First he set about developing the finest retrievers in the country to demonstrate at their kennels and at field trials the importance of using trained dogs in hunting. In January 1951 he hired T. W. (Cotton) Per-shall, a young professional dog trainer and handler who was making a reputation for himself on the field-trial circuit. Pershall, his wife and his two Labrador retrievers moved into an old farmhouse on 552 acres of partially farmed Olin-owned land near Alton, 13 miles from the Olin plant at East Alton. Plans were mapped out for the construction of Nilo Kennels and the rehabilitation of the land as a wildlife preserve on which Olin could prove the value of stocking wildlife and improving natural habitat.
By May the project was under way, and John Olin decided to buy himself a field-trial dog. For over a year he had been studying the competitive performances of young retrievers on the circuit and latterly he had been particularly following the progress of a 3-year-old black Labrador named King Buck, who was winning more than his share of trials. Although he had not actually seen Buck run, Olin decided that this was the dog for him.
Pershall, with years of field-trial experience behind him, thought differently, and didn't hesitate to express his objections. King Buck's early history was bad. His bloodlines were good but he was the product of a very disappointing litter. His owner had purchased him as a pup for $50 and nursed him through an extended siege of distemper, during which he was advised twice to destroy him. When Buck finally regained his health, his owner couldn't afford to train or campaign him.
Eventually the dog was sold to Bing Grunwald of Omaha, who established him on the competitive circuit. A month after his third birthday, Buck earned his field-trial championship. He looked good, but in Pershall's professional judgment he didn't look good enough to warrant the $6,500 selling price Grunwald was now asking. Besides, Pershall had a much better (and less expensive) prospect lined up—a Labrador named Freehaven Muscles, who not only showed great future promise but boasted a more stable background.
Cotton Pershall was still new at Nilo, which may be the reason he didn't know just how stubborn John Olin can be. Freehaven Muscles, Olin agreed, certainly looked like a fine prospect. Cotton was right in wanting him for Nilo Kennels, and should lose no time in acquiring him. In the meantime, however, Olin was going to buy King Buck, and that was the end of that.
Although Cotton handled and trained both dogs, Buck became known around the kennels as John Olin's dog and Muscles as Cotton Pershall's dog. A year after his purchase, Muscles earned his championship and went on to justify the confidence Pershall had placed in him. But John Olin's dog did better; he made field-trial history.
In November 1952 at Weldon Springs, Missouri, under Cotton's expert handling, King Buck romped off with the National Retriever Field Trial Championship, the most coveted prize in retriever competition. The following year he came back to repeat his victory, only the third dog to do so in the history of the event. In the 82 national field-trial series in which he participated during his competitive career, King Buck completed 80 consecutive series, a record no dog has ever approached.
But some of the other Nilo dogs, including King Buck's sons and grandsons, have given him stiff competition. In the seven years since its beginning, Nilo Kennels has produced seven other field-trial champions under Cotton Pershall's expert handling and training. Olin, studying Pershall's methods and techniques, personally guided four of these dogs to amateur field-trial championships in competitions where professional handlers are not eligible.
There are currently 63 dogs at Nilo: 44 black Labradors (including King Buck, who is now retired), eight yellow Labradors, two beagles, two Brittany spaniels, one English setter, three English springer spaniels, two pointers and one Weimaraner. Six of these dogs were gifts to the kennels, but all of the rest were either bred at Nilo or purchased by John Olin to improve breeding lines. He has worked particularly with Labradors—studying the history and performance of various bloodlines and importing English stock, including an English National Champion, to get away from the tight little circle of breeding in this country.
There has been only one major setback at Nilo, which occurred shortly after it was started. An epidemic of distemper swept through the kennels, destroying much of the stock. To prevent such a disaster from striking again, Olin built an isolation kennel modeled on medical findings at Cornell. Set apart from the other kennels, it is run as scientifically and antiseptically as a fine hospital. In order to enter the "medical wards" inside, a visitor must first pass through a special room where he must strip, shower and put on the sterile white clothing of a surgeon about to operate. All new dogs are quarantined in the isolation kennel for a specific period of time, during which they are carefully examined, observed and tested for possible disease. Whelping also takes place here, and new-born litters remain until they outgrow the infection period. In addition, all Nilo dogs receive blood tests twice yearly under a preventive-medicine program which has proved, among other things, that dogs inoculated against distemper (formerly believed an inoculation of lifetime immunity) are not necessarily protected forever from the disease.