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The Meulemans story part 2

‘Meulemans saw the light’

Pigeonfanciers, especially from the USA and Taiwan like to talk about ‘strains’ and ‘families’ when pigeons are the subject. I am also often asked what ‘family of birds’ I own when people are interested in my pigeons or see my results. And I always think this is kind of funny. I am not interested in a family or strain! I want to be a winner in the races! In Europe are very few fanciers who have their own ‘strain’. That means very few champions!!! I always mention the late Gust Hofkens and his auction a nice example of what I mean.

I have known Hofkens quite well, I have known his birds and I have the auctionlist. Though people from all over the world claim to have ‘pure Hofkensbirds’ Mr Hofkens himself got his birds from everywhere and most of his winnners were products of crossings. That means children of pigeons he imported! So we got the following funny situation:

Many of the birds which were auctioned after his death were pigeons which Mr Hofkens had purchased himself. People who bought these birds in the auction would call them ‘Hofkenspigeons’ or ‘Hofkensstrain’ later. The crazy world of pigeonsport!

It sells!

Money does not stink, some people in Holland and Belgium are aware of the fact that foreign buyers want related birds: pigeons of a family. When foreigners want pigeons from Mr ‘X’ they want them of the same type and preferably also the same colour as Mr ‘X’ flies. Having a loft full of look-alikes is impressive and it sells. But how many fanciers in Europe do have their own ‘family’ of related birds? How many do have a loft full of look-alikes? I know some but they are not champions but ‘sellers’. And crazy enough they DO sell. Inspite of the fact that they are losers in the races others want their birds and some of those sellers make good money. Just because they have what naive buyers want: Birds of a family. For this you should know that in Europe there is not much money in the races. If in Belgium or Holland pigeon-people want to make money then they have two possibilities:

Race good sothat foreign buyers will come or…
Have a strain sothat… foreign buyers will come!

One of the few people who had his own family was Karel Meulemans from Arendonk. I said ‘had’ because this was in the past. And in the past he also was a poor racer. But, according to Meulemans, the fact that he was a poor racer was his fault in the first place and of the people who wanted his birds in the second place.

Let’s listen to what Karel Meulemans, a monument not only abroad but also in Holland and Belgium, says about this.

Karel Meulemans speaks:

‘It is the foreign buyers who are to blame for the fact that I have been a poor racer for many years. They all wanted descendants of my famous ‘Basic Couple’. The more they saw the same bird in the same pedigree the hotter they became to buy. If, for example, they saw in the pedigree of a bird 3 times my famous pigeon called ‘Kadet’ among the grandparents or greatparents than that was the pigeon they wanted to buy. They did not even want to see the bird, the pedigree was good enough for them. And I was an artist in the circus. Or better the clown! Because what did I do? I kept my family pure. Do you understand what I mean when I say that the foreign buyers are to blame for my poor results in the past?

The turning point in my career was in the eighties. I thought by myself: I make lots of money by selling. But does this money make me a happy man? No it does not! So the hell with all that money. The hell with all those buyers, the hell with my family! It does not satisfy me. I put the money on my bank-account and will never see it for the rest of my life. I do not want to be laughed at after the races as a loser any longer. God dam it, I want to be a good racer or if possible a winner! A man that other people respect not because he has a famous family of birds in his loft but a team of winning birds.

The turning point

Later, in August 1995, something strange happened. Karel Meulemans, (‘the breeder and not the racer’ as people said) won a 1st National. People frowned! Meulemans who won a National Race? He was the last person they expected to do so. For me who know Meulemans well this was not so much a surpise. He had been doing well in more races before, mainly at long distance.

How come? Why did he have to wait decades to be such a succesful racer as he was in the days that he formed partners with Wouters and Marien? In the late eighties he began to forget about keeping his family pure, he did not care about selling pigeons so he forgot about money and began to import birds in order to cross these with his own. And within a few years he found himself not only a better racer, but a winner, even on National level. People who saw the photos of his winning birds or handled them raised their eye-brows. ‘These were not birds of the old Meulemans-family?’ They were right! Indeed they were not. They were products of crossings! In 1999 Meulemans even became National Champion long distance in his section.

Just a smile

Now that Karel is going so well he is a happy man which stands to reason. We talked about his rocketing career after so many years of keeping pigeons. ‘I saw the light. Just in time’ Karel smiled the way only he can smile. I saw that descendants of my pigeons were winners at many other places, but they were all crosses: So products of my pigeons crossed with other blood. So what did I do? I began to import birds and did the same as others did with my birds. I crossed them.’ In the past you saw in the Meulemansloft lots of birds of the same type: Pretty big and wonderful eyes: They were clearly birds of one family. Nowadays you see other birds: winners! - Among them dark coloured birds carrying the blood of Mr Schellekens from Holland.

  • He also has red birds. But not ‘recessive’ reds. When I asked him ‘where are those famous recessive reds which Americans advertise?’ Karel smiled again the way only he can smile. Some years ago he did have some of those ‘recessive’ reds. They could not find their way home even from 50 kilometers. The red ones he owns descend from a bird which he imported from Geroges Bolle.
  • You see blue coloured birds and white flights: They are descendants of a daughter of a bird from Leo Broeckx’ which represented Belgium at the Olympiad in Gran Canaria.
  • Furthermore he was very succesful with a descendant of the famous ‘Couple 17’ from Dutch Mr Pieterse which is described in the Janssenbook I wrote. So what is the message?

