With Washington reeling from the loss of Hiram Conibear in 1917 and the subsequent hiatus created by WWI, Ed Leader’s first and only objective in the spring of 1919 was to make sure the program itself survived. By 1920, with a solid year behind him, the young coach could begin to focus on improving the team and regaining the momentum his mentor had created.
But that was only the beginning. This decade would see a rise to prominence of west coast rowing that would have been very difficult to foresee in 1919. Russell “Rusty” Callow (’15), taking the reins from Leader, would lead Washington to heights only dreamed by Conibear. Carroll “Ky” Ebright, former Washington coxswain (’17), would assume the head role at California later in the decade, and he too would take that rowing team places they could hardly have imagined. In fact, the two programs together would end up dominating the national collegiate rowing scene throughout the twenties; by the time this decade would end, it was all anyone in the rowing establishment could talk about.
Ed Leader, in the late fall of 1919 as the Navy was closing their facilities on the south end of campus, procured the Navy hangar built for amphibious planes (at the northeast corner of the Montlake Cut, now called the UW canoe house) as a new shellhouse. The old lighthouse remained the Varsity Boat Club clubhouse for a brief time, but along with the Tokyo Tea Room would be torn down simply because these “temporary” buildings, built for the 1909 AYE, were ten years past their scheduled demise and were unsafe.
Unheated airplane hangars are cold in the winter. So the men, along with school fraternities, dug a one thousand foot trench to carry steam piping from Lander Hall to the new crewhouse so that it could be heated. In March of that year, the old naval barracks that had been converted into Terry Hall became the dormitory for the crew. The men ate together at special tables in the Lander Hall cafeteria.
In the first half of the century, during war years, university attendance dropped dramatically; but once over, new students flocked back. This meant that “freshmen”, usually eighteen to nineteen years of age, were now competing with other “freshmen” who were twenty to twenty-one years old. Leader noted this in discussing his particularly older freshman class of 1920: “The men are, on the average, two to three years older than in ordinary years, and in many cases have valuable military experience behind them” (1). This would play to Washington’s advantage over the next few years.
The Triangular regatta was scheduled for Seattle on May 22nd. However, Stanford was not able to raise the money to come north, and would ultimately fold up the program later in the year.
The subsequent dual race with California went off on the Leschi to Madison Park course under windy conditions. Cal quickly steered off the course – on purpose – to shelter in next to the shore. The Washington crew, meanwhile on the course, proceeded to a two length lead, but was losing the battle with the water. When they swamped Cal stopped, bailed the water out of their boat, and proceeded gingerly to the finish, where they were promptly disqualified for leaving the course, and, apparently for good measure, for stopping to bail (2).
Two days later the crews would race again under better conditions. First the freshmen crews rowed two miles, with Washington winning by five lengths. The varsity crews then were started, and the evenly matched crews fought hard down the course, Washington moving to a half-length lead at one mile. At two miles, the lead was increased to about a length. But like the year before, this time California came screaming back in the final quarter mile – falling short by about five feet at the finish, the victory going to Washington. Coach Leader said after the race “It is an honor to win from such a crew and such a coach. They are the hardest fighting eight I have ever seen and without doubt have shown the best sportsmanship ever displayed by any opponent of Washington” (3). We might debate that after reviewing California’s “row over” in 1903, but certainly it would rate up there on the sportsmanship scale for being disqualified for bailing.
The winning time of 16:33.4 into a headwind was 4/10 of a second off the course record, held by the 1913 crew, and underscored the fact that within two years of the war both of these schools had put together very fast crews. The momentum had returned, and two things became clear: 1) Ed Leader could coach; 2) California, after a decade of mediocrity, was back.
From the 1921 Tyee, a synopsis of the events played out on Lake Washington May 22nd – 24th, 1920. The top photo is of the Washington shell sinking on the 22nd. The middle photo shows the finish of the race on the 24th, and the bottom photo is of the freshmen stroking to an easy victory. Tyee photo.
Three large lake steamers were chartered by the students and the cost of 75 cents per person went to help defray the additional expenses of the California crew for staying over two extra days.
The airplane hangar turned boathouse still stands on the northeast corner of the Montlake Cut (this picture was taken in the fall of 2001). In 1919, when the Navy handed it over to the University and Ed Leader, the expansive structure was a welcome – albeit chilly – replacement for the old AYE buildings.
Sources: The Tyee, 1920 (1); The Tyee, 1921 pgs. 150-155; VBC Log Book, 1916-1925, MSCUA; The Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 18, 1920, part 4, pg. 3; May 16, 1920, part 4, pg. 3; May 22, 1920, pg. 8; May 24, 1920, pg. 11 (2); May 25, 1920, pg. 11 (3).
