American Field
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Part One

Virginia Amateur — One Hundred Years

By Tom Word | Jan 02, 2020
Ernest C. Mead, first president and 25 years after. [Photo taken circa 1920.]

Two Thousand Twenty marks the one hundredth birthday of The Virginia Amateur Field Trial Association, a club that has stood for the best in pointing dog field trials all its long life. The story of its founding, struggles, triumphs and agonies contains many hard lessons for lovers of our sport.

Its signature one-hour amateur all-age winners’ stake became known as the Classic of the South. Winning it a goal second only to winning the National Amateur Quail Championship for amateurs. Fortunately, the club’s officers have been faithful historians, so we can recreate its stories here.

In its century, the club has been led by only five presidents: Ernest C. Mead, 1920 to 1947; George Suttle, 1948 to 1952; Guy H. Lewis, Jr., 1952 to 1967; Parke C. Brinkley, 1967 to 1990 ; Aubrey Morgan DVM, 1990 to today (emeritus since 2015 due to ill health, with Gary Winall acting president).

Of these, Lewis, Brinkley and Morgan, plus longtime director and arch competitor Virgil P. Hawse, are members of the Field Trial Hall of Fame, as is long-serving secretary-treasurer Verle Farrow.

Its leaders have also led field trialing nationally. Mead, and directors Fritz Sitterding, Claude Stickley, Virgil Hawse and Guy Lewis, served as AFTCA presidents. In that role, Mead was an early promoter of the Regional Championships. Moreover, Lewis, Brinkley and Farrow plus directors Harold Crane, Steve Richardson (of A Rambling Rebel fame) and Frank Baugh founded the National Open Shooting Dog Championship in 1960.

Brinkley and Bill Brown wrote its performance standard, the current universal yardstick for horseback shooting dog performance.

Guy Lewis provided it and the Virginia Amateur and the NAQC halcyon running grounds from 1952 through 1969 at his Hawfield, bought from the Virginia Game Commission and vastly improved, a glorious story with a sad ending told at the end of this Part One. Lewis also negotiated the AFTCA’s acceptance of the National Amateur Free-for-All at Union Springs as a championship, a strong positive for the sport.

The Beginning

How did it all begin? In the summer of 1920 a group of avid bird hunters — businessmen, doctors and lawyers from Virginia — gathered for a dinner in the basement dining room of the Rueger’s Hotel on Richmond’s Capital Square. White-coated African-American waiters took their orders from a famous menu that featured as a signature dish Brunswick Stew, but did not include alcohol, for Prohibition had commenced in January.

(That stew was still featured when I commenced law practice in 1961 in offices a block away, priced by then at 50 cents a bowl!).

They gathered to hear Charles Cooke, squire of Dogwood Plantation at Beaver Dam in nearby Hanover County. Cooke was the only man present who had ever seen a field trial. He owned Prince Rodney, a famous setter, and was president of the Carolina-Virginia Field Trial Association. He offered to host a trial on his grounds that fall if the assembled sportsmen would sponsor it. So they elected officers and a board and Virginia Amateur was born! Cooke was surely a masterful salesman.

Here are the minutes of the organizational meeting:

Field Trial Club Formed (1920)

At a meeting held at Rueger’s Hotel Friday night by Sportsmen of Richmond and nearby cities, an organization was formed to be known as The Virginia Amateur Field Trial Association.

This will be strictly an amateur organization open to all sportsmen in the state of Virginia who are interested in the development of better bird dogs.

The meeting was addressed by Chas. B. Cooke of Beaver Dam, who is president of the Virginia-Carolina Field Trial Association and who invited the members to hold their trials on his plantation in Hanover County this fall, the exact date of which will be decided later.

The following are charter members:

J. A. Anderson, M. D. Hart

T. D. Adamson, Nathan Helstern

J. T. Christain, C. C. Hitt

C. L. Cole, J. Ambler Johnston

Jon. H. Crenshaw, R. H. Lacy, Sr.