The magic formula to breed winners is the following: There is nothing wrong with a lot of related birds in your loft or a so-called family. But such birds should be crossed to get those winners.

Houben, Verbruggen and the late Grondelaers. Great names who deserve their fame are, apart from Meulemans also Houben, Verbruggen, Bolle, Grondelaers, Engels and some handfuls of others.

Especially Jef Houben I know quite well. He is a smart old fox but a good and honest man who has been a succesful racer all his life. His is the same story as the others. Most of his winners are descendants of birds like ‘Artist’ and ‘Sony’ but… crossed with imports. Jef never kept this a secret. Big shots like the late Grondelaers and Verbruggen share his opinion!

In conclusion

So, dear reader, I have a piece of advice for you: ‘Do you want to make money by selling? Have a family of birds of the same type and the same colour. But… Do you want to have winners? Cross your birds. Breed many babies, train many babies, get rid of many babies and forget about the rest! It is the shortest and easiest road to succes. But be careful. Most fanciers in Europe also realise you should import birds now and then. But they often make the same mistake.

When buying birds from Mr ‘X’ they want just as many cocks as hens in order to be able to mate them among each other. This is wrong! It is too long a way to find out what they are worth. When you import birds cross them with your own proven winners or breeders. This is a much faster way to find out what the imports are worth. Or should all those champions be wrong???

The Dutch National Pigeon Magazine NPO had a so called milennium-inquiry in December 1999. The 36.000 subsrcribers of this magazine were invited to tell who they considered the best long-distance racers in history, the best author in history, the best pigeon in history , the best pigeonbook in history and more of such questions. They considered the best breeding couple in the 20th century the ‘Basic Couple’ of Meulemans. Would they all be wrong too?

Read More

The Meulemans Story (part 1 of 2 )

  • 'Why is the name of Meulemans so popular?' - 'Why are his birds so expensive?'

  • 'I thought he was a seller and not a racer, what's the truth?'

  • 'What is the origine of his birds?'

Questions such as these I have often been asked by pigeonfanciers from all over the world. Fortunately I have an answer to these questions as Meulemans lives in Arendonk, a little town equally famous as the other 'Worldname' who raced there: Janssen Bros. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say even the smallest pigeonfancier in the most isolated area of the world is acquainted with the word 'Arendonk'. And Arendonk is only a few minutes' drive for me. It stands to reason that I know Meulemans, his birds and his results pretty well. In short I can tell you that Meulemans owes his fame to 2 pigeons: 'The Basic Couple'. This pair is generally considered as the greatest pair of middle distance producers of all time! Writing about Meulemans is writing about his 'Stamkoppel' as it is called in the Dutch language. For that we have to go back in history.

Charel Meulemans

The cock of 'The Basic Couple'

It was in 1961 that Karel Meulemans and his father Jan went to purchase pigeons from Jos van den Bosch who lived in the little town of Berlaar. What many people do not know is that Van den Bosch was the fancier that the legendary Huyskens van Riel and his friend Rene Stijnen bought a round of eggs from. The babies that hatched out became the foundation of the famous Huyskens van Riel strain. Huyskens van Riel was the terror of Belgian pigeonsport shortly after World War 11. In the beginning they destroyed the short distance races. When no one dared to race against them any more they went to race Middle Distance. But also at Middle Distance Huyskens and his partner van Riel, who lived only some kilometers from the town of Antwerpen were unbeatable. As again nobody dared to pool any money against their miracle birds they had no other choice than to enter them for the National long distance races.

Meulemans' basic pair it says, but that is wrong. They are typical Meuelemans birds though.

And again the same story:

Their results were breath-taking up to Barcelona (1,100 kilometers). As mentioned before Huyskens van Riel did this with the off-spring of the pigeons they got from Jos van den Bosch. Later we will see that in the birds of Janssen Bros, of all people(!) is the bloodline of Jos van den Bosch too! Two of the original 'Jos van den Boschpigeons' purchased by Meulemans were a son of the so called 'Vurige van 58' and a chocolate hen with white flecks. This hen was a full sister of Jos van den Bosch's 'Princess of 56'. 'Vurige' and 'Princess' were two of van den Bosch's best birds.

The Golden Pair, sometimes described as the best breeding pair in history

And now we come to an important point:

The (recessive red) chocolat hen (sister of 'Princess') which Meulemans bought from Van den Bosch became the dam of B-67-6729926, a dark pied cock later known in the whole pigeonworld as 'De Oude van den Bosch', the male of Meulemans' famous 'Basic Couple'. The feathering of the mother of 'De Oude van den Bosch' was kind of rusty brown and this colour keeps coming back in many Meulemanspigeons up till to-day. But it takes two to tango. A couple consists of a cock and a hen.

Let's talk about the hen of 'The Basic Couple'.

The hen of 'The Basic Couple'

The origine of the hen which is considered as 'the best breeding couple ever' is kind of mysterieus. One should know that in the sixties Karel Meulemans formed a partnership with Adriaan Wouters. As a racer Wouters had always been a Superman and the great competitor of Janssenbrothers. When Wouters and Meulemans became partners Wouters brought along a blue hen (B-66-6122023) to pair with the 'Oude van den Bosch'. This hen is called 'the Janssenhen' though Adriaan Wouters and Janssenbrothers were no good friends. So it stands to reason that Wouters never got direct pigeons from Janssen Bros. In fact the origine of this 'Janssenhen' is unknown. The only one who knows the answer is Mr Wouters himself but Mr Wouters is dead. He always talked about his 'Janssenhen' and no more than that. People often say 'beauty means nothing' and maybe that's true. But I myself handled her and can assure you: It was one of the most beautiful pigeons I have ever seen. There are some rumours about the origine of this 'Janssenhen' though. Wouters is said to have got her from a fancier in the town of Mol. He in turn got pigeons from a man in the Dutch town of Reusel who had Klakbirds And Klak had never other pigeons in his loft than… those from Janssensbrothers.


