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Brian Pearson of Gateshead

“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.

Brian Pearson of Gateshead.

Brian Pearson has had pigeons most of his life and started racing with all the fashionable strains over 30 years ago. At the time of my visit to his loft he had settled on the Busschaerts and Smits-Van Winckel bloodlines and has never looked back, with success after success, including: 1988: 6th UNC (17,960 birds) Lillers: 1992: 1st open UNC (18,948 birds) Lillers and 1995: 1st open UNC (21,389 birds) Lillers. In my opinion he is a master at the art of racing pigeons. The loft’s performances at that time, racing in the hotbed of the Up North Combine, were fantastic and he only races a very small team of pigeons. What is also amazing is that his loft was only a few yards away from and facing main railway lines.

When I met Brian in the mid-1990’s, on my visit to Newcastle, I found him to be a very pleasant gentleman. I asked him if the trains bothered the pigeons and he said not really, the pigeons are quite used to the passing trains, but if one comes by when they come home from the race, they can’t trap through the open doors, so have to fly around until they’ve gone. The passing trains have never hit the exercising birds, but the big coal trains do make the loft shake.

On my visit, Brian’s two Up North Combine winners were paired together in the stock partings and were typical of his ideal type of pigeon, small to medium in the hand. The 1995 Lillers Combine winner is a yearling blue white flight cock, ‘The Fonz’, whose sire was bred by Brian Clayburn of Yorkshire and his dam a Busschaert from Pearson & Dransfield of Barnsley. ‘The Fonz’ is a small cock in the hand, raced on Brian's own widowhood system and was rung with his last ring of the 1994 season.

Brian's main base family is Busschaert and he says that in the last 20 years this great strain has been second to none for the base family in major Up North Combine winning lofts, in day races up to 500 miles. He says that when he won the UNC from Lillers (345 miles) in 1992, it was the greatest feeling in the world and his then champion Busschaert dark hen, 'Charlie's Angel', has not raced since she won the combine. She won on what Brian calls, his 'reverse widowhood system'. Her sire was a Busschaert pigeon bred by Arthur Wilkinson of Toft Hill. Brian isn't really a strain man, he just likes good pigeons and enjoys racing from 250 to 450 miles.

Ron Evans & son of Sunderland.

On a 1995 video trip to the North-East, I visited Sunderland and the fantastic loft of Ron Evans & Son, who have raced with outstanding results for many years. Ron Evans was born in Sunderland and his father was a successful fancier, winning the federation many years ago. Ron Snr and Ron Jnr started racing together in Castletown HS in 1972 and their loft is sited at Fulwell Pumping Station in Sunderland. The father and son partnership had a lay-off from pigeons in the early 1980s and say that T. Laskey put them on the right track when they started to race pigeons again in 1988. They obtained Busschaerts from him and they hit on straight away, winning the Young Bird Average in 1989. On their re-start in the sport, they joined the High Southwick HS and flew to a standard wooden, wire-fronted loft. The Evans partners used to race on the natural system and feed on the hopper, with training every day. They now race on widowhood and do not train in the first part of the week, keeping the cocks on break down morning and night. They go back on widowhood mixture from the Tuesday night and all depends on the distance of the race the following Saturday. The cocks get a bath on Friday and are always shown the hens before going into the basket for the race.

The partners' present loft is made of fibreglass and sited high above a river bank. With no windows in the front, it has a full length corridor with open-door trapping and an apex roof, with ventilation in the sides of the roof. Ron likes to see a dry loft that should be light and draught-proof, with plenty of space for the inmates. The loft houses 20 pairs of stock birds and 44 pairs of racers which are all paired up in early January. They breed an average of 80 young birds each season. The loft's best performance at the time of my visit was 2nd open UNC with 27,500 birds competing. Some of the loft's best racers were: 'Rags': a Busschaert who won 17 cards including 5 times 1st club, 3 time 1st Federation, also winning the 2-Bird Club six times and was put to stock; 'Deacon's Boy': who won 5 times 1st  club, once 1st Federation, 2 times 2nd Federation, once 3rd Federation and many other positions; 'Grumpy': 5 times 1st club, 3 times 1st Federation, once 2nd Federation and once  3rd Federation; 'Vauxy': 3 times 1st Federation and won the section with 3,500 birds competing. The loft housed two Van Loons which have both won 4th open UNC and won the section.

