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--- California Harness Racing History ---

Potatoes to Ponies
By B. K. Beckwith

The Story of Three "Pore Country Boys"

ONE of the greatest of western standbred empires was founded on two fifty dollar side bets, and a five hundred dollar dinner. Today this empire surrounds the town of Shafter, California, spreading outward in ever growing circles over the hot flat plains of the lower San Joaquin Valley, and comprising the vast holdings of Sol Camp, Bob Neuman and Bill Lachenmaier. This trio literally came, saw, and conquered. With about two hundred dollars in their respective jeans they dropped a pebble in the Shafter pool and the ripples therefrom have turned into waves and are still widening.

But what of the two bets and the dinner? What did those happenings have to do with Camp, Neuman and Lachenmaier being in the racing business? Well, as Chick Sale used to say, I'll tell you why.

One hot afternoon in Bakersfield back in 1944 the three cronies from Shafter, considerably richer than when they had landed there in 1922, were leaning on the white rail of the local fair grounds track. As usual, they were good‑naturedly ribbing each other, and the butt of the joke on this occasion was Bill Lachenmaier. He had just bought himself a trotter called Sonya Patch. None of the three knew much about harness racing, or, for that matter, cared much. Sol had skinned mules, and Bob and Bill had tooled a plow, but that was about as far as it went. Bob and Sol figured Bill had been played for a sucker, and they weren't backward about telling him so.

"Tell you what I'll do," Lachenmaier said, "I'll just bet you two pikers fifty dollars each that I win that trotting race this afternoon."

The money was out and up before he'd quit talking. However, there was a further condition—the winner had to give a dinner in Bakersfield that night.

The rest is history in Kern County. Bill Lachenmaier won the race. He collected one hundred dollars from his highly annoyed pals and thought he had the last laugh. But Sol and Bob began getting even right then, a process all three have been indulging in for the past five years. They asked 150 of their friends to the dinner which Bill, according to the terms of the wager, had to give, and which set him back a neat five hundred smackers.

Around the convivial board of that memorable meal was born the future of the harness sport in Shafter. 'Even though they had pulled a fast one on Lachenmaier, Camp and Neuman were still doing a slow burn. If their friend could own a winning horse why in blue­belted blazes couldn't they? More to the point, why couldn't they get a horse who would tic this Sonya Patch in knots? And, still more to the point, Camp said to himself and Neuman said to himself, "Maybe I'd better be the guy who gets the winning nag."

Thus the rivalry—a friendly dog cat dog affair—started. It has gone on ever since. The three potato barons have been politely cutting each other's throats in the afternoons, and drinking to each other's health in the evening, for the past five years. Nobody gets more fun out of it then they do, unless it might be the entire population of Kern County, which has watched the growth of the sport in its own back yard with an enthusiasm as intense as the that of three men who gave it birth.

Neuman didn't let the grass grow under his sizeable fee—the went out and bought Bunter Patch, and took Lachenmaier to the cleaners. Camp was thinking it over, and counting potatoes, and when Lachenmaier bought King Abbey to have revenge on Neuman, Sol talked Bill into selling him the King so he could get at Bob Neuman first. He did just that, but this left Bill Lachenmaier out in the cold, so he had to get another one in order to beat 'em both. It was sort of like pulling rabbits out of hats—there wasn't any definite end to it—as fast as one would get a horse which would beat the other two, the latter would start shopping around for revenge. It was bound to lead to the acquisition of good stock. As long as the potatoes and cotton kept growing the Standardbreds kept coming to the plains of Shafter. Both are still at it.

Newman bought Red Streak for $2,000 with the humiliation of King Abbey and Sol Camp as his main objective. They had a grudge match, with considerable of the long green stuff being put on the side. King Abbey won, but only because Red Streak turned a shoe during the race. Neuman was so mad that he didn't take the trouble to find out about his shoe business for some hours after the race, but the cagey "pore farm boy from Carolina" did find out, and he talked Neuman into selling Red Streak for $4,000. Neuman still holds that one against Camp—Red Streak went on to win in excess of $52,000 in the next two years.