For the first documented time, the fall turnout was over one hundred men deep, with about sixty varsity members returning and sixty freshmen ready to learn (1). It was a good thing too, since Leader would be looking to replace a number of graduates from the year before.
With a crew made up of four sophomores, Leader’s men faced off with California on the Estuary April 9th in a new shell, the Tyee. The freshmen crew, another strong group, led off the day’s racing with a four-length victory over the Bears in their two mile contest.
The varsity race would, for the third year in a row, come down to feet at the finish, and be almost identical in how the three miles played out. This time California got the early advantage, using the peculiarities of the Estuary course to their advantage. At a mile they were up by a few seats, and by two miles had made it out to a length. But at that point Washington began to move, earlier than before, and sprinting into the finish closed the gap, only to fall short by about five feet in front of the estimated 5,000 Bay area fans. California had defeated Washington for the first time since eight-oared competition began in 1907.
The defeat was stinging to Leader’s young crew. Although beaten by an older team (seven seniors were in the Cal boat), there was no consolation in a defeat with so much at stake.
California would take this team to the IRA, where they would finish second to Navy in the Varsity Challenge Cup, once again stirring the pot back east. Unknowingly, they would also lay the groundwork at Poughkeepsie – where a west coast team would, for the remainder of the decade, finish first or second in the premier race on the Hudson.
The varsity in front of the boathouse. Tyee photo.
Sources: The Tyee, 1921 pgs. 150-155 (1); The Tyee, 1922 pgs. 193-198; The Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 9, 1921, pg. 12; April 10, 1921, part 4, pg. 1.
With a load of underclassmen returning from 1921 and a strong sophomore class, the team would face off against California April 20th on Lake Washington. Postponed due to poor conditions (by now they had experienced enough swampings to postpone races when the lake was covered in chop), the race went off two days later on April 22nd, near dusk.
California, defending coast champions (but who had lost the majority of her crew to graduation), jumped to an early lead, but that would be it for the Bears. Washington, by the end of the first mile, had moved ahead and would methodically cruise down the course to a ten length victory in 15:58, a new course record. The freshmen won decisively as well, winning by eight lengths over Cal and also setting a record for the two mile course in 11:05.
There had been talk in 1921 of sending the crew back to the IRA, but due to the crushing defeat on the Estuary those plans were scuttled. This time, however, with Brouse Beck (see 1909) as chair of the Rowing Stewards, an “On to Poughkeepsie boom” was initiated, and the funds were raised to send the crew east for the first time in eight years.
The team took the train east, and the shells were sent in a special car along with the coaches’ launch (stowaways were frequent additions (2)). The crews made a two day stop in Wisconsin to race and easily defeat the Badgers by ten lengths on Lake Mendota.
Upon arrival in Poughkeepsie, the men were again treated as outsiders, but, like 1913, they were up to the challenge. An added positive for the crew was that for the four years between 1921 and 1924, the IRA Varsity race was a three-miler ( it would revert back to four miles in 1925), which did not require the team to significantly alter their practiced racing plan. In a pouring rain on the afternoon of June 26th, the race went off on the Hudson, Navy jumping to the lead, with Washington a close second. These two crews battled it out until about a half mile from the finish, where Washington began their sprint, inching into the lead, only to fall back when Navy started their sprint. Navy crossed the line in a course record 13:33, with Washington crossing at 13:35.2. The remainder of the field was well behind.
The Washington team was touted in the Seattle media as the best ever. Ed Leader, in four years, had established himself as a premier coach.
Just two weeks later, Leader’s newfound reputation led to an offer by Yale for their head coaching position. Leader took the offer and also persuaded the junior captain and stroke, Mike Murphy, to be his assistant. Washington and the Stewards wanted to counteroffer, but Yale refused to release their new coach and assistant, and things got tense. For two weeks this played out, until Washington relinquished in the interest of Leader and sportsmanship. The 1923 Tyee notes that the coach was sent off to his new job “with all the well-wishing that real Washingtonians can offer to each other. (His) success will be Washington’s joy.”
When Leader left for New Haven he also asked George Pocock to go with him. George refused, but his brother, Dick, did go east, where he built shells for Yale for many years.
Finding a coach to replace the fiercely competitive Leader was sudden and daunting. Yet looking at the candidates today with the advantage of hindsight one would wonder why there was concern. They were: Ward Kumm, stroke and captain of the dominant 1916 crew (’17), Carroll “Ky” Ebright (’17), Elmer Leader (Ed’s twin brother, famous for rowing without boot stretchers for half the 1913 IRA race), and Russell “Rusty” Callow (’15).
