“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS (PART 14.)
John Lovell of Lincoln.
One loft that I had great pleasure in visiting was that of the late, great John Lovell, a fancier I had admired for many years. John must have been the greatest long-distance north roader of all time, winning five times 1st open and three times 2nd open in the mighty North Road Championship Club. John won the N.R.C.C. “King’s Cup” from Lerwick three times, the last time in 1989 with his good blue chequer hen, “Shetland Ede”. This Albert Bennett / Van Bruaene hen was raced on the natural system and won £3,057 when she lifted the “King’s Cup” from Lerwick. John also won the N.R.C.C. from Perth (twice) and 2nd open Lerwick (twice), plus 2nd open Perth. He hadn’t really raced in the Federation since 1989, flying only in the N.R.C.C., but previous to that was top prize winner in the Peterborough Federation for nine years on the trot.
John was in the sport for over 60 years, only breaking for five years to do air crew duty in the R.A.F. and always raced North Road. He raced only the natural system and liked hens for the long-distance races. His 48ft. racing loft was set on a hillside overlooking the wonderful city of Lincoln and had seven sections, four for old birds and three for youngsters. John kept 40 natural racing pairs and paired them up on 26th February, to ensure that his birds were on their first set of eggs for Perth and the second set for the “King’s Cup” event from Lerwick. He fed his own mixture and increased the maize content just before Lerwick. The old birds had only one training toss per week, but flew well around the loft, which had open hole trapping, and sand on the floors. John’s stock loft was 18ft.x 6ft. with a wire flight, and the nest boxes inside were the size of race crates. This small loft housed six pairs of stock birds, which were mostly outstanding retired racers. John’s main families were Albert Bennett / Van Bruaene and Geoff Kirkland, which were crossed together with phenomenal success. He paired his birds on the eye sign method and had his first insight into the method from his friends, Jack Humphrey and Hugh Ambler. He kept about 40 young birds each season and started training at ten miles, going through stages up to the Humber, 33 miles, before the first race. All the youngsters raced through to the N.R.C.C. Berwick race, which was a flight of 186 miles to the Lincoln loft. John Lovell, one of our greatest fanciers!
Alwyn & Lynne Hill of Swinderby.
The month of November saw me visit the highly successful partnership of Alwyn and Lynne Hill of Swinderby in Lincolnshire. The Hills were only in the sport for six years and won over 200 times first and 36 times second open Federation. Although they mainly enjoyed sprint racing, they won 1st section in the North Road Championship Club three times, as well as 1st, 2nd, 3rd section, 5th, 7th, 9th open in the 1998 North Road Championship Club Young Bird National. The first bird that Alwyn gave me to handle on my visit was 'Super Blue', a handsome blue Van Reet widowhood cock which has had 21 times first with 16 prizes in the first ten in the Federation result. This great pigeon had won a RPRA Merit Award and although he was a sprint racer, won 1st club, 8th Federation from 317 miles. A wonderful pigeon!
The Hills had a brick double-decker old bird loft with seven sections for racing widowhood cocks, and they favoured open window trapping, with straw litter on the floor all the year around. The main family kept was Staf Van Reet, originally from Bert Hession of Blackpool and their best stock hen, 'The Golden Hen', was from the very best Dave Allan lines. They raced only north road with the very strong Peterborough Federation, Notts and District Federation and North Road Championship Club and were highly successful in all of them. The partners raced only cocks on the widowhood system and paired up the racers the second week in January. They all reared at least one youngster and when these were 15 days old, the females were taken away and the cocks finished the rearing. When the hens were re-introduced, the cocks were gives eight to ten training tosses on good days only and were put on the widowhood system when sitting seven days on their second round of eggs. The cocks were never trained in the racing season, only flying out around the loft twice a day. They were fed a first-class widowhood mixture and were put on breakdown after the race, until Tuesday night.
Alwyn says his widowhood system was very basic and geared to save work and time. The widowhood hens were housed in a wire flight at the rear of the widowhood section and on marking nights would be placed in their nest boxes through a small trapdoor in the back of each box to save time. We looked at many of the Hills' premier racers, including 'The Young General', a Van Reet mealy cock, which had won the Federation four times racing on widowhood. This champion racer is a direct son of the 'Golden Hen' and Alwyn believes him to be a record holder at that time, being the only bird in the very strong Peterborough Federation to win 1st open three times. Another champion racer we handled was a young brother of 'Super Blue', which Alwyn called 'Treble Five'. These ace racers had won many firsts up to 250 miles and were runner-up for the 1997 RPRA Merit Sprint award. He also won 18th open in the mighty North Road Championship Club from 250 miles with 4,200 birds competing.