Janssenbrothers always have claimed that the only pigeon they succesfully imported in their loft was the so-called 'Halve Fabry' ('Half Fabry') B-60-1000863.

'Halve Fabry' is the grandgrandfather of worldfamous 'Oude Merckx' (B-67-6282031) and 'Oude Merckx' is father of '019' and of 'Jonge Merckx'. Janssenbrothers got 'Halve Fabry' from Mr Fabry who bred it off a Janssenbird (so it could also have been called 'Halve Janssen' and a hen of his own (B-59-1005026) which Fabry got from… Jos van den Bosch. It was a daughter of his 'Young Princess' (B-57-6327825) and 'Young Princess' was a daughter of Jos van den Bosch's 'Princess of 56'. 'Princess of 56' was a sister of the mother of 'Oude van den Bosch' of Karel Meulemans! Can you imagine that? The world famous Janssenpigeons are related to the world famous Meulemanspigeons. The connecting link is 'Princess' a pigeon of Jos van den Bosch who also supplied Huyskens van Riel with their 'Dream Team' shortly after WW 2.


-Janssen and Meulemans both live in the town of Arendonk.

-Janssen and Meulemans both had a miracle bird called 'Merckx'.

  • Both these miracle birds descend of 'Princess' of Jos van den Bosch.

The bloodline of 'Princess' is not only in Janssen's Merckx, 019 etcetera.

'The Halve Fabry' which I mentioned before is father to that wonderbird 'Oude Witoger' (B-65-6371172) which won 15 first prizes and 'Oude Witoger' is father of 'Oude Raket' etcetera.

More background information

Like mentioned before Meulemans and Wouters became partners in the sixties. Meulemans was the breeder, Wouters the racer. Wouters died in 1975 and believe it or not, the same day the pigeon called 'Merckx' the best racer the partnership ever had, lay dead in the loft. This 'Merckx', of course a son of the 'Basic Couple', was born in 1969 and won no less than 21 firsts. In those days the son in law of Wouters, Frans Marien, had also joined the pigeonsport. When Wouters died there was a problem.

The racing pigeons belonged to him and his son in law) whereas the breeders were in the Meulemansloft. What was bound to happen happened: A new partnership was formed: Meulemans Marien. So things went on as in the past, only the name of the partnership was changed. Meanwhile the fame of the children of 'The Basic Couple' spread like wild fire. With descendants of this pair fanciers like Hermes and Ritz in Germany and Geerts and Verbruggen in Belgium got tremendous successes. Then something unexpectedly happened: Frans Marien, still young, committed suicide and Meulemans stood alone again.

After many disputes about the birds (whose were they?) a hard decision was taken: They would be auctioned. This was in 1980 and at the total auction Meulemans re-purchased his favourites 'Kadet', 'Prins', 'Schoon Donker' and 'Bonte'. He had to pay a tremendous amount of money for his own birds but he has never regretted it. Especially 'Kadet' would turn out to be a tremendous producer. When 'Kadet' was stolen (in January 1986) it left poor Karel Meulemans very demoralised but he continued succesfully with the offspring of 'Kadet'.

It was in the same auction in 1980 that Gommaire Verbruggen purchased 'Witneus' for a staggering amount of money after a battle for its possession with German millionaire Hermes. The offspring of 'Witneus' would make Verbruggen famous. Hermes already owned his brother ('Piet') which had produced wonderful racers as well. Of course 'Witneus' and 'Piet' were direct children of the basic couple. In the same auction Mr van Beerendonk bought a pigeon called '78.000'. A few years later he was to win National Bourges in Belgium against appr. 70.000 birds with a descendant!

I could go on mentioning the names of numourous fanciers who were succesful with descendants of the 'Basic Couple' but it would take pages!

Reference list

We conclude this article with a reference list of children of 'The Basic Couple'. The interesting thing is that they are all kinds of colours. The reason for this is the special coulour of the mother of the 'Oude van den Bosch' as mentioned before.

'Merckx' B-69-6653841, pencil cock. Winner of 21 1st prizes and National Ace Pigeon of Belgium in 1974.
'Kadet' B-72-611169, pencil cock. Won as a yearling six 1st prizes and was stolen in 1986. In 1980 William Geerts got a blue hen off of 'Kadet'. Two descendants became Olympiadbirds!
'Witneus 73' B-73-6261175, pencil cock. Purchased by Verbruggen and a sensational breeder in the Verbruggenloft.
'Junior' B-70-6070880, blue pied cock.
'Piet' B-76-6371884, pencil pied cock. Purchased by German Raymund Hermes.
'Benjamin' B-79-6752570, checker cock.
'Blauwe Witpen' B-73-6261170, blue whiteflight cock.
'Prins' B-76-6220346, pencil cock.
'The 78.000' B-77-6793014, pencil whiteflight cock, purchased by W v Beerendonk. 'The 78.000' became grandfather of 1st National Bourges, entry about 70.000 birds.
'Donkere' B-80-6754674, dark cock.
'Schoon Donker' B-73-6261056, dark hen.
'Liebling' B-78-6250000, checker hen.

And more but these are not that important.

