The fall had been wasted with Jack's tax
troubles and Flip's tetanus. Now Flip had only weeks to win a
qualifying placement for the National. A setter had never placed
in the Florida Championship, and Jack was skeptical, but the Florida’s
grounds were outstanding, perfect for Flip's big way of going.
The year following the derby season is difficult for
field-trial dogs. They compete head to head now against dogs wise
from years of experience. Some, caught up in their own high
spirits, turn hard to handle. Some lose self-confidence.
But in spite of the tetanus and his youth, Flip worked with the
maturity and polish of a five-year-old. And so Jack could handle
him the way he liked--riding slowly, leaving Flip mostly to his
instincts, honed by almost three years of patient training.
Jack’s deep baritone singing served as Flip’s directional beacon; Flip
needed only to hear Jack’s voice to keep to the front, even on a
More open than the other plantations in the quail belt, Chinquapin
Farms is a rolling sea of wire grass and blackjacks lightly sprinkled
with towering pines. Quail love the native chinquapins that
thrive there--little nuts on short bushes that burst from burr pods in
the fall. The land's contours are ideal for trials; the courses
follow long ridge tops, yielding sweeping views of the wide-hunting
dogs. As Jack and I drove in the sandy lane on Sunday
afternoon, we passed the manager’s neat white house, then tractor
sheds, then a cottage marked "Judges House." The clubhouse, low
and dark green, sat nestled in a grove of pines beside a huge lime-rock
sink. A steel silhouette of a black and white pointer marked the
entrance. "Paper Rosie's buried there. She was
the Masters Champion and after that the favorite gun dog here for a
decade. Her descendants will run here this week," Jack
said. Behind the clubhouse stood long rows of kennels
for competing dogs. The horse barn and paddocks adjoined the
clubhouse. In the assembly room hung photographs of famous dogs,
horses and field-trial people, and an aerial photograph of the
grounds. From a corner kitchen lunch would be served every day,
free for all. A fire burned in a big fireplace; it would warm us
each morning as we gathered for coffee before the start of the day’s
running. Other outfits were arriving, getting their
dogs and horses settled in for the week. We unloaded our horses,
fed and released them in a big shady paddock. Doc
arrived just in time for the drawing. In the
clubhouse, owners and handlers from all over joked and kidded, as they
filled plates with turkey and the trimmings. Soon the tables were
filled. In no time the food disappeared and the drawing
began. An air of tension replaced the brotherhood of the
meal. On the drive back to the motel, I asked about
"Outsiders think field trials are a gentlemanly
sport. Truth is, they’re a war game. My daddy used to say a
trial is the closest thing to a cavalry battle since Mosby and
Forrest,” Doc said. (Jack winked at me on Doc’s mention of
Next morning as we drove back to Chinquapin, Jack
said: "Doc's cavalry-fight description was about
right. And the handlers here are desperate --they've all got dogs
in their strings that need a placement to enter the National, and this
is about their last chance to get it. Owners get impatient this
time of year. "
That day and the next passed quickly, the dogs
pointing quail with amazing frequency. On the third
morning, as we waited at the breakaway for the ground fog to lift,
someone said Otto Kuykendall had died; they'd seen his obituary in the
Field. Jack cantered back to the clubhouse, yelling, "Anybody got
this week's Field?" Jack read the obituary aloud:
Word has just reached the Field of the sudden
death of Otto Kuykendall, of Fredonia, Kansas, long time patron of
field trials. Mr. Kuykendall collapsed at a casino in the Bahamas.
Mr. Kuykendall will be remembered for the multiple champions he
campaigned, with son Otto Kuykendall, Jr., handling, all bearing the
prefix of his Hook'um Ranch: Hook'um High, Hook'um Low, Hook'um However
and, the incomparable brood matron, Done Hooked'um.
Mr. Kuykendall formerly had extensive ranching and business interests
in Kansas and was a patron of field trial clubs in that state and of
the AFTCA. May he rest in peace.
On the clubhouse phone Jack called Little Otto in
Kansas, where it was six in the morning.
"Little Otto, sorry about your dad." Silence
ensued as Jack listened.
"He still had his interest in Homer Ferguson's
Louisiana oil play, didn't he? . . . Good! Listen,
Otto, you and Sister don't have a thing to worry about. It don't
matter what's in Big Otto's will. Louisiana has got the
Code. You can't disinherit a child from Louisiana real
estate. It's called forced heirship. In other words, if
daddy owned it, the kids inherit it. Big Otto couldn't leave it
to anybody else, and I got Homer to put a “no
borrowing” clause in the deal so Big Otto couldn't hock it. You
and Sister are in the catbird's seat.
