The Bill Starr Chronicles: Fielder's Shed

by Jim Moser | June 08, 2021

jim moser training the snatch in fielders shed

Bill Starr wrote an article several years back for my good friend Rip’s Starting Strength website. The article was about training in cold weather. In the article Starr mentions training at Fielder's Shed. The shed was located at Fielder's Dairy Farm, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I was living in Towson, Maryland at the time, and it was a good one-hour drive on winding back roads through rural Maryland.

The shed had everything you needed to get in a good strength workout. The squat rack was made out of two by fours and Sam Fielder Sr. had reinforced it to where it could easily support 700lb squats. I had trained there several times over the years, fortunately when it was either spring or fall when the Harford County weather was pleasant. Bill would stay in Harford County usually during the spring and summer when the weather was tolerable. As soon as fall hit, Starr was off to Wichita Falls to hang out with Rip, then on to the West Coast and then off to Hawaii for the winter. This one particular year Starr’s mom was having health issues and he was stuck in Harford County for the winter.

Starr was a workout machine – he took one day off a week on Saturday. This was his “slug day.” Slug day for Starr involved as little activity as possible. He would sleep until 2:30 in the afternoon and only leave the couch to eat his two daily meals and the necessary bathroom breaks. Getting Starr to do anything on his slug day was impossible. Anyone who tried to bother Starr on slug day did so at their own risk. A simple knock at the door was answered by bellowing from the basement and his growling “Not Today!” reply.

Slug day was also his travel day – when it was absolutely necessary. At this time Starr had gone 15 years without missing a workout day. He would travel on Saturday and then Sunday he would get in his ten mile run. At the time Starr weighed a solid 210 with shoulder length black hair and bodyfat so low his friends called him “Rock Man.” His traps ran from his shoulders to his ears. He was a modern day Conan before Arnold made Conan cool. Him running on the side of the road was quite a sight.  

bill starr tommy suggs at fielders shed

On my 18th birthday the last thing on my mind was training. Starr pulled into my driveway to pick me up for the workout, and I told him it was my birthday and I was not going to train today. He replied to me that I was not that important, and that my birthday was not that important, so I got my gym bag, got into the car, and off to the gym we went. This was vintage Starr.

This particular winter was a rough one for Harford County, with an unusual amount of freezing rain and snow. This made the roads extremely difficult to navigate. We normally trained in the local health club in Bel Air. I had gotten word that due to the weather that day the local club would be closed. I called Starr to give him the bad news, and he replied that “Fielder's shed is open, they never close.” I called my training partner Phil Carney, who lived in Georgetown, and informed him that Starr had challenged our manhood and said we were basically weenies if we did not show up. Phil was a 2-hour drive away from Fielder's shed on a good day. Phil, like myself, accepted Starr’s challenge, and we got in our cars and headed to the shed.

Coming from south of Harford County the roads were a sheet of ice for half the trip. As I approached Fielder’s the sleet had turned to snow. This was a relief as the snow was much easier to navigate. I was the last one to arrive. Both Phil’s and Starr’s cars were already out front. Starr's car was parked halfway in the road. It appeared the snow plow had just cleared it. I was glad to see them there. I figured they would have started a fire in the wood stove that was located in the shed. When I walked up the embankment I was surprised to see smoke pouring out the front door. Starr and Phil were leaning over outside, coughing. The stovepipe on the wood stove was clogged and the smoke was pouring out of the door. Starr figured it was an old bird nest clogging the stovepipe. Fortunately they had only placed a small log and some old Strength and Health magazines to start the fire in the wood stove. The fire had pretty much burned off by the time I arrived there.

Starr said nothing and proceeded to go back in the shed and started doing his famous Starr twists. He had a unique way of doing twists: he would put the stick on his shoulders and would twist one way at the shoulders and at the same time would pop his hips in the opposite direction. You could say Starr was doing an early version of twerking before twerking was a thing. Through all my years of lifting and being in gyms I never saw anyone who could do this movement the way Starr could. The way he did it was cool; maybe it was his long hair or all those years of split snatching when the rest of the world was squat snatching. Starr was one of those rare individuals who if you told him he couldn’t do something he would die proving you wrong. I once told Starr he would be easy to kill – I would just have to tell him he had to breathe.

