“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
Scotland home of the long distance champions. (Part 2).
The late John Traill of Thornton.
When John Traill passed away in June 2001, the sport of long distance pigeon racing in Scotland lost one of its greatest champions. I met ‘jock’ in the mid 1990’s, when I visited his Fife loft while on a ‘Many Miles with Mott’ video tour with Albert Taylor and we found him to be a real gentleman pigeon fancier. He loved long distance pigeon racing, with the highlights of his 55 years in the sport being twice 1st open Scottish National Flying Club.
John was born in Balmalcom in Fife and when he was five years old his family moved to Ladybank. As young lad he had a pair of pigeons which were housed in an orange box screwed to the wall but became first interested in racing pigeons at the age of 19, when made regular visits to the loft of his friend, Wullie Henderson. John purchased his first birds, basket and clock from Sandy Stevenson, the local cobbler in Ladybank, who was leaving the sport and top flyers at that time were Norman Dall, Jack Andrews and his old friend Wullie Henderson. John Traill liked to play Bowls and loved to dance, taking lessons in ballroom dancing at one time. The first club he joined in 1951 was the Howe of Fife Club in Ladybank and raced to a small 10ft.x 6ft. loft built by his Uncle Sam. John raced what he called the ‘Heinz 57’ strain and won out of turn at the club races in the early days, but all the time he wanted to acquire birds that would compete and win at the long distance. John’s early mistake was trying to compete in every club race and wearing the pigeons out. He moved from Ladybank to Thornton in 1965. His old original family are J. J. Baird of Liverpool (Barker strain), obtained from Wullie Henderson of Cupar.
On my visit John told me, he could trace his National winning family back to some of those original pigeons he had in 1951. He always raced on the Natural system and kept 25 pairs of racers and 8 pairs of breeders. John paired everything up at the same time, the first weekend in March, and told me he liked to wean all his young birds at the same time, so they were all the same age. When he was asked about the widowhood system, a distasteful expression came on his face and he told me, he would never entertain it for long distance racing. John’s great old 24ft. ‘L’ shaped loft was in a wire compound, with a lawn out in front of it and he said it was built with the pigeons comfort in mind. It was well ventilated, with wire bays and drop hole trapping, and he didn’t use deep litter, but had a few wood shavings scattered around the floors. John was a scrapper man and maintained you shouldn’t be able to smell pigeons in a loft, with dryness being essential to keep the birds healthy. He made up his own mixture of wheat, maize, beans and maple peas, which was fed all the year round, but a few weeks before the main 500 and 600 mile events he took out the wheat and added more maize. He didn’t like to train his birds when they were feeding youngsters, but would train cocks from 20 miles, if the weather was very good and he thought training yearlings early in the season was very important. During the season he would train twice a week and liked his long distance National candidates to have a 7 to 8 hour fly in a club race about three weeks before the main events. John raced his yearlings down to Fareham (350 miles) on the south coast, his two year olds over the channel to Sartilly and his old birds had to go all the way to Nantes (620 miles) and Niort (690 miles) with the Scottish National Flying Club. His favourite nest condition for sending birds to the long distance events was sitting 10 to 12 day old eggs on the day of basketing and never sent feeding youngsters. He didn’t like jumping pigeons long distances and started them in a 60 mile club race and built them up to 600 miles. The birds were fed in pots, in the nest boxes and he told me they always had corn in front of them at all times. He liked to see the hens sitting 10 days, low in the nest bowl with that staring look, and said that was the sign of a hen being keen and in good condition.