“Little Otto, I've got to catch up with the
gallery. You and Sister ought to come to the National. You
can charter a jet now that you're oil folks."
Jack hung up, slapped his thigh and let out a Rebel
"Now that's justice. Miss Delores may have
been number one in Big Otto's will, but the will can't give her his
Louisiana land and oil. I'd give a good Walking horse to see Miss
Delores' face when the lawyers explain it to her."
We cantered out to catch the gallery, guided by the
handlers' singing. When Flip's turn came at
Chinquapin, he was braced with Norman Klensch's Takeover Bill.
Through the fall Farley Snead had been running Klensch's string in all
the major circuit trials, and winning steadily. He had a new
scout to replace the disgraced Earl Shiflett--his name was Lefty
Swartz. Norman Klensch drove up to the clubhouse in a
rented Lincoln five minutes before his dog’s heat was to begin.
He emerged from his trailer tack room in full cowboy regalia,
stockman's Stetson to Tony Lama boots, stuffed two cellular phones in
his saddlebags, heaved his belly over the pommel and struggled to get
his right leg over the rump of his black horse. As soon as the
dogs were released he was on the phone. Twenty minutes into the heat
Norman had dialed four calls, trying all the while to keep an eye on
his dog. Doc watched in amusement.
"He's got a deal cooking," Doc said. "We're
going to have a little fun."
Doc approached T. Jack Robinson, a director of the
Suwannee River Club, sponsor of the trial, and, like Doc, a
jokester. Robinson rode up to Norman and said loudly,
"We're sorry, Norman, but we've disqualified your
dog. The rules forbid electronic communication with a
handler. Your talking to Farley Snead on the phone puts your dog
out of the running."
Norman, at first preoccupied with his call, finally
realized what Robinson was saying.
"Why, I'm not talking to Snead, I'm talking to my
lawyer in New York!" Norman said.
The gallery roared. Norman didn't join in the
laughter, but he made no more phone calls. Meanwhile,
the dogs began a bird-finding duel. A half-hour into the heat
they were tied at three finds each. Flip moved fast to the front and
over a knoll. Jack cantered to the top of the knoll to keep him
in view. Flip was on point just ahead; Jack raised his hat.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Farley Snead approaching from his
left, beneath the brow of the knoll and out of sight of the
judges. He had Takeover Bill at heel. Jack
figured Farley intended to bring Bill in for a back. When Bill
caught sight of Flip he slowed, as if to back, but Snead gave a toot on
his whistle, urging Takeover Bill on toward Flip. Catwalking, he
passed Flip and stole the point. Jack thought, thirty years ago
I'd have whipped Farley Snead by now and been ordered off these grounds.
As Judge Roy Fry's horse topped the knoll, he looked
upon a familiar scene: Takeover Bill on point, Flip backing,
three yards behind, handlers still mounted. Judge Fry
strongly suspected he was witnessing a crime scene--canine larceny of a
point the crime. Jack wore a wry grin, but said nothing.
Soon the gallery arrived to watch the drama unfold. Snead dismounted
and walked in to flush. The covey took wing, and the gallery
yelled, "There they go." Snead fired. Both dogs held
steady. Snead led Takeover Bill off for the restart. Flip
remained immobile and unperturbed, untouched by Jack.
Judge Fry made an entry in his notebook giving
Takeover Bill credit for the find, and Flip for a back. Judge
only what you see, not what you suspect--he had said it a thousand
times to apprentice judges, and he had always taken his own
advice. But he would be alert for future evidence of Takeover
Bill's duplicity. No man judging field trials had
more respect than Roy Fry. The small quiet grain farmer from
Illinois booked a full calendar of judging assignments every year and
declined many others. Handlers liked his attentiveness--he
watched every dog with equal care, at least until in his judgment it
had no chance to place. He could ride and was not afraid of a
horse. He would go uncomplaining with a handler on foot into a
briery swamp to get to a dog on point. He did not drink, and he
did not socialize much with owners and handlers during a trial he was
judging. He didn't accept invitations from dog owners for
shooting or fishing trips.
It takes a special sort to make a good judge on the
major circuit. In truth, no more thankless job exists, and its a
dangerous one to boot. The judge must ride like a cavalry
trooper, often in miserable weather and tricky terrain. Bad
horses are the greatest hazard. Fortunately, on the major
circuit, good ones are usually provided, but not always. Travel
expenses and a token gift are his only pay. As the
heat continued, Roy Fry reflected on his years in the sport. Only
he knew it, but two weeks before his eye doctor had diagnosed a
cataract. It was too soon to operate, and he would have to
tolerate a period of decreasing vision. He had agreed to judge
the National in February; then he would retire.