That August, Rusty Callow received the nod to become the fourth man to head up the Washington Crew program.
Once settled, one of Callow’s first priorities was to try to convince George Pocock to build a shell for the team. George agreed, but only in his spare time, since he was still employed at Boeing (see 1917). But just months later, back in the shop, George realized his passion was boat-building. In December of 1922 he left Boeing “because a man cannot split his loyalties. In my case it involved, in the words of the poet, ‘forsaking the substance and grasping the shadow.'” (1)
Sources: The Tyee, 1922 pgs. 193-198; The Tyee, 1923; VBC Log Book, 1916-1925, MSCUA; The Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 21, 1922, pg. 12; April 23, 1921, pg. 1, 8; Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, pg. 65 (1), pg. 72 (2).
It was like old times at the shellhouse when the spring of 1923 arrived, except that there was an unproven coach at the helm. Coach Callow, a member of the 1913 four and the 1914 eight at Poughkeepsie, former captain, and the man who had worked behind the scenes to save Conibear’s job in 1917, was teamed up (again) with his friend George Pocock – now busy in the back of the dank shellhouse, returning to ply the trade that had brought him to America in the first place.
The freshmen crews of the last three years could hardly find competition on the west coast, and the classes of ’23 and ’24 were experienced, yet in the stroke and seven seats of the varsity were the inexperienced stroke pair of the 1922 frosh crew (class of ’25), Dow Walling (replacing Murphy) and Harry Dutton. Combined with a first-year coach, there were more questions than answers as the crew prepared to go south.
On April 21st the men met California on the Estuary. Callow was reported in the paper as saying “I expect the Washington Varsity to be defeated by a length at least.” Coach Ben Wallis, of California, said “We have at the present one of the fastest crews California has turned out.” (1) Yet once the crews were aligned, from the start it was all Washington, ending any suspense early and winning by six lengths. Even the underdog freshmen won, beating a highly touted California crew. Rusty Callow now had two strong wins under his belt against very good crews.
Owing to the IRA performance of 1922 and the recent victory at California, the crew was again invited to go east, and the $7,500 in funds again raised quickly. On the way they stopped off at Madison to race the Badgers. It was there on Lake Mendota that Hiram Conibear’s daughter, Katherine, christened the Husky, the newest Washington shell built by Pocock. The Varsity promptly raced the new craft to an open water victory over their hosts.
On June 28th, the IRA races began in a summer rain. The freshmen, neck and neck with Cornell, were inched out at the very end of their two mile race (later pictures would contradict the official results).
The Varsity race started slowly for Washington, in fifth place in the early going, but by the half mile the crews were mostly even. Columbia, stroking at 38, moved into the lead by about a length at the mile, ahead of Washington and Navy who were even, but both stroking 32. At the halfway mark, Washington had caught a still high stroking Columbia. At two miles it was Washington by a length over Navy, with Columbia now fading.
Coming into the last half mile, Washington had some open water over Navy, but the middies started their sprint, moving quickly to close the gap. It was at this moment, with about 300 yards left, that Don Grant, the Washington coxswain, sent a unique message to his crew. Although he knew from the year before that at this point of the race he would not be able to lift his voice over the din of the crowd and boat horns, he pulled out a previously agreed upon red flag and lifted it high in the air, a visual message to his team to “Give ‘er all you got”. (2)
That they did – the stroke rate went from 32 to 40 – and the crew collapsed in victory across the finish line more than a length ahead of Navy. The men had won the first National Championship in the history of the school, and became the first western crew to win the IRA Varsity Challenge Cup.
First-year coach Rusty Callow was welcomed back to Seattle with a parade and given a key to the city by Mayor Edwin J. Brown in a public presentation. George Pocock was welcomed back with eight new orders for shells from universities across the country including Harvard, California and Wisconsin. And the men, after receiving their Loyal Shoudy purple ties – a post-regatta banquet sponsored by the famed Washington booster that would become a tradition – and $125 spending money (plus another $10 from Shoudy himself), went home exhausted and delirious from their experience.
On the 20th anniversary of the program, an underrated crew, and an unknown coach, had achieved the dream of Hiram Conibear – to take the Varsity Challenge Cup home to Seattle.
The 1923 Cal Dual Varsity (with an inset of the actual race on the Estuary); oarsmen left to right: Walling, Dutton, Shaw, Spuhn, Parkins, Dunn, Luft, Tidmarsh; Coxswain – Don Grant. Tyee photo.
