History of The Pit Barbell Club
It is well known that The Pit Barbell Club is the oldest gym in the state of Indiana. With such a significant history, The Pit is bound to have some remarkable stories to tell. In fact, the very establishment of the nearly fifty year old gym is quite an interesting tale.
It all began with a man by the name of Dick Conner, also known as “Coach” to many long time members of The Pit. After training improperly for years, Conner was forced to have knee surgery. Conner was so disappointed by his own mistakes that he soon had the desire to help others train properly, in a way that they would gain strength without bringing harm to the body.
After training a fellow co-worker’s son, Conner’s one trainee soon became many. For the first year, The Pit’s location was found in the basement of Charlie Dickens, a friend of Conner. All of the equipment was homemade at a welding shop. By the late sixties, Conner decided to move the steadily growing gym to his own basement. By 1970, The Pit had about twenty members.
After all their hard work, they had decided to compete in the Mr. Indiana Contest. Immediately upon arrival, Conner stumbled across a sixteen year old boy named Hans Braukhoff. Braukhoff was busy reading Iron Man, a popular magazine of the time. Conner’s eye was caught by an advertisement in the magazine for Nautilus equipment. Braukoff wanted to know if Conner would be interested in splitting the cost of the equipment with his dad, but Conner rejected the idea.
After watching his members lose in the Mr. Indiana Contest, Conner suddenly changed his mind about the equipment. He agreed to purchase it with himself and three other buyers included. Unfortunately, this agreement fell through, and Conner was left with the brand new Nautilus equipment, and an $8000 bill.
This is when The Pit Barbell Club truly started to become what it is today. Conner started charging his trainees $15 a month, in order to pay for the expensive equipment. The Pit gained its name by the look of the equipment, and also the intense training that occurred on that equipment. Conner himself tells how it happened, “Somebody said the equipment looked like torture devices. It was the only place in town where you would come to work out, and end up vomiting.” The name “The Pit” was designed to describe the intensity with which Conner trains people.
In 1974, The Pit was moved to an old grocery store found on the corner of Harlan and John Street in Evansville. After two years in this building, The Pit was moved one final time to its current location at Michigan and Edgar Street. At this time, Conner decided to divide his ownership with a fellow basement pioneer of The Pit, Bud Downen. After moving to its new location, The Pit began to grow in its popularity, and the team was soon making regular trips to bodybuilding competitions and powerlifting meets.
In 1976, The Pit Barbell Club won the teenage nationals in Arkansas. This would be the first of many national titles earned by The Pit in the years to come.
In 1980, members of The Pit were shocked to find that women may have an interest in their sport. In response to this, The Pit added a second locker room for the use of women only. The Pit continued to grow. Conner and Downen continued to run The Pit, while also working full time jobs to support their families.
Upon reaching the age of retirement in 2006, the two decided to sell the gym to an active Pit lifter of 25 years known by the name of Pat Tyring. Pat and his wife, Jody currently run The Pit Barbell Club today, and work hard to keep it as it was forty years ago. Pat comments on his plans,“For me, The Pit has always been a place that has pushed me in intensity, dedication, strength, and hard work. I have every intention of keeping it that way.”
Conner and Downen are still active member of The Pit today. Conner even continues to train powerlifters. Anyone who meets Conner knows that weight training will always be his passion. Conner says it best when he states, “You need to be strong to be functional in your life. You need strength. The primary reason you walk into a gym should be to get stronger.” It seems that no matter who the owner, Conner’s founding beliefs and ideas will always be a part of The Pit Barbell Club.
Dick Conner “coaching” during the
National meet in 2008.
Dick Conner and Pat Tyring, new owner