MY FIRST BELGIUM TRIP
By Ski Grabanski
In December I received a phone call from Bruce Gordon. He told me that Rick Mardis owner of the Continental Breeding Station (CBS) was planning a trip to Belgium sometime in February and Bruce asked if I would like to join them. He told me there were a few other guys that would also be going. I was asked by Bruce a couple of other times in the past to go and thought if I said no this time, I probably would not get another invitation, so the answer was yes. What a fantastic trip!!!!
Day 1: I met Bruce at the Seattle Airport and we were in the air at 8:00 AM on our way to the Washington DC Airport. We arrived in DC at 3:20 PM where we met Rick (TX/OK) and his son, Steve Mardis (OK) and Mike Ludolph (Big Mike) from Pipestone MN. From DC we all flew out together and arrived in Brussels Belgium the next morning at 8:20 AM, where we met the last member of our group, Gary Willeford from Hughes Springs, TX.
Day 2: As soon as our feet hit the ground, we were off and running. We picked up a very comfortable van for the six of us that Rick had reserved and off we went. Our first stop was at our hotel (Hotel Vlimmershof) in Vlimmeren Belgium, about an hour’s drive from Brussels. After check in and a few minutes to clean up, we were on the road again. Our first visit was with Andre Roodhooft in Pulderbos Belgium. We spent a considerable amount of time visiting and then Andre and wife Annette, took us all out for lunch. After lunch we parted ways. Our plan was to meet Andre again later in the week. Then we were off to Sint-Niklaas Belgium, where we met Ivan Baetens and wife Natasha.
Ivan is the owner of the Bricon Electronic Clocking System. Ivan showed us his new breeding and young bird lofts and some of his fantastic birds, all I can say is WOW. In 2012 Ivan and his father Willy, had a great year winning 1st Nat. Zone Chateauroux OB's vs. 5,671 Birds, top 10 Nat. Champions Heavy MD KBDB and several more 1st and top finishes. We handled several champion pigeons here. “Lady Bourges” winner of 6X1st competing against 1,000 to 20,000 pigeons and several National & Provincial top positions, “National King” one of the top National racers and breeders of Belgium. After our visit with Ivan, we drove to Schilde Belgium and spent some time with Serge Van Elsacker and his wife Kirsten.
Day 3: After breakfast, we were on our way to Kortrijk Belgium and attended the Fugare Expo. What a great event!!! This was the third year of the Expo. This is a two day event and the estimate was that there were 7,500 people in attendance. There were well over 100 exhibitors. Here you could find a total overview of everything a fancier would need to practice his/her favorite sport, from feed, food supplements, loft supplies, lofts, clocking systems and of course, pigeons. Some of the people we met at the Expo were Rik Cools, Marcel Sangers, Gerard Koopman, Henk De Weerd, Andy Larentzakis, better known as “Big Andy” and his wife Yvonne and many others. “Big Andy” is from Canada and is the North America agent for PIPA.
Day 4: Today we spent part of the morning at the Schilde Clubhouse. The club has 100 plus members. As we sat there sipping coffee and other drinks, it was really pretty cool watching the members come in. Some with their wife’s just sitting around chatting. As the morning went on, little groups started breaking off and they started playing card games. Serge was there with his 9 year old granddaughter and she was busy taking orders and bringing out food/drinks and making change for the club members. She was a very busy little girl and she was having a great time. It was really enjoyable to sit there amongst the members of the club.
After leaving the clubhouse, our next stop was at the Natural Breeding Station in St. Antonius-Zoersel Belgium. The Breeding Station is the largest in the world. There are 55 lofts divided into 660 sections, and varies between 12,000 and 16,000 pigeons depending on the time of the year. The Breeding Station has been in existence for over 55 years and every year demand often exceeds the supply. They have supplied over 1.5 million pigeons worldwide. I saw about 35 different strains of pigeons. Some of the older strains that I saw were Roosens, Bricoux, Hormans, Delbar, Sion, etc. There is also a very nice pigeon museum on the grounds. The Breeding Station was started in 1955 by brothers Noel and Robert De Scheemaecker.