Russell “Rusty” Callow, first year coach in 1923. George Pocock said in his book Ready All!: “Rusty Callow had a rare ability to retain the respect of his crews and maintain the rigorous discipline needed for a successful team effort without killing their spirit; rather, he raised it. I know it’s an overworked term, but Rusty Callow was in truth a real leader of men if ever there was one.” (4) Tyee photo.
Carroll “Ky” Ebright, a Washington assistant coach through the 1923 season, became the head coach at California in the spring of 1924. Ebright, seen here in his senior year in 1917 at Washington, was approached by Brouse Beck (UW Rowing Stewards chair) and Lute Nichols (Cal Athletics Graduate manager), along with Ward Kumm, to see about heading up the Cal program in September of 1923.
Sources: The Tyee, 1923; The Tyee, 1924, pg. 151, pgs. 192-198 (2); VBC Log Book, 1916-1925, MSCUA; The Men’s Crew Coaches at the University of Wisconsin, Brad Taylor 2002 (3); The Seattle Post Intelligencer, April 1, 1923, sports, pg. 3; April 21, 1923, part 3, pg. 1 (1); April 22, 1923, sports, pg. 1; April 23, 1923, part 3, pg. 1; June 25, 1923, part 3, pg. 1; June 28, 1923, part 3, pg. 1; June 29, 1923, pg. 1; June 29, 1923, part 3, pg. 1; Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, pgs. 70-74 (4), Transcript of Ky Ebright: crew coach of the University of California; pgs 13-16 (5)
Rusty Callow had been to the top of the mountain in his very first year. He knew that not only would his team be “the” team to beat in 1924, but that in order to repeat as champions the team would be looking to fill important seats vacated from graduation like Charles Dunn and Captain Sam Shaw.
Worth noting in this year was the death of Dan Pullen of an unspecified illness in the weeks following the first IRA victory by a Washington rowing team. Dan was the first three-year letterman in the sport at Washington, a man coach Knight at the time described as “one of the best oarsman I ever saw.” He also went on to be an All-American tackle for Army in 1910, become a Major in WWI, and to receive the Distinguished Service Cross for action in France. He became a role model for the team and his loss was felt by many in the University and rowing communities.
California, after 1921, had revived their rowing program under Ben Wallis. But Wallis left at the end of the ’23 season to pursue a business career, and suddenly the rowing program there was without a coach and again teetering on the edge of extinction as in 1919. Ky Ebright, currently a Seattle businessman and part-time assistant under Callow, with the encouragement of the Washington Rowing Stewards (they guaranteed he could have his job back if things didn’t work out) was offered and accepted the head coaching job at Cal. Washington knew that if California lost their program, as Stanford had in 1920, then Washington rowing, without competition on the west coast, would likely be the last domino to fall. So it was with this in mind that the Stewards wished Ky well as he departed for Berkeley. Ebright took with him Russ Nagler (coxswain, 1921) as his assistant and freshman coach, a partnership that would endure twenty-seven years and produce some of the fastest collegiate crews in history (1).
However, their first year, 1924, would not be one of them. The Washington program, although losing some veterans, was hitting on all cylinders. Callow moved the 1923 frosh stroke, Al Ulbrickson, into the stroke seat of the Varsity, and in April on Lake Washington the crew beat an over-matched Cal team by ten lengths. The freshmen, now coached by Bob Butler (his salary was about $25.00/month (2)) bested their Cal counterparts by an equal ten lengths.
Next up was a return to the IRA, the funds being raised easily after the performance in 1923 and the upswing in the economy that characterized the 20’s. A first for 1924 was the addition of a junior varsity team to make the trip (instead of the freshmen) with the varsity. Washington was the favorite to win the varsity race, particularly with the absence of Navy, competing at the Olympic trials against Yale and others. “Beat Washington” was the theme running through the rival camps when the team arrived in Poughkeepsie.
Not unlike 1923 when Dow Walling contracted an infection just days before the race, this time number 4 oar Max Luft began getting ill, only to end up in the hospital with Typhoid Fever (a serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection – more common prior to water treatment facilities, but also a risk of rowing on the very polluted Hudson). Callow juggled his line-up, inserting Homer Kerns from the JV boat. On race day, the re-shuffled JV’s put together a strong race and finished second to Pennsylvania.
Even with their new line-up, the varsity got off the line quickly and were really never challenged. Wisconsin, the dark-horse in the race, actually closed quickly at the end of the three-miler, but still finished about two lengths back of the Huskies. It was Cornell, Syracuse, Penn, and Columbia rounding out the final.
