938. We can conservatively estimate that he cycled 20,800km during that time, around and around the wooden track. In 1937 alone he raced seven (7) six-day races between January 11 and May 1, quite a feat.

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Partners

  1. Russ Hunt (Can) from Brampton, Ontario: 3 times-Milwaukee, Madison and Montreal (1936).
  2. Henri LePage (Can) from Montreal, Quebec: nicknamed, "Beau Brummel", partnered twice: Kansas City and Saint Louis (1937).
  3. Roy McDonald (Can) from Ottawa: Ottawa (1936).
  4. Max Hurley (Can) from Toronto: Montreal (1936) had a chicken phobia.
  5. Reggie Fielding (Can) from Toronto: Cleveland (1937), nicknamed "sonny boy".
  6. Laurent Gadou (Can) from Montreal: Milwaukee (1937)
  7. Fred Spencer (USA) from Plainfield, N.J.: Pittsburgh (1937) and Milwaukee (1938) nicknamed the "New Jersey Jammer".
  8. Bobby Walthour Jr. (USA) Ottawa (1936) retired in 1936 after the autumn Montreal 6-day race.
  9. Harold Nauwens (USA) New York: Indianapolis (1937).
  10. Jakie Gruber (USA) Brooklyn, New York: Philadelphia (1937).
  11. Freddie Zach (Swi) Toronto (1937) and Pittsburgh (1938).
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Newspaper Articles

