The shoes fit – World-class horseshoe pitcher celebrates 90th birthday |

The shoes fit – World-class horseshoe pitcher celebrates 90th birthday

They are impressive, standing there on his shelf, the trio of tall golden trophies signifying his world-class accomplishments.

The one in the center especially stands out. It’s the tallest of the three for good reason. It’s his 1988 World Championship trophy.

But during a recent afternoon tour, Herb Rushing didn’t waste much time on his championship horseshoe pitching trophies. After pointing them out, he headed off for his bedroom, where his newest, but perhaps most-prized possession, was on display.

There, spread across the bed, were two large collages of photographs, serving as an instant flashback to so many memories for Rushing that he seems transfixed by them before finally speaking.

“Looking at this sure brings back old memories,” said Rushing. “Just look at them.”

First he points out a photo of him as a young man, presenting a 37-pound catfish to the photographer. It was a fish he never actually hooked to catch, he said, sharing that he and his dad corner the cat inside an old log.

“That was one big fish,” he said. “It fed 24 of us. I brought it home and we all had catfish.”

Another frame captured a hunting trip that he shared with his son, Gary.

“I’m a big deer hunter,” he said. “I got an elk once in Wyoming.”

Finally, he fingers several shots of his him and wife, Ruby, who he said died in 2003.

“Oh Lord, do I miss her,” he said. “But that’s life and we’ve got to live it.

“And now I’ve got enough memories right here to last me as long as I live.”

And, as of today, Herb Rushing has lived no less than 90 years.

The collages were a gift presented to him over the weekend at a birthday party hosted by his daughter, Lois Rae, in Sacramento.

“You should have seen my birthday party,” said Rushing, who was born in Energy, Ill. on March 29, 1915. “There were these all these people I knew when they were little kids and now they’re so all grown up that I don’t even know them. They were all giving me hugs.

“I enjoy it, turning 90 years old. I feel good and if it wasn’t for this (arthritic) hip I’d still be out there doing things.”

The truth is, though, Rushing is still doing plenty. Just the other day, he said, neighbors walking by were shocked to see him standing on an extension ladder with hammer in hand. He was just putting the finishing touches on a porch that overlooks the forested backyard of his home at Mountain Air Mobile Park south of Grass Valley on Highway 49.

“They said ‘What the heck are you doing up there?’ and I said ‘Well, I’m putting the roof on.'”

Rushing, apparently, doesn’t seem to see a point in hiring anyone to handle such handiwork, even as he approaches a century of living. He’s career carpenter, after all, and he figures such projects just keep him occupied.

Construction kept him busy for most of his life, such as the work he performed in helping build Nevada Union High School’s Ali Gymnasium. But he also worked in the lumber and shipping industries – cutting down trees and preparing ships for sea – as well as earning a living in Calaveras County gold mines in the late ’30s.

It wasn’t all work and no play for Rushing, though. In fact, he enjoyed playing several sports, including baseball. He said he played here, locally, for eight years of minor league baseball with the likes of local legends Albert Ali and Pete Daley.

Rushing also enjoyed bowling for many years, he said, which he made the most of during his stint of working at the former Gold Bowl in downtown Grass Valley.

But it was heaving a horseshoe that earned him a world championship and landed him Hall of Fame status in the Northern California Horsehoe Pitchers Association.

He said he started throwing shoes in 1969, while building homes in the Livermore area for several years, and then continued to hone his new craft when he moved back to Nevada County in 1972.

He said he’s thrown alongside another horsehoe Hall of Famer, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., who also just so happens to be the first professional bowler to earn $2 million dollars.

“I once won $400 in Las Vegas one time,” said Rushing, “but no, not a million like that.”

In 1988, Rushing scored a ringer on 64.5 percent of his pitches to claim the world championship in the Elder Men’s Division (30-foot) of the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association competition in Pleasanton.

Nearly 30 years later, he’s still throwing the same $48 pair of shoes at the pits in the backyard of his home. The secret to his success? Well, he said, it’s not the shoes.

“Practice, practice, practice,” he said. “You’ve got to hold them a certain way. Some will flip-flop them, but I turn them on the corner. I let it fall free in my hand and then I get the rhythm of it.”

He lets one of his coveted championship shoes fly, which falls short of the stake some approximately 30 feet away.

“I’ve just got to get ’em up there more,” he said. “I’ve really got to get doing more of this. I’ve got to get my hip going again.”

If he did find the time to throw more, he said, he might end up with some more of those trophies. He has so many that he’s used some to decorate and others he just gave away, including some to a group of mentally-challenged children throwing shoes at the Masonic Lodge in Nevada City.

“George Harper at the lodge told me about those kids,” he said. “So I gave them 14 trophies. I had no use for them, so I gave them to them and George said ‘Boy did they have a ball.'”

And that’s what Rushing said he’s now doing every day, just enjoying the good life of Grass Valley and western Nevada County.

“When I sold the house in Livermore, they gave me $28,000 in cash and I took it,” he said. “Then I took that and paid cash for this place. Would you believe I paid $9,000 cash for it and they hauled it up and set it up here and everything?

“I love it here. I like to sit out there and see the squirrels and the quail and everything come out. I’m going to make me a bed out there, because I just love it.

“I’d rather live here more than any place else.”

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