As Roy Fry reflected on his retirement, he thought
of all the great champions he had watched through the years.
Ironically, it was not the champions he would miss, it was the
derbies--the anticipation each fall of the new crop of two-year-old's,
the handlers' expressions when they came to the line on the prairie to
release a young dog. Always a look of hope--like the look of a
parent about to watch a child's first little league game. More
often than not the hope would be forlorn, and before Christmas, the
derby would be off the string, washed up, condemned to the lesser life
of a plantation gun dog. Still, the chance to glimpse a future
champion, the possibility that the unknown derby might show the special
spark, the inherited greatness instilled in so few--for Roy Fry, that
was the real fun of judging. He had seen that special derby spark
in Halifax Flip last year.
After Takeover Bill's theft of Flip's point, Jack dropped back to the
gallery and said to John Proud Bear,
"You didn't tell me Takeover Bill was a cheater."
John said, "I never told anybody Takeover Bill was a
cheater--worked like hell to cure him of it too, but once a cheater,
always a cheater. Sometimes for a dog it pays--for a while."
"He belongs to the right man," Jack said.
Five minutes after Takeover Bill's theft of Flip’s
point, the course entered a hilly section filled with lime-rock
sinks. Snead was riding hard to the front, trying to keeping up
with Bill. Jack, as usual, rode slowly just ahead of the
judges. Flip made a long sweeping cast from the right, and Jack
raised his arm to point out his dog.
"We see him," came a judge's response. Then
Flip disappeared over a ridge, and Jack cantered Copenhagen ahead to
see the direction of Flip's next cast. As Jack topped the ridge he
entered a large sinkhole. Near the bottom Flip was on
point. Just as Jack started to ride back up to the
lip to call in the judges, he caught sight of Farley Snead riding into
the bowl from the other side, with Takeover Bill again at heel.
Snead intended to have Takeover Bill steal Flip's point again.
"You're pushing your luck, son," Jack said.
Snead blew softly on his whistle, and Takeover Bill
catwalked past Flip and stole his point. Now Snead
realized his dilemma. He would have to ride out of the sink to
summons a judge.
Just as Snead rode over the lip of the sinkhole, Jack quickly rode
Copenhagen close in front of Takeover Bill. The covey rose and
flew off. Snead did not see them fly. Jack returned
Copenhagen to where he'd been, behind the dogs.
"Point, Judge!" Jack heard Snead call.
Minutes later, Snead returned with Judge Fry and the
gallery close behind. Things looked to Snead just as they had
when he left. Jack grinned at Roy Fry when Snead
dismounted and began his flushing attempt.
I'll bet this will be an unproductive, Roy Fry thought; sure enough,
Snead was unable to flush birds. As Snead remounted,
Jack said, loud enough for all to hear,
"Better be careful now, Farley. That's one
unproductive. One more and you're out."
"The wages of sin . . ." Jack muttered under his
breath as he rode past Judge Fry.
Flip finished his hour with six finds in a wide,
sweeping race. Despite his larceny, Takeover Bill finished with
five finds, and a race that was strong but, in the eyes of the judges,
not quite as forward or responsive as Flip's. On the
day after Flip's heat, we watched Snead handle another of Klensch's
dogs. Jack's attention was riveted to Snead's horse. Half
way through the brace Jack rode to Judge Fry, spoke for a moment, then
rode forward and called to Snead.
"What the hell do you want?" Snead growled.
"Take my horse, Farley." Jack said. "Yours is
about to collapse under you."
"Oh, he's all right," Snead said, "tough as a pine
knot." He neck-reined the horse and gave it the spur.
Judge Fry called out, "Do what he
Rage filled Snead's face, but he dismounted, took
Copenhagen and rode off after his dog.
"I'll walk Mr. Snead’s horse back to the lot, Jack,"
I said. "You take my horse."
"I don't care to see any more of this brace," Jack
said in disgust, leading Snead’s horse to the dog truck and wetting it
down with the hose from the water tank after removing its saddle.
Then Jack and I led Snead’s horse to the shade of a
live oak to cool. Twenty minutes later, we rode my horse double
to the clubhouse, leading Snead's horse. Snead's
initial refusal of Jack's offer of a horse was unusual, for handlers
often offer one another a fresh horse when one unexpectedly
tires. Snead's ingratitude and lack of compassion for his horse
dropped him a notch in everyone's estimation, though you couldn’t deny
his skill handling dogs.