In conclusion

The name of Meulemans will be remembered as long as pigeonsport will exist. Just like the names of Janssen Bros and Huyskens van Riel. Nowadays Meulemans (who was a simple farmer) is retired and races in partnership with his son in law under the name of 'Meulemans Damen'. ' Meulemans was the breeder and his former partners (Wouters and Marien) were the racers' it was always said. There is some truth in it. Meulemans was not a very succesful racer in the past. It was the off-spring of his birds in other lofts that spread his fame. But as a pigeonman he is far from stupid. He realised that crossing different bloodlines is the road to success. So he imported other birds, crossed these with his own with the result that he became 1st National Champion of Belgium Long Distance 1999 in his section. Even his former partners, who were 'racers' did not achieve this.


Please do not think that this article is propaganda for Meulemansbirds. It is an homage to his 'Basic Couple' the best breeding couple in history. And the 'Basic Couple' itself is also history. Meulemans is a great name and he has good pigeons. But his recent winners are products of 'other blood' he imported. Like I mentioned before fanciers from the USA and 'The East' (Taiwan and Japan) like a family, birds which are related. The best breeding couple in history itself however ('Oude van den Bosch and 'Janssenhen') was a crossing. And most of the sensational winners and Acepigeons which descend from this couple are crossings too! In a previous article I said 'a great name' does not necessarily mean qualitybirds. Meulemans is an exception to the rule. He is a great name, he had qualitybirds in the past thanks to his 'Golden Couple'. The fact that he has become a good racer now is because he was so smart as to cross the descendants of his 'Wonder pair' with other blood.

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The Huyskens van Riel story (part 5, the end)


There was absolutely no attention paid to the young bird races by Huyskens van Riel. And when they did fly their youngsters they attached no importance to the results. As to racing the hens, the same can be said, they could care less. In their top year 1949, they flew the early races, to the nest on one youngster, it wasn’t until the end of May before they put the cocks on widowhood, from Orleans (about 420 km). They didn’t see the point of flying them as widowers any earlier.

Of course, it goes without saying that rumours were circulating speculating, that they were giving their pigeons something, doping naturally. No doubt, because Huyskens brother was a pharmacist. At the end of the 40’s, there was talk about a pill available, the was reputed to do wonders. Now by chance, there was a pigeon in the loft, the ‘15’ who was the nest brother to the renowned ’16’ and really was not worth a pipe full of tobacco. On a particular weekend, the entire widowhood team was basketed for a middle distance race, except for the ‘15’. He had to fly as we say ‘for his life’ from Quievrain, fly early or your gone. They wanted to try the wonder pill on the ‘15’, there was nothing to lose, trying out the pill on him, they reasoned. For the first time in his racing career the ‘15’ didn’t just win a prize, he won. After the results were made the pill discussed by the partners. But, what had happened? Jef thought that his partner had given the ‘15’ the pill and Frans thought, Jef had given the pill. But the box containing the wonder pills was untouched on the chimney. They often chatted at ‘den Donk’ about the incident. Suppose the ‘15’ had been given a pill. From this one should be able to draw some conclusions. (It’s not the pill that wins the race, it’s the pigeons)


A frequently asked question is: did the Huyskens van Riel remain so dominating due to the absence of quality competition? I have in front of me a result from Quievrain flown on June 30, 1935. 519 pigeons flew the race, and there was a strong northwest wind. Jef van Riel won: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 etc. They clocked: 9.37.48 hrs, 9.38.01 hrs, 9.38.11 hrs, 9.38.16 hrs 9.38.21 hrs. That was 5 pigeons in 33 seconds. That was in 1935! Van den Broucke de Weerd (that’s Piet de Weerd) at the time purchased the famous ‘Steek,’ a son of the ‘Boerinneke,’ and he produced numerous excellent pigeons for them.

As mentioned earlier, de Scheemaecker also purchased quite a few pigeons from Huyskens van Riel. The pigeon raising a furor for de Scheemaecker, at that time, were ‘de Reiger’ and ‘het Bang’ and both were grandchildren of ‘het Boerinneke.’ Amandus van Broekhoven in the 60’s at the time had his famous ‘Baard.’ He was bred out of pigeons from Rik Kerremans and Jef de Wetter, both of whom had nothing other than Huysken van Riel pigeons in their lofts. Joske Smits from Zandhove in 1963 purchased a round of eggs from Amandus van Broekhoven. A short time later he was one of the best fanciers in Belgium. Smits was good friends with Stan Raeymakers and Jef Houben, amongst whom pigeons were traded. As a result, all three became better.


In 1956 Huyskent let Jef van Riel know that he had reached the saturation point with the pigeon sport and he’d had enough and wanted to leave the partnership. Not that there was any tension between the two of them, Huyskens just had had enough. Van Riel didn’t feel too bad, as he had been thinking for some time of flying on his own. He took over the pigeons and the loft, and even Huyskens house and…decideded to stop shortly after that. All the pigeons were sold.

The news hit the pigeon world, like the proverbial bomb. The worlds most famous colony was auctioned off in two sales, one in January and the second one in February of 1957, in Brussels and Antwerp. There were a total of 142 old birds sold for 453,238 francs. The youngsters brought up another 335,592 francs, altogether 788,830 francs. Those were Belgian francs. We can only wonder, how much would that be at today's prices? But, the final curtain had not yet been dropped. Jef had been out of the sport for a year or so when he, received a telephone call from Stevens van Moer from Mechelen. Van Moer had purchased some of the most expensive pigeons at the total sale, and wanted to know ‘if van Riel had any desire to buy back his own pigeons.’ Jef’s heart beat faster, and with his sons, they drove in the direction of Mechelen.