At that time the High Southwick HS races on the south route, starting at Selby, 78 miles and going through to Bourges, 568 miles. The loft housed Busschaerts as the main family, with introductions of Janssens, Van Loons and Lefebre Dhaenens, with the Busschaerts being outstanding up to Provins, 483 miles. The old birds and some yearlings were sent through to Provins and the youngsters were raced through the full programme to 262 miles, with fancied birds being stopped at 170 miles. The partners liked a good widowhood mixture and told me it was ideal in its make-up for racing pigeons at any distance. The birds were given a seed and Hormoform mixture every time they came into the loft from training and exercise and the partners maintained this kept the birds in good feather. The racers got multivits and pigeon tonic in the water during the week. The widowhood cocks and yearlings got tosses while sitting their second round of eggs and once racing started, only flew out twice a day for regular exercise. Young birds were trained up to 30 miles, up to the first race, then they exercised around the loft every morning and had a 20-mile training toss in the afternoon. Ron said that after a couple of loft visits with Brian Vickers he realised there is definitely something in the eyesign method.

In the club, the two Ronnie’s had won countless averages and trophies and top Combine positions since 1989 had been as follows: 2nd open UNC Folkestone (27,878 birds), 4th open UNC Maidstone (23,338 birds), 4th open UNC Lillers, 342 miles (21,347 birds), 5th open UNC Folkestone (22,375 birds), 6th open UNC Provins, 483 miles (8,756 birds), also winning 1st section in these five races including 7th open UNC, 2nd section Young Bird National (23,548 birds), 8th open UNC, 3rd section Provins (6,250 birds), 21st open UNC Folkestone National (23,740 birds), 22nd  open UNC Lillers (19,867 birds). A really fantastic loft performance!

John & Mick Lilley of Newcastle.

John Lilley and his son Mick formed their successful partnership in 1975, although John has been in the sport since 1948 and won many top races in his own right. In 1990 they won the Sealink Trophy for best pigeon in the NEHU with their blue chequer Frans Van Wildemeersch cock 'Champion Sealink', who recorded 13th open UNC Clermont, 17th open UNC Provins and 227th open UNC Lillers to lift the trophy. Since then this fantastic widowhood cock went on to chalked up 1st open UNC Provins (5,462 birds) in 1992 and then was put to stock to breed club and Federation winners.

On my visit to see John and Mick the main racing loft was 24ft long and had three sections housing 40 widowhood cocks, which were raced in Saturday and Wednesday clubs. The hens were shown on marking night and the cocks were only broken down on Saturday on their return from the race. Mick told me, with the northeast winds and the climate in the north-east of England, birds couldn’t be broken down for long and so his were always fed on the very best widowhood mixture. They liked races over 250 miles. As the distance gets longer, more maize was added to the birds' diet. The cocks were flagged around the loft twice a day for one hour and were not trained after the first race.

In 1994 John and Mick won the Friendship Trophy for Best Two-Bird Performance in the UNC Beauvais race and in fact, they had three on the clock to record 10th, 28th and 39th open. First on the clock chalking up 1st club, 1st Federation, 1st section, 10th open UNC Beauvais (400 miles) was the blue chequer widowhood cock 'Sealink Grand'. This Wildemeersch was a grandson of 'Champion Sealink'. What a family of pigeons!

The smart, 30ft young bird loft has a pan tile roof and a louvered, closed-in front. The loft housed 80 youngsters which were raced through the card to the young bird National (250 miles) and were trained twice a day up to 30 miles. John and Mick never sent all their youngsters to a race, always keeping half back in reserve.

Richie Stephenson of Great Ayton.

We went to great lengths for our last Up North Combine winning loft this week and feature the widowhood loft of Richie Stephenson & Son. Richie's champion widowhood Van Riel blue cock was 1st open UNC Bourges (537 miles) in 1997 and 12th open UNC Bourges in 1998. This cock was raced on the widowhood system with a difference, being teased with a tumbler pigeon. Richie had been involved with pigeons all his life, starting racing in 1991 and in 1995 only raced six cocks on widowhood to win several top positions, including 1st and 2nd open Federation. He had always liked sprint racing but at the time only mostly interested in channel racing with the UNC. Richie told me his normal build up for the long-distance races was to race them down to the south coast, then two short Channel races, then into Bourges. He paired all his racers and stock birds 64 days before the first race, so some eggs could be floated, and only a small team of 16 cocks was raced. The cocks were fed on a first-class widowhood mixture and were only broken down if the racing was fast, with the main corn being beefed up for Bourges. The widowhood cocks were only normally trained before their first race and were sometimes repaired for the Bourges race, being sent driving to nest.

