Sixty Year Summary of the Hobart Ames Memorial Field Trial

By William Smith, 2012

One usually would not associate a prophet with field trials but when Mr. Sam A. Magee reported the first Hobart Ames Memorial Open his words were prophetic when he wrote: “Not often, I think, to any man comes the opportunity to witness the conception of a history-making event or idea, and while it is not very likely that the inaugural open stake of the Hobart Ames Memorial Field Trial Club will have any impact on world affairs I believe that all those present at the January 5-8 trial witnessed the start of a trial that will in future years make bird dog history.” Mr. Magee wrote those words in 1953 (Am. Field Jan. 17) and his prophecy was right on target because this year, 2013, the Club will celebrate the historic 60thyear since the Hobart Ames Memorial Field Trial Club staged its inaugural Open competition.

The history of this trial really begins with the manHobart Ames. Mr. Ames was a wealthy industrialist from Massachusetts. He was invited to the area around Grand Junction, Tennessee to go quail hunting. His visit would begin the saga of the famed Ames Plantation. Mr. Ames was one of the main catalysts for the formation of the National Championship Association. He served as President of the organization for 43 years. His idea of what constituted a good performance of a bird dog—the Amesian Standard—is still used today by those who serve as arbiters for field trials.

Mr. Ames passed away in 1945. In May of 1952 a group of local field trial enthusiasts created the Hobart Ames Memorial Field Trial Club to honor the memory of Mr. Ames for his contribution to field trials.  “The men who organized the Club realized that they were memorializing a great man, a man who probably did more to place field trials on the high plane they now occupy than any other connected with field trials and they also realized that they must set their sights high and conduct a trial that would eventually become great enough to fittingly commemorate the name of Hobart Ames” (Am Field Jan. 17, 1953). Dr. John W. Morris of Somerville assumed the role as the first President and Kyle Wilbourn, also of Somerville, took charge of the duties of the Secretary/Treasurer of the fledgling organization. Dr. W.W. Wilder was selected to be the Vice President. Other members were: Joe Andrews, Fred Fowler, Robert Clark, Ruffin Matthews, Ray Gillia, and K. Crawford. These were the men who would be responsible for the momentous undertaking of launching this well-deserved and time-honored memorial.

The club was formed and the next order of business was to finalize the negotiations pertaining to a venue where the trial could be held. Dr. Morris had been working closely with Reuben Scot, Ames Plantation manager, to reach an agreement that would allow the Club to operate the trial on what is known as the Patterson tract. This property was purchased from the family of John T. Patterson by Mr. Ames and became part of the Ames Plantation. The Patterson tract is located in the northwest portion of the Ames Plantation.  The parcel of land lies approximately seven miles southeast of the town of Somerville. The Patterson tract was Mr. Ames’ favorite shooting grounds. The Patterson Lodge, located on these grounds, was the designated place for the hunting party to break for lunch. Sadly neither the Lodge nor the village of Pattersonville, that was once located on the Patterson tract, exists today. The Patterson tract is still a part of the Ames Plantation but it was not and is not the same grounds that encompass the field trial courses utilized by the National Championship.

