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* Updated * Chester Cheney – An Early Racer

Kathy Watkins from Indianapolis, was kind enough to share these photos of her family’s involvement with racing that go as far back as the early teens. We were able to find several articles about her grandfather Chester Cheney, who is seen posing above in a racing car in a photo taken by a Chicago photographer.

We are hoping our readers will be able to identify the make of the racing car that Cheney is posing in (above). We believe that it may be a Staver, which was manufactured in Chicago, and the distinctive front axle is a good clue to the estimated, thirty h.p. racers chassis. One other clue is the radiator badge in the photo (below) that appears to spell out Staver 2, in the high quality photo when enlarged and enhanced.

*Update* Tim Martin has found a photo that proves that Cheney’s car is in fact a Staver. Follow this link to a photo of a Staver that used to be in Horn’s (later Belm’s) Cars of Yesterday, in Sarasota, FL.


The two part article (above) was found in the July 7, 1910, issue of  The Motor World magazine and tells of Cheney’s feature free – for – all win, in a Staver, at Omaha., Nebraska, in a two day race meet held there on July 4th and 5th. He also won one other race and placed well in three others.

David Traver Adolphus found the following about Cheney’s involvement with the Staver racing team for an article he was writing for Hemmings Classic Car in late 2009:

As soon as the new, fully developed 30hp 1910 models appeared in the spring, Stavers started racing. From the beginning, Gus “The Little Swede” Monckmeier (a German immigrant, his nickname is obscure) was their factory driver, joined that year by Ned Crane and Chester Cheney. Monckmeier had earlier worked as an engineer in the Long Island Mercedes factory, so he probably served more like a modern test driver, rather than just a racer.

Staver was in the right place at the right time, because 1910 marked the debut of the Elgin National Road Races, which instantly became one of the premier events of the day. After Ned Crane was disqualified on the final lap (for almost taking Arthur Greiner’s National off the track when pitting) and Cheney’s car broke down after 42 minutes, Monckmeier was left to carry the flag, taking the Fox River trophy in just over three hours before more than 50,000 spectators. From there, they were off and running, with Monckmeier sparkling at the Algonquin Hill Climb and two Staver entrants at the Indianapolis Speedway in September. There, Keifer’s Class B, Division 2 entry (161 to 230-cu. in. displacement) entry took second, and Arthur Greiner finished third in a five-mile race. 

Chester Cheney must have had a busy summer in 1910, because he was also found to be  listed in a Automobile Topics magazine, dated July 23, as participating in a 808 mile reliability run in Wisconsin, which left Milwaukee on July 18, 1910. In the event Cheney drove the number 24 Petrel, a very well built mid-sized double-chain drive car that was manufactured in the city.


Cheney is known to have also worked in Hathorn’s Garage, in Mason City, Iowa, in the teens. Photos of the garage and crew are shown left and right (above).

The two notices seen here were both found in the Cycle & Automobile Trade Journal, the (above) dated December, 1912 and (below) December of 1919. We will have another reference and a photo of a cycle car and Charles Hathorn later on in the text.

Cheney is seen (above) in what appears to be a circa 1910 Buick racing car. Below are a couple of messages he sent home to his mother while he was out on the road on a racing trip:

“Dear Mother, Say Mother can’t you come down to Harlan and see me? I will be here until the 13th. I won everything at Grand Island and the prettiest cup you’ve ever seen. Please come, your son Chet” it’s posted in July, but undated. Another card is from Mason City, Iowa, posted Oct. 1912. “Dear Mother, will drop you a card letting you know I am all ok. We are heading for Blue Tooth (?) Minn tomorrow. All the races here came off fine. I hope I will see you before going off to Chicago. Your loving Son”

The photo above again shows Cheney, fifth in the line up here, at a race meet that appears to be either at Souix City, or Mason City, Iowa, circa 1912, based on the signage seen. Possibly Charles W. Canner is in the Tornado which appears to be 150hp De Dietrich  special (see below), next is an unknown driver in the Blue Streak. The third car from the front appears to be a t-head Mercer. Chester Cheney is seen in the fifth car right next to the rail. The messages of the postcards earlier to his Mother and this photo above might point to the possibility of Cheney having raced for Pickens after Staver.

* Update *  From Ivan Pozega from Australia: In 1912 at the Big Four Fairgrounds in Nashua, IA., a 150hp De Dietrich “Tornado” driven by C. W. Cannar won the 1 Mile Exhibition ahead of Marion Arnold (died in a crash  Sept. 13, see below) in a Marquette Buick and an Arbenz “Blue Streak” posting third fastest time.

