SPORT TALK From Around the Racing Pigeon World!


By TOM SMITH   Spring Hill, Florida, USA




I have enjoyed reading many pigeon books over the years, but the yearly RP SQUILLS and BHW Stud Books have been my favorites. I’ve read them for over forty years. Their articles have been interesting, informative and truly universal.   I have enjoyed the articles so much that I searched out and purchased as many older issues as I could find.  The cover of my oldest issue of the Stud Book says “The Homing World Stud Book 1947 compiled by ‘CHAIRMAM’ Author of “NOVICES’ SOCIAL CIRCLE” price 3/6 net.” It is a coincidence that 1947 was the year I was born! The oldest issue of, what came to be SQUILLS International Year Book,   is the 1936 “Diary, Stud Book, Training Register and Almanac” compiled by SQUILLS, author of ‘Food For Novices.’

In the 2006 Homing World Stud Book I read an article by   Peter Wheble titled “Gurnays, Southwells and Long-Established Truths” with great interest.  I was surprised to see a photograph of a beautiful bronze velvet racing Gurnay, a strain that has existed since the turn of the century; one that is near and dear to my heart as I was once a “Gurnay specialist,” breeding, racing, importing, exporting, and writing about them for many years.

It always amazes me when I see an “old strain” that is being perpetuated successfully; not just bred “pure,” but raced successfully.   It takes a true “master breeder” to keep one of these distinctive “old strains” true to type as well as performing on the road. I believe it is a much more difficult job to do that successfully, than to breed and race a modern crossbred family, culling only by racing performance.

I leafed through two recent BHW Stud Books and found well over thirty “old strains” being bred and flown successfully by advertisers. Strains such as: Stassart, Dordin, Sion, Bricoux, Gurnay, Stichelbaut, VanWanroy, Busschaert, Kirkpatrick, Marriott, Delbar, Jan Aarden, Boizard, Huyskens-VanReil, Cattrysse, Peperman, Ko Nipius, A.R.Hill, Spangles, Southwells, Karel Hermans, etc.

In the BHW “Letters to the Editor” there was a request for anyone who was breeding and racing the “Barkers” because the writer had once flown them successfully for years and wanted them again as he was reentering the sport! Barkers! Isn’t that a late 1800’s family?? I recently had an email from a flier in Fife, Scotland who is still breeding and racing the Dr. Bricoux pigeons successfully. And another email from the writer Phillipe Martin in Belgium who is known for his Bricoux family and recently won a 600 mile race with one of his Gurnays! And I had a letter from a flier in Romania who was racing pure Bricoux   very successfully. When I have discussed this with Belgian fanciers they look amazed at first, then say it’s impossible to breed and race a family of pigeons for so long without introducing new blood.   Then they asked “Why would you even want to breed such an old family?” because modern families have progressed beyond those old families……. I admit that there is a certain historical allure to these great old strains.   They have a long illustrious history of success. And most of them have a “fixed type.”  When you see a Gurnay you know it. When you see a Dordin, a Bricoux, a Kirkpatrick, they have a specific “type.”   If in your “mind’s eye” you equate that type with racing success, you are “hooked” on breeding that family.

I became “hooked” on the Gurnays when I read   Racing to Win” by Fred Shaw, over forty years ago, and the strain still has a fond spot in my heart today!   I searched for the best pure, racing Gurnays obtainable and   imported them from many top British fliers such as Tom Watson of Washington, P.G. Smith, Basil Beebe, Eric Drayton, Bob Holmes, Arthur Mellor, R.G. Wales, Eric Craven, William Mellor, Perkins Bros. and Wm. Streeter via John Lawrie’s Avona Loft in Ireland, W.R. Black of   Scotland, and even from the late, great Louis Massarella. I would like to mention here that many years ago, 1975 I believe, Louis Massarella sent me a beautiful BB Gurnay hen, daughter of the record winning Red Checker Gurnay  cock, “the SAINT,” – as a gift!  He wrote me that he enjoyed my many articles about Gurnay specialists, and knew I loved them, so “here is a present for you out of the best Gurnay racing cock of his time!”    I was overjoyed and never forgot his kindness… I also searched out the best Gurnays in America, obtaining the bloodlines of A.R. Brown via Frank Soares, Ted Hart via Dave Seidman, Monsieur Poitier French Gurnays from Willowmere Loft, Al Beekman’s great racing Gurnays, , etc. I can still remember some of those absolutely beautiful Gurnays………In particular the Tom Watson of Washington bronze “White Throat” Olympiade Gold Medal winning Gurnays and the Perkins Bros. “Tybalt” Gurnays, which were absolutely beautiful and raced to win. I also bought Beebe’s “Lerwick Cock,” which was quite a racer and beautiful too. I even searched out successful Gurnay fliers in France and Germany!

