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HORSESHOE PITCHER



Leland Mortenson is one of the most prolific writers from our earlier years. Without his writings, much of our history would not be available today. Others in his day also saw the value of Mortenson's work, as he was inducted into the NHPA Hall of Fame in 1971. That is only five years after the Hall of Fame was established and Leland was inducted along with Jimmy Risk, Laura Lanham, Fred Brust and John Gordon. That was with some very distinguished company.

Starting with the April 1949 issue of the HORSESHOE PITCHER, Mortenson wrote a synopsis of 1940's. We find a lot of bits and pieces of the of our past specific to the 1940's, but his article ties all the events together so we can have a perspective of how it was in that time. His article was divided over three issues - we will reprint the series over the next two issues of NEWSLINE.

HORSEHSOE PITCHING
1940 - 1948
By Leland S. Mortenson

Introduction

In 1929 and in 1940, the National Horseshoe Pitchers' Association published complete histories of the game up until those dates. The last publication, The Horseshoe Compendium, included practically all of the information in the 1929 issue.

In order to write an accurate history, one should delay it until a number of years have elapsed from the time the events took place. By doing so, the writer gains a better perspective, and he generally is in an improved position to judge the significance of events.

Therefore, the writer is aware that in about ten or more years from now, he might emphasize some subject matter which is not so treated at this time, for which reason he has refrained from drawing conclusions in some situations.

The National Association Itself

When one thinks of a history of horseshoe pitching, he generally thinks first of world championship tournaments, but as the tournaments follow the association, the constitution, and the rules, and the promotion of the officers, and other, let's look at this angle from 1940 to date.

When the 1940 world tournament and national convention came to pass, the association was operating under the constitution which had been in effect for many years. However, at the 1939 convention, a regulation had been passed requiring that in order for the pitching shoes to be official, in addition to meeting certain specifications as to size and weight, the container in which they left the manufacturing plant would have to contain an association stamp showing that the association had received five cents from the manufacturer. The motion as passed called for it to be in effect for three years.

Just why nobody thought of making it a permanent regulation is unknown to the writer, for the rule automatically expired in 1942 after it had resulted in a substantial income to the association. And a sad result of the expiration was that the association missed out on a possibly attractive intake of funds when thousands of pairs of horseshoes were sold to the army during the war. The regulation was re-enacted in 1946, on a permanent basis.

The officers at the time of the opening of the 1940 convention were LeRoy Page, Des Moines, president; Lee "Rose" Henry Jacobs, secretary-treasurer; Jack Claves, St, Louis, first vice-president; Sam Somerhalder, Guide Rock, Neb., second vice-president; and Alvin Dahlene, Lawrence, Kansas, third vice-president. Of this group, Dahlene is the only one who is an active member of the association at this time. Claves passed away a few years ago.

At the time of the convention, President Page had not paid his association dues, and they were not paid until several weeks after the convention, and he was re-elected at the convention. The association is still criticized about this matter. The dues at that time were 25 cents per year.

A few days before the convention, President Page appointed a young pitcher, an attorney, to head a committee to rewrite the constitution. This young man, J. Robert Tompkin, Dysart, Iowa, turned out a constitution which didn't differ much from the one he was supposed to improve upon. He was supposed to have produced an improvement, at least from a legal standpoint, but this he failed to accomplish. But the new constitution passed, and it has not been materially changed since that time.

Page was re-elected, Tompkin replaced Rose as secretary, Claves was re-elected first vice president; Andrew Stolarik, Canton, Ohio, became third vice-president; and Mrs. Archie Gregson, Los Angles, was elected treasurer.

Johnny Sebeck, Canton, Ohio, has recently charged that the convention of 1940 was illegally conducted, that the delegates and non-delegates both voted. Nothing could be further from the truth. This writer and Lee Rose both wrote individual reports about the convention at the time and these were published in the Horseshoe World. Neither of us mentioned such a thing. The writer was not a delegate, and like many others, he made no motions and he did not vote. Non-delegates were, however, permitted to arise and talk and we took advantage of that opportunity.

