THE CAROLINA CONNECTION
By Cliff Ball
Carolina roller men have, over the years, established connections throughout the sport with hundreds of roller men across the country. Ardent in their enthusiasm for proper performance in roller pigeons, they have left their mark on the hobby through the genes they have fixed in the families of rollers they have produced. Top-notch fanciers who have long shared an intimate relationship with these winged acrobats, and firm believers in the notion that no single fancier “knows it all”, they have depended on one another, sharing all the best of their experience from which each could learn about and contribute to the breeding and flying of Birmingham Rollers. Yet each man has used that experience and his own intuition to develop unique families of rollers and special individual performers. The legacy of the birds that they have produced ensures a larger than life status that will outlive us all.
The roller hobby is filled with “old roller tales”; names of legendary birds that drift around for decades. No less is true of some of the birds bred by Carolina roller enthusiasts. In this article you will learn about many of these rollers and the men that have excelled in our sport, particularly those noted for producing quality performance in Birmingham Rollers.
Tony Roberts, of Piedmont, South Carolina, is probably best known through his association with James Turner, as a premier geneticist and breeder of quality performing rollers. The two men have been lifelong compadres in the roller hobby, sharing their experiences, knowledge, and the wisdom accumulated over many years of breeding and competing with rollers. Though James and Tony competed against each other, they worked together in most all aspects of the roller hobby, including the production of an educational video on the topic of color genetics in rollers. One of the most legendary rollers to come out of the Carolinas was bred in the loft of Tony Roberts; eventually becoming one of the foundation birds for Carl Hardesty’s acclaimed family of rollers. This bird was known as The Shooting Star Hen.
As a young man in the roller hobby, in the early 80’s Tony and a friend (Jim Beeman) used to visit a feather merchant in Orangeburg, South Carolina who was known as Pigeon Paul Porter. Pigeon Porter traveled around the country buying up rollers that he could sell. Guys could buy his birds for two dollars each and fly them out to see how they performed. Tony says that there was only one bird that he bought from Pigeon Porter that was worth a darn…..an un-banded dilute blue check (silver) hen, and she was exactly what he was looking for with regards to quality performance and type. He named her the Orangeburg Hen.
Tony decided to breed the Orangeburg Hen to a son (5012) of the cock with the best reputation for producing spin in the Carolinas at that time-Don Simpson’s Old Almond Cock, the foundation cock for Don’s family of birds through the 5011 nest mate of 5012. From this mating, Tony produced the Shooting Star Hen. She was a blue check white flight, and a true champion in every sense of the word. A frequent, high velocity spinner, and not too deep, she was the most consistent performer Tony has ever bred. Every spin was smooth and clean, every time, every fly. Every exit from the spin was crisp and clean and then right back to the kit she snapped. Most importantly, she produced similar quality in her progeny.
In 1982, Carl Hardesty came to the Carolinas to judge a competition fly. After seeing the Shooting Star Hen perform in Tony’s kit, he offered to buy her, along with three other birds that he wanted for his own breeding program. Among them were “Rusty”, a red-check cock, and a black grizzle cock. Tony says that in 1982, the $50 that Hardesty offered him was a lot of money to a working man with a family. So, knowing that he still possessed the birds that had produced the Shooting Star Hen, he gave her up. These three birds, crossed into Hardesty’s existing family, created the foundation for Hardesty’s most successful family of rollers. Tony raised many good rollers off the pairing that produced the Shooting Star Hen, but none that compared with her performance, as he realized that true champions are not something a roller man just snaps his fingers and gets! The Orangeburg Hen ultimately made its way to Ellis McDonald of Alabama. “Carl made the Shooting Star what she was. I could have let a hundred men have those same three birds and they would not have accomplished what Carl was able to accomplish with them,” Tony told me. “In my opinion, Carl is one of the best roller flyers in the world. He knows a good bird and how to use it, something most people do not know,” he continued. “If you have birds that came directly from Carl, I have no doubt that you have top-of-the-line birds.”
Fourteen years later, in 1994, Carl Hardesty paid a visit to Tony Roberts. “Come out to the car. I have something to show you,” Carl announced. There, in a crate, was the Shooting Star Hen and the two best cocks that Hardesty had raised from her; an ’88 recessive red self and a red check white flight. The Shooting Star Hen only laid two more eggs for Tony after that day. One turned out to be an infertile cock. The other was a good stable spinner, an ash red bar hen that he eventually stocked. Tony still has rollers off the Shooting Star Hen line that produce outstanding performance in his family of birds, today.
