In America, the oldest of the roller breeds are those received from the Whittingham family in England. The Whittingham family owned a pet shop and three generations of the family exported roller pigeons to both the US and Canada. They shipped birds from other leading breeders as well as their own flocks. The last of the three was a contemporary of William Pensom and the two held each other in distain as “feather merchants.”
When Mark Fields was searching for an old line of deep Rollers that was known in Southwest Missouri back in the 60s and 70s he eventually was in contact with some of the breeders of old line rollers. At that time he was made aware of a website that had been set up to promote the old American Roller families. Though the group had become inactive he was able to save the information from their page before the website was taken down. Later, this same information has appeared in bits and pieces on the Internet, and others have even claimed to be the author, but here we present it in it’s entirety.
This is all from the old “Promoting Fireball and Whittingham Roller site on Yahoo that was set up by Chai_seng_85
Along about 1900, word of the Whittingham Strain reached North America. The Whittinghams had an international reputation for being outstanding high and long fliers. Toronto, Canada became. the leading importer of Whittinghams; starting in 1905 with J.V. McAree.
The Whittinghams were slightly different in type than the North Americans, yet both were a pearl-eyed, badge-marked roller. Tipplerswere never infused into the Whittinghams they therefore were free of the Brander Bronze and Light Print markings. Because of their flying abilities, the Whittinghams became very prized birds and virtually every strain of North American Rollers received at least small infusions of Whittingham blood. Of course, some fanciers kept nothing but the Whittinghams and the standards of North American fanciers were encroached the Whittinghams, they too, became a long roller, a spinner or a flyer depending on the locality. Therefore, the North American Roller and the Whittinghams became one.
J.V. MCAREE, Toronto, Canada (? -1956)
Prior to about 1950 the supreme Roller fancier in all of Canada was none other than J.V. McAree of Toronto. He is of course best known for his importation from all three generations of Whittinghams.
Beginning about 1905, McAree began importing a half dozen pair per year from the Whittinghams for roughly 45 years. McAree kept the Whittinghams for nearly 50 years, and gained quite a reputation as a fancier. One of his greatest achievements actually came through his student, and best friend; the Rev. James E. Graham of Ontario, Canada. Graham of course wrote a book entitled ‘Acrobats of the Air’
in 1931, and achieved a huge following. McAree had aided Graham to a large degree in writing the book, and received constant mention in its pages. To the effect of: “J.V. thinks….” in regard to such and such subject, Graham also says; “What I have seen Mac deem as worthless, most would place at the front of their kit.”
On breeding, McAree says he “always mates one. long roller to another long roller; breeding at times from a rolldown.” McAree inbred his birds closely for many years. He goes on to say: “Some rollers will be mere tumblers or mediocre performers for two or three years or even longer, and then will begin to roll well. Some of the best Rollers I have ever seen would have been killed and left no descendants had it not been for the accident of having given them away, when they were destined for pie……they had not developed as youngsters and I was discarding them, for it was my practice for some years to begin on the first of the year following that in which the pigeons were bred to begin killing those which had not begun at least to tumble……this was folly on my part, for undoubtedly I ignorantly destroyed many birds that would have proved valuable.”
In 1956, we find that Graham moved next door to McAree in Toronto and purchased all of McAree’s birds. They were housed in a large barn behind McAree’s, along with Graham’s other birds. They must have been the finest Roller collection known to the world at the time.
JAMES E. GRAHAM; Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada (? -1982)
As we already know, the Rev. James E. Graham was a student of J.V. McAree of Toronto, Canada. In 1916, Graham purchased some Whittinghams from McAree. For nearly 60 years, Graham maintained a pure family of Whittinghams. In 1931, Graham published “Acrobats of the Air”. It was the first book upon Rollers written by a North American fancier, but since Graham had only had Rollers for 15 years and considered himself still a novice; he enlisted the aid of not only McAree, but also E.R.B. Chapman of MA, Ray E. Gilbert of Salt Lake City, UT, and Ken L. Payne and Wm. H. Pensom both of Birmingham, England.