John Traill had many premier positions in the S.N.F.C. through the years, with his best being: 1995: 20th. open S.N.F.C. Niort, 80th. open S.N.F.C. Rennes, 1996: 1st, 8th. open S.N.F.C. Niort (690 miles), 1997: 11th. open S.N.F.C. Rennes, 1st, 30th. open S.N.F.C. Nantes(620 miles) and he also won 2nd. open S.N.F.C. Nantes (620 miles) and 1st. open Fife Federation Dorchester (400 miles). He won numerous positions in the first thirty open in the Scottish National Flying Club. His National winners were: CH.’TRAILL’S SPARK’, dark chequer cock, winner of 1996: 1st. open S.N.F.C. Niort (690 miles, liberated at 06.00hrs and clocked 10.20hrs next day), 1995: 27th. open S.N.F.C. Niort, 1992: 1st. open Fife Federation Dorchester (400 miles). CH.’NANCY’, the frill blue chequer hen named after John’s wife, Nancy. She won in 1997: 1st. open S.N.F.C. Nantes (620 miles) and in 1996: 8th. open S.N.F.C. Niort (690 miles).
The main stock pair was a blue chequer hen bred down from the old Traill family and before being put to stock, she was a useful racer, winning many major prizes including 2nd open Federation. John told me she was the dam of the loft! Her mate was a handsome blue chequer pied, being produced from a gift egg from Keith Cochrane, and he was bred down from the Eddie Newcombe bloodlines. This wonderful stock pair bred the Niort National winner, Ch. ’Traill’s Spark’. When John introduced new stock he preferred to bring in a good hen, bred close to good 600 mile winners and out of a consistent loft. He didn’t have many crosses over the years, but some successful ones were from Dennis Dall, Bobby Carruthers, Keith Cochrane and J. & J. Keir.
The loft normally had about 50 youngsters for racing each year and these were fed on a first class young bird mixture, with no maize. They were raced natural to the perch and if the weather was good, John would start to train them three weeks before the first Federation race, which was about a 60 mile fly. He started to train them at one mile to teach them to come out of the basket and worked them up in stages to 40 miles. All the babies were raced through the Federation programme, but if he fancied one or two, he had no problem about stopping them at the 100 miles stage. He told me he had tried the nest bowl in the corner trick but had more success racing them to the perch on the natural system. The Traill young bird team were never put on the darkness system and liked them to have as much fresh air and sunshine as possible in their early life. John liked to race his youngsters well, as he maintained it was important for good experience and would keep them in good stead in later life.
John’s work was a driver on the railway and told me, he had great support from his wife, Nancy with his pigeons and his family as a whole were very interested in his hobby. He was president of the Thornton Club and Fife Federation for 23 years. A well respected fancier! John would like to see a good eye on a pigeon, but always relied on handling and feather quality, and would quickly discard any bird that didn’t come up to his requirements in the hand. When he judged handling shows, he soon turned the class over, being very quick to returning undesirables back in to their pen. John used to advice novices to go to the premier local fancier to obtain their starting stock, have plenty of patience and establish a winning family by testing them well in racing. John Traill established a line bred family without going to close, he never paired brother x sister or father x daughter, preferring half-brother x half-sister or grand sire x granddaughter matings. His main aim was test any crosses to the full, before letting it in to his loft. John would take the odd late bred off any special pairs for the stock section or for breeders for his friends. John always maintained the season started when the young bird races finished the season before! Nest boxes came out of one end of the loft and fitted out with perch for the hens to winter on. The cocks remained perched on the front of the closed nest boxes in the other two racing compartments and the young birds remained together for another month, and then separated for the winter. During the moult the birds were given a good quality mixture and a bit of linseed every two days. They got plenty of regular exercise and baths in the resting period.
Peter Patrick of Thornton.
We are going back to Fife again for our latest Scottish article and visit the long distance loft of Peter Patrick of Thornton. Of cause, Thornton is a well know pigeon racing town, north of the border, as it was the home of the late, great John Traill and Peter was a very good friend of the double S.N.F.C. winner, for many years.
