When did the Powerline Baseball League start? It was a question that I wanted to try and answer with a level of certainty that would be able to better show that the league is one of the oldest leagues in the province of Alberta. So much of PBL history has been left to stories and estimates. No piece of history was as big as when the start of the PBL actual was. The PBL was originally thought to have started during the rural electrification of Alberta post World War 2. But it turns out that the PBL is a little older than that, starting in the spring of 1933.
Before the Powerline Baseball League
Baseball in the area had been played since the turn of the 20th century with teams in Daysland, Bruce, Bardo and Holden already established from 1907-1909. The fellas at Alberta Dugout Stories (check out their site and podcast for some great Alberta baseball info) mentioned that the first documented baseball in Alberta that they found was in 1875 in Fort McLeod. The game of baseball grew across western Canada as the railroad was being established and towns began to pop up and grow. The start of the PBL and baseball in the area has stories of rail workers and coal miners walking to the nearest town after a day’s work to play baseball with the primary player pool being that of farmers. This is evident by the amount of school districts that had teams that would play exhibition games against one another at local picnics and gatherings, sometimes at large farm yards. In 1907 Daysland had a men’s baseball team called the Baseball Nine as mentioned in the Daysland history book. They defeated a team out of Hardisty by a score of 10-6 with the following line up;
Dinning – 1st Base
McCloy – 2nd Base
Holbrook – 3rd Base
Latornell – Rt. Field
Effinger – Left Field
Bigley – Centre field
Smith – Shortstop
Nelson – Pitcher
Henry – Catcher
Umpire – Eddie Taylor
History books in Bruce, Daysland, Holden, Round Hill and Ryley all talk about organized baseball being played as far back as 1907. The hamlet of Bruce, yes the same Bruce that is famous for it’s steak dinner at the local hotel, was host to the Bruce Challenge Cup starting in 1908. In 1910, Viking would be awarded the silver cup which was given annually to the best team out of Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Viking perhaps through a tournament as there was no mention of a league yet. Unfortunately it is unclear when the Bruce Challenge Cup ended. The Bruce Challenge Cup was donated to the baseball team by the town.
In many cases baseball teams were from areas that have long been lost or not associated with having the capacity for baseball. Some of these locations are remembered by a school district plaque or perhaps an old community hall or building. In 1915 the authors of the Round Hill history book listed the following places were baseball was played; “Round Hill, Lake de May, Bardo, Salt Lake, Meldal, Dinant, Ryley, Dodds, Ohaton, Earling, Miquelon Lake, Avonroy, Tofield, Camrose, Hamption, and possibly others”. The baseball at this time appeared to be either tournaments or exhibitions as opposed to an organized league. In some photos of early 20th century games in the area, there were no fences and bleachers. Some teams even played games at a family farm during a picnic or social event. On July 4 1911 there was supposed to be a baseball game at the Salt Lake Annual Picnic between Round Hill and Earling. However due to rain the game was cancelled. In August 1915, Medal’s baseball team played Dodds’ baseball team at Andrew Foss’ farm located somewhere near Round Hill.
1915 – Round Hill History Book
An interesting game was played in June, 1915 between Dish Washers and Heart Smashers. The catching and slugging of Agnes Nelson helped the Heart Smashers win 16-2. Albin Chimilaski was the start performer for the Dish Washers in her stick work.
The 1920’s saw more tournaments happen in the area. In May 1921, Round Hill travelled to Likeness and beat the host as well as Ohaton. In July 1921 Round Hill hosted a successful tournament with Camrose, Ryley and Tofield participating. Ryley would win the 1921 tournament, defeating the host Round Hill team 9-4 to win the tournament final. The championship cup was donated by Geo P Smith and if a team was able to win the tournament three consecutive years, the team would be able to take the cup home with them. It is not known if any team had actually accomplished this feat. Game scores for the Round Hill Tournament were reported as;
Round Hill defeats Camrose 13-2
Ryley defeats Tofield 8-6
Ryley defeats Round Hill 9-4
June 16, 1921: “Local players and fans are planning a dance to help pay the medical fees for H.Scotvold who had his leg broken while playing for Round Hill.
