I simply had to write a note to you. I raised a few pigeons in the early 40's (when I was in high school) and my favorite bird was a blue Sion hen that was a 500 mile day bird. I am now going to be 80 years old and still remember those days with nostalgia. I had to sell my birds and loft in 1943 when I went into the airforce and I can remember coming home on occasion over maybe a 10 years period, and sometimes my old friend, the blue Sion hen was flying around the house and looking,,,,,as if for her old loft.
I have one interesting story to tell. A banded bird come into my loft from a Chicago pigeon club (early 40's). I wrote to the club to let them know I had one of their birds obviously lost on a race. They told me to keep it, but the address of the owner was 224 Prospect Street, Chicago, Illinois. My address was 224 South Prospect Street Rockford, Illinois.......about 100 miles away. Interesting.
This is just a memory trip for me, but I thought you might enjoy it. Attached is the only surviving picture I have of my 'pigeon days"
Have a nice day!
A chapter from my autobiography by Bill Anthoney
My next hobby was even more interesting, and I do not recall how I got started with pigeons ... Specifically, racing Pigeons. I believe I had seen a copy of the 'Racing Pigeon Journal’ somewhere and simply stated I had to know more. I read everything I could find in the main public library. I believe this was in 1939. Anyhow, I knew I had to get involved in this fascinating hobby. My financial resources were a little slim to say the least, so I designed a coop about 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4 feet high. It had a sloping roof that lifted (opened) at a hinge for access to the inside. My friend the old carpenter that had been next door had moved to a shop on 4th Avenue and 8th Street. I cannot remember how I tracked him down. He was glad to see me and made a few suggestions on how to make the coop better. As I recall, the coop cost me about $6, obviously in retrospect, he could not have charged me for anything more than the materials. I still had a few dollars left of my cache that I could use for a few birds. First, I had to get the coop home with my old reliable wagon. This was no small task as I had at least 8 long blocks to traverse, partly uphill. It was quite a balancing act, but I did it all on my own. Once home I had to figure out how to raise it to a 3-foot high platform, I had built along side the garage. The platform was made with a couple of two by fours I had found. I skidded my coup up on some boards onto the platform … I thought it looked neat. At first, all I could afford were a few tumblers a boy near Bethesda Church sold me ... cheap. They were fun to watch fly. I would let them out when I got home from school and they would wheel around overhead and then tumble repeatedly almost to the ground, once again swooping up and around again. That is why this particular breed is called tumblers. It was easy to train them to come in. I would shake pigeon food in a coffee can and that makes a noise that can be heard for quite a distance. They soon learned to associate this with dinnertime.
It did not take me too long to realize the limitations that my small first coup had. I think it was the summer of 1940 that I had grander plans and I built one out of used lumber that I had recovered from a demolished building. Soon after I started to build a coop, it became apparent that my lack of knowledge of basic carpentry was profound. If I had any idea how ‘framing’ was accomplished the result would not have been too bad. As it was, everything ‘leaned’ and was out of square. The ‘doors’ and windows were a disaster and the floor was impossible. It proved to be so very unsatisfactory that I soon tore it down and I burned the wood in a bonfire.
At that time there was an older high school boy I knew from Bethesda church who had been involved in racing pigeons for some
time and had decided it required too much of his spare time. He was the one I had first purchased birds from. It would be mine for $25 if I could figure out how to transport the coop. This was no small obstacle since it weighed many hundreds of pounds and my house was about one mile away. A wagon wouldn't’t work for this one. Another older high school boy knew from my inquiries about pigeons had a truck and volunteered to move it to my back yard.
For a few more dollars, I was able to buy the birds as well. As you can see, it was about 7 feet high with about 6X7 feet of floor space, and it was very well built. On one inside wall were three or four levels of shelving with dividers (as in a book case). Each section was approximately 12 inches high, 12 inches deep and 18 inches long. This was the nesting area and each pair of birds claimed one as their own cubicle. (Only they knew why each space was so important.) Once selected, they would defend it fiercely. By the way, pigeons mate for life and can live up to 25 years. I added a flight area in front of the coop made with 2x2’s and chicken wire. Access to this flight cage was through a window that I would open and allow the birds, which could not be released, a chance to exercise and get some fresh air. The ‘landing area’ (the birds front door) consisted of a platform with roofing on it and with a doweled section that could be removed to let the birds fly freely in and out of the coop. When I was exercising the young birds outside, the ‘stay at homes’ were in ‘lock down’ in the flight cage. Above this release area on the landing platform were the entrance gates. These gates swing ‘in’ but not ‘out’ --- visualize ‘TTTTTTTTT’ where the bottom of each ‘T’ swings ‘in’ independently from the top. Once the bird enters through this gate, it can’t fly free again until it is once more released It is a beautiful sight to see several dozen of your racing pigeons wheeling in free flight overhead and then diving for the landing platform when they hear pigeon food rattled in a coffee can. To these gates I rigged up a system with wire to the house that rang a bell whenever a bird came into the coop. If I was not outside this bell let me know when one of my birds came back from a training flight or race. It worked really well.
I would like to describe and explain the function of the aluminum bands on the left leg of all racing pigeons. At six days of age, the chick’s foot is flexible enough and small enough that a band (a small seamless ring) can be slipped over the three front toes and then over the back toe. The chick’s foot soon grows enough so that the band cannot be removed. Racing Clubs buy them 500 or 1000 at a time and the identifying numbers and letters (much like an automobile license plate) are unique and permanently identify each bird. It is the responsibility of each owner to keep a record of each bird with its identifying band number. Sometimes a lost and valuable bird can be returned from great distances through this registered numbering system. I bought several dozen of these bands from the local Rockford Pigeon Racing Club that had national registration.
