Tonto Bars Hank
Tonto Bars Hank - born in 1958 by Tonto Bars Gill and out of Hanka. He was raised by C. G. Whitcomb of Sterling, CO. They took him to his early race wins and Walter Merrick trained him later on. He was hard to train and would play around and goof off while other horses were running their hearts out trying to beat him. He drove Walter crazy -- however, he was so strong and fast he would win anyway. Tonto Bars Hank was a speed index of 100, had 16 wins, all in the toughest company, and $133,919 earnings. He had 31 halter points, was an AQHA Champion and World Champion Racing 3 years.
After racing Walter Merrick showed him a few times. Walter was a great race horse man, he judged shows, but wasn't a Tommy Manion. Walter Spencer of Tulsa got control of Hank and took him to the biggest shows. Spencer made sure the judges knew the 3 time World Champion would be at the show. Once at the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show, Spencer had him entered in the senior stallion class. To distract from Hank's less than show style head Spencer had a halter made with a huge red sheep skin nose piece. As all the stallions quietly walked into the ring Spencer stayed back in the chute area with Hank. This was a class of over 30 stallions all wanting to win Fort Worth. The announcer ask for the number of the Spencer entry to enter the ring. Spencer did not come. He announced again, Spencer did not come. There were people in the coliseum who wanted to see this horse, who had bested the fastest horses in the world. They wanted to see if he had the class to compete with a totally different bunch of the world's best. The announcer announced for Spencer's number over and over, finally over the speaker he said, "Entry, Tonto Bars Hank, last call to enter your class!" That was what Spencer was waiting for. He ran into the arena with Hank, heat held high, went straight to the judge and apologized to the high heavens. He had been waiting right behind the gate wanting that special introduction. The crowd roared into a loud cheer. That was what they came for. The judge had no choice -- Tonto Bars Hank was Grand Champion.
Walter Spencer was a detective on the Tulsa Police Force. He drove a Cadillac and ate the best steaks. Once I went to dinner with him and placed my hand on a towel in the seat of his car. He grabbed my wrist and promptly showed me a chrome .45 revolver under the towel. He went on to state he had sent a number of murders to jail and some were getting out soon. He was always packing heat and had guns hidden within easy reach. He had some old death threats that had not been carried out.
Walter called and had me fly to Tulsa to do a shoot of Tonto Bars Hank after he was retired to the stud. Hank was big/huge. He had a long back, a short slightly thick neck and a slight roman nose. He was much like his sire and just wasn't pretty anywhere, but massive and impressive. The side view would show his problems and a front was also difficult.
It was a horrible hot sultry Oklahoma day. Spencer held Hank and a fellow named Sterling helped with fly spray, moving feet and getting ears up. I always requested a team help with pictures, a handler, a foot mover and an ear attractor and if there were any other people, stand a long ways off. We were short handed. Hank was a playful sort, moved, stomped and anything to aggravate, he did it. Finally minimal progress, Spencer cussed and gripped and said he had had enough of me, that he would never have me take photos for him ever again. He handed the lead to Sterling, stomped off to a bed room/office combo building where there was an air conditioner.
Further burdened by a playful stallion, flies, heat and shorter handed, Sterling had the stamina and kept working with me. We were both solid wet with sweat. We worked with Hank for 2 or 3 hours and this photo was what came of my effort. We made post cards for Walter by the thousands.
When finished, I was exhausted. I went to the office where I dreaded facing Spencer. When I got there he was stark naked, had taken a cold shower and was standing spread eagle over a floor air conditioner vent.
Three years later I was at Jim Ray's taking Bar Money photos at Decatur, IL, and Walter called. He said he was showing a chestnut stallion with 4 white side walls that had won 32 Grand Champions and he couldn't get a good photo taken at the shows. He wanted me to fly to Tulsa and do a shoot. I reminded him of his threat that he would never have me take photos again. He was in a good mood, obviously cooled off and said, "You misunderstood, I said I would never hold a horse for you again. I am not going to either -- Sterling will."
Author: Darol Dickinson