Ed Heinemann was just a freshman in the spring of 1936, when the students at Washington State decided to strike. A group calling themselves the Student Liberty Association wanted more freedom from the administration’s puritanical social regulations, particularly those imposed by the dean of women, who set dress codes and early curfews.
Heinemann remembers walking on campus one May morning to see posters on buildings and doors announcing, “Strike.” To his surprise, the faculty joined in, cancelling classes. In the wake of the upheaval, the dean of women was dismissed, and the rules were gradually loosened.
Heinemann, who earned his degree in animal science in 1939, has seen a lot of WSU and Washington history through his long career in the horse racing industry. He was general manager of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association in its earliest days and then director of the Washington State Racing Commission in the 1970s. He helped many Washingtonians get started in the business of raising good horses, and rubbed elbows of some of the state’s most influential people, including 10 governors and every WSU president since E.O. Holland.
This spring Hannelore Sudermann visited with Heinemann at his home in Olympia to talk about life in the horse business.
Remember your roots: I grew up on a farm in Adams County that my grandfather homesteaded in 1889, [right] before Washington became a state. My mother had an eighth-grade education. And dad never graduated from high school. My folks did not have any money to send me to school. So after high school, I worked for a year, picking apples, weeding. I worked in a butcher shop. Then Union Pacific Railway gave me a 4-H scholarship for Adams County. And then Sears Roebuck gave me another $100. Back then tuition was $10 a semester, so those scholarships went a long way.
Make sacrifices: I was working at the commons for my food. And I worked at the college farm. It paid 27 cents an hour. I pitched silage, I pitched manure, I bedded the stalls, I cleaned the barns, whatever came up. The greatest disappointment I had as a freshman was, I had so wanted to see Washington State play a football game, but on Saturday I was always out working on the college farm. I could hear the cheering. When I graduated in 1939, I got a job in Lincoln County working with the extension program with livestock and the 4-H club. We settled on $1,700 a year, with the proviso that it be raised to $2,000 after the first year. Then the war came along and changed all that.
Do your part: [Prior to the United States entering the war] President Roosevelt instigated the Civilian Pilot Training Program. A buddy of mine who was a deputy sheriff from Lincoln County, another fellow, and I drove to Spokane after work every evening, took our lessons out at Felts Field, did our groundwork at Gonzaga University, and got our pilots licenses. When I went in to sign up, they found out I was a pilot, [and] I became a flight instructor all through the war.
Look for love: I met my wife, Arlene, on a [set-up] date with one of my fraternity brothers. We went to the Blue Bucket over in Moscow. This cute little thing came out of North Hall [Davis]. She looked just great. And she was a wonderful dancer. I just dated her solid that semester. But she left school after a death in the family. I met her again at an apple blossom festival in Wenatchee. After that I was driving across the state [to see her] almost every weekend.
Connections pay off: Gene Ensminger [head of the animal sciences department] came to WSU after I graduated. I don’t know if Gene saw something in me, or what. One of the founding fathers of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders, George Newell, wanted a field secretary to go out and work with people raising horses. He went to Ensminger who said, there’s only one guy to recommend. And that was me. I was back at the farm. My dad had pleurisy and needed help. Newell came and found me and said, you’re it. I helped with harvest at home and then started as the field secretary for Washington Thoroughbred Breeders on January 1, 1946.
Learn the business: They sent me to California and Kentucky. I was totally a country kid. I had a lot to learn. I had never seen a racing form in my life. They sent me to Northridge Farms in San Fernando Valley. I did everything from mucking stalls to learning about the breeding programs and grooming. They sent me to the Santa Anita racetrack, where the boss had a big box fairly close to the finish line. I had never seen a race before in my life.
Modernize: The early horse-racing business in Washington was the blind leading the blind. If I knew how much of a missionary I had to be, I don’t think I’d have taken a job. We had too many of the Old West guys. Their way was, you breed Old Nell to Old Charlie, and you get a colt. You let the mare take care of him two years, then you get a rope and you try to break him. They were strictly cowboying. Another guy had a stallion in a 12-by-12 stall with a 20-by-20 corral outside that was piled four feet high with manure. One thing, you have to practice sanitation, or you get parasites and real problems.
Good people can have humble beginnings: On the other hand, I met some wonderful people. One family, I don’t want to say their name, because I don’t want to embarrass them, but there were five brothers nice as could be. After we looked at the horses, they asked me to supper, even though there were five kids to feed. I said no, but they insisted. You know, they lived in a sod house. But from that family came some great jockeys.
Take your opportunities: My work finding horses for Washington owners started with an Italian fellow in Tacoma named Frank Magrini. He loved the races and had a few cheap mares. I agreed to look for a horse at auction for him. He said, “I put $20,000 in your bank account, buy me a good mare.” I smoked the mares over pretty good, I found one I liked. I got the mare for $17,500. I called Frank. He was real happy. He said, “Can you buy me another mare?” He said, “I put another $10,000 in your bank account.” So I bought one for $5,700. The next one, she turned out to be a terrific mare. The foal she had in her belly at the time ended up winning $131,000 for Frank.
Stick to your guns: After leaving the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders in the 1970s, I became supervisor and director of racing for the Washington Horse Racing Commission. I had that job for four and a half years, until it came to a sudden end when Dixie Lee Ray was governor. It started with some horsemen in the Spokane area who were very unhappy with the fact that I said, “We live by the rules.” They were concerned about medications that might be given to horses that would show in the tests taken after the races. A couple of them came up to me and said, “Why don’t you slack off a little?” I said I couldn’t do it.
I got my news at 11 o’clock at night. We had a commission meeting in Yakima, and I got a call at my motel. “Can you come over?” I walked in and sat down and said, “What’s this about?” The commissioner said, “We want your resignation.” I asked why. They said they wanted a change. Well, what can you say? Within three days I had offers for jobs in New York, Kentucky, and Oregon. I didn’t want to leave the Northwest, so I went with Oregon. I was there until I retired.
Give back: At the time I was with Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and the racing commission, a group of us purchased Hilltop Stables [a facility for WSU’s equine program], gave it to Washington State University lock stock and barrel. We stocked it with horses. Mr. Boeing gave them Porters Might. A banker from Leavenworth gave them an Arab mare. A wealthy farmer from Pullman gave them an Arabian. A quarter-horse breeder gave them a quarter horse. We had short courses, we had horse shows, we had tremendous turnout. It’s too bad that’s gone now.
Know your place in history: Horse racing in Washington is coming of age pretty much now. At least I was instrumental in going through the growing pains. In my day we were scratching to hold the nickels together. Now they’re throwing the dollars around.