In 1941, I wrote to a breeder of racing pigeons in South Carolina and I told him that I was a sixteen year old boy who didn't have a lot of money, but who would like to buy a good pair of Belgian Sions or Logan's that he specialized in. (The Pigeon that saved the Lost Battalion in World War I was of Belgian stock.(1) ) I had found his address in an issue of the Racing Pigeon Journal to which I now subscribed. He wrote back to me and said that he would ship me two good birds, but without their ‘pedigree papers’, for $20 ... including shipping! Wow! I had saved up enough to do that. In due course, the birds arrived, and they were beautiful! These birds, of course, could not be let out of the coop to fly free because they would simply fly back ‘home’. They were going to be the basis for a new family of racers for me. I raised several promising pairs of young from them. One day the original hen got out when I was exercising the young birds and she returned to South Carolina ... I really felt bad. That was at least 1,000 miles away! The man shipped her back to me with a note, "... don't let her get out again!” The sport of racing pigeons is really meant for men since it can get pretty expensive. Some men, then and now, have races with ‘serious’ money wagered on them. You must have timing equipment etc. etc. and the breeding stock is costly if you are to have pedigreed offspring. Actually, I had the best of both worlds; I could ‘race’ some of my birds with the Club member’s birds. They would let me send one or two of mine along with the Club birds for a race at no cost to me. Incidentally, the winner is determined by taking the calculated distance in yards from the release point and the home cote divided by the time in minutes from the release time and the end ‘clock’ time … the fastest yards per minute is deemed the winner.
The summer of 1941 a nesting pair of Logan’s I had, had died, leaving two chicks in the nest; apparently they had been poisoned by ingesting some rock salt. One of their two 6-day-old chicks had been badly mauled by another bird or birds. That apparently is instinctual reaction to unattended chicks by other adults having to do with survival of their own off spring. It was my responsibility to put that little thing out of its misery. Killing that chick was one of the hardest things I ever had to do! And I will never forget it. The other chick seemed hungry but otherwise it was OK. I tried chewing up pigeon food (a mix of grains) and fed him by mouth for days on end until he could eat on his own. Obviously, he missed some special nutrients his parents would have supplied and although he lived, he was stunted and I called him ‘Runt’. Maybe he wasn't beautiful, but he was a pet and to him, I was ‘papa’. When he got so he could fly outdoors, he would return to my hand or my shoulder. The next year I had some young birds I had raised and I started to train them by taking and releasing them farther and farther away from the coop. Most of the time, I would just take them out in a cage fastened to the rear of my bicycle ... 10 or 15 miles away and let them go. Sometimes, when people visited us, they would leave with several of my birds to release them some distance away. One Sunday I rode my bike down to Rochelle, which was about 26 miles south of Rockford and released 6 or 8 birds. All of the birds beat me home, all except one. The pigeon that did not make it was ‘Runt’. I never should have taken him with, as he simply was not strong enough to fly any distance. He flew with the rest of the birds around the neighborhood with seemingly no problem, and I thought that he could make it home by following the other birds. That was a heart-breaking event for me; but it was my own fault. Even today, I remember that event with sadness.
The men I knew who raced birds in Rockford would include a few of mine on a racing flight for free. I could not win anything, but that was OK. For a race, the pigeons are shipped by Railroad Express and the station agent releases them at an agreed upon destination and time. I had one particularly good (and favorite) Sion hen (a blue bar) that came back from 500 miles the day following release! That was a better time than the birds of many of the men! I also lost quite a few birds, but that is to be expected on long races. It is the way the best future breeding stock is selected.
Years later, after I returned from the Air Force, I would occasionally see the Sion blue bar hen on the roof the house; she looked as if she was wondering where her home coop had gone. The last time I remember seeing her was about 1950 after I had graduated from the University of Wyoming. It had been about 7 years since I had sold her!
Before I leave this Chapter, I must tell you a strange but true story. One morning I noticed that there was a ‘visiting’ bird in my loft. That happened periodically but usually it was a mixed up ‘local’. This bird was mostly white and its band indicated that it was from a club in Chicago about 100 miles away. I looked up the address of the club and wrote to them. In due time I received an answer which said that the bird had not made it home on a race and I could have it. The strange thing about this story is that the bird’s home loft address was 224 Prospect Avenue in Chicago. My address of course was 224 South Prospect Street in Rockford. Do you suppose the pigeon was reading addresses and got the town wrong? Of course not, but it was a strange coincidence. I should have sent that story to ‘Believe it or Not'.
Pigeon racing is a great hobby. Just thinking about it, makes me very nostalgic. If I only I had one residence now and did not travel so much, I would have them again. As with any livestock, they require care and they take time.
Racing Pigeon Footnote
1. During early October of 1918 in WWI, six companies of the 1rst and 2nd battalions, 308th infantry and one company of the 37th infantry and several platoons of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion were cut off by the Germans from the rest of the American forces. All of their radios were out, and they had no way to communicate with headquarters except by ‘carrier pigeon’. This occurred during the American attack in the battle of the Argonne Forest. The Americans refused to surrender to the Germans. Six hundred men started out ... 200 men were rescued when an
Army Signal Corps homing pigeon known as Bonomi walked into the area where her home loft was located, carrying a message describing the battalions plight and location. ( Bonomi had taken a bullet that had broken her wing sometime after her release and she walked, who knows how far, to her home loft.) The survivors became known as ‘The Lost Battalion.’ You can see Bonomi mounted in a place of honor in the Smithsonian Museum. She lived to be 25 years old.
And you wonder why I loved pigeons?