When I was in high school during the 1950s, the game of washer pitching (Texas horseshoes) was a favorite pastime of us students. Before school, during the lunch break, and even after school one could see boys pitching washers. Occasionally a girl would participate, but it was mostly a masculine game. I loved to play and got reasonably good at it.
The school yard was replete with holes dug in the ground in order to pitch washers at them. I suspect that an inspection of the school grounds today would find no washer holes, as this game has been gone for many years, replaced by home computers, I pods, and MP3 gadgets. Boys don’t venture outdoors much anymore to play the old games.
The game was very simple to play. All one needed was a set of 2 ½ inch washers, and two 3 ½ holes dug in the ground approximately twenty feet apart. Usually two players with three washers each pitched against each other. Of course, the object of the game was to get the washer into the hole which was worth three points. A “hanger”, a washer that teetered on the edge of the hole but did not fall in, was worth two points.
The history of washer pitching is unclear. It apparently dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece around 500 BC, as evidence has been found of the game being played. The first washers were made of fired clay, and because of this they were lighter than ours.
Tradition says that washer pitching was introduced into the United States around 1873 in Indiana. It is said that pioneers took work breaks and used spare washers for their wagon wheels to play the game. In the early West Texas oil fields, workers would pitch washers using the washers from their oil derricks. However the game was introduced to the USA, I am glad that it was, as I spent many hours refining my tossing method.
In today’s modern world, I find that the game is still played, either indoors or outside. The game is now played with two boards, each with one circular hole in the center as the target, usually made of four inch PVC pipe. The boards are placed fifteen feet apart, with three washers per player. It is said that these boards with holes are superior to the holes dug in the ground because you can’t take the holes with you when you leave. I guess that logic makes sense.
Well, at least the game of pitching washers is still around. I would like to see it get started again at our high school so the modern teenager could experience the thrill of tossing a washer twenty feet and have it land squarely in the hole for three points. That is almost as exciting as scoring a touchdown, or making a three-pointer in basketball.
I grew up in a simpler time when we kids had to make up our own games to entertain ourselves. Pitching washers was one of the best.
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, TX 75972