Click For More Pigeon Articles > Chapters 1 & 2 from "The North American Roller Pigeon"




Fascinating Historic Information & Details

 Just when Birmingham Roller Pigeons where sent to North America is unknown, the breed is thought to have first arrived into Canada; then introduced to the United States from Canada. Whatever the case, Chas Lienhard of Cincinnati, Ohio was breeding them in the late 1870's. An advertisement from a James Grist and Sons appeared in the May 1881 issue of 'The Homing Pigeon'. It read:  

"IMPORTED BIRMINGHAM ROLLER PIGEONS"

"The most interesting little Flying Pigeons living. Can be flown twice a day and remain up hours during which they pass through the most wonderful and marvelous aerial gymnastics at an immense altitude."

In the same issue, it is reported that at the Lancaster, PA show Birmingham Rollers were exhibited under that name by.J.E. Schum, H.G. Hirsch, and C. Lippold. This early introduction to Birmingham Rollers began to happen to others, and by 1890 Rollers began to become popular. Ohio and Pennsylvania were the leaders in their importation, and it's major early breeding centers. 

Ohio was definitely more superior over the Pennsylvania center. F.S. Schlicter in Portsmouth, Fred "Grandma" Liebchen and Arthur C. Karp in Cleveland, Richard R. Krupke in Canton, Thompson and Hengle in Akron, Tom Barnum in Berea, and Lienhard and G.E. Wilthew in Cincinnati. They were all well- known fanciers, and all of them played a role in the development of the North American Roller.

I use the term North American Roller, because the goals and standards of North American Roller fanciers were clearly separate than those of the English Roller fancier. In the U.S. and Canada, the longer roll became the measure of utmost value in Rollers. Selection is the key- and selection meant deep rollers, mated to even deeper rollers. Liebchen in Cleveland finally began following the Canadian practice of crossing Birmingham Rollers onto Asiatic (Oriental) Rollers. 

This eventually established the long roll of 50 and 75 and past 100 feet in one unbroken sequence, and the obvious differences in type between North American and English Roller Pigeons. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania; the cross of Birmingham Roller upon various Ground performers was a favorite. 

In the great metropolis of New York City, the Birmingham Roller was crossed upon the German Flight or Beard the result was a type of North American Roller that would later become known as "The Flyers". They rolled but little, yet were capable of matching good English Tipplers for Flying endurance.  Select rollers had this habit of ending up in Ohio, is it any wonder that Ohio is the genuine birthplace of the North American Roller? 

By all rights, the selection for the long roll was actually conducted in England by Ohio men. No long roller, anywhere, was safe from the wandering Ohio group. Schlicter in Portsmouth was a traveling salesman for a shoe factory, through his travels he established a lifetime friend by the name of Mr. Crangle.  

Crangle happened to be the superintendent of the New York City Zoo, and Schlicter's interest in Rollers soon became Crangle's as well. During his trave1s to buy zoo animals, Crangle visited every Roller loft possible. He considered no price too high for a Roller, so long as it matched his Ohio friend's description.    

No English loft was safe from Crangle, and never again could the English compete for the depth of the roll. Nor did they really choose to. At this time, there was a massive Tippler infusion into the Rollers of England. It served a purpose, and the English succeeded in achieving their goals. The result was a highflying pigeon that kitted very tightly, and executed kit 'turns' in a graceful manner.   

The turns of a kit of North American Rollers is anything but graceful, it resembles more an absolute explosion of rolling powers. The English Roller was now a Grizzled or brander Bronze bird with an orange or 'corn' (yellow) eye. They resembled a Tippler that was capable of rolling. On the contrary was the newly developed North American Roller, almost always a Piebald marked bird with pearl or gravel grey eyes. Tippler Prints and Brander Bronze never existed in the rollers imported to North America prior to 1920. 

There was never a North American Roller of either coloration, just as there were never any Almond Birmingham Rollers. The Almond or "ermine" coloration exists in North American Rollers due only to its Asiatic parent. If you possess an Almond Roller you can be sure that there is North American ancestry behind the bird at some point. Besides definite differences in color, markings, and eye color; the North American Roller also differs from the Birmingham Roller in type. The North American Roller is always somewhat “Tumbler-headed” compared to Birminghams, in other words; their head is more rounded and the beak is shorter.  

The North American is also a longer cast bird, and has tendencies to be more loose-feathered in the secondary flights than a Birmingham. In Performance the North American Roller was totally distinct from the Birmingham Roller. There were actually three types of North American Rollers, separated by means of their performance. Firstly, were the 'Long Rollers'. This particular group were capable of flying for two to four hours on end, they rose up in groups of 50 to 150 birds; when upon they rolled, they would spin like a ball descending 50 and 75 or 100 feet and beyond!  

This was the most common group sought after. Secondly, were the ‘Spinners’, which were capable of flying two to four hours, their performance was very short in depth. These were found nearly exclusively in New England and later in the Toronto area. Lastly, were the 'Flyers' as they were called. They rolled little, if at all.    

Their specialty was Tippler-like duration, staying aloft for eight to ten hours; sometimes longer. This type was mostly found in large industrial cities, no doubt because rolling would be a dangerous act among tall buildings in such a city. They were also used in 'Roof Flying' contests, or 'leguerra' as it was called (the war), this is also called 'pigeon napping'. Quite an old sport. Whatever the type of performer, all of these birds were pearl eyed, marked birds, that flew high and long.  

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. Tipplers were 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. Rollers became even more popular in North America. Flying contests and Roller Shows became not only popular, but also commonplace. There was one unfortunate aspect of Roller shows; there was no distinction made between the different breeds of Rollers.   