Phil, coming from lah-dee-dah Georgetown, would naturally have the latest winter fashions to train in. He had a fur parka and was sporting a pair of $150 fur lined gloves. I tried to warn Phil it was not a good idea to train with the gloves on, but he shrugged off my suggestion. He entered the shed and immediately asked Starr if it was okay to train with the gloves on. Starr replied matter-of-factly, “No.” For the next 15 minutes Starr released a barrage of sarcastic comments about how real men do not wear gloves to work out. Starr was old school before there was school. If you could not take the constant insults Starr could deliver, Starr was not the one to train with. He was very good at brutal sarcasm, a real pro.

I always figured Starr liked Phil and me because we could take his insults and were pretty good at counter-punching back at him. Starr’s theory was if you can’t laugh at yourself you have no right laughing at someone else. Phil in his own right was a tough individual. We were in many scraps together in the preppy bars in Georgetown. Phil had no problem challenging the biggest guy in the bar to go outside and fight. Most the time I was pulling Phil off the top of some guy who thought he was a badass.

After the continuous insults Phil said “All right Starr, you win” and Phil took off the gloves and his coat and trained the rest of the evening wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants. Starr and myself were bundled up in three sweat shirts and wool beanie hats to cover our head and ears. I can't speak for Starr, but it was freezing cold and I couldn't remember being colder. Starr later told me the only time he was colder was when he was stationed in a two-man communications hut in Alaska when he was in the service. The cinder block shed had no insulation and the wind howled through the broken windows.

I started out doing some power snatches and overhead squats to get warmed up. Starr proceeded to do his regular Friday workout of 5 sets of 5 reps in the squat, he worked up to 405 and was hunched over and grinding his teeth on his last set of five reps. Starr was very disciplined and knew his limits, I very rarely saw him miss a rep. Phil and I were at 225lbs in the power snatch and I was ready to move on to squats. Starr was having none of that and kept adding weight on my bar. The snatches were difficult as the cold was causing the bars to not spin very well. I finished at 315lbs – the bar did not rotate at all, and I caught the weight out front. I had bet Starr a dollar on the lift and there was no way I was missing it. I took two steps forward and was able to secure the bar overhead.

We were using iron weights on a wood platform, and a miss or dropping the weights was out of the question, so I had to lower the bar down gently. The shed was set up for powerlifting and the Fielders were very good at it. Phil and I may have been the only Olympic lifters to ever train there. I once dropped a clean and jerk in the shed. Old Sam was out of the house in minutes to see what was going on. Old Sam was an ex-marine, very strong and hard as nails. He looked at the bar, checked to see it was not bent and gave me a cold stare. The look was enough and that was the last time I dropped a bar from overhead in the shed.

After snatches, I moved on to pulls and Starr started doing his bench presses. Back in the day, training was very different. It was considered disrespectful if you started a set when one of your training partners was already doing a set. When one person was lifting, the rest of the athletes would spot, help load, or encourage you. We were all moving pretty quick through our sets. As our bodies got warmed up the cold did not affect us as much, and I actually ended up removing one of my sweat shirts. Starr ended up bench pressing 330lbs for 3 reps. He had not done this in a while and we figured it was the extra clothing that helped him.

We finished off our workouts with Starr’s shrug routine. Starr shrugs are a great exercise for developing thick traps. We reached 615 rather quickly. The black iron weights made a unique sound in the freezing weather when they clanged together. We would make a quick explosive powerful shrug at the top of the pull. After my last set of shrugs my eyes were crossed and I was seeing little flashes of light. Starr referred to these as his “cousins.” Not sure why – Starr had few explanations for his quirky ways.

I was getting my wits together and I remember hearing Starr say something about going outside to pee. Phil and I had fallen for one of Starr’s experienced weight room tricks. Phil looked around and noticed Starr’s gym bag was gone. We both ran outside to see Starr’s tail lights disappear into the night. He left Phil and me with the job of unloading and racking the weights. All of a sudden it seemed to have gotten 10 degrees colder in the shed. Phil gallantly offered to do most the work and he reached for his gloves that he folded inside his coat. The gloves were not there – we both just shook our heads. We then put our heads down, unloaded the bars, organized the weights and swept the floor. We pulled the door closed and got in our cars to head over to Starr’s house.

At Starr’s house we sat down and began to have our after training nutrition, which started with a bottle of Miller beer. After about five minutes Starr reached over and handed Phil his gloves. He chuckled and said “I didn't want you to forget these, so I grabbed them for you.”

Training with Starr was always an adventure. He knew every trick in the iron game. His sarcastic humor was unmatched. Very rarely did he ever repeat his stories and his material was always new. I once asked him if he ever exaggerated his tales or experiences. He smirked and said, “Of course! That’s what makes them stories.”

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