John Duffy, Ernest C. Mead

Dr. Epps, Cary Sheppard

Geo. W. Epps, Jr., J. F. Sheppard

H. Bayliss Epps, Frank Straus

J. E. Failing, John B. Swartwout

Samuel P. Goodloe, C. W. Williams

 

Officers were elected as follows:

Ernest C. Mead, Richmond, Pres., C. L. Cole, Fredericksburg, 1st Vice-Pres., C. W. Williams, Richmond, 2d Vice-Pres., Frank Straus, Norfolk, 3d Vice-Pres., J. E. Failing, Richmond, Sec.-Treas., Directors: C. B. Cooke, Beaver Dam, J. Ambler Johnston, John B. Swartout, Dr. C. H. Epps of Richmond.

All sportsmen in Virginia who are interested are urged to communicate with one of the above officers.

The club’s first trial was held October 25, 1920 and featured Amateur All-Age and Derby stakes. The Derby drew fourteen, the All-Age thirty. The All-Age winner was pointer female Mathew’s Mitt (Manitoba Rap — Mathew’s Queen), owned and handled by C. B. Carmichael. A large photo of Mitt beside one of Ernest C. Mead, first president of club, hangs in Aubrey Morgan’s home. Ford E. Young, president of the National Capital Club, and W. G. Huntley judged.

The trial was reported prominently in the Richmond newspaper and in a short time the club had 500 dues paying members, testament to the popularity of bird hunting and the potential for trials at the start of the Roaring Twenties. The club would capitalize on that potential over its first decade. Its members had caught the Field Trial Bug.

(For perspective, consider there were only 37 recognized clubs holding trials in 1920 in North America, and 10 championship stakes, including two on grouse and two amateur, both run by the All-America Club).

In 1924 it added a spring puppy stake at Richmond that proved quite popular, a sure sign interest was growing.

In 1925 the club was invited to run at Gloucester Court House on historic White Marsh and Warner Hall Plantations. Participants stayed at Hotel Botetourt, operated by the Misses Cox, a country inn touted as having “sumptuous meals and electric lights and running water.”

Seventy-six wild coveys were moved over three days and the courses and horses praised (in those days horses were rented from locals, not hauled in by participants or traveling wranglers.)

Ads for the trial touted that the grounds were located on the newly improved Tidewater Trail (now Route 17) and thus easily reached by Model T from all directions. Dogs could be shipped by rail to Lee Hall. Horses would be stabled at White Marsh Plantation. A doubling of the gallery was predicted and photos of the assembled indicate success. Men and ladies were dressed to the nines, coats and ties for men, and gloves and hats for the ladies.

Florendale Lou’s Beau won the Derby, his tenth win in eleven starts, for C. B. Stickley, a popular director of the club from near Winchester. Beau would become founding sire of a setter dynasty promoted relentlessly by club director and Hall of Fame member Virgil P. Hawse. That dynasty would also launch the professional handling career of Herman Smith, the Little Fox, a Roanoke native before later migrating to Alabama in search of training grounds and birds. The club’s All-Age drew 56 in 1925, evenly split between pointers and setters.

In 1927 the popular spring amateur puppy stake at Richmond was split into Junior and Senior classes that together drew fifty starters. Now that was a puppy trial!

The Camp Lee Years

Nineteen Twenty-Eight brought the club tremendous good fortune: the use of Camp Lee at Petersburg as running grounds. Its 7,000 gently rolling lightly-treed acres had been troop training grounds for World War One, and afterward made available to the Virginia Game Commission as a quail sanctuary. The Commission’s program of planting Korean lespedeza and small grain patches throughout its tenants-with-mules farmed small tracts proved highly successful in increasing wild quail numbers to the point where coveys could be trapped and half the birds released in parts of the state where quail numbers lagged.

The grounds soon gained national renown. The National Amateur Quail Championship was run on them four of ten years during the 1930s, confirming them as the premier quail venue of that era. They witnessed many memorable performances in the Virginia Amateur as well, including a third as Derby by the legendary Princeton for Hawse (1928). Equipoise and Equity also won there for Hawse, whose name as handler appears more often than any other in the FDSB records of the trial through the Depression decade and the next. Other club members also handled their own dogs, one of the club’s key strengths to this day.

