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Bob Alty of Stevenage.

The UBI Combine sent 767 birds to Poitiers (380 miles) in France for its big event in late June and the members enjoyed a good steady fly, with the convoy being liberated at 06.00hrs in a west wind. The successful small team racing man, Bob Alty of Stevenage, won the Combine on a good steady velocity of 1201 ypm. I have known Bob Alty for many years and he one of the great workers in pigeon racing and one the sport’s un-sung heroes! For many years he was one of the main people running the busy London & South East Classic Club Stevenage marking station and now helps to runs the British Barcelona Club station at Walkern. Bob put so much time into working for the sport that he finds it hard to find time for his own birds, but still manages to produce some premier performances in his beloved long distance races each year.

30A 25 02 21

The pigeon that everyone is talking about is Bob Alty’s fantastic champion ‘Barcelona Bob B’ and he has a long list of top prizes won in National and Classic races, including flying Barcelona (732 miles) three times. This wonderful four year old blue chequer cock is a Jan Aarden and both his parents were obtained from Bob Beetham of North End, near Stevenage, hence the ‘Bob B’ in the champ’s name. He was lost off the top of the loft as a young bird and returned two weeks before the first race, to be trained up and race the full young bird Federation programme. Bob tells me the chequer cock has never slipped up or looked back since his time out of the loft as a youngster and races best when feeding two big youngsters and sitting eggs. Racing on the natural system, ‘Barcelona Bob B’ has won: 2013: 4th open BBC Niort (384 miles), 2012: 6th open BBC Barcelona (732 miles), 2011: 26th open BBC Palamos (708 miles), 2011: 65th open BBC Poitiers (367 miles), 2011: 79th open BBC Messac (289 miles), 2010: 164th open BBC Poitiers (367 miles): 2011: 244th open BBC Messac (289 miles), 2012: 307th open BBC Carentan (183 miles), 2013: flew BBC Barcelona (732 miles). A fantastic long distance racer!

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Bob races his birds on the natural system and pairs up in mid-March, with long distance racing in mind. The 14 pairs of racers rear a pair of youngsters and start training to Boreham Wood on their second round of eggs, and then get one Federation inland race before going over the Channel to France. Bob has two 12ft self-built lofts with stall traps and he uses a sharp sand litter on the floors, which raked off every day. The feeding of the pigeons is pretty straight forward with ‘winter’ mixture being fed in the resting months, ‘Gerry Plus’ in the early part of the racing season and a good quality ‘widowhood’ mixture when the birds get to the main long distance events. Bob is a great fan and user of ‘Hormoform’, and maintains is brilliant for rearing youngsters, and creates good feather. He mixes this great product with his corn. The Alty loft houses only one pair of stock birds and Bob breeds about 30 young birds each season to race. There is no ‘darkness’ system at the loft, with the youngsters raced natural to the perch, but if they pair up they are allowed to sit pot eggs for an incentive for their racing. Bob gives the youngsters two tosses a day, starting two weeks before the first Federation race and then they race the programme through to Honiton (146 miles). Most of Bob’s pigeons are Jan Aarden through Bob Beetham’s loft and one stock bird from the Ponderosa Stud in Weymouth, and when he brings in a new stock bird, he tells me if it is the right bloodline his hand tell him if he like it or not. He likes long cast and silky feathering.

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The pigeon bug gripped Bob when he was a seven year old lad living in his birthplace, Liverpool, and has now been in pigeon racing nearly 68 years. He told me he was walking along the seaside beach one day in the North of England and a lump of oil on the sand moved, and it was a racing pigeon. He picked it up and took it home to revive it, and from that moment was hooked on pigeons! Bob joined his first club in Liverpool and his first winner was a Kirkpatrick red pied hen and she won from Whitchurch. Bob’s job was a fire man stoker on the old steam trains and after racing his pigeons for 12 years in Liverpool he moved south with his job, but tell me he was bored when the electric train came in so came out of the railways. He says in the old days pigeon racing was friendlier, but maintains the ETS is a good step forward, although he still enjoys recording his long distance birds on clock and rubbers. Bob is a member of his local Walkern club and the 2013 season saw him win the Falaise race with a sister to ‘Barcelona Bob B’, and he is a keen member of the British Barcelona Club. He tells me, a few years ago, when he was 100% into the racing side of the sport he owned a good Busschaert chequer hen that was home to win nine inland races, but her trapping wasn’t too hot and finished up recorded three times 1st club, three times 2nd club and three times 3rd club. Needless to say Bob has a long list of jobs in the sport including: President, Chairman and chief clock setter at the local Walkern club and is one of the main workers for the BBC marking station, as he was for the L&SECC for many years.

