Jim Ross

Jim Ross

Racing’s Most Decorated Career

By definition, a trail blazer is a leader or pioneer and throughout its existence, chuckwagon racing has seen many trail blazers. Some have been great champions, others outstanding promoters and many have been distinguished mentors that have passed the lines to the next generation.

Every so often a special individual fits in at the pinnacle of each of these endeavours and their exploits become legendary. One such individual was the late Jim Ross.

The legend of Jim Ross began in 1925 when he and partner Bayse Collins entered the chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede for the first time. That year, the Collins & Ross outfit with Ross on the lines captured the Rangeland Derby Championship in his first attempt. In subsequent years, and thanks in part to outriders Scotty Cameron, Albert Ross, Jack Escott and Bud Snell, Ross would win the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby Championship twice more; in 1929 and again in 1932.

In the pioneering days of chuckwagon racing, Ross quickly established himself as one of chuckwagon racing’s earliest superstars. Between 1925 and 1945 he compiled an impressive record, winning the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby  championship three times and placing in the top five overall six times—including a runner-up finish in 1927.

Following his victory in 1932, Ross felt he needed more speed on the racetrack and felt thoroughbreds were the way to go, so he sold his outfit to a young driver by the name of Dick Cosgrave. It was a decision that would haunt him the rest of his life as he watched his horses carry Cosgrave to several more Calgary Stampede championships over the next few years. Cosgrave won a total of ten Calgary championships; a record that stood for 67 years.

trailblazers0611_02_250 trailblazers0611_03_250
Jim Ross powering his outfit out of the
Calgary Stampede infield
Photos courtesy of Billy Melville
Jim Ross from Lousana, Alta., drives his
chuckwagon outfit in a parade through
downtown Calgary. Note the fiddle player
standing behind the wagon seat.

In addition to his extraordinary driving record, Ross was a big promoter of chuckwagon racing and the Calgary Stampede in general. He never missed a parade and was one of the first chuckwagon drivers to jump on board and participate in the early pancake breakfasts. One year, he enlisted the services of a young ranch hand and part-time outrider who could play guitar and sing. Ross felt that a little music from off his chuckwagon during breakfast would be a welcome addition and another way to entertain the many tourists who had flocked to Calgary for the Stampede. As well, Ross believed this could help this young fellow get some exposure and further his music career. It did—and that’s how Jim Ross helped launch the career of Canada’s first country music star—Wilf Carter. In return, Ross was forever immortalized in Carter’s 1935 song; “The Calgary Round-Up.”

In the twilight of his competitive career, Ross employed a truck driver to haul his horses from wagon race to wagon race. At the end of the 1945 season, the veteran hadn’t done very well and in lieu of wages, traded the truck driver two horses, a set of harness and a cart. The truck driver’s name was Bill Greenwood, and instantly he was in the chuckwagon business. By the time his career was over, Bill Greenwood himself would be a three-time Calgary Stampede champion chuckwagon driver, twice a World Champion and would have one of the most decorated careers of any chuckwagon driver throughout history.

Jim Ross passed away in 1959. To mark the 50th anniversary of his passing, in 2009 the Calgary Stampede posthumously honoured him with its prestigious Pioneers of Rodeo award. In his day he was one of chuckwagon racing’s most popular stars, and today we remember him as one of chuckwagon racing’s most important trail blazers.