The energetic Club began planning for their inaugural event. Six one-hour courses were laid out to be utilized during the trial. Carl McKinney, a 23 year employee of the Ames Plantation, along with Ray Smith, pro trainer from Somerville, mapped out the courses with help from local trainer Lee Hoffman. The Club constructed a barn with stalls for 68 horses at the headquarters site. Plans were made to add ponds to areas of the property where water was lacking. All this was accomplished, excepting all the ponds had not been added, before the start of the first trial scheduled for December 1952. During the first year of operation the trial officials were housed at the Village Court Motel in Somerville. A tent was set up on the headquarters site the first year and meals were taken in the tent daily. The tent served as the temporary headquarters until a more permanent structure could be constructed. A new club house, measuring 140 ft. x 80 ft., was featured with the advent of the second renewal. Breakfast and lunch was served in the clubhouse every day of the trial. The club house featured private quarters for the judges, complete with beds, so that “they could relax during the noon break.” The main room featured two fireplaces, one at each end of the room, and, naturally, this room would become the most popular gathering place. The club house provided shelter from the weather and a comfortable atmosphere for the local population to gather and discuss the events of the day. The trials became social events that were eagerly anticipated by the surrounding communities. It was a busy time for the Club but all the activity did not disrupt the running. In addition to Mr. Wilbourn’s secretarial duties, he also furnished horses for the judges and reporter. It was reported that he was never late to have the horses available and on time. Mr. Ruffin Matthews assisted Mr. Wilbourn with the preparation of the horses. The trials enjoyed success when the Patterson tract was their headquarters. The club house was converted to a family dwelling when the trials moved from the Patterson tract. It still stands today just off the Somerville-Lagrange Road, but it has been remodeled to the point that it no longer resembles the original structure.

The Patterson tract was converted to a forestry project and the venue became unacceptable for field trial use in the early 1960’s. The club had to find other grounds, but this was to prove to be a difficult assignment. The club sponsored two renewals of the trial in 1963; one on February 4 and the other on December 9.These were the last to be run on the Patterson grounds and at the completion of the December trial, the club was deactivated. According to a letter sent to the American Field by Lee Hoffman, the name of the club was changed to the Beene Creek Field Trial Club and Mr. Hoffman requested all the records of the HAMFTC also be transferred to the Beene Creek Club. The Beene Creek grounds were located at Water Valley, Mississippi.  The club operated as the Beene Creek Club in 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967.

In 1968 Kyle Wilbourn resurrected the HAMFTC and the Club sponsored the 1968 running at the Water Valley grounds which featured only one course. After the 1968 renewal, Mr. Wilbourn brought the trial back to Tennessee. There is no record of a competition staged in 1969.  The Club was reorganized with Kyle Wilbourn as President and J.B. Massie as Secretary/Treasurer. The Club sponsored renewals in February 1970, January 1971, and February 1971, and January 1972 which were contested on grounds at Oakland, Tennessee owned by Gordan Tomlin, Sonny Sullivan, Bill Tomlin, Mr. & Mrs. A.P. Rose and Smokey Caudle. R.S. Goddard and Harold Elder served as marshals for some of the renewals in Oakland.

On January 15, 1973 the venue for this trial was the Ames Plantation. Reporter Wilbourn reported that all future renewals by the HAMFTC would be held on the Ames Plantation. There remains some confusion about why the trial was held on the Ames on this date because there is no record of an invitation being accorded the Club to move to the Ames. For whatever reason for their presence it is certain that the Club was there by invitation of Plantation Manager Jimmy Bryan. When Mr. Wilbourn moved the trial back to Tennessee, he solicited Mr. Jimmy to become a member of the club. The membership role of 1973 shows Kyle Wilbourn President, Ron Moore, Billy Moss and Jimmy Bryan as the members. Mr. Jimmy had replaced Ruben Scot as Plantation Manager when Mr. Scot retired. As a member of the Club Mr. Jimmy felt that a memorial to the Ames family should be held on a venue comparable to the Ames name and tradition.  Because of his feelings, Mr. Jimmy invited the HAMFTC to return to the Ames Plantation as their permanent headquarters. It has been reported in the American Field by more than one reporter that this invitation was for the 1974 running. The invitation was readily accepted and plans for the 1974 running began to take place. However, there were no trials held on the Ames Plantation in 1974 other than the National Championship. Evidently because of conflicting dates with other clubs, the 1974 renewal was actually run December 19, 1973. The drawing revealed 27 All Age aspirants would compete. The All Age braces would traverse over the same courses as used by the National Championship. Poker Knight handled by Hoyle Eaton bested the field to gain the top spot in the All Age competition. Anonymous Knight handled by M. Throneberry was second with Plantation Sue piloted by Gene Lunsford securing the final placement. The morning course was divided into four thirty minute courses and these courses were repeated until the Derby competition was complete. This arrangement persisted until 1988 when the Derby stake was permanently increased to one hour in order to better make use of the existing one hour courses.

