Iron hit the ground in an explosion of dirt and gravel. A horseshoe slid around the stake, and the clang of metal rang throughout the foggy Sunday afternoon.
“Bam, Gary!” Brian Cummings exclaimed to his friend, Gary Munroe. “That’s a good one.”
Through an unmarked door in The Pickled Wrinkle dining room, a group gathers regularly to pitch horseshoes at the neighborhood pub in the Gouldsboro village of Birch Harbor.
Out in back of The “Wrinkle,” dual pits are surrounded by a wooden fence emblazoned with metal signs promoting Budweiser, Shipyard beer, Red Apple Ale and other libations.
Beers stand around a pile of one dollar bills — $2 game buy-ins — weighted by a rock on a picnic table. Spectators can sit at the tables or on a grassy slope. Two ropes — reminiscent of a makeshift boxing ring — separate the viewing area from the court.
Munroe, Cummings and other year-round patrons are the lifeblood of the pub when the tourism season ends in late fall. For years, they’ve been tossing “shoes” through the eatery’s various incarnations. If a player doesn’t show for a Sunday game, someone calls to check in.
“You’ll never meet any better people than you meet right around here,” retired naval cryptologic technician Marty Collis said over a crab roll as “China Grove” played on the bar’s sound system. “I came back here in ’91 and I wasn’t going anywhere else.”
The pit clique welcomes locals and tourists alike. Team members are drawn at random. Everyone just has to wait their turn.
“By the end of the day there could be 10 teams here,” said Munroe, a retired line district manager for the electric company. “During the summer, we get people from all over the country.”
Pickled Wrinkle owners Jesse and Sara Christensen see the pits as the pitchers’ property.
“The regulars have been here longer than we have and we treat them accordingly,” Sara Christensen said.
Maintenance is done by players like Cummings, a boat finisher and former sternman on a lobster boat, who repaired the backstops this spring.
Clam digger Allan Church and lobsterman Craig Robinson are considered two of the best pitchers. They throw against each other when on opposing teams.
“There’s usually not any blood involved,” Robinson said with a smile.
The Christensens bought the pub in 2013 and renamed it The Pickled Wrinkle after a friend who likes to snack on the pickled sea snails or whelks called wrinkles. Jesse thought the name would intrigue people. He was right. Tourists often come in asking what a wrinkle is. A menu item, four of the pickled wrinkles cost $3.95.
Regulars have helped out with more than the horseshoe pits. Jim Chipman and Bob Thibault built wooden seating to fill an expanded dining room. Steve Moshier helped double the kitchen space to diversify the menu. A pool table sits in front of a colorful mural painted by the Christensens’ former neighbor Gail Gilchrist.
The pub looks a lot different, but some things haven’t changed, like Thursday jazz nights, the horseshoe pits and the people who come to play.
“All you need is two stakes and some horseshoes,” Cummings said. “Most of us love it. If we’ve got four people here, we’ll be playing.”