June 23, 1921: “Dinant Jrs beat Round Hill Jrs 12-4. Their catcher has the energy and confidence of a 6-footer. He is a clever little players. The Srs. went to Tofield on Monday and were beaten 15-8. H.Currie got a broken jaw. Dr.Blain was the Dr. In attendance on Harlod.
Camrose was host to some larger tournaments throughout the 1920’s and into the 1930’s. In July 1924 Camrose hosted a tournament featured Viking, Ryley, Tofield, Vegreville, Macklin (Saskatchewan), Mirror and Sedgewick. The eight teams battled for a $330 total prize pot, which translates to about $4,800 worth of prize money in 2019.
Ryley defeated Tofield 11-1
Viking defeated Mirror 8-4
Macklin defeated Vegreville 9-3
Sedgewick defeated Camrose 6-5
Macklin defeated Sedgewick 9-8 / Semi-Final
Viking defeated Ryley 13-0 / Semi-Final
Viking defeated Macklin 4-2 / Final
It was noted that a Macklin pitcher, Moore, would strike out 28 hitters over two complete games he would pitch in the tournament.
The tournament ran on two days and then on the third day of the tournament the winner of the Camrose Tournament (Viking) took on the winner of a Red Deer Tournament (Mirror). Mirror, despite losing to Viking in the Camrose Tournament earlier, dominated Viking with a 7-0 win that included a 13 strikeout no-hitter from Cliff Turner. Only three Viking base runners reaching, all via errors. The game winning run cam on a first inning home run by Frenchy Adams. At the time Mirror was a powerhouse on the ball field. With the win over Viking it gave Mirror a 23-3 record that summer with 11 wins being of the shut out variety.
The 1928 Camrose Tournament (July 26-28) Results, which don’t look like they are complete results for the tournament.
New Norway defeated Tofield 9-5
Camrose defeated Botha 10-2
Camrose defeated New Norway 9-3
Hardisty defeated Red Deer 5-4
Sedgewick defeated Viking 6-0
Blackie defeated Ponoka 12-0
Hardisty defeated Camrose 5-2 / Semi-Final
Blackie defeated Sedgewick 14-0 / Semi-Final
Blackie defeated Hardisty 17-1 / Final
The trend of local tournaments and exhibition games in the area continued into the early 1930’s. The second annual Round Hill Sports Day in June 1932 had Ryley winning the $10 first prize and Bardo settling for the second place $5 prize. During this time period teams were running basket socials and dances to try to raise money for the baseball teams in the area. Places like Round Hill and Tofield would often have a high school or junior team to fund as well as the senior team.
The PBL Is Formed…As Are Other Leagues
The earliest mention that I can find for the Powerline Baseball League is in the May 31, 1933 edition of the Tofield Mercury. Back then the Mercury would publish news from the surrounding areas and school districts such as Lindbrook, Ketchamoot, Bardo and Kingman with supplied writing. I think a resident of Lindbrook for example would gather news, which was often simply a local resident travelling somewhere or hosting guests who travelled from somewhere. Examples from June 24, 1933 include “A number of Tofielders attended the dances held at Lakeview on Wednesday and Ryley on Friday” or “Word has been received that Joseph Rogers who is enjoying a reunion of friends in Old Ontario, that he is quite well and having a grand time”. Large gaps without any columns from these areas appeared to mean that there was nothing worthwhile to bring into town or the person in the community was either on vacation or busy working on the farm to bring something in that week.
But in this particular edition of the Mercury, there was a simple sentence under the Ketchamoot News column that unceremoniously announced the start of what was called the Powerline Baseball League.
Bardo, Round Hill, Kingman and Ketchamoot have formed a league for the summer.
That’s it. That is the start of the PBL right there. This was further clarified in the Round Hill History book, which was written decades after the actual formation of the league. The history book read “In May, 1933 Round Hill, Kingman, Bardo and Ketchamoot and later Dodds organized a baseball league called the Power Line League. Albin Anderson was President and Julius Lerbeckmo was Secy.-Treas.”
