Thinking Back – A Conversation
In the spring, after hunting season, it is time for dog men in the Deep South to turn their young pups out to look at the coming prospects. The handler’s keen eyes look for those special qualities that naturally spring forth from the gene pool as the excited puppies run before the horses across what must appear to them as paradise.
It was at this time of year that Tim Moore and I visited CJ Trice, a retired Pineland Plantation scout and dog handler.
Down a white sand road south of Albany, GA, nestled among a stand of live oaks is the home of retired dog man CJ Trice. CJ is a big man; it is hard for him to get out and around these days. That doesn’t diminish his bright smile or the gleam in his eyes when he recalls his years immersed in the world of quail hunting on one of the South’s grandest plantations.
Born in 1932 on family farm land surrounded by the famed Pineland Plantation, his early memories are of his father going to work on Pineland after having laid by his family’s crops for the season. In 1938, famed bird dog trainer, Ed Farrior, came from Union Springs, Alabama to manage Pineland for then owner L.D. Johnson, the owner of Air Pilot’s Sam, two-time winner of the National Free-for-All Championship (1936 and 1939) and the National Championship in 1937.
Farrior brought with him another man that would be meaningful in CJ’s life. This man was Arthur Works, Ed Farrior’s long-time scout on the major all-age field trial circuit.
Starting in the mid-1920’s, Arthur made some of the Farriors’ first trips to the Canadian prairies and was very important to the success of many of Ed Farrior’s early field trial competitors. Mr. Farrior eventually left Pineland, but Arthur remained to enjoy a career as dog trainer in this historic setting.
General Richard King Mellon purchased Pineland, “…the last 2 weeks of hunting season in 1949,” as CJ recollects. Today this beautiful hunting property is still owned and enjoyed by the Mellon family.
As a youth, CJ worked part-time on the plantation after school when not needed on the family farm or as he said, “When it was too wet to plow.” At the time, earning a living on a family farm was dependent on mule power. The best description of this was CJ’s statement, “I was brought up through the plow handles,” he said.
CJ’s father purchased their first tractor in the mid ‘50s, though even then his father said, “I don’t have to buy a tractor. I have 3 mules, corn in the crib and bales of hay put up.”
Reaching farther back in time, CJ told of walking to school and drinking water out of the turpentine cups that hung from the big pines when he was thirsty. He also spoke of young people, himself included, being given boxes of matches by plantation manager Oscar Irving, and sent walking through Pineland to start fires for the spring burning.
After two years in the U.S. Army, CJ became a full-time employee of Pineland in 1955. He was Arthur Works’ scout in the hunting parties for 18 years. During those years he learned the fine art of dog training and gained the skills necessary to work with people of many different backgrounds. Early on, he was so immersed in learning his trade, his mother said she could hear CJ calling dogs in his sleep. CJ married Arthur Works’ daughter, Louise, and they raised five children together. Louise, or “Lou”, worked for the Mellon family her entire career. Born in 1933, she is still most youthful, quick to smile, and feels fortunate she never had to look for another occupation.
CJ was employed by the Mellon family for 38 years and his recollections reflect the respect that he has for that family.
Though CJ had to retire in the ‘90s due to physical complications of a bad knee, his love of the sport has not dwindled. As CJ reminisced, our conversation went through time with the chronological order not as important as the content. The Southern Field Trial Club, which now hosts the Masters Championships, was incorporated in 1940. Before the Potter Community Center was built, local churches would act as headquarters and prepare lunches for trial participants. CJ truly enjoyed the Masters trials and many of the people and dogs hold a special place in his memory. His father, Tom Trice, often drove the dog wagon during the Southern Club’s trials. The wagon was pulled by mules the Club rented from area farmers. CJ recalled they used one pair for the morning and another pair after lunch.
Tim and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, sitting in CJ’s living room listening to him as he recalled memorable people, special dogs, special tasks and days gone by.
Many professional trainers through the years came to work dogs on Pineland and CJ saw several of the greats in their workouts. His face lit up when he mentioned one of his favorites, Safari. “She was sure enough a baby; nothing but a bird dog.” He also expressed respect and fondness for members of the Gates family, Captain John, John Rex, Robin and Sheila.
He remembers carrying females from Pineland over to Captain John’s to breed to champions such as Greenwood Bill.
CJ also mentioned Herman Smith coming by Pineland to work dogs before the Masters and the high quality dogs that he had.
Among other professional trainers that visited the plantation, Paul Wright came down from Indiana and became a friend to the staff.
Other memories were of Peck Kelley, noted scout for the Gates’ string, who as the admiring CJ stated, “He (Peck) could pull those things…” a sly reference to what goes on in the woods among professional scouts.
