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Mountain Home Magazine

The Legend of Perma Stone Shorty

Dec 31, 2014 02:35PM

Perma Stone Inn

Once bitten by the beagle bug, there’s little hope. Bite victims always contract that incurable disease, beaglemania. Those infected are obsessed with silky soft beagle ears. They might point out a beagle while motoring down an interstate highway. They unconsciously pet beagles that are out for a walk. And, nearly the last straw, they will pick up a beagle puppy and instantly fall in love. I’ve suffered from the malady for years. I’m a beagle man.

I remember beagles I’ve known. The best of them, in hunting terms, are etched into my memory bank. The best beagle I ever hunted with was a small fetching female named Lady. She was the only dog the Old Man ever paid a penny to own…and the only dog we ever had that sported a pedigree. There were a number of other cooped, baying beagles before I grew up and left home. I began a string of my own beagles, all house dogs thanks to my lovely bride and two daughters. The best of the lot was Meg, a resolute runner of rabbits who set a record that later dogs simply could not match. Yes, I remember my beagles. Dogs owned by others usually didn’t impress me.

But once, in a dimly lit bar in Potter County, I saw a beagle that I would never forget. On the way home from a fishing trip, Uncle Bully and the Old Man had stopped at a tavern outside Galeton for a short one. I was about twelve years old so I sipped soda through a straw. Then, to the cheers of all the pub patrons, the owner of the place lifted his beagle to the bar. The dog walked slowly down the polished maple counter, sniffing each hand as the beer drinkers stroked his back. Then, the barkeep said, “Shorty, I don’t think we like this guy.” The beagle promptly lifted his leg and spritzed the guy’s beer. Everyone laughed. I was amazed.

I learned that the place was the Perma Stone Inn and that the drink-dousing dog was billed as “The World’s Most Famous Beagle,” with the registration name, Perma Stone Shorty. It was a fancy “full” name, but everybody just called him Shorty. People came from miles around to see Shorty, he was that famous. Noted outdoor writers told tales of Shorty in their magazines and newspaper columns. And though the county’s best pizza and a beer were excuse enough to pay a visit to the Perma Stone, Shorty was the real reason they stopped.

The place was on the way home from flinging flies at finicky trout on Pine Creek. In fact, many anglers parked at the inn, crossed Route 6, strolled down the bank, and commenced their assault on the brown trout. When darkness rolled down the valley, they’d reel in their line, climb the bank, cross the road, and lumber inside, boots and all. Shorty’s owner, Vern Beacker, was always holding court behind the bar and his gal, “Bert,” was scurrying around the kitchen out back.

Vern, Waneta Jo, and Shorty

Ol’ Vern was a natural-born showman. Born in Carter Camp, he graduated from Galeton High School and served Old Glory during World War II. After the war, he was active in his hometown, being instrumental in the formation of the Galeton Drill Team. Every town had a drill team comprised of WWII vets back then, and there were many competitions. And in the ’50s, the drill team from the little town of Galeton, Pennsylvania, was declared World Champion. He excelled at baseball and he pitched and played second base for the Germania and Galeton ball teams into his fifties.

Vern had a dream to turn a vacant auto dealership into a bar and restaurant. Patrons danced each weekend on what once had been the showroom floor. He ran the place for fifty years. Vern processed deer on the side and he had a huge cooler out back. Hunters traveled for miles to hang their whitetails in the cooler—especially in archery season when the weather could get warm. Sipping suds and seeing Shorty’s act was a plus.

Busy as he was, Ol’ Vern held a passion for beagles. He helped form the Potter County Beagle Club, which led him to the field trial circuit. Eventually he would build a large kennel, personally training thirty-five dogs who won many blue ribbons and trophies at sanctioned field trials.

