The Formation Of The Grand National

In 1912  a group of enthusiasts met in Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania to form a Club for the purposes of running a trial on quail.  No, these were not planted quail.  In 1912 there were no such trials yet (The first one-course trial would the following year  later at Medford, NJ.). The trial was run on wild quail in Pennsylvania.  Then, in 1913,  the club added to its program a trial on ruffed grouse.  Pittsburgh architect Herb Cahoon,  secretary of the club in those early years,  with hyperbole typical of his numerous American Field contributions over the years wrote: “The first grouse trial ever in America was in 1913 at Indian Creek, Pa.  As ‘Birth Of  A Nation’ was stupendous and super-colossal among moving pictures,  so was the birth of grouse trials in America – a monumental achievement.”* Cahoon continues “It is fitting and proper,  therefore,  that full credit be accorded to the Pennsylvania Field Trial Club and the handful of devoted members who fostered this type of bird dog endeavor and lived to see it flourish and prosper.”

The 1913 event on grouse trial proved so popular that the club soon dropped the quail trial and the PA Club has been holding a championship every year on ruffed grouse, without interruption since then;  a considerably longer continuous stretch than any other club in cover trials.

That first grouse trial took place in December of 1913 in the southwest Pennsylvania town of Indian Creek in Greene County,  with 12 dogs competing.  A setter named Fanny Russell was named champion.  Entries grew over the next several years,  the trial moved to various venues around west and west central Pennsylvania,  and the National Grouse Championship,  as it was called, was off and running.

Entries dropped off some during the first World War,  then stabilized in the 1920’s and into the depression years.  By then an Amateur Championship was running in PA.  The Brokenstraw Amateur ran from 1921 to 1928, then folded.  By then,  some other clubs had formed in Michigan and New England and both were running championships on grouse beginning in 1927.  The New England Bird Dog Championship ran for many years at Lee White’s farm in Scotland,  Connecticut.  They were unique grounds in that four different game birds were on the grounds, though mostly grouse. Michigan tried to compete with the National Grouse Championship in the “perceived prestige” category with the name “All American Grouse Championship” and again,   in 1940, at a different set of trial grounds in Michigan with the “United States Grouse Championship,”  but the National was still the oldest,  the most respected and eventually this led to legitimate criticism. By 1940,  no one outside of PA had ever won the National and no pointers had won it either.   Edgar Mckean,  a car dealer from the Pittsburgh area,  was running the Pennsylvania Club/National Grouse Championship and Sam Light was his rival at the Venango,  another popular grouse trial that began in the 1930’s.

With the country’s involvement in World War 2, the world was in flux and Sam Light became the driving force behind arguably the single  most important change in Cover Trial history.   Light,  whose famous Sam L’s Dogs were quite successful for decades,  was motivated to initiate this change,  depending on the source,  either by envy of the prestige of the rival PA Club’s National Title,  or  by a sincerely-held interested in improving the sport. In  letter to Walter  King date February 26, 1962, McCarty wrote:   “In summer of 1942, I asked Joe Williams to enlarge the Pa. Board to include 10 members, 5 from Pa., 3 from Mich., 2 from N. E. But Joe nixed the idea.  In a rage Sam L went to Cleveland and formed the Grand National…”

Light moved quickly.  He recruited two of the more noted cover trialers from two other geographical  regions,  John Hadaway from Michigan and W. Lee White from Connecticut.  They and some 30 other enthusiasts met in Cleveland Ohio in the summer of 1943 to form what would become the sport’s premier championship event.   Light declared at the formational meeting the goal of having a true national championship as free as possible from regional influence and bias.  Three geographical regions were formed with equal numbers of directors from each.  The championship location would rotate between all three regions.  The name would be The Grand National Grouse Championship.  The first Grand National took place later that year at the Black Forest grounds in Central Pennsylvania.   .Immediately, the Grand National became the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the grouse trial world.  The two  Michigan Championships merged and took on the more humble and appropriate name of  Lake States Grouse Championship.  The PA Club was badly outflanked and at last accepted the inevitable,  changing its name from the National Grouse Championship to the  Pennsylvania Championship in 1947.



And excerpt from “The Legendary Grand, Volume 1, 1943 to 1969″

By Ryan Frame and Dave Fletcher, estimated publication   March, 2015.