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Personality Profile

Flashback

The Inimitable Mr. Ed
Sep 04, 2020
Ed Farrior with new Edward Farrior Trophy presented for the United States Open Championship by George Suttle of Newport News, Virginia, the owner of Ch. Cross Smoke.

Back in late 1970, nearly fifty years ago, the late John S. O’Neall Jr. announced a column he was originating under the “Feather, Fin & Steel” banner. The 1970 Christmas Issue carried one of his installments under the subhead appearing above — “The Inimitable Mr. Ed.”

 


 

SATURDAY, September 26, 1964, was a day of sadness for citizens of Union Springs, Alabama. On that day the legendary Ed Farrior answered the final call and there passed with him a colorful era spanning the years when it might be said that the sport of field trials grew most rapidly and came of age in the United States.

Ed Farrior’s magnificent career, all of it “at the top” of his chosen profession, spanned a total of 44 years in the trainer’s saddle. From his first venture in the arena as a professional handler in 1917 until his retirement after a stirring victory at the Continental Championship in 1960, Ed Farrior’s name was a byword in the bird dog fraternity, at once a symbol of God-given ability with bird dogs, of outstanding success in the keenest competition, and of unflagging sportsmanship first and last. How many persons remain in the limelight in their chosen careers for a period approaching fifty years?

One only has to run a dust cloth across the pages of time to bring out the vivid record of great dogs developed, trained and handled by Mr. Ed. How resounding the echoes of such titans of the pointer breed as Muscle Shoals’ Jake, Air Pilot’s Sam and Doctor Blue Willing! Not only did they reach competitive heights, but they stand on the Himalayas of prestige as producers in the pointer breed. Their significance will be felt whenever pointer pedigrees are traced, now or centuries hence. These names eagerly searched for when bloodlines are perused, for in them is assurance of the ruggedness and insatiable hunting desire so universally sought.

Reviewing the list further we encounter Jay R’s Boy, double National Free-for-All Champion; and a host of others such as Inquisitive Lady, Eagle Ferris, Brake Rider, Duquesne Nell, Jesse Reynolds Diamond, Air Pilot, Sand Line, Evergreen Jersey Mack, Sunshine Nellie, Bullock Mary, Contractor, Stormy Mike and Cross Smoke. Mr. Ed made it plenty hot with these and many others in top trials throughout the United States and Canada, and he did it with style and class still emulated in the professional ranks today.

The story of Jay R’s Boy is particularly interesting since he was the first in a long string of successes and since he presented a very prickly problem for the young trainer. Despite his many desirable traits Boy was completely gunshy when Ed Farrior took him over, someone else’s spoiled dog, a typical situation a trainer is asked to face.

Having plenty of time on his hands to try to solve the problem, Mr. Ed devised a wide belt for his waist and tied himself to Boy with a 25-foot rope. Then he took his shotgun and went out foot hunting, time after time, day after day. Naturally, the gun shy Boy did everything but hide his eyes with his front paws when the shooting started, but he could not get away, and little by little he became more interested in getting his mouth on the dead birds that were falling. Finally he overcame his fear of the gun entirely and rewarded his persevering trainer with handsome purses and the beginning of a far-flung reputation in bird dog circles.

When the Field Trial Hall of Fame was established in 1954 it was a foregone conclusion that Ed Farrior would soon be honored for his four decades of leadership as a professional handler and for the marvelous record his pointer and setter charges had compiled as competitors and producers.

In 1956, he became the ninth man elected to the Hall of Fame. When one considers the list of men elected to that time — Hobart Ames, James M. Avent, Carl E. Duffield, Albert F. Hochwalt, Dr. T. Benton King, Clyde Morton, Cecil S. Proctor and A. G. C. Sage — giants of the bird dog world, the full force of Ed Farrior’s contributions hits with an indelible impact.

 

WHEN writing of a man of great talent, energy, resourcefulnesss and accomplishment, such as Ed Farrior, there is the tendency to dwell on the record, the triumphs and the great moments. In this way the underling personality, the fiber and the humor of a man are often missed or at best are touched on only briefly.

In writing about Mr. Ed, our intention is to bring out some of these imperishable qualities of character and personality that set him aside from other men and made his memory revered by a legion of friends.

Ed Farrior surely had a backbone of steel and a determination to excel, but he also had the priceless quality of wit and good humor.

He came into this world possessed of an impish grin, a twinkle in the eye that hinted his love for a good story. Once he probed and found a soft spot for his needle in a “victim,” he was a master at applying it a fraction of an inch at a time to the extreme discomfiture of the recipient. His kidding and fun was always in high spirit and never vicious, as well received by the subject as could be expected.

Let me tell you that Ed Farrior was of the old school, the frontiersman-outdoorsman breed, physically as tough as whit leather.

My first eye-opener as to his incredible stamina and resilience occurred on a memorable trip with him to the 1948 National Championship when he was already in the range of sixty years of age.

Early on a February morning I met him in Union Springs and boarded his pick-up with him and his colored scout for the nearly five hundred mile drive to Grand Junction. In the back of the truck was his entry for the championship — Cross Creek — scheduled to run in the morning.

Mr. Ed took the wheel and drove straight through to Grand Junction, stopping off only briefly to visit with his old friend and retired fellow pro George Payton. Even though both the scout and I had a driver’s license, he preferred to do the driving. This was probably another mark of intelligence on his part.