I used to visit the Walkern marking station at the sports ground regularly when convoying for the L&SECC and returned with Peter Taylor in September for the British Barcelona Club Tours young bird race marking. Bob was there working away, as was my dear friends, Mike and Edna Shepherd, who have also had a lifetime working for pigeon racing. It was nice to see them both in good form and Edna tells me she has been a pigeon club secretary for 50 years and of course, Mike and Edna were secretaries of the National Flying Club for a number of years. I really enjoyed my day out at Walkern! I must say I’ve enjoyed penning this week’s column as Bob Alty has got his name in print and no one deserves it more than him. He is a great bloke and has been a tireless worker for our sport for many years.

30D 25 02 21

The late Colin Hale of Watford.

The late Colin Hale first became interested in pigeons at the age of 13, when cycling home from school he picked up a feral squeaker which had fallen from a girder railway bridge. He got his first stock from other boys who raced in the junior section of the Rickmansworth R.P.C. and this was his first club. Len Palmer of Croxley Green gave the young Colin a lot of help in the beginning, Len was the organizer of the junior section, as well as being the secretary of the Rickmansworth club. Colin could remember that Len had a framed photograph of his gold medal hen 'Pretty Lady' which won the London N.R. Combine from Fraserburgh in 1937. Colin had to give up pigeons on being called on to do his National Service and started up again after getting married in 1962. The first racers were obtained mainly from Len Palmer and a pair of squeakers bought by Colin's father as a present from Arthur Kirby of Chorley Wood, which performed well. Colin said in the early days he overfed the birds and this resulted in the neighbours complaining about him throwing apples up on the roofs to shift them. His first loft was a small garden shed but he later graduated to two lofts which he obtained at a local clearance sale.

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Colin's racing loft was L-shaped with three sections and was 24 foot long; it housed 15 pairs of natural racers. The birds were trapped through open doors into a corridor where they alight on a feeding table, and where they were clocked. About 30 young birds were bred each season and they run in the old bird sections. The family kept were Van Hee and were all from birds obtained from Louis Massarella in 1975. Colin won 1st North Thames N.R. Combine Fraserburgh in 1975 with 4,200 birds taking part. His winner, on 1567ypm was a Vandy x Gits dark chequer hen and she had previously won 1st Watford Mid-Week Selby, 2nd Mid-Week Retford and 2nd Mill End club Leicester. Colin said you should never stand still and in spite of winning the Combine in 1975 he was still looking for new introduction and brought in the Van Hees. The Combine winner's sire was one of Colin's most consistent pigeons in those days winning 1st club, 3rd Federation Thurso 1967, 1st club, 12th West Herts Federation Berwick 1965, 1st club Worksop 1968, 3rd club, 96th Combine Berwick 1966, 3rd club Stonehaven 1966 (beaten by two loft mates), 1st club, 8th Federation Morpeth 1972 at eight years old. Since introducing the Van Hee pigeons they had been at the top of the club, Federation, Combine and Open result sheets out of turn. He was runner up highest prize winner in his club in 1976, top prize winner in '77 and '78, and was premier prize winner in the Thames Valley Federation in 1978.

30F 25 02 21

One of the loft's 1979 stars was the two year old dark chequer Van Hee cock 'Foot Loose' and he handled in the same mould as all the Hale loft Van Hees, medium, long cast. This cock was bred from original stock birds and won in 1979: 1st club, 2nd Thames Valley Federation, 2nd North Thames N.R. Combine (6,385 birds) Berwick. One of Colin's 1978 Federation winners was the blue chequer cock 'Crusader' and his nest mate had recorded many top positions in the Federation. Two more outstanding brothers in the racing loft were 'Greased Lightnin', 1st Thames Valley Federation (2,521 birds) Nottingham 1978 and 'Jack' winner of 1st Thames Valley Federation (3,093 birds) Leicester and 1st Thames Valley Federation (4,091 birds) Nottingham in 1979.

