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4. Backspin Classic
~ The History of Carolina Rollers ~

The history of the Carolina Rollers is based on the best recollections of local Roller men 25-30 years after the fact, so it depends on who you ask when it comes to who raised what birds. Since we don’t have much pedigree information, and many breeders bred their pigeons in open lofts back then, it would be nearly impossible to sort out the families used. However, everyone agrees that what is now known as the Carolina Rollers were created by crossing two main strains of Performing Rollers: Lloyd Thompson and Bill Pensom bloodlines that were brought into the Carolinas by various breeders. However, Paul Vaughn birds were also introduced into the region around the same time; thus, the Paul Vaughn bloodline was in the admixture of creating the Carolina Rollers. It is also imperative to mention that the locals didn’t get rid of all of their original stocks when Thompsons and Pensoms arrived into the region. Rather, local breeders crossed these Thompsons and Pensoms with their original stock that they had been raising. Hence, while the main bloodlines were Thompsons and Pensoms and while some breeders tried to keep these families pure, crossing these families into their original stock was inevitable to keep their viability and fertility for generations to come.

As the story goes, a pigeon breeder from Georgia, by the name of James Thompson, who had no relationship to Lloyd Thompson of British Columbia, Canada, imported a pair of birds directly from Lloyd Thompson. According to Tony Roberts of Piedmont, SC, James Thompson paid $236 just for the quarantine expenses of those birds. Tony Roberts acquired some of these Lloyd Thompson squeakers from James Thompson and brought them into South Carolina. Along with the Thompson birds, Tony also bought some Paul Vaughn birds from a third party (Lloyd Bagwell), who acquired these birds from James Thompson. “Most of these Vaughn birds were black bar badges, solid blacks, or grizzles but there were no reds in them whatsoever; but they did carry recessive red,” says Tony Roberts. “Frankie Reece also got some of these Vaughn birds from Jimmy Nabbit of Georgia and I bought some of these from Frankie. Jimmy Nabbit was more like a show man than a flier, so they didn’t know how good these birds’ performance was before they gave them to us. I acquired some of my Vaughn birds from Frankie; but, Frankie crossed these birds with what he had got back then, even to the Old Almond Cock stuff, but I kept my Vaughn birds pure,” says Tony Roberts.

In addition to Tony Roberts introducing the Lloyd Thompson family of birds into South Carolina from Georgia, Lloyd Thompson birds had come into South Carolina via different sources. The main way that everyone knew about was Ed Garrett of North Carolina obtained some Lloyd Thompson birds from a breeder named Ed Larm of Washington State. Ed Larm obtained these birds directly from Lloyd Thompson. Ed Garrett purchased these Thompson birds from Larm, and he shared them with the locals in North and South Carolina. When Ed Garrett shared Lloyd Thompson’s birds among the local breeders, James Turner, Don Simpson, Don Greene, Bob Simpson, John Castro, Tony Roberts and all other serious Performing Roller breeders received these birds from the Thompson family. Lloyd Thompson’s birds were related to Bruce Cooper’s birds, so it would be safe to deduce that they were also essentially originated from the Pensom family. However, evidently the way Lloyd Thompson bred and selected them was a little different as he dominated the young bird competitions in Canada. Lloyd Thompson must have selected for early developers over the years. The Carolina locals describe the original Thompsons as longer casted birds that were mostly black with white flights. “They were big birds; Don Simpson had a bird named George, he was the size of a Modena Pigeon,” says Tony Roberts.

Frankie Reece on the left. Tony Roberts & Carl Hardesty (sitting) enjoying the Backspin Classic fly on the right.

Before the Lloyd Thompson’s birds were introduced into the Carolinas, Roller breeders flew mainly Pensom strain of birds that a breeder named Bob Welborn of Greenville, SC, bought directly from Bill Pensom around 1956. Welborn bought three hens and a grizzle cock bird and according to James Turner, Bob Welborn did not outcross these birds with other bloodlines. In the early ‘70s, when Welborn’s daughter became terminally ill with leukemia, Welborn gave all his birds to a friend in Greenville in order to focus on caring for his daughter. Lloyd Bagwell had obtained these Pensom birds from this Greenville friend of Welborn’s. These birds were considered “dual purpose” Rollers as they were known in those days, because they could be flown as well as shown. From there on, local guys like Frankie Reece and Don Simpson got their hands on these Pensom birds. In fact, the famous Old Almond Cock was one of the birds that Frankie Reece got from Lloyd Bagwell and then traded to Don Simpson in around 1976.