The privilege of non-delegates to speak at conventions was a privilege until the 1948 convention at Milwaukee when it was denied for the first time in the history of the association.

Mr. Page, like his predecessors, appointed several committees and just like those who passed before him, he paid no further attention to them, and they did nothing about the responsibility delegated to them.

But there was one exception. He miraculously appointed Harry T. Woodfield of the publicity Committee. Woodfield, of Washington, D.C., took the appointment with pride and went to work.

Woodfield knew that his job did not call for him particularly to carry on promotion with the members of the association or to merely write articles for the Horseshoes World, but to publicize the sport to people who regularly have no contact with the association. He did a fine job at this post for a year, a year in which he also became better known to the members of the association.

Page resigned a president a few months after the 1940 convention, and was automatically replaced by Jack Claves.

The 1941 convention at Des Moines saw nothing specially important happen except that Mr. Woodfield was elected president; Archie Gregson of Miami, Oklahoma, husband of the out-going Treasurer, was elected secretary-treasurer; Clayton Henson, Arlington, Virginia; Dale Dixon, Des Moines, Iowa; and John Rossellet, New Jersey; took the vice-presidents post.

As president of the association, Woodfield was destined to lay down a record for performance which is unmatched by any past officer.

The war delayed another convention until 1946, again at Des Moines, Woodfield was re-elected, as was Gregson who had proved to be a good right-hand man to him; Rossellet had been killed in the war.

Again in 1947, Woodfield was re-elected, this time at the Salt Lake City convention. Harvey Clear, Santa Cruz was elected secretary-treasurer; Archie Stokes, Salt Lake City, already a second-vice president was elected first vice president; Guy C. Wertz, Waukesha, Wisconsin, who delivered a bid of $3,000.00 for the 1948 tournament, was chosen second vice-president; and Jimmy O'Shea, Brockton, Mass. was elected third vice-president.

At Milwaukee in 1948, Woodfield was replaced as president by Arlo Harris of Indianapolis, Indiana, but before this took place, the delegates showed their appreciation to Mr. Woodfield by electing him Honorary President for life. Bryon Jaskulek, New York, who has served as second vice-president from 1946-1947, was elected first vice-president. Mr. Wertz was re-elected second vice-president; and Louis Dean, Pomana, California, became third vice-president.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TOURNAMENTS

The 1940 world championship tournament was held at Des Moines. In the round-robin, Ted Allen, Boulder, Colorado, defending champion: Guy Zimmerman, the of Sac City, Iowa but later a California resident; and Fernando Isias, Los Angeles, tied for the title. The playoff finished in the above order.

One of the tournament games, between Allen and Zimmerman, saw each man pitch 145 ringers for the greatest game of horseshoe ever tossed. That is still the topnotch of all games. Zimmerman averaged 86.1% ringers for the 31 game round-robin, a world record that was to stand until 1948.

The 1941 world meet was also held at Des Moines. In this event, Fernando Isias, 27 years old, lifted the crown from Ted Allen. In the Isias-Allen clash, Isias hooked 130 ringers. He has 15 double ringers in a row.

Allen had been King of the pitchers since 1933 and he had been the undisputed master of the thirties, regarded without question as the number 1 tosser of all time. The forties, at least to 1948, was to see him relegated to the back seat, but yet, still a very dangerous threat to the driver, Isias, who is driving the championship car as this article is being written.

The war delayed the big tournaments until 1946 when the title was again settled at Des Moines. Isias did not appear to defend his title.

This tournament produced the greatest climax and suspense of any match in all of horseshoe history. So large was the audience, that several men perched themselves in nearby trees nearly an hour before the contest in order to assure themselves of excellent viewpoints.

Ted Allen and Casey Jones, Waukesha, Wisconsin, were the combatants. Jones has lost a round-robin match to John Lindmeier, Chicago, while Allen had been handed a setback at the hands of John Sebeck, the Ohio express.