On the night before the Florida Championship closed,
everyone gathered in the clubhouse for the traditional barbecue
supper. Although Flip had not been declared the winner, most
believed he was top dog and not likely to be toppled. Jack seemed
unusually tired from the six days of riding. He and I were saying
our thank-you’s and good nights when someone handed Jack a fax from Sy
Beale. It read: "The hook is set."
Jack smiled and said: "If I was still a drinking
man, I would have one right now."
Next morning Jack woke me early, and we drove to a
café for breakfast. Jack was in an unusually talkative,
sentimental mood. He recalled childhood predawn departures with
his father to the livestock auction markets. He described his
father, standing among tightly bunched lambs, feeling their loins,
dabbing them with a red or blue paint brand (one blue circle, Choice,
two blue circles, Heavy Choice, a red circle, Good). Neighboring
farmers always called Jack's father when it was time to dehorn,
castrate, vaccinate. Without formal training, he was a veterinary
paramedic--a man whose mere presence calmed stock; a man to ask for
advice about buying a bull or a ram; a man to select your yearling
replacement ewes; a man to be trusted about animals. He had died
at age sixty-three of a massive stroke while dehorning calves for a
neighbor; before that, never sick a day. One minute laughing with
sleeves rolled up, sweat streaming down his iron hard forearms; the
next minute, gone.
“A man’s lucky if he gets to die sudden,” Jack
Then in a quiet voice, Jack recalled his competitors
over five decades on the circuit. The few scoundrels, quickly
gone, and the lucky ones--the ones with sons. Jack said the
father-son tradition was strong in the dog-handler craft, back to the
beginnings, to families like the Armstrongs and the Bevans, immigrants
from England and Scotland where they had been
gamekeepers. He remembered Ed Farrior, in the
twilight of his career when Jack had commenced his own, working with
his son Ed Mack. Then John S. Gates, "the Captain," shrewd
businessman, working with his sons, John Rex and Robin. He
recalled Herman Smith, The Little Fox, and his apprentice sons, Collier
and Rod, when they were little boys on the prairie (like Jack, Herman
had married a Canadian farm girl); the tough, hard-working Gardners of
Mississippi, father John and son Ted, and how the son had helped the
father realize his dream, winning the National with his last great dog,
Miss One Dot; the Rayls, father Bill and his boys Fred and Eddie; Billy
Morton and his sons Billy Wayne and Charles; the Tracys; the Lunsfords;
the Crangles; the Daughertys; the Rays. And then he told me about
Pete Hicks, with the Bisco dogs, and his comeback with his knees worn
out but not his spirit, helped by his sons Joe and John.
The Magnolia Cafe_ was a greasy spoon of the old order. We had
country ham and eggs, with grits, of course. Jack flirted with
the homely waitresses, teased the cook and the dishwasher, stuffed the
jukebox with quarters for country music.
"On the circuit in the old days, there were lots of
good cafes and diners like this. They're about all gone
now. Anybody who can run a good one has got a fast-food
franchise. I hate those franchise places," Jack said.
I had never thought of Jack as old. His face
bore no wrinkles, just smile lines at the corners of his eyes.
Today his face revealed a deep tiredness in spite of his
cheerfulness. We flipped for breakfast, and Jack
lost. He removed all the bills from his money clip, separated
enough for the check and a tip, pocketed the rest, and handed me the
clip. It was silver, with a worn etching of a flying grouse, and
an inscription beneath, illegible from wear.
"David, I want you to have this. It's the
first thing I ever won at a field trial, and it's been my good-luck
piece. I've had more than my share of good luck, and so far
you've had more than your share of bad. Carry it and remember our
times together whenever you pull it out to pay a check . . . ."
My eyes moistened, and I bit my lip to keep from
crying. The final brace of the Florida Championship
finished at noon, and everyone got busy packing up as we waited for the
judges' decision. Then news spread of an incident that could be
explosive. A Kansas City real estate developer, John Grimes, had sold
his champion pointer Skyscraper to Norman Klensch. The great
young champion had been raised and developed by Billy Ford, a
professional from Thomasville, just beginning to make his name on the
circuit. The bond between Skyscraper and Ford was the talk of the
circuit. When Skyscraper ran it was as if he were a kite on a
long string in Ford's hand. The dog would make an enormous cast
and, just as it seemed he had bolted, Ford would blow a long blast on
his whistle and the dog would look back and swing to Ford's
direction. The dog had just turned three. He had won the
Georgia Derby Championship--one of the big five. Skyscraper had a
great future, and Ford's wagon seemed hitched to the dog's star, as
often happens with a handler entering the game.
