Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Focused Boos Takes 500 Mile Thriller With Small Team of Busshaerts

2003 AU Legend, Happy Grandpa wins 1st Overall
in 20th Annual Ohio-Penn 500 Mile Federation Race    

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

I asked myself, what drives a man like this, although I’ve seen the condition before.  Lucky in marriage, Harry Boos, 83, of Stow, Ohio, has had his motor running full speed for a long time, but age doesn’t seem to be getting its miserable grip on him.  Maybe it’s because of his pigeons, or maybe it is because of the way he plays golf every day in the summer, but you’ve heard me say it before.  These old-time pigeon guys no longer fit the conventional description of old age, and are energized, tougher, busier, bolder and faster than you might think.  On a sunny day in late June, 2010, old Harry, like Ross Perot in a presidential bid, snuck up again, and taught the lesser skilled long flyers a lesson in how to prepare for, and win, the region’s most important long distance OPF race.

Flying 488 miles from East St Louis, Missouri, to Stow, Ohio, (near Akron) Harry beat second place OCTOGENARIAN CHAMPION, Bud House, of Girard Ohio, by over 4 minutes, against a field of 1062 birds from 77 lofts.  The Ohio-Penn Racing Pigeon Federation has a racing format that brings stinging competition together from 4 states: northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, western New York and western Maryland.  The racing competitors are cunning and determined; distance-racing experience is high, and the bragging rights are huge when one is able to land the over-all victory in one of these regional thrillers.  Saving Harry was a white grizzle hen that flew home like she had a rocket strapped to her backside.  The ‘Wisconsin Arrow’, AU 362 GAR 07, is a product of crossing his double line-bred Busshaert family with a White Grizzle Gary Davison cock sent to him from an old friend (1945), Dale Herion of Janesville, Wisconsin.  The pear shaped, medium sized, soft feathered hen started her conditioning for the race well in advance of the contest with an early 150 mile race in late May, a 100 mile training toss in early June, eggs on June 12th, a 200 mile race on June 19th, and finally, into the prestigious 500 mile event on June 26th.  Racing home to 14 day old eggs at 1421 ypm, the motivated little hen was perhaps additionally stimulated, for she had to cover those delicate little eggs alone for 2 days, pulling duty for a mate, a subtlety you might want to remember for your own bag of tricks. 

A Legend’s su

“In every Cardinal’s lunch box, is a Field Marshall’s baton.” once said a conquering Napoleon Bonaparte.  In Harry’s case, the outwardly affable and likeable man is driven, on the inside, like a hell-bent NASCAR driver.  Starting his pigeon racing education in 1943, while in high school, in Janesville, Wisconsin, itself a club spawning some nationally known greats, most of whom in those years, were serving our nation in the WW II, the eager upstart Boos developed a wonderful friendship, and the beginning of a great life-time of mentoring, with teaching Champion Bob Wolfe.  A stint in the US Air Force, college, then marriage to the beautiful young femme Jeanne, saw the sociable Sgt. Boos land a plush sales job with the Arrow Shirt Company in what was to start a long wandering back and forth, across the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, as evidenced by an inter-office memo regarding a Boos request for assistance with the movement of his pigeons, that ended up on the desk of Arrow’s top brass in Chicago. It read:

April 12, 1973
Dear Bryan,
I had a call today from Harold Boos.  He was unable to get to Sherman, and Wrverth was out.  Harold’s questions were: (1) Will we pay moving costs of his pigeon coops?  (2)Will we pay mileage on the pigeons’ flight to Dayton, and what will we pay? He asked for $.10 per mile.  (3) Flight insurance is not covered on his annual American Express bill for the pigeons.  He wants us to pay that.  (4) Finally, he has asked that in as much as he’ll be going back and forth to Akron quite a bit to return distraught pigeons to Dayton, (I’m sure you’re familiar with the return to the roost habits of the creatures.) he is requesting round trip mileage, and meals, for same.  Also, does this get charged to moving expense, or personal business expense?

