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|News > Piet de Weerd Profile Part 1|
The History of a Legendary Personality in the International Pigeon Fancy
by Dirk Zoland
Part 1of Two Parts. For Part 2 click here.
Reprinted with permission from
The Natural Winning Ways, Vol. 20
Editor's note: Our German contributor Dirk Zoland met Piet de Weerd with our colleague Patrick Philippens. This legendary personality recounted to them his amazing career, and discussed many topics which will be of interest to pigeon fanciers of all kinds. The selection of pigeons "in the hand" lies at the heart of the story of this Dutch patriarch from Breda, who was born 85 years ago. Although he had not taken part in the actual racing of pigeons, de Weerd soon made his name as a writer, but especially as a selector, and as an expert on the racing pigeon.
I cannot talk about my beginnings in the pigeon fancy without linking the name of Piet de Weerd with them. I was sixteen years old and I was looking after my first pigeons when my parents gave me "on joue…On lache…" ("We race…we liberate"), a book written by Andre' Vanbruaene and de Weerd. I read it over and over again, devouring the chapters devoted to Cattrysse, Huyskens-Van Riel, Delbar and the other grand masters of the fancy in Belgium at the time. I imagined myself visiting them and studying pedigrees and results, getting to know their "ace" pigeons more closely, learning how they had built up their blood line (or "breed"), many other things. De Weerd's prose captivated me. It made me dream of achieving the finest successes. When I next read "Coursiers du Ciel" ("Racehorses of the Heavens")("Renpaarden van het luchtruim"), there was absolutely no more doubt in my mind: de Weerd was the greatest. I knew the chapter devoted to the Janssen brothers of Arendonk by heart.
No doubt we never suspected at the time that this work would create the Janssen mania which we still see today.
Piet de Weerd handles the language of the fancy with his own unique style, and his writings have helped to raise the sport of the pigeon fancy to a level of great respectability. He understands better than anyone else the techniques of selection and sorting pigeons and of managing pairing. He has "created" many renowned stocks, and has contributed to the success of many other lofts.
The Jan Aarden strain carries the de Weerd stamp, while that of Raymund Hermes in Germany also owes him a great deal. In addition to "On lache…On vole" ("We liberate…We Fly") and "Coursiers du Ciel", he has also published "Printemps-Ete'-Automne-Hiver" ( Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter") and "La Race Janssen d"Arendonk" ("The Janssen of Arendonk Breed"). He has written countless articles for various pigeon magazines. Michel Beaune, who was responsible for the French adaptation of "On joue…On lache" said of him, "If you want to know the ins and outs of the pigeon fancy, ask Piet de Weerd-he is a man who knows what he is talking about." So that is what I did, but not without having first interviewed his son, Henk de Weerd, a vet in Breda who specializes in pigeons. He lived alongside his father for many years, and knows him better than anyone. Henk spoke of him in these terms: "My father has always been an example to me; not only in the pigeon fancy, but in everything. He possesses rare intelligence. I have always had blind confidence in him. He saved my life when I was still in the cradle during the bombing of Breda. I was barely five years old when he started taking me on his visits to lofts. We have always had a perfect understanding of each other. I remember meeting numerous Belgian champions with him. I also know that they rolled out the red carpet for him when he made overseas visits. He spared no effort to carry through to a successful conclusion his task-or should I say his mission? --- as an examiner of pigeons.
Weerd in the Hot Seat
To what do you attribute, Master Piet, your enormous popularity throughout the world of the pigeon fancy?
Perhaps it is because I know how to select pigeons successfully. People believe that I can "see into" them. It is nothing like that, of course, but I do have a good idea about certain things.
Where did you learn this?
Through practice and training.
What brought you into the pigeon fancy?
I was born in a little village near Middelharnis and I was not the least gifted pupil in my primary school; the headmaster even advised that I should stay on at my secondary school. The school at Middelharnis was the only secondary school on the island of Overflakkee. I spent five years there, and from the beginning of that time I was in contact with Ko Nipius, the best Dutch pigeon fancier of the period. I spent a lot of time with Ko Nipius between 1925 and 1930. Selection is more important than anything in the fancy, and you have to practice at it. Many fanciers disappear from the limelight after having been successful for five or six years-because they are not able to put together pairs of breeding birds. Raymund Hermes understood this very early on. "I am of the same opinion as you," he told me, "It all depends on whether or not you have good pairs of breeding stock available." Nine out of ten fanciers do not know what to do, but to hear them talk you would think they were in no need of advice on the matter. A fancier who manages to get hold of a few top prizes thinks he knows it all. This attitude is peculiar to the pigeon fancy. There are, however, many fanciers who wouldn't know the difference between a pigeon and a crow, but they think they know it all because they have managed to glean a few prizes.