Nearby Hotel Petersburg served as headquarters. By tradition, each renewal began with a cocktail party there at five on Sunday, followed by the drawing at nine, by which time participants were jolly. Everyone staying together through the trial became a hallmark of the club, with social events scheduled every night, wives included. The man supplying horses lived on Camp Lee.His wife served lunches for trialers in their home, a unique benefit.

Beginning in 1930 the club took advantage of the new grounds to expand its spring trial to include an hour winner’s all-age stake along with the popular puppy stake.

In November, 1935 the Bobbitt brothers, Louis and Bracey of North Carolina, arrived to compete with their Peerless setters and Delivery pointers. They swept, winning the All-Age with Bracey’s Little Girl (A. B. handling) and the Derby with Hillbright Peerless Dan (L. M. handling). In the 1937 All-Age, Sport’s Peerless Pride took second after his win of the National Amateur Quail Championship in March on the same grounds with five finds in a record field of forty-nine. He would win the National Championship in 1939.

The year 1940 was the last year for the club at Camp Lee. It was then reclaimed by the Army in preparation for the Nation’s coming entry into World War Two.

In the last fall trial at Camp Lee, Parke Brinkley handled director Lee Cole’s pointer Tip Top Sport to victory in the All-Age. Parke had bred the litter and given Sport to Lee as a pup. Lee had placed Sport with Herman Smith who had him in his string at the time of this amateur win, Parke’s first in the club’s trials. Parke would serve the club devotedly over more than half a century. (Lee Cole was then a Ford dealer in Christiansburg, the author’s home town, and Lee’s wife Edith was my mother’s best friend, a strange but happy coincidence).

The Craig Kennels Years

The Virginia Amateur was again blessed with luck when, in 1941, Willie Craig and his son-in-law, Elgin Nininger, invited the club to run its trials on their training grounds at Trevillians in the beautiful Green Springs district east of Charlottesville and Orange.

Craig was a brilliant businessman who in 1926 had left his railroad job in Roanoke, bought land at Green Springs with his $6,000 savings, and set up a bird dog training facility with four full-time trainers as employees. Soon he had loyal customers from all over the country, for he gave them honest service and their money’s worth. He employed Henry Ford’s production methods to bird dog training, and by honest dealing made good, with sometimes 200 pupils in training. (At $25 a month he grossed $60,000 a year and likely paid the four trainers about $1,600 a year each.) He was also a wizard at game bird production, and his training grounds teemed with quail, pheasant and woodcock. And they were large, consisting of his Westlands Plantation plus adjoining Eastlands Plantation which he rented for training, and for trials additional adjacent lands owned by state Senator H. H. Whalton. The area provided seven continuous thirty-minute courses.

The club ran at Craig Kennels from 1941 through Spring 1950.

Parke Brinkley

Many remarkable men have touched — and been touched by — the Virginia Amateur. Perhaps none so remarkable as Parke Culver Brinkley, the club’s fourth president.

Parke was born in 1915 on a peanut and hog farm in Nansemond County (now the city of Suffolk). As a young boy he was introduced to quail hunting and bird dogs and soon grew fascinated by the dogs.

Attending VPI (Virginia Tech) he lived in a boarding house and kept and trained bird dogs, which he fed table scraps.

The campus and its spacious experimental farms and orchards nurtured plentiful quail, and the Dean of the School of Architecture was an avid trialer and hosted trials on the school’s farmlands. Here Parke was infected with the Field Trial Bug. (This was also the place another notable Virginia bird dog man, Herman Smith, at the time a machinist in the Norfolk & Western’s roundhouse in Roanoke, handled his first dog in a trial. He trained dogs for friends as a sideline. When the Depression ended his machinist career he turned to training and handling dogs for a living).