Today the HAMFTC is highly regarded as the sponsor of one of the most prestigious Open trials in existence, but it is a little known fact that the first trial the Club sponsored was an amateur event. The first trial held on the Patterson grounds was a three-stake amateur, All Age, Derby and Puppy, trial that was contested December 8 & 9, 1952. Chesman Holliday from Sommerville and Robert Archbell from Dancyville served as marshals to acquaint everyone with the new venue. L.T. Byran and Claiborne Hooper were the judges. Twenty-one vied for the top spot in the All Age competition, eight in the Derby, and eight in the Puppy.  E Bee’s Expressman, pointer male, emerged as the winner for Memphian owner J.F. Kimbrough Jr. and handler Joseph Andrews. E Bee’s Expressman would go on to capture first place in the Open stakes held January 3, 1955 for handler Lee Hoffman. Equity’s Tennessee Lady was first in the Derby stake for owner/handler R.K. Dinning. The top spot in the Puppy went to A P Storm Trooper for owner B. McCall with Brooks Holt handling. This trial was a warm up for the inaugural Open competition that was to begin in January 1953.

Although the newly formed club was fresh on the scene, they knew what it took to compete with the older, established organizations. They acquired the services of two of the most respected and well-known men in field trials to judge the inaugural running: Cecil S. Proctor of Oklahoma and Fred W. Shappert of Illinois and Mississippi. The inaugural HAMFT was held January 5, 1953. The trial featured three stakes: Open All Age, Open Derby, and Open Puppy. The puppy stake was dropped after the 1955 running. The All Age and Derby were one hour heats. Twenty-one toed the line in the All Age ranks. Armed, pointer male, for owner Lambert Horn of Birmingham and handler Howard Kirk was named to the top spot after a second series with Lexington Village Mike handled by Ray Smith of Somerville for owner W.H Wimmer of Indiana. In the Derby stake John Gardner handled Crafty, pointer male, to first place for owner Dr. H.A. Gray. Dr. T. Benton King of Brownsville and Rueben Scott of the Ames, two notables, were on hand to view the inaugural contest. The trial was successful with many complimenting the supervision of the trial and also the grounds. Judge Cecil Proctor remarked: “Portions of the area are quite similar to the National Championship grounds, but on the whole the topography is more rolling with wooded ridges traversing it. These ridges, however, are vantage points from which a dog can be observed much better than on the more level Grand Junction Grounds” Reporter Magee noted: “Much of the land has been cut over in recent years and the fallen tree tops, while making a safe refuge for the quail, are in places hard to get through with horses” (Am Field January 17, 1953). Much different than the courses of today.

During the early days of field trials rigid schedules were not a part of the field trial protocol. Sometimes trial dates were hard to establish because of conflicting dates with other trials. For this reason the HAMFT was held in the months of December, January and February in different years, with January being the preferred month. In some years an Open trial would be held in January and a second trial would be held in December. In 1971, for reasons unknown, two Open trials were contested in succeeding months; one in January with another trial being held in February. With a permanent home now assured the uncertainty of available grounds was put to rest and the club declared the second Monday in January as the perpetual starting date for the trial.  Since 1975 that understanding has not varied.

As with setting dates, the trial format also changed. Amateur sponsorship was short lived. The amateur events preceded the Open competitions when they were held. Amateur stakes were sponsored in conjunction with the 1953, 1954, and January 1955 running. Another Open was held in December of 1955 with the amateur program discontinued. The amateur agenda was reinstated for the December 1956 running but was eliminated from all future events.