The book was an instant success, and Graham became rather famous. Within the book’s pages was a striking photo of a fabulous Red Brooch cock with jet black eyes that had established himself as a favorite in Graham’s loft. Graham chose the name “FIREBALL” to add a flavorful touch. Inquiries from everywhere poured in about the bird, including one offer for $50, an unheard of figure in those days. Of course, he was not for sale, but Graham sold many of his young and other birds. From then on, the entire strain was known as “The Fireballs”.
The first Fireballs sent to the U.S. were sent to a teen aged fancier named Tom Butler, by way of train in early 1932. Incidentally, I spoke to Mr. Butler during the summer of 1992. He was residing in Deer, AR and still had some Fireballs. It was an interesting conversation that I will always remember. I am sorry to report that I was informed that Mr. Butler passed away on Sept. 29th, 1992.
By 1940, the Fireball strain became so widespread that the Fireball Roller Club was formed. Among its charter members were Dr. C.A. Nordland of Portland, OR and Samuel Saunders of Maine. Both became the club’s workhorses and each held several terms in the office of President. Graham was often fond of saying that his entire strain descended from “The Fireball”, while this is true; “the Fireball” was not the foundation pigeon.
1933, found Graham relocating to Northern Ontario. Since he had just moved and it was winter, Graham housed his birds temporarily in a small woodshed. Upon the second day, “Fireball” escaped; he took several rolls and was never seen again. A blizzard struck only hours later, and temperatures plummeted far below zero. Fireball no doubt perished. Graham did have one son of “Fireball”, a Red Beard; and it was this bird that founded the entire strain.
In 1956, Graham moved next door to McAree, and purchased all of his birds. They were kept in McAree’s barn. Graham then selected his ten best pair, and McAree’s ten best pair as breeding stock. The rest of all the birds he sold off. Upon McAree’s death that same year, 1956; Graham again relocated this time to Wisconsin where he stayed until 1972. At this point, all the birds were sold and Graham moved to retire in Bradenton, Florida in 1980, Graham released the 3rd revision of “Acrobats of the Air” which was anything but successful.
1981 finds the Fireball Roller Club bankrupt due to its Sec/Treas. having stolen the funds and leaving for parts still unknown with a woman other than his wife. Here ends a major chapter in North American Roller history.
The following is taken from Rev Graham’s own words on the beginning of the Fireball Roller. The original “Fireball” was a Red badge cock bird that the Rev Graham bred in 1932 from some Whittingham strain birds he bought from J. V. McAree of Toronto CA. Graham said of McAree, “many of the old timers regarded McAree as the most outstanding Roller breeder on this continent” at the time. Graham said Fireball was of sticking appearance, with jet black eyes like a mouse. He was a fine performer and established himself as the favorite in his loft. The following year, 1934, he moved to far Northern Ontario, where he counted on Fireball to start a new dynasty of Rollers for him. But the day after he arrived there in mid-January, he shot out the door of the shed where he had stored them temporarily, took several rolls by way of fare-well, and he never saw him again. That night the temperature plummeted to a record 64 degrees below zero and there Fireball died. Fortunately, he kept one of Fireball’s sons and looked to this young bird instead of the father. He mated him to a succession of selected hens. In later years, he took direct descents of his and paired them to all other birds in his breeding pen. In that fashion he could truly claim that every bird he raised had some trace of Fireball’s blood in it, although by that time of course it was minimal.
By 1940, his strain of birds (Fireballs) had become so wide-spread on this side of the Pond that they started the FIREBALL CLUB. Two of the charter members of the club were Sam Saunders of Maine and CA Nordland of Portland Oregon. At the close of WW2, Graham moved back to Toronto and shared McAree’s large loft. With all the talk about Bill Pensom, McAree had Mr. Pensom send him three pairs that were the best in England. But after a couple of years of thorough trial, Graham and McAree found that those birds added nothing at all to their own stock, and from that time on they both kept exclusively Whittingham’s which they found unsurpassed in every way. When old age compelled McAree to retire from the fancy in 1953, Graham took all his Rollers amounting to 300 Rollers in their combined flock.
Rev. Graham’s strain of the Whittingham family of Rollers were imported before Pensom’s birds came here in the 30’s. Mr. Whittingham was in England and McAree from Canada started importing Whittingham’s birds around the turn of the century. Graham was a student of McAree and started the Fireball strain from McAree’s Whittinghams. Mr. Les Manz also worked with Whittinghams imported by Hargrove but crossed his into the Rollers of Karp. North American Highflying Rollers are an American created breed distinct from, but related to Birminghams.
