Swamp buggy

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Swamp buggy in parade

The swamp buggy is a motor vehicle used to traverse boggy swamp terrain. Swamp buggies may be purpose built, or vehicles modified to deal with the requirements to move around the swamp. All swamp buggies are able to move about on dry land, shallow mud, sand, shallow water and some times deep mud. Additionally they possess one or more of the following abilities:

Propel itself through or over deep mud and water
Drive through or over moderately dense vegetation
Drive over rough terrain possibly including logs and stumps
Float in water or mud (optional)


Invented by Ed Frank,[1] in Naples, Florida, the swamp buggy proved valuable during early development of the Everglades in the 1930s and 1940s. Aircraft tires from war surplus often found their way onto swamp buggies in the 1940s and 50's. Tractor tires commonly used in commercial agriculture became the norm during the nineteen eighties. The state of Florida commissioned the use of buggies by law enforcement as early as the 1930s.

The original swamp buggy, known as 'Tumble Bug', was a tall, ungainly and strange-looking vehicle, riding on huge balloon tires, which could be used for everything from hunting expeditions deep into the Everglades to Sunday afternoon outings. An editorial in the Collier County News, a local Naples newspaper, claimed swamp buggies were "as important to Florida as the cow pony is to the west, in that they are the only practical means of transportation once off the main road."

Types of swamp buggy[edit]

Though swamp buggy design varies greatly, there are two basic types. The 'Glades Buggy', originally a Model A frame with large rear tires, sits lower and resembles a jeep in build. The 'Palm Beach Buggy', a type developed in the northern Everglades in and around Palm Beach County, is a raised platform supported by four large wheels which sits quite high. Though these two types predominate, custom buggies sporting tank-like treads and smooth tires with snow chains were used in the past.

Swamp buggy racing[edit]

Swamp buggy racing is a popular pastime in Naples Florida.

The early years[edit]

As more and more hunters built swamp buggies, they would gather together to share a few homespun-engineering tips, and before long, one hunter would challenge another to a race through a muddy bog on Raymond Bennett's potato farm, which, according to swamp buggy inventor Ed Frank, "was the biggest hole in the vicinity of Naples." The first organized races took place on Mr. Bennett's potato farm around 1943, featuring a dozen or so local hunters.

By the late 1940s, 31 to 41 racers would gather the week before hunting season to race for the valued prize, which was usually a new shotgun donated by a local merchant. On November 12, 1949, the first official Swamp Buggy Races were held, with a field of almost 50 competitors, in Naples, Florida. The mid 1950s saw continued growth of swamp buggy racing. ABC's Wide World of Sports featured the mud madness in a national television special and Hollywood stars like Gary Cooper were seen in Naples riding swamp buggies.

Mile O' Mud[edit]

The potato patch has now evolved into the Florida Sports Park and the once unruly bog has been groomed into the famed 'Mile O' Mud' it is as known today. The 'Mile O' Mud' is a seven-eighths of a mile (1.4 km) oval, featuring racing lanes which are approximately 60 feet (18 m) wide, with a one-eighth mile (200 m) diagonal lane slashed through the center. The depth of the mud is hard to gauge because brown swamp water covers every inch of the track, making it appear to be a foot (30 cm) deep, though it drops to between five and six feet (1.5 to 1.8 m) deep in three places. Buggies driving through these holes often disappear up to their steering wheels and exhaust pipes. The largest pit, located in front of the grandstand, is the treacherous 'Sippy Hole', named after 'Mississippi' Milton Morris, a legendary driver who could almost never conquer the hole without stalling.

Present day[edit]

As the popularity of the sport has continued to grow, cash prizes purses of several thousand dollars replaced the shotgun, and the incentives to go faster also grew, until the swamp buggies became far too fast and too loud to be used for hunting wild game. Today’s high-tech buggies are designed for racing only. The pontoon-like bodywork fully encloses a powerful racing engine, and rather than relying upon big fat flotation tires, they stand upon tall and skinny tires, with paddle treads on the rears designed solely for forward motivation and almost bicycle-narrow front tires for rudder-like steering.

There are four races a year, November, January, March, and April. In the past, the races have also been nationally televised by the National Geographic Channel, TNN, ESPN and the Travel Channel. Before every October Race there is a 'Swamp Buggy Parade' in downtown Naples. Each of these events finds Naples pulling thousands of spectators from many states, and gives Naples and the swamp buggy sport extensive publicity.


