Died: October 3, 1989
Married: T. Gertrude Darling
Children: James B. Bickford, Ivan S. Bickford, Sandra Jane Bickford, Mrs. Gretchen Gedroiz, Leonard Callaghan, Jules Callaghan
James John Bickford was a World War II veteran from Saranac Lake, a forest ranger and a bobsledder who competed from the late 1930s to the mid 1950s; he drove the US Olympic Team's four-man sled to a bronze medal in the 1948 Winter Games at St. Moritz, Switzerland. He carried the United States flag during the opening ceremonies of the 1952 and 1956 Winter Olympics.
He also won three medals at the World Championships: one silver in the four-man event in 1949, and bronzes in the four-man event in 1937, and the two-man in 1954. 1
During the war his family lived at 29 Virginia Street.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, October 4, 1989
James J. Bickford
RAINBOW LAKE — James J. Bickford, 76, died Tuesday, Oct. 3, 1989, at his home here. He was born Nov. 2, 1912, in Lake Placid, the son of Hugh and Gladys (Jesmer) Bickford. He was a lifelong resident of the area and attended Lake Placid schools.
A veteran of World War II, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He competed on four U.S. Olympic bobsled teams, winning a bronze medal in the 1948 Olympics, competing in the four-man sled as the driver. He carried the American flag in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics.
Bickford was a state forest ranger for 21 years and later worked at the Marjorie Merriweather Post Camp, retiring in 1979. He was president of the Veteran's Club of Saranac Lake for eight years, a member and past president of the American Legion Post 447 in Saranac Lake for 45 years, and a member of Elks Lodge 1508 in Saranac Lake.
He was also a member and past president of the Adirondack Bobsled Club and president for 10 years of the New York Forest Ranger Civil; Service Association. He was active in Boy Scouting for many years, and was past supervisor for the Town of Brighton.
Survivors include his wife, the former T. Gertrude Darling of Rainbow Lake; two sons, James B. of Saranac Lake and Ivan S. of Saranac Inn; one stepdaughter, Mrs. Gretchen Gedroiz of Albany; two stepsons, Leonard Callaghan of Ray Brook and Jules Callaghan of Tupper Lake; his mother, Gladys Bickford of Lake Placid; two brothers, Hugh of Naples, Fla. and William of Murfreesboro, Tenn. two sisters, Mrs. Joyce Yousey of Lowville, and Mrs. Thirza Stearns of Saranac Lake; seven grandchildren; two great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by a daughter, Sandra Jane Bickford; and a sister, Mrs. Veva Bray. He married Cora Jane Newell in 1937, and she died in 1973.
Calling hours will be held at the Fortune Funeral Home from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today. An Elks service will be held at 8 tonight at the funeral home.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Adirondack Presbyterian Church in Paul Smiths, with the Rev. James Meachem officiating. Burial will follow in St. John's Cemetery in Paul Smiths.
Memorial donations may be made to the Adirondack Presbyterian Church or the Paul Smiths-Gabriels First Response Unit in care of the funeral home.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, November 16, 1994
In Olympic Museum 'Hometown Heroes' exhibit,
Olympic bobsled veteran Bickford cited
By KEN YOUNGBLOOD Enterprise Sports Writer
LAKE PLACE - J.B. Bickford remembers being at the Mt Van Hoevenberg bobrun during the 1980 Olympics when one of the long time workers thrust a newspaper in his hand and said, "Bet you don't know the answer."
His finger pointed to a question on the sports page: "What athlete has been in more Olympics than any other athlete?" When J.B. shook his head, the old-timer said, "Your father."
In a bobsledding career that spanned 25 years, he won more medals than any other bobsledder, including the Argentine Cup riding as brakeman for Donna Fox in 1937; the third place medal as brakeman for Stan Benham in the 2-man Worlds at Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy in 1954; and the Bronze Medal in the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The Winter Olympic Museum here, thanks to a loan from his widow, Gertrude, will display beginning Nov. 23 Bickford's Olympic diplomas and medals in the "Hometown Heroes" exhibit.
"It is rare to get so complete a collection," said Museum Director Jacqueline Baker, "and we are most thankful for the loan." She hopes others will dig into their closets for Olympic memorabilia that can be added to the "Hometown Heroes" exhibit.
Jim Bickford was a hometown hero in his own right, but he never bragged about his accomplishments, not even to his sons J.B. and Ivan.