Details about the Powerline League in 1933 were limited but the first games documented that season were Sunday May 21st when Ketchamoot played Tofield in an exhibition game with Ketchamoot winning. The first, or one of the first, potential Powerline League games may have been on Tuesday May 23, 1933 with Ketchamoot defeating Kingman 3-1 in Ketchamoot. The two teams appeared to have played a home and home that week with Ketchamoot travelling to Kingman for a 11-2 win on the road. The Ketchamoot team consisted of Angus Mitchell as the manager and A. Schultz as the secretary-treasurer. Player names listed were Angus Mitchell, Herold Schultz, Alven Schultz, Jimmie Ingram, Julius Lerbekmo, Torvel Nomeland, Wendall Wiley and “the three Sears brothers”.
On June 6, 1933 Bardo travelled to Round Hill to play a league game with Bardo winning 13-8 and on June 8, 1933 Ketchamoot won a home game against Bardo 11-10. Monday June 26, 1933 Ketchamoot defeated Kingman 5-4 in Ketchamoot with the two teams playing again on Tuesday June 27, 1933 in Kingman. Kingman would give Ketchamoot their first loss of the season with a 19-12 win. At some point during this week (probably on the weekend of June 24-25) a league game between Ketchamoot and Round Hill was featured at the Round Hill town picnic. That is it for information about the first Powerline League season unfortunately.
But the Powerline League was not the only league to start in 1933, the area also saw the Gas Line Baseball League start. The Gas Line League would feature Tofield, Ryley, Holden and Viking in that first year and would get a large amount of coverage in the Tofield Mercury compared to the Powerline League. The Gas Line League was often featured on the front page of the news paper or in more prominent article in the paper while the Powerline League relied on locals, often from Ketchamoot, to send in the few scores and league updates that were in the paper. While details of the Powerline League were scarce, the Gas Line League had enough coverage that we can see some historical dates for baseball in the area. On Monday May 8, 1933 the local Tofield baseball club held an annual meeting with most of the discussion centring on the formation of a baseball league. The result of the meeting was a commitment to communicate with the other towns in the area and to do what was needed to be done to get a league up and running. Fast forward to May 22, 1933 and after a meeting in Holden with representatives from each of the four towns, the Gas Line Baseball League was formed. On May 29, 1933 the first Gas Line Baseball League game was played with Tofield winning 5-3 against Holden in Tofield. The league was off and running with Tofield winning the first ever league championship on August 24, 1933 as they would defeat Viking 6-5 and win the best of five championship series 3-1.
Gas Line League Standings (as of August 9, 1933), Tofield had clinched one of the two championship series spots with during the previous week setting up the best of five matchup against Viking.
- Viking 11-5 (.687)
- Tofield 9-8 (.529)
- Ryley 7-8 (.466)
- Holden 7-11 (.388)
A little further west, the Breezy League was also formed in 1933 (based on the league trophy engravings) and featured the Armena Owls, Dinant West, Sulitjelma and Hay Lakes. Dinant appears to have won the league in 1933 and 1934 before the Armena Owls went back to back to back from 1935-1937. Armena and the coal mining area of Dinant seem to be the driving forces of the league, at least from the Armena history book “Footprints along the Stoney: A history of Armena and Baldenstein areas”. Armena had formed the Armena Athletic Association, which still runs today, in “about 1920”.