Their own ‘old type’ were judged and approved, and the baskets were loaded. The pigeons were divided between Jef’s son, Francios and Georges and both were competitive for many more years. But the Huyskens van Riel chapter had closed but for one exception. To this day they still talk about the combination of ‘Hubrechts van Riel.’ Hubrechts was Jef van Riel’s son-in-law and the manager of the previously mentioned ‘Koffiehuis’ in Antwerp. On a race from Poitiers in 1964, the new combination produced a tremendous race result: eleven pigeons entered and ten prizes starting with the first position. The victor was one out of the old lines gotten from son Georges, a pigeon that had been settled to different lofts at least 5 times. And then…the Huyskens van Riel story ended and written into the annals of pigeon sports history.


In the hall of son Georges villa (Zandhoven) now hangs a large painting off fourteen pigeons. Every visitor involuntarily stops and stares at it, and many times Georges has had to explain why it’s there. ‘Those are our fathers fourteen pigeons that rolled up the National race from Libourne in 1949,’Georges tells them. From the pensive look in his eyes, you can see that a nerve has been touched. Those beautiful cheques and white flights painted on canvas are a thing of the past, but the memory remains. Memories of, perhaps the best and most famous champions, the pigeon sport has ever known.

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The Huyskens van Riel Story (part 4)



If earlier no one was able to compete with Huyskens van Riel, even somewhat, 1949 was a year apart. The large coarsely built, loud talking Jan Marrisen and his rheumatic brother flew their pigeons from Oelegem. Oelegem is not really the right word.

The brothers lived in the jungle, far from civilization, only 100 metres from the purple moor. Their lofts were build of tin and corrugated metal, formed the roof. In 1949 the first Union distance race was from Cormeilles on May 1st, 1,027 pigeons were flown by plane to the release point, and that evening after the contest “the Union was buzzing.” The Marissen brothers won 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, it seemed Jef van Riel went a little white around the nose. The following week again another race from Cormeille. The Marissens now won 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 13 against 1,320 pigeons. That’s how it carried on for the rest of the year.

The pigeon world prepared itself for a showdown between the Marissens and Huyskens van Riel, but it was not to be. The beautiful song the Marissens were singing lasted only that one year. What struck down the pigeons of these world stars will forever remain a mystery, but in 1950 they could barely win a prize. Some speculated that they had felled by a mysterious disease. Some pigeons had been lost, and to fill the holes in the race team, that winter they purchased pigeons at the songbird market in Antwerp. These may have brought the mysterious microbe with them and sealed the Marissens fate. It the Marissen chapter had been closed, Havenith and Hermans were also sidelined. The only one who could offer any resistance to the Huyskens van Riel tide were Gusje Ducheyn, Leon v d Sande, De Scheemaecker, Horemans and Vermeyen.


When someone flies hard, you always hear the same reasons why he does so: ‘he lives in a good spot’ or ‘ he’s giving them something.’ If it’s a middle distance fancier, then you hear, these pigeons can’t handle the longer distances. If it’s a distance fancier the story changes to: ‘his pigeons are to slow or too dumb for the shorter distances and won’t be able to bring home their rubber race band.”

That, of course, is also what Huyskent van Riel experienced. Their mastery was so overwhelming that no one could overcome the class of their pigeons on either the short or middle distance races. ‘But you only have outstanding pigeons, if you dared fly the distance races with them.’ Claimed their so-called competition. Now if your name was Jef van Riel you couldn't turn down a challenge, so he decided to move the boundaries. He decided to fly the long distance races with the same pigeons that had terrorized the competition on the short and middle distances and by long distance he meant LONG DISTANCE. The first race he turned his attention to was one from Angouleme. The pigeons had to be entered at the before mentioned ‘Koffiehuis’ where at that the time, the famous Albert de Kepper accosted van Riel with the question ‘Well Jef, are they in form.’ ‘To me, they don’t seem to be quite a 100% yet’ he retorted. ‘They have only been on widowhood for two weeks. To my taste, really they aren’t really ready.’

As usual, Angouleme became a tidal wave, winning the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 6th prize in the Union along with all the money. De Kepper remarked with a sneer: ‘ and those pigeons weren't in form yet?’ Van Riel said nothing. He had plundered the prize pot entirely and understood how his competitors felt. Fourteen days later, the distance fanciers met again at the same shipping station. This time for a race from Libourne.


De Kepper asked him somewhat snidely: ‘ and are they in form now?’ ‘Yes, this week I like them better’ answered van Riel. ‘But you can’t fly any better than you did from Angouleme? ‘ lamented de Kepper. Van Riel didn’t answer. He worried that something might happen during the basketing, broken flights perhaps. The pigeons were so intense that he could barely hold them. Once they were in the basket, he breathed a sigh of relief and treated everyone to a pint. Never, had he entered pigeons in such form, it seemed they wanted to kill each other and flew at van Riel when he opened the loft, claims his son Georges.

On race day a strong headwind blew, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Fourteen pigeons were entered by van Riel, and that evening the entire pigeon nation were licking their wounds. Provincial against more than one thousand pigeons he placed 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9. National more than 3,300 were flown. His seventh pigeon classified 25th. They were almost all, and it’s becoming monotonous, from 1946. ‘De Belgische Duivensport’ the leading pigeon journal of the time, published a caricature of van Riel as a barber, below which it said: Huyskens van Riel has shaved the competitions beards.