The Stephenson set-up consisted of three very smart lofts. Richie only kept eight pairs of stock birds, mainly of the Van Riel strain and when bringing in a new breeder, he liked medium-sized birds with good balance in the hand. The top stock cock was a blue Van Riel, bred by Tony Reed of the Midlands, and this cock had bred many premier pigeons, including the Bourges Combine winner. Ritchie raced his 40 young birds on the darkness system and kept the sexes separate, running them together on Friday night before going to the marking station. The young hens raced the whole programme down to the south coast and the young cocks were stopped at the 120 mile stage and saved for the widowhood system later in life. The youngsters were trained up to 30 miles and were raced to the perch.

Sonny & Phil Galloway of Hartlepool.

The first loft I visited belongs to the father and son partnership of Sonny & Phil Galloway of Hartlepool, an east coast town a few miles north of Middlesbrough. The area is a hotbed of pigeon racing and the Galloway’s have their lofts sited on some allotments alongside several other premier fanciers. At the time of my visit, Sonny had been in the sport for 50 years and said he remembers that years ago fanciers helped one another but these days the friendliness has gone out of pigeon racing. He was a bit of a tearaway when he was a lad and says that helping his father with his pigeons was the only thing that kept the young Sonny out of trouble. His dad was his tutor in outstanding racing pigeon management.

The Galloway’s have won the UNC several times and maintain that their old champion, which they called ‘The Bourges Cock’, was the best pigeon they ever owned. This wonderful cock had nine wins before he won 1st open UNC and bred 73 winners for the Galloway loft. The partners like racing from 60 through to 600 miles and have bred many top racers for other lofts in the north east of England including a 2nd open UNC winner for the late President, Ralph Iley. At that time Sonny and Phil's most recent UNC win was from Chenoise in 1998 and this was with a blue hen bred by Gordie Hastings of Berwick. This game hen had three races on her build-up to winning the Combine and was at her best sitting overdue eggs. She has several other good performances under her belt, including 10th open UNC Chenoise the season previous to winning the Combine. A fantastic hen! The Galloway’s race two systems natural and roundabout with their old birds and Phil says that the natural racers have done most of the damage. The 20 pairs of roundabout pigeons are paired up on 1st January, with the 20 pairs of naturals being put together on 16th February every season, training starting three weeks before the first race. The birds are fed a good mixture of beans, peas and maize and the roundabout team is broken down three days a week during the racing season. During the season the natural racers are trained from 30 miles twice a day up to Thursday and both the roundabout hens and cocks are raced on the same weekend. The natural old birds are raced to a 16ft section with open door trapping, and Phil says that they like them sitting due to hatch for Channel racing.

At the time of my visit the basis of the family was Janssen / Sions obtained from a Yorkshire fancier named Freddie Dawson in 1957, with the odd cross being introduced from time to time. Sonny says that when he brings in a new breeder he mostly looks for good winning lines, but picks out pigeons that he likes in the hand and although he judges eyesign shows, he never uses the method for pairing up. The latest successful introductions were the de Klak Janssens from Brian Long and he obtained them direct from de Klak. The partners' 15 pairs of stock birds are paired up in January and are housed in a three section, 28ft-long loft. Sonny showed me a nest pair of blue cocks, which were grandsons of ‘The Old Bourges Cock’ and both were champion racers on the natural system. The Galloway’s say that there is no such thing as a long-distance or sprint-type pigeon. Pigeons fly only to the distance they are managed for. Sonny said that the proof is this nest pair of blue cocks. One had won eleven times first in sprint racing, was several times 1st open Federation and was the sire of 46 winners; the other had nine times 1st, seven of them over the Channel, and loved having 10 hours on the wing. This nest pair, both being the same breed and type but both liking different distances when it came to racing. He maintains that when you have a good family of pigeons, you get to know the winning eye and you must breed for that, which is the advantage of the eyesign method.

