There was a time, not long ago, when the woods and fields of this corner of Southwestern Pennsylvania were alive with grouse and the men with their dogs who hunted them. Those days have passed, but folks who remember them are still around, and many of them called and wrote us to identify the breeders and their dog in last Monday’s Mystery Photo.
Ray Stockdale was among a number of readers who could not only identify the Umbel brothers – William and Robert – and their champion tricolor setter Jetrain Junior, more affectionately known as Beau, but also the date on which a similar photo and article about the brothers appeared in the Observer-Reporter April 18, 1980. The Umbels are from Gibson, near Bentleyville.
Paul Carson, then a staff writer for the O-R, wrote the article and took the photo following Beau’s winning the Puckety Trophy (held in the photo by Robert) at national field trials in Marienville. The top honors for Open All-Age One-Hour Stake was an essential step toward competing for the Grand National Championship in Michigan, where Beau would later place second.
“The setter, Beau, weighs 45 pounds and can work at a speed for what seems an incredible length of time,” wrote Carson.
Beau was one of about 350 dogs bred by the late William Umbel, who along with Robert operated Penn Grouse Kennels for 40 years. “His blood lines were as good as any bloodlines in the nation,” Jeffrey Umbel, the youngest of the three brothers, said.
William Umbel died at age 57 on Christmas Day 2004. “It was a heart attack, which was strange because Bill was a non-smoker ... and walked with the dogs every day,” his brother Jeffrey said.
Robert Umbel, 71, is now retired and living in Waynesburg. He joined brother Bill in the breeding business in 1966 after returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam. He explained that although grouse have been in the low end of a cycle for 15 years, “there is still cover, and there are still birds.”
Hunters and their dogs may be fewer in number here now, but the sport has not died.
By Wednesday of last week, we had received three dozen phone calls and emails correctly identifying the Umbel brothers. We regret that we were not able to return all those calls but do appreciate your help in solving this puzzle and reviving some old memories.
Look for another Mystery Photo in next Monday’s edition.