Rusty Callow was now two for two in national championships for his first two years of coaching. No longer a fluke or sideshow, Washington was favored going in and lived up to the expectation by coolly dispatching the competition. They would now become a fixture at the IRA for the next five decades.
About three weeks after Callow’s victory, Ed Leader’s Yale crew, earlier defeating Navy at the trials, won the gold medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics.
Al Ulbrickson, sophomore stroke, and future hall of fame coach at Washington. Tyee photo.
Sources: The Tyee, 1925 pgs. ; VBC Log Book, 1916-1925, MSCUA; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA; The Log of Rowing at the University of California Berkeley, 1870-1987, pgs 16-18 (1).
With the momentum of the ’23 and ’24 crews, the program cruised through the fall of ’24 and into the spring with a deep varsity team. But on April 12th, on the Estuary, the Huskies were in for a surprise, as an upstart California freshman team upset the Washington freshmen by three lengths. The Tyee suggests the crew was “weakened by ineligibility rules” (1); although probably valid, the outcome also underscored the fact that Ky Ebright was already having an effect on the California program. Washington proceeded to win the varsity race easily however, and came home to practice for the now annual trip east.
Callow again chose a junior-varsity squad over the freshmen to travel to the IRA. The JV’s rowed a two-mile race – were behind at the start, but by the mile mark had drawn close to even with the leader, Cornell. From that point on the Huskies methodically rowed away from the competition, winning the Kennedy Cup for the first time in 10:26.
The varsity was the favorite in their race, with a veteran crew. The four-mile race (changed back from three miles) went off at sundown and the river was flat. After an active start, it was Pennsylvania, Navy and Washington at the mile mark separating themselves from the pack. At two miles it was Washington and Navy moving to the lead, with Pennsylvania now tiring. Navy led by a deck length over Washington at three miles when the midshipmen began to bring up the stroke rate, quickly moving to a length up – and then some. Washington would sprint at a half mile, closing the gap, but the strategy of an early sprint paid off for Navy, who crossed the line three quarters of a length in front.
The Huskies went home with a gold and a silver from the 1925 IRA, but the second place finish in the varsity race had to be a stinging disappointment. Not only was it the first varsity loss for Rusty Callow as a coach, but it was the first time athletes like Dow Walling and Al Ulbrickson had to give up their W shirts to anyone. Although Dow would graduate, Al would be back in 1926, no doubt with the bitter thought of this race lingering on his mind.
An early afternoon turnout, with Callow in the new launch Alumnus, and the freshmen in the latest version of Nero. Tyee photo.
Sources: The Tyee, 1926 pgs. (1); VBC Log Book, 1916-1925, MSCUA; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA.
Callow and Ulbrickson were likely chomping at the bit to get back on the water in the fall of 1925. As in 1922, the crew was snake bit in 1925 by a Navy crew that used their experience and knowledge of the four mile course to their advantage, surprisingly sprinting at the three mile mark long enough to gain a significant margin – enough to sit on the Huskies the rest of the way.
1926 would be the first year that California and Washington would race in all three of what are today the featured events: Freshman, JV, and Varsity. On April 9th, on the Lake Washington course, Washington swept the regatta, winning the two mile freshman race by a half-length, the three mile JV race by three quarters length, and the Varsity (also three miles) by six lengths. The Tyee called it “that epoch-making crew day”.
But the season would not be complete without a return to Poughkeepsie. Over a period of three days – April 20-22 – Arthur Strandberg and his committee of volunteers would raise $15,000 for the trip. Alumni Director Charles Gaches noted on the eve of the fundraiser that “last year over 5,000 individual contributions from nearly every state in the Union were made to the crew fund.” In similar fashion, once again the community – now a national community – came through to send the crew east.
Callow took his Varsity and JV boats – the JV’s to defend their title in the F.W. Keen, and the Varsity to avenge the loss from 1925 in the newly christened Salmon King, a donation from the Washington Packer’s Association. Prior to the IRA, both crews raced their Princeton counterparts on Lake Carnegie, defeating the Tigers on the roughly two mile course by six lengths in the varsity and ten lengths in the JV.
Ten days later on the Hudson, the JV team would find themselves two lengths down to Pennsylvania with a mile to go for the Kennedy Cup. Washington began to move, with senior coxswain Frank Blethen imploring his team to take up the stroke rate. The rate went from 33 to 36 to 38, and Washington cruised past Pennsylvania to win the event for the second year in a row by over a length.