Ivan said the only way he learned about his father's exploits was from people who admired him. "Old Nate Pratt told me how he was working at the finish curve one time and my dad was coming down. The run was in bad shape and when my dad came into the finish curve everybody could see he was going to go right over the lip and into the warm-up shack.
"Nate remembers how dad had to stand right up (sleds had a wheel then) so he could lean on it with all his might. Nate said he'd stood at that finish curve more winters than he could remember, but he never saw anything like that.
"Unbelievable,' he said."
Bickford began his career as a bobsledder in 1933 at the age of 21, making his first run down the 1.55-mile course at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, site of the 1932 Olympic Bobsled Competition. Whooshing through curves with names like "Shady," "Little S" and "Zig-Zag", the thrill of bobsledding was soon in his blood. Bickford was introduced to Donna Fox from New York City, and was taken on as brakeman in the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Back then, the run was cut right into the side of Mt. Van Hoevenberg. The earthen straightaways didn't have the benefit of safety boards lining the sides and the 16 curves, lined with fieldstones, had no lip to pull an errant sled back on track.
Bickford soon earned a reputation as a daredevil. He knew that the sled that took the curves the fastest had the best chance of winning. And he knew that if you took them too fast, the trees were waiting to kill you.
One time going into Shady, Fox yelled back to Bickford, "Brakes!" But instead of hearing the reassuring sound of steel chiseling into ice, all Fox could see was the sled climbing dangerously high onto the curve, "Brakes, damn you, brakes!" Fox shouted back, and at the last moment Bickford applied just enough to hurdle out of the curve's apex and onto a win.
At the bottom, Fox jumped off the sled, still shaking, and said, "Didn't you hear me hollering for the brakes?" From then on Fox called him, "No Brakes Bickford."
But Fox soon learned to trust "No Brakes Bickford." In the 1935 Olympic trials, along with two other men from the Adirondack region, he broke the course record and won the chance to represent the U.S. in the 4th Winter Olympics.
In Garmisch, his team took 6th-place in the 4-man competition.
Jim's brother, Hugh, also a member of the sliding fraternity, remembers that Jim became the pride and joy of the Saranac Lake Red Devils Bobsled Club. Back then, Hugh reports, there was much rivalry between the clubs from surrounding communities such as Lake Placid, Keene Valley, Plattsburgh and Lyon Mountain.
The competition was keen, Hugh recalls, but to the chagrin of the other clubs, the Red Devils won consistently during the early years. In fact, it wasn't until Francis Tyler and Stanley Benham of the Lake Placid Sno-Birds stepped onto the scene in the 1940s that the contests between the two towns escalated to a fever pitch.
"Sideliners could see the jealousy that was present on race days," Hugh recounts, "and the snide remarks weren't too hard to decipher. Tyler would win -hooray for Placid! Bickford would win - hooray for Saranac Lake! Then Benham would win for the Sno-Birds. Every once in a while a team from another club would slip in a win, but these were rare occasions,"
Bickford was again selected to represent the U.S. in the 1940 Winter Olympics, but World War II forced their cancellation. After the war, the Tyler-Bickford rivalry was renewed. This time it was Bickford's turn as he won the combined Billy Fiske Trophy and Olympic trials to nose out Tyler to represent the U.S. for a third time in a row, in St. Moritz, Switzerland, where he won the Bronze in the 1948 4-man competition.
Bickford's career was far from over. He went on to bring home medals in other world championships, and he competed in the 1952 Olympics Oslo where his team took a ninth and again in the 1956 Olympics, when he was honored by being the U.S. flag-bearer.
Even late in his career, "No Brakes Bickford" was held in awe for his fearless performances. Charlie Keough, a member of the Red Devils in the 40s and 50s, remembers when Bickford used to brake for him in the two-man competitions at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. "We gave the spectators a thrill one day. Then they just had a series of poles all the way around the radius of the curves, and if you got up too high on a curve you rode the picket fence, as we called it. Those poles were all there was between you and the trees."
"So, this one time we got into a skid before we come into Shady," Charlie recalls with a chuckle, "I missed the ice entirely and we got up onto that there picket fence. It's a long time ago, but I can still feel Jim hitching the back end of that sled. I don't know how he did it, but he brought that sled back down on the ice. We didn't tip over, but damn near it, and once we got on the straightaway out of Shady he let go of the hold-downs for the brake and reached up and patted me on the back and said, "Pal, that's the way to do it."
For all his athletic exploits, those who knew Bickford best remember the man, not the medals. When they speak of him, time and again they mention his modesty, and how he was a man of his word.