At some point in history, a 1934 Gas Line Baseball League meeting minutes book was found tucked away in the old Bruce Hardware store apparently left by former Bruce baseball secretary Frank Ratke. The book listed players from Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Tofield from 1934, 1935 and 1936. Researching through the Tofield Mercury in 1934 there appears to be a change in language around the Gas Line Baseball League. Numerous times it is referred to as a new intermediate league along the gas line and now features a team from Bruce with the 1933 Viking team no longer in the picture. The President and secretary of the league were Mr. Herger and Bob Ratke, respectively, both from Bruce. The team representatives who attended the June 7, 1934 meeting were Mr. Stambaugh (Bruce), Mr. Hopkins (Holden), Mr. Krause (Ryley) and Mr. Calvert (Tofield). The league schedule posted was set to run from June 12, 1934 to July 13, 1934 with teams playing twice a week. This was also the time that it appears, at least from the news reported in the paper, that the Tofield Sports Day tournament was becoming a big part of the town’s celebrations. A full page ad for the Tofield’s Big Sports Day showcased a baseball tournament with $70 (about $1,000 in 2019) worth of prize money as well as ladies’ softball, basketball, foot races, horse shoe tournament and refreshments.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a lot of detailed information about either the Powerline League or Gas Line League in the 1934 or 1935 papers. This may have been due to a change in staff from 1933, where almost the entire season was covered in the Gas Line League, to 1934 where the information tapered off quite a bit as the summer rolled on. The Powerline League started the spring off with back to back editions of the paper under a “Power Line Baseball League” section but it did not reappear after the June 6, 1934 edition. In the May 30, 1934 Mercury it was reported that Ketchamoot lost the first game of the Powerline League season to Kingman by a score of 4-3. The paragraph also confirmed that the four teams in the league for 1934 was once again Round Hill, Bardo, Kingman and Ketchamoot. On June 6, 1934 Ketchmoot found itself atop the Powerline League standings by going on a two game winning streak defeating Round Hill 13-7 and Bardo 15-4 on June 5, 1934.
Powerline League teams in 1934: Round Hill, Bardo, Kingman and Ketchamoot
Gas Line League teams in 1934: Bruce, Holden, Ryley, Tofield
Other than exhibition games and tournament games, the only other baseball cross over between the Powerline League area and the Gas Line League area in the first couple of seasons appeared to be a youth baseball community league. The four team league would run from the end of June, when school was out, to the end of July for what I am assuming is for younger players and featured teams in Logan, Bardo, Ketchamoot and Tofield playing once a week. In the May 9, 1934 Tofield Mercury a story was written about Mr. A.B. Clutterham from Tofield was looking at starting a community league for younger players who were not playing full time with the senior Tofield baseball team. This league may have gotten off the ground for the summer.
Over July 11-12, 1934 (Wednesday and Thursday) the Bardo community came together to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the area being settled in 1894. Baseball was of course at the centre of the event with junior baseball being played by Bardo and Solberg (another small school district in the area) with Solberg coming out with the win. Later on the Bardo Intermediates and Tofield Intermediates hit the field with Bardo winning infront of what was described as a “monster picnic” with people travelling back to the area all the way from Bellingham, Washington. On Thursday the Bardo men’s team took on the Northfield team with Northfield winning 7-3 with the help of a former Ryley pitcher, Helmar Johnson. Viking Sports Day was also a mid-week affair in 1934 (Wednesday July 11) where Holden and Tofield joined Viking for a baseball tournament. Tofield would finish second, losing the championship to Viking 6-5 as Lance Umphrey from Tofield and Dr. Richardson from Viking both hit big home runs.
In 1935 the Gas Line League almost expanded with the addition of Haight. However a week later Haight was out and the Gas Line League was back to Bruce, Holden, Ryley and Tofield. In 1936 the league was back to being referred to as the Gas Line League in the news. There was only a couple of stories about the Gas Line League in 1935, the second coming on August 1, 1935 where the Tofield Mercury would write “Due in part to irregular games and in part to poor reporting, baseball has not been featured very heavily this season”. So a combination of poor weather and small town reporting logistics hurt the coverage of both the Gas Line League and the Powerline League. As a result there was next to no game scores, schedule changes or tournament updates provided. The winner of each league was never reported.
The Powerline League expanded their reach in 1936 with the addition of Dodds to the league but it came at the expense of the Ketchamoot team. This is unfortunate for the historical record because most of the information about the Powerline League in 1933-1934 was coming out of Ketchamoot. The 1936 Powerline League was scheduled to be a nine game season beginning on May 28, 1936 and culminating with a championship cup given to the winners, the first time a trophy/cup had been mentioned with regards to the league. This according to the Bardo section of the May 28, 1936 edition of the Tofield Mercury.
