James Irving “Toots” Higgins

1895 – 1947

 

#2 Toots Higgins and #7 Merle Warren in the Essex speedsters known as the “Twin Essexs” that they competed with in races around the area in the 1920s.  As is plain to see, the two cars were not really “twins”.  Both cars were owned by Merle Warren who also owned the Warren Motor Company which was the Essex dealership in Newton, Kansas at the time.

Page 4 of the March 23, 1922 issue of the Anthony Republican newspaper

 

 

Toots Higgins was born December 21, 1895 (according to his tombstone, or one year after that, according to his World War I draft registration) at Lebo in Coffey County, Kansas.  He was the third of four children born to James E. Higgins (1861-?) and Daisy E. (Martin) Higgins (1874-?).

By 1900, the Higgins family was living a short five miles south in the small town of Lincoln, also in Coffey County, Kansas.  Higgins had moved to Hutchinson, Kansas by 1917 when he married Sue B. “Susie” (1898-1986), whose maiden name is unknown, and the couple moved to Newton, Kansas.

Higgins served as a cook in Company “B” of the 353rd Infantry, 89th Kansas Division of the U. S. Army during World War I.  Following his time in the service, Higgins returned to Hutchinson, Kansas where he and Paul Andrea became co-managers of the Buzz Garage in July of 1920 but he soon left that job to except a position as an auto mechanic with the Warren Motor Company, an Essex dealership in Newton, Kansas owned by Merle Warren (1890-1948).  By 1921, Higgins was the service manager at the Warren Motor Company.  Both Higgins and Warren also began racing two Essex race cars, both owned by Warren, on racetracks in the area.

Following is an incomplete listing of the races that Toots Higgins is known to have participated in:

 

July 5, 1920 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

            Car:  Buick that Higgins co-owned with Tip Sealey of Hutchinson, Kansas

Finish:  Higgins ran the 7th quickest time in time trials of 1:20.8 for one mile.  Only the times turned in by Leonard Kerbs in a Ford, Johnnie Mais in an Essex, Fred Lentz in a Hudson, Jake Strickler in a Hudson, Elmer J. Negy in a Haynes and ______ Stone in an Overland were faster.

                         Higgins drove 1 of 5 cars in the heat race for the slowest half of the cars in time trials but he did not finish among the top 3 finishers.

                         Higgins finished 5th in the 30-lap “free-for-all” race behind Johnnie Mais in an Essex, Elmer J. Negy in a Haynes, Fred Lentz in a Hudson and Leonard Kerbs in a Ford.

                Feature Race Winner:  Johnnie Mais of Salina, Kansas in an Essex.

 

October 8, 1920 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

            Car:  Hudson special

Finish:  Higgins ran the 5th quickest time in time trials of 1:11.2 for one mile.  Only the times turned in by Harold Roller in a Ford special, Leonard Kerbs in a Ford, Johnny Lee in a Dodge and Jake Strickler in a Hudson, were faster.

                         Higgins was involved in a crash in a 6-lap match race.  So many cars were disabled in that wreck that the race was canceled due to a lack of cars to run it.

                Feature Race Winner:  Harold Roller of Abilene, Kansas driving his own Ford special

 

October 9, 1920 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

            Car:  Hudson special

Finish:  Higgins finished 3rd in the 1st 10-lap heat race behind Bill Bryant in a Hudson “Super-Six” special and Murl Wilson in an Essex.

                Feature Race Winner:  Harold Roller of Abilene, Kansas driving his own Ford special

 

July 4, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – West Side Racetrack in Wichita, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas

            Finish:  Higgins ran the 2nd quickest time in time trials of 30.5 seconds which was ½ second slower than the time turned in by Johnny Lee in his Dodge.

                         Higgins collected $50 from the posted purse by finishing second in the second 10-lap open heat race, 9 seconds behind Johnny Lee in his Dodge.

                         Lee won $100 when he won the 2nd 10-lap heat race over James I. “Toots” Higgins of Newton, Kansas in 6:13.0.  That time was nine seconds better than Higgins’ time.

                Feature Race Winner:  No feature race was run due to a shortage of entries present.

 

August 6, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kay County Fairgrounds northeast of Newkirk, Oklahoma

            Car:  Essex special owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas.

            Finish:  Higgins’ name does not appear in the limited results of these races that have been located so far.

            Feature Race Winner:  Bill Bryant of Hutchinson, Kansas who was driving his own Hudson “Super-Six” special.

 

September 5, 1921 – 1-mile dirt oval – Kenwood Park Speedway at Salina, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas.

            Finish:  Higgins ran the 6th fastest lap in time trials of 59.5 seconds which was slower than the laps burned in by Leonard Kerbs in a Ford, Harold Roller in a Ford, Harold Peterson in the Lassen Dodge special, William Adolph in a Dodge and Bill Bryant in a Hudson.

Higgins led the 1st four laps of the 50-lap feature race and was in 2nd place on the 37th lap but then dropped back with a dirty spark plug and finished the race in 4th place behind William Adolph in a Dodge, Bill Bryant in a Hudson and Harold Peterson in the Lassen Dodge special.  Higgins’ car owner, Merle Warren, finished the race in 5th place after dropping from 2nd place with engine trouble on the 36th lap, driving one of his “Twin Essexs.”