After we left the Breeding Station we visited John and Jan Baeck a father and son team in Brasschaat Belgium. Their birds had a great disposition. They all had a very soft wing and the motor was running like I have never seen before. For you newer flyers, ask some of the old timers in your club what I mean by a soft wing and motor running. As we handled the birds, it felt like they were talking to you. They were very calm in the hand. Jan brought out many champions for us to handle. A couple that I remember were “Bella”, 1st Olympiade 2011 Poland “All Round”. “Bella” has no less than 4 X 1st in the last two years. The next bird was “Weerlicht”, 3rd Olympiade Poland 2011 “Short Distance” with no less than 9 X 1st. We really enjoyed our conversation with John & Jan.
Day 5: After breakfast we were off to Bevel Belgium, to meet the flying team of father and son Paul & Jelle Roziers. This team of father and son specialized in young birds in 2012 at a new location where they had a new loft built. What a season they had. The same team in 9 weeks, 8 races with an average of 300 + miles per race, middle and long distance together with cocks and hens 60% of birds are on the prize list and 30% in the first 10%. They had the 1st Ace bird Provincial Antwerp Flying Club, 3rd, 7th, 8th, & 9th Ace bird Union Antwerp Long Distance (more than 400 members). One of the birds we handled was the famous “Queen L” who is a dominant breeder and was 1st National La Souterraine 2004 vs 16,297 birds. We handled several outstanding pigeons here. Jelle told us that he trains his young birds twice a day. In the AM he takes them 60 miles and in the PM 20 miles three times a week. He also said that he will give them an additional toss the day of shipping if it looks like a tailwind race day. His young birds (training & races combined) will have flown over 7,000 miles by the end of the season.
After we left Paul & Jelle we spent quite a bit of time with Andre Roodhooft who has been 6 times Emperor of Antwerp and 12 times King Union of Antwerp, he has won this award the last 8 years running. Andrea's accomplishments in 2012 were King Union of Antwerp, General Champion Middle Distance Union Antwerp, Champion Old Birds Middle Distance Union of Antwerp, General Champion Middle Distance “De Snelle Vlucht” Zoersel and General Champion Middle-Long Distance Fond 2011 Yearlings. We handled the National Gueret winner “Daughter Tom” vs 3,415 birds. What a beautiful hen. Andre spent a lot of time with us showing us his champion flyers and breeders and also his flying and breeding lofts. What a treat.
When we left Andre’s, our next destination was Zandhoven Belgium. The home of Dirk Van Dyck. I believe the first bird we handled here was the famous “Di Caprio” champion flyer and breeder. Dirk brought out several multiple 1st place winners for us to handle. In 2011 he had 17 X 1st place and was 1st Overall Provincial Champion KBDB Antwerp and in 2012, 38 X 1st place and was 1st Overall Provincial KBDB Antwerp again and 1st Provincial Champion Middle Distance Old Birds. A loft full of Fantastic Pigeons.
Day 6: Steve had to get back to the states a little earlier than the rest of us, so right after breakfast, we left for the Airport in Brussels. The drive usually takes about 1 hour, but today it took us close to 2 ½ hours. I could not believe the traffic. It looked like we were back in Seattle during rush hour. Something I thought I would never see in Belgium.
After we dropped off Steve, we picked up Serge Van Elsacker and then we were on our way to see Leo Heremans. Leo speaks very little English so Serge was our interpreter. Here again we had the chance to handle many champions. In 2012 Leo was 1st National Champion Short Distance Young Birds KBDB, 1st National Ace Pigeon Short Distance Young Birds KBDB, 2nd Belgian Olympiad Pigeon Young Birds NITRA 2013, 2nd Belgian Ace Pigeon Short Distance Europacup, etc. Every bird that went through our hands had a very strong personality. They immediately let you know that you might be holding me, but I’m the boss. You needed both hands on these birds. They were strugglers. Now don’t miss understand me, I’m not saying the birds were wild. There is nothing further from the truth. They were just very strong willed. Because of Leo’s health, he is selling all of his birds. We were told he turned down a large amount of money and has decided to have the birds auctioned off on the PIPA website May 6th though May 18th.