The Galloway partners have tried both natural and darkness systems and maintain that the natural young birds are by far the best in the young bird races. They think that darkness young birds never make good old birds and have proved this fact in their own loft. The partners' team of 70 youngsters was raced all the way through the programme to Maidstone (260 miles) and  like the old birds; they were trained twice a day up to Thursday during the racing season. They were fed heavily on a good young bird mixture and are raced to the perch, although the odd nest bowl was put in the box perch for any that might want to pair up. The young bird team was trapped through open doors and the partners have recorded many great young bird winners, with the local competition being very hot. When I met Sonny Galloway he was very much again at the darkness system with young birds and said he would never race it again. Thanks to Sonny & Phil for a very enjoyable loft visit all those years ago!

Terry Callan of Brotton.

The next fancier we are going to feature was one of the sport's workers and was a major cog in the workings of the NEHU Peterlee Show each year. Not only was Terry Callan a good worker but he was also an outstanding pigeon fancier, winning many premier prizes, including: 1996: 6th open UNC Folkestone; 1997: 1st and 12th open UNC Folkestone. Terry's UNC winner was his champion yearling blue pied Busschaert / Van Loon hen, ‘Nikki Louise’, which was named after his young granddaughter. This game hen was racing against 13,980 birds from Folkestone and won the North of England Championship Club, lifting the Gold Medal. ‘Nikki Louise’ was produced from a gift egg from the Washington partnership of Mr. & Mrs. Hindhaugh & Donaldson and was raced on the roundabout system.

Terry's father was also an outstanding fancier and he really started up in the sport in 1954, when he helped out at his dad's loft. Terry liked to race from any distance but his loft was arranged each season for what he really enjoyed, Channel racing. He races two systems; natural for the Channel races and roundabout for sprint and all the old birds were paired up on 14th February. The roundabout pigeons were raced natural to the nest for the first old bird races, before being split to go on roundabout and both cocks and hens went to the same races. The roundabout racers were broken down only on the day of the race and were never let out of the loft the day after, as they had to rest. In the north east of England they checked the clocks directly after the birds return so Terry always split the roundabout pigeons when he returns home from the club after race checking. The natural race team was fed twice a day on a heavy mixture, which was beefed up for the Channel races, and they were only trained if they were not exercising well around the loft. Normally they would fly for 50 minutes.

I must say that Terry's natural racers looked in brilliant condition when I visited and these were housed in a one section 12ft loft with open-door trapping. The main, very smart, racing loft had four sections and a nice big wire flight for the stock birds. On my visit, Terry showed me his good red grizzle black-splash cock, whose best nest condition for the Channel was sitting 14-day eggs. This handsome cock was a cross between Terry's old Channel family and Alf Rothwell's De Baere bloodlines and had won in 1997: 1st club, 6th Federation Bourges (Terry's sole entry); 1996: 2nd club, 2nd Federation, 94th open UNC Bourges. When Terry and his wife, Jean, moved to their present address in 1968, he obtained pigeons from J. & W. Douglass, who had won the Combine from Corneilles in 1965 with a widowhood cock and at that time, no one had heard of widowhood. The Holy Island lofts of J. & W. Douglass had a wonderful family of Bourges blues and in 1974 Terry won the Up North Channel Average with their pigeons. Terry introduced the Busschaert pigeons from Taylor Bros, Tom Larkins, Alan Hindhaugh and Alf Rothwell and won the UNC Average again in 1977. The Van Loons were brought into the family from Planet Bros in 1985 and these had been highly successful, right up to the present day. He kept 20 pairs of stock birds and when a new breeder was obtained it must have be from a long line of outstanding winners. Another top racer at the Brotton loft was the Busschaert chequer pied hen off the very best Tom Larkins and Alf Rothwell bloodlines. At that time, this wonderful hen had only flown Folkestone three times and had recorded: 1996: 6th open UNC (22,168birds): 1997: 12th open UNC (13,980 birds), being beaten to the loft by ‘Nikki Louise’ when she won 1st open Combine. Terry raced his 60 young birds on the natural system and although he had tried the darkness, said that if you are interested in Channel racing, this system doesn't let the young birds mature properly for long distance racing in later life.

That’s our article for this week! Over the years I have made many journeys up to the ‘Pigeon Mecca’ in the north east of England to do pigeon show judging, shoot films and articles, and this article is our fourth look at some of the many great winning lofts I visited. Six of the Up North Combine’s very best for your reading this time! I can be contacted with any pigeon ‘banter’ or news on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott).