By John Wiens
My fascination with pigeons began very early in life. As far as I know, my grandfather, my father, several of my uncles, some of my cousins, and my two brothers were all fanciers. Although, for the most part, they raised different breeds, my father had rollers as well. I’ll never forget his sadness when he lost one of his best hens. I was five years old then. Even though his attic was full of pigeons, he grieved the loss of that particular hen.
Keeping pigeons in those days, in Central Asia, had a dual purpose. When times got tough,(trust me they were after WW II ) pigeon owners would go into the attic, kill a bunch of pigeons and feed their families. My father even took the liberty to kill some of my birds, when the feed bill would get too high. After all, he was paying the bill.
At the age of twelve, after my older brother was drafted into the army, I finally got the chance to be in charge and call the birds mine. The pigeons we had at that time, were "ClapTumblers" or " Crack Tumblers" as some people call them in North America. This breed would go straight up, like an arrow, and every revolution would make a clap, or crack. So, from the age of 12 to 18, I raised tumblers, and to my dads admission, improved them quite a bit. Had I found this breed during my stay in Germany or here in Canada before I was introduced to competition rollers, I would today be breeding tumblers.
One day, in the fall of 1986, however, I got a hold of an old APJ magazine, in which I found an add about competition rollers. I contacted the person and he directed me to a fancier, who lived ten minutes away from me. So I made an appointment and went over to see what kind of rollers they bred in Canada. Although I knew rollers as a breed, I had no clue as to what competition flying was all about. The man flew two kits for me which I’ll never forget in my life. Viewing the birds “brake” in heavy turn, I was hooked. If I couldn’t have my tumblers, I would have some rollers. Thus I was introduced to my future mentor, friend, competitor, and three time WC champion, Monty Neibel. But my time had not come just yet. I first had to finish College and University. So, during the next five months I designed my present loft and read everything on rollers, that I could lay my hands on, including a pile of IRA bulletins, borrowed from Monty. Monty promised to help me start. Later I found out, that this “help” would depend on “how serious I would turn out to be”. Then in May 1987 after the local competition I went home with five birds in my basket. One turned out to be a Roll Down, which I returned, leaving me with two pair of breeders. These were the ONLY pigeons I have ever received (and kept) from Monty Neibel. Thus my roller journey began. I credit Monty not only with the help to start, but also with being my teacher, advisor, mentor and friend. He taught me about breeding, feeding, training young, flying kits of different ages, weather conditions and lending a hand when it came to predator problems. I’ve never met anyone, who was that dedicated to competition rollers as he was. He seemed to get energized, when a year or two later he came over to see my kit fly. When the kit would brake, he would jump for joy and pat me on my back saying, “Take good care of those champions!” Since then I entered every competition and looked out for opportunities to promote our hobby. I was present in 1991 when Monty flew and won the first ever WC fly. I consider myself very fortunate to have lived so close to him and being able to visit him3-4 times a week to see the master at work. He taught me to keep it simple. “Best to best” was his approach. I later discovered, that breeding half brothers and sisters really worked for me. Needless to say, I had a lot of them after swapping mates several years in a row. Fact is, I still like to do so. I don’t remember ever keeping the same pair together for longer than a season. Later I got some birds from Roy Vezina, which I used to create my B family. I like the idea of having two or even three different lines going at the same time. It can be beneficial if one line begins to loose some desirable traits, to cross it with another which possesses that trait, to bring it right back. However if the fancier is careful in his/her stock selection, he/she should not have major problems.
Looking back, I am grateful to people like Monty Neibel for instilling in me the love for the hobby, the spirit of competition and the willingness to help others. I am grateful for the many opportunities to meet great people and make many friends. This year I have the opportunity to meet many more of you and see the best kits in the world compete for the prize of the World Cup Champion. Keep them flying and may the best kit win.
In the Sport, John Wiens.