            Feature Race Winner:  William K. Adolph of Salina, Kansas driving the “J. H. L. special” Dodge owned by Johnny Lee of Wichita, Kansas

 

September 8, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – Athletic Field Racetrack in Newton, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas.  Warren was also the race promoter of this event.

            Finish:  Higgins ran the 4th quickest time in time trials behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge and Bill Bryant in a 16-valve “Hudson special”.

                         Higgins finished 2nd in the 1st 4-lap heat race 3.6 seconds behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge.

                         Higgins finished 3rd in the 6-lap “free-for-all” behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge and Merle Warren in an “Essex special” #2.

                              Higgins finished 2nd in the 2nd 4-lap heat race behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge.

                              Higgins finished 3rd in the 3rd 4-lap heat race behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge and Bill Bryant in a 16-valve “Hudson special”.

 Higgins finished 3rd in the 30-lap “free-for-all” race behind Harold Peterson in the “Lassen special” Dodge and Bill Bryant in a 16-valve “Hudson special”.  Bryant and Higgins ran most of this race side-by-side.  Higgins was on the inside next to the rail but was unable to muster enough speed to complete the pass.

                Feature Race Winner:  Harold Peterson of Wichita, Kansas in the “Lassen special” Dodge that was owned by William Henry “Bill” Lassen of Wichita, Kansas.

 

October 2, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – West Side Racetrack in Wichita, Kansas

            Car:  Hudson owned by the Warren Motor Company in Newton, Kansas

            Finish:  These races were canceled when the race promoter, Merle Warren, learned that state law prohibited “amusements” on Sundays.

 

October 3, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – West Side Racetrack in Wichita, Kansas

            Car:  Hudson owned by the Warren Motor Company in Newton, Kansas

            Finish:  Results of these races have yet to be located.

 

October 4, 1921 – ½ mile dirt oval – West Side Racetrack in Wichita, Kansas

            Car:  Hudson owned by the Warren Motor Company in Newton, Kansas

Finish:  Higgins crashed into the fence a 5-mile heat race when a steering knuckle snapped off.  It was a one-car accident and there were no injuries but, by the time news of the accident had reached downtown Wichita that afternoon, the story had grown to say that a score, or more, had been killed or injured in the accident.  That race was won by Johnny Lee in his 16-valve Dodge-powered “J.H.L. special”.

            Higgins won the 10-mile feature race in 12:23.0

Feature Race Winner:  James “Toots” Higgins of Newton, Kansas

 

March 31, 1922 – ½ mile dirt oval – Anthony Downs in Anthony, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special #7 owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas

            Attendance:  Between 1,200 and 1,500

Finish:  Higgins ran the 5th quickest time in time trials behind Johnnie Mais in a Dodge, Johnny Lee in a Dodge, Harold Peterson in a Dodge and Bill Bryant in a Hudson.

               Feature Race Winner:  Johnnie Mais of Salina, Kansas in a Dodge

 

April 1, 1922 – ½ mile dirt oval – Anthony Downs in Anthony, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special #7 owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas

            Feature Race Winner:  These races were canceled due to poor paid attendance at the races held the day before.

 

July 4, 1922 – ½ mile dirt oval – Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special #7 owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas

            Finish:  Higgins ran the 4th quickest time in time trials of 1:15.0 for one mile.  Only the times turned in by Bill Crow in an Essex, Bill Bryant in a Hudson special and James Watkins in a Studebaker #17 were faster.

 Higgins finished 2nd in the 1st 10-lap heat race behind Bill Bryant in a Hudson special.  Higgins had started in 5th position and moved from 5th up to 2nd place on the final lap.  Toots won $75 from the purse for that 2nd place finish.

                         Higgins did not place in the 20-lap “free-for-all” race after he lost 2-laps when he stopped in the pits on the 15th lap to change a flat tire and replace a burned coil wire.

                Feature Race Winner:  Fred Lentz of Hutchinson, Kansas who was driving an Essex special #1.

 

September 4, 1922 – 1 mile dirt oval – Kenwood Park Speedway at Salina, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special #7 owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas.  (Note:  Higgins switched from driving the Merle-Warren-owned #2 Essex that he had been scheduled to drive, to Warren’s #7 Essex due to “car trouble”.)

Finish:  4th place in the 50-mile final event behind Harold Roller of Abilene, Kansas in a Dodge, Bill Adolph of Salina, Kansas in a Dodge and _____ Davis who was driving a Studebaker for the Mouse Brothers of Emporia, Kansas.

Feature race winner:  Harold Roller of Abilene, Kansas who was driving a Dodge

 

September 9, 1922 – ½ mile dirt oval – Chase County Fairgrounds at Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

            Car:  Essex special owned by Merle Warren of Newton, Kansas.

Finish:  Results of these races have yet to be located.

 

 

 

Higgins moved to Marion, Kansas in the spring of 1923 and assumed charge of the Hudson-Essex automobile Agency there for the Warren Motor Company.  By 1930, Higgins back, living in Newton, Kansas and was the owner / operator of a service station.

In the early 1940s, Toots took a job as an auto mechanic at the Taylor Pontiac dealership in Cheyenne, Wyoming and he was still residing in Cheyenne when he passed away on December 8, 1947.  Both he and Susie are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Newton, Kansas.  Higgins longtime race car owner, friend and employer, Merle Warren, is also buried in that same cemetery.

 

 

 

 

 

Autograph signed in 1917