Trainers and Their Owners (Of Yore)
In the halcyon days of trainer and owner relationships there were some memorable and unique dramas and some essences of very close friendships that have largely gone unnoticed.
One that comes to mind immediately because it involves a man with whom I still correspond every week is the bond between Dr. Thomas M. Flanagan and Bill Conlin.
When I knew him, Conlin was — or seemed — young. Of course he wasn’t really because he was a talented architect and an artist of no mean talent.
But his love of bird dogs and his “touch” with a setter brought him to the attention of Dr. Tom Flanagan of Grouse Ridge Kennels in Norwich, N. Y.
“Bill Conlin and I just hit it off!”, Dr. Tom wrote me recently. “There was never a nicer fellow and very few who ever loved dogs and treated them that way as Bill Conlin did.”
Dr. Flanagan’s son, Peter, spent summers on the prairie with Conlin and his string of dogs. I’m sure that’s when I first made my Flanagan contact which has now lasted some 60 odd years. And I’d like to say right here that such an accolade from Dr. Tom serves as its own Hall of Fame tight niche. The man who recognized the pre-potency of Grouse Ridge Smokey, who picked the brains of Herman Smith, Luther Smith and Ed Soph is no slacker when it comes to insight. Dr. Tom Flanagan was by anyone’s measure one of the stellar owners for many trainers.
Because, prior to my career with The Field as a major circuit correspondent, my bird dog experience was limited, mostly, to Georgia. I was first introduced to what it was like to be an “owner” of significance by two starkly opposite men.
Earl Crangle from Waynesboro, Burke County, Georgia, came to our small one-course trials in North Georgia handling Raymond Hoagland’s pointers. Mr. Hoagland lived near Cartersville, 200 miles northwest from Waynesboro, but he was very much in evidence at the ancient Georgia Open All-Age Stake (now a championship) near the Crangle training grounds.
Al Hall, superintendent of Division of Game, New York Conservation Dept, looks on as Frank C. Ash presents scroll commemorating the election of the late Raymond Hoagland to the Field Trial Hall of Fame. On the right is Earl C. Crangle, professional handler, who had charge of many of the Hoagland bird dogs.
Mr. Hoagland was a gentleman much like my grandfather, both men possessed of the same handsome and gregarious good manners. He was very particular about his dogs and he fairly glowed when they excelled, but never showed any public criticism when they stumbled.
I scouted for him sometimes and he never bawled me out or embarrassed me even when I knew I had botched a task or failed to come up to his standards. I think I learned as much about field trials to begin with from Mr. Hoagland as I did from anyone. He had a very unique sense of humor and an exhaustive store of historical and seminal knowledge of both setter and pointer breeding and field trial deportment. He was the one who corralled any tendency I had to be cavalier about flushing in front of a dog. When he saw a smart-alecky trainer or amateur handler using the barrel of a shotgun to swish around near the ground he blanched and uttered, for him, a really, really BAD word of judgment. It stuck with me and I later made no friends with my insistence that such behavior be punished and blank ammunition be strictly required.
Mr. Hoagland, like me, teethed on firearms and was weaned to safety.
Earl Crangle had another owner, Carmen Basilio, with whom Betts, my wife, and I both became close friends.
Carmen, at one time or another, had been a welterweight and middleweight champion boxer but he could never beat Sugar Ray Robinson. Neither could anyone else.
He taught us how to watch boxing on television. (It was bigger than game shows in the late 1940s and ’50s.) And we talked to him about Georgia quail hunting, current hunting and field trials. He was a better standard in the crash course than any novice owner, I believe, I ever saw. He was really liberated shooting birds over Rumson Farm Hayride, which he co-owned with Earl after Mr. Hoagland’s death.
Earl’s dad, George Crangle, was one of the wisest and most talented bird dog brains I ever contacted. He had, for some time, Gerald M. Livingston as an owner of Tarheelia’s Lucky Strike in the 1940s. George and Lucky won everything in sight, including the Quail Championship Invitational (1942) at Albany, but never were able to get past Luminary at Grand Junction.