The following years were terrible for those sportsmen who enjoyed making money. It got to the point where nobody ventured to pool a single penny when Huyskens van Riel appeared at the entry table. Therefore some felt it necessary to divert to Hamme Zogge, near Gent, where there was a lot of money to be won. But, that song soon ended, after only two races to be exact. They were thanked and were no longer allowed to return. Liège at the time organized its traditional competition from St. Vincent. In many cafè’s throughout Belgium, placards were hung encouraging fanciers to take part, and they guaranteed that massive pooling would take place. That sounded interesting to Huyskens van Riel. They didn’t regard the long distance of 1,000 km as a problem. They left for Liège with two pigeons, ‘het Zotteke’ and the ‘16’ and pooled them as high as possible. They won the first and fourth National! In 1950 they decided to push it to the limit, there was still one challenge left, Barcelona! Seven pigeons were prepared including ‘het Zotteke’ and the ‘16.’ Barcelona became so demanding and so hard, with temperatures as high as thirty degrees Celcius, that at the end of the first two race days, not a single pigeon had come through in Antwerp (provincial). On the third race day at 10 am Huyskens van Riel had their first four marked birds, in the clock.


Van Riel and his companion were modest fanciers. Although they probably knew better, they thanked all their successes primarily to the lofts. They were built of brick, they were deep and roomy, and had a peaked roof, with lots of light. And what was so strange, when we are talking about the loft? The only one who had been able to offer them any competition, if only for a short time, was Marissen, who did so flying from tight, closed lofts with a corrugated metal roof. When feeding, the grains were fed separately, the grain the pigeons liked the least were fed first. The feed was a mix on the heavy side. Van Riel believed that you had to feed the birds a lot and heavy, and…had to exercise a lot. At least two full hours daily. Strangely enough, no grit was purchased. The partners acquired theirs from building sites. Ground up mortar (cement), they believed would be much better than what was offered commercially. The ‘mortar’ was devoured by the pigeons.

As mentioned earlier they paid little attention to how the pigeons were built physically. Most were on the small side and had a deep keel. Overall, the pigeons didn’t have much of a back, temperament and fighting spirit they had in surplus. In addition to their vitality and perfect natural health without exception, they had soft velvety feathering. The fame of Huyskens van Riel had now reached into far away Amerca, where especially Dr. Whitney a lifelong searcher became fascinated with what was happening in the small town, of Ekeren Donk in Belgium.


Dr. Whitney believed that intense in-breeding was the only way to build a family of superior class pigeons. He was looking for, pigeons to test breed with, and his eyes had fallen on the Huyskens van Riel pigeons ‘the best in the world.’ Generations after generation were bred out of sister and brother pairings.

After breeding many generations (brother to sister) and removing a lot of waste from the breeding program, he had produced a strain of pigeon where one looked like the other, like peas in a pod. If you had seen one you had seen them all, but the question remained, could they win a prize? Perhaps you had to cross these strongly inbred pigeons? We will never know. Whitney passed away too early and is safe from a perhaps failed experiment.

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The Huyskens van Riel Story (part 3)



Another important pigeon brought in by Huyskens van Riel was ‘De Witzwinger van 1936’, acquired from Louis Michielsen. He was mated to ‘het Boerinneke’ and out of this pairing ‘de Steek’ was produced who in turn became the father of ‘de Zot.’ ‘De Zot’ was born in 1946, the same year as the three brothers ‘de Late Bange’, ‘de Grote Lichte’ and ‘de Verroeste’ first saw the light of day. These famous brothers had ‘de Bange’ as their father and ‘de Gestuikte duivin’ from van den Bosch as their mother. Nowhere else will you find a reference, in reports or write-ups on Huyskens van Riel, to ‘de Gestuikte duivin’ or the other van den Bosche pigeons. We can’t blame the reporters. Both van Riel and his partner, as they say, sworn on their deaths that they wouldn’t mention their new introductions, with which they were so successful, to anyone.

‘de Late Bange’, one of the three brothers won:

Angoulême 610 pigeons 3rd

Le Bourget 999 pigeons 3rd

Angouleme 4,325 pigeons 7th

Libourne 2,311 pigeons 7th

libourne 2,431 pigeons 4th

International Pau 1,096 pigeons 10th and numerous other top prizes.

You can see that these were all long distance races. The other performances of these tremendous brothers we’ll leave out, but we do want to mention that van Riel travelled to Gent with ‘de Grote Lichte’ and ‘de Late Bange’ to enter them in an Interprovincial race from Angouleme. They arrived together, and against around two thousand pigeons, they won the 4th and the 5th prize.


But as mentioned earlier, Huyskens van Riel in 1946 bred a basket full of top pigeons. One of them was the ‘16’ a son of the aforementioned ‘Steek,’ who in turn was out of the ‘Boerinneke.’

-The ‘16’ as a yearling won 18 prizes, one for each race flown. Among them a 1st from St. Quentin, not quite 200 km, but also the 8th from Limoges (2,805 pigeons), the 13th from Orleans (1,039 pigeons), the 10th from Angouleme (4,520 pigeons, the 24th from Libourne (2,331 pigeons), the 3rd from St. Vincent (1,637 pigeons) and the 12th from International Barcelona against 3,300 pigeons. He never missed, he flew at the top from 100 to 1,000 km!

-‘De Steek’ himself (a son of ‘Boerinneke’) won no less than for first prized in Union Antwerp. He was purchased by the Dutchman Piet de Weerd.

