By Ski Grabanski


First I would like to thank Steve Mardis, now the owner of the Continental Breeding Station (CBS) as of January 1st and his father Rick for letting me tag along on this trip. It is greatly appreciated. Also on this trip, as last year was Bruce Gordon, Auburn Wa. Mike Ludolph (Big Mike) from Pipestone MN. and Gary Willeford from Hughes Springs, TX. This year we all met up in Philadelphia and flew out together to Brussels.


One of our stops was at Ivan Baetens of Sint-Niklaas Belgium. Ivan is the owner of "Bricon". We visited Ivan last year and he showed us his new breeding & YB lofts. This year we were greeted to the new OB flying lofts that he had built. They were beautiful and state of the art. The flying lofts (OB & YB) combined are about 120 feet in length and are thermostatically controlled for heat and humidity.


On this trip we also paid a visit again to Andre Roodhooft, Serge Van Elsacker, Albert & Francine Derwa and Dirk Van Dyck. These four champion flyers remind me of a fine wine. They just keep getting better with age. Andre said that he thought the 2013 season was his best ever. Andre was again Emperor of Antwerp (7 times) and King Union of  Antwerp (14 times). You can find an article on Andre in the April 1st, 2013 issue of the "Racing Pigeon Digest".


Serge Van Elsacker: Some of the titles that Serge won in 2013 were, 1st Champion Middle Distance Old Birds KFC (178 members), 1st Champion Middle Distance Old Birds Schilde Club (104 members), 1st Champion Yearlings Great  Middle Distance Antwerp Union, 1st Champion Great Middle Distance Schilde Club (104 members), 1st Ace Pigeon All Around Schilde Club, 12 prizes top 10%, 1st Ace Pigeon All Around Yearlings Schilde Club 13 prizes top 10%. This is just a sampling of Serge's results. To see more of his fantastic race results, please log onto his website at http://www.vanelsacker-jepsen.com. You can also find an article on Serge in the Oct.15th, 2013 issue in the "Racing Pigeon Digest".


Albert & Francine Derwa:  Albert had 30X1st in 2013. He had a "National" win from Issoudun vs 16,615 pigeons and also raised a "National" winner that someone else flew in 2013. Albert showed us a beautiful yearling hen "PRICILLA" who won 9 races in 2013 and "INVICTUS" his National winner who was 5X1st in 2013. You can find an article on Albert and Francine in the Aug. 2013 issue in the "Racing Pigeon Digest".


Dirk Van Dyck: Dirk was 36X1st in 2013. 1st Provincial Champion KBDB Middle Distance Old Small, 3rd Provincial Champion KBDB Middle Distance YB'S, 4th National Champion KBDB Small Middle Distance Yearlings, 4th Provincial KDBD Ace Pigeon Middle Distance Old and Yearlings, 6th National KBDB Ace Pigeon Middle Distance Yearlings & 8th National KBDB Ace Pigeon Speed YB'S.




Day 1: We spent a little time at Andre's and then joined Andre for lunch before leaving to visit with Ivan at the Bricon headquarters where Ivan has his lofts. After Ivan showed us his beautiful lofts and pigeons, we were on our way to see Serge. Serge lined up some fantastic lofts for us to visit in the following days that we were all looking forward to.


Day 2:  After breakfast, we picked up Serge and then we were on our way to visit  Astere Vergotte in  Aalter, Belgium. Astere only flies the hens in old birds and both sexes in young birds. This year I believe he had 15X1st and was 27 times in the top 1%. He was first at the Chateauroux National Zone  A1 vs 698, He placed 23rd National vs 11,894, 5th Inter-Provincial vs 6,420 and 10th Inter-Provincial vs 2,982. Astere showed us several of his breeders and flying hens. All were outstanding.


Our second stop of the day was at Freddy & Jacques Vandenheede brothers in Zingem, Belgium. This is a very very competitive duo to compete against every week of the season. Freddy said that the 2013 season was one of their best ever. They fly both the cocks and hens. I'll list just a few of their outstanding results here: 1st National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance Yearlings, 1st National Champion KBDB Old Birds, 1st National Ace Pigeon Long Distance KBDB Old Birds, 1st National Libourne vs 6,658, 1st National Libourne vs 6,134, 2nd National Champion KBDB Middle Distance Old Birds, 3rd National Ace Pigeon Long Distance KBDB Yearlings,  5th National Ace Pigeon Long Distance KBDB Yearlings & 7th National Ace Pigeon Long Distance KBDB Old Birds. We handled many National & Provincial Ace Pigeons and winners here. They are breeding out of 6 National and 1Inter-National race winners and three 1st National Ace pigeons. All these birds are birds that they bred themselves.


