Basil Tonion "B.T." Barber
1885 - 1958

 

B. T. Barber of Iola, Kansas in his Model T Ford Overhead Cam “Bug”

Allen County (Kansas) Historical Society collection

 

 

 

B. T. Barber in his Ford special at Iola, Kansas in 1914

Allen County (Kansas) Historical Society collection

 

 

 

 

Basil Tonion "B.T." Barber was born on May 27, 1885 at Sunny Side, Tennessee, a small community that was then located near the Tennessee / Kentucky boarder.  B.T. was one of eight children born to William George Levi Barber (1860-1935) and Emeline “Emily” (Condra) Barber (1868-1952).  He was married to Lillie May Waddell (1886-1969) at Scott, Tennessee on September 16, 1904 and they were the parents of two children: Gladys L. (Barber) Breckenridge (1905-1995) and Herman Waddell Barber (1907-1980).  The Barbers moved first to Kentucky and then on to Iola, Kansas seeking a place where he could establish a successful auto business where could sell Fords.  Upon his arrival in Iola, Kansas in 1910, he could find only one Ford in the whole city so he decided that would be the place for to build his business.  Barber was already an experienced racecar driver by the time he moved to Iola, claiming that he held the track record at the Chattanooga Interstate Fairgrounds at Chattanooga, Tennessee for a number of years.

He took a job as Iola's city electrician until he and a partner, Frank Smith, became the area Ford Motor Company dealers in 1912.  A year later, Barber bought out Smith’s interest in their dealership and eventually added Chevrolets, Durants, and even airplanes to the dealership at the Palace Garage which he had purchased in 1911.  His other business interests included an Eveready service station franchise and, in 1919, the B. T. Barber Garage.  In 1921, he changed brands at his service station and it became an Oildag service station.  In June of 1923, he changed it again to a Sinclair service station.  In 1926, he dropped his Chevrolet franchise and added Star automobiles to his dealership.

Barber and a friend, George Marr, attended the Indianapolis “500” on Memorial Day, 1914.

He was an avid flyer and a flight instructor for the U. S. Army Air Corps during World War I where he served as a Master Signal Electrician in the 117th Signal Battalion, 42nd Division.  Barber opened Iola’s first airport, “Barber Field”, north of town in April of 1925.

The following is an incomplete record of the auto races that B. T. Barber is known to have participated in:

 

September 7, 1908

½ mile dirt oval at South Pittsburg, Tennessee

These were the first races that Barber ever competed in.  The name of the racetrack is currently unknown but Barber won in a Ford.

 

B. T. Barber

Allen County (Kansas) Historical Society collection

 

June 11, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug” (speedster) that he had built himself.

Barber challenged J. F. Jersezy to a match race between their two racing cars proposing that it be run at the Riverside Park racetrack in Iola.  The two owners agreed that they would split the gate receipts 60% to the winner with 40% going to the looser.  With 2,000 spectators in the grandstands having paid 25 cents each for their tickets, the purse came to almost $500.  Charles E. Shaffstall of Coffeyville, Kansas drove Jersezy’s 1910 Flanders 20 to an easy victory in the first two of the three scheduled races thus defeating Barber whose Ford was plagued with engine trouble.  After this event, Barber took his engine to the Ford plant in Kansas City to see how he might get it to run faster.  Barber then sought a rematch to be run on the Riverside Park racetrack on July 4, 1913 but Jersezy already had a contract to run there himself against the clock on that day, so he declined the offer.  Barber then entered the races that were run at Winfield, Kansas on that date.

 

July 4, 1913

½ mile dirt oval - Cowley County Fairgrounds  in Winfield, Kansas

Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

The local Buick dealer had set up a race between Barber and two Buicks.  One was a Buick Model 10 “Bearcat” owned and driven by W. W. Brown of Kansas City, Missouri and the other was a 1909 Buick Model 17 owned and driven by Glenn M. Breed who was then residing at Emporia, Kansas.  Charles E. Shaffstall showed up trying to pass his E. M. F. 30 roadster off as a Buick and tried enter these races but his entry was apparently rejected.  Thomas Nelson “Nels” Blondefield of Lyons, Kansas also showed up for these races with a Buick.  Blondefield was allowed to start the first three-mile run this day but he then dropped out saying that Barber had tried to “hub” him and that he would not race against him.  That may have just been the way the race organizers explained why they were not going to let Blondefield actually compete since, he, unlike the other two Buick drivers, was not under contract with them to do so.  Glenn M. Breed won each of the three six-lap races run on this date at Winfield.