They started out in 1860’s when George Stevens of Toronto crossed an Almond Oriental Roller cock to an extreme roll down Birmingham Roller hen. The young of this pair were valued at the time because they were very high and long fliers and deep rollers and spread fast around the northeast. In the next 20 years much more cross breeding took place including about 7-8 different performing breeds, with the majority of the blood being made up of performing type Komorners and Orientals, with very little Birmingham blood left in them. After the Whittinghams came into the states after the turn of the century, almost all of the NAHFR’s got crossed into the Whittingham blood. The idea of the NAHFR is to have the endurance and height of a Tippler but roll extremely deep. American Rollers arose in the 40’s and 50’s by re crossing the NAHFR’s back into Birminghams. The idea here is to have a breed in-between the NAHFR and the Birmingham… a deep roller but one that doesn’t fly so high and so long.
There are some Whittingham’s that didn’t go through Graham’s lofts and there are some of Graham’s Fireballs that others crossed into other types of Rollers through the years. And most of the Whittinghams and NAHFR’s were also cross bred. The NAHFR’s gave the Whittingham’s more depth and the Whittinghams helped the roll of the NAHFR’s. So, as you can see there’s been a lot of cross breeding with these birds prior to the 1950’s.
Other famous famous fanciers that had Wittingham Rollers
Over the last 120 years, many fanciers have bred and flown North American Rollers. A select few have made a significant impact upon the breed, either as a breeder or a spokesman. It is important that the legacies of these fanciers and their birds are not forgotten. In the chapter that follows I will make a discussion of famous groups of North American Rollers and the men that developed them. I realize that some names and strains of rollers may be missing; this is due only to a lack of information; and not a lack of space. To my knowledge this is the first and only time that this information has ever been printed together. It is the result of nearly a decade of collecting information.
RICHARD R. KRUPKE, Canton, Ohio (June l3th, 1873-April 23rd, 1970)
One of the greatest fanciers of all time was Richard Krupke of Canton, Ohio. Krupke played a major role in the development of the North American Roller, along with Liebchen, Schlicter, and others. Krupke may have played the role. For over 80 years he bred and flew North American Rollers. He was born in Elbon, Germany and immigrated to Canton, Ohio at age 13 with his parents. Krupke has said, “Dad had raised pigeons in Elbon since 1858. We were in Canton only a month when we imported Tumblers.
Krupke and his father also made important contributions to the fancy breeds of this country. In 1889, they imported Shields, Komorner Tumblers, Beard Tumblers, and Magpies from Germany at great expense. They also developed quality Frills, Pouters, Dragoons, and Runts. Krupke is still better known as a roller fancier, his kits went up for thousands of spectators over the years. It seems they never failed to please.
Krupke’s strain was developed mainly from birds he acquired from Licter and Liebchen, but also from birds bred by an English immigrant named Tom Guild. Guild had succeeded in bringing his pigeons over in a basket at age 17. Krupke used birds from Guild on a regular basis. Krupke generally bred 150 birds a year, three kits; from the 19 pair of his best performers from the year before. Then he would sell all 19 pair. He did this each year, constantly replacing one generation with the next. He had so much faith in his birds even the best never stayed more than one season.
On breeding Krupke says, ” I always bred the deep spinners to short snappy rollers that were good kit birds and like to fly. When necessary, I bred from Rolldowns. I selected the breeders from the air. When I was sure it was the one, I removed it to wait for the breeding season. When my nineteen pairs were selected, I sold the rest.”
F.W. LIEBCHEN, Cleveland, Ohio (? -?)
Liebchen is said to be the first American fancier to practice the method of mating Birmingham Rollers to Asiatic Rollers. It was from this mating that the long roll was finally obtained, and Almond Rollers procured. According to Krupke, Liebchen kept about 200 rollers in a large barn and they were as good as they get. Liebchen was also influential in the writing of the first written aerial standard by American fanciers. Unfortunately, little else is known about him.
F.S. SCHLICTER, Portsmouth, Ohio (?-?)