After we left Leo’s, we stopped for lunch and dropped off Serge at his home. Than we paid a visit to Albert Derwa, in Herent Belgium. Albert flies a very small team of birds. He invited me into his flying loft where he showed me his two sections for his widowhood cocks. There were 9 boxes in each section, but only 6 cocks in each for a total of 12. He also flies the hens so his total team consists of 24 birds. Some in Belgium consider Albert one of the best, if not the best in Belgium. Albert had 31 X 1st including doubles in 2012. Again, we handled many champions here, but two that really stood out to me were “Primo”, who has 9 X 1st in the last three years and a brother “De Zoon”, who was 3rd Olympiad Pigeon Allround 2013 and has 8 X 1st in the last two years. Both are out of super breeder “Paulien” who was 8th National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance in 2007 as a yearling and is credited with 10 X 1st in her flying carrier. Albert’s wife Francine showed a keen interest in the birds. She could recall what order the birds clocked in different races two years ago.
Day 7: This morning we were on our way to Breda Netherlands to visit Henk De Weerd and to see his new pigeon clinic. When we arrived, we ran into Serge Van Elsacker and Henk. Henk gave us the grand tour of the facility. Henk has 30 employees including 4 vets. He said that 95% of his business is pigeons and the remaining 5% is dogs and cats. The clinic is approximately 20,000 sq ft. The main floor has a couple of Examination Rooms, Operating Rooms, X-Ray Room, Recovery Room, Quarantine Room and a huge pigeon supply warehouse. The second floor consists of offices and a Conference Room. The clinic was only open for a couple of weeks when we were there and the Grand Opening will be the first week of March. What an outstanding facility!!!!
After a quick lunch, we were on our way to Serge’s, known as the “King of Middle Distance”. The birds we handled (flyers & breeders) were fantastic. Serge was 10 X 1st & 14 X 2nd in 2012 and 20 X 1st in 2011. Also in 2011 he was 2nd Champion Yearlings Antwerp Union, 3rd & 4th Ace Pigeon Yearlings MD Antwerp, 2nd & 4th Olympiade Middle Distance Poznan KBDB and 6th National Champion Middle Distance KBDB. The winner of the 2012 Provincial Cahors Antwerp flown by Roger and Eddy Grootjans was bred by Serge.
This was our last stop before we left for home. Everyone that we visited invited us into their homes. I really enjoyed all of us sitting around the kitchen table having coffee, cookies, chocolates & sodas and listening to the great conversations and pigeon stories being told. It’s hard to explain, but it gave you a warm feeling inside.
The next morning we were on our way home. I would like to thank Bruce & Rick again for inviting me. Also a big thank you to Rick for setting up the appointments and introducing us to all these pigeon champions. I know for a fact, that a lot of doors were opened for us only because of Rick. This is a trip that I will never forget (a trip of a life time). I was with a great group of travel companions. We went everywhere together and had all our meals together. We all had a wonderful time and got along just as well the last day of our trip as we did the first day. Rick was a great chauffeur. I was amazed the way he knew his way around the back roads and side streets.
The other big surprise was that I found out we had two big ice cream lovers amongst us. We stopped three different times for ice cream at Australia’s Ice Cream Parlor and would you believe that Gary and Bruce had three scoops of ice cream and went back two more times for the same amount. For those of you that aren’t counting, that’s nine scoops per visit. I still shudder every time I think about it. Gary told us, he was an ice cream connoisseur and let us know that if we had more than one flavor, what order we should eat them in for the best taste. What a great group of guys.
In the coming months, I plan on doing some follow up articles on most of the flyers that we visited. Oh, secrets you ask???? Well, what I did find out was there are no magic pills, secret potions or feeding methods. Dedication…you could hear it and feel it when these guys talked about their birds and flying methods. Also, not only good pigeons, but very, very good pigeons. So there it is in a nutshell. Dedication and very, very good pigeons.