Wild Ride On A Wild Horse

The Alberta prairie is a beautiful place.  I loved the peaceful endlessness about it.  A kind of cleansing of the soul.  I could, in a small way, relate to how the native people loved their home.  Even in the harshness of winter.

It was February and Ray, my hunting pal, and I walked the edge of a coulee, keeping a sharp eye out for the elusive and magnificent prong horn antelope. The coulees, deep groves cut into the flat prairie by giant ice flows thousand of years ago, ran for miles.  When walking on the bottom for a while a person would be lost in an elusion that they were looking up at mountains instead of trekking through a deep valley.

This day I walked the bottom while Ray hunted along the top.  Though six-foot he looked like a little kid way up there.  At thirty years old Ray was five years my senior but keeping up with him was a real chore.  At least down in the coulee I was out of that blasted frigid Alberta wind that never stopped blowing.

As I came to a bend with a breeze in my face I spotted a coyote.  I froze, he couldn’t smell me but he saw Ray and was studying that hunter intently.  First he dropped to his belly, then slowly crept to a few boulders that lay on the side of the coulee.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  Our hunting club awards points for certain game, quail and prairie dogs earned one point, an antelope 50 points, a coyote, a whopping 60 points.  To stalk the coyote or bush wolf was almost impossible.  This was a once in a life time opportunity for me.

I raised my 303 Lee-Enfield rifle and took a bead. He wasn’t close but still not a difficult shot.  Instead of fleeing , like they mostly do, this guy crawled on his belly until he was almost under the group of rocks.  That smart animal knew Ray couldn’t see him and was just going to wait until the danger walked on by. Made me wonder how often this might have happened before.  We would never have known he was there.

Seeing how intelligent this critter was I changed my mind about gathering 60 points and being the hero for a day.  Instead I took a few steps ahead.  The coyote picked up on the movement and froze, staring right into my eyes.  He didn’t try to run, just stared.  I climbed up the coulee towards Ray , hollering for him to wait up, and giving the bush wolf an escape route. We were hunting antelope anyway, I reasoned to myself.

I never mentioned it to Ray because I would certainly get a wallop of a knuckle buster on the top of the head.  And they hurt.  In fact, I never ever came clean to him about that.

A few miles ahead we thought we spotted a herd of antelope.  It’s very hard to stalk these speedy animals so we let their curiosity do the work. We would tie a white cloth on a stick or the rifle barrel and lay down , then slowly wave the white flag about.  Sometimes they’d just wonder further off but often they would venture close enough to get off a shot.

This bunch started toward us at an unusually fast rate.  And after twenty minutes of laying on the cold prairie ground, I was very pleased that something was happening.  Ray always said that cowboys never complained so I didn’t, but I’ll tell you, my prairie oysters were like ice cubes.

As they got close we could clearly see that this was a herd of semi wild horses and not prong horns at all. The ranchers or Native people would turn them loose for the winter.  They survived fine on the sparse but nutritional grasses.

We had a little laugh then headed out to greet them.  They were a little nervous but both Ray and I knew horses and moving slow and talking softly we were able to walk right into the herd of about 15 shaggy prairie toughen horses.

I found a snow free spot to put my rifle down and made my way to a huge black gelding.  His comrades moved off a bit but the black allowed me to pat his massive neck. Ray sat on a boulder, that are everywhere on the prairie, they get spit up from the earth every spring.  He rolled a smoke with one hand, he liked to show off knowing that I never did acquire that talent. Then dared me to mount up.

So , not one to back off on a dare, I took a good handful of thick mane and in one graceful leap, if I don’t say so myself, I swung up and landed neatly onto the geldings back. I readied for some bucking but nope, there was none.  The big guy just walked off a bit toward the others.  Ray was grinning from ear to ear, so I decided to put on a show for him.  I hollered, and waved my free hand and yahooed it up.  This was a mistake.

The black wasn’t too concerned but the others were spooked and took off running.  The gelding was not about to be left behind so he burst into a gallop right behind them.  The more I yelled whoooaa, the fasted the herd went.  In minutes we were traveling way to fast to consider dismounting without bouncing off some of them prairie rocks.  I held on for dear life.  I didn’t really have time to be scared but I did know that I was in a pickle here. I could clearly hear my partners laugh echoing off the coulee walls.

