The Only Driver to be a co-champion — with himself!
In the late 1920s and early 1930s Tom continued horse racing and started competing in the Roman standing and chariot races mostly at small rodeos and picnics. In 1935, he went to the Calgary Stampede as an outrider … and got the bug for chuckwagon racing.
Tom married Joy Shantz on New Year’s Day in 1936. They lived in the Usona district for a few years before relocating to Wetaskiwin, and eventually settled in Westerose in 1943. Together, they raised four sons and three daughters. The family enjoyed all kinds of sports such as hockey, curling, baseball and rodeo — but racing would become the major part of the Dorchesters’ lives.
In the late ’30s and mid-’40s, Tom competed and won several track events at bigger shows in Ponoka and Calgary, and drove his first chuckwagon race in Rimbey in 1939. He competed regularly
as an outrider, winning the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby as an outrider for Theo Thage’s championship-winning outfit in 1944. Initially, Tom only drove at a handful of small shows until 1949 when he drove his own outfit at the Calgary Stampede for the first time, placing 12th overall.
For the next half century, Tom Dorchester would become one of chuckwagon racing’s greatest competitors and personalities. He racked up more than 45 career victories at major events in Cheyenne, Cloverdale, Red Deer and Ponoka. At a time when drivers could enter two wagons at any given race meet, Tom pulled off a rare feat at the 1963 Cloverdale Rodeo. The Jack Sheckter & Ken Tanner outfits were declared co-champions of the show and, with Tom piloting both rigs, he won a unique bragging right — the only chuckwagon driver to be co-champion of any event with himself. In 1966, he won his first of what would be four World Chuckwagon Championships.
1970 Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Champions. Back row from left: outrider Ron Strandquist, sponsor Jack Sheckter, Tom Dorchester, outrider Dallas Dorchester. Front row from left: outrider Clarence Peters and outrider Orville Strandquist
Despite winning dozens of championships, chuckwagon racing’s biggest prize — the Calgary Stampede — seemed to elude him. For 20 years he tried unsuccessfully to win the big show. Finally in 1970, at the age of 59, Tom Dorchester captured the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Championship for the first time, becoming the first man to win the Calgary Stampede Championship as both an outrider and as a chuckwagon driver. He would repeat as champion the following year, as well. Tom last competed in the chuckwagon races as a driver at the Calgary Stampede in 1981, giving him a competitive career spanning more than 40 years in six different decades.
Tom Dorchester was one of chuckwagon racing’s greatest competitors — and one of its greatest pranksters. Former chuckwagon driver Bill Thompson tells of his rookie year at the Calgary Stampede in 1963:
“There was quite a feud going on between the Willard’s and Eresman’s. Dennis Dorchester (Tom’s son, and also rookie driver at the Calgary Stampede) and I were hooked with Wendel Eresman. Tommy told Wendel that Hank Willard was paying Dennis and me each 10 dollars every time we ran into Wendel. And we ran into him a lot (mostly because of their inexperience as drivers) that week. There was never any money that changed hands, but it created quite a disturbance in the barns.”
When his competitive career was over, Tom applied his quick wit, colourful personality and brilliant sense of humour as a colour commentator for many years on the radio broadcasts of the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races. He also proved a top promoter of chuckwagon racing, participating in Cliff Claggett’s famous barnstorming tours that raced chuckwagons throughout Eastern Canada in the mid ’60s. He also organized the first ever chuck-sled races at the Wetaskiwin Winter Carnival. He received many special awards from organizations such as Canadian Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (the CPRA today), the Ponoka Stampede Association, the Calgary Stampede and the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA). Tom is a member of the Canadian Rodeo Hall Of Fame and the Wetaskiwin & County Sports Hall of Fame.
The legendary Dorchester chuckwagon legacy started with Tom and produced three generations of chuckwagon champions.
All four sons — Gordie, Dallas, Gary and Dennis — as well as son-in-law Dave Lewis and grandsons Rick Fraser, Troy Dorchester, and Quinn Dorchester each competed in the chuckwagon
races in various capacities, and all went on to be champions in their own right.
At the age of 80, Tom Dorchester passed away from cancer on July 6, 1991 — Day 2 of the Calgary Stampede.
In poetic fashion, eight days later Tom’s son, Dallas, wearing his late father’s hat, captured the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Championship.