Bar none: Family and weight historian remember Lewis Dymeck
PRESCOTT - Patricia Charter's father remains a mystery.
"He was extremely quiet and didn't believe in prattle. That's what I remember about him," Charter said at her Prescott home during a Saturday afternoon in March. "And I know he wanted the world to exercise."
Her father died Aug. 26, 2011, at 98 in Prescott. His obituary was a single sentence: "Lewis Dymeck, inventor of the curling bar, abs curl and wall weights, passed away on Aug. 26, 2011, leaving a wife of 75 years."
Charter rearranged family photographs and patent photocopies on the kitchen peninsula as in the adjacent living room Delores Dymeck, her mother and Lewis' 93-year-old-widow, rocked a brown recliner. Some days her memory is good. Other days it's not.
"OK. Mom, can you hear me? OK. I don't know whether you can hear me or not," said Dennis Dymeck, Charter's older brother. "Mom, do you remember anything about Dad?"
After lifetimes of aloof conversations with the man and his extended family, Dymeck and Charter know a bit more about their father, but in some ways he has become more mysterious.
Their claims are grandiose: In addition to patenting exercise equipment at their childhood home in Williamsport, Pa., Lewis Dymeck had Q clearance - pretty much "top secret" stuff - to work with the nascent Atomic Energy Commission; he was the first engineer at Hughes Aircraft Co. to get his own patent funding; and the FBI called him for consultant work.
It would require more than a few phone calls and record searches to verify most of that.
Someone is tracking down details now, although not about the cloak-and-dagger mystique.
The Dymeck family gathered that Sunday to talk about Lewis Dymeck's most public claim to fame - the invention of the curl bar.
On the clock, Paul Quinn is regional vice president of construction for the restaurant group behind Arby's.
Off the clock, Quinn, an Ohioan who passes for a young version of the actor Kurtwood Smith, is an amateur weightlifting detective, currently tracking down the history of a one-of-a-kind, engraved Olympic-style weight set that reads "TO LEWIS FROM ANDY."
Lewis is Lewis Dymeck, who applied for the curl bar patent in 1948, got it in 1950, and, meanwhile, sold it from home as the Dymeck Curl Bar. Andy is Andy Jackson, who sold the Dymeck-Jackson Curl Bar from 1952-1954, then the Jackson Curl Bar from 1954-64, after which he sold the patent to York Barbell in 1964.
"If you Google 'Who invented the curl bar?' you find Lewis Dymeck, but it doesn't say anything about the man," Quinn said. "I wanted to find out his story."
Dennis Dymeck remembers his father working metal in shorter and shorter bent bars until settling on and selling the 48-inch, 1-and-1-16th diameter bar back in Pennsylvania.
"I remember him working on the bars, making them shorter and shorter. Then he'd bend the metal and go get them nickel-plated," said Dennis Dymeck, whose father got him involved with weightlifting at a young age. "And he packaged them up in the kitchen, the ones he sold. It was a one-man show."
That stopped when the family moved to Albuquerque, N.M., in 1950, which means Jackson was making and selling the Dymeck-Jackson on his own, likely having acquired the patent from Dymeck and sending him the engraved weight set as a thank-you gift.
The Dymeck family moved to Tucson, where, years later, through a chain of people, Quinn acquired one of the weights from that weight set.
"It's too bad you weren't here a year ago," Dennis Dymeck said. "I bet Dad had all of that information."
This stoked Charter's memory.
"We weren't allowed to play in his workroom, and he always marked it with his shoes so knew if anyone had been in there," she said. "One day he was gone, and Dennis marked the door so we could play. I remember playing with the weights - do you?"
"I don't remember that," he said. "I do remember how he always marked the doors, though."
Hope and a smile
When Quinn presents the story at the annual Association of Oldtime Barbell Strongmen this year in New Jersey, one of the details of the story will still be missing.
"Nobody knows what the Dymeck bar looks like," Quinn said. "There were probably only a couple hundred, and they're distinct."
But only to a trained eye, though. Almost every gym has one - it's the short, bent one for plate weights that lets you lift heavier weights without as much strain on the connective tissue of your arms - and standard sizes are not glaringly different.
At one point, the Dymeck family might have been able to help. Richard Dymeck, the third sibling, had one, but it was lost after he died.
There could be another way, though.
"Everything he did had LD stamped on it," Dennis Dymeck said. "If it was one of his, it probably had LD stamped on it."
Regardless of whether he ever tracks down the original Dymeck Curl Bars, Quinn said he's happy to have met the family and cleared up the history of the curl bar and the engraved weight set.
He brought one of the 45-pound plates to show the family, and Charter helped her mother stand to see it.
"We're celebrating you and Dad's life, we're all here to do that, today," Charter said.
Delores Dymeck ran her fingers over the raised lettering, "TO LEWIS."
She didn't say anything, but looked at her children and smiled.