By Keough's time, they no longer called him, "No Brakes Bickford." "He had a great sense of humor," Charlie is first to say. "He was a good-natured man - jovial all the time. They dubbed him, "Smiling Jim."
Forrest "Dew Drop" Morgan was just beginning his bobsledding career when Smiling Jim's was winding down. Dew Drop knows of Bickford's achievements, but when asked about Bickford, what does he mention first? "A lover of his country and his flag," Dew Drop says.
Morgan then praised Bickford as one of the first drivers to encourage him, to coach him and freely share the knowledge that made him such a great slider.
What advice does Dew Drop remember getting? "Stay upright," he says, then adds with a laugh, "I didn't always follow his advice."
Morgan is often reminded of the controversial reputation bobsledders have had throughout the history of the sport.
"The media and sports commentators are always badmouthing sliders for being a bunch of barroom drunks. Well, I watched Jim Bickford through five Olympics, and let me tell you this, he never had a drink in his life."
Perhaps in the end Jim Bickford will best be remembered for his advice - stay upright.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, February 20, 1952
Jim Bickford Loses Gamble on No. 2 Sled
OSLO, Norway, Feb. 20 (AP) — Jim Bickford took a desperate gamble with the United States' number two four man sled in the Winter Olympic games — and lost.
As a result he doesn't know what to do today. Monday night his crew worked until 4 a. m. in a welding shop moving the rear axle back six inches in order to get all the weight of the men ahead of the axle.
In the final time trials Tuesday the sled was slower than ever. The Olympic course now is closed to practice and the Americans don't know whether to risk further tinkering — which would mean racing without knowing how their sled would respond — or ride in the first heats tomorrow with what they have, which is too slow to win.
"I may try out another set of runners tonight," said Bickford desperately.
Stan Benham Big Hope
It looks as if America's hopes in the four-man event will depend on Stan Benham's number one sled, which yesterday posted the second fastest time ever made on the course, 1:16:63, compared to 1:16:59 for the Swiss ace, Fritz Feierabend.
Bickford, a forest ranger from Saranac Lake, N. Y., is the veteran of the team. He was on the 1936 and 1948 Olympic teams and was chosen for the 1940 games, but war intervened.
His practice runs yesterday were 1:18.40 and 1:18.99. He and his crew felt glum afterwards.
American domination of bob-sledding is imperiled. Until these games, the U. S, had won five out of eight firsts in the two and four-man bobs — and consistently had come up with innovations.
In 1932 the Americans astounded everyone by heating their runners with blow torches just before the races. It made them lightning fast. The U.S. won first and second in the four-man and first and third in the two-man event.
Hot Runners Outlawed
So heating of runners was outlawed by the International Federation.
In 1936 the Americans showed up with narrow runners, and now these are outlawed.
In 1948 the U. S. surprise was handles on the sleds to enable the crew to push to a faster start. Everyone now has copied them.
Compared to the European sleds competing here - most all from the shop of Fritz Feierabend's father in Switzerland — the American sleds are out of the dark ages. They were made in 1931 for the 1932 games and have been overhauled extensively since then. They are dingy and battered.
The European sleds are slick and new with interchangeable runners and smooth cowling in front.
2010-11-11 21:39:50 Having read this for the first time I am absolutely thrilled. Jim Bickford was a friend of mine from childhood days in Paul Smiths. The camp in the '40s was not Merriweather Post, but Joe E. Davies Ambassador to Russia (Post's husband). In the '50s Jim taught me to drive the slow state owned 2 man sleds. He had a lot of patience but I never made a good driver. Had a Brown Univ. team in college, same time period, and after rolling the two man with a new four man rider between me and my brakeman Harry Josephson (second string all-Ivy end) coming out of Zag on the straight wall, the four man team sort of vanished. Even in the early '50s Jim had a beautiful glass case of medals and cups in his home where he and his lovely long time wife welcomed competitors and would-be competitors. As a team member of the '56 Olympic team it was a great pleasure to see him awarded the honor of carrying our flag. Late in his career he and Stan Benham, another great Lake Placid bobsledder of the '50s, and a head-to-head competitor teamed, for a final 2 man fling in, I believe a two man World championship race. By the way, Dew Drop was in the Lake Placid nursing home last summer when I was in the area, and we reminisced of years of old time bobsledding. You old bobsledders check when in the area, he was very much alert, and hopefully is still there. Tom Butler, Tyler team of the 50s —18.104.22.168
1. Wikipedia: Jim Bickford