Very little is known about Schlicter even though he is one of the major developers of Rollers in North America. It was through a friendship between Schlicter and Mr. Crangle, that many long rollers were imported into the U.S. After a shipment arrived, Schlicter would immediately send some of the new arrivals to Krupke in Canton, and Liebchen in Cleveland.
ELMER R. B. CHAPMAN, Stoneham, Massachusetts (? -?)
Chapman is considered one of the pioneers of the Pigeon Fancy in North America. He was considered an authority on many breeds, but was more so a Roller fancier. Whatever the case he wrote many small booklets on the various facets of pigeon keeping. He acquired his first rollers from Chas. Lienhard of Cincinnati, Ohio in 1884 and kept them for nearly 60 years. Chapman also experimented with many other breeds of performing pigeon so as to gain a further understanding of his Rollers. He as well, corresponded with fanciers of performing pigeons of all sorts by the hundreds, not only in North America, but also England, Europe, and Asia. In 1934, Chapman published a book on rollers entitled “Rollers and All About Them”.
Among his observations are the following: “A kit is a family, and the best kits were found to have been bred off of one bird or family which had the properties required.”
“Don’t believe everything written or printed about rollers. Read, study your kit and use your own experience as a guide and you can have a kit that will fly high and long, spinners or long rollers, and birds that will always stay home.”
O.C. CASPERSON, Wisconsin (? -1930)
Another famous fancier was O.C. Casperson of Wisconsin. His strain was highly prominent during the 20’s and 30’s. It is a well known fact, that Casperson purchased many Valuable birds of Whittingham descent from an ‘Old Man’ Stevens of Toronto, Canada; about the period of 1905. Shortly after Casperson’s death in 1930, L.G. Eldridge of East Greenwich, RI purchased Casperson’s entire stud from his widow at an unheard of sum. Through Eldridge, the strain became even more common; especially in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, during WWII many fanciers were forced to sell out due to hard times to the dealers of pigeons. From then on this grand old strain was absorbed into other strains. Throughout the entire course of my research, I only discovered two fanciers who still kept this old strain. One lived in Rhode Island, and the other was W. Paul Bradford of Salt Lake City, Utah. Bradford said that he purchased these rollers at the age of nine from railroad man named Tat Taylor in Salt Lake City. He described them as all either Black, Red, or Yellow self’s. Bradford, age nine; paid One dollar a pair of each color. Taylor purchased these birds from Eldridge, no doubt after 1930.
LESTER J. MANZ; Riverside, New Jersey (? -1976)
Another famous fancier was Les Manz of NJ. He is also the mentor of one of our modern day old timers, none other than Chandler B. Grover of Elk Grove, CA. Manz was a proficient writer on Rollers, and respected by many. Les Manz’s strain of rollers hold their origin to a group of Whittinghams brought to Camden, NJ in 1925 by an Englishman named Hargrove. Hargrove immigrated to work at the Easterbrook Pen Factory in Camden, NJ.
A fancier named Bygraves secured a good many of these Whittinghams from Hargrove, and upon his death in 1929, Manz purchased the entire stud from Bygraves’ widow.
Then in 1934, Manz along with a fancier named Frank Sinclair purchased the entire outstanding stud of A.C. Karp of Cleveland, Ohio. Karp was a top-notch fancier, and an authority on Rollers.
At that point, Les Manz blended the Whittinghams with the Karp birds even though they were totally different in type. The result was a family of Reds, Yellows, Blacks, Duns, Bronzes, and Sulfers-all marked birds. Upon Manz’s death in 1976, his breeders went to a Mr. Chas. Hubbs and the kit birds went to Chan Grover. Twelve years later, Chan Grover later sent the author the remnants of this old family. Three birds I bred down from these are solely responsible for my entire family of Red and Yellow Whitesides.
I believe I had in my possession the very last living Les Manz bred bird in existence. This was an Odd-Eyed Red Spangle Cock NIRC #3732-76. He as a favorite among my loft visitors and they reference to him as “Old Odd-Eye”. He produced into his 13th year, and at age 17 escaped from my breeding loft where he resided as a foster parent; often I could trust the old boy with as many as 4 or 5 young and once with 7 babies. The latter time was totally an accident, as he actually stole a clutch from another pair! One thing is certain; at the very least this grand old family make excellent feeders. Once I had a hen fall ill with her first round of young, she continued feeding them right up to the day she died. Another fancier reported a similar incident with the same family.