The partners housed 30 pairs of stock birds, which were paired early, on 15th December. One of the top stock birds, a handsome ten-year-old chequer pied cock, was put on the bull system in 1998, and produced 41 youngsters, running with six hens! Alwyn says because his young birds were bred so early, they would want to pair up in late April, so they were parted for three months and put back together after two or three young bird races. He put 26 youngsters on the darkness system, with the remainder staying natural, but says they were on the dark naturally being bred so early, with only eight hours' light per day in January and February. The young birds were trained very hard and were started at a very early age and raced through to the longest race. Alwyn Hill a brilliant pigeon racer, now very successful racing long distance!
The late Frank Tasker of Wainfleet.
While on a video tour of Lincolnshire, I visited Frank & Ann Tasker of Wainfleet and they had just won 1st section, 1st open Berwick Young Bird National for the first time with the North Road Championship Club. Wainfleet is near Skegness on the East Coast and the wind never stops blowing there, as the landscape is as flat as a pancake. Frank had a wonderful loft set up, but is surrounded by lots of wires and pylons, which meant he couldn’t let his birds out a lot of the time because of the winds. He had a brilliant race from the N.R.C.C. Berwick race in 1995, recording several good birds in the open result, including first with his blue hen, ‘Jennyanna’. On moving to Wainfleet, Frank said his main aim was to win the N.R.C.C., having been 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th open previously. He raced only north road and liked middle distance races from 250 to 400 miles. Through the years, the Tasker loft had won countless major prizes, far too many to list, but the highlights at that time were: 1999: Vanrobaeys / Rohnfried Champion Loft of Great Britain 1st (3,634 birds); 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th (5,678 birds); 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 19th, 20th, 29th (4,749 birds), 2000: Best National / Classic Performance in Great Britain 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 13th, 15th, 26th, 27th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 43rd, 44th, 48th, 52nd, 56th, 72nd, 79th, 84th, 94th, 110th, 118th, 131st open Berwick Young Bird National (4,023 birds) N.R.C.C. 2001: Best Federation Performance by a Loft in Great Britain 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 15, 16th, 18th, 19th, 22nd open Whitley Bay (3,195 birds) Peterborough & District Federation. A brilliant loft performance!
Frank had been in the sport of pigeon racing for 60 years and raced several systems including young and yearling hens on widowhood, young cocks sitting eggs and old cocks on widowhood. He paired up on 1st December and youngsters were single reared and when they were ten days old the hens were removed. The cocks finish rearing the youngsters and were repaired on 1st April, being put on widowhood sitting their first pair of eggs at ten days. He raced 48 widowhood cock, 36 yearlings and 12 old cocks and Frank said they are at their best at about 300 miles. The hens were never shown to the cocks on marking night and were hopper fed with Frank's own light mixture.
Frank & Ann Tasker's best pigeon was the 1987 bred Haelterman blue pied cock Champion ‘Filmstar’ and he finished his days at stock breeding countless club, Federation and Classic winners. When Frank spoke about his champion, you could hear the pride in his voice and quite rightly too, as he owned the ultimate in a racing pigeon. ‘Filmstar’ was wonderful to look at and handle and he was a champion racer and breeder. He was bred from the very best Mencke Haelterman bloodlines, with his sire ‘Blue Telsar’, being obtained via Claude Hetru of Lomme in France. ‘Blue Telsar’ was a direct son of ‘Eole’, the champion of the champions, being the winner of 1st open National Royan and 1st open National Poitiers. The dam of ‘Filmstar’ was ‘Jonge Whitenose’, bred by Frank & Ann Tasker and they said at that time, she was one of the best breeding hens they have ever owned. Her sire was the base of the entire loft, the champion breeder, ‘Blue Eole’ and he was full brother to champion ‘Eole’, winner of twice 1st open national. A wonderful family of pigeons! Champion ‘Filmstar’ won 26 times 1st club, 12 times 1st Federation and in 1986 was the RPRA Sprint Champion of Great Britain. He also won two RPRA Awards and 7th World Champion Versele-Laga. Frank said he was the base of his loft at that time and his children had bred at least 50 x 1st Federation winners. He was grandsire and great grandsire of ten 1st open National and Classic winners including Champion ‘Starlett’, 1st open Pontorson N.F.C. for Ced and Clive Allwright, Champion ‘Digit’, 1st open Nantes M.N.F.C. for Dave Sherratt, 1st open Central Southern Classic Club Rennes for Tony Hayne, 1st open Central Southern Classic Club Bergerac for Staddon Brothers; 1st open Up North Combine Abbeville for Les Thurlow's two champion racers for G. White & Son and, of course, Frank's own Champion ‘Millennium Filmstar’, 1st open North Road Championship Club Berwick National in the 2000 season. Champion ‘Filmstar’ is a once in a lifetime pigeon!
The Tasker widowhood loft had a wonderful outlook over flat fields and the cocks were trapped through open windows. He had a massive stock loft with wire flights and houses several different families, all in separate sections. The young bird loft was 24ft long and houses 60 youngsters each year. The loft had a corridor trapping and a litter was used on the floor. The young birds didn't get much training, about six tosses before the first race. The young birds were paired up and raced sitting eggs and on a semi-widowhood system.