The duration of the Derby stakes was also uncertain and varied. The first twelve trials, January 5, 1953 through December 9, 1963, featured one hour heats. The Derby stakes were eliminated in the 1968, February 8, 1971 and Jan 15, 1973 programs.  The Derby stake was contested at thirty minutes with the running of the February 9, 1970, January 11, 1971, and December 19. 1973. The trial in January 1972 featured an hour Derby stake. The trial in January 15, 1973 dropped the Derby stake. From December 1973 through the 1987 running the Derby stake was thirty minutes. From 1988 through the 1993 running the stake was one hour. In 1994 the Derby competition was dropped from the curriculum because of the large number of All Age entries in recent years. The Derby stake was reinstated for the 2006 trial to be run in one hour heats and that schedule remains in effect today.   In 1987 the Cajun Classic had been delayed. In order to accommodate the All Age handlers at the Cajun who wanted to run in the HAFT, it was decided to run the Derby stake ahead of the All Age completion and give more time for those handlers to arrive. The Derby stakes continued to precede the All Age competition through the 1993 renewal. When the Derby was next contested in 2006 the stake was moved to follow the All Age competition and that change remains in effect today.

An Open Shooting Dog stake was held in 1963 and 1970 for the only two times in history. The 1963 competition featured six entries with Prissy Lady Sue for handler R.E. Huffman taking the laurels.

The January 3, 1955 event featured a second series to name the third place Derby victor. Running W Vestal for owner F.W. Shappert and handler Jack Harper was given the nod based on his two hour class performance. In 1957 Midnight Lou was awarded second place in the Derby stake for handler Lee Hoffman and owner Dr. F.S. McKnight after a second series.

The All Age agenda has never varied from one hour duration since the inception of the trial.

For several years the courses were reversed. The morning course was run in the afternoon and the afternoon course was run in the morning. The thought was that it would increase game contacts by altering the times the courses were used.

Scribe Mr. Sam Magee reported in 1955 that the quail population was greater than in years past, but that one hundred quail had been released prior to the start of the Amateur program.

Mr. Kyle Wilbourn was an officer of this club until ill health forced him to relinquish his duties. He was President of the club for many years and was the driving force behind it. For thirty-three years he had organized, judged when necessary, reported when necessary, and brought the club back from obscurity. Nineteen eighty-five would be his last official year in office. In 1986 the club roster disclosed: Joe Andrews-President; Dr. Frank McKnight-Vice President; Rick Carlisle Secretary/Treasurer. The Board members were: J.M. Anderson, Joe Hurdle, Joe Walker, and Barry Saunders. For the first time since the inception of the HAMFTC Mr. Kyle’s name was absent from the role. On the second hour morning course there is an old barn just to your left after crossing Championship Drive. That barn is known as Kyle’s barn. Kyle kept horses in that barn during field trials. For many years he furnished horses for the judges and reporters. No one knows for certain how the structure got its name; the reason is lost to history, but as Mr. Magee predicted there has been much history associated with the HAMFTC and Kyle Wilbourn was a big part of it.

Local trainer Lee Hoffman was associated with the Club from its inception as a Club member, a participant in the trials, and later as the driver of the dog wagon. Mr. Hoffman was absent for the first time in 1984 when illness forced him to surrender his duties as the dog wagon driver. Mr. H.M. Coen of Slayden, Mississippi replaced Mr. Hoffman and he held that position for many years. National Championship winner Randy Patterson handles those duties today.

The largest entry for the trial was in 1991 when 107 All Age dogs and 33 Derbies were drawn. The trial was judged by Wayne Tate of Moscow, Tennessee and Rick Carlisle, Asst. Manager of the Ames Plantation. One of the scheduled judges had to withdraw at the last minute due of a family medical emergency and frantic efforts to find a replacement were of no avail. Because of this development, Rick was forced into duty to partner with Wayne. This would be Rick’s second judicial outing in an Open qualifying trial and it happened to be the trial that holds the record for entries for the HAMFTC. Wayne and Rick stayed the course for every dog that competed. Today if the All Age portion is longer than four days, the All Age judges are replaced. But really this arrangement is no different than what had transpired in earlier years. Records revealed that many times the Derby stakes were arbitrated by others different than the All Age judges.