Graduating from Tech 1937, Parke returned to Nansemond and farming and was named county agent in 1941 and served in that post until 1947 when he was named executive secretary of the Virginia Peanut and Hog Growers. In 1950 Governor John Battle tapped him for Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, at age 34, the youngest Virginia department head ever. He served three governors as Commissioner, then in 1962 became president of the National Agricultural Chemical Association, the vast industry’s spokesman in Washington. In 1976 he retired to Mecklenburg County to be near Elm Hill (later Dick Cross) Wildlife Management Area where with his longtime trialing friend Verle Farrow and his nephew Aubrey Morgan DVM prepared pointers of his breeding for trials.

Parke won the National Amateur Quail Championship in 1981 with Arcanum’s Aspasia, an Air Pilot’s Sam descendant prepared for the bucket list win with help from Ed Mack Farrior who had trained Sam and was a lifelong friend of Parke’s. Parke had won the National Amateur Shooting Dog Championship in 1966 with My Sallee.

Parke’s love of and dedication to field trials was unbounded. He and his wife Dorothy attended a field trial on their honeymoon and on every wedding anniversary until her death.

But Parke’s accomplishments were not limited to trialing. He made major marks in government service and business, capping his career as head lobbyist for the vast agricultural chemicals industry. Through it all he was an effective champion of field trials, a remarkable influencer in Virginia of the General Assembly and Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for trials’ benefit, as in its acquisition of Hawfield and later Elm Hill (now Dick Cross), and an influencer of Guy Lewis to buy and develop Hawfield into a truly great venue when it became obvious the Department could not afford it. On the national scene, Parke served as a five-time judge and long-time director of the National Bird Dog Champion Association. He also served as Rector of Virginia Tech (1979-80) and a member of its Board of Visitors (1974-82).

Hawfield and Guy H. Lewis, Jr. — A Field Trialing Dream Come True

There is no better way to tell the story of Hawfield than in Parke Brinkley’s own words:

Hawfield

No history of field trials in Virginia would be complete without a chapter on Hawfield.

For several years following the loss of the Camp Lee grounds in 1940, The Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries and The Virginia Amateur Field Trial Association spent a great deal of time and effort in attempting to find suitable grounds. This search culminated in 1948 in the purchase of Hawfield, a 2760-acre farm in Orange County. The manor house had burned in 1936 and the farm had run down; much of it had grown up and the drainage system had ceased to function adequately and very little farming was being carried on.

The Commission began to improve the grounds but soon found it to be a much too expensive project for them to handle.

Guy Lewis bought it from the Commission in the early spring of 1952 and immediately began to develop it into what became outstanding field trial grounds. He, being in the highway construction business, had equipment such as bulldozers, graders and drag pans that could be used when they were not being employed on the construction job.

He planned the development in a sound and prudent manner. The drainage system was cleared and many of the fields that had grown up were cleared and put into crops or pasture. Hedgerows and creek banks were left intact and four ponds of several acres each were built. A clubhouse was built and furnished and given to The Hawfield Grange under the provision that the ladies of the Grange would serve lunches during each of the trials. Clearing was done in such a manner as to leave, or develop, wooded areas in strategic places. Feed and cover was made abundant and gaps and creek crossings were strategically placed. Additional kennels and stables were constructed to accommodate large crowds.

With the thought in mind that six hours a day was long enough for amateurs to ride, three one-hour courses were arranged starting and ending near the barns and kennel.

Under a program of strictly controlled killing and good predator control, the wild bird population grew rapidly and quite evenly.

The town of Orange as well as the people of Orange County were delighted with the development of Hawfield and with the field trials bringing people into the area. The President Madison Inn, located in the center of town, became the headquarters for the trials and everyone stayed there. The Montpelier Club, a private club located in the Inn, gave special consideration to the field trial guests. The Virginia Amateur always gave a cocktail party prior to the drawing and invited a number of the local leaders. Later, when the National Open Shooting Dog Championship was formed, the Orange Chamber of Commerce always gave a big cocktail party before the drawing. A number of prominent people in the area would, from time to time, invite the field trialers to stop by their farms, on the way into town, for a drink. All of these things together with the bountiful lunches served by the ladies of the Grange made field trials at Hawfield something special.