The Old Almond Cock was shared and bred babies in several other lofts in South Carolina, being crossed onto virtually every other family of Rollers that was flown or brought into the Carolinas. “The Almond Cock was responsible for more good rollers that were flown in South Carolina than any other bird at that time, and I don’t care what anybody else says but Bob Welborn deserves all the credit for the Old Almond Cock,” says Tony Roberts. “However, Old Almond Cock came along number of generations after these Pensoms were brought in by Bob Welborn. Bob Welborn was a good friend of mine, and one time he and I were talking about the original 4 birds that he got from Bill Pensom. I asked Bob, what were the chances of Old Almond Cock being directly produced from the original birds, and Bob said, the chances of that was very, very slim. Bob said those birds came after at least 3rd and 4th generations later, so we don’t know what else was put into the mixture of Old Almond Cock.”

But one day, in the early 1980s a varmint broke into Don Simpson’s stock loft and destroyed the Old Almond Cock and several of his progeny. Don Simpson asked Tony Roberts to take care of his birds until Don rebuilt his coops. During this time Tony bred out of Don’s birds and mated 5012 (son of Old Almond Cock, and a pure Pensom hen bred by Larry Pridmore) to a dilute blue bar that Tony had obtained from Paul Porter in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and that Tony called the Orangeburg Hen. According to Tony Roberts, this pairing produced a particularly high quality hen which was later named the Shooting Star by Carl Hardesty of Kentucky, after Carl bought this bird from Tony Roberts. This bird then became one of the foundation birds of Hardesty’s well-known family of Rollers. The Orangeburg Hen was later given to Ellis McDonald (Alabama) while Tony Roberts began to focus his competition efforts on the Paul Vaughn family of birds.

“The Old Almond Cock was a strange breeder, but they mated him to everything, and called all the babies ‘almond cock birds.’ At one time local people ordered some yellow birds from Kansas, and they’ve even mated those too to the Old Almond Cock. I have seen the Old Almond Cock; he was a tortoiseshell, not almond. They called it almond not knowing the difference. He was one of those birds that when you mated him to one of his roll-down daughters, they never raised a roll-down out of them. But when you mated him to a daughter that was not a roll-down, all the babies were roll-downs. So, you never knew what he was going to produce. They were however, deep birds, but developed slowly. They would be 10 to 15 feet first year, and roll 20 to 25 feet in second year, then became roll-downs. They just became deeper, and deeper,” recalls Tony Roberts.

According to Tony Roberts at one time he had Thompson, Pensom, and Vaughn family birds, but he eventually only kept his Vaughn birds until he unintentionally inbreed the Vaughn family too much. Outcrossing had to be done since these Vaughn birds started to become infertile. “Out of all of these three bloodlines, I liked my Vaughn birds the best, because they were the smallest of them all and they were the fastest of them all. They were generally what we called ‘black bars,’ and tortoiseshells. I did very well with them, and dominated the flies with these Vaughn birds. They would come into roll in about 5 to 6 months whereas the Old Almond Cock birds would come into roll in 9 months to a year. So, I got rid of the Thompsons and the Pensoms and just bred those Vaughn birds. Then, I let local guys in South Carolina have them; I gave a pair to James Turner, a pair to Don Greene. I let Ellis McDonald of Alabama have some, I let Wally Fort of Ohio have some, and guys from Ohio wanted more of these Vaughn birds from Wally,” says Tony Roberts, reflecting how happy and proud he was with the performance of his Vaughn birds.

Don Simpson, Paul Vaughn and Ellis McDonald on the left. Carl Hardesty and Wally Fort on the right.

When James Turner talks about the history of the Carolina birds, he recognizes that a lot of local breeders cross these mainly Thompson and Pensom birds with their original birds and everyone produced their ideal birds. However, James gives a lot of credit to Bob Welborn and Ed Garrett for bringing these good bloodlines into the region. “Bob Welborn was a flier. He wasn’t just a show guy as some people tried to portray him to be. The birds we started with in this region came from Bob Welborn and Ed Garrett. Bob Welborn brought the Pensom birds and Ed Garrett brought the Lloyd Thompson birds from British Columbia. Tony gave me some Vaughn birds too, but I don’t remember breeding out of them,” says James.