-‘De Bliksem’ a brother of ‘de Steek’ also won four first prizes in Union Antwerp. -‘De Wittekop’ was the least well know of the 46-ers, but not because he was not as good. As a yearling, he won 20 prizes out of the 21 races entered.

  • About other star racers such as ‘de Jonge Vendome;’ ‘Zotteke and ‘de Baard’, we’ll write further later. What many champions in the pigeon sport have in common is that they are never satisfied, Jef van Riel was one of them. He already had, with the descendants of ‘de Boerinneke’ and her brother ‘de Bange,’ almost unbeatable pigeons under his roof, but his hunger for better was not yet satisfied.

In the area, he flew, there was one pigeon Jef van Riel feared, a pigeon who answered to the name, ‘de Vendome.’ This pigeon had won the 1st prize in Union Antwerp from Vendome in heavy weather, and van Riel couldn’t rest till he owned him. He was settled to his new loft and… won the 1st Provincial in the very tough race from Saint Vincent, 1,000 km. That day only one pigeon made it home, ‘de Vendome’ and…Huyskens van Riel had just entered one pigeon. He won 5th National. He was paired to a van den Bosch hen and that pairing produced: ‘de Jonge Vendome,’ that was of course in 1946!

Later the ‘Jonge Vendome’ would be purchased by Hector de Smet. Who either sold or gave a youngster out of him to Catrijsse it would become the father of ‘de Witte-kele,’ ‘de 90’ and ‘de Draaier’; All three of them won a 1st National for Catrijsse!!

The performances of the Huyskens van Riel pigeons, directly after the war were unprecedented, but beauties these pigeons definitely were not. Jef van Riel only cared about two things, their origin and their performance, the rest was of secondary importance. Small, large, wing, back? Those were all things that did not matter to him. Only pigeons with a bad throat had to be removed relentlessly.

So it could happen that sometimes pigeons were bred that ‘didn’t look like much,’ such as: -‘Het Zottek’ from, you guessed it, 1946. It was an unbelievably small cock and was entered last marked pigeon for Orleans in 1947. It was real pigeon weather that day and the most favoured to win that day was one Louis Bogaerts from Willebroek.

Huyskens van Riel had the best pigeons, no one disagreed, but Bogaerts had a pigeon that could rival them ‘on a tough day.’ The day came, the birds were released from Orleans, and the good one for Bogaerts was home, really early! But, it not soon enough, it seemed. ‘Het Zotteke’ outshone the favourite for the win. Bogaerts was so impressed that in the famed ‘Koffiehuis’ in Antwerp, he suggested to van Riel that he should sell the pigeon to him. “A pigeon so good that it could beat my champion must be a super pigeon,” said Bogaerts and he offered 5,000 Bfrs. ‘Okay, he is yours’ said van Riel, ‘but, I’m afraid that when you see the pigeon, you will feel cheated, if that’s the case, you can choose a pair of youngsters.’ Bogaerts found that van Riel should talk to much. With a pigeon that could win in such weather, you could not be deceived.


The next day, with 5,000 Bfrs in his pocket he stood at van Riels front door. When he saw the unbelievably unsightly small cock, he handed him back and swore that he would never again buy a pigeon sight unseen. He didn’t go home with ‘het Zotteke’ but with a pair of youngsters. Two weeks later there was another race from Orleans. Again the pigeons were served a menu of hard weather and ‘het Zotteke’ was first once again…Bogaerts pulled the hair from his head and now offered 10,000 Bfs and a series of excuses. Despite the possibility of making a 100% gain in only fourteen days, the offer was turned down.

‘Het Zotteke’ was no longer for sale. His next destination was St. Vincent, a 1,000 km race. He was pooled across the board, 9 different doublings included and won everything, including National!! He brought home an amount of money unheard of at that time. Afterwards, that tiny little cock would win a3rd National Libourne, a 16th National Chateauroux and a 7th National St. Vincent, against an average of approximately 3,000 pigeons.


Not surprisingly, in the Huyskens van Riel heyday, the number of pigeons entered fell drastically. Instead of entering pigeons themselves, and being beat, they would rather wait for pigeons at Huyskens van Riel. Weekends with a hundred onlookers were no exception. One day, before the pigeons came home, a taxi pulled in and out stepped a giant of a man, making a lot of noise. It was a flight from Tours (July 6, 1947) and Huyskens van Riel had entered 6 ‘in the battle.’ The well-dressed gentleman had barely settled in when a group of ten pigeons were coming hard. Five dropped down, and their rubber bands were in the clock in a flash. One minute and twenty-seven seconds later the 6th pigeon was clocked. The viewers were much perplexed and Francois, Jef’s son, heard the giant from the taxi exclaim: ‘Amai, Amai, such a thing I have never seen Those six pigeons won, provincial 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 17 against more than 2,000 pigeons.

When Francios asked his father who that large man in the taxi was, ‘who made so much of himself.’ Jef answered: ‘keep still, little man that is Jan Marissen, a competitor.’ Little did he know at the time that in just two short years he would have to bow his to the same Marissen and his brother. The career of the brothers was equally spectacular as it was short. The year that followed they could barely fly a prize. But their super year was so super that it occupies a special chapter in the annals of the Belgian pigeon sport.

(Thanks Mr Nick from Canada)

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The Huyskens van Riel Story (part 2)



Huyskens made his living working hard on the docks in Antwerp. He was gentle and quiet by nature and didn’t have too much to say, in that respect he was like van Riel. Van Riel also had a very calm and quiet personality. Huyskens began racing pigeons in 1929. His friendship with the diamond cutter van Riel did not begin till several years later. Van Riel at that time had no pigeons and sought his relaxation at Huyskens. The two of them got along very well and quickly became good friends.