What is your calling, Piet?
Journalism and the selection of pigeons. I finished my education in 1930, a very bad time, as we all know. I accepted everything that was offered to me. I wrote for the regional papers, even about football, but above all about the pigeon fancy. In 1935 I met the Oomens brothers of Breda and Martin Van Tuyn for the first time. This was in Roosendaal, at the basketing for a Bordeaux international race. In that same year the "Sportpaleis" in Antwerp was opened, where I was able to rub shoulders with Dr. Bricoux, Duray, Stassart and many others. At that time I was the "youngster" who had to steel himself to ask a few questions. I had never raced pigeons, although I did handle a few in Middelharnis. My beginnings as a selector go back to 1935 at the loft of the Oomens brothers, who were the best at the time, and even better than Ko Nipius. Jef, the younger brother, subsequently worked for the De Scheemaecker brothers. I had ten years of collaboration with Jef Oomens. I should add that I have only worked with pigeons during the whole of my life. It was not long before I was getting invitations to go and sort pigeons all over the place. I started doing this in 1937, and finished by making it my career. People were asking for me, and even wanted to pay me.
How much were you paid in the beginning?
In Holland I started on five florins per session, irrespective of the number of pigeons-and there were hundreds of them. When I thought I had finished, more newcomers always appeared. In Belgium I soon reached half a florin per pigeon. At that time it was a good rate of pay. In 1955 I went to South Africa, and then to the Americas after that. "The American Racing Pigeon News" had invited me and set up a programme of visits. That enabled me to see New York, San Francisco and Canada. I spent three months there. A programme was also arranged for me in South Africa. I sorted 20,000 pigeons there, even thought it only brought me 500 florins in the end. The people who had invited me were profiteers. But I also met other people on this trip. The second time I went to Johannesburg, I was met by a reception committee, and again presented with a programme. The same happened in America. On these occasions, however, I was able to lay down my terms, or to refuse. I earned much more than my daily bread there.
Having written numerous articles and published five books, what were you in the end, Piet, a writer about pigeons or a selector?
First and foremost a selector. Writing was more of a hobby. If people liked to read my articles and my books, I put this down without doubt to my perfect knowledge of the pigeon. I predicted things which actually came about five years later. I told fanciers who had presented their pigeons to me that they would be finished in three years, but nobody believed me. The most important thing, as I have never ceased to stress, remains that an owner must be able to form worthwhile pairs of breeders, or else be doomed to failure. The first time he came to see me-this was over twenty years ago, and there were three of them-Raymund Hermes asked: "How long will it take me to become a champion?"
Always well informed, he suggested to me: "I should like to buy your three best pigeons, and nothing else." I pointed out to him that I needed them just as much as he did, and he added: "You could always get some to replace them." "It's not as simple as that," I said. I had just bought "Piet", a son of the well known breeding pair belonging to Karel Meulemans of Arendonk. This is how it happened. An American from San Francisco had come to see me to buy some pigeons. He did not have many dollars to spend. I took him to see Meulemans because I was interested in having a look at his birds. For five years Karel had bred some "stars" from his breeding pair. The American wanted to know which were the best, and when I told him that "Junior" and "Cadet" had the best prize lists he wanted to know if they were for sale. "Yes," replied Karel, "for 200,000 francs." He must have said to himself: "If Piet is bringing a Yank to see me it means that I can push my prices up." My American did not want to know, and objected that they were too expensive. I was not happy about this and I asked Karel if I could come back the next day.
I had had the opportunity of handling "Piet", and that had told me a great deal. When I went back at 11:00 a.m. the following day I saw the pigeons again. I put six of them into a basket and asked Karel: "How much per pigeon?" He could not know which ones I had my eye on. This was how I managed to buy two. "Piet" and one of his sisters. This hen was even better than "Piet", but unfortunately died a little later. I cannot remember how much I paid for them, but it was not a great deal. So that is how I acquired "Piet".