Peter Patrick was born in Thornton, but lived in Kirkcaldy after coming out of the forces, from 1960 to 1970, then returned to Thornton. His father, Dave, raced pigeons in the Thornton H.S. from when he was a teenager and Peter became involved in 1947, when the racing name was changed to D. Patrick & son. When Peter left school, he started work as a Blacksmith / Panel beater and made a pigeon trailer for the back of his push bike. He told me, he thought nothing of cycling 15 to 20 miles, sometimes further when training the pigeons. The prominent fanciers at that time were, Norman Dall, Gilmour Brothers, E. R. Williams, Andrew Carmichael, Dave Kinnear and Frank Walker. He got married in 1958 and had three children. The family moved into a new two bedroom council house, with a very small back garden, in fact it was so small his 12ft.x 6ft. loft nearly filled it up. In 1964 the family moved to a new address in Kirkcaldy, with a bigger garden and Peter enlisted the help of his good Joiner friend, Jackie Wishart, and they built a new 21ft.x 6ft. loft. His main sources for his first pigeons were all successful racers, in the form of his father, the late Gilmour Bothers, Coaltown of Balgonie and Dave Mitchell on Kirkcaldy. He joined the Novar H.S. in Kirkcaldy in 1965, at that time the strongest club in Fife with 80 members and stared off racing young birds that season. He did well and recorded a few positions in the club results. Peter was a good footballer, playing in the school team, juveniles with the Balbonie Scotia and during his three years service in the R.E.M.E., mostly at 16 inf. Workshops, Mainden, Germany, BFPO29. He finished up having to have an operation on his thigh before being demobbed and never played again after that.
When he started on his own in 1965 his families of pigeons were, Barker, Osman, Gurnay and Van Der Espt, which all blended together to produce a good race team that performed well through the whole programme. In the 1968 season they made their mark, when Peter won three races on the trot in the very strong Novar club, Stafford, Worcester, Cheltenham and also Avranches (520 miles) and Christchurch (400 miles). Peter told me, like all pigeon fanciers he made mistakes in the early days and regretted sending good birds, after being successful at a distance race, back again too soon in the same season. They may have handled and looked alright, but were not rested enough for the second long fly. Peter recalled, in the early days when he few with his father, they won the Federation from just over 200 miles in a fairly strong South Westerly wind, with a two year old red chequer hen, sent feeding a small youngster. The race was on Saturday and she looked a picture. Sunday she was out flying around the loft, had a bath and was picking around the garden as normal. On the Monday, Peter, went to let the birds out for they exercise, she was still sitting on her single youngster with her eyes closed and when he touched her, she was stone dead. On breaking the bad news to his father, his remark was that she must have strained her heart to get home on the Saturday race, when she won the Federation.
These days Peter races 20 pairs of old birds on both the natural and roundabout systems and these are paired up and set down with the long distance events in mind. The racers and stock birds are paired up in mid-February and they get five training tosses from 25 miles, two weeks before the first race. Peter told me if the birds are exercising well around the loft they are not trained very much after racing has commenced. The roundabout racers don’t see their mates going to the race until the third race, only turning the nest bowls over in the boxes. Peter says, they are fed Depurative and brewers yeast on their return from the race and get their mate for about half an hour. They go every week if fit up to the inland National (340 miles) and are repaired for the long distance races. He likes his long distance candidates sitting 8 to 12 day old eggs on marking day, although this is not a hard and fast rule, super fitness is what he is looking for. His feeding is three different widowhood mixtures mixed together, with a small percentage of beans, peas and tares added.
The main family raced since 1990 are a blend of birds obtained from the late John Traill, J. & J. Kier &son, Dennis Dall, Joe Bowman, Jock McKinnon and one or two in the early days from the Louella Pigeon World. He has enjoyed some great success with these birds in the Thornton and Novar clubs. To this family, Peter, has added more of the best of the late, great John Traill’s pigeons, in the form of eggs that John recommended to him to take when they were preparing his sale list. Peter had 18 eggs in all, of which 17 hatched and these birds are now at stock, as they can’t be replaced. Peter had to purchase a stock loft to house these very special birds, as prior to 2001 he had never kept stock pigeons. These birds of John Traill’s boosted his family, as he already had a lot of John’s bloodlines going through his loft, with brothers and sisters to the National winners being exchanged over the years. Peter maintains the best breeders have turned out to be the pigeons closest to most of John Traill’s best birds.
The stock birds are fed the same as his race team, as he is at the stage that he has good stock sons and daughters of National winners paired to racers in the racing sections. He told me he has always had an interest in eyesign, but never pairs two strong eyes together and always tries to improve the weaker of the two eyes. When bringing in a new stock bird, Peter likes a good hen from a reliable source and quite often exchanges birds through friendship.