Every time the black caught up to the herd the others would panic, could have been all the yelling, and run faster. Then they collectively decided to drop down into a coulee.  This was like going almost straight down on a roller coaster, with no seat belt.  As they hit the flats they speeded up and I squeezed my legs so tight I could feel my knees popping. There was nothing to do except wait it out.  Soon, thank God, the herd headed up the other side and it was so steep that they had to slow down.  Time for me to exit. I threw my leg over the geldings head and plopped belly down onto the frozen ground.  I believe I rolled a few times before coming to a stop against a fox burrow.  What are the odds I thought as I brushed myself off and searched the other side of the coulee for Ray.

Ray was still sitting on the boulder, and though quite a distance away , I could tell he was laughing.  Took me almost half an hour to make my way back.  Ray tossed me my lunch, a made in Canada chocolate bar.  As I looked over my bruises Ray then asked me where I’ve been.  Said he turned away and the next thing he knew I was gone.  Very funny, I told him.

We never got an antelope that day and didn’t win any team points at the Foremost , Alberta, hunting club (could have had sixty, shsssssh) so, as losers, we had to do the dishes back at the community centre.

My bruised body and ego healed quick, as they do with the young and soon after Ray and I were off on another adventure, branding 90 calfs for a local rancher when no-one else would.  I’ll tell you why on my next blog.  Thanks for reading, like if you like, say nothing if you don’t.  Jack

Remember friends, keep the faith, it gets better, it always does.

 

 

 

The Homesteaders Ghost

Ray and I met in 1969 at St. Clair College in Windsor Ontario.  We were both high school drop-outs and were finally getting our much-needed grade twelve education ; neither him or I had any plans beyond that.

So how we got to Foremost Alberta huddled in an abandon farmhouse bedroom searching for the ghost of a long time dead homesteader was a series of events and adventures that were actually quite ordinary for us.

After St. Clair Ray headed out west to reunite with a ranch he had been cowboying for.  I went to work,slopping stalls and caring for 40 saddle horses at a local riding stable.  We both worked hard,in all-weather, from morning till night for below minimum wage.  A fine use of our newly begotten higher education.

A year later I would join up with Ray in Alberta only to find the cowboy jobs were gone because of lower demand for beef, at the time.  We ended up working for the town of Foremost, in southern Alberta.  Good paying jobs, with week-ends off.  Plenty of time for Ray and I to get ourselves into one pickle or another.

One particular Friday night as we sat drinking cold draft beer at Max’s bar, the only watering hole for 60 miles or 100 kilometers,  the discussion somehow turned to ghosts. Trapper Pete swore that the old abandon farm about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of town was haunted by a homesteader who died in the upstairs bedroom.  When it was confirmed by Gerald, the towns biker gang, we were sold.  Gerald wore leather and chains, a buck knife strapped to his hip, long hair and shaggy beard.  He was also the only one in town who owned a motorcycle, so, hence, the towns biker gang.

I did try to reason with Ray that almost all homesteaders died at home and this was not a very solid basis for a haunting.  Ray never flinched, there was a ghost and we were going to find it , case closed.

We crabbed a bag of beer to go at the bar (you could do that in Alberta) and bid the two smirking yahoos a good-bye.

Although nine p.m. it was still light when we pulled into the grassy lane of the wind worn aged homestead.  It seems the wind rarely stops blowing on the prairie.  Takes some time for a Ontarian to get used to that.  The long days was another. People put there children to bed in the light of day as the sun could be still shining bright at 10 o’clock p.m.

The house was a two-story wood frame structure.  The windows were without glass.  Probably taken when the owners moved.

We checked to be sure we had all of our supplies.  Beer, cigarettes, Rays bronson lighter, flashlight, double-check on the beer. Ok, it was a go.  The front steps were unsurprisingly loose, the front door swung open easily, as did the inter screen door that was screenless and opened inward.  Stepping in we could see the kitchen to our right, the living space to the left.  The one flight of stairs was straight ahead about 10 or 12 paces.  That was where the ghost was supposed to be so we started up , Ray in the lead.

