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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.