Shoe Biz Profile - February 2001


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

In 1977 Wilbur and Wanda Hodgson bought the property next to Brady and Nan Craven on B Highway in Liberty, MO. Brady had driven a couple of steel stakes in the ground on his property. This move brought about a change in his life; an interest and skill in horseshoes that would bring on a new dimension to his life. It didn't take long for Wilbur to discover what these stakes were all about. His interest and skill grew and he soon found out that "picnic" shoes were not for him.

Wilbur Lewis Hodgson was born on a 280 acre farm near Lockwood, MO, a small metropolis of 700, on Oct 3, 1918. Being the oldest of six children caused Wilbur to start working on the farm at an early age. By the age of 8 years, he was cultivating corn with an old mule and a stoved up horse. He was soon driving a Fordson tractor to plow and disc. At the age of 10, he was carrying water to threshing crews for $1.00 a day.

Wilbur attended a one room school house, walking 3 miles to school each day. In cold weather, he was permitted to ride horseback to and from school, using up most of his lunch hour to feed and care for the horse. While attending Lockwood High School, he was getting up in the wee hours of the morning to milk and separate the cream before going to school. Sometimes he was lucky to catch a ride with the MFA manager on the way to school. The other alternative was to ride on the fender of a black 1924 Model T Ford belonged to Opal Finkle, a classmate of Wilbur's who was fortunate to have a car. (In those days Henry Ford said you order any color Model T you wanted, as long as it was black!) Wilbur graduated from high school in 1936.

A young lady, Wanda Baird, from the rival town of Greenfield, caught his eye and his heart, and they were married in 1939. He got a job busting limestone rocks in a quarry for $2.00 a day. They were soon blessed with two daughters and then Uncle Sam came calling in 1945. Wilbur served in the U.S. Army's occupation of Okinawa. Due to the "Father Clause" in 1946, Wilbur was honorable discharged and sent home. A third daughter was born to Wilbur and Wanda after his military service.

For the next 45 years, Wilbur's occupation was that of a painter/paper hanger and part time message therapist. Wilbur was an outdoorsman and became an avid hunter and fisherman in any spare time he could find. Wanda was especially a good cook and catered food for weddings, special occasions, etc. She later was a strong supporter of Wilbur's horseshoe pitching. Wilbur and Wanda would enjoy eight grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. Wanda passed away in 1998, one week after their 59th wedding anniversary.

Returning from military service, Wilbur became an active member of the American Legion. He has held office of most of those 51 years, using his own money to keep the post going during the early years. Wilbur has also been an active church member of Liberty Christian Union Church.

Wilbur's first knowledge of horseshoes was down on the farm. As a young boy he watched his Dad pitch a few horseshoes that was taken off of a horse who had worn them. Wilbur would join in with Dad. About 50 years later, at the age of 58, Wilbur's interest in horseshoes resumed when he moved next door to the Craven's and began pitching shoes in their backyard. Wilbur is quick to acknowledge he owes many thanks to his neighbors, the Craven families, for their encouragement, advise and instructions. Brady says, "Wilbur would come over and they would pitch until semi-darkness where the best light would come from sparks as the shoes hit the stakes." During one of these practice sessions, Wilbur recalls a particular evening. His car arrived at the stake to check out the noise at the same instant as Wilbur's next shoe. The cat went straight up in the air about 90mph, landed and didn't even look back. Wilbur entered his first tournament in 1984 in Kearney, MO, winning 1st place with a tournament average of 20%. He purchased a pair of Dead-Eyes and Six Pack Horseshoes and began to take his horseshoe game seriously.

In 1985 Wilbur became a member of the NHPA and MOHPA in 1985 and joined in league play as a member of the Independence Horseshoe Club. Wilbur soon became a regular at almost any MO tournament within the area.

Independence, located 8 miles from Liberty, made Wilbur realize there was a need for a horseshoe club in his hometown. With these thoughts on his mind, Wilbur began making his move. With the helpful planning advise of Wayne Henderson, he began to organized the Liberty Horseshoe Club. Officers were elected, By-Laws formed and league sanction followed. The good advise of Brady Craven and Leonard Lentz helped on a variety of things for the club. He convinced the Liberty MO City Council that the Parks Department needed to install 8 horseshoe courts at the Stocksdale City Park. Wilbur picked the location in the park; it has a panoramic view of the country side for miles. He put an add in the paper, "Wanted-Horseshoe Pitchers!" Fourteen men attended the meeting and became charter members. Wilbur was president for three years.