At the top there was a small landing, Ray turned left to explore that bedroom while I went right to check out the other one.  Ray was only in for a few seconds when he let out a yell that made the hair on my neck stand up.  I headed for the stairs and was about half way down when Ray hollered at me.  For some reason the owners left without taking a mirror that hung on the closet door.  He had scared himself.  He asked why I was on the way out and not rushing in to help him.  I replied that while concerned, I thought it best to go for help.

Ray decided that the ghost would be in that room.  He said ghosts like to appear in mirrors.  When I asked how he came to know this information, what, pray tell, scientific periodical he read that divulged such important data.  He said because ‘they just do’.

We brought up a narrow wooden box , most likely used for storing tools, that was on the front porch.  Turned upside down it was a perfect seat for the both of us.  Ray said we must darken the room; the fact that nightfall was almost upon us didn’t seem to matter.  I found a burlap bag in a kitchen cupboard and a few rusty nails in a drawer.  A rock picked up on the prairie out back would serve as a hammer.  We tacked the top of the burlap to the window and held the bottom down with the rock. The wind picked up and the howling between the wall planks heightened the evilness. It was really getting spooky sitting there in the dark room, staring into the mirror seeing only the glow of our drawn cigarettes.

Ray was for ever saying we had to be absolutely quite, even though he never shut up.  He talks a lot anyway but a hell of a lot more when he’s scared.

After our second beer, Ray was sure there was something in the mirror. “Look, look ,can you see it”?

I decided to add to the drama by telling Ray that either the spirit was in the mirror or he was standing behind us.  I was actually scaring myself, and Ray was about to explode.  The wind howled on, the burlap bag started to flutter as the Alberta wind pushed against it.

Then, as we stared , half-frozen in fear, at the real, or imaginary shadow, a loud thud, directly behind us shattered the night.  Ray leapt up like he was shot out of a cannon.  He headed for the stairs with me right on his heels.  It was kind of shameful, and we never told anyone, until now, but we were screaming.  We sounded like a high school girls basketball team.  I never realized that two young men could reach those high-pitched notes, just shameful.

We descended those stairs and barely touched a one.  When we hit the bottom, both at the same time, we rushed the door and instead ran into a solid wall.  The screaming got louder and I’m sure, class shattering .  We pushed and shoved one another , thinking the ghost had put a wall where the door should be.  It took possibly seconds but felt like an eternity, until we discovered that we were behind the open door.  It was a blur as we fought each other to squeeze out the door, both at the same time, it was every man for himself.  Pitiful.

Once inside the Rambler we locked the doors and tried to settle down.  Regrouping , we pretended to be men again.  Then the other shoe dropped, in our hast we left the beer and Rays beloved bronson lighter.  Neither of us cared a hoot about the flashlight.

He stated that since it was his car I should go back in.  When that didn’t work he begged me, stating that his father had given him that lighter. It means everything to him , he said.  I told him that I know his father was still alive and could give him another one.

Finally, we negotiated that I would go back but I get two of the remaining three beers and I could hold onto the bronson for two weeks.  I also took the car keys with me.  I know when Ray was left alone he might freak out and leave me. He turned on the headlights and eliminated the house sufficiently.

Believing that this was just silly, I bravely ventured in , confidently ascending the stairs.  I quickly gathered the beer and lighter.  I flicked on the flashlight and could clearly see that the thud we heard was the rock that was blown off the sill.  Laughing I started down .  The car lights gave me lots of courage, until the bastard turned them off and started beeping the horn as if he was in trouble.

I panicked and leapt down those rickety steps landing in a bunch at the bottom.  This time I remembered that the door was off-center and sailed through it.  I called Ray a son of a bitch, a pigs asshole and a ducks dick. ( I know, but I was peeved and that’s all I could come up with) I also said I’m drinking all the beer . Ray whined about that and after a few miles I softened and gave him one. I had to admit that I would have done the same thing to him.  I did, however, keep the bronson for the whole two weeks.

Later, that fall, while hunting, Ray and I came across a semi wild herd of horses on the prairie and he dared me to climb on one.  It was one terrifying ride.  I’ll tell you all about that adventure on my next blog.  Thanks for reading.  Jack

Remember friends, keep the faith, it gets better, it always does.