Tarheelia’s Lucky Strike
Placed in a second series, winner-take-title, Clyde Morton harnessed and roaded Luminary from the hotel to the starting line, shaving the nervy edge off, and won the championship when, according to Crangle: “Bejaysus, Clyde flushed and shot twice before I got ’m right foot settled in m’ stirrup!”
Mr. Livingston bred Lucky sparingly and then only to bitches owned by close personal friends, according to the Crangles.
After George Evans took over training at Dixie, and after Gerald Livingston’s demise, his widow, Mrs. Eleanor Livingston, was not so chary.
Earl Crangle has referred to one “really fine bitch — the best one that Lucky was ever bred to” that birthed the fountainhead of two wings of the Hall of Fame. That is another story that would take up one whole issue of The Field to exploit.
John S. Gates of Leesburg (his address in the 1940s was “Philema”, a foresting terminus now defunct) was cresting as a trainer and attracting a whole motley bagful of owners when I came along and asked him to run a Derby for me in the Continental. It was, incidentally, Warhoop Jake’s Derby year. Jake won the United States Chicken Championship (1949) for Herbert Ingram of Cotton, Georgia, and handler Ed Mack Farrior. He set the standard that year, and for many more years as an all-age performer in my opinion.
John S. Gates
But getting back to “Cap’n John” Gates and HIS owners.
The first one I met was a fellow who had served me beer in college. He was H. M. Beatty, whose wife “Ma” Beatty had THE beer garden that attracted Emory University suds seekers. “Ma Beatty’s” was the closest den of iniquity to the campus, and that is where I first saw him.
Beatty was a scrawny misanthrope who threatened to “cut” people he took a dislike to. He owned Greenwood Bill, a prairie chicken prodigy whelped on Jock Whitney’s (Greenwood) plantation south of Thomasville, Georgia.
One of my earliest field trial revelations was to learn how Gates and his scout, Loran “Peck” Kelly, could “train down” Bill from a prairie scorcher to a winner on a 30-minute briar track with an adjacent four-acre “birdfield” of drowned quail.
If Beatty did not win every time, he wanted to tangle with anybody. Nursing him along seemed inefficient to me.
On the other hand, Gates had owners like Col. B. C. Goss, whose Mercer Mill Plantation was adjacent to Gates’ home, across the Flint River. The “Goss connection” led to many winners trained by Gates on the Goss place: Mercer Miller, sire of Safari. Col. Goss bred that litter out of the Texas Ranger linebred Ranger Bows. Mercer Miller was Fast Delivery bred.
Two other Gates owners were Bethea McCall of Jim Dandy Mills fame, and Sellers H. Vredenburgh, a timber baron. These two had been competitors since their youth when they butted heads in Beagle trials.
Mr. McCall was a lover of dog trainers. He had dogs with everyone. Of course that tied in with dog food sales, but that was NOT the driving force. He loved running dogs and field trials. When his brag dog (Storm Trooper) got in trouble under Frank Dimke’s charge, Mr. McCall sent him to Gates. Trooper had attracted the disdain of a loudmouth some-time judge who did disseminate the opinion that Trooper was a “blinker” and that Dimke was clueless or feckless.
Gates took Storm Trooper to the myriad plantations surrounding him, and to the prairie and returned to win the Free-for-All Championship (1959).
Mr. Vredenburgh had many winners with Gates. The most controversial one was first named Gambler’s Eye and renamed Medallion by Vredenburgh.
Medallion and Safari (by Iwan Lotton)
When registered, the huge and handsome heavily liver marked male was owned by Mrs. Doris McLanahan, a Tennessean. Gates (remember he lives in Philema, Georgia) on a “party line” and Mrs. McLanahan was at a party at the time.
“Whatcha wanna name him?” Gates queried.
“How about Gambler’s Eye?” Mrs. M. asked.
“Sure . . . (pause-scribbling) that’s some name . . . .”
And so when they kept running “Bud” for an hour and a half at the Quail Futurity in futile search for feathers, and again and again elsewhere, George Rogers remarked, “What an atrocious name for such a lovely dog . . . .” Vredenburgh bought him as an all-age and changed the sobriquet to Medallion.
