Chambersburg man takes horseshoes very seriously

He brings certified pits to a new township park

October 17, 2002|By David N. Dunkle | David N. Dunkle,THE PUBLIC OPINION

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Joe Rinehart takes his horseshoes seriously, although he looks very relaxed as he prepares to throw at one of nine new horseshoe pits in Norlo Park.

His left leg steps forward and his right arm rises high in the air as the shoe arcs from his fingers and spins toward a metal stake 30 feet away.


When the 80-year-old Guilford Township resident tosses a shoe - about 2 pounds, 8 ounces of inch-thick cast iron - it rotates three-quarters of a turn on its journey. That's just enough for the open end to be facing the stake when it lands. About 60 percent of the time, Rinehart throws a ringer.

Rinehart is very proud of the new pits, which have been certified by the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association, the governing body for the sport. The retiree volunteered his time and expertise - and recruited several helpers - to make sure the project was done correctly.

Rinehart plans to have weekly leagues up and running by next spring, and hopes to have an NHPA tournament at some point. In the meantime, people are welcome to use the pits now.

`I think it's great'

"He just came in here and asked us if we would consider such a venture," said Greg Cook, chairman of the township Board of Supervisors. "This is just what we wanted for this park: Residents deciding what should be there. I think it's great."

Guilford Township created the 143-acre park along U.S. 30 near Fayetteville out of former farmland owned by Norman and Lois Sollenberger, for whom the park is named.

The township has put more than $284,000 into improvements at the park in the past three years. Also contributing are local businesses such as Wal-Mart, which donated $1,500 to the tree-planting effort at the park.

Township secretary Karan Killian says the township has used only interest income from certificates of deposit to fund the improvements.

While it's still a work in progress, the little-used park off Lincoln Terrace is very much open to the public, from sunrise to sunset. There's a pavilion with picnic tables, a nice play area for children, two new sand volleyball courts - and the horseshoe pits where Joe Rinehart is still throwing ringers.

The right clay

Each "pit" is actually a long, narrow slab of concrete, with an open rectangle at each end. A stake is driven into the center of each rectangle, and filled with clay. And not just any clay: The material filling Norlo's pits is potter's clay trucked in from a quarry in Orbisonia. A big pile of it still sits beside the fenced enclosure containing the pits.

Shoe pitchers are fussy about clay management. Before each match, the clay is wetted down and turned with a shovel, and again when the match is over. When a shoe hits this gooey mess, it makes a thunking sound and sticks in place. A ringer makes a distinctive "chlunk" sound, a combination of shoe hitting wet clay and metal stake simultaneously.

About six out of every 10 shoes Rinehart throws is a ringer, an incredible percentage to the average backyard pitcher. He has a little hook he uses to retrieve shoes from the sticky clay.

Rinehart misses one. It happens. Serious horseshoe throwers tend to think of themselves as a number, equal to the annual cumulative percentage of ringers they score in competition.

Tom Decker, for example, is a 67, maybe a 68. That's good enough to make the Camp Hill resident the current Pennsylvania singles champion. In winning the title he threw 504 ringers out of 764 total shoes, a percentage of 65.97.

That's fabulous, especially under pressure, but scores of more than 90 percent are recorded from time to time. Perfect games are very rare, though.

"There have been 60 perfect games since 1940," Rinehart says. "You just don't throw 40 or 50 ringers in a row." Decker plans to defend his title at the state tournament in Warren over Labor Day weekend, but knows it will be tough going.

"I pitch against good people," said Decker, who also volunteered his time to help Rinehart with construction of the pits. "I lose a lot."

He and Rinehart were fooling around recently at Norlo Park, showing a clumsy beginner some of the finer points of pitching. Decker is up.

It's a hot day, but the two men are not bothered. All around them are signs of a park being born. Behind them is the picnic pavilion. In front of them are the volleyball courts. Scattered around the park is a little forest of plastic tubes holding the saplings that will one day provide shade for visitors.

In the distance is a large, single-lane metal and wood bridge the township obtained during a bridge reconstruction project several miles away on Kriner Road. It now serves as a pedestrian walkway to nowhere, but Rinehart says local sportsmen are planning to create a small bass lake there. Also in the future: soccer and baseball fields.

"This is going to be a really nice park," Rinehart says. Decker nods agreement and lines up a throw.

Decker throws from regulation distance, 40 feet. Men older than 70 and women throw from 30 feet. Children younger than 9 throw from 20 feet.

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