Tofield would pick up a win the season opener of the 1936 Gas Line League against rival Ryley before winning the Holden Sports Day tournament a couple of weeks later. Tofield would also win the Tofield Sports Day tournament finishing ahead of Dodds, Ryley, Holden, Ross Creek and Kingman. The theme of the season reporting appears to have been tournaments versus league play as a lengthy article in the Tofield Mercury on July 3, 1936 highlighted Tofield’s play in the Ryley Sports Days tournament, the Ketchamoot picnic tournament and a Camrose tournament. That was the end of the coverage for the 1936 season unfortunately.
The 1937 coverage was even less thorough for local baseball. It started on May 27 1937 with a story of Tofield winning the Ryley Annual Sports Tournament, beating Holden 10-4 and Dodds 11-9 in the final. Tofield did not participate in the Gas Line League and was only playing exhibition games it seems during the 1937 spring/summer season. The last mention of baseball in the paper for 1937 was the Ketchamoot picnic which hosted Tofield and Bardo along with a Ketchamoot team. The only other mention of baseball in 1937 was the successful Tofield July 1st sports day (the name of the tournament has varied year to year it seems);
Ross Creek defeated Bardo 2-1
Tofield defeated Ryley 11-6
Dodds defeated Holden 7-2
Ross Creek defeated Tofield 7-6 / Semi-Final
Dodds defeated Ross Creek 12-2 / Final
It appears not all games scores were reported on.
Continuing To Uncover The League’s History
While it is nice to have the first couple of seasons figured out, as best as the history books and news papers have archived it, there is a lot that needs to be figured out still. Some of the big questions I would like to look into are when did the Powerline League, Gas Line League and Breezy League come together and did baseball continue to be played locally throughout World War 2? We know that the Ryley Rebels won the 1952 Powerline Baseball League Championship, but finding out what happened between 1937 and 1952 is the next step. A Ryley history book references the Powerline Baseball League as a six team league consisting of Bardo, Dodds, Round Hill, Ryley, Tofield and Thule with an accompanying photo of the 1950 Thule (school district) baseball team. So far most information has been coming from the Tofield Mercury archives which was the predominant news source for the area that the Powerline Baseball League called home for so many years and local history books. Another step might be to research Camrose history and try to pinpoint more information about that area’s baseball history and how it ties into the Powerline Baseball League.
There are plenty of stories and articles that would be amazing to have put together somewhere for people to read as well. There is something about the language in the way that games used to be described and how players were referred to that makes them classic. Hopefully I can find a method to present these articles to baseball fans in an easy to read and search manner for everyone to enjoy and skim through. That is the hope as we try to save some baseball history.
What 1933 Was Like In The World
For some context in what the year 1933 was like when the Powerline League, Gas Line League and Breezy League were formed.
1933 was in the midst of the Great Depression with the area feeling the impacts of tumbling wheat prices that fell from $1.78/bushel to $0.45/bushel between 1929 and the end of 1930. The area around Tofield was heavily dependant on agriculture and this was highlighted by the many articles about grain prices and impacts in a global market. Many farms began to fail and people began moving into cities where unemployment rates continued to rise.
The Alberta Premier in 1933 was John Edward Brownlee (U.F.A. Party) while Canada was under Monarch King George V.
Flipping through the local Tofield Mercury, the building up to what would be World War 2 was evident in articles. Looking back at events through 1933 you could see the change in Germany, the rise of the Nazi party step by step including the completion of the first concentration camp, the creation of the Gestapo and the squashing of civil rights in the country leading up to September 1, 1939. It is quite astonishing to look back in hindsight.
The year was also in the final year of prohibition in the United States and what was a glorified war between gangsters and authorities. Only a few years prior to 1933, Al Capone was pursued by Elliot Ness and the The Untouchables but before Prohibition would end in 1933 there were still a number of notorious criminals that roamed the county side in the US. Gangsters like John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson were still at large in 1933.
