By MARTY LEVINE
When Pitt football player Paul “Rip” Collins claimed in late January 1931 that he was the greatest hog caller in his native Sioux City, Iowa — and therefore the entire country — Allegheny County rose to the challenge.
Pittsburgh was the 10th largest city in the U.S. at the time, but it still had hogs and callers. The county was home to about 3,000 farms at the time, and the city itself had more than 150 miles of unpaved roadways. Swine-summoning abilities were still a point of Pittsburgh pride.
The hog hullabaloo started when the Pittsburgh Press radio editor, S.H. Steinhauser, decided he knew a good sound-centric story when he heard one. There on page one he placed a picture of Rip Collins, with the claim: “He may attend school in the center of culture, Oakland … but this farmer son of the Middle-West seeks no fame greater than the title to which he lays claim, the championship of all hog callers.
“Taking out the interference, carrying the ball against the toughest team in the world is sport,” Collins told the Press, “but callin’ hogs is an art. … when I’m not in school I drive hogs, as many as 1,000 at a time in two lots of 500, one on each side of the highway, from Sioux City to Chicago, and I haven’t lost a hog yet.”
“How’d you do it?” Steinhauser asked.
“With a little switch and my voice. And what’s more, I never get the hogs mixed up. … On the way to school here at Pitt, my pal, Frances Siegel (a guard on the Pitt football team and Collins’ neighbor back home) and I called every hog between Sioux City and Pittsburgh. We drove here in an old flivver, and every time we passed a farm we slowed down and started calling hogs.
“Siegel and I never could agree on just what to say to hogs,” Collins continued. “He insisted on shouting “Se-bo-se-hi-hi-hi-pouie-pig-pig-pouie-so-si” … my own call (is) “Pouie- pouie-pouie-si-bo-si-hi-i-i-saw.
“But our teammates at Pitt refuse to let the matter end there. On one road trip the team divided into factions: one bunch of fellows was for me and the others for Siegel. Well, we got off the train at a country stop and called up every hog within three miles and just before the train started we sent them home again.”
Concluded Collins: “I’ll bet I can make a hog hear me three miles away and I can bring him right up to me and, when I get ready, I can shout at him and send him back home. If anyone wants to argue about the hog-calling business, let me know and we’ll decide who is the champion hog-caller of Allegheny County.”
Siegel was up to the challenge, and claimed he was the real champion: “My folks would never forgive me for letting him get away with that. We hog callers in Iowa don’t do things that way. It’s a matter of family pride. No Collins ever out-called a hog-callin’ Siegel, and if Rip thinks he can out-call me now, let’s go down to the stockyards and settle this thing.”
Soon there was a Press article every day, with a new challenger.
The paper’s own police reporter, Earle R. Waugh, claimed to be a “veteran pig-crier,” and added: “I am able to call a ham from the refrigerator hooks in a butcher shop,” boasting that his own particular cry was “the grand opera of all hog-calling.”
The next day, crooner Dick Powell got into the act. He had been employed here for the previous two years to emcee the vaudeville acts at the Enright Theater in East Liberty (between showings of first-run talkies) for which he sang through a cheerleader-style megaphone, in the absence of microphones.
Apparently Powell stood out among the contortionists, waltz teams, “personality girls” and animal acts on stage: When he left Pittsburgh he appeared in some of the first movie musicals from Warner Bros. and later in detective films. But now, he wasn’t beyond claiming that hog-calling, back in his Arkansas hometown, had allowed him to be discovered for stage.
Then Tampa, a local radio magician (he was making all those things disappear — trust him!) professed that he could as easily reassemble a hog from “pork chops, spare ribs, bacon, weiners and squeals” as he could saw a woman in half, thanks to his childhood on an Ohio farm.
By this time, Feb. 2 was nigh, and the local groundhog-calling contest on KDKA took over page one, but soon Steinhauser announced a hog-calling match for two days hence on WCAE (now WTAE): “A live pig will go to the winner, a ham to second place, a side of bacon to third place, and a box of finest sausage to fourth place. There will be a mysterious consolation prize.”
This really drew out the locals. Mary Hughes of Homewood entered the contest, speaking up for women’s hog-calling rights. Carl Woodall of Mt. Washington entered, claiming experience in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado as a youth.
Then three football players from Waynesburg College in Waynesburg, a tiny hamlet in Greene County, claimed to be the best bewitchers of the curly-tailed set. Compared to their own upbringing in Pennsylvania, one said, “Those boys from Iowa have no idea what it is to send a pig yell across a hill 1,000 feet high, topped with locust thickets and then down across a wide meadow.” They also declared their talents were good for manipulating the pigskin for points.
WCAE’s station manager promised to provide “an orchestra and some farm stunts, between calls.” Gimbel’s department store signed on as the sponsor. Contestants were announced on the air by numbers instead of names (to make judging fair) and the public was provided a voting blank to rip out of the Press and mail in.
Thousands voted, and the locals swept the field, with Woodall winning and Hughes finishing fourth. Seigel edged out Collins, but they were far out of the running, in 7th and 8th place, with Dick Powell in 12th, Tampa in 14th, and police reporter Waugh in the 15th spot.
The Press never did reveal that mysterious consolation prize. But Paul “Rip” Collins went on to play for the professional football team called the Boston … well, they had the same name formerly used by the Washington NFL team. A souvenir matchbook featuring a photo from one of his seasons (1932-35) calls Collins: “One of the smartest ends in professional football and one of the mainstays of the Boston” team. That matchbook is selling today for between $27.50 and $30 on eBay — which will buy his estate (he died in 1988) or his fans a nice bit of pork right here in Allegheny County.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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