 

July 4, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Wilson County Fairgrounds  in Fredonia, Kansas

Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas drove a Model T Ford “Bug” owned by B. T. Barber.

            These races drew four entries but no results of those races have been located to date.

 

September 19, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Franklin County Fairgrounds in Ottawa, Kansas

           Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

This was to be a best two-out-of-three, four-mile match races between J. F. Jersezy’s 1910 Flanders 20 and a Model T Ford “Bug” special driven by B. T. Barber.  Jersezy started on the pole of the first race but Barber finished first in 5 minutes, 31.0 seconds.  This was a close race with both cars running nearly side-by-side for the entire distance.  The only advantage was that Barber got away from the starting line slightly quicker.

Barber also finished first, by a very close margin, in the second four-mile race.  His time for the distance was 5 minutes, 20.0 seconds despite Barber’s engine developing a miss in one of its cylinders during the event.  The judges ruled that Barber had crowded Jersezy unfairly during one of the races and refused to pay the prize money that the fair board had posted to get the two drivers to compete there.  Jersezy voiced his disagreement with the judges though saying that Barber had not treated him unfairly.  The fair board also claimed they had been promised more and longer races that did not materialize.  One week later, they relented and paid the competitors the prize money.  It is unknown how much the Barber received but Jersezy collected $100 for his losing effort.

 

September 24, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber brought his Model T Ford “Bug” out to run practice laps.

After Barber had run the car for several laps, Jay Balliett drove the car for several more laps.  Then, Dr. Edward C. Reynolds, M.D. of Iola decided to show Balliett some of the finer points of taking a curve at speed.  On his fourth lap, Dr. Reynolds lost control of the car near the outside fence, shot across the track, and crashed into the fence around the inside of the racetrack knocking down six posts and twenty to thirty feet of railing.  The car sustained extensive damage but Dr. Reynolds was not injured despite several large boards protruding from various parts of the car.

 

October 10, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Katy Park in Chanute, Kansas

Barber drove his Model T Ford “Bug”.

            The total purse for the day’s racing was $500.

Barber was credited with a third place finish behind winner Glenn M. Breed in his Buick and second place finisher Charles E. Shaffstall who was driving J. F. Jersezy’s 1910 Flanders 20, in the first 10-lap heat race although Barber dropped out of the race with an overheating engine on the fourth lap.

            Barber finished a close second to W. W. Brown in the second heat race.

            Barber finished a distant third in the third heat race behind winner Breed and second place finisher Brown.

 

November 8, 1913

½ mile dirt oval – Navada Fairgrounds at Nevada, Missouri

Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

Barber finished second in a four-mile race with an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 30.5 seconds.  The automobile that beat him was a Buick 45 but the driver’s name is currently unknown.  Barber suffered a broken ankle during these races but it is currently unknown how that happened.

 

July 4, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug” as well as being the organizer / promoter of these races.

These races were postponed until July 15, 1914 due to rain.

 

July 15, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber drove his Model T Ford “Bug” as well as being the organizer / promoter of these races.

3,000 spectators watched Barber run the fastest time in time trials covering the one-mile distance in 1 minute, 15.75 seconds.  That feat earned him $50 from the purse.

The races this day utilized the two-abreast rolling start that would become so prevalent.  Barber beat four other automobiles in the first 5-mile race winning in a time of 6 minutes, 24.0 seconds.

W. W. Brown started on the pole of the second 5-mile race and cut his engine off coming down for the start.  Since the pole car got the set the starting speed, Barber felt obliged to do the same thing but, just as he did, Brown restarted his engine and sped away with a big lead at the beginning.  Barber was unable to make up the lost time and finished second in this race in 6 minutes, 30.5 seconds which just ½ second slower than Brown’s winning time.

Barber won the third 5-mile race in a time of 6 minutes, 20.0 seconds.  The total purse paid out for all the races $350 of which Barber took home the biggest share of $175.

Mr. Dabbs of Ft. Scott, Kansas was on the grounds taking moving pictures of the races although some of his film was destroyed when it became twisted inside his camera.

 

August 19, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Katy Park in Chanute, Kansas

Barber was scheduled to drive his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

The races were postponed until August 26, 1914 due to rain.