Day 3: This morning we left for the Fugare Expo in Kortrijk Belgium. This was the fourth year of the Expo. This is a two day event and there were approximately 8,000 people in attendance. This event has gotten bigger and better every year. 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, minerals, loft supplies,  clocking systems and several top fanciers selling pigeons.  This was an all day affair, but on the way back to the motel, we did find the time to stop and visit with a friend of Rick's. His name is Machiel Buijk and I would dare say he has one of the finest collections of Jan Aarden's in the world.


Day 4: This morning Rick asked if we visited the Lier Market last year on our trip? I told him no. He said that the rest of our group had been there in the past, but it's really worth seeing again. So it was really a nice surprise when Rick decided on a side trip to the market. It is held in the Town Square of Lier every Sunday year around with February and March being the busiest with youngsters available that will be old enough to race in the young bird season. Busses full of German, Dutch and English buyers visit the market. It was really exciting watching all the different fanciers selling their young birds and some old birds and watching the negotiating back and forth on the final price of that special young or old bird. Lier is really a beautiful and picturesque village. Rick, thank you for taking the time out of our busy schedule to show me this very special event.

After the visit to Lier, 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, I enjoyed watching the members and their wives coming in and chatting. As the morning went on, little groups started breaking off and they started playing card games. I was watching one card game in particular. I believe they were playing for candy bars. As I watched, one players stack of chocolates seemed to be growing and growing. He sure had a big smile on his face.


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. 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 Dirk Van Dyck where we handled many race winners and champion pigeons. Again, what a treat to handle these birds and talk to one of the great pigeon flyers of Belgium.


Day 5: This morning we spent a little time with Albert and Francine Derwa. What a terrific couple to be around and talk pigeons with. I told Albert when we were there last year, for some reason I did not take any pictures inside his lofts and was wondering if it would be ok to take a couple now? Albert not only said yes, but let me go in his lofts by myself and let me take as many pictures as I wanted to. I had free reign of his lofts as he showed the others in our party more birds. I was really surprised at this, because some of the lofts we visited would not let us in their flying lofts, which is very understandable.


Earlier in the week as we talked with the hostess of the hotel where we were staying, she found out we were in Belgium visiting pigeon flyers, she told us her father-in-law had pigeons and raced them. A day or two later she said she had spoken to her father-in-law about us and that if we had the time, we had an invite to visit him and his lofts. So after our visit with Albert and Francine we were on our way to pay him a visit. His name is Jos Smolderen and he is 75 years old. What a nice surprise, he had some very good race results and some very nice pigeons. He has a family of Heremans/Ceusters pigeons and a very nice family of red checks. He could not recall the family of the reds at the moment, but said that he had the pedigrees of the birds in the house. He had a very nice family of pigeons and a great setup for his racing and breeding team. It was a very nice surprise for all of us and we really enjoyed our visit with Jos and his family.






Day 6: After breakfast we were on our way to pick up Serge and then we were off to pay Ivan of "Bricon" a short visit and then we had a stop planned to visit Rik Cools and after our visit with Rik we would stop and see Rudi De Saer both of Ruiselede, Belgium. Most of the people but not all we visited spoke some English, but not a lot, so Serge was our interpreter. After our stop at "Bricon" we were on our way to Rik Cools. Ric had another very good year winning  back to back 2X1st Provincial with the same hen "Christa". Who was also seven times in the top ten club. Finishing 3X1st and 2X2nd. Ric flies only the hens during the old bird season and both sexes as young birds. His family of birds are primary Gaby Vandenabeele pigeons.


Our next stop was only a couple of miles down the road at Rudi De Saer's home. Rudi had another fantastic season with 21X1st including 4X1st Provincial and 2X1st National. Rudi flies primarily cocks and a few hens. He has a great family of pigeons that are 95% Vandenabeele combined with pigeons from Gino Clique from Wevelgem,  Vancauwenberghe-Ally and Gyselbrecht-Madeirra of Rulselede. Can you imagine flying against Rudi and Rik every week? The thought of it makes me shudder.


Thanks to Serge and his fantastic interpreter skills, In the upcoming months, I will be doing articles on the following flyers, Rudi De Saer, Rik Cools, Dirk Van Dyck, Astere Vergotte and Freddy & Jacques Vandenheede.


I asked Serge where he learned such excellent English? His answer was quite funny. When he was a little boy, he would watch American cartoons with Belgium subtitles and that is how he taught himself our language. He said his favorite cartoon was Mickey Mouse. I believe he took that same determination and applied it to his racing and breeding methods.


Again I would like to thank Rick and Steve Mardis for letting me join them on this trip with such a short notice on my part. Oh, some of you may be asking , no ice cream trips this time around? The answer to that question would be a big Yes. I believe we were there twice this time. We all had a great trip and saw some of the best in Belgium.