Neuman got some revenge when he drove a match race against Camp at Bakersfield. He had a 24‑year‑old trotter that Camp figured couldn't get out of its own way, particularly if Bob—who weighs in the neighborhood of 300 pounds—was in the rig. Sol had a three‑year‑old he liked, and with a few unkind remarks he taunted Neuman into the match, owners to drive, one mile around the half miler at Bakersfield. The boys don't bet in small lumps, and this was no exception. "I'm damned if I know just how I stayed in the rig," Bob Neuman exclaimed, "but I did, and I beat that little half pint a neck."

Another bone of contention between these two is the fact that Neuman could have bought the crack three‑year‑old pacer, Prince Jay, for one dollar, provided he'd bring his own halter. He didn't and now Camp has the finest young side‑wheeling prospect in the west.

The rivalry has absorbed Bill Lachenmaier just as keenly as the other two. He has done his share of pulling the rabbits out of hats, to the deep discomfort of his fellow potatoians. As rapidly as they have expanded in their racing 'holdings, so has Bill. Today the three of them value their Standardbred stock in excess of five hundred thousand dollars, and, since price is no object to these thriving sons of the soil, it is safe to say that their racing stock will double that value in the years to come. They are in the game to stay, certainly as long as any one of them can get a horse which will make a monkey out of the other two.

How come three such unusual men landed in the same place? Well, no one could give the answer to that. They came from the ends of the earth. They were not blessed with money then, but they were blessed with things of greater value—courage, energy, optimism, and the native knowledge of the born countryman. Sol Camp hailed from South Carolina, Bob Neuman from Roumania and Bill Lachenmaier from South Dakota. They arrived in Shafter within weeks of each other. Camp went to work as a mule skinner, Neuman as a farm laborer and Lachenmaier went to making boxes to pack grapes in. That was 27 years ago. The time between has seen them prosper far beyond their wildest dreams. As they got money they put it back into the soil—­potatoes, cotton, general truck farming. Neuman and Lachenmaier finally went into partnership in the produce business, and Camp built cotton gins and spread his potatoes far and wide.

Camp is the promoter of the three. The business partnership no longer exists, but the bond of deep friendship does, and always will. It took four years, once their operations were well‑knit, for Neuman and Lachenmaier to make their first million. Camp probably speeded this pace up a bit.

Today they do things in the grand manner—they all have private planes, and when Neuman goes to a race meeting he hires a private railroad car and takes along his whole family, four sons, their wives, and all the grandchildren. They think nothing of renting the whole floor of a hotel. Their hospitality is boundless. With all this, they are still the same "pore country boys" who came to California long ago—­their manner has not changed at all. They do things in a big way, but never lose the common touch. The show of money is not in their personal appearance, nor their general attitude—they simply like to enjoy life and see others around them enjoy it.

Sol Camp's horse interests are located at Springville, up in the mountains from Shafter. Here he has fine stables, large paddocks, and a training track which be literally blasted out of two canyon walls and filled in above a flowing mountain stream. It is probably the most unique track in the world. Camp is in the breeding business up to his neck, and continues to add the finest stock to his nursery each year. He also operates a large racing stable both east and west. He paid the highest prices for yearlings in the United States in 1947 and 1948.

Bill Lachenmaier and Bob Neuman so far have confined their activities to the racing of Standardbreds, but it is their intention to go into the breeding business in the near future After all, if Sol can then, by golly, so can they!

Lachenmaier built a fine half mile training track at Shafter, and there both he and Neuman have large stables, and winter and train their stock. It is the principal meeting place for the entire town. When the horses are home the countryside turns out to watch 'em work, and swap yarns of the "Roarin' Grand".

Neuman's massive bulk and Lachenmaier's skinny one can be seen each morning jogging 'em. around. Trainers Neil Boardman, Ken Cartnal, and Jack Crawford are busy men throughout the winter at Shafter, and up at Springville Charlie Witt is working the young stock and the older ones in the Camp string. The entire district is harness horse minded, thanks to Sol and Bob and Bill.

To list their horses here would take more space then we've got. They've sent out more winners—north, south, east, and west—than Carter has pills, and the betting around Shafter is that they will continue to do so for many years to come. In the final analysis it is the "three pore country boys" this yam is concerned with—not their horses. So long as we've sportsmen like them in California we'll continue to have light harness; racing.

Potatoes to Ponies

POTATO KINGS—California's three potato kings, Bill Lachenmaier (left), Bob Neuman (center) and Sol Camp are three cronies that have horses and potatoes in common. A couple of $50 bets and a $500 dinner had a lot to do with getting this famous trio head over heels into the harness racing sport.