 

August 26, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Katy Park in Chanute, Kansas

           Barber was scheduled to drive his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

4,000 racing fans came out to watch.  The third race and deciding race in the highly publicized best two-out-of-three series of match races between B. T. Barber’s 22 h.p. Ford and J. F. Jersezy’s 22 h.p. Buick “Bearcat II” was scheduled to be run as part of this program but that did that not materialize.  The first race in that series was run at Iola, Kansas on June 11, 1913 with Jersezy the victor.  The second race in that series was run at Ottawa, Kansas in September of 1913 with Barber the victor.  Barber declined to enter this race though saying the 22 h.p. Buick “Bearcat II” that Jersezy had entered was “of a higher class”.

 

August 28, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds in Belleville, Kansas

Harry Neal drove Barber’s Model T Ford “Bug”.

Seven cars were entered in the “Free-for-All” race that was run in three 10-lap segments.  Albert “Dutch” Striegel of Kansas City drove his Stafford to the over-all championship while Neal finished the day in second place.

 

September 1, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Cloud County Fairgrounds at Concordia, Kansas

          Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug”.

Mechanical problems prevented Barber from participating in any of the races.

  

September 4, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug”.

Only three automobiles were entered in these races so each of the races got underway by a three-wide running start.  Lee D. Hester, driving Roy Gillett’s “Wampus Cat” Ford special from Fredonia, Kansas drew the pole position.  Barber started in the middle, and Ross O’Connor of Edgerton, Kansas started on the outside in his Buick “Bearcat”.  In the first five-mile race, O’Connor took the lead and moved to the inside of the racetrack.  Barber was gaining rapidly when his car skidded into the fence at the northwest turn.  Barber was not injured and his Ford was not damaged so he continued on to finish second behind O’Connor’s Buick.   The next four 5-mile races were all won by Barber with O’Connor second and Hester third.  The fastest race of the day was the second one which was run in 6 minutes, 43.0 seconds.  Barber collected $145 from the purse, O’Connor $110, and Hester $45.

  

September 22, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Central Kansas Fairgrounds at Abilene, Kansas

           Barber drove his Model T Ford “Bug”.

No results of these races have been located to date.

  

November 29, 1914

½ mile dirt oval – Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Forest Park at Coffeyville, Kansas

            Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug” but it is unclear who drove it this day.

This was to have been a best two five-mile heat races out of three match race between a Studebaker owned by Charles E. Slater and driven by Charles Shaffstall, both men from Coffeyville, Kansas; and Barber’s Model T Ford “Bug” but Barber’s Ford blew its engine in the first heat race.

  

July 5, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug”.

8,000 spectators watched an afternoon of a variety of entertainment capped off by a winner-take-all auto race that was won by Barber’s protégé, Roy Gillett of Fredonia, Kansas who was driving his #13 “Wampus Cat” Ford special.  Barber, himself, dropped out of this race on the second lap with a broken fuel line.

 

July 30, 1915

½ dirt oval – Labette County Fairgrounds at Oswego, Kansas

Harry Neal drove Barber’s Model T Ford “Bug”

Neal finished in second place behind Roy Gillett of Fredonia, Kansas in the Australian Pursuit race even though he broke a piston on the seventh lap.  Due to the engine malfunction, Neal was unable to start the 10-mile feature race which was also won by Gillett.

  

August 4, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Burlington Fairgrounds in Burlington, Kansas

           Harry Neal entered Barber’s Model T Ford “Bug”.

Results of these races have yet to be located.

 

Only the driver of the car seen leading here (Carl Dixon) has been identified in this photo taken during the races at the Warner Park Racetrack just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee in October of 1921 but B. T. Barber entered his Model T Ford “Bug” in these races.

Chattanooga – Hamilton County Bicentennial Library collection

 

August 20, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Clay Center Fairgrounds  in Clay Center, Kansas

Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas entered Barber’s Model T. Ford “Bug”.

            Muddy roads prevented Hester from reaching Clay Center in time for these races.

 

August 24, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – North Central Kansas Fairgrounds  in Belleville, Kansas

Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas drove Barber’s Model T. Ford “Bug”.

Hester won two of the three 5-mile races this day thus winning the overall championship and a purse totaling $400.  A report in the Iola Register the following day claimed that one of the competitors that Hester had defeated was J. F. Jersezy of Chanute, Kansas who was driving his Buick “Bearcat II”.  However, Jersezy told reporters that claim was not true.  He said he had set out to race at Belleville but had become stuck in deep mud west of Emporia, Kansas and had not even made it to the races at Belleville.