It was common to find North American Rollers and all sorts of foreign rollers grouped together in one class. In fact, about this same time; there was a huge controversy over which was a better performer- North American Rollers or Asiatic (Oriental) Rollers. Each is a distinct breed, but they just called both 'Rollers'. This unfortunate mistake would later play an important role in. the near extinction of the North American Roller years later.  In July of 1935, the United Roller Club of America was founded to promote Rollers in North America. It's officers were as follows:  

President, Wm. Tierney, Camden, NJ; Vice-Presidents, Chas Clark, Fullerton, CA; and Ray E. Gilbert, Salt Lake City, UT; Sec./Treas., G.E. Wilthew, OH; Directors, James E. Graham, Ontario; E.R.B. Chapman, Stoneham,MA; Dr. E.K. Carmichael, Center, CO.

The October 1935 issue of The American Pigeon Keeper was a special issue about the formation of the U.R.C.A. Wm. Tierney's Red Badge cock is seen on the cover. This particular issue is now a very rare collectors item. There are not many copies left in existence.  The first Standard and Yearbook of the U.R.C.A. was published in 1937, by Homer Robinson of Muncie, IN. Reprints of this book were available through the American Pigeon Journal only a few years ago, therefore, copies can be found.  

Information pertaining to the 1st annual U.R.C.A. meet cannot be found, however; the second was held in Peoria, IL. Here are listed the five top birds shown:  

CHAMPION: #995-Wm. Harvey

Old Cock: #8898-Wm. Harvey

Old Hen: #8896-Wm. Harvey

Young Cock: #995-Wm. Harvey

Young Hen: #920-Wm. Harvey

Mr. Harvey and his winning streak did not stop there; he was a very successful fancier and judge for many years. The 1930's also saw a number of books written upon North American Rollers by North American fanciers. The first of these was "Acrobats of the Air" by James E. Graham in 1931. It was later reprinted in 1944, 1956 and later in 1980. The second book, was written in 1934 by E.R..B. Chapman; it was called Rollers And All About Them". Dr, A.D. Blackburn, wrote the third-book. The latter, is an extremely rare book. I cannot even find anyone with a copy, nor do I know it's name or publishing date. A well-known Pigeon book collector in CA told me has heard of it, but has never came across a copy. 

The North American Roller ruled the skies of North America with little effort, until about 1935; word of a Wm. Pensom in England reached the U.S. and Canada. Nearly 70 years after it's creation, the North American Roller would again meet the Birmingham Roller- this time head on in conflict. With the words of Bill Pensom also came his birds first he sent birds to Schlattmann in St. Louis, MO, then to Perkins and Smith, then even more it was obvious that they were here to stay. Roller shows became even more common, the winners of these shows tended to gradually lean more and more to the recent English imports.  

Standards had been drawn up, and they to began to resemble the Tippler I printed English birds. Soon fanciers of North American Rollers began to cross in Pensom birds into their North American birds so as to rate better in the shows. Markings such as Baldheads, Saddles, Beards, Spangles, Rose-Wings, Whitesides, and Bell-necks became rare, having given way to the Tippler print of English birds. Gradually the North American Roller was re-absorbed back into the Birmingham Roller, and its popularity had begun to wane. 

With the new English imports had arrived new feeding methods, as well 'as a new system of aerial competition and standard. Long rollers require a bit more feed than a typical Birmingham Roller; only the old timers realized this. Novice fanciers of North American Rollers began applying the English techniques to their birds. The results were disastrous. Normally stable, long rollers began rolling down and becoming ragged in their performances.   

The reputations of the masters and their Rollers had been destroyed due to sheer ignorance. The same novices, of course then failed to realize that the English birds, were a totally separate breed from the American birds; and since Rollers come from England, the English must know best and have the best.   

The long rolling North American Roller was a totally distinct performer from the English birds it would be nearly impossible for it to live up to the English standard of aerial excellence. It did not, and soon the very existence of the North American Roller would be questionable. No one, except the old timers and their students realized that the Birmingham and North American Roller were entirely different breeds from one another. Gradually the old time fanciers began to die off or leave the hobby for various reasons. To say the breed became scarce is a large understatement, only a few die-hards kept the breed alive. They were nearly unheard of during the late 1970's and early 1980's. 

Along about 1990, I noticed a gradual renewal in the breed. In the Sept. 1992 APJ I gave mention to several old strains of North American Rollers- I received a flood of letters and calls. In the late 1994 issues of the Roller Journal we saw quite a few articles pertaining to the Fireballs. The 1990's will no doubt be the new century in North American Rollers.

CHAPTER  TWO

FAMOUS FANCIERS AND STRAINS 

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 Whitting~ 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. 3radford 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.  

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 studen 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.

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 Whitting-hams 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.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Certainly other fanciers and their birds deserve mention in this section, unfortunately; the history of North American Rollers has been lost with time. The early fanciers were seldom-skilled writers, and it generally took an outsider to write about someone's pigeons. It is ridiculous that we know more of 5000-year-old Egyptian mummies than we do of 70 year old Roller strains. Other deserved fanciers were Jack LaRue, A.D. Blackburn, Hagernorst, Tom Barnum, Russ Harter, S.P. Mathie, Wm. Ross, August Nue, Rube George, Francis Buckley, the Dubois Bros., J.A. Smith, Wm. Tie Mey, G.E. Wuthew, and many others I have perhaps never heard of. Should the reader hold any valuable historical information on Rollers, or Pigeons in general; please document it in writing and send it to one of the periodicals.

Kelley D. Spurling

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