Allen Drumheller - Washington Racing Hall of Fame

The wizard of Walla Walla

by Susan van Dyke

The Thoroughbred industry in Washington State has been blessed with many out-standing individuals, both people and horses. Nine horsemen and three horses were honored during the inaugural Washington Racing Hall of Fame gala dinner in September. In last month’s issue, we gave you a brief biography of these outstanding individuals, but felt that each one’s story and accomplishments deemed an in-depth profile. This month we will begin with what is to be a continuing series on Washington Racing Hall of Fame recipients, a story on the “Wizard of Walla Walla,” Allen Drumheller. We hope you find these profiles as fascinating and inspiring as we did.

When you think of the uniquely named southeastern Washington town of Walla Walla, some of the first things that come to mind are endless wheat fields, those wonderful Walla Walla sweet onions and the infamous Whitman massacre, but at one time Walla Walla was also the home of Washington’s leading Thoroughbred farm, family and a nationally respected Thoroughbred trainer; all by the name of Drumheller.

The Walla Walla Birthright of Washington Thoroughbred Breeding
     Born in Tennessee in 1835, Jesse Drumheller, then 17, first arrived in Walla Walla in 1852 with the Ezra Meeker wagon train. It was during this time period that the Washington Territorial Legislature had begun creating new counties out of the 110,000 square miles that they had earlier (in 1854) set aside from Skamania County and christened Walla Walla County. (Walla Walla County was one of the first areas in the region between the Cascade and Rocky Mountains to be permanently settled.) Jesse married fellow pioneer Martha Maxson in 1859 and they had six sons and one daughter. He and his sons would later found the Drumheller Company, which retailed hardware and agricultural supplies. Meanwhile, he kept adding to his land, until he had almost 6,000 acres. He was noted for his progressive methods in both farming and livestock raising.
     Among his sons were Oscar and Thomas, who would run the family store; Samuel, who would travel with a herd of cattle to Alberta’s Red Deer Valley, discover coal and later have the eventual settlement named after him – after winning that honor in a supposed coin toss; and George (1874-1945), who followed his father in becoming one of the pioneer wheat growers in Washington with a farm of 1,050 acres. Walla Walla’s Drumheller Building, built about 1910, stands to this day.
     George and his wife Lillian had three sons, Allen, Dewey and Earl, and daughter Jessie. The community-minded Lillian is remembered for her profound influence on the growth of Walla Walla in its early days and especially “for the campaign that brought a YMCA to Walla Walla” in 1911.
     In addition to wheat, George began to seriously dabble into “what, in the twenties, was most certainly an obscure business in this state” – Thoroughbred racing. By the time of his death, George was deemed “the father of Thoroughbred horse racing” in Washington. He was considered the leading Washington horseman of his day, after “spending thousands of dollars for Kentucky bloodstock and racing stock” and was the state’s leading breeder by earnings from 1935 through 1940. Among his best horses were My Reverie, Bonnie Omar, Blarney Stone, Pat, Linden Tree and Glad Mart. When Longacres opened in 1933, Drumheller Ranch was the largest Thoroughbred breeding operation among the eight that existed in the state. Drumheller was also one of the original sponsors of Washington State House Bill 59, which once again allowed horse racing back into the Evergreen State. His son Allen, soon to become one of the nation’s most respected trainers, was one of the state’s original racing commissioners.

From the Rodeo to the Racetrack
     Born in 1894, Allen followed his father into the business of breeding Thoroughbred horses in 1925. He had been a relay and bronco rider at the age of 14. “A fast-tempered and thrill bound youth,” the young Drumheller turned from studies at Whitman College to an early career with the rodeo where he later became a champion rodeo performer. One of his companions was world record holding relay rider and 1921 Pendleton All-around Rodeo Champion Darrell Cannon, who went on to train Longacres Mile winners Kings Favor and Steel Blade for Joe Gottstein’s Elttaes Stable in the late 1960s.
     While Allen Drumheller is being honored with induction into the inaugural Washington Racing Hall of Fame due to his record as a trainer, he and his father could have just as easily been honored for their many contributions to the state’s fledgling breeding industry.

