SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Recently retired after almost a decade of work at Missouri’s maximum-security prison, Spencer Cain knows something about tough guys.
“Kansas City gang member threatened to shank me, so it was enough. Shanked is not how I wanted to go out,” said Cain.
These days, the 1980 graduate of West High School is focusing on a different kind of “tough guy”.
Since 2008, when co-worker and chain gang chief Dennis Hammerstrom needed help filling his sideline squad, the Air Force veteran had been on the sideline for Morningside Mustang football games.
“I used to work with Denny and one day he was short and asked if I could give a hand. I liked it and just kept showing up,” he said.
Showing up doesn’t begin to describe Spencer’s commitment to the Chain Gang.
In 2013, five years after joining the “gang” he accepted a prison job in Missouri, putting his Saturday sideline session in jeopardy.
He’s been making the drive from near Kansas City ever since. Highway lines, blurring with sideline markers.
“I know every bump on I-29 from St. Joe to Sioux City. Each trip is about 500 miles. 277 one way and 3,700 for the season all on my own dime,” Cain said.
Why would anyone do that?
“For the pay. A slice of pizza and a coke at halftime,” he said.
There’s no getting rich here but finding yourself in the middle of the battle is both educational and exhilarating.
“We had a collision in front of me last game. If I’d got hit like that I’d be down till Wednesday. They just pop back up,” Cain said. “Up close and personal, it’s amazing. Seeing the coaching tactics is neat. So many different styles of coaching. At any moment you can go from a 3-yard run to an 80-yard bomb. Just take off running as soon as they catch the ball. It gets tiring in the fourth quarter.”
Spencer runs with what’s known as the “hog”. It’s a piece of orange leather placed on the field to mark where a first down can be achieved.
“We walk to the first down instead of run to it. I feel it every Sunday. I get up, I feel every year of my age,” he said.
Last week’s game added an unexpected obstacle.
“It’s a lot hotter than normal. You can feel the heat coming off the field. My worst is cold rain. I hate chain gang in cold rain. I don’t mind snow. Cold rain is the worst,” Cain said.
With three regular season home games remaining and NAIA playoffs. After that, there is no telling what conditions await Cain and his teammates or how many more miles he’ll log before retiring the hog for another season.