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Aut Swenson’s Thrillcade – Jumbo of all Thrill Shows

The lead image shows a staged parade of Aut Swenson’s “Thrillcade” passing through downtown when it was performing in Springfield, Missouri in the mid-fifties. The thrill show used cars, trucks and motorcycles in an act that followed the Midwestern fairgrounds circuit north of its headquarters in Dallas, Texas.

The men in the troupe drove the vehicles in the shows and female daredevils holding on to a substantial strap performed on platforms on top of many of the vehicles.

Swenson Thrillcade 1950s Ford Pickup

The Kaiser-Frazier Corporation was connected with the Show for a period in the early-1950s by the use of its cars. The Henry J was named after Henry J. Kaiser – the upscale Frazier was named after Joseph W. Frazer a co-founder of the automaker.

Ford had a longer-term association with the “Thrillcade” act, starting as early as 1951 with the automaker’s sedans. The lead image shows 1956 Ford models, and its trucks were used as early as 1958-’59; a later photo exists showing the use of the Mustang in the mid-1960s.

In the 1950s, the Show featured a triple Loop the Loop “Death Car Leap” where a manned gravity-powered small car descended a steep ramp and did a triple spin at the bottom followed by landing on its wheels. The act was transported around the circuit by a tractor and semi-trailer and is seen in the image above via behind the Ford pickup truck.

Information about the “Thrillcade” is scarce and exactly when it first started and how long the act continued to tour at this point is not known. We hope readers from the Midwest can tell more about Swenson’s Traveling Show.

Henry J Thrillcade

November 29, 1952 “Billboard Cavalcade of Fairs” ad above shows the use of the Henry J – Another ad below in the same publication that year appears to show the use of both of the Kaiser-Frazier Corporation’s cars.Aut Swenson Thrillcade

27 responses to “Aut Swenson’s Thrillcade – Jumbo of all Thrill Shows

  1. While I never heard of “Swenson’s”, we did have Joie Chitwood’s Thrill Show in the midwest and I believe they used Chevy’s. They were a regular attraction at the “Milwaukee Mile” in W.Allis, Wis. After seeing those shows, we, as kids, would go home, and try to replicate the stunts on our bikes. We took many a lump, but was all in good fun. I remember, the audience was spell bound at those events, in the back alley, not so much.

    • I live in Neenah Wi and remember watching auto thrill shows at the Winnebago Fair Grounds in Oshkosh Wi back in probably the 40’s and 50’s. I saw Joie Chitwood and Swenson’s Thrillcade. I also believe there was a Austin’s Motor Derby. We gave our bikes some hard times after watching these professional thrill drivers. Good times and good memories. I know I had pictures and programs etc but of course they are all gone.

  2. I always enjoy seeing period artifacts from enterprises that used Kaiser-Frazer vehicles. This was especially interesting because I was surprised to see the prewar Crosley convertible in the foreground of the bottom photo. Anyone who may have attempted any of the stunts in a Crosley truly would have been daredevil! Some quick Internet research provided recollections of someone who said the Crosley was driven by a 7-foot clown who often packed up to ten Boy Scouts in it and drove out on the stadium field and unloaded. Also, according to a 1953 issue of Billboard, clown King Kovaz, who worked for competitor Jack Kockman’s Hell Drivers, used to drive his Crosley into 28 300-pound cakes of ice.

  3. One of my favorite old posters, hanging five feet away as this is written, advertises Irish Horan & The Lucky Hell Drivers, “the show that’s alive with death.” Because they were put up outdoors, typically on barns and trees, very few of these posters survive.

  4. Aut Swenson’s Thrillcade came to Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1962, maybe again in 63. They performed at our county fair & I had never even heard of such a thing so I lost my little 7 year old mind!! They were driving Fords & because of the arena size they may have had to skip some of the acts that required a lot of space. But I had the best time of my life up till then watching the cars jump from ramp to ramp, drive on 2 wheels and they wrecked a few older model junkers. It was totally amazing, the skill the drivers put on display.

    Years later I ran across a couple of postcards showing a similar act performed here back in the mid-1930s. The name associated with that act doesn’t ring any bells with me. There are lots of hits for Aut Swenson’s Thrillcade on the Google.

  5. No one has stated the year and make
    of the vehicles in photo #1, so I will. The first two are 1956 Fords, then a 3-wheeled motorcycle which is most likely a Harley Davidson, and the last vehicle is a 1950 Buick. Don’t know the year and make of the bus. Maybe a Flxible???

  6. A friend of mine had several of the Thrillcade programs years ago when he was wheeling & dealing in auto magazines & such. We are both from Springfield. The first photo is on St. Louis Street off right off the square. Route 66 ran down St. Louis east to west through the square. There is a before/after article in our local paper that has the first photo & the location now.

  7. I was . I believe one of the first female stunt drivers with Aut Swenson’s thrill show. I was billed as Victoria St. Clair, the British bombshell from Liverpool, England. I still have some photos of the then troupe. This was in the early sixties. I was with them for three seasons.

  8. My mom and dad, Mavis and Richard “Dick” Johnson traveled with Aut back in the early 50’s. My mom rode atop the cars and my dad clowned.

  9. The photo of the pickup truck…….the 2 men: On the left is Kenny Blaine and on the right is “jumping” Jimmy James who did the ramp to ramp jump. Jimmy was my step-dad. His last summer on the road with Thrillcade was 1967.
    I have several programs/photos if anyone is ever interested.
    Brenda Sampson

    • I am interested! My deceased father was a stunt driver circa 1965-1967. He died when I was a baby and would appreciate anything from those years that he drove. Thank you!

      Best wishes,
      Jennifer

      • Jennifer:
        Who was your father? Jimmy James last season was the summer of 1967. I have several photos and programs.
        Brenda Sampson

        • Sorry I just saw your reply! His birth name is George Jolbert but his nickname as a driver was Scootin Scotty. Anything from that time period up until 1969 is much appreciated! I know he traveled to Lousiana. He is from Buffalo NY. Thank you!

          Jennifer

          • Jennifer:
            I remember meeting “Scotty”. I will go through my show programs. I am sure that I have some from that time period.
            Brenda

  10. Aut was my Great Grandfather. Unfortunately he passed away in 1986 when I was 6 so I never really knew him well. I have boxes and file cabinets full of programs, photos, other promotional material, and many of the shows documents. I’ve intended to go through it and scan as much as possible for years now and just haven’t found the time. Hopefully soon.

  11. Awesome Site… I saw the Thrillcade either two or three consecutive years in the early 60s at the Bureau County Fair in Princeton, Ill. The last year they brought what I think they called the “Ride of Death”, a little four-wheeled cart that hurtled down a ramp, spun off to do three somersaults then landed on a short ramp. I was impressed to say the least. Also, I ended up with more than a few aches and pains in the days after from jumping my bike over home-made ramps. I WOULD LOVE TO SEE MORE INFO!!!!!

  12. I saw Swensons Thrillcade several times at the Lake County Fair in Crown Point, Indiana in the early 1960s. Johnny Maddox, the late great ragtime pianist, played an upright piano positioned on a turntable on the roof of a new pickup truck while it was driven back and forth in front of the grandstand. Johnny later told me that the turntable motor once caught fire and the Thrillcade guys yelled at him to jump before it fell apart. He told them “I’m not jumping; I’ll keep playing this until I hit the ground!” They safely put out the fire without any further incident.

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