published January – February 2017


History: Midwest National Tournament (Des Moines, IA) Part II

by Bob Dunn, Historian


Ted Allen regained his title by winning the 1938 Midwest National Tournament. Allen went through the preliminaries undefeated, winning all 32 games. He also went undefeated in the finals, 15-0 while pitching 84.58% ringers. Isais dropped to 4th place as his average slipped to 78.1%. This year’s event was truly a national contest as stars from coast-to-coast entered the tournament. Jimmy O’Shea came from Brockton, MA, Dean Brown and Eddie Packham came from California, Marines Tamboer came from Wichita, Kansas. Brown and Tamboer would later be inducted into the NHPA Hall of Fame. The ringer averages again were exceptionally high, but the Horseshoe World did not publish the ringer percentage for all players.


1938 Midwest National Open Final Standing

1.   Ted Allen, CA              15-0   84.58%                        9.   Robert Bales, MO                    7-8

2.   Elis Griggs, IL                12-3   75.76                          10.   Lyle, Brown, IA                         6-9

3.   Alvin Gandy, KS          11-4   77.00                          11.   Sam Somerhalder                   5-10

4.   Fernando Isais, CA    10-5   78.10                          12.   Alvin Dahlene, KS                    5-10

5.   Dean Brown, CA        9-6   74.00                            13.   Sidney Harris, NE                     5-10

6.   Casey Jones, WI         9-6   82.30                            14.   Roland Kraft, KS                       4-11

7.   Eddie Packham, C      9-6   77.00                            15.   Dale Dixon, IA                           3-12

8.   Jimmy O’Shea, M     8-7   77.50                            16.   John Paxton, IA                       2-13


Leland Mortenson added a few tournament highlights in the Horseshoe World:


·         Basing our estimates on a continuing changing crowd, we estimate 50,000 to 60,000 persons watched the horseshoe pitching contests during the 28 hours it lasted.

·         John Gordon, of Los Angeles, who furnished score sheets free of charge and who manages several pitchers, said he is going to fly here with his boys next year; that he is going to give me a free ride in his airplane too.

·         Doesn’t it seem a shame that Garland Goble and Vyrl Jackson should get eliminated? During practices Goble continuously averaged over 80 per cent ringers and Eddie Packham told me that Jackson averages about 85 per cent at home.

·         Packham tells us that Warner Baxter and John Boles of the screen are consistent 65 per cent pitchers.

·         Packham’s expenses here and back plus $15, were aid by the Douglas Aircraft Co. He was told to win at least third or it was his neck.

·         “Pee Wee” Collum, stunt motorcycle rider, showed up at the fair and said Putt Mossman is stunting in England.

·         Some mean person stole Casey Jones’ suitcase containing $60 worth of clothing and $16.00 in cash and a pair of horseshoes.

·         Such good will do the horseshoe pitchers have toward one another that it gets to be almost comical. For instance Jimmy O’Shea’s heart seemed almost broken when he beat little Casey Jones. There were many other similar examples.

·         Harry Duncan, of Denver, who handles the Allen shoe, was a visitor, and boy was he happy about Ted’s showing. He calls him Theodore.

·         Ellis Griggs and Alvin Gandy were not exactly dark horses, but they certainly were surprises. We know they were experts, but frankly, we did not have any idea they would be ahead of such pitchers as Isais, Dean Brown, Jimmy O’Shea and Casey Jones.


With viewing pitcher traveling from all corners of the country, we need to recognize the difficulty in qualifying.  All participants would pitch 100 qualifying shoes and the top 38 scores went on to pitch in the preliminary round robin, the rest went back home as there was no Class B or C and some pitchers were a long way from home. A couple new names in the 1939 roster of qualifiers were Raymond Frye (Richmond, VA) and Ohio state champion Grover Hawley.


Guy Zimmerman lead the 1939 preliminary round with 35 wins and 2 losses, followed by Ted Allen, 33-4; Casey Jones, 31-6; Ira Allen, (Ted’s brother also from California) 29-8; and Dean Brown, 29-8. Even though Zimmerman pitched 80.01% ringers in the finals, he lost two games allowing Ted Allen to go on to win the championship and the $125.00 first place prize.  Allen pitched 82.77% and went undefeated in 15 games. Casey Jones also pitched an 80% tournament to earn third place. Dean Brown pitched 80.16%, but lost 6 games and ended in 6th place. This is the first tournament in the sport’s history where there were four players topping the 80% mark and there were 14 players surpassing 70% ringers. This certainly speaks to the prestige of this tournament.


1939 Midwest National Open Finals Standing

       Player                               W   L    Pct.                               Player                                            W   L    Pct.

1.   Ted Allen, CO                 15   0   82.77%  9.   Ira Allen, CA                                 7    8   77.40%     

2.   Guy Zimmerman, CA   13   2   80.01                     10.   Ellis Griggs, IL                            7    8   74.66

3.   Charles Jones, WI         12   3   80.95                     11.   Raymond Fyre, VA                 7    9   70.86

4.   Alvin Gandy, KS             10   5   76.70                     12.   Roland Kraft, KS                       6    9   70.84

5.   Lyle Brown, IA                 9   6   75.54                      13.   Dale Dixon, IA                           5  10   72.60

6.   Dean Brown, CA             9   6   80.16                      14.   Sidney Harris, NE                     4  11   69.32

7.   Grover Hawley, OH        7   8   77.21                     15.   Robert Tompkins, IA              2  13   65.06

8.   Aden Swinehamer, IL    7   8   73.75                     16.   Robert Bales, MO                   2  13   73.73


The tournament continued in 1940, but was sanctioned by the NHPA as a national championship contest, therefore it was been recorded as a World Tournament. First place money for the 1940 event was $210.00. The Midwest National drifted away mainly due to World War II and the reinstatement of World Tournaments. 


Leland Mortenson took on the effort to reinstate a tournament to replace the Midwest National, by hosting the Master’s Tournament in 1947 and 1948. Casey Jones won the 1947 event but the competition was not near the level of the original tournaments. In 1948, Casey Jones went undefeated during the 15 game round robin, but the tournament committee decided that with two of the top five pitchers in the world in the tournament and a crowd of 1,500 spectators in the stands, Jones and Ted Allen would pitch a best of three playoff.  Allen won the first and third games to win the championship.


Midwest National Champions

Year       Player                                   Hometown                         W            L              Pct.

1933       Charles C. Davis Kansas City, MO                               14           1

1934       Charles C. Davis Kansas City, MO                               14           1              70.1%

1935       Ted Allen                             Alhambra, CA                    13           2

1936       Ted Allen                             Alhambra, CA                    13           2              73.0%

1937       Fernando Isais                   Mexico City                        15           0              83.5%

1938       Ted Allen                             Boulder, CO                        15           0              84.6%

1939       Ted Allen                             Boulder, CO                        15           0              82.8%