An article about “The Heritage of my NAHF Rollers” by William Latha
The true North American High flying Roller first appeared in the loft of George Stevens of Toronto, Canada in 1869. Stevens was known to breed for high quality, fine color, vivid markings, and most importantly their ability to fly high, fly long, and to roll deep. A well-known fancier and authority on pigeons, named Arthur Karp from Cleveland, Ohio purchased these rollers from Stevens in the 1870’s.
In 1883, Arthur Karp, it is noted had crossed his Stevens birds with red and yellow Gansel Komorners. Karp was credited for creating a fabulous line of Red and yellow spangles from this combination. The resulting pigeons were of a longer cast, very leggy, and became a much stronger pigeon all around.
Possessing plenty of vigor, known to be extremely hyperactive, and carry exceptional aerial strength. These birds flew 6 to 8 hours or more. In addition, would roll very deep 50 to 100 feet. Nevertheless, were very difficult pigeons to settle or control.
About 1890, the Whittingham strain had arrived in Canada. The Whittingham strains were imported into the United States from 1890 to 1915. The Whittingham rollers had a reputation for being outstanding high and long flyers. Many rollers found in the United States and throughout Canada until 1930 were referred to as being of this Whittingham strain. Many of the Whittingham birds imported into the USA, from 1901 to 1909, had come from J. McAree of Toronto, Canada.
Many roller fanciers began to cross Whittingham blood into their birds to increase stamina and endurance. Notably one of these fanciers known to have an exceptionally fine family of Whittingham families during the 1920’s was an Englishman named Joseph Bygraves from Camden, New Jersey.
Bygraves was known for never parting with any of his fine birds. Bygraves did fly his birds several times a dayand continued in the English tradition of keeping the pigeons very hungry. These were much different feeding and flying methods used from the standard of the day.
It was in 1934 when Lester Manz and Frank Sinkleris both from Riverside, New Jersey, Purchased and bought out the famous Author Karp of Cleveland, Ohio. Les Manz decided to keep all of the reds and yellows, while Frank Sinkleris kept the blues and blacks from this Karp family.
Les Manz also purchased another family of pigeons from his long time friend Joseph Bygraves after his passing. Whereas, Lester Manz, the genius that he was with rollers, decided to cross the two families of Karp and Bygraves together.
The Karp when crossed with the Bygraves had become 100% easier to handle. These very intelligent pigeons kitted very well together and would fly for hours with plenty of roll, even making breaks never before seen from the original Karp birds.
It was in 1936 that a long time friend and student of Lester Manz, named Charles Hubbs, whom also resided in Riverside, New Jersey, began his long journey of creating Mottles and Whitesides from the original Lester Manz strain of rollers. Charlie Hubbs was given a red spangle cock that Les Manz was going to dispose of because the bird had acquired the disease canker. Excited to show his expertise in pigeons and impress Les Manz, the young Charlie Hubbs used a medicine called Enhepin. Charlie Hubbs carried the sick bird home, treated the pigeon, and returned it to Les Manz a week later very healthy andtotally disease free. Les Manz then told the young Charlie Hubbs to keep the pigeon since he would never let any bird that was ever sickback into his loft under any circumstances.
That red spangle was the very foundation bird of the family Charlie Hubbs has to this very day. Through the years, Les Manz has given Charlie many of his Karp and Bygraves cross birds. Charlie Hubbs mated that red mottle with a yellow hen which Les Manz gave him and produced a cock bird. Charlie bred two sets of red mottles from them. When Les Manz first seen the mottles he was amazed, and then encouraged Charlie to continue breeding them.
It has taken Charlie Hubbs over 30 years of dedicated breeding of this family before he would confidently say he has a loft full of Mottles and Whitesides. It was through the very process of inbreeding these Mottles, where Charlie will get Whitesides from them, but not in perfect markings. However, by inbreeding this family for many years, Charlie produces nothing other than straight gravel grey pearl eyes, and only reds and yellows for the past 60 years.
For all of the years that Charlie Hubbs owned these birds he has never put a cross into this family. All of the young continue to flourish healthy and without any defects. Charlie Hubbs birds still roll deep, will fly high, and continue on the wing literally for hours.
