A group of 27 muscle-bound competitors gathered at the Blacksmith Tavern in Pendleton for an arm-wrestling tournament on July 27, 1977, pitting local amateurs against some stalwart veterans of the sport.
There was the usual bending of elbows ... and then there was the elbow bending done at the arm wrestling table. Hopeful men (and a few women as well) flexed their deltoids in front of a whooping, hollering crowd before settling down to business. The tournament pitted competitors against each other in several weight classes, from featherweight (150 pounds and under) all the way up to heavyweight (200+ pounds), and a separate women’s division.
Bill Hamby and Doug Shade discovered that muscle isn’t all you need to win: Shade lasted less than two seconds against Dwight Crow, and Hamby the same in a second-round match. “He got the jump on me and I gave him a little resistance, but that’s about it,” Hamby said.
Organizer Gary Setbacken was an old hand in the arm-wrestling game. He participated in the World Wrist Wrestling Championships in Petaluma, Calif., one year and lasted all the way to the fourth round. “It’s not just strength,” Setbacken said. “There’s a hell of a lot of technique to it. The more experienced man can take a bigger guy.”
Lane Porter, a former Pendleton High School wrestler and football player, won the light-heavyweight class and suggested that lifting weights helped him.
“Yeah, lifting 12 ounce weights,” ribbed Mike Bridges, hoisting a beer.
Mike Schubert, winner of both the lightweight and heavyweight divisions, touted his job as a diesel mechanic as the secret to his success. And Joe Davis, the East Oregonian photographer, told of his own arm-wrestling defeat at the hands of a skinny, wiry guy who happened to set choker cables for a living.
Craig Christiansen savored his championship in the featherweight division, letting the beer drip from his head and shirtless chest as he let out a howl. “I’ve been waiting for this. I took off six pounds to get under the limit (150 pounds),” he said, wasting no time putting them back on with another victory beer. He had psyched himself up for a match with Crow and managed to outlast the veteran wrestler, breaking Crow’s year-long win streak.
“I’ll be back,” Crow promised, “and I’ll take him.”
The seminfinal women’s bout featuring Elaine Case was the biggest crowd-pleaser. Case was within a couple of inches of the table when she came all the way back to beat her opponent in a grueling match. “She had me all the way down,” she said, “but I didn’t want to get beat in front of my husband.” She emerged the women’s champion at the end of the tournament.