Rodeo Cowboys, or Death Wish fools

When I climbed off that greyhound bus after three sleepless nights, my dreams of cowboying for a working ranch were quickly dashed.  My contact, Ray who invited me west, was laid off at the ranch I was heading to.  There were lots of other cattle ranches but a cowboy needed at least two horses, saddle and preferably experience. I had 80 bucks to my name.

So I ended up working for the town of Foremost Alberta.  I did everything from grating roads, reading meters, repairing broken pipes to the towns one and only garbage man.  It was a good job really.  Especially Friday garbage collection, where I would drive the towns alleys emptying tin garbage cans into a dump truck. When it was full I’d drive to the edge of town, to a huge coulee and dump the load.  After six or seven loads I’d be done and set the whole thing on fire.  It was a great bonfire to watch and I had no boss on my case all day long.

Ray worked for the town also but just driving a grater all day out on the prairie roads. Also a great job.  But, we both were cowboys at heart so while drinking beer in Max’s bar, the one and only bar in town, we decided that we would ride rodeo on the week-ends with the Sweetgrass circuit.

The circuit hit the locals towns, mostly in southern Alberta, and was made up of amateurs who all held other jobs, or not.  Some were as good as any professional rodeo cowboy. Ray and I were not.

So my partner and I ( partner as in cowboy or cop, not the new kind) went out to visit with the Scots. The scots were three siblings, two brothers and a sister, Tom, goofy Gavin and Mary.  They ran a sheep ranch with hundreds of Suffolk sheep. Their parents came out west from Scotland long ago and the three , while all in their 40’s, never left the farm. Tom was the oldest and the brains of the outfit, goofy Gavin was mostly labour and being quite simple minded , was mostly in the way.  Mary took care of the boys as a mother would, cooking and keeping house.  It was said they still had the first dollar they ever made, and had no plans on spending it.

The scots also had a chute and a couple of pretty good bucking horses.  They agreed to let us practice riding, or rather, learn to ride, a bucking horse.  In return we would work a few hours chasing sheep from one field to another or separating ewes from rams or whatever they needed us to do.

The first time out I mounted a big gray gelding who looked kind of lazy to me.  Until Tom pulled open the chute gate.  Don’t remember that first ride, only the part about getting back on my feet.  A cowboy must ride for eight seconds before he can be scored. Toms wrist watch didn’t record tenths of a second so we don’t know exactly how long I was aboard.  Ray clocked about two second before he was bucked off.

We did this for three week-ends in a row and while we never stayed on for more than three or four seconds our confidence was soaring.  And the scots got a lot of free labour.

When the rodeo came to Foremost we felt as ready as we’d ever be.  We went to the rodeo ground the day before to register, which would be free for town boys.  I signed up for one ride only on Saturday.  These horses were from the Shade brother’s ranch and were the real McCoy, they loved their work and were the best bucking stock in Southern Alberta.  Many of the Shade brother stock went to the Calgary stampede and only the very best made that rodeo.

I felt that by signing up for just one go around and skipping the Sunday ride I could get good and drunk in the bar Saturday night, if I lived.  A cowboy never drank the night before the ride so Ray and wanted to kick it up in the bar as it would be one hell of a party on rodeo week-end.

To my surprise, at the last minute, Ray signed up for bull riding.  He had never been on a bull.  Bareback bronc riding was dangerous enough, I still bear the pains and scars to prove that, but a horse will always try to avoid stepping on a fallen cowboy ,bulls, well, they wanted to kill you if they could. I told him was crazy. He mentioned how the girls loved rodeo cowboys (that was always a tiny motivation of mine as well) but they adored bull riders.  I agreed with Ray, but noted that they didn’t pay much attention to the dead ones.  He was determined, made up his mind, so that was that.

That Saturday after a traditional parade the crowd filled the bleachers.  They were cowboys from all over , even from Saskatoon. A lot of semi pros and some just tough hombres, then there was Ray and I.  I pulled number six out of a hat, it was a ornery bay mare named Rocking Chair, that had more white in her eyes than eyeball.  She was skinny, naturally skinny, not under fed.  These stock guys took the best of care with their broncs and bulls. I knew I was climbing onto a box of dynamite.