Rusty Callow’s and Al Ulbrickson’s strategy was simple this year. Get ahead and stay ahead. At the start the team moved quickly to the front, and by a half mile had two lengths of open water between them and Navy. By the halfway mark, the methodical midshipmen had cut the lead to a length of open water and were closing. By the pivotal three mile mark, Navy again began a sprint, and with a half mile to go were within a deck of the Huskies. The Tyee notes “The Navy was almost even with the Huskies, but as Washington’s white tipped blades flashed in and out of the water in coordinated effort, the Washington shell fairly leaped ahead of the Middies craft at each stroke” (1). Those strokes were the last twenty of the grueling four-miler, and Washington crossed one second in front of Navy to take back the Varsity Challenge Cup.
At the Loyal Shoudy banquet, every member receiving their tie was also a National Champion. Rusty Callow, along with Al Ulbrickson and his class of ’26 seniors, had achieved their goal.
That must have been some party.
A now familiar scene Lake Washington, this race is the finish of the Junior Varsity race against California. Tyee photo.
The 1926 varsity at Princeton before winning the IRA. This unique, colorized photo hung on the wall of Stork Sanford’s study for thirty-five years, a remembrance of his time as an oarsman for Washington, the photo donated to the UW from his son John in the fall of 2010.
John remembers that his father, a banker downtown after graduating, never lost the rowing bug. Tom Bolles (a 1926 teammate) was the frosh coach at Washington and in 1936 was offered both the Cornell job and the Harvard job. Opting for the Harvard post, he contacted Sanford and told him about the opening at Cornell. Stork applied, was offered and took the job, calling his old friend (and another 1926 teammate) Norm Sonju, suggesting he take the frosh post, and Sonju agreed. So in the fall of ’36, three ’26 Huskies boarded the train with their belongings and headed east to coach rowing.
John, who rowed for his father at Cornell, remembers him as a student of the sport, consistently exploring the mechanics of the stroke. “A man of serenity” on the water who “focused on the individual”, he led Cornell to four straight IRA varsity championships in the 50’s, including the stunning win at Henley in 1957 that would ultimately have a large effect on the decision by Al Ulbrickson (also a ’26 teammate of Stork’s) to take the Washington varsity to Henley in 1958 (and on to Russia for the equally stunning win behind the Iron Curtain).
By the time the 50’s rolled around, Norm Sonju had taken the head coaching post at Wisconsin, Ulbrickson was at Washington, Bolles was at Harvard and their head coach from 1926 – Rusty Callow – was poised to coach Navy’s “Great 8” to gold at Helsinki. “The coaches that came from Washington always had a certain element of sportsmanship – we always felt that,” said John. “He was very good friends with Norm and stayed in close contact with Rusty Callow throughout his life. They all knew each other so well.”
Who named him ‘Stork’? “I have no idea”, says John. “It was something one of the guys at Washington started calling him and it stuck. But even my mom called him Stork”. WRF Photo courtesy John Sanford. Posted 10/29/10.
Sources: The Tyee, 1927 pgs. (1); VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA (2).
After reveling in the glory of 1926, Callow at some point knew he had to face the monumental reality of the year’s graduation, and what it would mean for 1927; the coach would need replacements in his varsity shell for Al Ulbrickson, “Stork” Sanford, Hal Condon (fifth year senior), Homer Kerns, Jim Mathews, and Art Wuthenow. The graduating class of ’26, based on their achievements in rowing both at Washington and later in their lives, would be considered today one of the finest ever produced at the university.
The one consolation Callow could take was the hiring of Al Ulbrickson to replace Henry John Dutton as freshman coach. Dutton, who in his one year coached an impressive frosh team, left to pursue a business career and the spot was quickly claimed by Ulbrickson.
So the crew left for the Estuary with more questions than answers. Callow was unimpressed with his varsity and said so; he also said of California “This Year’s California varsity crew is probably the finest piece of rowing machinery ever turned out by the Berkeley institution. They outweigh Washington by some eight pounds per man and average more than an inch taller.” (1) Since Callow was known for his pre-race understatements (of his crew) and/or overstatements (of his competitors), none of this was taken to mean much.
But once in California it got even more complicated. Jim Hart, one of the few mainstays in the varsity (and a holdover from the class of ’26), came down with the flu and chicken pox and ended up in the hospital, where Callow ordered a radio placed in his room so he could listen to the races. Ellis MacDonald, stroke of the JV squad, was moved into Hart’s place.
On race day, April 9th, things started off well, with Ulbrickson’s freshmen pulling to a half-length victory over a strong California team. The JV’s were next, but in a neck and neck race down the course were unable to overcome the shake-up of their boat and, in the end the Bears, who won by about a half-length.