Breeder First
     In 1922, Allen’s father George had made his first serious foray into the breeding business when he brought Gladiator, a 1917 son of Superman who had won the Toboggan Handicap as a four-year-old, from New Orleans to stand in Washington. Gladiator’s best son was 1941 Longacres Mile winner Campus Fusser (bred and trained by Allen), the first Washington-bred to take the Longacres Mile. In the early 1930s, George added the Black Toney stallion Black Forest (1928), who sired Georgie Drum, named in honor of Allen’s son George. At five, Georgie Drum “won the Stars and Stripes Handicap beating Equifox, *Rounders, Pensive [winner of the 1944 Kentucky Derby], War Knight and four others, earning $41,000 – it was the richest stakes ever won by a Washington-bred horse and in it he whipped the best lot of horses a Washington-bred was ever pitted against – his earnings after this stakes were $61,000, a suitable reward for the patience exercised by his owner, breeder and trainer Allen Drumheller…” Fort Churchill, a 1917-foaled son of *Honeywood, was another stallion roster addition. While he was originally “acquired and used exclusively as a stock horse sire, the demand in the area being for range work horses of size and early speed. The Fort Churchills began to show such zip in ranch races and rodeo relays the big horse was tried on Thoroughbreds.” Among his successful offspring was Prince Ernest, winner of the 1945 Longacres Mile.
     Allen Drumheller only bred a total of 34 Thoroughbreds, all during the 19-year period between 1933 to 1952. All but one of them started. The lone unraced Campus Star went on to produce 1948 Washington Futurity winner Lucille Angel. An amazing 30 (88 percent from foals) returned to the winner’s circle. By the time of his death in 1955, they had recorded 273 wins among 1,777 starts and earned $583,234, for an incredible average of $17,673 per runner. To put this in some sort of perspective, in 1955, the average earnings for a Washington-bred runner during that year was $1,180 and the 25th highest earning Washington-bred on the all time leading list had won just under $25,000!
     Allen Drumheller was the very first Washington breeder to go over the half-million mark in earnings. The previously mentioned Lucille Angel was responsible for her breeder hitting that milestone. It happened on March 2, 1952, when she won the eighth race on the Agua Caliente card.
     To show the influence that Allen Drumheller-bred horses had during Washington’s early modern (post Longacres’ opening) racing days, you only need look at the list of leading Washington-bred earners through the 1955 race season. Of the 25 horses listed, the top three – Hank H., Sirde and Georgie Drum were all bred by Allen Drumheller, as well as two others on the list!
     Sirde, a 1941-foaled son of *Mio d’Arezzo was the first Washington-bred to hit the $100,000 mark. He hit that pinnacle after winning a Santa Anita overnight handicap as a five-year-old. Sirde, which is Edris spelled backwards, was named to honor Joe Gottstein’s partner and friend William Edris. Among Sirde’s stakes placements was a third in the 1945 Hollywood Gold Cup to Challenge Me, who he had previously defeated in the San Carlos Handicap.
     Router Hank H., “a gangling, rip snorter from the Walla Walla wheat fields” was named in honor of the Drumhellers’ longtime ranch foreman Henry Heinrich. The 1943 son of Black Forest became the state’s second $100,000 winner. Hank H. passed Sirde as the all time leading Washington-bred earner when he won a seven furlong dash at Hollywood Park on July 13, 1951. By coincidence, the following day Calumet Farm’s great Citation won the Hollywood Gold Cup to become racing’s first millionaire. By the time of his retirement, Hank H. was Washington’s leading earner with 26 victories among his 69 starts and $130,700 in money won.
     A 1952 article in The Washington Horse states: “The wide swatch [Allen] Drumheller has cut as breeder of Washington-breds can be no better emphasized than by pointing out that he has bred one-twentieth of the year starters since 1935 and has accumulated one fifth of all monies won by local Thoroughbreds.”
     Allen bettered his father’s record of six times as Washington’s leading breeder by leading the list eight years, 1941 and 1943-1949. He finished second on the list in 1942 and 1951, was third in 1938 (with earnings of $4,335), 1940 and 1950, and was fourth from 1952-1953. He had his best year in 1944 when his five winners, from seven runners, won 13 races and earned $80,065.