“Frankly Bryan, I think Mr. Boos was under the influence of some heavy libation- or he’s been smoking some bad grass!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
                                                                                  Signed, Joe Reina   
Flying successfully in 1959, from Akron, Ohio, with Bastin/Stassart pigeons secured from All-American Ted Woodhall, a young Boos first met upstart, but now nationally known GNEO pit boss and Ohio-Penn Federation President, Jim Bedell.  Fourteen years later, Boos found himself in Dayton, Ohio, participating in the founding of the Miami Valley Sportsman Club along side famous, short-lived Racing Pigeon Bulletin promulgator, Wayne Reinke, an effort that saw a new club house, and growth from 6 flying members to over 48, a few years after the next Boos departure.  A year in Syracuse, followed by 8 years in Rochester, placed Legendary Harry in competition against the best Leen Boers of Laury McDonnell and the family of George Lehrs.  An early retirement flipped our champion back to Akron, Ohio, just in time to play a major role in the formation of the long distance racing life-line, the Ohio-Penn Racing Pigeon Federation where with visionaries Jack Welling, Jim Timmons, Jim Hazek, Bill Gallik and Sam Badger, Harry, with bedrock determination, set out to prevent the demise of the long distance racing in the region.          

The Brit: Jeff Horn, Busshaerts and Flag-Flying

In the late 1970’s, while still on the Arrow payroll in Dayton, Ohio, Boos began his lifetime fascination with Busshaerts.  International pigeon racing phenomenon and British Champion Jeff Horn, and wife, Marion, had come to the states to visit relatives in nearby Oxford, Ohio, and of course, it included a stop to Wayne Reinke’s Racing Pigeon Bulletin.  A quick invite to Boos, a quick venture capital call to close friend Bedell, and Boos was on his way to importing 6 pairs of the best Horn Busshaert breeders, all sons and daughters of Jeff’s foundation stock.  (Anyone doubting the quality of these Horn Busshaerts need go no further than the unmatched Federation racing record of another great Ohio Busshaert flyer, Mr. Heber Nelson, of nearby Lisbon.)  Over the years, Boos has developed two distinct lines of Busshaerts; the Newton line for distance, and the Charter Flight line for the 300 mile specials.  (His prowess for choosing between long and short, we will deal with later.) 

From this unexpected encounter with the great British champion, Boos was also introduced first-hand to an explicit explanation of “flag-flying” to train birds, a ‘eureka moment’, so to speak, and a useful tool for a traveling sales rep needy for a co-operative wife to sometimes tune the team.  Psychologists tell us that great salesmen are very results-oriented, and nothing drives them nuts like a goal that can’t be met, so the flagging pay-off came in Rochester years later, when a best-laid-plan for winning the big local Futurity was scrapped by bad weather, and a business commitment had the budding champion away from home for a week, and boiling inside.  But you make your own luck, or perhaps in this case, the hen of the house crows louder than the cock, we don’t know for sure, but the visionary’s mad-flagging wife saved the dream, winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd in a 1700 ypm sprint race.  The goal was met, and Harry went forward, but now, remembering what got him there.

Sourcing youngsters from 16 breeding pairs, it is now automatic for Boos to at least break every young bird team to flag-flying for its benefit to the old bird team, but in his current location in Stow (where he says they’ll bury him), his second story, dormer loft (garage) sits under a relaxed forest canopy of stately, oversized oak trees.  The trees, as you might expect, are ‘hands off’, coming under the guidance and auspices of the tough, little lady gardener of the house.  But, the magnificent trees also added a requirement for patience to the flag training routine, and the smaller loft reduced the team size, so that now most young-birds are targeted specifically for the Akron club’s GNEO Futurity race, or as replacements for the long distance Federation old bird team, where a very successful Harry Boos, has settled into natural flying so that he can access both the hens and cocks for his small, but competitive team.

Old Bird Racing Strategy

A pioneering psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, once said, “Attitudes are more important than facts.”  With that kind of thinking guiding him, Harry’s training for old birds starts 3 weeks prior to the first race, and you guessed it, flag-flying is at the core of the regimen.  During the first week, flag-flying starts at an hour per day, and by the end of the first week, Harry expects the birds to be flag-flying strongly, twice a day for 1 hour each time.  If needed, 35 mile training tosses are added for the benefit of the few slow-to-condition springtime porkers, as determined by how the birds feel in the hand, and act around the loft.  The routine changes little the third week, except that interspersed training tosses are now lengthened to 50 miles for any of the persistently, overweight nerdy little Busshaerts.