Callow’s luck would get worse. Midway through the varsity race, the Alumnus, following the race and carrying coaches Callow and Ulbrickson, was hit broadside by a packed motor yacht, tossing Joe Adams, Husky Manager, into the water, movie camera and all. The Washington coaches were thrown into the bow, and the launch suffered major damage to the hull just above the water line. Luckily no one was seriously hurt, as off in the distance the crews continued on, the Alumnus limping to shore. The varsity never could get their race together, and who knows what the sight of seeing their coach mauled did to their collective psyche, but they fell three lengths behind the Bears and lost the duel for the first time since 1921 – and for the first time under Callow. Returning to Seattle, there were 1,500 fans awaiting the team, but the disappointed Varsity and JV men had slipped away when the ship docked in the middle of the night, leaving only the freshmen to be greeted by the throng, and leading to a subsequent headline in the paper that read “Crews Vanish Before Rally” (1).
Even with these circumstances and the defeat, the team raised the necessary funds to go east. Ky Ebright would take his varsity and junior varsity to Poughkeepsie as well, thus setting up a rematch on the Hudson. Callow began to settle his crew down, firm the line-ups, and the crew made an uneventful trip back east.
In the IRA junior varsity event, the Huskies were quick off the line and raced closely with Columbia throughout the three mile course. California dropped behind the leaders, and at two and a half miles the Huskies sprinted past Columbia and won the Kennedy Cup for the third straight year, handily defeating a Cal team that had defeated them earlier and knocking almost a half-minute off their time of the previous year.
In the varsity event, Washington was fifth in the first mile, with California leading. Halfway through it was still California, with Columbia and Washington beginning to move. At three miles both advancing crews were steadily increasing their stroke rates, and California was fading. In the last half mile, Columbia and Washington sprinted for the finish leaving California behind, but the slow start had taken a toll, and Columbia slipped by the Huskies to win by a length.
After such a miserable start to the year the team had made a marked improvement to end with a first and second at the IRA, and to avenge the earlier losses to Cal. Although not as triumphant as the previous year, this team had matured remarkably under difficult circumstances, and this season had to be a proud accomplishment for coach Callow.
For years – even since 1923 – there had been rumors that Pennsylvania was making overtures to Callow. In July of 1927, those rumors became fact, and Callow accepted what was reported to be a $12,000 per year offer from the University of Pennsylvania (1). That figure was stunning for the day, and although Washington attempted to counter, there was no matching this offer. In his humble letter of resignation, Callow suggested that Al Ulbrickson replace him. Six weeks later, the University made it official, and Alvin Ulbrickson became the fourth head crew coach at Washington.
The five Callow years – from 1923 to 1927 – brought three national varsity titles and three national JV titles to Washington.
Callow went on to coach for two decades at Pennsylvania, was instrumental in the founding of the “Dad” Vail regatta, and then took the reins at Navy where he coached until his retirement in 1960. His 1952 Navy squad won the gold medal at the Helsinki Olympics.
The varsity, bow to stern: Glerup, Olmsted, Sonju, Quast, Wailes, Hart, Wohlmacher, MacDonald, and Blethen, cox. Tyee photo.
Frank Blethen, coxswain of the 1925 and 1926 IRA JV champions and the 1927 varsity. A. J. Blethen, Frank’s father and publisher of the Seattle Times, was a big fan, and lured a sports writer named George Varnell to his newspaper. Over the years, Varnell followed the races and wrote a multitude of stories that brought the crews to life in an era long before the advent of television. The George M. Varnell Trophy, awarded to the winner of the men’s Class Day event each spring, is named after the man who kept the community engaged with the team those many years. (3) Tyee photo.
Sources: The Tyee, 1928 pgs. 139-144; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA (1); The Seattle Times, April 25-28, 1928, Sports (2). Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, pgs. 79 (3).
The fall of 1927 found Al Ulbrickson, just twenty-four years old and about fifteen months removed from the stroke seat of the varsity boat, as head coach of the top rowing program in the country. As overwhelming as that sounds, there was also a generous amount of momentum built into this program thanks to Callow and his predecessors, and Al knew he had the full support of the Stewards and the community at large.
To fill his former position as frosh coach, Ulbrickson chose Tom Bolles, his teammate from the class of ’26. Representative of the juggernaut these two young men inherited from Callow, Bolles noted in the Freshman Log on October 5, 1927, that on the first day of freshman turnout there were 182 oarsman, 22 manager, and 15 coxswain candidates (1).
By November the frosh were still in Nero, although they moved to shells prior to the December break. In January, Rusty Callow, visiting from his new home at Pennsylvania, addressed the team, with Bolles noting in his log on January 12th: “First turnout of the new quarter. Some wind with considerable rain. Rusty spoke to varsity squad. Strict training starts today” (1).