She kept banging around in the chute smashing my knees against the metal pipes, I could hardly wait to give the nod to open the gate, I was in pain already and the ride hadn’t started.

I’m not to proud to say that I was scared, I was shaking like a dog shitting razor blades.  I could hear Ray shouting encouragement and another friend, biker Gerald hollering that he would send flowers to the funeral home.

I nodded, the gate was pulled open and that mare came out running.  Which is the worst thing that can happen.  Both the riders feet must be on the horses shoulders until the first jump or no score.  That mare covered half the paddock before she started to buck.  But, did she buck.  It was pretty much a blur but I do remember somehow ending up with both feet on the same side of the horse. I hung on and even tried to spur to gather a few more points.  Of course riding like the Queen of England wasn’t going to get me anything but a lot of laughs.  In a flash I was under her belly and somehow still hanging on.  The crowd loved it.  I’m told they were cheering and laughing and laughing and laughing.

Inevitably I was bucked off. I felt like I’d fallen in a giant food processor. The crown roared again when I looked up at the scoreboard expecting to see something.  While it seemed like I rode that mare for at least five minutes, the entire ride ( if you would dare call it that) was three seconds.  I was ecstatic, it was a personal best.

I was still on a high, getting pats on the back and lots of thumbs up from the other contestants when it was Rays turn. You get the respect from other cowboys for just getting on, time don’t matter.

Ray drew a huge Brahma bull named Grave digger. The other bull riders were helping him rig up when he almost fainted from fear. He turned ghostly white.  I was slapping his face and telling him to pull it together. Seconds before it was his turn he came alive.  He nodded and the gate flew open. Ray didn’t really know how to rig up properly and didn’t put enough rosin on his clove to help keep his hand closed so after the first buck Ray was thrown clear and landed on his feet. He stood there frozen ,watching the Brahma kicking and spinning and then, in a rage, turn towards him.  Several bull fighters ( rodeo clowns) picked him up and for a laugh tossed him over the fence back into the chutes.  The bleachers were shaking from the thunderous cheers.

We were the town heroes that night at Max’s bar. Couldn’t pay for a beer if we wanted to.  We had the respect of the cowboys , the envoy of the local boys, and bragging rights that would last for a year.

Ray and I rode several more area rodeos that season.  Ray broke two ribs and lost a few teeth.  I also broke a few ribs and always felt as though my head would fall off at any moment. My neck still hurts to this day. We did our thing, had some fun, had a short heroes life and then wisely moved on.  We decided to leave the rodeo sport to those that are just a little more crazier than we were.

Ray and I decided to chase after some ghosts that were haunting a long ago abandon homestead on the prairie.  I’ll tell you all about that adventure on my next blog.  Thanks for reading.

Jack Bennett

Remember friends, keep the faith, it gets better, it always does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My First Job on the Alberta Prairie

When my old school pal Ray called me and suggested I go west I couldn’t refuse.  He had been working as a cowboy on a large ranch in Southern Alberta and thought maybe I’d be interested.  He thought right.

I was presently working my tail off for a riding stable and even with a free home I couldn’t make ends meet.  So I figured if I was going to be poor in Ontario, I might as well be poor in Alberta.  A few days later in January of 1970, I boarded a Greyhound bus for Lethbridge Alberta.

After almost three days on that bus I’d had enough.  I looked at the map and seen where Medicine Hat was about the same distance as Lethbridge to my destination.  I told the driver to toss off my bags and to direct me to the most run down, flea bag of a hotel in town.  Ray didn’t have a telephone, but his wife Pat was a bookkeeper for the town of Foremost,Alberta, my destination.

I called Pat from the hotel lobby; if you can call a moldy hall, snowing paint chips and pictures held on the walls by cobwebs a lobby.  I told her to have Ray pick me up.  I couldn’t even find the name of the place but I said that Ray would know where to find me.

I was exhausted and fell to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow or sac or whatever that thing was..  Not sure how long I slept but I was jarred awake by Ray pounding on the door.  This hotel was the first place he looked.  He knew me well.