One of Frank's top racers of recent seasons was the blue pied cock, ‘White Flight 14’, a grandson of Champion ‘Filmstar’. This handsome cock flew Thurso as a yearling, won from Northallerton, Fraserburgh, Morpeth and Berwick and won several prizes in the N.R.C.C. including 7th open Perth in 1995. Frank said on my loft visit, that the grandchildren of Champion ‘Filmstar’ had won more positions in the first 150 open in the North Road Championship Club Berwick Young Bird National in the past two years, than any other loft in its history over the same period. Crossed with the incredible birds from Willy Thas, they had broken all records in the Peterborough & District Federation, which at that time could rightly be claimed as one of the biggest and strongest Federations in the UK. This mighty Federation covered a 52-mile radius, with five sections and an open average birdage of 4,000. Frank & Ann Tasker of Wainfleet, brilliant pigeon fanciers! There you have it the late, great Frank Tasker of Wainfleet, one of our great pigeon racers!
Arthur Edwards of Skegness.
I visited Arthur Edwards’ loft in Lincolnshire in 1996 with the ‘Many Miles With Mott’ film unit, just after he had won the National for the second time. He won the 1994 North Road Championship Club Berwick Young Bird National by 15 minutes, which was 79 yards per minute in front of the second open pigeon. His first National winner was a blue chequer Staf Van Reet cock sent to the young bird Berwick race sitting a pair of eggs. The 1996 season saw the Edwards' loft win 1st open NRCC Perth National by 20 yards per minute clear, with a blue chequer Staf Van Reet cock sitting eggs, which was a full brother to the Berwick National winner. The two brothers were bred from Arthur's number one Staf van Rest stock pair, which have bred two National winners, four Federation winners and about 25 club winners, The Edwards' loft was full of quality, which were mainly Staf Van Reets, including their '91' cock which had won seven racing firsts and was 1st club, 1st section, 1st open Peterborough & District Federation Perth in 1992, into a north east wind. Another star of the Skegness loft was the '92' Staf Van Rest cock, winner of six 1st prizes, including 1st club, 5th Federation Perth, then the week after he won 1st club, 1st section, 1st open Peterborough & District Federation Fraserburgh.
The racers were paired up in January and after rearing youngsters they were parted for about ten days good training. Then they were repaired ready for the first race. They got about six good tosses, but once racing started, they got one-hour morning and evening around the loft, except the day after a race. The Edward's lot was a converted 32-foot caravan, with five compartments, three for natural racers, one for young birds, and one for stock birds. It had a three-foot corridor, with stall traps and was always dry with very good ventilation.
Stock birds were paired up at Christmas so that Arthur has youngsters old enough to pair up for the young bird Berwick National, The main family raced was Staf Van Reet, which raced with outstanding success up to 400 miles, and recently a pair of Wildemeersch and a pair of Van Loons had been introduced. Arthur didn’t believe in eye sign, although on my visit I noticed the number one Staf van Reet stock hen, and dam of the two 1st open National winners had a fantastic eye. He only kept eight pairs of stock birds, but the stock section was full of quality. Although Arthur was a natural racer, he fed on a good Widowhood mixture for the short races and a high protein corn when the races got longer. The Edwards' 30 young birds got about ten training tosses before the first race, then raced the whole programme, and he liked them to be paired up and sitting eggs for the young bird Berwick National.
Peter Smith of Burgh-Le-Marsh.
On my visit to Lincolnshire I visited the 1995 North Road Championship Club Perth winner Peter Smith of Burgh le Marsh. Peter's winner was his Wildemeersch blue chequer cock, ‘Burgh Boy’ raced on the widowhood system. His sire was Peter's best Wildemeersch stock cock, and this blue chequer was the sire of countless winners. ‘Burgh Bismark’, a blue cock, had scored many times in the N.R.C.C., being raced on widowhood and he was a full brother to `Burgh Boy'. The Peter Smith loft raced eighteen cocks on widowhood, which were paired up in early March with the middle- and long-distance events in mind. Peter had been in the sport for 43 years at that time and his best positions in the N.R.C.C. in recent seasons were: 2nd section, 10th open Berwick (young bird); 9th section, 40th open Thurso and 1st section, 1st open Perth. The main families raced were Wildemeersch, Busschaerts and Janssen and all went through to Lerwick (481 miles). Peter kept 30 stock pairs, which were paired up in February and these were housed in a spacious stock loft with a grilled floor. The 50 young birds bred each season raced through to the North Road Championship Club Berwick race and the young bird section had deep litter of sand and lime. On my visit it was good to see Peter's two grandsons in the lofts taking a big interest in his pigeons.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)