A name that is synonymous with commitment to performance, to competition, and to the various organizations of the roller sport (local and national) is that of Don Simpson of Anderson, South Carolina. Featured on the cover of the May-June issue of the NBRC Bulletin, Don has served as competitor, as judge, as Regional Director and much more. The name of the legendary roller that served as the foundation cock for Don’s family of rollers is renowned throughout the hobby and across the nation; The Old Almond Cock.
Not a genetic Almond at all, but a tortoise, Don describes him as having a sheen to his feathers over his entire body. “He was eat up with brander bronze”, Don described him. The bird was actually bred by Lloyd Bagwell of Wilmington, North Carolina according to Don. Bagwell had obtained Pensom birds from Bob Wellborn of Greenville South, Carolina. Wellborn was responsible for bringing the first Pensoms (purchased directly from Pensom) into the Carolinas. He had bred the birds he obtained very tight and did not introduce any other families of rollers as outcrosses. Wellborn raised rollers from 1956 to 1970 when he lost a daughter in her teens to leukemia, at which time he left the hobby never to return. Bagwell also bred the Pensom birds straight with no outcrossing to other families of rollers. Meanwhile, a young boy from Anderson, South Carolina, Frankie Reece, traded Bagwell for the Old Almond Cock and gave him that name. Reece used to visit Don, traveling to see him on his bicycle to see him fly his rollers, and on one of those occasions, Don traded Frankie for the Old Almond Cock.
When Simpson flew the Old Almond Cock, he found that it was deep and one of the fastest spinners that he had ever seen. But soon he became unpredictable and began bumping. Don put him up, fed him strong, and flew him again to find that he was now just flipping and tumbling. Believing in his potential, he decided to try him in the breeding loft. He had no luck at all with the first mating in 1971. But the 1972 mating produced two birds; nest mates that would go on to establish entire families of rollers through their genes for quality performance. 5012, a red grizzle cock, would become the father of Tony Roberts’ Shooting Star Hen. 5011 would go on to provide the foundation seed of the Old Almond Cock in Don Simpson’s family and produce many generations of high quality, high velocity spinners. Old Almond Cock blood was crossed into nearly every family of rollers in the Carolinas because it was pure Pensom blood. A few of his friends and colleagues in the Carolinas began out-crossing the Wellborn Pensoms, as well as Lloyd Thompson birds, with rollers that had been outcrossed for color genes. Don even tried a few himself, but then backed away from these projects because genetics was just not his thing.
In 1980 Ed Garrett of Pisgah Forest had introduced the Lloyd Thompson birds into the Carolinas, and they turned out to be an ideal outcross for the Wellborn Pensoms. Don, too, did some of this same out-crossing of the Pensoms with the Thompsons, and the Old Almond Cock, as did most of the Carolina roller men at the time. The Thompsons, by themselves, were great individual performers back then, capable of spinning 40-50 feet. They came into the roll at a young age, but they were poor kitters and tended to land early, Don recalls. The out-cross proved successful at correcting this deficiency. Don’s recognition of quality in the Old Almond Cock; his selection of matings from the Thompson/Pensom crosses; and his ability to identify quality performance in the rollers they produced combined to create the groundwork for the inherited improvement in the performance of family that he ultimately created. As a result of his commitment and contribution to the roller hobby, Don was inducted into the NBRC Hall of Fame in 2009; he finished second by a mere 29 points behind Joe Bob Stuka in the 2005 World Cup; and won the NBRC 11-bird National Championship in 2010. James Turner said of Don, “Don has always set the standard for rollers in the Carolinas”.
James Turner needs little by way of introduction to anyone who has been active in the roller hobby, flying and competing with the Birmingham Roller. In an article published in the May-June 2005 NBRC Bulletin, I outlined his contributions, which are many, and his commitment to quality performance in rollers. Two birds in particular that were bred by James have become legendary. One of these was 007, the foundation cock for most of the Andalusians in his family of rollers. Turner got his first Andalusian from Ellis McDonald of Alabama in the early 80s. 007 was bred in 1991 from a black self and an Andalusian white flight off of 0070, the grandfather of 0070. There are many top quality birds in 007’s pedigree, 929, a champion Lloyd Thompson cock is there. Also we find 6878, a black white flight Pensom bird and one of the best, is five generations back on his mothers side. 007 also carried the “reduced” factor out of a Frank Dallas cock four generations back on his father’s side. James says that 007 had more heart than any quality spinner that he ever bred. When the kit broke, 007 always dropped out of the bottom of the kit. Though he had good speed, Turner says that 007 was not the highest velocity spinner that he has raised. But he was consistent, always snapped right back to the kit, and most importantly, as a pre-potent cock he consistently produced quality performance in his offspring. The knowledge that 007 blood is in the pedigree is a factor that has been sought after by breeders of quality performing Andalusians for nearly two decades.