Most American Rollermen in the beginning of the 20th century selected and bred their quality rollers for a long time on the wing, high flying, and with very deep roll. The North American Roller ruled the skies over all of North America with very little effort until about 1940, when word of William Pensom of England began to export his famous strain of Birmingham Rollers. This is another story, for another time.
A brief description of The North American Roller pigeon is of a medium size frame, with a weight of 8 to 12 ounces. The body is short in stature, longer in the keel with a full chest, carrying a proportionally oval shape head, with a stout neck that gradually tapers down to the shoulders. A flesh color, medium size beak with very fine white wattles that are not overly pronounced. Gravel grey pearl eyes. Clean legs, with flesh color toenails. Possesses a tail with 12 feathers only, wings carried above the tail, and the wingtips measure ¾” before the tail, and a full chest. Colors are red, yellow, black, blue, and dun. With markings of saddles, beards, baldhead, rosewing, bell neck, spangles, mottles, and Whitesides.
The owner’s instruction manual* that came with my family of NAHF rollers states;
Breeders are to be fed strictly commercial high protein (17%) maintenance Turkey pellets. Occasionally commercial pigeon feed mixture is added later to allow adults to show squeakers how to eat properly.
All of my flyers are fed the same 17% protein maintenance Turkey pellets and a high protein commercial pigeon feed mixed at a 50/50 ratio.
During the winter month’s whole kernel corn, and safflower seed is added to supplement and increase fat content.
During the molting season, I add additional safflower seed to ease feather molting.
All food is freely fed and available to breeders, and flying kit. These pigeons are never kept hungry. They eat whatever amount they want daily.
Oyster shell grit with red grit added at a 50/50 mixture and kept in a separate bowl. Grit is available always.
Fresh water for drinking and bathing is available and changed frequently throughout the day.
(This particular family of pigeons has been fed straight turkey maintenance pellets for decades. Before the invention of pellets, a dry yellow powder called chicken mash was once used).
Training begins with those young birds that are able to feed themselves confidently and consistently. Training consists of allowing only the new very young birds to sit upon loft roof to learn their bearings and imprint the immediate area surrounding their loft. Times do vary, as these very young birds will fly up on their own accord or when something spooks them. Teaching to get them accustomed to the trap is another story, but I do leave a couple of bobs lifted up to allow a larger opening for them to pass thru more easily.
All the flyers are flown daily, preferably early AM, and are never allowed out after 12 noon. Birds are kept in the loft if inclement weather threatens.
I know you are asking yourself the question, “Why not fly the kit after 12 noon?” These birds will normally fly for 6 to 8 hours before returning to the loft for fresh water and feed. I do not want them up flying when it begins to get dark, because they will stay up flying very high, and they will be attracted to the big city lights of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and may get lost.
Breeding within this family will take place when the local wild birds begin mating which is usually March or April, and only 2 to 3 rounds are bred per year. All breeding stops mid to late June to rest the
The Les Manz family of pigeons were fed and trained for the past seven plus decades using these exact methods. I will continue in the same tradition, sticking to the old reliable phrase; “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”.
My Les Manz strain of birds will fly in excess of 1000 plus feet, occasionally disappearing into the clouds while circling high overhead the loft, again, depending on the weather conditions and the pigeons mood.
The roll and depth of roll from these birds is what everyone seems to care about most, it seems to peak the most interest. Well, let me try to explain.
“The Roll” you always read and hear about states; “is not as frequent, as the Birmingham”. Not as frequent means, there are no short quick bursts of pigeons raining from the sky, only to quickly sweep up right back to the kit and perform again in very short order. These pigeons do roll in proper form, backwards at a high speed, but individually, for a very long depth of 100 feet or better. Since the roll is from a much greater height, and a longer distance, the pigeon must fly back up to reach the kit and it does take some additional time to accomplish this. These birds really enjoy rolling deep and are very stable.
Flying a 30, 50, or 100 bird kit and watching as each and every pigeon repeatedly drops and rolls at a phenomenal distance for literally hours is a sight and feeling that is sure to please any hard core competition roller flyer.
At one point, the NAHF Rollers were so widespread on the continent they were perhaps the most dominant breed of roller in all of North America. Today this pigeon breed has mostly died out and there are roughly a dozen or so dedicated breeders left in North America.