Vern’s pride and joy, his favorite beagle, Perma Stone Shorty, became a champion in thirteen states and was a three-time national field trial champion as well as an international star. Shorty was Vern’s constant companion. Shorty’s master invested in a registered female for the champ to romance. Their pups would have pedigrees “as long as yer arm.” Shorty’s gal was Waneta Jo, a pretty little thing who stayed in the kennel to nurse her pups while Shorty entertained folks on the field trail circuit, at the bar, and everywhere he went. Waneta Jo would become a three-time field trial champion in her own right. She remained Shorty’s main squeeze while he was competing. When he was declared a national champ, he had lots of girlfriends.

Trained? You bet. Vern used to place Shorty on the pool table and command, “Sit. Now, you stay there until I get back.” The master went to town for groceries. Bets were flying from the flatlanders as to how long Shorty would stay at sit. The locals smiled and accepted all wagers. When Ol’ Vern returned, there sat Shorty on the green felt, never having moved a muscle. Vern would point his finger like a pistol and say, “Bang!” The dog dutifully dropped dead. And everyone would order another round. When Vern took Shorty outside for potty duty, he would say, “Shorty, we don’t like that truck. Pee on the tires.” And the beagle obeyed.

Whenever Shorty needed a nap, he chose to lie on his back with his feet aimed at the sky. That somnolent pose was thought more than once to indicate “dead dog.” On their travels to field trials all over the country, Vern would drive. (Shorty didn’t like to fly.) On the road, Shorty would sleep on his back in the rear seat. One time, after driving for hours, Vern pulled to the side of the road and dozed. A state trooper stopped, knocked on the window, and roused Vern. Thinking he had a DUI on his hands, the cop said, “You’ve had too much to drink, haven’t you?” Ol’ Vern wiped the sleep out of his eyes and smiled. He said, “If you think I’m drunk, you oughta check the guy in the back seat.” There laid Shorty, looking for all the world like a corpse. “Shorty, wake up and say hello to the policeman.” Shorty snored and didn’t move. Vern shouted, “Shorty!” The dog rolled to erect, placed his paws on the seat behind his master, and licked the trooper’s hand. Arrest averted.

Shorty, Vern, and Waneta Jo

According to Ol’ Vern, Shorty’s favorite trip was the time he won the Louisiana State Field Trial Championships. Afterward, Vern walked the dog down Bourbon Street with the blue ribbon attached to his collar. They stopped in every bar and, after Shorty did his act, Ol’ Vern drank for free. It was a long and happy night and a long trip home.

A day later, Shorty and Waneta Jo were running rabbits for the famous outdoor writer George X. Sand. The hunt had been arranged by Wellsboro writer Louis Stevenson, and the story graced the pages of Outdoor Life magazine. The tales of Shorty’s exploits featured in outdoor magazines, newspaper columns, and beagle literature are almost too numerous to mention. Sadly, all of Shorty’s trophies, medals, and ribbons—and all the stories in print—were on display at the Perma Stone Inn, and they were destroyed by a devastating fire.

Records show that Shorty competed into the 1960s. Already a three-time champ, Shorty and Vern hosted some 200 hounds at the Northern Tier Licensed Field Trial Championships at their home in Galeton. Shorty won his division, as did two of his daughters, Pine Creek Jane and Perma Stone Belle. Vern took Shorty to Canada enough times for the dog to be declared an International Champion. A year after that, Vern made the papers again as he posed with a “wolf” killed on the opening day of small game season. (It was probably the first coyote killed locally.)

There’re gone, Shorty and Vern. But if you stop at the Perma Stone they can show you where Shorty’s buried. And they can show you a mount of one of Shorty’s pups that died in a kennel disaster. If you’re real lucky, you might run into an old-timer in his nineties who can tell you stories of the World’s Most Famous Beagle.

Remember Lady, that petite pedigreed beagle who ran my first rabbit? Well, she was the daughter of the tryst between Perma Stone Shorty and Waneta Jo. It must have been in her genes, because Lady was the best hunting hound I ever saw. Like I said, I remember beagles…the best ones.