We picked up a bag of beer, you could buy’ beer to go’ in Alberta from any bar or hotel.  They just tossed your takeout in a brown paper bag and you were off.  Ray liked to look at you when he talked and that guy could talk.  More than once we drove off the road .  Ray wouldn’t miss a beat in his stories and would just wait for a break in the stubble fields where the ditch wasn’t to deep and swoosh back up onto the dirt prairie road spitting dust and gravel as we went.  Believe it not, but over time, I actually got used to the off-roading and wouldn’t even bat an eye as Ray steered that old Rambler through its paces. Sure scared the hell out of many a hitchhiker though.

The ride to Rays home was about 60 miles or around 100 kilometers.  Ray warned me not to toss out our empties because, while most unlikely, if we ran into some police ( Mounties) the penalty for littering was worse than drinking in the car.  As long as we weren’t drunk we would be let go.  Different times , they were.

Foremost had a population of 600 then, just a small prairie town 40 miles south of the Montana border.  I never seen so much open space in my life.  I was surprised when we pulled up to a small but neat two bedroom house.  It was called a teachers home.  The town would supply teachers with free housing but with Pat working for the town they qualified for one.  That’s when Ray told me he got laid off from the ranch and was going to work for the town driving a grater on the prairie roads; he would start in the spring.

Nice to find out now, I thought.  I wanted to cowboy, instead I met with the town mayor at the towns one and only bar , and was offered a job with the town, also starting in the spring.

I also learned that the bar owner Max had a very strict rule.  If you fought in the bar you would be barred for six months.  The locals were sure to “take it outside” if there were any trouble. So , just my luck this big guy, named Gerald , who was also the towns bike gang.  He had long hair, rare in a cowboy town, beard, chain on his wallet, leather chaps, leather jacket, the whole nine yards. And, he had the only motorcycle in town, hence, the towns bike gang.

So Gerald had to strut his stuff , badmouthing me and spilling my beer, stuff like that, because , I was the new guy.  After several hours of this I could sence the other guys, including Ray, wondering what I was going to do.  Well, Gerald, was a big guy and “taking it outside” would have been my first trip to a Alberta hospital, which was in Bow Island, 40 miles away,(60 kilometers).  I was left with no choice and let Gerald have it. A face full of fist, right on the nose.  My father used to say that my little bony hands was like getting kicked by deer when I let loose.  While Gerald went down, thank God, he took the whole table with him, something that didn’t sit well with Max at all. My first week on the prairie and already barred from the only watering hole around. Jeese.

I avoided Gerald for the next while , wasn’t that hard, just stepped inside a store whenever I heard that unmistakable rumble of a Harley,  but I did run into Max one day.  In a small town nobody wants to be a waiter in a bar.  They go to Max’s to drink.  So, Max says he’ll lift the ban if I work for him for the next six months until the job for the township opened up.  So there I was, went to Alberta to cowboy and ended up slinging beer for cowboys. Really stunk.  But, it seems I had a knack for balancing that tray loaded with beer and the tips were very good.  Max, turned out to be a real fair boss.  I could drink all I wanted as long as I stayed relatively sober and took care of his customers.

And the waiter had all the power in Max’s. I could cut a fellow off for any reason whatsoever.  So now I had Gerald, who liked to drink, right by the short and curlies. And he knew it. Funny thing though, in the next few months him and I became good friends . We hunted, fished and would drive those prairie roads like mad men. Me in the “bitch seat” as Gerald called it.  We stayed pals for the next three years until I left Alberta.

Finally spring came and Ray and I began working for the township. Gerald did too but was a week late because the radio in his grater wasn’t working and he had to drive into Lethbridge to get a new one.  Said he couldn’t get stoned without a radio.

My craving for the cowboy life didn’t go away and so Ray and I started to ride rodeos on the week-ends.  That,in itself is another story.  So next week I’ll write about my rodeo experience and why Gerald would always say that I was a real crowd pleaser whenever I rode.  And the Alberta crowd were out for blood.

Thanks for reading, Jack

Remember friends, keep the faith, it gets better, it always does.

 

 

 

 

My Pigeons…..part two

Only 12 years old and I had everything a guy could wish for.  I owned a CCM bicycle I called Trigger, a beagle dog named Banjo, a pigeon loft and a few pair of Birmingham Roller pigeons.  What else could a guy want, I thought.