In the 1933 Major League Baseball season the New York Giants were World Series Champions defeating the Washington Senators 4-1. The Giants lineup included Hughie Critz, Blondy Ryan, Mel Ott, Jo-Jo Moore, Kiddo Davis and an aging Lefty O’Doul. This was the age before five man rotations and eleven man bullpens so Carl Hubbell (1.66 ERA in 308.2 IP), Hal Schumacher (2.16 ERA in 258.2 IP), Freddie Fitzsimmons (2.90 ERA in 251.2 IP) and Roy Parmalee (3.17 ERA in 218.1 IP) combined to throw 70 complete games. In 2018 the entire MLB combined to throw 42 complete games.
Jimmie Foxx (Philadelphia Athletics) hit 48 home runs in 1933 leading Lou Gehrig (New York Yankees) who hit 32 and a thirty eight year old Babe Ruth who hit 34 that season. Ruth was named the 1933 MVP and would only play two more seasons. The 28 games he played in 1935 with the Boston Braves being the last of his 22 year career.
On the mound in 1933 Washington Senators pitcher General Crowder went 24-15 and Philadelphia’s Lefty Grove was 24-8. Dizzy Dean was a young 23 year old throwing for the St Louis Cardinals and Lefty Gomez was a 24 year old Yankees starter.
The baseball world was seeing the tail end of the careers of the Yankee’s Murderers’ Row lineup, probably the best lineup that the MLB had ever seen. Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri were a devastating lineup for a pitcher to face for six hitters in a row. Ruth, Gehrig, Combs and Lazzeri were still with the Yankees but becoming aging veterans for the most part. The baseball world still hadn’t even seen Joe DiMaggio (1936), Bob Feller (1936), Ted Williams (1939), Stan Musial (1941), Yogi Berra (1946), Jackie Robinson (1947), Satchiel Paige (1948), Whitey Ford (1950) or Mickey Mantle (1951) yet.
Looking back at 1933 it seemed to be such a historical time in the world. Here are some other world events that happened in 1933;
Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge begins (January 5)
Adolf Hitler is appointed Chancellor of Germany (January 30)
The Lone Ranger debuts on radio (January 30)
Reichstag Fire, Germany’s parliament building is set on fire (February 27)
Reichstag Fire Decree is passed taking away many German civil liberties (February 28)
The King Kong film debuts at Radio City Music Hall (March 2)
Mount Rushmore is dedicated in South Dakota (March 3)
Franklin D. Roosevelt is sworn in as the 32nd President giving the “The only thing to fear is fear itself” line in his inauguration speech (March 4)
Monopoly is invented (March 7)
Construction of Dachau in Germany is completed (March 20)
Japan leaves the League of Nations (March 27)
First flight over Mount Everest is completed (April 3)
Sale of some beer is legalized in the US (April 7)
The Gestapo is established in Germany by Goring (April 26)
The first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster is reported (May 2)
The first drive in movie theatre opens, New Jersey (June 6)
Pretty Boy Floyd commits the Union Station massacre in Kansas City (June 17)
Non-Nazi political parties are forbidden in Germany (June 21)
Gandhi is sentenced to prison in India (July 4)
The first MLB All Star Game is played, Comiskey Park, Chicago (July 6)
New political parties are forbidden in Nazi Germany (July 14)
Members of the Barrow Gang were captured in Iowa (July 24)
Winston Churchill makes his first public speech (August 12)
The US Department of Justice acquires Alcatraz from the US Army for the purpose of creating a federal penitentiary (October 12)
Germany withdraws from the League of Nations (October 14)
Albert Einstein arrives in the US as a refugee from Germany (October 17)
The Twenty First Amendment to the US Constitution, prohibition, is repealed (December 5)
Alcohol becomes legal in the US (December 15)
The first NFL Championship game is played (December 17)
FM Radio is patented (December 26)
The Nissan Motor Company is formed in Tokyo (December 26)