The Virginia Amateur invited the AFTCA to run its National Amateur Quail Championship at Hawfield in the spring of 1957. Gerry Achenback, the AFTCA president, came to the Virginia Amateur spring trials in March of 1956 to see the grounds and facilities. The puppy stake was to run on Monday morning and the all-age stake was to commence after lunch. Gerry could be there only for Monday’s running so we were greatly disappointed when we awoke that morning to find that four inches of snow had fallen after we had gone to bed. The sky was clear and the sun was shining so a quick huddle of the officers resulted in the decision to run the puppies in the snow. By lunch-time the puppy stake was over and the snow had melted. It seemed that the birds knew what was going to happen, so they stayed in hiding until after lunch and then they all came out to feed. Gerry left under the impression that these were among the best grounds that he had ever seen and he was anxious to hold the Championship there in 1957. It turned out to be a very good stake with a large entry and many very good performances. Home Again Mike, with five finds, was the winner and Dymack (Parke’s dog), with three, was runner-up. Later A Rambling Rebel would win it.

The period from 1954 to 1968 was the peak of both Hawfield and Virginia Amateur. Many great trials were run there and many great performances witnessed. Guy’s death at age 59 in 1967 was a great loss to Virginia Amateur in particular and to field trials in general. His two sons, Stuart and Guy III, struggled to carry on but both being quite young and working to become established in the law and business had to sell Hawfield in order to keep “Quail Haven,” a large cattle farm some 25 miles away.

Hawfield today is covered with fine crops, fat cattle and very few birds. I ride through it now and then and spend a few minutes reliving, in my mind, some great days.

Parke C. Brinkley

December 1, 1996

[Part Two tells the story of Virginia Amateur from 1970 to the present.]

 


Hawfield

By Tom Word

 

Captain William Crenshaw’s Farm

Until he died in 1897

In 1948 its 2760 acres lay abandoned

Its ante-bellum manor burned

 

Its pastures un-fenced and weedy

Grown up in cedars its ditches clogged

its old oaks filled with Minnie balls

Its ancient glory hidden

 

But its beauty merely slept

For it lay gently rolling

Just east of the Blue Ridge

In the county of Orange

 

Seven miles from its seat

Of the same name

In the verdant piedmont of Virginia

A land most desired for farming by the wise founders

 

Jefferson, Madison, Monroe

In 1948 It was bought

By Virginia’s Game Commission

With hopes of restoring it to glory

 

But soon it was clear

Restoring would exceed

The Commission’s meager budget

From Pittman-Robertson

 

What to do? ....

In 1952 as the General Assembly’s session ended

A bold man stepped forward

To do what Virginia could not

 

That bold man was Guy H. Lewis, Jr.

A road builder who loved bird dogs and places to hunt them

In one day he convinced the General Assembly to sell him Hawfield

Then he went to work with a vengeance to remake it

 

 

Turn it into a quail paradise

And a place to grow grain and hay

To feed his cows on Quail Haven Farm

Twenty miles away

 

He used his graders, dozers and pans

When not building highways

All around DC

To transform Hawfield utterly

 

From run down wreck

to quail paradise

While adding four

Big fishing lakes

 

Lewis laid out three one-hour courses

Start and finish near headquarters

Built a clubhouse and gave it

To the ladies of the Grange

 

In exchange for serving trialers lunches

Soon word spread far and wide

That Hawfield held the best of grounds

With wild quail lurking everywhere

 

For fifteen years Hawfield hosted

The Virginia Amateur spring and fall

NA Championships for shooting and all-age dogs

Regional Championships and then

 

In 1960 the National Open Shooting Dog Championship Inc.

Was here birthed by Lewis, Parke Brinkley,

Steve Richardson, Harold Crane,

Frank Baugh and Verle Farrow

 

It ran at Hawfield through 1969 when

With Guy Lewis’s death at only 59 in ‘67

The wheels came off the Hawfield wagon

and Guy’s sons Stuart and Guy III

 

Had to sell it for estate taxes

a sad, sad day

A Golden Era ended

For field trials in Virginia

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