Shoe Biz Profile - November 1998


Originally Written by Jeanette Claas

All the way from sunny Mexico (Missouri that is) comes a horseshoe pitcher who is known to be one of the best, if not the best, 40 foot "Flip Shoe Artist" in the state. Our spotlight shines upon a man who has had a sport's love affair with horseshoes for over a half century, a Senora whose sense of humor and sunny disposition matches his hometown.

Val came into this world back in 1925 on a small farm near Americus, MO. His childhood days during the depression years were hard times for a family of ten children. Their house was so crowded they had to sleep piggy-back. Val didn't seem to mind but the pigs complained!

They always seemed to have plenty to eat, but for the most part food came from the hen house and off the land. He recalls going to town in a wagon taking eggs and milk to trade for sugar, flour. coffee and kerosene. There was more than one use for kerosene in those days. Val's mother fed him so many turnip greens and sauerkraut that sometimes she had to wrap his legs with kerosene rags to keep the cutworms from eating him!

For entertainment, after school hours, the children would gather to play dominoes, Pinochie and then go to bed early to save kerosene. One day Val caught Brother Joe in the backyard two-holer fishing with a cane pole. Asking him just what he was doing, Brother Joe replied he had dropped his jacket in the hole. "Are you going to wear it when you get it out?" Val inquired. "No" he said, "but I have a sandwich in the pocket and I'm going to eat it!"

They lived so far back in the sticks that in 1943 the Army recruiting officer in Montgomery County had a hard time finding him. He said there was a war going on and Uncle Sam needed him. Weighing 115 pounds (soaking wet), Val reported to Jefferson Barracks on Dec. 12, 1943 at age 18. The fellows in the Company soon nicknamed him Private Tiny Tim. Val spent three years in the Army Engineers in which two 1/2 years were spent overseas in the Pacific Theater. He left on the west coast went around the world and returned on the east coast.

He was discharged on May 16, 1946 and returned home. Val went searching for a job and a wife, not necessarily in that order. Val went to work for the A.P. Green Firebrick Co. in 1948. After 39 years of service, Val retired from this same company in 1986.

Val's search for a wife ended when he met Veneata and were married on May 16, 1950 in St. Martin's Church. Three sons and one daughter were born to them. They now enjoy 3 grandchildren. Veneata has been known to be a horseshoe pitcher's widow.

Val was first introduced to horseshoes at an Army Camp in Louisiana in 1944. A fellow soldier showed him the hand grip for a flip shoe. For the next 20 years, Val's horseshoe pitching went by the wayside as he was busy working and raising a family. His horseshoe pitching was done only at picnics, reunions and sometimes out behind the tavern!

In 1964 he purchased a used pair of Gordon horseshoes and entered his first tournament in Hermann, MO taking second place. This was the start of a long horseshoe pitching career. He remembers watching pitchers such as Harold Heidel, Rudy Meyer and Ollie Stoner battle it out for first place.

In 1967 Val entered his first MO State Tourney in Sedalia, which was his first sanctioned tournament. He entered in the BB Class, his first opponent being Charlie Picraux. Charlie gave him his first lesson in horseshoe pitching and beat him so bad that he came over and apologized afterward. Charles was a very kind and religious man. Finishing sixth in his first tourney at State. Val would go on to pitch in 27 more State Tournaments through the years. Val has many 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies from state tournaments, pitching in B, C and D Classes.

Entering his first World Tournament in 1978 at Des Moines, IA he won first place in E Class with a 54% average. He has since pitched in six World Tournaments.

Horseshoe pitching has taken him many miles through MO; most of it done in a five county area. During the peak of his career Val averaged about 15 tournaments per year. He estimates participating in 350 tournaments in his lifetime. Some of his best tourneys were in Owensville with some stiff competition such as Sam Carter, Charlie Webb, Jerry Dumstorff and Kelly Hill. He pitched his high game of 88% in a tournament at Rush Hill in 1981, Val has many awards to his credit; 136 trophies, 16 plaques, 5 money wreaths and numerous cash awards. Seventy-seven of these awards were for 1st place.

Val has done a lot to promote the game of horseshoes. He helped to build four courts on the A.P. Green recreation area and directed tournaments there for four years. He helped the Knights of Columbus in New Mexico to build courts and helped them to organized. He worked with the City of Mexico in 1982 to build six courts at Fairgrounds Park. He was the Tournament Director and organized the "Mid-State Open" for five years. Val recently helped the Lions Club on Hwy 22 build four courts. They are now in the process of building four more courts with walkways. He set in on meetings with Montgomery Co. Fair Board and got them organized with four courts. Val has served on the MOHPA Hall of Fame Committee for four years.

After a ladder accident in 1993, breaking his leg severely, Eikel was told by a doctor he probably would not pitch another horseshoe. Much to his delight, he proved the prognosis wrong. Walking on crutches with 17 pins and screws in his leg he helped to keep score and promote the game in local tournaments. This may have slowed him down some, but he is well on the comeback trail, pitching some high games of 75%.

During the 1998 State Tournament Val was inducted into the MO Horseshoe Hall of Fame for both player and promoter accomplishments. To Eikel this induction was the "ultimate", an honor he was so moved by, that is was hard for him to concentrate on his pitching the next day, tying for 3rd place in Class C.

The MOHPA salutes this veteran; a World War II veteran who fought for his country and a veteran of horseshoe pitching who gave much of his time promoting and building the sport. Val has been pitching horseshoes for 53 years. He just recently received his 30 year membership patch with the NHPA. Perhaps no one enjoys pitching shoes more than Val Eikel. Moocho Gracias !!!