Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dr. Paul Benz, Greentree, Pennsylvania

4TH Overall, 1st Pittsburgh Section, 2009 Federation 500
5th Overall, 1st Pittsburgh Section, 2009 Federation 400

By Coop Kohli  (coopkohli@yahoo.com) 
AU Lakes Zone Dir., Lee Kohli

Flying with a “lifetime right” from a three story, rooftop location above his former dentist office building, about an hour south of the great Heber Nelson, in the Greentree suburb of Pittsburgh, is retired, 82 year old, long distance racing champion, Dr. Paul Benz.  The energetic, octogenarian had just finished delivering “Meals on Wheels” prior to my telephone visit, and gave a generous hour of his time sharing his secrets of long distance racing. 

Dr Benz got his pigeon racing start in 1947, and raced until he graduated from Dental School in 1954, coming back to the sport, earnestly, in 1970 (“I kept watching the obituaries, and told myself, if I didn’t get back soon, I’d have nothing to come back to.”).  He saw Pittsburgh racing at its peak in the 1950’s.  The Pittsburgh Center, with Peter Barry as President, was comprised of 34 clubs, had over 652 lofts competing, shipped two tractor trailers, and had 7000 birds in a race.  The metropolitan area had the Southwest Combine club, the South Hills club, the Northside club, the Troy Hill club, the Hazlewood Invitational club, the Mckeesport club, The City View club, the Lawrenceville club, The Washington club, the Garfield club, the Brookline club, the West Mifflin club and the Chartier’s Valley club, among many, not remembered.  Nearly all are gone now; only West Mifflin, Washington and the Southwest club remain, all three having about twenty flying members, in total! 

In 2009 Old Bird Ohio-Penn Federation racing, Dr. Benz scored an unusual double by winning on June 13, fifth (5th) overall, first Pittsburgh section, in the Federation 400, flying 461 miles; then came back two weeks later with a fourth (4th) overall, first Pittsburgh section, flying 544 miles in the great Federation 500, showing the rest of the 60-somethings in the Pittsburgh Southwest Combine that “the old cock-bird” still has some fight left in him!  This was racing against 1445 birds, 109 lofts, and 1615 birds and 133 lofts, respectively.  For you accounting types, that gives the good doctor a staggering, two year average of 0.362 percent (better than the top one-half percent of all birds) in the 500, and a 4 year average of 3.59 percent in the 400.  For comparison purposes, the winner of the 2009 Fed 500 had a percent ranking of 0.069%, while that of the Fed 400 had a 0.062 percent rating.  This is awesome performance from a driven “senior” that still lowers his own shipping crates from a third story roof with a block and tackle, or can be seen in winter months on an extension ladder carrying gallon jugs of water up to his beloved minions.  Dr. Benz sums up the extraordinary effort this way, “The more time I put in, the luckier I get!”   (Wow! Take note of that attitude, will you, the downtrodden performers, among us.)

Dr. Benz is your prototype long distance, old bird specialist.  He could give or take young bird racing, but thrives on old bird racing, and has a long distance family he has cultivated for fifty years.  He refers to them humorously as his “Van Benz” family.  He has had them so long he no longer thinks about their origins.  What matters is the performance of the family, which he watches closely.  Get your pencil, for here are some secrets that may help you if you are looking to beat the old doctor!  Young birds are bred late, are never ready early, and are carefully nurtured; only 15 tosses up to 60 miles before the first race, then raced just so lightly, maybe to three races counting the 300.  (He likes a late youngster because the long primaries are still intact at futurity time.)   The 50 bird old bird team is trained pre-season, only 6 times; 3 twenty miles tosses, followed by 3 fifty mile tosses.  Yearlings are rarely raced.  Old birds can race up to five years of age, only if they can “keep up” with the active old Doctor!  Retired champs are used as droppers, and saved for breeding.  Nobody gets antibiotics, period.  (Remember, he’s a Doctor!)  The old bird team is loft flown (flagged) twice each day for thirty minutes each time, and as late as possible in the afternoon to increase the birds’ mental toughness for “late race day staying power”.  The entire team is squeezed into the early, short old bird races, giving them time to come into condition on their own, like good salt cured ham.  In 2008, his first Fed 400 bird (94th of 1533 overall, 1st Pittsburgh section) had rested for 6 weeks.  Two weeks later, his first Fed 500 bird (7th of 1593 overall, 1st Pittsburgh section) had rested for 5 weeks. 

Because of space and facility limitations, Dr. Benz flies natural, but was one of the first widowhood flyers (1952) in the Pittsburgh Central Combine (He didn’t think he could isolate his widow hens well enough without more construction, and you’ve got to stop somewhere!).  The most trusted motivational tactic for the cagey Dr. Benz is to race a hen sitting for 10 to 17 days that has rested for at least two weeks before the intended long distance race.  He really covets hens that sit tight, and he moves eggs around a lot.  Experience has also taught him to respect cocks that are sitting a second round of eggs while feeding a big youngster.  When feeding for “targeted” long distance events, Dr. Benz starts 14 days earlier to increase the percentage of peas and corn.  Ten days before shipping, the birds go on full feed.  The seasoned Dr., like champions Long and Nelson, wants good fleshing and almost no appetite on shipping night.  “A rested, well fleshed, tight sitting mother that is more interested in nest and mate, than her next meal, assures me that I have prepared her correctly.”  Vitamins (actually for human babies), called “Poly Visol with iron”, are administered three times a week, and are purchased from a local drug store.  Only two or three drops per gallon are needed.  Dr. Benz does not place much faith in conformation only.  “Good ones come in all shapes and sizes, but they all must have stamina and a good brain.  Can you see into their head?”  Hawk patrol is facilitated by enlisting the neighborhood crow population with bread.  Shouting, or sometimes keeping the flock in altogether, also has some benefits!     

Unaware that it had been reprinted, an enraptured Dr. Benz, got his pigeon career started in the fifth grade after reading Dr. Leon Whitney’s Pigeon City.  That’s all it took!  He also recommends club recruiters show the movie Where Pigeons Go to Die, starring Michael Landon and Art Carney. The movie is interesting, and represents the sport in a good light.  Dr. Benz started with rollers, migrated into the racing scene, and has never looked back.  Even while in the navy, an infatuated, a young Dr. Benz drove around Baltimore, looking for pigeons that were exercising.  Dr. Benz credits Ohio-Penn Federation representative Calvin White of Pittsburgh, for keeping the sport in Southwestern Pennsylvania off of life-support because of his dependable assistance in getting pigeons competently trained.  “I’d hate to think where we’d be without him”, he complimented.  “Calvin will even go to flyers homes to pick up birds”.