 

ARRANGEMENTS had been made in advance for a room at Johnny Ward’s boarding house in Grand Junction and when we walked through the front door a very lively and well attended table stakes poker game was in full swing in the parlor. Several prominent field trialers of the day were around the table and the cigar smoke was thicker than California air.

Next to a good bird dog, Mr. Ed probably loved the challenge of the poker table among good friends better than anything in the world, and it might be interpolated here that in those days, and before, a highly competitive poker game often started with the drawing for a trial and continued until everyone went home. A lot of rainy and icy days were filled without boredom. It might be added that the phenomenom of the field trial poker game has been dead these many years, for the most part.

At any rate, Mr. Ed did not get past the parlor at Johnny Ward’s house, and when I finally wore out from all the kibitzing and went to bed around midnight, the cloud of smoke seemed to be gathering intensity instead of lessening.

Dimly I remember his coming to bed around dawn and then jumping out of his bed in about thirty minutes with a terse “It’s time to go!”. Well before the eight o’clock breakaway he was at the starting line, all saddled up, bright-eyed and raring to go.

On this occasion Cross Creek did not share his enthusiasm and when she did not make a run at the title after an appropriate lapse of time, Mr. Ed picked her up, jumped in the truck and headed back to Johnny Wards’s parlor.

When I came moping in late afternoon with my tail dragging out of my tracks, the game was still in doubtful progress, and it was still swinging in the wee hours of the morning, with Mr. Ed telling stories and leading the pack.

The roosters were getting all warmed up when he came to bed, and at 6:30 a.m., another “It’s time to go!” jolted me out for the return drive to Union Springs. If by now you have guessed who drove all the entire distance home practically non-stop, you are correct.

If ever there was a human being with a three-hour bottom, it was Mr. Ed. He’d had the time of his life, and won a grand total of $22 while feeling the ebb and flow of hundreds of dollars across the table, and had expended untold energy in three days and two nights at age sixty, all on roughy two hours sleep.

Truly, the winning or losing at the poker table did not seem really important to him. It was the fellowship and the challenge of wit and fiber, one man against the other, that he savored.

Then there was the time he was returning alone from a field trial trip to South Georgia, and a peculiar feeling came over him as he was driving along in his dog truck. Being well aware that all male Farriors for several generations up to that time had died relatively young, in their fifties, and being in the appropriate age range at the time, Mr. Ed suddenly figured that his time had come. He calmly pulled over on the shoulder of the road in the shade of a big pine tree, shut off the motor and very matter-of-factly got ready on pass on. When thirty minutes passed by and nothing drastic happened, he decided it was a false alarm, cranked up, pulled out into traffic and went home to Union Springs. He was destined to live on into his seventies.

 

DURING a career as a hard driving competitor, practically every handler has a succession of great handling horses as well as field trial dogs.  A good horse is an necessary to success as a good dog.

Usually one horse stands out in memory above all the others, and so it was with Mr. Ed.

For many years, probably fifteen or so,  he roamed the bird dog coverts on a big white horse, the most intelligent, responsive and comfortable of mounts.  He hauled this horse to trials north and south and used him on the training grounds.  He was Mr. Ed’s good right arm.

Finally the years took their inexorable toll, and this proud horse became old and crippled.  He was no longer of any practical use and could never be sound again.  So Mr. Ed made the reluctant decision, gently loaded his old friend early one morning and took him to the city.  Brusquely and without showing an emotion that was threatening to break through, he sold him for a few dollars offered by a man at the stock barn.  The  man tied a little piece of bailing twine around the horse’s neck, handed Mr. Ed his halter and rope and tied the lame old horse to a post in the  shade.

As Mr. Ed drove down the long gravel driveway he could see the old horse in the rear view mirror watching him go.  Three miles down the road he could not stand the thought any more, so he turned around and drove back to the stock barn where the old horse was patiently standing, waiting and switching  flies.

He ran his hand down his neck for a while, then without saying another word or looking back another  time, he got in his truck again, drove out to the highway, tore the few paltry bills half in two, threw them out the window, and made his way many long miles home.

 

LIKE the great showman he was, Ed Farrior pulled down the final curtain of his competitive career with a grand finale and in a crescendo of cheers and emotion.

Ch. Cross Smoke was his last great field trial dog, and as January of 1960 rolled around, she, like Mr. Ed, wise, seasoned and experienced, was feeling the gathering weight of years. But off they went together to the rigorous and demanding one hour and fifty minute heats of the Continental Championship.

It has been said that the physical requirements of this stake, run in the sand and lacerating briers of North Florida, often in heat and drouth, are as tough as any trial of any duration of heat conducted for bird dogs. It takes a real endurance dog to succeed.

Cross Smoke, old Liza, was more than equal to the harsh demands of the stake. Competing in a field of 58, the record entry of a period of 65 years to that time, she set a blistering pace early in the stake with nine flawless covey finds and a powerful race.

Fellow pros were caught up in the magic of the moment when the old bitch started clicking on all cylinders, and they helped Mr. Ed in every way possible. Once, the opposing handler, John Gates (who had won the title the year before with Susan Peters), found her buried on point after she was missing over fifteen minutes and called point until finally heard.

It was a great field trial moment to remember when the decision was announced and when Mr. Ed said he was taking his last bow. Like the immortal Babe Ruth, he was tipping his cap for the last time as he crossed home plate after belting a monumental home run.

No matter how you cut it, fellows, that’s going out with class!

 

 

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