‘Aut’ Swenson, dead at 84, led life full of variety of adventures
Leader & Press September 11, 1986
By Don Mahnken
"Austyn Olin ‘Aut’ Swenson, whose promotions ranged from nationally known Swenson’s Thrillcade to the Eastwood Hills subdivision in southeast Springfield, never really retired.
"Almost until his death Tuesday after a short illness, Swenson, who was 84, ran a firm that provided ribbons, trophies, and posters for the nation’s fair circuit.
"The contacts were a natural for the man who at the age of 19 drove a souped-up Model T Ford to the northwest dirt track racing championship at the Minnesota State Fair.
"He drove in auto shows, served as a civilian instructor for Air Force pilots during World War II, and always was promoting his favorite sport -- auto thrill shows. But Swenson wasn’t afraid to take a chance. He even was involved in founding Austyn’s Greater Flying Circus, featuring three airplanes, in 1926. He also pioneered a 100-mile auto race in 1935 at Camp Foster, Florida.
"Along the way, the Swenson Thrillcade was spiced by circus acts, musical entertainers, pretty girls and even an elephant.
"In 10 consecutive performances at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, the Thrillcade outdrew the Ringling brothers-Barnum and Bailey circus. Six times, Thrillcade attracted the largest crowds ever at the Red River Valley Fair in Fargo, N.D.
"Swenson dropped out of the auto daredevil show in 1967, at the age of 65, because of problems with overhead including insurance, he said.
"At age 80, Swenson took writing courses at both Drury College and Southwest Missouri State university, turning out stories of incidents in his life beginning as a youth in Minnesota, the son of a Swedish immigrant.
"His autobiography, ‘How to Be a Whiz on Wheels,’ is scheduled to be released next month.
"Swenson had a brochure a few years ago that read, ‘This pioneer in the thrill show field from the early ‘20s has presented more solid, diversified entertainment in the stunt and show field than all other promoters combined.’
"‘But,’ he commented, ‘it got to the point where you almost have to have a Willie Nelson or someone like that to fill a grandstand. I’ve been through this business of thrilling crowds through the Roaring Twenties, the Depression Thirties, and the changing Forties and Fifties, the turbulent Sixties and Seventies. No one knows these times better than I do.’
"He loved to talk about driving the hot-rod Model T’s of the 1920s. ‘You could make them talk,’ he wrote once.
"He’s describe in detail lifting the front-end off the ground, or doing wheel-overs and flips during the auto ball games he pioneered.
"‘You do about three or four of those (wheelovers) and you get some murmurs up in the grandstand.’
"Swenson first made Springfield his home in the late 1930s, ‘because it was a crossroads,’ he said.
Portrait courtesy of the Davenport, Iowa Democrat and Leader, August 10, 1939, page 17. Photo of Thrillcade parade From the Darkroom.
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