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Keith Mott writes

The Best of the Up North Combine - Part 2


Ralph has been president of the Up North Combine for well over 30 years, and has seen a lot of changes in our sport in that time. He thinks the main progression has been going over to the road transporter, since which the Up North Combine has never once failed to get all the birds to the racepoint. This is a fantastic achievement when you realise that on some Up North Combine races there are 15 road transporters and over 20,000 birds taking part. Ralph says that the Up North Combine is a limited company and has a wonderful team of workers behind it.

Ralph built his first loft as a schoolboy in 1939, and joined the Percy Main Club - his first pigeons were obtained from his later-to-be father-in-law. He likes the middle- to-long-distance races, but has won his fair share of -sprints and has been 2nd Open Up North Combine a fantastic seven times through the years, although he has never yet won the Combine. In 1991 he was 2nd Open Up North Combine in three races on the trot, from 360 miles through to 580 miles.

On my visit Ralph showed me his wonderful widowhood blue pied cock which won 2nd Open Up North Combine Clermont (20,000 birds) in 1991, bred off Ralph's old Channel family. Ralph races both widowhood and natural, but has never won a 600- mile race with a widowhood cock. His loft houses 90 widowhood cocks split into three teams, as Ralph races in four clubs. He starts to pair up his widowhood cocks during the second week in January, each team being paired up at a different time, at two-week intervals. The cocks race at the beginning of the season and are put on widowhood after about four races. The reason Ralph likes widowhood is because you don't have to train the cocks; he says he has never trained a widowhood pigeon in the 18 years he has used the system.



Bill Porritt's loft is halfway up a cliff over looking the North Yorkshire coastal fishing village of Staithes. He has to cross a river on stepping stones, then climb a long, steep path to reach his pigeons. Corn has to be carried up and the pigeons have to be carried down, which is bad enough in the summer, but must be horrendous in the ice and snow. In spite of this hardship, this great fancier has won the mighty Up North Combine four times on a Saturday and once on a Wednesday.

The Bill Porritt pigeons are raced on a natural system, but are fed the widowhood method, with a light feed in the morning and a heavy one at night. Bill says you feed pigeons according to what you want them to do, and says likewise you wouldn't pair up early if you want to win the late long distance races. He feeds a good widowhood mixture; which is beefed up for the long-distance events. Birds are paired up at the end of February, and Bill likes races from 200 to 500 miles, declaring that these distances are true races.

Bill won his first race at 13 years of age, and has actually been in the sport over 40 years. He says he has won many premier races throughout the years, but his main achievement was to win the Up North Combine. Apart from his five wins in the Up North Combine, he has won countless other positions including 2nd, 3rd (twice) and 4th Open.

On my visit to his loft, Bill showed me his champion blue pied Busschaert cock 'Shergar', which, he says, is the finest pigeon that has ever been or will ever be. This fantastic cock has won many top prizes, including 2nd and 11th Open Up North Combine in 310 mile races, and in north-west winds.

'Shergar' is also an ace breeder with Bill's good hen 'Blue Haze' which is inbred to the champion cock. This natural blue hen won 1st Open Up North Combine Folkestone (22,000 birds) and is dam and grandam of many wmners. Another of Bill's top racers is the Janssen blue chequer hen Champion 'Diddy Girl' which won 35th Open Up North Combine (22,000 birds) as a young bird, then went on to win 1st Open Up North Combine (27,000 birds) Folkestone Old Bird National. This great hen has proved golden at stock, breeding many premier winners, their credit including 4th, 6th, 9th and 13th Open Up North Combine. A fantastic pigeon!

Bill's families are Janssen, Busschaert and Geerts - he says he has won the Combine with all of them. Because of carrying the birds down the cliff, he never keeps more young birds than he can get in two baskets, which is usually 35, and his main aim with the youngsters is the National race.



George Wandless first became interested in pigeons immediately after the Second World War. He was 12 when he and his friend Robert Lowery, who is now a retired police inspector, built a little 5ft loft to house two pairs of tumblers. He says he was not encouraged by any fancier, but the birds he got from Rutter Brothers, the late Tom Kilner (a very good friend), J. J. Horn and Tommy Mercer of Trimdon got him where he is today.