TORONTO RIDER'S TEAM LEADS IN OTTAWA GRIND
Ottawa, Sept 28 --The team of Albert Heaton, Toronto; Bobby Walthour, Woodridge, N.Y. and Roy McDonald, Ottawa, still held the lead at 8 p.m. today in Ottawa's first six-day bicycle race. The trio waqs leading by one lap over the Flynn-Gruber-Robichaud combination, but was one point behind, with 83. The Gachon brothers and Willisky team dropped to fourth place, because of a loss of three sprint points to the Saetta-Ricci-Belanger combination.
STANDINGSMilesLapsPts
McDonald-Walthour-Heaton388283
Flynn-Gruber-Robichaud388186
Saetta-Ricci-Belanger388032
Gachon-Gachon-Willisky388049
Hurley-Trepanier-Bedard387986
Vallee-Pelletier-Grimm387930
Lands-Hunt-Picard387931
LEAD UNCHANGED IN OTTAWA RACE
Ottawa, Oct. 1 --Roy McDonald of Ottawa and his partners, Bobby Walthour, Woodbridge, N.Y., and Albert Heaton, Toronto, were still pacing the field in Ottawa's six-day bicycle race after ninety-two hours of riding. They were two laps ahead of Max Hurley, Ray Bedard and Henri Trepanier, who held second place, one lap up on the Dave Lands-Rus Hunt-Paul Picard unit. With 1,706 miles and 8 laps behind them, the leaders had a margin at 194 points over their closest rivals to this department, Jake Gruber, Guy Ricci and Tommy Flynn. A difference of seven laps separated these two teams. The Hurley-Trepanier-Bedard combination, in second place, had 340 points and the leaders 571 points.
STANDINGSMilesLapsPts
McDonald-Walthour-Heaton17068571
Hurley-Trepanier-Bedard17066340
Lands-Hunt-Picard17065283
Gachon-Gachon-Willisky17063345
Flynn-Gruber-Ricci17061377
Vallee-Pelletier-Belanger17058283
ONTARIO-NEW YORK TEAM WINS OTTAWA - BIKE GRIND
Ottawa, Oct. 4. - The Ontarlo-New York team of Bobby Walthour, Roy McDonald and Albert Heaton today carried off honours in Ottawa's first six-day bicyle race, finishing at midnight on Saturday after riding 2972 miles and 4 laps. They were three laps ahead of their nearest rivals.
FINAL STANDINGSMilesLapsPts
McDonald-Walthour-Heaton297241,782
Hurley-Trepanier-Bedard297211,094
Flynn-Gruber-Ricci297201,203
Lands-Hunt-Picard29720 886
Gachon-Gachon-Willisky29720 885
Vallee-Pelletier-Belanger29716 539
CHARLIE WINTER IN NEW ROLE
Once-Famous Rider Here to Construct Trackfor Local Bike Race
Toronto, Oct 11 -- Last February six-day bicycle racing lost one of its most colourful and capable riders when burly Charlie Winter, New York peddle pusher, decided to quit the competitive end of the sport to assist George Harvey in promotion of races in the United States and in Canada. Winter (the man, not the season) is in the city now with Harvey, completing plans for the race which will begin at Mutual Street Arena one minute after next Sunday midnight. He's in charge of track construction. Charlie Winter's colour, his flair for showmanship, made him a popular figure in the leading bike racing cities the continent over. It was he who stooged for clowns, entertained the crowds during a lull in proceedings and by kindness toward young spectators at the races became a prime favourite. The last time he was here was when Willie Spenser promoted. Winter, paired with Jimmy Walthour Jr., the hard riding, gritty little Bronx, New Yorker, to take the local race. That was the last of the dizzy grinds to nowhere until the present. Thirteen teams will make up the set-up for this race, and no less than four local riders will make a showing. They are Reggie Fielding, Al Heaton, Lew Elder and Ted Harper. Elder has decided to forsake his original plan of retiring. The world's champion German team of Gustav Killian and Heinz Vopel will be here along with the Peden brother team, Torchy and Doug; Jules Audy, Henri LePage, Cocky O'Brien, Al Crossly and Jimmy Walthour Jr.
CONTRUCT BIKE RING THURSDAY
Promoter Figures He'll Spend $12,000 in Toronto for Race
Toronto, Oct 12 -- On Thursday of this week, immediately after Wednesday night's amateur boxing show, a gang of fifty carpenters will take charge of Mutual Street Arena and begin construction of the track over which will spin the leading bike riders of the world at Toronto's annual race which starts next Sunday midnight. Charlie Winter, once one of the leading riders of the sport, is now in charge of the track construction. He built his first track last February in St. Louis. Promoter George Harvey estimated that before the bike troupe leaves here he will have expended $12,000 in the city in salaries to the riders, buying foodstuffs for the large retinue, lumber, employment of local carpenters, rink rental, advertising, hotels, trains, etc. It's a big project, one of these six-day races, but Toronto rates as one of the best cities where the daring young men on bicycles show.
PAIR PEDENS AS BIKE ENTRY
Torchy and Doug Will Ride Together in Forthcoming Toronto Race
Toronto, Oct 13 -- Announcement was made last night by Promoter George Harvey that eleven different nationalities will be represented in the six-day bike race, which starts at Mutual Street Arena next Sunday midnight. Possibly twelve teams will start in the dizzy whirl to nowhere, but there will be Canadian, English, Irish, American, German, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, Polish, French and Jewish riders ready to line up at the starting line. The promoter has not completed his line-up of teams yet, but was able to say that Torchy and Doug Peden, the cycling Vancouverites, would carry the colours of the Canadian team, and Lew Elder and Ted Harper, the latter not long from the amateur ranks where he held many championships, will be known as the all-Toronto team. With the news that the Pedens will ride as a team many local fans will regret the breaking up of the Jules Audy-Torchy Peden duo, which rode together here so often, and were so deservedly popular. The tiny blonde from Montreal and his husky, flaming-haired partner were a combination that appealed to the crowd immensely, but Harvey says that the brother team is a big favourite wherever they show. Doug Peden is a comparative novice in comparison with his older brother, but as an amateur he was one of the most outstanding riders Canada has produced. He also starred in basketball before turning professional for bike racing.
DON'T MENTION FEATHERS TO MAX HURLEY
Toronto, Oct 14 -- Many athletes have their pet superstitions, but Max Hurley, a Toronto entrant in the six-day bicycle race which will start at the Mutual Street Arena next monday, has a most remarkable aversion. Hurley, it seems, was frightened by a hen when a very small child and has retained an inherent fear of feathered creatures ever since. One time he was a passenger in a motor car with several other bicyclists, one of whom had bought a crate of chickens. The new owner opened the crate to make sure that its inhabitants hadn't been smothered. Hurley protested and when the others, realizing the situation, pushed a hen in his direction, he jumped out of the car and sped down the road. That was the tip-off to the other bike riders. Some time later, during the progress of a six-day race, one of them rode out on the track with a hen in his mitt and edged alongside Hurley. The result was so instantaneous that Max won the subsequent sprint without hesitation.
BICYCLE RIDER FRACTURES ARM
Max Hurley Falls From Horse and Will Miss Local Race - Teams Announced
Toronto, Oct 15 -- Max Hurley, plucky little Toronto boy, will stick to his six-day bike racing from now on. Slated to start in Toronto's ninth annual six-day race at Mutual Street Arena Sunday midnight. Hurley was in training and then forsook his bike for a horse during the afternoon. He tumbled while riding through High Park and suffered a broken arm, so he'll just be a spectator at the international whirl to nowhere. Promoter George Harvey announced his line-up of teams yesterday, and it's one of the best-balanced fields that any local race has had. Thirteen duos, comprising representatives of eleven different nations, make up the full compliment of riders. The track at the arena is near completion -- will be finished by this afternoon, track manager Charlie Winter said yesterday. Seventy-five carpenters and labourers have been working night and day on its construction. Judging by the line-up of teams it's going to be a wide open race. Favourites will probably be the American team of Al Crossley and Jules Audy, and Henri LePage and Jimmy Walthour of the Canadian-American team. Four Toronto boys, Reggie Fielding, Lew Elder, Ted Harper and Albert Heation make their bow before a hometown crowd in this race.

Following is the line-up of teams:
Al Crossley and Jules Andy -- American team
Albert Heaton and Heinz Vopel-- Canadian-German team
Henri LePage and Jimmy Walthour -- Canadian-American team
Torchy and Doug Peden -- Canadian team
Harold McNauwens and Henry Cocky O'Brien -- Irish team
Gustav Kilian and Jackle Sheehan -- German-Irish team
Felix LeFenetre and Cliff Bullivant -- French-American team
Reggie Fielding and Tommy Flynn -- English team
Tom Saetta and Ramigio Saavedra -- Italian-Spanish team
Jakie Gruber and George Shipman -- Jewish team
Freddie Zach and Henry Stamota -- Swiss-Polish team
Lew Elder and Ted Harper -- All-Toronto team
Freddie Spenser and Paul Croley -- American team
TWELVE TEAMS IN SIX-DAY RACE
Crossley-Audy and Walthour-Gadou Duos Favoured to Win Grind
Toronto, Oct 18 -- Twelve teams, representing eleven nations, begin the long grind to nowhere at 12:01 a.m. today as Toronto's ninth International Six-Day Bike Race got underway. The race will end at midnight next Saturday.
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