Now, sixteen years later, the club boasts 40-45 members each year. The club now has 12 fenced in lighted courts, concrete walkways, a concrete floor shelter house with tables and lights near the courts. The club sponsors two leagues that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The courts are maintained by Lee and Beverly Crabtree. The current president is Lou Frazee and Gregg Craven is League Director. Wilbur, at the age of 82, is the oldest pitcher of the club. His partner of Thursday evening is Allyson Craven, 12,the youngest of the club. The two enjoy league competition every week. "We have the nicest club members anyone could hope for and its like a big, happy family. We all have a good time," Wilbur elates. Having a sign on the court's fence indicating his name and the year, 1986, as the club founder is a sign of pride and accomplishments for Wilbur.

The club's annual tournament is now called "The Wilbur Hodgson Open Tournament." One of the highlights of his horseshoe pitching career was that of pitching against Walter Ray Williams in 1997. The game lasted 30 shoes; Walter Ray pitching 29 ringers for a 96.5% to Wilbur's 16 ringers for a 53.3%. Even Losing, Hodgson considered it a special horseshoe moment as he played against one of the greatest in the very courts that he founded.

Through much practice and natural ability Wilbur became a skillful pitcher, In the 1990's these skills soon found him pitching against some of the greatest horseshoe pitchers of MO such as Sam Carter, Don Harris, Lou Rector, Charlie Killgore, Stan Griggs, Rich Altis, etc. When asked, "What horseshoe pitcher has impressed him the most?" Wilbur simply replies, "Any horseshoe pitcher that beats me, impresses me!"

In 1991, Wilbur moved up to 30 feet, increasing his ringer percentage by 20%. Attending his first World Tournament in 1991 at Biloxi, MS, Wilbur found himself winning first place in Class C of the Elders 30 Foot Division. Again in 1993 at the World Tournament in Spearfish, SD, where he had a streak of 17 ringers during one game (65%), Wilbur won 2nd place in the Elders 30 Foot Division Class E. Wilbur also attended the WT in 1996 at Gillette, WY placing 7th. Wilbur has attended 12 State Tournaments since he became a member in 1986.

His highest tournament percentage was 66.7% in 1999 at the Doubles MO/KS Tournament with his partner Audra Craven winning first place in Class B. They each won $40, the most money Wilbur has ever won as a "professional" horseshoe pitcher. His highest ringer percentage in league play was a recent 78%. Wilbur recently received three National Top 10 awards from the NHPA Sanctioned league program in the Men's 30 foot division for the 2000 season: 4th High Game over Ringer Average (29.39%); 9th High Game Ringer Percentage (78%); and 9th High Game over Point Average (36.39).

Gregg Craven of Liberty Horseshoe Club summarizes his thoughts on Wilbur: "The thing that impresses me most about Wilbur is that he seems to always have the same attitude regardless of the score. He is always trying and he never gives up. Many years ago when he was fairly new to the NHPA we were in the same class at the State Fair. I started the game on fire and figured I had an insurmountable lead. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw Wilbur bend at the waist and touch his toes. It didn't take much longer for him to finish me. So beware if you see him stretch." Brady Craven adds, "Wilbur has the intensity and ability to focus on his objective in spite of anything that goes on around him that might cause others to lose sight of their goal."

Horseshoes may be temporarily put on hold for Wilbur at the current time. In 1992 Wilbur's health was affected by heart problems. He underwent a 5-way bypass surgery. He is now being faced with more complications of the heart. Wilbur Hodgsons' years as a young boy, a soldier of our country, a family man and as a horseshoe pitcher has impressed and influenced many lives as the years added up. Wilbur says he has been blessed and has much to be thankful for. The horseshoe pitchers of Missouri also have much to be thankful for; his enthusiasm for the game, for his time and efforts in bringing a horseshoe club to the great town of Liberty, MO. Missouri horseshoe pitchers salutes this gallant man for his leadership and dedication to our favorite sport.