I was only able to find Chester Cheney at one event at Albert Lea Fairgrounds, MN in 1912 driving a car entered as the Green Goblin which was in fact a De Dietrich ‘Torpedo’.


* Update * From Carl Schultz: An article in The NY SUN Nov 3, 1912- titled ‘Safeguarding Track Meets’ (above); AAA Contest Board took action recently against Charles W. Canner a driver who manages “The Marshall Flying Squadron” and suspended him for close to three years for running dangerous unsanctioned race meets in Iowa and Nebraska.

At the Harlan, IA (date not given) where the dust was not treated with oil, the top rail was not removed and a team driver, Chester Cheney went through the fencing in his Buick racer (could be the same car pictured above) and lost his right arm. Later “the same  car driven by Marion Arnold on Sept. 13, went through the fence on the curve, killed its driver and injured a number of spectators”. (Cheney’s Granddaughter confirmed the news story is not true as he had both of his arms his for his whole life).

Read the two clippings (above) for the interesting details of the story.

This photo of a cycle car wearing a 1913 Iowa plate, has the following note on the back: “Cyclecar made by yours truly and Charles Hathorn & Chet Cheney….Sixty miles per hour on dirt roads”. Note the U.S. Mail wagon and horse in the background.


The photo left (above) may have been from the cycle cars initial layout stages, which may only be a ladder resting on the axles for a photo.

Kathy Watkins noted the following about the middle photo “This is my Father Chester W. Cheney, my Mother Peg Cheney was the trophy girl, he raced jalopies in Vegas” The right hand photo shows him with the car. Watkin’s adds “My Mother and Father met while he was building a car to enter in the Indy 500 in 1953. My Husband Sam Goldsmith worked in IndyCar for 9 years too. It’s in my blood”. Photos courtesy of Kathy Watkins

18 responses to “* Updated * Chester Cheney – An Early Racer

  1. The car in question in the upper photos most certainly is wearing a Staver Chicago badge. That shield is rather distinctive.

  2. An article in The NY SUN Nov 8, 1912- (I can’t copy the link) titled ‘Safeguarding Track Meets’; AAA Contest Board criticizing ‘un sanctioned events’ and one example of the dangers in such is mention of ‘The Marshall Flying Squadron’ whose leaders has been disciplined and an unsafe, unsactioned event at Harlan, IA (date not given) where the dust was not treated with oil, the top rail was not removed and a team driver, Chester Cheney went through the fencing in his Buick racer and lost his right arm and that the car was repaired and another driver lost his life in it at a subsequent event.
    Best Regards
    Carl Schulz
    Indio, CA

    • Kathy may be interested to know that a young Eddie Rickenbacker was a fledgling member of ‘The Flying Squadron’ her Grandfather belonged to. This article gives a taste of part of the 1912 racing world Chester Cheney inhabited.

      W David Lewis
      Auburn University

      (excerpt p 90-91)

      Having little money and no sponsors, Rickenbacker started at the bottom by join
      ing a second-rate team, operating out of Chicago, which followed mid-western county fairs in the “cornstalk circuit,” as veteran drivers contemptuously called it. The nameof the troupe—the “Flying Squadron”—eerily foreshadowed Rickenbacker’s later career flying in combat on the Western Front.

      During the summer of 1912 it traveled throughout Iowa, giving exhibitions at fairs in towns like Harlan, Boone, Carroll, Missouri Valley, Mason City, Marshailtown, and Grinnell. Marshalltown, the largest of these communities, was listed in the 1910 census as having 13,374 people. Harlan had only 2,570.16. Obviously, the “Flying Squadron” existed on the fringes of the racing world.

      The way the Flying Squadron operated gives business historians an instructive
      glimpse into the world of small-time auto racing in the early years of professional motorsport. Several weeks prior to an upcoming event, the team’s business agent, Fred C. Bailey, would visit a town where a fair was about to be held and make financial arrangement with its directors. Bailey represented a “Mrs. Marshall” of Chicago, probably the wife of the well-known architect and automobile enthusiast Benjamin Marshall, who designed the Drake Hotel.’7 Working closely with local dealers and automobile club members, Bailey found places for the group’s racecars to be kept and displayed. He also courted the local press to secure good advance publicity He took care to marvel at the condition of the local track, praising its suitability for a fast race and intimating that speed records would probably be set because of its fine condition.

      He was obviously a master of hype.
      As the week of the fair approached, notices appeared in the town’s newspapers
      announcing the upcoming show and touting records and achievements of the team’s
      cars and drivers. Because France was the world center of motor sport, the advertise
      ments did everything possible to connect the Flying Squadron with that country.
      Andrew Burt, who drove a Cino racer called “King Dodo,” was advertised as the “youngest French driver in the world.” C. W. (“Frenchy”) Canner, another driver of supposedly Gallic extraction, would drive a De Detrich Tornado that had assertedly set a speed record at Ormond Beach. Marion Arnold, from Chicago, would be at the wheel of a Buick Marquette, “The Flying Comet,” which had once belonged to speed king Bob Burman.
      No connections with the great or the near great were missed, strengthening
      the misleading impression that the Flying Squadron was a first-class attraction. To
      heighten local interest, Ray Boody, one of Iowa’s best-known racers, sometimes ap
      peared with the Chicago-based team. Rickenbacker’s name was never mentioned in
      the advance publicity, and rarely appeared in accounts of races held at the fairs. Obviously he was merely a fledgling member of a team that was not of elite status to begin with.
      After arriving by rail, the cars were taken to showrooms at local dealerships and
      gaped at by auto enthusiasts. On opening day of the fair the big vehicles, resplendent in gaudy paint schemes, were towed to the fairgrounds in a festive parade, accompanied by civic dignitaries and a smartly uniformed band. (It was carefully explained beforehand that the racecars, being built for high-speed conditions, could not be driven under their own power in normal traffic without sustaining damage to their components.) Local automobile owners were encouraged to drive their cars in the parade, and were invited to participate at the fair in selected events along with the professionals.
      These venues included several three-mile races, with individual heats of one mile each, and a novelty event known as a “slow race,” in which drivers would vie with one another to see who could negotiate a given distance at a snail’s pace and come in last without stalling his vehicle.
      Enthusiastic crowds, some of which numbered as many as 9,000 people, attended the events, paying an average of sixty cents to see them.
      Going to great lengths to oblige small-town residents upon whom their financial
      welfare depended, managers of the Flying Squadron ignored safety regulations established by the American Automobile Association’s Contest Board, the official regulatory agency of commercialized motor sport. Spectators were permitted to get too close to the track, with disastrous results.
      At the North Iowa Fair, held at Mason City; one of Marion Arnold’s wheels collapsed. Five people were injured, two of them seriously, when his car left the track and plowed into the crowd. An even worse accident occurred just across the Iowa line in Blue Earth, Minnesota, when Canner, driving a Colby “Red Devil,” skidded on a turn. His car “tipped over three times,” throwing him sixty feet from the track, where the racer landed on top of him. He came out of the wreck with a broken arm, a fractured jaw, the loss of numerous teeth, and “his tongue bitten in two until there was scarcely enough to hold the end in his mouth.” It was reported that local physicians “took 56 stitches in his body.

      The laxity with which the Flying Squadron was administered cost Rickenbacker
      the loss of his racing license. On October 24, 1912, only a few weeks after the debacle at Blue Earth, the AAA Contest Board disqualified him until January 1, 1914, for participating in unsanctioned meets. Undaunted, he spent the winter of 1912-1913 in Des Moines, where he got a job as a mechanic for two brothers, Frederic and Auggie Duesenberg.

      • I’m wondering if they are actually talking about my Grandfathers crash at the end. The one postcard to his Mother said they were heading to what I thought read “Blue Tooth” Minn but its possible it says “Blue Earth” the postcard is marked Mason City Iowa, 1912 so the timing is right. Thank you Carl.

  3. David,

    Thanks for all of the great information and for your research ! My Grandmother Florence Cheney talked of the accident that nearly cost my Grandfather his arm. I remember that it was badly damaged but still there.My Grandmother told me the story of how she and her friend set a goal to meet my Grandfather and another famous racer and marry them. They both succeeded! I wish I could remember the name of the other driver. The whole story is really funny but probably better not posted publicly. I remember them laughing about how Coca Cola just wasn’t what it used to be back in the day. Grandpa loved to listen to baseball on the radio and enjoy a cold beer late in life. I never remember him talking of being a great racer. I do remember him wanting me to see if I could go faster than all of the other kids on my bicycle. I remember my Grandmother reading my a letter that Grandpa wrote to his mother that talked about him working for Buick and being one of their top mechanics. Last time I saw it was in the family Bible.
    My Father Chester W. Cheney carried on the tradition of racing the dirt tracks. I know he raced in Bakersfield against Rufus (Parnelli) Jones and others. He too was very good.
    My brother Tom and I carried on the tradition racing motorcycles in Southern Ca. and my son Travis is still racing bikes today.

    • Dave (Cheney) is being modest about his racing endeavors. He was one of the fastest guys in the desert back in the day. I can say this for a fact because I ate a lot of his dust.

  4. Great to see another Staver photo. I learn a little more from each one . [I have a 1912 Staver 40 basket case project} There is very little info. available on these cars so every new discovery is of great interest to me.

  5. Below are a few bits and pieces I’ve gleaned about this group that barnstormed in Iowa and Minnesota during 1912. It looks like by October the group was down to two drivers.

    Eldora, IA, August 24, 1912
    The Hardin County Ledger (Eldora, IA) of August 22 reports that “The Big Racing Juggernaut cars and drivers and mechanics are already in our city. . .”

    There were to be “races between Ray Boody, the Eldora boy who is the champion automobile driver of Iowa and Marion Arnold of New York who drives the Buick Marquette ‘Flying Comet’ the car that wild Bob Burman drove to victory. Boody will likely drive his Ford, ‘Streak’. . .”

    Canner, “the daring French driver,” was scheduled to drive his DeDietrich, “Tornado,” in a one-mile record attempt and a free-for-all handicap race.

    “Mr. Bailey, manager of the flying Squad Auto racing team of Chicago, received a telegram today from the Arbenz Car Co., of Chillicothe, Ohio, that they are shipping via express the 1913 Arbenz racer to Eldora . . .”

    Albert Lea, MN (about October 15, 1912)
    Series of match races, time trials, and record attempts by Chester Cheney in the “Green Goblin” and Ray Boody of Iowa in the Colby “White Flyer.” Boody also attempted to break the track record with the “Green Goblin” and one of the drivers attempted an exhibition in the DeDietrich “Tornado” but the car wasn’t running right.

    The Albert Lea Evening Tribune reported that “Chester Cheney, who was thrown from his car in an accident during the latter part of of July striking a fence and tearing the biceps off from his right arm, drove in fair time yesterday although he had to handle his wheel principally with the left hand and shift all his levers the same way.”

    These are race locations mentioned in the newspaper accounts:
    Blue Earth and Albert Lea, Minnesota
    Charles City, Nashua, Osage, Mason City, and Eldora, Iowa.

    These drivers are mentioned in the newspaper accounts:
    Chester Cheney (injured in July, location unknown)
    Marion Arnold (injured at Mason City, IA, on September 15 while driving the Buick “Green Goblin”)
    O. W. Cannar (injured at Blue Earth, MN, on October 3 driving the Colby “Red Devil.”)
    Ray Boody of Eldora, IA

    These cars are mentioned in the newspaper accounts:
    Arbenz “Blue Streak”
    Buick Marquette “Green Goblin”
    Colby “Red Devil” owned by the Colby Motor Company of Mason City, IA.
    Colby “White Flyer” owned by the Colby Motor Company of Mason City, IA.
    DeDietrich “Tornado”
    Ford “Streak” probably owned by Ray Boody.

    The Colby “Red Devil” had been rebuilt after a crash at Woodland Park in Sioux City, IA, which killed Billy Pearce of Chicago on October 11, 1911. The “Red Devil” later had several owners and was raced was late as 1916 sometimes in legitimate events and sometimes in barnstorming events. If you google “Colby Red Devil” there are a number of photos, especially at the University of Oklahoma historical site. The “Red Devil” might be either the third or fourth car in the “CheneyI” photo.

    The location in the “CheneyI” photo is not Sioux City, IA. Neither Woodland Park or the new in 1912 Sioux City Speedway had houses nearby.

  6. The Marshall Flying Squadron was definitely in the crosshairs of the AAA Contest Board

    American Motorist V4 p891 Nov 1912

    Official Bulletin of AAA Contest Board
    The suspension of Andree Burt of Chicago a registered racing driver who was automatically disqualified under rule 58 for participating in an unsanctioned race meeting at Harlan Iowa on July 12th and 13th 1912 and subsequently at other Iowan points with the racing team known as the Marshall Flying Squadron of Chicago was fixed to expire January 1

    • Very cool ! Thank You. That’s yet another picture of my Grandfather that I have just seen for the first time. Great stuff from a great team of researchers. Thank You so much !!!

      David Cheney

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