He told of noted Blue Springs handler, Sam Ellis who came into the dog business under Mack Ash from Hendersonville, SC. This was during the time Mr. W.C. Potter owned Blue Springs Plantation prior to the Mountcastle ownership.
In a conversation about Pineland Kate, a successful trial pointer campaigned by George Moreland for owner Murray Fleming, CJ recalled that his favorite horse, “Big Boy” came from George Moreland. Big Boy had to have been big if he was used by Mr. George who stood 6’7” or by CJ who stands at 6’6”. When asked if he enjoyed riding, CJ quickly responded that he loved it and wished he could care for a horse now, just so he could look at it.
As to some of his best hunting dogs, CJ recalled a white and black female pointer known as Spot that he won the prestigious Plantation Handler’s Trial with on five occasions. Pork Roll Rip, a descendant of Hall of Fame Champion Air Pilot’s Sam, also garnered the same glory on 3 occasions with CJ on the whistle. The last win, in 1990, was not long before CJ’s retirement.
What stood out during our conversation was the true joy that CJ had recalling his years working on Pineland. He was quick to offer how nice the Mellon family is and how well he has been treated by them. His stories were also of area businessman, Richard Tift, past agent for many of the plantation owners and in CJ’s words, the “Big Boss” across the Georgia-Florida plantation belt. CJ spoke numerous times of the different managers he worked for on Pineland. The phrases, “very nice, very fair, a man that would do exactly what he said he would do,” point to positive working conditions. The employee turnover is best described by CJ as “most people that worked here, died here,” meaning that staff tended to spend their entire careers there. This speaks volumes in reference to the owners and managers.
One has to comprehend the magnitude of an operation where one wagon could shoot into 50 coveys in a day’s hunting. There were two mule-drawn wagons put into the field each day, both manned by a dog handler, wagon driver, scouts and helpers. Each of the two hunting parties hunted on separate courses and most of the hunters were mounted on horseback. The staff started at seven o’clock in the morning with harnesses and tack gleaming when the mules and horses left the barn. The morning hunt began around 9 AM and lasted about two and a half hours, with a break for lunch and a return to the field for the afternoon hunt. The dogs were paired in braces, the demands great enough that trainers needed to maintain over 40 broke dogs ready to go afield. The same is true today, but in a time before training collars and tracking collars one can just imagine the workload. Some of the Pineland dog handlers that were contemporaries of CJ were Arthur Works, Casey Black, and Will Rudolph. CJ learned the necessary skills and when it was time, he was ready to assume the position of handler himself.
For many years, Pineland bred all of their hunting stock, raised puppies and did their own training. By the early 1980’s Pineland sometimes bought outside puppies to bring into their kennels. CJ told of driving to Texas during that time to meet Steven Harwood and returning with up to $5000 worth of puppies. In the 80’s that sum would bring a lot of puppies back to Georgia. Pineland did not, however, buy broke dogs and continued to train their own dogs and horses. Steven Harwood visited Pineland on numerous occasions and demonstrated modern forms of horse training.
Pineland spent some years in crossing labs and cockers to produce their self-named, Flint River Retriever. As CJ recalled, this was a pet project that General Mellon enjoyed. At times the plantation had 100 retrievers.
Boots Walters became Pineland’s manager in 1959 and was the first to bring the electric training collar to the plantation. Early on they used the collar to reinforce backing and to teach snake avoidance. CJ described what many of us have seen; a dog stopping and pointing a snake. The image that he portrayed of a dog standing, “bristled up” and appearing to “charm” the snake, could be most dangerous. With the use of a frozen snake and the e-collar they often taught a dog to blink, or go around a rattlesnake.
CJ spoke of neighboring Merry Dot Plantation, now known as Nilo, having a manager named Mr. Higgins, who in CJ’s words “…always spoke very correctly.” Well, the same could be said about CJ. He speaks well and clearly is a man who continued to learn throughout his life and benefited from the rich environment and cultural surroundings in which he was immersed. Today, CJ and Lou still live in his grandfather’s house among the large live oaks with their hanging Spanish moss, the piano in the living room covered with framed family photographs. It is home. He only gets out these days to go to church, to the doctor, and to nearby Camilla to get his medicine. He has not allowed the confinements to dampen his spirit, or to lose his big smile or his praise of those that he worked with years ago. He remembers a time when the day’s two hunting parties commonly put 100 coveys to wing. He still loves a bird dog and the qualities we all continue to look for in them. One can only imagine how many he has seen in the field. When you listen to CJ, you hear a man that enjoyed it all, a man who has great respect for the people he worked for, worked with and so many of the people he met along the way.
When you “let one go” and step up in the saddle this year, remember CJ and all of the people like him that have known and love the sport still, but are unable to join us in the field. May we all, one day, be able to reflect with such joy and have as many great memories as CJ Trice.