  • 1949 Johnny Jones
  • 1950 Harry Lowe
  • 1950 Bud Popenhager
  • 1951 George Espenlaub/Bubba Frank
  • 1952 R.L. Walker
  • 1952 R.L. Walker
  • 1953 R.L. Walker
  • 1954 H.W. McCurry
  • 1955 Sippy Morris
  • 1956 Arnold Walker
  • 1957 H.W. McCurry
  • 1958 H.W. McCurry
  • 1959 H.W. McCurry
  • 1960 Chester Byrant
  • 1961 Chester Byrant
  • 1962 Jack Hatcher
  • 1966 Daniel Phypers
  • 1967 Jack Hatcher
  • 1968 Lee Hancock
  • 1969 Jack Hatcher
  • 1970 Leonard Chesser
  • 1971 Leonard Chesser
  • 1972 Leonard Chesser
  • 1973 Leonard Chesser
  • 1973 Leonard Chesser
  • 1974 Leonard Chesser
  • 1975 Leonard Chesser
  • 1976 Roger McCandles (Oct)
  • 1976 David Sims (May)
  • 1977 Leonard Chesser (Feb)
  • 1977 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 1978 Leonard Chesser (Feb)
  • 1978 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 1979 Leonard Chesser (Feb)
  • 1979 Lee Hancock (Oct)
  • 1980 David Sims (Feb)
  • 1980 Terry Langford (Oct)
  • 1981 Lonnie Chesser (Feb)
  • 1981 David Sims (Oct)
  • 1982 Lonnie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1982 Terry Langford
  • 1983 Roger McCandles (Feb)
  • 1983 Lonnie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1984 David Sims (Feb)
  • 1984 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 1985 Terry Langford (Feb)
  • 1985 Terry Langford (Oct)
  • 1986 Leonard Chesser (Nov)
  • 1987 David Sims (Mar)
  • 1987 Lonnie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1988 David Sims (Feb)
  • 1988 Tommy Turner (Oct)
  • 1989 Terry Langford (Feb)
  • 1989 Terry Langford (Oct)
  • 1990 David Sims (Feb)
  • 1990 Wayne Cochran (Oct)
  • 1991 Larry Andrews (Mar)
  • 1991 Lenny Dunn (May)
  • 1991 David Sims (Oct)
  • 1992 David Sims (Mar)
  • 1992 Eddie Chesser (May)
  • 1992 Terry Langford (Oct)
  • 1993 David Sims (Mar)
  • 1993 Don Jolly (May)
  • 1993 Larry Andrews (Oct)
  • 1994 Lenny Dunn (Mar)
  • 1994 Terry Langford (May)
  • 1994 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 1994 Leonard Chesser (Mar)
  • 1995 Eddie Chesser (May)
  • 1995 Eddie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1996 Albert Doria (Mar)
  • 1996 Terry Langford (May)
  • 1996 Eddie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1997 Eddie Chesser (Mar)
  • 1997 Eddie Chesser (Oct)
  • 1998 Eddie Chesser (Mar)
  • 1998 Eddie Chesser (May)
  • 1998 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 1999 Michael Filmore ( Mar)
  • 1999 Eddie Chesser (May)
  • 1999 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 2000 Eddie Chesser (Mar)
  • 2000 Leonard Chesser (May)
  • 2000 Glen Filmore (Oct)
  • 2001 Brain Langford ( Mar)
  • 2001 Lonnie Chesser (May)
  • 2001 Leonard Chesser (Oct)
  • 2002 Glen Filmore (Mar)
  • 2002 Leonard Chesser (May)
  • 2002 Lonnie Chesser (Oct)
  • 2003 Randy Johns (Jan)
  • 2003 Leonard Chesser (Mar)
  • 2003 Tom Chesser (Oct)
  • 2004 Eddie Chesser (Jan)
  • 2004 Eddie Chesser (Mar)
  • 2004 Dan Greenling (Oct)
  • 2005 Tyler Johns (Jan)
  • 2005 Glen Filmore (Mar)
  • 2005 Leonard Chesser (Dec)1
  • 2006 Tyler Johns (Jan)
  • 2006 Tony Migliazzo (Mar)

1 - delayed from October due to Hurricane Wilma


  1. ^ Naples 1940s to 1970s, by Lynne Howard Frazier

See also[edit]