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Colin said good ventilation top and bottom was very important in the loft and liked to leave the young and old birds naturally together through the season. By using this method Colin said he didn't lose youngsters off the loft and it helped the old birds exercise better. He paired the stock birds up on Christmas Day and the racers the second week in February. The Hales were a very sporting family with Colin's son being the Herts under 17 triple jump champion 1978, his daughter kept fantails, rollers, etc. and his wife looked after the birds when Colin was away from home conducting his building business. Colin took turns with Terry Haley, Karen and the late Bryn English with training the birds and Colin fed on best mixture with some condition seed. He rate Peter Titmuss as the best local fancier and said he has had some great National and Combine winners. Colin inbred but said he had to cull and he used to use deep litter but preferred the scraper. When selecting producers Colin paired the best performers together and said if the birds get plenty of good mixture they should have a good moult.

The stock loft housed only three pairs of Van Hee stock birds and these were all direct from Louis Massarella. The dam and sire of the two brothers, 'Jack' and 'Greased Lightnin' were in the stock loft and these two pigeons were both grandchildren of Champion 'Motta'. The stock loft had a nice wire flight and the inmates looked really well, with plenty of space to move around in. A son of the Fraserburgh Combine winner was in the racing loft and he had a great season in 1979, winning 1st Two Rivers Club Perth (£120) and 2nd club, 3rd T.V. Federation, 4th North Thames N.R. Combine (6,385 birds) Berwick (beaten by 'Foot Loose'). This red chequer cock 'Fancy Free' was a son of the Combine winner when paired to a John Pottinger Kirkpatrick cock. The winners went on and on in the Hale loft, but another special was the yearling Van Hee dark chequer hen 'Milli' and she recorded 1st club, 1st Thames Valley Federation (2,756 birds) Leicester, 2nd club, 3rd Thames Valley Federation (2,521 birds) Nottingham (beaten by loft mate) as a young bird.

Colin was the club president and treasurer in the Mill End club and although he wasn't interested in showing he helped out at the club shows. Colin said offices were only filled by votes and people should accept what they voted for all year. The Hales went to Belgium on holiday the year before my visit and called in on the Van Hees on a race day, without an appointment. Colin said the hospitality the Van Hees showed the gate crashing family was fantastic and they were invited to the local club by these world famous fanciers. A holiday to remember! My ol’ mate, Terry Haley took me on this loft visit in 1979 and the late Colin Hale was a brilliant pigeon racer.

Steve Buckle of Northwood.

Steve Buckle raced his 18 widowhood cocks on the north road and enjoyed a brilliant 2004 season, with the highlight being 1st open London North Road Combine Thurso. He won the Combine with his good Janssen blue widowhood cock '03', and he was bred down from a long line of outstanding winners. Steve said at that time that he raced the widowhood system because it fits in with his working hours. The racers were paired up in January and the cocks were given two training tosses prior to racing and no more. He broke down the birds on races up to 350 miles, after that they were not broken down and the hens were shown on making nights for all races. The racers were left with their mates for at least half an hour on their return from the races, but if it was a hard race they stayed together overnight. Steve didn't train in the racing season and said everyone talks about the importance of exercising widowhood cocks, but he had found that if he gave them two days complete rest in the loft, he got excellent results. Training didn't suit his lifestyle, so he tried the alternative; they flew an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, if they were lucky! His widowhood pigeons raced up to Berwick 300 (miles), after that he selected a small team for the longest races. Steve maintained preparing for long distance events involved feeding and 10 days prior to a long-distance race, he changed the food, giving more carbohydrate, more peanuts and sunflower seed. His favourite condition for his 500 mile racers was pink skin, white wattle, sparkling eyes and keen to see their hens.

