“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
Bob & June Harper of Morden.
The end of the 2015 racing season saw the mighty Mitcham & Morden club win the Three Borders Federation ‘Federation Points Trophy’, with 190 points, in spite of the club not sending to the first young bird race! The Mitcham members won a list of premier prizes including, Frank & Sue Carson: 1st Federation Yeovil, Bobby & June Harper: 1st Federation Falaise, Honey & Grandson: 1st Federation Yelverton, Billy Looker: 1st Federation Messac, Bobby & June Harper: 1st Federation Yelverton (YB). The clincher for the Mitcham & Morden lifting the ‘Federation Points Trophy’ was Bobby and June Harper’s wonderful performance in the last race from Yelverton, when they recorded 1st club, 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine (1,617 birds). The Three Borders Federation sent 875 birds to Yelverton (180 miles) for the last young bird race and the convoyer, Dom McCoy, liberated at 10.00hrs in a south west wind. As I’ve stated several times at that time, Dom had produced some really good sport for the membership that season and the Yelverton finally was no exception. Bobby Harper’s first bird on the ETS was his outstanding Gaby Vandenabeele blue hen, ‘Hat Trick Queen’ and this game little pigeon has won three races in the Mitcham club as a young bird in 2015.
A week after the Yelverton race I drove up to Morden to visit Bobby Harper and see his very successful team of Andrew Marney / Gaby Vandenabeele pigeons, and I must say we could not have picked a better day for a drive into London, with it being a beautiful warm, sunny September day. The 40ft loft was set out in a square and was fitted out with ‘sputnik’ traps for ETS clocking. The loft’s special feature, which Bobby said was for easy cleaning, was all the floors, perches, nest boxes and the main loft floor was made of plastic. One of his ‘pet hates’ was deep litter on the loft floor and maintained he would never use it! The first bird I handled on my visit to the Harper loft was the Yelverton Federation winner, ‘Hat Trick Queen’ and she was bred out of Bobby’s good Andrew Marney / Gaby Vandenabeele blue pied cock, ‘Falaise Express’, winner of 1st club, 1st Federation, 3rd SMT Combine Falaise (1,534 birds) for Bobby in the 2015 season. What a family of pigeons, Federation winners breeding Federation winners in the same season! She was put on the ‘darkness’ system and flew six races to the perch to win, 1st club, 16th Federation Blandford (1,615 birds), 1st club Kingsdown (150 birds), 1st club, 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine Yelverton (1,617 birds). Bobby raced a team 40 young birds that year and they were trained for six weeks up to 30 miles before the first Federation race. He commented to me, that 2015 was the first season that his babies came so badly from training, taking 90 minutes to come from 10 miles and then came out and did so well in the racing!
Bobby Harper had enjoyed a good season racing in the Three Borders Federation and his full performance is: (old birds): 13th Federation Yeovil (1,628 birds), 1st Federation, 3rd SMT Combine Falaise (1,534 birds), 9th Federation Yelverton (887 birds), 2nd Federation, 4th SMT Combine Messac (1,164 birds), 6th Federation,14th SMT Combine Truro (1,512 birds), (young birds): 16th, 17th Federation Blandford (1,615 birds), 16th Federation Exeter (1,078 birds), 1st Federation, 9th SMT Combine Yelverton (1,617 birds). A great loft performance!
Bobby liked to play Golf as a side line to his pigeon racing and told me he was on a 14 handy cap. He liked Federation racing from Blandford (80 miles) through to Bergerac (450 miles) and raced 24 cocks on the traditional widowhood system. The racers were paired up in the second week of January, with the hens being taken away when the youngsters were about 16 days old and then the cocks were trained up to the first Federation race. The birds were fed on several top mixtures and the racing cocks were never broke down. The cocks flew out around the loft in the morning for exercise and were trained on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the racing season. The widowhood hens were shown to the cocks on marking night and the racers got their mates for an hour on their return from the race. The widowhood cocks were mostly raced inland and were fed on the best Van Robys mixtures. Bobby was on the basketing committee at the Mitcham & Morden club and told me he prepared the race crates every week, and enjoyed helping the club secretary, when he could. He rated Frank & Sue Carson as the best local fanciers and said the Sutton partnership has been topping Federation and Combine results for many years!
The Harper loft started up just after the Second World War, when Bobby’s late father, Bob senior, started racing pigeons in Lambeth and Bobby was his junior partner, hence the racing name R. Harper & son, which he still raced under until that day. They raced in the old Chelsea & South Lambeth Flying Club and raced with great success, with the Ameal and Barker pigeons. Bob senior was a great worker for the club and was their chief clock setter for many years. Bobby Harper was born in a pigeon family, with Bob senior’s brother, Harry, and his father, Bill Harper, both being premier pigeon racers in the London area. The father and son partnership never had a big loft or kept many birds in the early days, because the back yards in Lambeth were very small and Bobby said, when you opened the outside WC door it hit the side of the pigeon loft! In those days there were many premier fanciers in the Lambeth area, including: F. Raynsford, Sharp & Bateman, Mr. & Mrs. Read, Len Henderson and of cause the great, Joe Langbridge. Bobby said those were the days! The Harpers won many premier prizes through the years, but never topped the Federation until they moved in to the present Morden address in 1994. Bobby bought the house off a pigeon racer named Roy Stag and when he moved out he left his loft, and that is still part of the loft set up today. Bobby had never won the Combine, but had been 2nd several times and can remember winning 1st Federation, 2nd Combine Le Mans many years ago, which was a great thrill at that time, for his late father, Bob senior. The main family raced with success in the early days were Staf Van Reet and Bobby purchased them for his dad in 1993.
Bobby purchased nine pairs of Gaby Vandenabeele stock birds from Andrew Marney of Bromley in 2011 and after two very successful years racing them, he went back to Andrew and obtained a round of 40 young birds to race. Bob said, he couldn’t give Andrew Marney enough praise, he had given him brilliant Gaby Vandenabeele racing pigeons and good advice on how to be successful with them, and he had never looked back since meeting Andrew. Bobby raced a few pairs on the natural system for the longer events and kept nine pairs of stock birds, which were paired up after Christmas every year. We looked at all the premier racers in the Harper loft on my visit and although they were in the moult quite heavy, they all look in great health. Bobby treated his birds for the basic aliments, but told me he was not in favour of treating pigeons all the time while they were racing. He never showed his birds and liked his breeders to be above medium in size, but also liked a good type and most important, good feathering. The premier racers we handled on the day of my visit were: ‘Hat Trick Queen’ the Yelverton Federation winner, ‘June’s Girl’ the blue chequer hen bred by Andrew Marney and winner of 2nd Federation, 4th SMT Combine Messac and ‘The Truro Cock’ a handsome blue chequer cock also bred by Andrew Marney and winner of 6th Federation, 14th SMT Combine Truro. A wonderful loft of pigeons!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).