As a matter of fact, i'ts (as Victor might say) the time of the year when he really should be catching a few Zs. Even some of the best of the trained bears have to knock off for several weeks each winter, but Victor goes a full 52. Mostly it is a case of keeping him comfortable, letting him sleep in every morning and giving him lots of food and activity. This is one reason why the Truesdells and Steve Renfrow are on the road, headed for Salt Lake City. "We're working while other bears are hibernating," Tuffy says proudly. "You got to keep 'em busy or they revert back to being a bear and go to sleep."
Victor, who apparently has been listening in on the conversation about bears, takes an attachment on his collar and runs it across his cage, making a grating noise that is the signal that he is awake and hungry. Steve feeds him some peppermints, and Victor walks around his cage in appreciation. He has lots of room, for Tuffy has built special racks on the top of the limousine to keep the wrestling mat, luggage and spare straw out of the way.
"Financially," Tuffy says, "with the backup bear we are protected if anything happens to Victor, and we got a lot of new ideas, so we don't even need the bear business anymore. But we like working the bear, and Victor is one of us now. Finding Victor was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. If I hadn't gotten to him when I did he would have been a carcass in the next hour or two. His twin sister was already dead, and we estimated his mother had left about 30 hours before. So you can say, for Victor and me, there's a lot of fate on both sides."
Stumpy and powerful, an Occidental Oddjob, Tuffy stands about 5½' tall and weighs just over 190. "I'm 53 now but, of course, I'm going to live to 100," he says with matter-of-fact authority. Altogether, he evokes the best memories of Julius, the brother of Jeff—in Mutt and Jeff—who was known as "the strongest little man in the world." Tuffy is understanding and generous, apparently having rid himself of all misdirected aggressions one particular day when he was 6 years old and the school bully picked on him. He thrashed the bigger boy, proving his stature and losing a first name he despises—Adolphus—at the same instant. He has been Tuffy since.
Tuffy migrated to wrestling from boxing as a teen-ager because his short arms left him at such a disadvantage as a pugilist. "I had to quit school in the 11th grade to help support the family," he says, "and the next year I went into the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the CCC I worked eight hours a day, hard work, for eight months, and I really developed. Then I worked for a St. Louis bakery.
"In those days carnivals had what you called athletic shows, where there was rasslin'. I could make three, four, five dollars a night, more than I was getting at the bakery. It was the Fourth of July, let me see, Fourth of July '37, someone said they're having an athletic show at the carnival down at Bonne Terre, Missouri. I had put this Model A together, and I rode it down to Bonne Terre and started rasslin'. Well, I rassled 17 boys that day, beat them all, and then at the end there was this big old woman who was in the show, and I rassled her, too, because there wasn't nobody else left. I made $75 that day, and I soon started wrestling professionally. But it was tough getting matches. Nobody helped you. There wasn't too many who made it, believe me. If you wasn't a winner, you didn't make a living. It was those kind of days."
By this time in professional wrestling, weight classes were becoming somewhat superfluous. Everybody was content to settle for the big men; middleweights, such as Tuffy, and other smaller men lost favor. Tuffy was always pretty much of a straight wrestler, anyway. He did create, and name, the monkey flip, which had a certain color to it, but he disdained the more exotic theatrics, and once resisted the urge—when Jewish wrestlers such as Leo Newman and Ruffy Silverstein were big—to use the nom de guerre of Izzy Tough.
Tuffy's career was further slowed when he was tossed from a ring. He received extreme unction and needed three holes bored in his head. After a brief military stint that lasted until Army doctors found out about the hole-drilling episode, Tuffy went to Mexico, where there was still an interest in lighter wrestlers.
"I drove down to old Mexico," Tuffy says, "and they booked me all over, in six of the republics. I have been in all of the states of the union except Alaska, all the provinces of Canada except Newfoundland and in six of the republics of old Mexico. Anyway, we were building up for a big match against their champion, Tarzan Lopez, in Mexico City when I was offered a tidy sum to perform in such a way that I would be welcomed back.
"I was always a clean wrestler, but this time I should have taken the money. I should have known. I beat Tarzan Lopez, but they threw everything in the world at me and I just did get out safely. Now I had the belt of old Mexico, and there was no U.S. middleweight champion anymore. There was just about six of us middleweights left that were active. The title was dormant, so I was just proclaimed. Nobody could beat me anyway, except when they had too much weight. I was the last of the middleweight champions. There was no more money in it. I would have stayed in rasslin', because I had the knack of winning then, but when the chance came I had to get into something else. I tried a thing with midget rasslers; I trained two boys, Pee Wee James and Tom Thumb. And then I started working the gators and after that the bear."