The Club has been fortunate to have the services of many knowledgeable men who have given their time and efforts to ensure the successful operation of the HAMFTC. Some of these men are: Dr. John W. Morris, Dr. W.W. Wilder, Kyle Wilbourn, J.B. Massie, Jimmy Bryan, Lee Hoffman, J.M. Anderson, Wayne Tate, Joe Andrews, Joe H. Hurdle, Barry Saunders, Sam A. Magee, Reuben Scot, Carl McKinney, Ray Smith, Robert Archbell, Ruffin Matthews, Chesman Holliday, Fred Fowler, Robert Clark, Ray Gillia, K. Crawford, Gene Lunsford, R.J. Goddard,  Billy Moss, Ron Moore, Harmon Heavercamp, William Tomlin, Boyd Rhea, Perry Gray, Payson Matthews, Rube Rhea Sr., and Mike Keegan; with apologies for not being able to recognize everyone who contributed to the endeavor. The roster for the 2013 memberships is as follows: Bobby McAlexander, President, C.F. Bryan, Vice President, Rick Carlisle, Secretary/Treasurer, Dr. J.D. Huffman, Earl Connolly, Joe G. Walker, Mason Ashburn, Sam McKnight, Frank McKnight II, Kent Walker, Dr. Frank McKnight, David Williams, Joey McAlexander, Rube Rhea, Jr., Otis Ozier, Gary Jones, Michael Shears, and William Smith.

Twenty different reporters have reported the trial. Kyle Wilbourn reported it thirteen times

The 2013 renewal of the HAMFT commemorates the 39th running over the National Championship courses.

Stormy Tempest, Riggins White Knight, Red Water Rex, Miller’s White Cloud, Miss One Dot, Bluff City Mike, Dunn’s Fearless Bud, Quicksilver Pink, Warhoot Rogue, Whippoorwill Wild Card, Miller’s True Spirit, Shell Creek Coin, Miller’s Silver Ending, and Lester’s Snowatch are all former National Champions that won placements in the HAMFT.

Former All Age Winners of the Hobart Ames Memorial

1953—Armed

1954—Lexington Village Mike  

1955—E Bee’s Expressman 

1955—Lexington Village Mike  

1956—City Editor  

1957—Glencrest Doctor

1959—Country Doctor’s Pal  

1959—Dancyville Falcon  

1961—Turnto Jr

1962—Stormy Tempest  

1963—Midnight Lou  

1963—Saxon  

1968—Jim’s Tennessee Ranger  

1970—Red Water Rex  

1971—Vigilair  

1971—Mississippi Sandy  

1972—Won Beau  

1973—Judy Anonymous  

1973—Poker Knight  

1975—White K’s Ace  

1976—Miller’s White Cloud  

1977—Dandy Star  

1979—Miss One Dot  

1980—Miss Anonymous  

1981—Moonlight  

1982—Miller’s Chief  

1983—Ranger Rex  

1984—Mac’s Gunnery Sergeant

1985—Newman’s Piney   

1986—Pike Creek Mike 

1987—Miller’s Chief

1988—Woodchopper  

1989—Barshoe Brute  

1990—Miller’s Crossbow  

1991—Quicksilver Pink  

1992—Hunton  

1993—Miller’s Silver Bullet 

1994—Whippoorwill Sadie Sue  

1995—Nightcall  

1996—Rebel’s Replay

1997—Wahoo’s Seminole Wind  

1998—Lester’s Silver Chief  

1999—Peacemaker

2000—Palomar  

2001—Whippoorwill Wild Card  

2002—Spirit’s Reflection

2003—Updated Keepsake   

2004—Whippoorwill Big Shot   

2005—Rebel Jewel

2006---Suka’s Haystack   

2007---Shell Creek Coin   

2008—Harpeth Valley Hawk

2009—Whippoorwill Firebox  

2010—Touch’s Green River  

2012—Caladen’s Royal Hawk

** Years with two listings indicate two renewals in the same year. The trial was cancelled in 1978 and 2011 because of snow.