With the arrival of Lloyd Thompson birds from Canada, local breeders crossed these mainly two strains of birds and started a new family, which later became to be known as the Carolina Rollers. The reason they crossed Thompsons and Pensoms was they weren’t happy with the original performance of either family. According to James Turner, the Lloyd Thompson birds were more stable and better at kitting than the Pensoms. Thompson bred his birds to come into spin at six months and to come in deep, and according to James they did just that. Neither family was good enough, because they were both lacking traits. When I asked James to compare the Thompson birds that came from BC, with the Pensom birds he said:

“They were pretty close as far as the quality of spin, but the Pensoms would often roll-down on you. They were also too strong and flew a couple of hours with not much frequency. Thompsons were a little more frequent but there were some days they just didn’t want to fly. The Thompson birds were fast, deep, and frequent, but they only flew and performed when they felt like it. They were either lazy, or didn’t have the stamina to perform every day, so they had to be literally chased by flags to fly. Once they decided to fly, however, they performed well but only flew 30 to 50 minutes. As far as roll-downs, Thompson birds were much more stable. You hardly ever got a roll-down from the Thompson birds. The Pensoms would fly all day, but they were very unstable. So, what locals did, not knowing any better, we crossed them together. We had the usual problems when you cross families but we worked through them. Even though Pensoms were unstable, they were very good spinners but they would fly, fly, and fly. Thompsons were very stable, good spinners but they would have days, not all the time, that they just didn’t want to fly,” says James Turner. So, when they crossed them, the crosses of these two families produced Rollers that were much easier to manage and provided the basis for the Carolina family of Rollers.

Don Greene of Easley, South Carolina joined the local roller clubs couple of years earlier than James Turner did. Don Greene obtained few birds from Tony Roberts and Frankie Reece. Some of these birds were most notably known from their band numbers: black white flight cock (929), raised by Tony Roberts and a white flight with mixed tail cock (6878) raised by Frankie Reece - both from the Pensom line. According to the locals however, it seems the pedigree, performance, and its ability to produce good birds is a little different depending on who you talk to, with regards to 6878. Some believed Old Almond Cock was the sire of 6878, but some also thought the sire of 6878 was a Thompson bloodline from John Castro, and the dam was a Frankie Reece hen. It appears that the reason Old Almond Cock received credit for 6878 is supposedly the dam used to produce 6878 came from the Old Almond Cock. However, according to Tony Roberts’s recollection the sire of the 6878 was a beautiful black bar Vaughn bird that Frankie had obtained from Georgia. It should be noted that back then, most breeders did not keep their bird's pedigree information and they bred their birds in open lofts, and because of that exact ancestry of these birds will forever remain a mystery.

Don Greene never flew either of these cock birds (6878 and 929). He just bred out of them and flew the babies. Although Don Greene owned the parents of 929 at some point, the records show that Tony Roberts raised 929. Don Greene remembers Tony Roberts having the Paul Vaughn family of birds also, and how some people in the region referred to Paul Vaughn birds as the Georgia birds because they came to the Carolinas from Georgia. Consequently, in addition to Thompsons and Pensoms, there were also some Paul Vaughn birds floating around at that time, and possibly put in the admixture of creating Carolina Rollers.

Bob Welborn on the left & Paul Vaughn on the right.

When Don Greene talks about 6878, he says that 6878 raised just as many roll-down birds as it did good birds, maybe more roll-downs. “As a rule, if 6878 raised a hen it was a roll-down, and if it was a cock bird, it was either really good, or no good. He was a weird breeder no matter which hen you mated him to,” says Don Greene. James Turner also bred out of both 929 and 6878, and after one year of breeding from these two birds, James was very impressed with the babies he raised out of 929. So, he wanted to buy the 929 from Don, but Don refused to accept payment for the bird. Don said: “I’ve raised a son out of 929, which is a better producer so you can have 929, if you want to,” says James. But James refused to take the bird for free because James knew how valuable of a breeder 929 was. When Don wouldn’t take any money for 929, James gave Don’s young daughter, Mandy, $50 as a gift just to be fair. James admits Don Greene did not want any money for the bird. When I asked James why he offered money for 929 since they have been friends and it was customary to share birds among each other, James said, “The bird was a very valuable producer, in my opinion. The year I borrowed him, I produced some really good spinners out of him. It was like someone came to me and asked me if they can have Rambo. Not that I would sell birds either, but 929 was good producer and it did worth at least $50 back then.” When I contested and said, “But, James you gave away a lot of your top producers like Rambo, and 007 for free, so that the others can breed out of them too. In fact, you would refuse to take any payments if anyone ever offered you money for your birds. So, why did you feel the need to pay for 929?” James said: “Well, I suppose I did it so that I would feel better about myself getting that good producing bird. I was just happy that Don gave me the bird and I felt the need to do something to return the favor,” reflects James.