Every day, weather permitting, I would fly the birds for an hour in the morning and then later that evening.  It was fun to watch the birds do back flips in mid-air. A good Roller could do seven or eight or more in a row.  Selective breeding for hundreds of years developed this trait.  A lot of guys in the area had this breed of pigeon.

Once a week or so I’d make my rounds visiting with the other fanciers. There was two guys Paul and Huey , older teens, who raised Homers. They never invited me into the yard but didn’t object to me leaning on the fence admiring their birds as they circle the loft at break neck speeds.

Another Homer guy , an older man who always seem to have a bottle of whiskey near by, would let me watch his birds from across the street but if I came too close he’d yell profanities my way.  Homer men seemed to think you were going to find out their secrets for racing and were suspicious.  There were exceptions of course.  Mr Hampton was one.  He was a real gentlemen, white-haired , rugged face and soft-spoken, I admired him.  He would often invite me into his loft and point out his best birds.  I always left in awe how he knew every bird and their lineage back several generations. He gave me several nice pigeons.

For the most part, Fancy pigeon breeders were much more open to kids hanging around.  One man, Soo Hong, was my all time favorite pigeon man.  His Rollers were not only great performers but the birds were as close to the Standard as could be.  They looked just like the pictures in the books.  He was a master breeder and gave me many top quality pigeons.  Many years later when Mr. Hong died he was buried from the funeral home that I worked at.  We released his birds at the cemetery and watched them fly off towards home. I felt that he would like that. I still see his wife and son from time to time.

One day on my way to visit some coops. I took a short cut down an alley.  I came across a loft I didn’t know about and the owner, a teenage kid, was cleaning his loft. He invited me in and showed off his well made and very clean loft. I thanked him for the time and continued on.

A few days later this guy shows up at my house with his father claiming I stole some of his pigeons. He pushed me around, a mistake on his part, and searched my loft while his father stood vigilant.

They found nothing ,of course, and left me with a warning to stay away from his place. I was more angry with myself for leaving Banjo in the basement ;they would have never got into the yard if he was out.

That whole day and the next I stewed over the event. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I was getting even.  Being only twelve I envisioned swooping into his bedroom window and slapping the hell of the jerk.  Instead, I enlisted the help of a cousin and together we sneaked through the alley in the wee hours under the cover of darkness.  We even dressed in dark clothing.  The loft door had a lock on it now, so I had to run home, about ten blocks away, and fetch a hammer.

While my cousin kept a close eye on the house I hammered away at the lock.  Not exactly international jewel thief’s here.  The lock eventually gave out and we were in.  I stuffed about half a dozen birds into a large paper bag and escaped undetected.

I hid the birds in a friend’s garage.   The next morning the kid came around, by himself this time.  He didn’t dare hop the fence with Banjo there growling at him but I opened my loft door wide letting he see inside. I still remember him riding off, chin quivering and close to tears.  I actually felt bad for him.  I knew he liked his birds the same as I did.

I went over to Paul’s, where the birds were, and released them. I found out later that every one of them returned home.  I figured we were even now and never bothered with that guy again.

Another bright idea of mine was to wire off the birds on one side of the loft and put a cot on the other side so I could sleep out there in the summer.

All was well until I shared a few nights with an older woman who ran away from home.  She was thirteen, almost fourteen.  I was making a lot of noise blowing a horn, the kind they use at hockey games, and a neighbour called the police.  The police officer, a neighbour, recognized the runaway and took us to police headquarters.  When the old man came to get me, about two in the morning, he looked at Donna, my loft room-mate, and asked me if I thought  her mother would like to sleep out.

The next morning pops got me up early and told me as punishment, I had to paint the eavesdroughts.

What I learned from that day was to only keep the feathered kind of birds in my coop.  Or at the very least, get rid of that blasted horn.

But all in all, pigeons to this day have been a great relaxing hobby for me. It’s too bad that pigeons and boys are a thing of the past.  Even the racing pigeon sport is dying world wide.  It’s a faster electronic times and there’s no going back.

Thanks for reading my blog.  Jack

Keep the faith friends, it gets better, it always does.