Now we are at the end of the 1930’s. After van Riel stopped racing, a certain Frans Nuyens was the one picking up his banner and became the man to beat. Van Riel was burning with curiosity and wanted to know what pigeons this Nuyens was racing with on the short distance races. It didn’t take long before he was knocking on the Nuyens front door. He was deeply impressed and took some squeakers home, this was in 1937. Among those youngsters was a short, small dark hen, a tight, compact pigeon with amazing eyes. Fire seemed to spit out of them. She was a real wringer and hard to hold on to. Jef placed her in his brother Louis loft (who in those times didn’t have pigeons?) where she developed into a pigeon having no equal. We are talking about famous “Boerinneke.”


Because the “Boerinneke” seemed to be such a top-class pigeon, van Riel went back to Nuyens. Admittedly, Nuyens was a vitesse flyer, but van Riel no longer believed in vitesse pigeons. “Those Nuyen pigeons should be able to handle anything,” he thought, and that’s why he again left with some youngsters which van Riel took to the lofts of his friend Huyskens. Among these youngsters, there was another one out of the same parents of the “Boerinneke,” except that this one was a cock and looked exactly as his sister: the same build, the same colour, and the same eyes, but he was an incredible coward. If the boss entered, in a panic, he flew off the eggs, right into the bosses face. Coming up with a name for him was no problem “de Bange” (the coward). Later both “de Bange” and his sister “Boerinneke” would turn out to be world-class pigeons. In the fall of 1946, the “Boerinneke” was sold to De Scheemaecker for the sum of 25,000 Bfrs, for the times a considerable amount. She was fertile for two more years for the new owner. Nowadays it often happens that, chiefly, famous pigeons stay fertile till they literally drop or … longer (!) but then those were other times.

Today there is a lot of money spent buying and selling pigeons, at that time the money was spent on pooling. The Nuyens pigeons had shown in the loft of Frans Huyskens that they possessed enormous class and van Riel, always curious, could no longer be stopped. He had to know, “the roots,” of the otherworld pigeons such as “het Boerinneke” and their like and began investigating. He learned that Nuyens got these pigeons from a Vanderkeylen, who was also a dock worker who in turn had obtained pigeons from a workmate: Boer Peeters. And it would be impossible for, Boer Peeters, until the end of time to become commercial because he told everyone that he had bred them out of church tower pigeons and strays. But just at the time that Huyskens could become famous nationally with the pigeons given to him by van Riel, the unthinkable happened: the second world war broke out. “Het Boerinneke” and “de Bange” survived the war and would form the basis of countless descendants.

KERMIS (Celebration)

In 1944 it was kermis in Ekeren Donk. In the cafè ‘De Pelikaan,’ Jeff was drinking a ‘Trappist’ from the barrel when Huyskens walked in. Of course, he had a drink with him, and soon the topic of conversation was clear: Huyskens had large lofts, van Riel had very little room but had good pigeons. It was decided to fly in partnership and in 1945 the name of Huyskens van Riel appeared on the race result for the first time. The very first year of the existence of the tandem they were already Champion in Union Antwerp ahead of such names as Havenith, Hermans and Horemans.

However, the ambitions of the partners reached well beyond the Union. It was decided that a plot of land would be purchased and on ir build a house for Huyskens and a palace of a pigeon loft that would also serve as a home for van Riel. In the meantime, however, something else happened. Something you will find no reference too and has never been made public. Something that I learned straight from the mouths of the van Riel sons: Francios and Georges. ‘The biggest and most important move our father ever made”, according to both of them. They mentioned to me that in 1945, twenty late youngsters were obtained. The following year these were paired with their own pigeons, and out of those crossings, the famed generation of 46ers was born. A regiment of super pigeons, of which one was better than the other, all bred in one year.

Where did that late round of 1945 come from? From the man who possibly had the best pigeons that have ever flown: Jos van den Bosch from Berlaar. The above leads to something comical. Especially in America, they still fly with 100% pure Huyskens van Riel pigeons from before the war. Even Raymund Hermes, who is far from dumb, was almost trapped and was close to buying ‘pure Huyskens van Riel’ pigeons from before the war. Why did they go to Jos van den Bosch?


In the war, here and there rumours travelled around, that someone from Berlaar had a kind of wonder pigeon: Van den Bosch was the source of this rumour. The same place where Janeke Wouters and Frans Mariën (Arendonk) got their famous ‘Oude van den Bosch.’ In Arendonk he was paired to the ‘Janssen hen’ from Saelen from Mol, and they produced one wonder pigeon after the other. This ‘foundation pair Meulemans’ (which Karel had taken over from Janeke Wouter and Frans Mariën when they passed away) is often described as ‘the best breeding couple of all time.’ I have heard bigger exaggerations.

Their most famous descendant is de Merckx, which brings to mind a fascinating anecdote. He died on the same day as his boss, Janeke Wouters. The brothers of de Merckx such as de Piet, de Kadet, de Junior, de Benjamin etc. were all extraordinary both as racers and breeders. Countless super pigeons today still carry their genes, with them myriad fanciers have become champions. Of course, not all their children were ‘supers.’ Kees Noyen from Tilburg once bought a cock out of ‘the breeding pair’ and no matter which hen he paired it with, not a single youngster capable of flying a prize was produced.

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