It was years, actually, and Hank Williams was long silent and gone when word filtered back from someone in Tennessee that Bud’s first owner wanted to name him . . . (drum roll) . . . JAMBALAYA!
Sellers Vredenburgh bought Safari from Dr. Sam Orr Black of Spartanburg, South Carolina — a good friend of Col. Goss and John Gates, but a patron of Fred Bevan, Sr., in Burke County/Waynesboro.
From whatever sources, Dr. Black (known to some in dogdom as Dr. S.O.B) was insistent that Dr. Sam’s Shaaman (Safari’s littermate) was a much better prospect.
I had scouted for Dr. Sam. I was one of his long-suffering “friends/allies.” He asked me: “Bill, should I sell Judy? John Gates wants her. I have never seen her point a bird! Fred and I have shot over Shaaman. I just want your opinion.”
“Dr. Sam,” I said, “Shaaman is okay. But this bitch points birds, finds birds and she will NEVER be lost in a field trial and she will NEVER be behind. She is a showgirl first and always. One in a million, maybe . . . . ”
He sold her and she won the Georgia Derby under the demanding eyes of Dr. Alvin Nitchman the next day. Then she won the National Derby Championship and then the All-America Derby Championship. Hat trick!
Even when she had six or seven championships, Mr. Vredenburgh had her on the trade block.
He wanted B. McCall’s War Storm. Mr. Vredenburgh had seen young Jake do his “helicopter point” routine and said, War Storm “is the best dog I’ve ever seen . . . .”
But Mr. McCall wouldn’t sell. Mr. V went to $6,000. No deal. Then Mr. V offered $8,000 PLUS Safari.
Bethea McCall had one last sentence: “I GOT $8,000! I NEVER paid an entry fee on a bitch! And, I GOT War Storm.”
War Storm (by Iwan Lotton)
Paul Walker was always fortunate with his owners. They were clamoring when they were on the “outside” and comfortable when they became patrons.
Clarence Edwards, who started most of Paul’s great dogs as puppies, was the typical Walker devotee. Calm and cool as the Washington Monument in a snowstorm, Clarence was confidence personified. He “caught” the cool from Walker.
Dr. Sam Bickley, great physician, voluble and sanguine about the Civil War, was quiet and slow to judgment around his trainer.
Sandy Shore and Bracey Bobbitt, veterans in the Walker orbit, were less judgmental than others, though Sandy DID put another Walker owner in his place once.
Dr. W. H. McCall, the Asheville, North Carolina ophthalmologist, early in his field trial days, asked Sandy Shore what he thought of McCall’s entry in the trial, a pointer named Smokey Mountain Frank. Shore said: “Well, Doc, if I wuz you, whut I’d do is sell them Gookey boots, those flared-out jodhpurs, that frilly buckskin vest and that silly Stetson cowboy hat and buy me a good dawg . . . . ”
McCall never got rid of his trademark jodhpurs but he bought some good dogs. And I scouted some of them. Won some. But he was the worst scout I ever had. If it wasn’t his dog, Dr. McCall didn’t give spit.
Dr. W. H. McCall
I have already mentioned Dr. Black. Fred Bevan had several other owners with whom I had close personal relationships.
Dr. Addison Simpson, from Washington, Georgia, was hard to get to know, but when he accepted you, it was unqualified union. We made a good team in some amateur events, and he won with dogs like Simpson’s Silver Strike when Bevan did not.
Miss Claudia Phelps had dogs with Bevan and she was very fond of Frances Bevan, Fred’s lovely and articulate wife. When my youngest son, Victor, spent a whole weekend with the Bevans, he was entertained and fed and tolerated. Fred took Vic coon hunting and they bagged what I think was the second or third largest boar coon I ever saw.
Fred and an owner, J. S. Farmer, gathered a crowd and confronted me at the free-standing lunch house porch at the Continental one time.
“We want to know why you don’t ever give our dogs a decent write-up? Why don’t you say something good about our dogs?”