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A great widowhood system, which has won in the 2004 season: Old Birds: 2nd, 4th club Doncaster, 1st, 3rd, 4th  club Ripon, 1st club Scotch Corner, 1st club Berwick, 3rd club Wetherby, 1st, 3rd, 4th club Ripon, 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th club Wetherby, 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st open London NR Combine Thurso. Young Birds: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th club, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th open Federation Leicester, 1st club Newark, 1st, 2nd, 4th club Newark, 1st, 2nd, 3rd club Doncaster. Great pigeon racing!

Steve kept 35 young birds each season and trained them up to 40 miles, then he came back to 15 miles and held them at 15 miles for the whole racing programme. The youngsters were raced through the whole programme and were fed 11/2oz of F2 young bird mixture every day. Steve raced his own semi-darkness system, where the youngsters were shut up at 6pm when the widowhood cocks fly out and are raced to the perch.

Steve was 39 years of age when he started up in the sport. In the beginning he was introduced to pigeon fancier, Dickie Paddock, who gave him his first 16 latebreds from his race team and Steve said they were good birds, but at that stage didn't have a clue how to race them. A big miserable Northerner from Durham called, Tony Drainer, told him how to race young birds and he did everything that he said to the letter. Steve and Tony were great friends, and Steve won the first race he entered, which was down to an American air base on the M1 motorway and was fascinated in watching a fencer releasing his pigeons from a training basket every morning. He went to speak to him and he introduced himself to Terry Haley. He invited Steve and his friend, Gavin Cole to his pigeon club, the Watford NR Flying Club, with the view of joining as fully flying members. Gavin joined the Watford, but Steve was out of the radius, so joined his local Millend Club, which was near Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire. On starting up Steve had two small lofts, one 8ft x 8ft loft that he bought for £60 from an elderly widow whose husband used to show pigeons and the other an 8ft garden shed with a sputnik trap on the front.

Steve's racing loft was a 16ft x 8ft Ellis loft, with apex roof and sliding door trapping. He said at the time that he had never used deep litter, but the loft must be dry and good ventilation is essential. Steve maintained he was really pleased with his loft and he believed it was a big contribution to his success. His families of pigeons were Demeesters, Janssen and Staf Van Reet, but told me he had no stock birds, with all his young birds being bred from the racers. He used to have stock birds, but found if he lost a bird in a race it was always off the stock team. He had never paid any money for birds from, which Steve describes as, some great ambassadors of our sport, Sheridon Leonard, Dickie Paddock, Eddie Kneller and John Adams, but had won many good races with their gift pigeons. Steve's two main breeding pigeons were the Janssen cocks '03' and '01', which were the best two racers. He said he liked sprint racing and was just learning long distance!

Steve said his most thrilling experience was winning his first race. His hand was shaking so much he couldn't put the rubber in the thimble. He told me the 2004 season had been great fun, winning the Combine from Thurso and taking the first six positions in the Federation from Leicester with his young birds. Through the years the Buckle Loft has had numerous club and Federation wins and was the ‘Young Bird Champion’ at the Millend Club in 1988, his first season of racing. The very strong Watford Club had now opened their radius and Steve was then racing with them in the Thames Valley Federation. He had been the Champion of the Watford North Road Club for the last three years and in the 2004 season won the Scottish Averages (longest races). The Buckle Loft won Berwick with the Janssen cock '01’ and Thurso with the other Janssen cock and Combine winner '03'.

Steve told me he never showed his pigeons, as he would not put his birds in a smoke-filled, hot room in the middle of winter, as they would get too stressed. He was the club's Federation delegate and with fellow club mate, Ray Neil, was responsible for taking the pigeons to the Federation transporter every week. Steve had never practiced line breeding, but said it was something he had yet to try. He never bred latebreds, as he didn't see any particular value in them, unless you were helping someone start up with breeders. When his birds were moulting he gave them a higher protein mixture, with various oils. He thought the moult period was the most important time of the year. The pigeons were not parted when they were moulting, because he thought they were happiest when they were with their hens and were more relaxed.

Well that’s it for this week! I hope my readers have enjoyed this look at these three great Hertfordshire area champions of yester year. We will be looking at some more very soon. To view some old video footage of some of these fanciers and their birds go on to my YouTube channel. I can be contacted with any pigeon matters on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.