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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Osborne County man was ‘Babe Ruth of horseshoes’

By Beccy Tanner
The Wichita Eagle

In the world of horseshoe pitching, there were few better than Ted Allen.

Nicknamed the “Babe Ruth of horseshoes,” Allen claimed the world championship 10 times in his 31 attempts. .

He was born Joseph Theodore Allen on a farm near Natoma in Osborne County on March 29, 1908, into a family with nine siblings. They often played horseshoes.

It was no small coincidence. Horseshoe pitching was a popular sport throughout much of the Midwest.

Although the game dates to ancient Rome and was played in all countries, it was especially a favorite among soldiers in camps as they waited for battle. It wasn’t until the Civil War that the game became popular in the United States. After the war, when Union soldiers picked up their families and moved west, horseshoe pitching courts were built in the towns and communities that sprang up on the prairie.

According to the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association website, the first horseshoe pitching tournament in which competition was open to the world was held in the summer of 1910 in Bronson, Kan., located on the Kansas-Missouri state line in Bourbon County.

The winner then was Frank Jackson. He was awarded a World Championship belt with horseshoes attached to it.

The first known ruling body of horseshoe pitching, according to the website, was the Grand League of the American Horseshoe Pitchers Association organized on May 16, 1914, in Kansas City, Kan.

That was the culture in which Ted Allen grew up. By age 12, Allen was a horseshoe pitching talent.

And, at age 17, when the family moved to Colorado, he began winning a series of county and state championships. He won the Rocky Mountain Regional Open from 1929 to 1933. In 1933, he won his first World Championship at the Chicago World Fair.

Allen’s career was briefly on hold during World War II, when he served as a medic in the U.S. Army.

Afterward, he began touring the country in earnest and was invited to perform in Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden and in shows with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

He mastered more than two dozen tricks with horseshoes, including how to light a match with flying horseshoes, knock a cigar out of a person’s mouth, hit a dime at 40 feet and toss ringers around pop bottles — until a bottle broke.

Allen began manufacturing his own brand of pitching shoes, which he sold initially for $2.25 and which today can sell for $73 a pair.

Over his horseshoe pitching career, he amassed more than 700 victories. One of his crowning glories was to pitch 72 consecutive ringers in 1955.

He is listed in the National Horseshoe Pitching Association Hall of Fame.

Allen died Jan. 26, 1990, in Boulder, Colo.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com

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