When I showed it to Hermes he immediately wanted to buy it, but I explained "This is my best pigeon and he is perhaps the only one I should be prepared to part with because I believe that his limit is around 400 or 500 km." "How can you tell that?", enquired Hermes. "I don't know, but I expect so." Hermes would very much have liked to acquire him, but I wanted to keep him. "I am quite prepared to give you the address of where he came from", I said, and did so. I had another pigeon with an injury to its chest, one from Jan Aarden, the 1,000 km champion. This pigeon was a nonentity. It only started to be heard of once I had sold it to Hermes. Hermes took a third pigeon from me, my "24". When I told him, "As far as I can tell, these are my three best pigeons," he replied: "Let us go and get something to eat first in Antwerp." So we did, and at eight o'clock that evening I handed over three pigeons to Hermes. "Piet" among them. I had warned Hermes that the Meulemans pigeon would cost him a new Mercedes 190. "No problem," he replied. "And are you prepared to spend that much, even without knowing me very well?" "I know you well enough, otherwise I should never have come to see you." We understood each other. There are people who will say: "What de Weerd did in Meulemans' loft, I could do just as well. All I need to do is to go there and buy a pigeon, and I should be sure that it is a good one." But it should not be forgotten that 80 percent of pigeons are worthless, no matter where you obtain them. And you must be very careful if you wish to form pairs with the other 20 percent. Fanciers who have learnt something about a pigeon, on paper, go off and buy it, thinking to themselves that they have picked a good one. If this turns out not to be the case, they accuse the person who sold them the bird. Those who do not have the slightest sense of feeling for a good pigeon happily buy a big, handsome one, believing that it will be their salvation. This is why we always come across so many big pigeons.
If, on the other hand, they have a good pigeon in their possession one day, they think that its tail is too long and its breastbone too short, although all good pigeons are built like that. It is the race basket that makes them that way. They do not like its appearance, so they pair it with a big, handsome bird. In this event, their failure arrives two years sooner. That's how the pigeon fancy is. That is why one sees so many big pigeons in the middle distance races, and why this class of race is on the way to destruction. In the end, all we shall have left are sprint and long-distance races. For long-distance races, you need different pigeons, what I should describe as "complete" pigeons. I should also add that for long distance racing you need "long distance drivers." The best pigeons in the world are "long distance drivers."
So you sold "Piet" to Hermes for a Mercedes?
Yes, for the price of a car like that. Hermes paid me 60,000 DM (1,200,000 Belgian francs), but not for "Piet" alone.
Anyone who sells pigeons for such a sum must be certain that they are good ones.
My friend, at that time my reputation was such that people took me for a "clairvoyant."
You must have been certain that he would be successful with the pigeon.
I suggested to Hermes that he should go to Meulemans as he had fifty similar birds. But Hermes is wise. He answered: "I know you. I want that pigeon, not another one." He was not far wrong. For him, buying three pigeons from me or a gem from a jeweler, it was six of one or half a dozen of the other.
And why did you believe that this pigeon was a good one?
That was the impression I had at the time. I had had the opportunity of examining some fifty pigeons in Meulemans' loft. When I sold "Piet" to Hermes it was six months old.
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de Weerd's Way
Can you let us know how you select, Piet? And please tell us, can this skill be learnt?
Yes, of course it can be learnt, but you need to train yourself in order to become accustomed to it. Anyone who wants to play billiards (well) must practice, mustn't he? Just the same as someone who wishes to play a musical instrument. When he was asked how he had gone about it, and how long it had taken before he was able to play the piano well, the great virtuoso Horowitz replied: "25,000 hours". Practice is an essential fundamental ingredient. I know, for example, that Blomdahl, the billiards champion, practiced day and night, in spite of all his talent, and it was probably his talent which forged his success.
So you also need a certain amount of talent?
Talent, yes, but also perseverance. To get there I had to persevere. Why do you think that I agreed to sort thousands of pigeons over Christmas, no matter whether it was freezing or snowing? Because that earned me five hundred florins, and I liked that idea.
How do you feel the muscles?
You would do better to ask a professional. A masseur who kneads and athlete's muscles is better placed than I am to reply to this question. I only know that a "stiff" pigeon cannot make a good one.
Can I get a pigeon for you to show us how?
Certainly. But how can I make you understand? If you were to show me a black cat and a white one I should always be able to say: "This is the black one and that's the white one." That is too easy. Let us take another example. Suppose you take a strip of wood, one end of which is black and the other white, and you divide it into a hundred segments, numbered from one to a hundred, with the central one being grey and numbered fifty. In order to train your eyesight, you are asked to pick a section of the strip by its color. You have to identify the corresponding number without, of course, being able to read it. Assume that you are shown the 47th segment. There is no question of your calling it the 44th or the 51st, although these are very close. You will be able to hit the right number after a few years of practice. In this we are just touching on the simplest aspect of the problem. You have to be able to detect differences with great accuracy. Any judgment is based on differences. It is impossible to make a selection without taking differences into account.
Does that mean that you cannot tell the number of a segment of the strip we are talking about until you have learnt from practice?
Precisely. With pigeons the problem is far more difficult, since there are so many strips to which you have to accustom yourself.
[Note: This is the first part of a two-part article. For Part 2, click here.]
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