George is a retired miner, working at Eppleton Colliery for many years and today the 30ft Wandless loft, at Hetton- le-Hole in County Durham, houses both widowhood and natural racers and has put up some fantastic performances over the last 15 years, racing in two clubs, Hetton Workingman's and Croft P.C., including in 1985 16 x Ists in Channel and inland races; 1994 10 x Ists; 1995 11 x Ists and 1996 10 x 1st prizes. George's biggest thrill was winning 1st Open Up North Combine Clermont and the Queen's Cup in 1991. Some of the loft's best performance birds are as follows: mealy pied hen 90HET4614 winner of 3rd Club, 7th Federation Lilliers, 1st Club, 1st Federation, 1st Open Up North Combine Clermont and winning the Queen's Cup; blue hen 91HET2135 winner of 2nd Club, 4th Federation Mansfield, 2nd Club Grantham, 1st Club, 2nd Federation, 80th Open Up North Combine Abbeville, 1st Club, 1st Federation, 1st Section, 1st F.C.C., 1st T.R.C.C., 1st Open Up North Combine Provins.

The loft has housed countless champions through the years and at present George calls his pigeons his own old breed, as he thinks this is only right after 26 years of blending. Through the years he has introduced Frans Van Wildemeersch, Vandies, Busschaerts, Staf Van Reets and Janssens and George maintains his birds are outstanding from 75 miles through to 560 miles. Only one of his sons, George junior, has been interested in the pigeons, and his wife has been around pigeons all her life, being the younger sister of the Rutter Brothers.



Two fanciers I have admired for many years are Soderlund and Bradley of South Shields, Northumberland, and recently I had the chance to visit their lofts in the North-East of England. The pigeon partnership of John Soderlund and Sammy Bradley was formed 30 years ago, since which time they have enjoyed success after success. Their fantastic loft arrangement is sited on some allotments at nearby Parkside, where there is a small caravan on site, for a sit-down and a cup of tea.

The loft has produced countless racing champions through the years, the most noted being the famous champion 'Parkside Superman'. This great Busschaert blue pied cock was bred from stock obtained from John Palmer and Jim McKay and won countless premier positions racing, including 1st Federation twice and 2nd Federation twice. He won at six years old, after which he was retired to the stock loft and after a year at stock was purchased by Louella Pigeon World. John says he was a once-in-a-lifetime pigeon and one of the best Busschaert cocks that ever lived. He is often asked if he regrets selling champion 'Parkside Superman' and he says never, because the Massarella family made him world famous, a reputation this great pigeon himself deserves. 'Parkside Superman' has had countless Combine and National winners bred down from him. A truly wonderful pigeon!

John Soderlund has been in the sport nearly 40 years and says the partners' best performance was when they won 1st and 2nd International Beauvais with two Louella Pigeon World De Baere hens flown on natural. The loft has only gone on to the widowhood system in recent years and Sammy (Bradley) says the loft's performance is not really any better than when it was all on the natural system. Their natural pigeons have put up wonderful performances for many years, but the reason for going over to widowhood is the timesaving aspect to the system. They say it is so simple, with no training, and the cocks are always in the right form for inland races up to 300 miles. The 36 cocks are fed on a standard widowhood mixture, nothing special, and are broken down on Mondays and Sundays throughout the season. The partners normally show the hen on marking night, but have won races both ways, showing or not. The returning cocks get their mates all the afternoon on the day of the race, but there is no hard and fast rule about their widowhood system. The cocks only race inland up to 300 miles, with the odd one or two being sent to the long-distance races. The partners have a fantastic racing loft and the racing cocks are housed in three sections, 12 nest boxes in each. The widowhood cocks are paired up in mid- January and allowed to sit a round of eggs after racing. All the lofts are bright and clean with sand collected from a local beach on all the floors.

The partners race their 100 young birds on the darkness system. Sammy says they get daylight for eight hours a day, and this holds back the flight moult and puts the youngsters in better feather condition for their races. They are raced through to the Young Bird National (288 miles) to sort out the good cock birds, and training starts about six weeks before the first race with tosses every day. Young cocks and hens are housed separately, and are allowed to run together for a while before going to the marking station on Friday night. The 50 pairs of stock birds are kept in a fantastic loft, equipped with a massive wire flight, so they can get out in the sunshine for a bath. The stock birds are paired up in mid-December, and the partners like breeders to be from a long line of good winners.

That’s it for this week! Four of the Up North Combine’s very best for your reading this time. My phone number is: 01372 463480. See yer!



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