Dead man finishes race

The following is another "Have Fun or Get Out of the Way" column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Daily Telegram.

The following is another "Have Fun or Get Out of the Way" column by Don Leighton and Mike Granlund and their alter egos, Lance Boyle and Billy Pirkola, which runs occasionally in The Daily Telegram.

"Dead man finishes race?"

What? Now Billy Pirkola and Lance Boyle have gone too far. That can't possibly be true.

But it is.

Pat Chantelois was one of the top sulky racers in the nation in the first half of the 20th century. Sulky racing, when trotting or pacing horses pull a cart and driver behind them around an oval track, was a big sport back then. It was a sport held on the biggest tracks in the country and at county fairs in this area until the 1960s.


Chantelois made quite a name for himself as he raced all over the United States and Canada. He loved it when the track's public address system blared out that he was from Iron River, Wis. It gave him great pride to represent the northern Wisconsin hamlet among the giants of the racing world. And the residents of Iron River were proud of him, too. Chantelois and his wife, Maybelle, also ran the Ideal Hotel in Iron River.

Probably the biggest race he won was a handicap race at Santa Anita in California. Chantelois earned $5,000. Santa Anita is the same track Seabiscuit won his last race on in 1940 and also is the track on which the movie "Seabiscuit" was filmed. Since it's near Los Angeles, it was always frequented by many Hollywood stars and personalities. Santa Anita had a high of 61,123 spectators.

From the early 1900s to the late 1940s, Pat Chantelois was one of the premier sulky racers in the nation. Chantelois and his team didn't always win enormous sums of money, but they normally made expenses and had a great time with their hobby. Pat reportedly won $20,000 in 1943 in Milwaukee with his grand champion horse, "Volo Temkin."

Oldtimers will remember Pat had a practice track in the vicinity of the existing Iron River Little League Field. Longtime Iron River resident Beverly Thiverge remembers sneaking out of class at the Columbia School to catch a glimpse of Pat practicing on this track. Pat also trained his horses in the winter on an "ice track" on Moon Lake.

Chantelois was a 67-year-old veteran driver on July 30, 1948 when he got in the sulky to race at Northville Downs track near Detroit. A year earlier he had suffered a heart attack in Illinois and his doctor advised him against racing. But it was in his blood; it was a part of his soul and being, so he got in the sulky.

With only seven opponents in the race, he was expected to win, or at least place or show. His horse had won many races in the past and was an easy horse to handle. Chantelois was his normal competitive self that day, hoping they could get a decent paycheck to help pay for the trip home to Iron River. After all, gas was expensive at 20 cents a gallon.

The race proceeded like a typical sulky race and Chantelois took the lead, but something went wrong. No one remembers if any of the fans realized it, but somewhere during the lap around the oval track, tragedy struck; Chantelois suffered a heart attack and died during the race.

The horse continued pulling the cart with Chantelois in it across the finish line to finish the race.


Tragic. Sad. Horrible. But his family knew Pat died doing the thing he loved best: racing sulkys.

He is buried next to his wife Maybelle at the St. Michael's Cemetery, which is adjacent to the family home in Iron River. Attached to the headstone is a picture of Pat and his horse and sulky.

On his last time out on the track, and after he had died, the late, great Pat Chantelois of Iron River had finished the race.

The story of Pat Chantelois could end right there, but a month after his funeral, Maybelle returned to Northville Downs and raced the same sulky and horse, "Earl's Moody Guy." Almost 60 years old, she got into the sulky and raced in honor of her deceased husband. And, amazingly, she won.

The dash earned her $1,000.

Boyleing in the Pirkolater

  • Special thanks to Pete and Leila Hoefling and Bev Thiverge at the Iron River Museum and to the Western Bayfield County Historical Society. If readers have a chance, visit the Museum in Iron River; it is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Admission is free. Thanks also to Pat's great nephew Bruce Chantelois, who resides on the original Chantelois property.
  • Some versions of Chantelois' story include him getting first in this race, but regardless of the outcome, we choose to agree with family members that he definitely went out as a winner.
  • Jolene Anderson, a guard for the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA, is rumored to be headed to play in Europe after the WNBA season ends.
  • Thanks to the reader who pointed out that in our attempt to emulate "The Thinker" in a previous column we donned clothing, unlike Rodin's version, which was in the nude. We will have to deny your request for a corrected photo.
  • Outstanding Oulu Blue Jay pitcher Keith Ritsche has not been with the team during its great run this year as he is serving an internship in North Carolina.
  • Former Superior Spartan and University of Wisconsin hockey star Erik Raygor continues to decline attempts to lure him back into the coaching ranks. Raygor coached at Superior High School, the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and at Wayne State University in Detroit.
  • When the WIAA state basketball tournament rolls around in winter, don't look for Milwaukee King to qualify for the tourney. King, one of the most successful Division I basketball powers in the state, has been banned from postseason play for the next two years by the WIAA. The ban involves four eighth-graders from other areas who allegedly were illegally recruited and had their grade records tampered with.

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