Peter built his own main racing loft and is 22ft x 8ft, with four sections, and this houses old and young bird racers. This smart loft has a 2ft.6ins. corridor running the full length of the structure, a box front with recessed sliding doors in the centre, with louvres below and the full length of the box front is hinged so he can put a basket in there and basket the birds from inside. He designed and built an apex roof with Perspex sheets in the front to let light and sunshine into the compartments. He told me he is a twice a day scraper man and can’t comment on deep litter, as he has never used it in his lofts. He has another 14ft.x 6ft. loft which houses stock birds and natural racers.
Some of Peter’s best performances in long distance National in recent seasons are: 2nd, 5th. & 28th open Cholet (636 miles), 6th. & 29th open Clermont (525 miles), 31st. & 44th open Chenoise (582 miles), 19th open Reims (566 miles), 32nd & 270th open Reims (566 birds), 20th, 48th, 91st. & 98th open Falaise (522 miles), 38th. & 114th open Falaise (522 miles), 35th. & 85th open Tours (630 miles), 116th open Alencon (551 miles), 23rd open Portland (one entry), 63rd. & 96th open Newbury (338 miles), 188th & 191st open Newbury and 96th open Newbury.
One of the main pigeons in the stock loft is the three year old blue chequer cock called, ‘Reward’, and Peter now tells me the lofts are named after this great pigeon. He won from the young bird stage through to retirement at only three years of age. He recorded many premier positions in the National, with his best performance being 19th. open S.N.F.C. Reims (566 miles). The following season Peter entered three pigeons in to the Reims ‘Gold Cup’ race, with his son arriving on the night at 21.55hrs. to record 32nd. open and ‘Reward’ was clocked at 09.30 hrs next morning to win 270th. open. ‘Reward’ arrived home minus his tail and rump feathers, having been attacked by a hawk. This champion cock was bred from a son of a gift pair from Peter’s good friend, the late Jim Stenhouse, when mated to a hen bred from a brother of John Traill’s Niort National winner, ‘Traill’s Spark’. Another good pigeon is the blue cock, ‘The Falaise Blue’, winner of 38th. open Falaise National, 114th. open Falaise National, 166th. open Alencon National and he was purchased at the late Dave King’s bereavement sale, and Peter fancies him for the extreme distance. We must also mention the blue chequer cock, ‘John’s Legacy’, winner in 2005 of 2nd.open S.N.R.P.C. Cholet (636 miles), on his first race across the channel. His sire won 6th. open Clermont National and he was sired by a full brother to, ‘Traill’s Spark’, 1st. open S.N.F.C. Niort (690 miles). A wonderful loft of pigeons!
Peter told me he normally breeds about 40 youngsters to race each season, which are weaned at 24 days old and for the first month are fed on Maple peas. After the month they are put on the same mixture as the old birds and training usually consists of around ten tosses up to 35 miles, and they are raced natural to the perch. He tried the ‘darkness’ system for a few seasons on 50% of his team, but when it came o the Young Bird National (290 miles) the naturals were beating the ‘darkness’ youngsters. One year he was caught out when preparing yearlings for the inland National, two of them moulted their tenth fight along with their first flight that season. All the Patrick young birds complete the Federation programme up to 200 miles, unless they are in a heavy moult.
Peter hasn’t worked since 1998 having had to have a quadruple by-pass at the age of 60 and most of his working life was a welder or operated heavy machinery in Open caste mining, excavators and bulldozers. None of his family are pigeon fanciers, but they take an interest in his hobby. Peter has always preferred long distance racing, but says his family of birds do win in the shorter races if the conditions are right and it’s a head wind. He has had many thrills timing long distance pigeons late at night, when there isn’t many birds about, also early second morning, especially when you don’t have to wait long. Peter told me his biggest thrill was being nominated as Fife Federation ‘Fancier of the Year’ two years on the trot, in 2001 and 2002.
TEXT BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)