A “Conditioner” Par Excellence
     By the time 1952 rolled around, Allen had bred his final Thoroughbred, a colt named Spookaloo, who was sired by the last of the Drumheller stallions, Conformity, a 1946 son of His Grace.
     “Drumheller has been the most successful breeder in the history of Washington turf annals. There is simply no telling to what heights he would have gone in the breeding field if he had devoted his full attention to that endeavor. As it turned out he was equally or more successful as a trainer and found it more advantageous to follow that pursuit.”
     Allen’s name was first recorded in the Longacres record books as an owner, when his Triplane, a three-year-old son of Whichone who he had claimed for $3,000 at Santa Anita the previous winter, won a Seabiscuit-less 1938 Longacres Mile. Seabiscuit had been assigned a record 142 pounds for the fourth running of the Mile, but trainer Tom Smith had elected to leave his champion charge in California. With fellow Washington Racing Hall of Fame inductee Ralph Neves aboard, Triplane came home by one length over Klister. William Boeing’s race favorite Gleeman, who had previously defeated the mighty Charles S. Howard runner, finished less than a length back in fourth. It marked the first victory in the Mile for a Washington owner. Drumheller had had a runner in the 1936 Mile, but Plucky Jack could do no better than sixth.
     Allen Drumheller was both the owner, and trainer of record when the Drumheller-bred Hank H. won the 1947 edition of the Mile. The Drumheller triple could have been achieved six years earlier if Allen hadn’t sold his Washington Futurity winner Campus Fusser to Mrs. B. N. Hutchinson prior to the 1941 Mile. Campus Fusser beat entrymate Wee Toney by 3 1/2 lengths, equaling the track record of 1:35 3/5. After the Mile, the winning trainer proclaimed, “I guess I made a mistake. I knew the horse was good, but I really didn’t think he was that good.”
     Campus Fusser and Hank H. were half-brothers, both offspring of the stellar producer Campus Queen, the only mare in race history to produce two separate winners of Joe Gottstein’s spectacular. Hank H. is also one of only three runners to win both the Gottstein (Washington) Futurity and Longacres Mile and was the first horse to take back-to-back runnings of the Washington Championship (now Washing- ton Cup Classic) Stakes.
     Drumheller saddled his second consecutive Mile winner in 1942, when B. N. Hutchinson’s California-bred Lavengro won the northwest racing jewel by two lengths. Five years earlier, Lavengro, then two, had been the best runner of his generation, even defeating 1938 Kentucky Derby winner Lawrin. The first dual winner of the Longacres Mile was Amble In. The son of Fighting Fox had won the 11th renewal in 1946 under the stewardship of Francis Keller, the only woman to train two Mile winners. Two years later, Amble In gave Allen Drumheller his fourth Longacres Mile winner as trainer when the five-year-old gelding took the race by a neck over his entrymate Minstrel Boy, who finished two lengths to the fore of fellow Drumheller trainee and 1947 Mile winner Hank H. (Drumheller’s final entry of the four, the filly War Moment, who had served a role as a rabbit in the race, finished last in the field of 10). The last previous sweep by an entry in an American stakes race had been the 1947 Washington Park Futurity, when Calumet Farm runners Bewitch, Citation and Free America had finished in that order. Drumheller’s record of four Mile winners has never been broken and it wasn’t until 2002 when fellow Washington Hall of Fame trainer Jim Penney, a member of another Washington pioneer family, equaled his win record with Sabertooth.
     Though the Drumheller runners frequently made the trip up and down the west coast, they were also successful in Chicago, as attested by Georgie Drum’s victories in the Sheridan, Stars and Stripes and Emerson F. Woodward Memorial handicaps.
     During Bay Meadows spring opening day of 1951, Drumheller and rider Johnny Longden won three races. It was noted that the “‘Play Drumheller’ customers grow more ardent as the days passed.” He was the leading trainer at the 1955 Hollywood Park meet, when he trained 32 winners. It was during that same meeting that he sent out five horses one day and came home with five winners. He also led the Longacres trainer standings in 1948.
     From 1948 through 1955, Drumheller was listed among the top 30 trainers by earnings nationally. He was ranked seventh in 1953 when he had 84 wins and earnings of $319,950. Even with his premature death in 1955, his runners had given him 83 wins and earnings of $453,582 during the nine months they ran in his name, to again rank seventh in earnings, and sixth in number of wins.
     When Allen Drumheller died of a heart attack on October 1, 1955 at the age of 61, he was considered one of the most prominent trainers in the country. It was noted that he actually preferred the title conditioner, rather than trainer. At the time of his death, Drumheller was serving as a director of the California division of the HBPA and was ranked fourth in the national training standings.
     “Drumheller was one of the most respected men in his profession, his wise and temperate counsel invariably being asked.”
     His large public stable of 40 horses included the 1955 two-year-old sensation Bold Bazooka, who was owned by comedian/actor Lou Costello, and Hollywood Park three-year-old of the meeting Baby Alice. Among his other topnotch stakes horses were Spanish Cream, Special Touch, Manyunk and *Guerrero. Earlier on the day of his demise, his son Allen, Jr. had saddled Mr. Sullivan to victory in the San Jose Handicap at Bay Meadows.
     The late Clio Hogan, longtime editor of The Washington Horse, wrote in his editorial following Drumheller’s death the following illuminating phrases.
     “The news of the death of Allen Drumheller, Sr. shocked and saddened every person connected with racing in the State of Washington. Of course, this was a natural reaction to all those who knew him, for he was a loved and respected man. But it was more than that, it was more than the passing of a man – a person – it was the loss of a symbol, which spelled an ideal.
     “The name Allen Drumheller, or Drum-heller father and son, was synonymous with success in the breeding field in Washington. Here was a man who bred but 34 horses over a span of 19 years, less than two horses per year, yet was the primary force in putting Washington breeding on the map.
     “How did he do it? We have better bloodlines in the state today than Allen had at hand and yet there has been no Hank H., no Sirde, nor a Georgie Drum in the last decade. Why? The answer came to light when he turned his full efforts to ‘conditioning’ Thoroughbreds. He quickly proved he was a master, in all its meaning, in that field. He was such a master that any horse coming under his care, which had a spark of greatness, was made great.
     “He may not have been years ahead in bloodlines, but he was 25 years ahead in conditioning and therein he leaves behind him a great lesson to fellow horsemen in the State of Washington or elsewhere.”

Sources: Various Washington Horse articles including “The Second Guess,” by Mike Donohoe, September 1946, “Hank H. and Alderman,” by Leon Rasmussen, August 1951, George Drumheller obituary, January 1946, Allen Drumheller obituary, November 1955; From Pendleton to Calgary, by Doug and Cathy Jory; Who’s Who in Thoroughbred Racing, 1947, by Ed Welch; Walla Walla County Web site; “On the Trail of Narcissa,” by Betsy Miller; Longacres Mile Media Guide; American Racing Manuals, 1946-1955.

Click here for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.

WASHINGTON THOROUGHBRED, October 2003, page 806

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