By overpowering 14 rivals in two straight heats of last week's $116,-000 Hambletonian Stake, a resolute old gentleman named Sanders Russell not only proved that his brawny colt, A.C.'s Viking, is the champion 3-year-old trotter of the land but also struck a blow against premature retirement. Fame reached out and embraced the previously obscure Mr. Russell at age 62, to the unalloyed delight of the country folk who comprised most of the 37,000 Hambletonian spectators at the Du Quoin (Ill.) State Fair.
Oh, there were anxious moments of doubt after the second heat (two mile-heat victories are required to win). At the finish it looked as if that celebrated driver, Johnny Simpson, a whippersnapper of 42 who year after year has his pick of some of our most fashionably bred colts, might have sneaked his ebony-black trotter Isaac in ahead of the Viking. The photo finish showed he had not, and a joyful cheer rolled out for Mr. Russell and his big bay horse.
Russell is always called Mr. Russell or Preacher, because of his dignified mien (SI, July 30), and he hails from the little Tennessee River valley town of Stevenson, Ala. He has no pulpit there but is a steward in the First Methodist Church. Now, with The Hambletonian won, he sat in his sulky in mid-track, surrounded by pretty, bare-legged local high school girls dressed in racing silks, and smiled a dignified ghost of a smile for the photographers. He looked very much as though he'd just seen a $50 bill drop in his collection plate back home and didn't want to chortle right out loud.
"When I asked him for it," he said of the Viking, his pale-blue eyes twinkling behind steel-rimmed Grandma Moses spectacles, "he had enough to get home. He usually does."
Mr. Russell had dislocated his right ankle in a racing accident five weeks before. There was a heavy bandage on the still-painful ankle (a cast had just been removed), and he wore a tennis shoe, which rested against a padded foot support while he drove. From the sulky he stepped into the crutches on which he had been hobbling ever since the accident. Courage? Fortitude? Mr. Russell has them, although he admitted he "didn't know he had an ankle" in the flush of combat.
Then another old gentleman joined Mr. Russell in Du Quoin's Victory Lane. He was Andrew C. Petersen, 69, the millionaire milkman from West Hartford, Conn., who owns the Viking and has also risen from obscurity. "Thank you, thank you," A. C. said to one and all. Then he sat in the shade of Du Quoin's quaint old double-roofed judges' pagoda and spoke of the wonders of America.
"I was one of 21 sons and daughters on a farm in Jutland in Denmark," he said, "and, naturally, I wanted to leave home. I did not want to go on milking cows and shoveling manure for $100 a year. I wanted to go to America and be a cowboy.
"When I was 19 I sailed across in steerage and landed with $50, which I had borrowed, in my pocket. I didn't know a word of English. I had an uncle in Hartford, so I went to Hartford and got a job in a leather shop—$8 a week for 60 hours' work. My uncle thought I was crazy to give up the security of that job to become a milkman."
Crazy like a fox, the immigrant boy drove here and there delivering milk, spotted farm land that would obviously have to be absorbed by an expanding Hartford, saved and borrowed, and bought land cheap and sold dear. Today he has eight dairy farms, buys milk from 100 additional farms and has sales running to $3 million a year.
It was not until 1945 that Petersen bought his first harness horse—the broodmare Volo Mae. She foaled Petersen's onetime world champion mare Volo A. C, who is the dam of—good guess—A.C.'s Viking. Steamship agents used to tell impressionable immigrants that milk and honey flowed in the streets of American cities. For Petersen it has been milk and money all the way.