The new coaches, however, were finding it difficult to sort through the men and arrive at line-ups. The class day events in early March, so often a superior gauge of the season to come, were indicative of the difficulty Ulbrickson encountered in finding eight men to fill his Varsity. The juniors, favored to win, beat only the freshmen; the sophomores beat the seniors, but that was only good enough for second place. The winners of the race, for the first (and only) time, was a mix of “leftover” rowers from all of the upper classes combined. That outcome had to be a virtual nightmare for Ulbrickson.
On April 6th, Ulbrickson would face his first test against California on a blustery day on Lake Washington. Bolles’ freshmen raced first, and although they cruised down the two mile course to win by open water, their time into the headwind was over two minutes slower than the record. The junior varsity was next, and they easily defeated their counterparts by over eight lengths. But in the varsity three miler the headwind was too much, and the strength of the Bears won out in a close race, finishing a half-length ahead of the Huskies. It was back to the drawing board for Ulbrickson.
In June the Huskies, for the first time, would take three crews to Poughkeepsie: the varsity, JV, and freshmen. Ulbrickson was still tinkering, opting to exchange four varsity members for four JV members while in New York. If that wasn’t enough, the entire squad was hit with a stomach illness (blamed on the water) days before the races.
The outcome was not good. The freshmen, handicapped by extremely rough water in their lane draw (6), let Navy get too far out and could not recover, finishing fourth. The JV’s also took fourth after being out of the race by the second mile. In the varsity event, a now polished California team screamed to a course record win, beating Columbia and Washington, in that order, to the line.
It was a disappointing season for the first-year coach, but one that would make Ulbrickson wiser. The California team that defeated his crew was a phenom, ultimately taking the Olympic trials from Yale by just over a second. In Amsterdam, Ky Ebright’s crew won the 1928 gold medal in the eights.
It was now unlikely Mr. Ebright would be consulting the Stewards for his old job back.
Nearing the finish of the varsity Dual race. Later that year, after the third place finish at the IRA and while still in Poughkeepsie, the team, coaches, and graduate manager met and decided not to enter the Olympic trials in Philadelphia two weeks later. No reason was given (2). Tyee photo.
Sources: The Tyee, 1929 pgs. 150-154; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA; The Freshman Crew Log 1928-36, MSCUA, Accession No. 3368-2, Box #16 (1); The Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 21, 1928, pg. 21 (2); The Seattle Times, April 25-28, 1928, Sports; The Log of Rowing at the University of California Berkeley, 1870-1987, pgs 21-23.
Ulbrickson faced a difficult task in 1929, owing to the performance of his crews in 1928 and the looming dynasty building under Ebright to the south. Compounding his concerns were the dismal weather of the winter of ’28-’29, and the loss of Ronald Wailes, a fixture in his varsity boat.
On the Estuary on April 9th, California crushed the Huskies by six lengths. Only the junior varsity prevented a sweep, winning by three and a half lengths. The freshman lost, but only by about a second, offering a glimmer of hope for the future.
Ulbrickson took only two crews east in 1929, the varsity and JV, stopping off in Wisconsin to race and defeat Mike Murphy’s Badgers on Lake Mendota. Prior to the race, a new shell was dedicated, christened the Hiram B. Conibear by the late coach’s wife.
On a stormy day on the Hudson, the Washington varsity surprised everyone by surviving a grueling race that saw four crews swamp: MIT, Syracuse, California, and Cornell (broke in half) in that order. Columbia won, but Washington beat out Navy for second place. The JV’s could fare no better than fourth in their race.
Ulbrickson had completed his second year with a stronger finish, and would look to Tom Bolles to search out the raw talent on campus to fill his shells into the next decade – and to continue the efforts at rebuilding his team.
The 1929 varsity. Tyee photo.
From the 1929 IRA, a photo featuring all of the coaches there who had rowed and graduated from Washington. Left to right: Ed Leader (Yale), Rusty Callow (Penn; later, Navy), Fred Spuhn (Penn/Yale/Princeton), Charles Logg (Princeton; later, Rutgers), Al Ulbrickson (Washington), James Mathews (Penn), Mike Murphy (Wisconsin), unknown, Ky Ebright (Cal), Russ Nagler (Cal), Don Grant (Yale). The late Tom Mendenhall, the foremost authority on rowing history, called Washington the “Mother of Coaches”. Photo and reference from the 1982 June/July issue of Rowing USA.
Sources: The Tyee, 1930 pgs. 172-176; VBC Log Book, 1926-1936, MSCUA.
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