Another roller cock bred by James Turner produced more quality spinners in more lofts across the country than any other bird he ever raised, including 007; and that is saying a great deal. That bird was 9646, also known as Rambo. Rambo got his name from the fact that he rolled blood in his eye during his first spin as a young bird (first blood-Rambo) though he never showed it again afterwards. He was a blue check white flight and, interestingly, out of one of the more insignificant pairings in Turner’s breeding program at the time. But anyone who had seen him perform or had heard of his speed through a colleague in the sport wanted Rambo blood. James says he couldn’t breed enough birds off Rambo to satisfy the demand. “He produced more birds with high velocity spin than any other bird that I have ever seen,” Turner says of Rambo. In addition to these exceptional individual rollers, James Turner is renowned for the many genes for color modifiers that he has imported into various lines of his family of rollers.
Quality pigeons, quality breeding, a quality person…..Danny Horner of Mebane, North Carolina was described this way in the December 1994 issue of the roller publication produced in the Carolinas at the time, known as “Backspin”. Horner became interested in rollers in 1960, when a junior high school teacher introduced him to Robert Logan of Chapel Hill, North Carolina who flew his rollers for Danny one day. Danny said he was hooked from that day forward. He raised a number of different roller families over the next few years, focusing on Graham Fireballs, until he got his first Jaconettes from Richard Jaconette in 1979. He was very pleased with every aspect of these birds…their type, their performance, their flying speed, their kitting…so he bought a second kit from Jaconette in 1983, followed by eight more birds in 1989. Among the premier birds in his lofts have been 90-0362, a Black Rain champion hen; 89-9058, an exceptional t-check bronze cock off Black Rain’s sister; and 92-788, a great Blue-bar white flight roller that possessed and produced all the performance qualities that Danny was looking for.
Danny Horner has probably shipped more quality birds around the nation to more states than any other roller breeder. Veteran roller men like Rick Mee, Joe Bob Stuka, Clay Hoyle, and Brian McCormick, just to name a few, have obtained birds from Danny. He has stayed with the Jaconettes because they are his favorites for many reasons. He has always been impressed by the way they work together as a team, he says. His birds tend to come into the roll early (around four months or so). “Some may be a little reckless as young birds, but they tend to stabilize as they mature.”
When he does get a rolldown, the bird tends to come into the roll early and progresses to rolling down almost immediately. “If you don’t breed a few rolldowns, you don’t have the roll!” is his philosophy. “They are smart birds and have strong character. Most are stable and have the ability to vary their depth depending on where they are in flight. Show me a family of rollers that rolls 20 feet every time and I’ll show you birds that will eventually kill themselves”, he says. He admits that his Jaconettes today are different from the original birds; nearly half the size of Richard’s birds and deeper in the roll. “I like the Jaconette family because these birds love to fly in any weather. They are calm-natured and easy goin’. They are not skittish to be around”, says Horner. The more you fly them, the more their performance will improve.” He raises more ash red bars and blue bars than anything because he believes they have the best feather quality. He also stays away from recessive red because he feels their feather quality is not as good. His ideal type is “a smaller bird with a good tail and a small head on a decent neck.” Like most roller men, he doesn’t like a pinched face in a roller. Nor does he care for the short stubby roller; the cobby roller type that many fanciers lean towards. His ideal type is best represented by Pensom’s “Clay Hen” that is pictured in his book.
In this article I have attempted to shed some light on a few of the Carolina roller men and the vast connections they have established with fanciers throughout the country through the quality roller families that they have developed. The reader, by no means, should consider this a complete work on the Carolina roller men and their accomplishments. Many outstanding breeders and competitors have not been mentioned, primarily due to my ignorance about their efforts or their birds, and most importantly of their stories. A more complete treatise would need to include fanciers like Don Greene;
Clay Hoyle, Double Master Flyer and winner of the NBRC 20-bird National Championship; Joe Bob Stuka, World Cup Champion; Jay Yandle, NBRC 11-bird National Champion; and Charlie Stack, NBRC 20-bird National Champion, as well as many less-accomplished roller men who serve as the backbone of the roller hobby in the Carolinas. From the quality performance in the rollers these fanciers have produced, roller men from coast to coast have bred and developed foundations for outstanding families of rollers. Most all of us are able to produce good performance along the way. These men, whose stories I have attempted to tell, have been exceptional.
Pensom once said, “The art in breeding high-class Birmingham Rollers rests on fixing the art of spinning in the strain by careful selection of all features which go to make the balanced pigeon, and by cultivating the temperament required in the best birds, and fixing same throughout the family.” To me, this statement embodies the heart and soul of the breeding philosophy held by these men of the Carolina Connection; evident in the quality of families of rollers they have produced.