A nationally known native of Bellbrook happened to be a horse. Sleepy Tom, a pacer who set a world's record of 2:12 1/4 at Chicago, July 25, 1879, was foaled in the schoolhouse yard on North Main Street in Bellbrook. One article says the event occurred June 22, 1868.
So many articles have been written about "Sleepy Tom" that it is hard to separate fact from fiction. A book written about him by Dwight Akers is interesting, but fictional. As recently as July 18, 1965, an article by Fred F. Marshall appeared in the Columbus Dispatch with the only known picture of him. Local people always referred to him as "Blind Tom". Those who were living here during his lifetime reported that he had been badly mistreated, that he had been driven into the river when he was red-hot and covered with lather, and that he had set some local endurance records.
During the racing season, the Dayton Journal usually had a short column called "Turf News" reporting the racing news from various tracks. The Journal of July 17, 1879, printed the following article which was taken from the Xenia Torchlight and seems to be as accurate an account of his life as any:
Greene County Produces the Fastest Pacer on the Track.
We have been to considerable pains to gather the following history of a horse raised and owned in this county, and who is now bidding fair to be the fastest horse in the country.
Sleepy Tom was foaled on the 22nd day of June, 1868, in the village of Bellbrook, this county. His dam was a Sam Hazard mare, and at the birth of Tom was twenty years of age being then only used for breeding purposes. She was formerly owned by William Simison, who used her for a saddle mare and was a very fine pacer. Tom's grand dam was old Pocahontas and carried Tom's sire, old Tom Rolf, when she made her best time, which was 2:17 1/2.
Mr. Isaac Dingler, of Bellbrook, paid $50 cash for the chance of Tom, and at the age of three years had him trimmed, and put his son Charley to training him on the river bottom track (now the Washington Mill Road), much to the injury of the horse. His first race was on the Dayton Fair Grounds, and against a brown gypsy mare; time 2:55. The best time that Tom ever made while owned by Mr. Dingler was the Piqua races, his opponents being Sleepy George, Nellie Granger, Tom Hendricks and Bay Sally; time 2:22 1/2. Tom commenced going blind while Mr. Dingler was training him on the Dayton track in 1874, caused by too much hard driving, giving him a severe cold which settled in his eyes.
In the fall of 1875, Clem Beachey of Lebanon, took him and had him "shot out" on 2:48 time. His eyesight at this time was almost entirely gone, and Mr. Dingler concluded that his speed days were over and drew him off the track. Soon after this, he sold him to a painter by the name of Millard for a $125 note, approved by Ephraim Bumgardner. But this man Millard used him brutally, driving him to a sleigh, and on one occasion made him go seventeen miles in seventy minutes, and would have driven him farther had not the civil authorities of Spring Valley stopped and arrested him for fast driving.
At the later part of the sleighing season, Millard drove him to Xenia and traded him to Wm. H. Corry, getting in return a crippled three-year-old colt, known as "Gumlastic Bill", a shyster watch, and a quart of shot gun whiskey, amounting in all to about $30.
Mr. Corry owned the horse for sometime, but did not do much with him. All this time, though, the eye of Mr. Stephen C. Phillips, his present owner, was upon the horse, and Phillips was often known to declare that he would yet possess Sleepy Tom if it took every cent he could rake and scrape together and he finally drove some kind of a bargain with Corry and came into full possession of the horse. Phillips set about immediately in giving him a complete training, and, though during last year's racing he was not very successful, has produced a horse that is a wonder. Tom won races at Jackson and East Saginaw, Michigan. He won the race at East Saginaw in six heats winning the third, fifth, and sixth heats. This is said to be the greatest race on record for six heats, the slowest time in any heat being 2:16 1/4. He won the first two heats at Toledo and was leading in the third when he was bumped by Rowdy Boy and somehow Tom got his leg caught in the sulky drawn by Rowdy Boy and was thrown to the ground and lost the heat. Phillips was thrown from his sulky and had his hand badly injured. The race was postponed until the next day when another driver drove Tom to victory. He then won at Cincinnati and Louisville, taking both races in three straight heats. Returning to Xenia, he rested a few days and on Monday last went to Columbus where he will race this week and should he win on this track, he will have won $2,400 in premiums, during this circuit of six races.
The best test ever made of Tom's endurance was one exceedingly hot day in August 1879, at Rochester, New York, when he paced against Mattie Hunter, Rowdy boy, and Lucy, and won the second, fifth, and sixth heats in 2:16 1/4, 2:13 1/2, and 2:14. The purse was $5,000.00 and open to all trotters and pacers in the world, and was the largest purse ever offered up to that time for trotters and pacers, the idea being to get Rarus matched against these pacers. Tom paced some good races in 1880, but after that season, the unmerciful treatment of his younger days and the strenuous campaigns of the last three years began to tell on him. When second rate horses began to pass him, he was retired from the track.
Steve Phillips sold Tom after he became famous, but the stories disagree about the time of the sale, the price he received, and the name of the purchaser. The articles agree that he died in a barn fire, but disagree as to the location.
Tom's record stood for two years, when "Little Brown Jug" lowered it to 2:11 1/4.