Would Klensch leave the dog with Ford, or would he move it to his
private string under Farley Snead? Everyone had an opinion.
Some thought he would surely leave Skyscraper with Ford, who had been
so successful with the dog. Jack and Doc were sure Klensch would
move the dog to Snead. They knew Klensch's suspicious nature
would not allow him to campaign a dog with a handler who might have
loyalties to others.
The news of the dog's sale had come to young Ford at the clubhouse via
an early morning phone call. Ford had gone to his trailer in a
huff, slamming the tack-room door behind him. Many of us had seen
Now Doc walked to Ford's rig, knocked softly, and entered. Billy
Ford sat on a bag of horse feed, head buried in his hands. The
compartment was dark, except for a thin shard of daylight coming
through the roof vent. It was stifling hot, filled with the
blending smells of sweet feed, neat's-foot oil and horse sweat.
"What's the deal?" Doc asked softly. Billy
looked up at Doc, then returned his face to his hands.
"Mr. Grimes called. He's sold Skyscraper to
Norman Klensch. He recommended Klensch keep the dog in my string,
but it wasn't a condition of the sale. Said he was sorry, but he
had no choice. What the hell can he mean by that--no choice?”
Doc figured Klensch had offered Grimes a tall price
and given him no time to shop the offer. Grimes must be in
financial trouble. Supposedly rich men are not always rich,
especially those in the real estate business.
This was Billy Ford’s third year on the circuit. While he had
proved he was able, he was also a hothead. At least twice Doc
knew about, he had fought with other handlers--once when he thought an
opposing scout had intentionally ridden off his derby, once when a
handler let his dog steal a point from Billy's dog (the same trick
Farley Snead had used on Jack). Billy was beginning to realize
such hijinks were part of the game, something every pro had to expect.
"Billy," Doc said, "in a few minutes Norman Klensch
is going to come in here and tell you to turn Skyscraper over to Farley
Snead--or more likely he will just send Snead with the message because
he hasn't got the guts or the class to do it himself. When that
happens you have a choice. You can pitch a fit, and cuss and
scream and even take a poke at Snead. Or you can give him the dog
and say nothing.
"You have proved you can train and handle a dog with the best.
Now you've got a chance to show you can take a punch as well as swing
one. It's up to you." Doc walked out, closing the door
quietly behind him.
Farley Snead approached and entered Ford's
trailer. When the two men emerged, Billy, his Kasco cap pulled
low, stared at the ground. They walked to Skyscraper's kennel
run, and Billy opened the gate and called the dog to him. He
knelt, looked into the dog's eyes, snapped lead to collar and rubbed
"Come on, boy," he said softly.
Snead opened an empty dog compartment on his
trailer. Ford unsnapped the pointer's lead and said softly,
Effortlessly, the dog leapt four feet straight up
into the compartment and turned to lick his handler's face. Ford
gave the dog one last pat, closed the compartment and turned to face
Snead, who stood six feet away, tense and alert. Billy extended
his right hand to shake and said,
"Good luck. He's a good one. Take care
We watched from the shade of the tall pines on the
clubhouse lawn. As Billy Ford started his truck to
depart, Jack walked to him and said, "I know how you feel, son.
You showed class, just like your dog. "
Billy turned his face away from Jack to hide his
tears and drove away. The door to the clubhouse
opened, and the club secretary emerged with the judges, blew his
whistle for attention and called for all to gather 'round. Then
he announced Flip the winner of the Florida Championship, and Takeover
Bill runner up. Everyone congratulated Jack, Doc and
me, and the pictures were snapped.
"Can't believe a setter won my trial," the club
president, Ted Baker, said with a wink. Baker was a pointer man
to the bone.
"Good to have Flip requalified for the National,"
"Don't count on taking home that silver," Baker
said, "I'll have a dog there too."
A mystic telepathy between dog and handler is the
stuff of field-trial legends. Ed Farrior with Air Pilot's Sam;
his son, Ed Mack, with Warhoop Jake; Jack Harper with The Texas Ranger;
Bill Morton with Wrapup--some say they willed the great dogs around a
course. Many a handler has predicted the spot where his dog will
pop out of cover. And while each anecdote might be explained as
coincidence, repeated examples between the same handler and dog are
enough to convince the skeptical. Rumors of telepathy between
Flip and Jack had begun to circulate.
(to be continued)