At AU Conventions, instead of just drinking for merriment, then sleeping it off, an eager and alert Boos learned long ago, from listening to visiting European champions, the importance of conserving the stamina of long distance race birds, so his pigeons are set up, and targeted for specific long races; never is their precious energy squandered in girly, short, meaningless, early races.  Birds are fed on a standard light to heavy feed program, except that after the Saturday races, returning racers are fed 20% protein pellets.  They hate them, but must eat them. At that point in the week, the boss is focused strictly on the protein.  They have “got to have it”.  Barley is fed 100% on Sunday, followed Monday by a 50% mix of barley and a 16% protein breeder/conditioner feed.  On Wednesday and Thursday, birds are fed 100% breeder/conditioner mix to which peanuts are added only on Thursday evening.  The Thursday feeding is fed 1/3 in the morning and 2/3 in the evening.  Total feed quantity varies with temperature, how they exercise and what day of the week it is.     

In the Champion’s Medicine Cabinet

Right up front, Harry is aware that the use of medications is not good if done with too much frequency.  His procedures are consistent and pretty simple.  On most race days, the birds come home to electrolytes.  Sunday and Monday are generally followed up with 4 in 1 in the water.  When not medicating, the race team receives Primalac every other day in the water, combined with a supplement called ‘Avian Charge 2000’ (from Innovators, in Texas.)  The breeder team gets the dose 5 days a week.  The supplement is a source of vitamins, minerals, and sea weed, and seems to give the birds exceptional health, feather, vigor and condition. 
“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, for time and chance enter into all things”. 
                                                                     Ecclesiastes 9:11  

This beloved Old Testament injunction was obviously not intended for something as unimportant in the scheme of things as pigeon racing, but what could summarize our pigeon racing experience more perfectly?  Victory in the pigeon game can’t be dialed up.  You can’t buy victory.  In fact, if you think you have it figured out, just wait a while.  Your good fortune will soon pass.  Torment and doubt will soon return.  But, you can help the situation by stacking as many things in your favor as possible.  Genetics, health, motivation, nutrition, physical condition, rest, experience, wind direction, team size, ad infinitum are all peripheral issues that in differing combinations help us tilt things in our favor as good handlers and anticipators, but for guys like Harry, consistent long term winning starts and ends with securing the bird’s mind.  I’m not talking to rookies here.  Despite what some colorful personalities in the sport say they can do, you can’t pick up an unfamiliar bird in an auction and look at its eye, or at its butt or its wing or tail or anything else and know it is going to win. You can be impressed by its beauty, athleticism, parentage, or feel a sense of exciting anticipation with it in your hands, but beyond that everything is an opinion.  Pigeons win in all shapes and sizes.  The trump card is what’s in its head.  The only way to improve the odds for this lack of transparency is to breed from stock that already has this dominate inclination to break quickly for home.  Look around you and find out where it is.  Go buy some.  That part’s a no-brainer.     

Regarding conformation, Harry has some strong opinions that have proven effective for him over the years.  For one, he’s a breast man.  He likes pecs in a pigeon!  He calls it the bird’s motor.  In his personal studies, he has learned that the major pectoral muscle is used to lower the wing, and the lesser pectoral muscle is used to raise the wing.  He believes strongly that good short and middle distance pigeons have excellent major pectoral muscle, but that long distance birds have something more significant by way of the lesser pectoral muscle and with sensitive finger dexterity, Harry can feel it, perceiving it as a wider keel.  He likes it when he feels it, and selects for this trait in his breeding of long distance stock.

“When I was a child, my mother said to me”, “If you become a soldier, you’ll be a general.  If you become a monk, you’ll end up as the pope.”  “Instead, I became a painter, and wound up as Picasso.”                                                              Pablo Picasso      

Pigeon racing is an art.  There is precious little scientific basis for any of our theories, or actions.  There is even little agreement among those of us with experience in winning as to what constitutes winning conformation or technique.  But yet, win we do, many of us, with variety and purpose, but it is always associated with an inordinate amount of work and conviction when it happens with regularity.  Real pigeon guys don’t give up.  They can’t.  They are driven quietly, always pressing for victory.  Like a great painter, they are in love with what they do while at the same time being vexed by it.  Their lofts are their studios and conformation is the portrait.  Winning beautifully is the final pay-back.  The great poet and philosopher Thoreau once said, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”  Not so here, not in my sport.  Not so, with successful men like Harry Boos.  Maybe that’s why we have so many happy octogenarians in our midst enjoying their art.  Congratulations Harry.  Way to go, old man.  We love you for your timeless contributions; job well done.  According to the sages at the AU, there are only 51 of the 10,000, or so, pigeon flyers in this country that are the stuff of legends.  If you were a good 500 mile racing pigeon, that would get you in one of the top 5 spots.  

Left:  Harry Boos; right: Jim Bedell