 

August 30, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Cloud County Fairgrounds at Concordia, Kansas

          Barber entered his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

No results of these races have been located to date.

 

October 1, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Clay County Fairgrounds  in Clay Center, Kansas

            Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas drove Barber’s Model T. Ford “Bug”.

Hester finished first in the first two of the scheduled best two-out-of-three heat races that made up the “Free-for-All” race.

  

October 2, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Central Kansas Fairgrounds at Abilene, Kansas

          Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas drove Barber’s Model T. Ford “Bug”.

Hester finished third behind Bill Hendricks of Wichita, Kansas who was driving a Jones 6 and winner Glenn M. Breed in the first of three five-mile heat races that made up the “Free-for-All” race.

Hester finished second behind the 1909 Buick Model 17 of winner Glenn M. Breed in the second of the three five-mile heat races after Bill Hendricks became confused about the flags the starter was using and pulled off of the racetrack one lap before the race ended.

Hester finished second behind to winner Glenn M. Breed in the third five-mile heat race to win a share of the $250 total purse.  Estimates of the size of the crowd varied widely with some accounts saying there were as few as 1,500 spectators while other newspaper accounts list the number as being six-thousand..

 

October 14, 1915

1½ -mile dirt oval – Wichita Speedway in Wichita, Kansas

Lee D. Hester of Iola, Kansas was entered in the 50-mile “K. O. M. Classic” as the driver of B. T. Barber’s Model T Ford “Bug”.  Hester also worked as a mechanic in Barber’s Palace Garage in Iola.

For some currently unknown reason, Hester was one of three entrants that did not start the “K. O. M. Classic” race which was won by William “Candy” Cunningham of Fredonia, Kansas in his “Yellow Kid” Ford after it had been shortened to 10½ miles due to poor track conditions.  Note:  K. O. M. stood for Kansas–Oklahoma–Missouri.

 

November 5, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Warner Park at Chattanooga, Tennessee

          Barber entered his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

Barber won a preliminary race.

 

November 6, 1915

½ mile dirt oval – Warner Park at Chattanooga, Tennessee

          Barber entered his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

No results of these races have been located to date.

 

            On the evening of November 21, 1915, B. T. Barber was driving his Model T Ford “Bug” racing car on a public road east of Iola, Kansas when he engaged in a race with William A. “Billy” Long of Iola.  In trying to overtake and pass Barber, Long’s car overturned near the Rock Creek Bridge pinning its occupants underneath.  All three escaped with only slight injuries.

 

July 4, 1916

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug” and was also the organizer / promoter of these races.

Barber won one of the two heat races while W. D. Mercer of Bartlesville, Oklahoma won the other.  For reasons not explained, the entire purse posted for all of the races run this day was divided equally among all the participants.

 

August 11, 1916

1-mile dirt oval - Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City, Iowa

Barber drove his 20 h.p. Model T Ford “Bug”.

Eight cars lined up for the start the 30-mile “Free-for-All” race.  Barber made it through the preliminary races to be one of the eight starters in this event but his was also one of the two automobiles left at the starting line due to mechanical trouble when the race started.  C. R. Parker won the race in a Duesenberg along with the $350 in prize money that came with the victory.

 

September 8, 1916

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           J.  Neff drove a Model T Ford “Bug” owned by B. T. Barber.

Neff finished second to Roy Gillet of Fredonia, Kansas in his “Wampus Cat” Ford special in the 10-mile race.

 

September 5, 1919

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber drove his 16-valve, overhead cam Model T Ford “Bug”.

Barber took the lead at the start of the 5-mile professional race and showered his only opponent “Giddo” with a large cloud of dirt for the rest of the race, winning handily.  “Giddo” drove a Maxell.

 

A very poor quality picture found on page 6 of the August 29, 1929 issue of the Iola (Kansas) Register.  According to the article that accompanied the picture, the car is B. T. Barber’s former Model T. Ford “Bug”.  This picture was taken shortly after Barber sold the car to H. D. Smith of Chanute, Kansas.  That is Smith shown in the car.  Note the words “Iola Bug” lettered on the hood – Iola (Kansas) Register

 

July 4, 1921

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford as well as being the organizer / promoter of these races.

These races were canceled due to rain.

 

September 2, 1921

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford as well as being the organizer / promoter of these races.

These races were postponed until September 3rd due to rain.

 

September 3, 1921

½ mile dirt oval – Riverside Park in Iola, Kansas

           Barber drove his “Oildag Bug” Ford as well as being the organizer / promoter of these races.