When I was talking to Don Greene about James Turner, we were talking about the history of Carolina birds and his memories about how and when he first met James Turner. When I asked Don what his fondest memory about James Turner was, he said:

“Well, there are many of them where do I start?” Then, he took a sigh and waited a couple of seconds. “There are many, but I will give you one that comes to my mind now. It’s about 929. He kept insisting that he had to pay for that bird, and I insisted that he didn’t. But he gave my daughter a $50 bill and didn’t want to take no for an answer. I remember that well because he didn’t have to do anything to get that bird, but I guess to him the bird meant a lot more than that and he wanted to show me what my help to him to start with good birds meant to him. When people go way above and beyond than what is expected from them, that impresses me, and James is that kind of a person. That’s one of the memories that I never forget, but to answer what was my fondest memory of James is a very hard question to answer because I really don’t have any bad memories of James,” says Don Greene, who considers James as one of his dearest friends.

When I asked James what role 6878 played in his breeding program, he said:

“First of all, if you ask about 6878 to people around here, you will get dozens of different answers about its pedigree and performance. Don Greene had 6878 and 929 when I first met him and joined their club. I borrowed both of these birds from Don Greene and raised 10 babies out of 6878, and every one of them hit the ground, except one. The one that didn’t roll down was a red check cock but I have no recollection of breeding out of this red check. So, I cannot say 6878 played a big role in my family of birds because I didn’t have much success breeding out of 6878. I also bred out of 929, and I raised some good birds from him, even though I don’t necessarily remember the band numbers. I also got a hen directly from Tony Roberts; her band number was 922. I acquired six birds from Tony at one time, she was one of these six birds – a dark tort in color. She was a little old and only laid 4 eggs for me, but 3 of them made it directly to the breeding loft because the other one was caught by a hawk. I would consider 929 and 922 as my main foundation birds,” says James.

James continued to talk about the history of his and Carolina birds and used that very powerful word again - integrity.

“Arif, do you remember asking me a question when you first met me about how I would want to be remembered as?” I said: “Man of integrity!” “That’s right,” said James with an excitement confirming the importance of the word to him. “I always try to tell the truth. I don’t have to talk about my birds much until someone asks me about them. I would rather let my birds speak for themselves by their aerial performance. You know, some people in the past wanted to get credit for my birds, but if it wasn’t for Bob Welborn and Ed Garrett, I do not know if any of us in the Carolinas would have the quality of birds we have today. Those are the two guys who brought them in. I was just able to take the good spinning birds and add some colors into them. So, I don’t have much to do with the performance of my birds except to maintain and improve their quality, and putting color to them,” says James.

James describes the original birds being much bigger in size compared to his current family of birds. He eventually produced a smaller and stronger type through consistent line breeding. James produced a lot of good birds from 929 and 922, although some of them were roll-downs. However, after few years of careful selection of breeders James finally produced one bird, the promised child that was deep, fast, frequent and stable. It was Turner’s famous and one and only Rambo (9646). In later chapters, I will tell you more about Rambo and the other famous birds raised by James Turner. Although Rambo’s pedigree was not kept, or was lost along the way, it would be safe to assume the ancestry of Rambo goes back to those two main foundation birds that James started with – 929 cock and 922 hen, which were both banded by Tony Roberts. James admits that he never mated 929 with 922 and he also bred out of other birds; he mated 929 with other hens, while he mated 922 to other cock birds but there is a reason why James clearly remembers 929 and 922 more than the other breeders. Because those are the birds that made the difference producing the youngsters that James was looking for.

James acknowledges that the history of Carolina Rollers is told slightly differently depending on who you talk to, but they are probably all correct because the breeders from back then all had different experiences with these birds. Furthermore, it gets a little conflicting/confusing since the name they have referred to certain families were also different. Just like the term Vaughn Birds transposed into the name Georgia Birds, for some breeders the name Pensom Birds transposed into the Old Almond Cock as though Old Almond Cock was the only Pensom bird that was introduced and bred out of. Nobody remembers how the Pensom Family was substituted with the Old Almond Cock Family, but all locals would agree that the Old Almond Cock was produced from the Pensom line. In addition, local breeders kept their original stock birds and some experimented with Vaughn birds, but the main families introduced to the region were the Thompsons and the Pensoms; however, how each breeder incorporated the Thompsons & Pensoms into their original birds gave them different experiences with their foundation birds. Thus, when each Carolina breeder shares their experiences from their 30-year-old recollections, it is reasonable to run into some conflicting information, especially about unrecorded pedigrees.

“The foundation birds that I originally had came from Larry Pridmore, Tony Roberts and Don Greene, so although we used different breeders from these strains of birds and eventually created our own families and sub-families, everybody started with or later on added the Thompsons and Pensoms into their family of birds,” reiterates James with regards to the ancestry of his foundation birds and the history of Carolina Rollers.

All rights reserved © August, 2015 by Arif Mümtaz.


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