The suspense was supreme as Allen and Jones came out into the courts to settle the Championship of the World in one fifty point game. Two of the official scorekeepers, Mrs. Archie Gregson and Andrew Storarik were so taken by the suspense that they mentioned that their knees were trembling.

In what still stands as the second greatest match of all time, Allen scored 139 ringers to 137 ringer for Jones to regain the championship of the sport which he loves so much and foe which he has done so much to elevate.

The 1947 world tournament was played at Murray, Utah, on what are said to be the best tournament courts ever constructed. Isias regained his championship. Probably the outstanding performance in the tournament was a new world record of 22 straight double ringers by Wayne Nelson, Muncie, Indiana. Murray, Utah, won the reputation of having been the most generous host the world meets has ever had. Free tickets for refreshments were provided daily to the contestants.

In 1948, at Milwaukee, Fernando walked away with the championship by about as uncomfortable a margin as anyone could afford. Allen, Zimmerman and Jones tied for second with Tommy Brownell, promising 26-year-old World War II veteran right behind. Allen and Jones are also war veterans as are many others in the National Association.

In this Milwaukee tournament, Allen finishes one game with 29 consecutive double ringers and started the next one with seven straight; Guy Zimmermann pitched the first perfect game in all history, twenty-two straight doubles out of 44 shoes; Jones had 87.5% ringer for a new world record for 31 games.

There were daily radio and television broadcasts at which the pitchers appeared. In addition to the pitchers, Mr. Wertz gave a talk on the benefits to ones health from pitching, the writer talked about his experiences as Director of Horseshoe Pitching for the Army in World War II and Bryon Jaskulek told about horseshoe pitching in New York City. Several wives of the contestants appeared in television.

The prizes awarded at Milwaukee amounted to $3,000, very good; the weather was excellent, but the pitchers went away with a gripe such as has never been equaled in horseshoe history.

The courts faced east-west, the pegs were not set solid and most of them came loose during the games, only one groundskeeper was hired, and his was a 110-pound man, 62 years old and he could not possibly handle the work that had to be done, a roller coaster with 30 feet of the courts caused as Roy Smith says, "An infernal" roar, and the writer serving as an announcer for the tournament did not have sufficient electric cord to cover all courts. These are only part of the complaints. Alvin Dahlene recently wrote about the 17-inch "telescope courts." This caused one to wonder if any of the records established at Milwaukee will be recognized as official.

Another complaint was that it had been announced before the tournament that the players would be treated to two banquets, and the director of the tournament, Mr. Guy C. Wertz, contacted on his own responsibility to produce a number of dinners. But when the pitchers learned that they had to pay for the plates and that nothing was to be free, many of them did not go to the banquets.

The operating expenses of the tournament were paid by the Wisconsin Centennial Commission. The writer received his pay directly from that source, as did Mr. Wertz. The writer was definitely under contract with the Centennial Commission, not the Association.

But Harvey Clear, hardiest working official at the tournament, was unpaid for the tedious job he performed. Around twenty persons who served as scorekeepers went unremunerated. This was another oversight.

But, let's not forget this. Suppose Mr. Wertz has offered $2,000 which was what was paid at Salt Lake City, our guess is that if he had made that offer when he made a bid of $3,000, he would still have had the tournament. The pitchers divided $1,000 more than they received the year before, but they received some inconveniences in addition.

The horseshoe game had been on an increasing march of national popularity since 1944, and by the time of the Milwaukee tournament, the peak was the highest yet reached in all history.

End part one - To be continued


Jottings
By Bob Dunn

One of the functions of the NHPA Historian is to present our sport's history to the membership and the public. Although being historian for only a few months, presenting bits of our history is something I have done for several years as part of my articles.

The stories, data and much of this information has come from magazines that are part of our NHPA Hall of Fame archives. Another goal should be to enhance the preservation and availability of our history archives for the NHPA membership through both innovative displays at the Hall of Fame site and through the electronic means of a website.

If you have enjoyed reading these articles over the years, and would like to assist in the preservation of our history, please make a donation to the NHPF to support our NHPA Hall of Fame. There is only a short time remaining in 2008, so don't procrastinate. Thank You!