It was kinda like facing the Sioux at Little Big Horn.
“Well,” I said, “tell me something good I can report. I am all at attention.”
“Do they have nice, thin, unblemished ears?” I asked.
The crowd began giggling and all the rancor subsided.
Privately, I told Fred Bevan he was beating himself, riding around a bracemate’s “Point tableau” hollering “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” It was counterproductive.
I reminded him of the time the venerable Edward Farrior, braced with Bevan, had interrupted the “whoawhoawhoawhoa-ing” to inquire:
“Gawdamitey, Fred! Whaddaya holler when ya want ’em to STOP?”
Fred Arant, Jr.’s clientele was devoted to him. I cannot name them all, but they included Miss Claudia Phelps, Dick Dodd, Gerry Achenbach, Harold Crane, Steve Richardson and Martin Best, Jr.
Fred Arant with Rambling Rebel Dan, George Bevan with Royal Genius, Paul Walker with Haberdasher’s Crestliner, North Carolina, 1958.
Of all these, I was closest to Martin. He was inside my head and could do no wrong scouting. He was very judgmental and sometimes negative, but fearless and loyal. And very smart. We shared a love, based on Wisdom, for Mrs. Myra Berol, who left red setters to inhale and do well in pointerdom.
Gerry Achenbach was a very good business-man (Piggly Wiggly stores) and successful amateur handler, and insisted on access to all his dogs to run himself. This resulted in uneven performances by them in open stakes, often.
Harold Crane was a bit less sanguine about handling, but when he was enamored of one, he was completely kennel blind — a hopeless disease for an amateur.
Dick Dodd, an Atlantan I knew from my first field trial on, was one of the smartest non-professionals I ever knew. Although his main attractions in life were his Irish lass wife and family and his vast camellia gardens in Marshallville, Georgia, he was a “dog whisperer” of deep talent. He could take a young dog he had not seen in months, spend the night and early morning with it and beat everybody like a broken banjo.
Steve Richardson was one of field trialdom’s noblemen. He picked his dogs and his taste has seeped throughout pointerdom. Certainly, Arant deserves a great enthusiastic thank-you for a lot of the breeding program. But I will never forget Steve’s face and questions and comments when I expanded on my report when I first saw Rambling Rebel Dan at Frobisher (Saskatchewan).
My dear friend Phil Brousseau had no great list of owners. He and V. J. broke dogs for many people from Connecticut to Florida. Peter Lusardi was his most beneficent owner, a grand, unselfish man who rarely saw his heroic dogs. Mr. O. T. Massey was another absentee owner who supported Phil’s work. I spent a weekend at Mr. Massey’s “hunting camp” on Phil’s lease, and Mr. Massy and Joe McCall nursed me through the throes of deep, frustrating remorse at having made what turned out NOT to be a fatal training mistake.
Among Brousseau’s most fortunate owners was J. S. Farmer, who sent Farmer’s Secret Weapon to Phil. They won the 1961 Free-for-All Championship together.
W. F. “Bill” and Fred Rayl’s owners were among the most loyal and savvy.
Bill and Fred Rayl
T. Jack Robinson and I spent more time in conversation in the Continental gallery than any other two fellows. I actually competed against Bill Rayl in amateur trials before he turned pro. I thought his first great dog, Highway Man, was sort of unappreciated. A fountainhead of pointer royalty. Sad to say, no one in the 1950s agreed with me.
It’s great to look back and see how the great T. Jack, and the industrious leader, E. L. “Ted” Baker and Dr. Tom Kennard kept on keeping on until they towered astride the world of pointers.
E. L. “Ted” Baker and T. Jack Robinson
The Rayl family mortised into their foundation clientele seamlessly.
The great pianist and composer of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose,” Fats Waller, had a great tagline for his varied life and accomplishments:
“One Never Knows. Does One?” (The politically incorrect version is MUCH punchier.)
©Bill Allen, Dec 17, 2012
Due to overwhelming popular demand, we did a third printing of The Unforgettables and other True Fables in 2021…available in our online store.
Originally published Dec. 28, 2012