Chuckwagon champion Tom Glass on Stampede, stunts and Happy Gilmore

From racing chuckwagons to being a stunt man, Tom Glass has done it all.
(Todd Korol For the Globe and Mail)

ALLAN MAKI

The Globe and Mai

Tom Glass can stake a claim to being the greatest chuckwagon driver in the history of the Calgary Stampede. He won the event four times and the world championships three times. In 1988, when Stampede officials needed a face for their advertisements and posters, they picked the square-jawed cowboy with the scrub-brush mustache. And when he wasn’t racing wagons, Mr. Glass was working in the movie business as a stunt man. Retired, but still a commentator on CBC’s coverage of the Stampede chuckwagon races, Mr. Glass spoke with The Globe’s Allan Maki.

Yes or no – you stood in for Bob Barker in the Happy Gilmore fight scene?

Yes, I was Bob Barker’s stunt double. It was a funny deal. Guy Bews was the double for Happy Gilmore [played by Adam Sandler]. The director [Dennis Dugan] wanted us to put something together so we went to Guy’s place and had a few beers and we shot a fight scene on Guy’s front yard and sent it to the director. He loved it, so we went to Furry Creek Golf Course in Squamish, B.C., and did the fight. It is the only movie Bob Barker has done. And the last line of his – ‘Now you’ve had enough, bitch.’ That wasn’t in the script. He just put it in. Everybody loved it.

Have you ever been seriously afraid doing a stunt?

Working with an elephant – that was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I was driving a semi-truck and I was supposed to stop 20 feet away. The elephant was turned loose too early and it got scared. It peed on the road, then it went after the truck I was in – and it was screaming. Have you ever heard an elephant scream? It was crazy. The elephant knocked out the front windshield and caved in the whole front of the truck. It was right in my face. I was hiding in the back seat. The director asked if I could re-do the scene of me in the back seat and I said, ‘The greatest actor in the world couldn’t pull that off.’

What is your favourite Stampede memory?

Just winning it the first time was the biggest memory. In 1979, 1980 and 1981, [the professional chuckwagon drivers] were in High River[, Alta.] [after Calgary Stampede officials did not renew their contract with the drivers]. I won the world championship in ’80, ’81. Then, when we were back in Calgary in 1983, that’s when I won the Stampede. It’s always the biggest thing for the drivers to win Calgary. My dad, Ron, had done it; my grandfather [Tom Lauder] had done it. The other Stampede race I remember was in 1992. I won it with [son] Jason as one of my outriders. My dad used to tell me, ‘Stop racing; there’s no money in it. Go get a job.’ With the prize money and sponsorship, you can do all right.

How do you respond to those – including Bob Barker – who say rodeo and chuckwagon racing is cruel to the animals?

The tree huggers are the ones who don’t want the trees cut down but they’re all using paper still. Nobody wants that stuff [animals killed or put down after chuckwagon crashes]. But if the wagons weren’t using them, there would be no places for these horses. Some would be sold to France. A lot of horse meat goes to France. Fort Macleod[, Alta], has a killing plant. We get horses three or four years old [who raced as thoroughbreds]. We give them a year off, then we work on them pulling a wagon. We’ve had four-year-olds and they’re still doing it at 18 … I heard [Mr. Barker call for a shutdown of the Stampede rodeo]. It didn’t amount to much.

What has been done to make racing chuckwagons safer?

The stove and tent poles are thrown into the wagon at the start of the race. The stove basket used to hang out of the wagon and it was closer to the ground. A guy’s horse got its foot caught in the basket and went down. The picture of that went worldwide. Now, the stoves are real light and can be loaded with one hand and it goes right into the wagon. To make things safer, they also went from four outriders to two, and I think that was a good change.

This interview has been edited and condensed.