Lest We Forget
This story first appeared in the December 2016 / January 2017 edition
of Canadian Cowboy Country Magazine
A-16 Currie Barracks Chuckwagon, Driven By Fred Weisenburger, In The 1942 Calgary Stampede Parade. Notice Fred And His Outriders In Their Army Green Uniforms.
Lest we Forget
Remembrance Day has just passed, and it’s a day where we give thanks to the courageous men and women who helped protect and defend our nation by serving in the Armed Forces. In World War II, there were numerous professional athletes from every sport that had their sports careers interrupted, even terminated, as they did their duty in service and defense of their countries.
Athletes who were all dispatched overseas to contribute to the war effort included the likes of hockey player Turk Broda, baseball player Hank Greenberg, boxer Jack Dempsey, golfer Bobby Jones, and chuckwagon driver Fred Weisenburger.
Growing up in the Huxley, Alberta district in the mid 1920’s to mid 1930’s, chuckwagon racing was very prominent as area residents Jim Ross and Tom Lauder were two of the sport’s earliest champions. As was the case with others from that area, Fred began racing chuckwagons himself in the late 1930’s after the family re-located to nearby Delburne, Alberta.
But when World War II broke out, Fred felt he had a duty to serve Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1942. He was sent to Currie Barracks in Calgary which, during World War II, became an army training centre for units mobilized in southern Alberta; it was designated A-16. These mobilized units were tasked to provide reinforcements for The Calgary Highlanders and The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.
It was at Currie Barracks roughly a week before the 1942 Calgary Stampede, when the subject of the Stampede came up in loose conversation. Fred had mentioned that he had a chuckwagon, and one of his army buddies thought it might be cool to have a chuckwagon with A-16 Currie Barracks on the canvas in the Stampede parade, or even in the races themselves. According to Fred, “My Commanding Officer gave me a 48-hour pass. I said I can’t do too much with just a 48-hour pass so he said, ‘Then come back when you can’.”
So Fred Weisenburger and the A-16 Currie Barracks Outfit competed at the 1942 Calgary Stampede and placed 11th overall. It was so popular and helped boost morale among the soldiers, he was permitted to return again in 1943 and had his best single run up to that point when he split 9th and 10th in the third round with three-time Calgary Champion Jim Ross.
After the 1943 Calgary Stampede Fred was off to England where he served as a War Gas Instructor. He was kept out of combat after developing Bronchitis during a training exercise in Canada that involved a river crossing, but lost a number of close friends in the war, and even had a few close calls of his own where he was stationed. Fred was stationed in England until 1946, and gained the status of Sergeant before his discharge. He returned to Canada, set up a farm near Huxley with his wife, and never raced chuckwagons at the Calgary Stampede again.
Fred passed away peacefully September 4, 2016 at the age of 97 in Red Deer with his wife and soul mate Ruth and son Earle by his side.