Barber finished second in the two-lap time trials behind Albert “Al” Koepke of Topeka, Kansas driving the “Cootie Special”.*  Barber’s time for the one-mile distance was 1 minute, 15.5 seconds which was 1.5 seconds slower than the time turned in by Koepke.

Barber also finished second to Koepke in the 3-mile heat race.  Barber’s time was 3 minutes, 56.0 seconds which was 4.0 seconds slower than Koepke’s winning time.

Barber finished third in the 5-mile heat race behind Koepke and Pete Pierce of Fredonia, Kansas who was driving a Maxwell.  Barber’s time of 6 minutes, 33.5 seconds was 8.0 seconds slower than Koepke’s time.

Barber then won the 10-mile final race.

The prize money for these races was distributed according to each driver’s accumulated finishes for the day.  Koepke won the largest share of the purse with Barber taking home the second most money.

 

September 8, 1921

½ mile dirt oval – Franklin County Fairgrounds in Ottawa, Kansas

Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

15,000 spectators saw these races but no results of them have been located to date.

 

September 9, 1921

½ mile dirt oval – Franklin County Fairgrounds in Ottawa, Kansas

Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

Barber finished third in the first 5-mile heat race behind a Dodge driven by John Mais of Salina, Kansas and a Ford driven by Edward Elliston of Lawrence, Kansas.

 

        Late in September of 1921, B. T. Barber drove to Tennessee to visit relatives.  He had meant to be gone for three weeks but, upon his arrival there, he learned that a new auto racing circuit was being formed with racing to begin October 10, 1921.  B. T. sent word to his brother, Ezra T. Barber back in Kansas, to ship the “Oildag Bug” Ford to him in Tennessee.  No results of those races have been located to date.

 

August 5, 1922

½ mile dirt oval – Ozark State Fairgrounds at Carthage, Missouri

Barber drove his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

Barber finished second in the first three-mile race behind Walter Boling who was driving a Frontenac.

 

September 8, 1922

½ mile dirt oval – Franklin County Fairgrounds in Ottawa, Kansas

Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

No results of these races have been located to date.

 

October 10, 1938

½ mile dirt oval – Katy Park in Chanute, Kansas

           Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

                        No results of these race have been located although one short note in the Iola Register said that Barber’s car balked at the racetrack.

 

November 5, 1940

½ mile dirt oval – Warner Park at Chattanooga, Tennessee

          Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

Barber won a preliminary race.

 

October 11, 1946

According to an article on page 4 of the October 2, 1946 issue of the Iola Register, Barber had his “Oildag Bug”* shipped to Chattanooga, Tennessee so he could entered it in races scheduled to be run on this date, but nothing at all has turned up about those races so far except for that one newspaper article.

 

August 6, 1947

½ mile dirt oval – Ozark State Fairgrounds at Carthage, Missouri

Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

No results of these races have been located to date.

 

August 11, 1947

½ mile dirt oval – Navada Fairgrounds at Nevada, Missouri

Barber entered his “Oildag Bug” Ford.

No results of these races have been located to date.

 

B.T. Barber sold his business interests in Iola in 1929 and spent nine years farming northwest of Iola near Geneva, Kansas while he continued to race.  Barber suffered from asthma and was in poor health for several years before he passed away in the Allen County Hospital in Iola, Kansas on March 30, 1958.  He is buried beside his wife in Highland Cemetery on the north edge Iola, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

          “I have always believed driving a racing car on a half mile dirt track the most hazardous of all sports.  Automobile racing is now almost obsolete but, 20 years ago, many engaged in it and there was no “fixing” of races.  The man with the most courage always won as the cars would run faster than they could be driven on the small tracks.

          “B.T. Barber was the most courageous and skillful driver of them all.  He had the nerve to keep the throttle open on the turns, a feat I have seen no other man perform.  I once saw him in a match race with a famous driver no one had been able to defeat, but B. T. gave him a lesson although he did not win easily.  In this race, he hugged the rail and went into the turns with such terrific speed; the skid would throw him within inches of the outside rail as he approached the straightaway.  This was the most thrilling sporting event I have ever witnessed and I still become nervous when I think of the great risk he took.”

                    William Ackworth

July 20, 1939 issue of the Iola Register newspaper, page 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* The “Cootie” special was powered by two Harley-Davidson motorcycle engines mounted the automobile’s chassis with one engine driving each of the rear wheels.