Now don’t think I was rich, because I wasn’t. I was an underpaid public school teacher. I saved my pennies, didn’t often go on vacations, and invested the money I made, selling youngsters, in new stock! Remember in those days you could really buy something nice for twenty or thirty dollars!!  As time went on I began loft visiting throughout Europe; 1972 I believe. I well remember when I first visited Louis Massarella, owner of the famous LOUELLA LOFTS, and by chance the famous North Road Championship Club’s Lerwick National  ace John Lovell, who was visiting his friend on that same day. What an interesting conversation…… LOUELLA was winning so many races that he no longer competed for club prizes, but only for Federation and Combine prizes! What a man, and what outstanding pigeons he possessed.

As a guide to breeding “ true to type” I studied the photos of the original Gurnays shown in old Stud Books and Squills. I wrote articles about many of the successful Gurnay fliers, and I sold Gurnay youngsters around the world. My very first race winner was a Bronze cock, named “The SMASH COCK,”  bred from a crossing of a Bob Holmes Gurnay (GB) x a Ted Hart (GB) line Dave Seidman Gurnay……… I always joked that the Bronze cock “must have thought he was back home in England,” because the race conditions were rain, grey clouds, and wind…….and the winning speed was under 800 ypm! Not many birds made it back that day!

Here we are seventy years since “the Emperor”  Renier Gurnay of Verviers, Belgium died and   we are still talking about his strain of pigeons! Not only talking, but some fanciers are still breeding and racing them successfully. It is amazing! But what is the allure? Without a doubt it is the Gurnays “comformation of type” and its illustrious racing history as “the World’s Greatest Winning Strain.”  

It may surprise you that there is a “national club” in America for Gurnay breeders and fliers. It is named the “ GURNAY USA CLUB.” It was founded in 1980 by two well known “Gurnay Specialists,” John Kasmierczk DVM, owner of the West Trenton Animal Hospital in New Jersey, and Hal Conn of  Florida, who wrote a book about the Gurnays a few years ago, titled “ The Emperor.” There are still some copies of this book available thru the author: email HalConn@xtalwind.net  To quote eighty-five year old Hal Conn: “We love, admire, and revere the records of Renier Gurnay, and we want to breed a bird which looks like Gurnay’s champions and flies like them also.”

The Gurnay Club sponsors a yearly “Webb Boegeman Futurity,” one loft young bird race for Gurnays only. All entries must look like a Gurnay and have an authentic pedigree, which must be supplied at the time of entry. The club also has a yearly “Gurnay Show,” again, open to only Gurnays. In 2007   12 th Annual GURNAY USA “Webb Boegeman”Futurity 215 miles handled by Tad Langhover Newton, Kansas the top ten winners were: 1 st Tony Huang Waltham, Massachusetts 1342 ypm; 2 nd Carl Rensa Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania 1195.791 ypm; 3 rd Alan Dyar Happy Camp, California 1195.728 ypm; 4 th Carl Rensa 1173.609 ypm; 5 th Roy Gray  Inverness, Florida 1173.609 ypm; 6 th Bruce Kuhlman 1173.488 ypm; 7 th Hall Conn Crystal River, Florida 1173.427 ypm; 8 th Alan Dyar 1140.318 ypm; 9 th Corbett/Bayer Hunters, Washington 1140.146 ypm; 10 th Corbett/Bayer 1140.146 ypm.  

The late Webb Boegeman was one of the fanciers instrumental in introducing the Hansennes and Gurnays into America half a century ago. The club secretary, Hal Conn, sends out a monthly Gurnay Club Newsletter to keep the members informed. There are over thirty members at this time, even one in Taiwan!, and I was truly honored to be president of the club in 2006, 2007, and 2008.  

I took out all my old Gurnay files, sat on my couch looking at dozens upon dozens of old Gurnay photos, piles of letters from Gurnay specialists,   most of whom were in the UK, and reminisced   about “the world’s greatest winning strain……,” the Renier Gurnays! I also thought of the historical significance of the family, because it was one of the earliest “true families.” Renier Gurnay created his family based on the Hansennes of Verviers. He revered the Hansenne pigeons. As a boy he spent many days at Alexandre Hansenne’s loft. He was Hansenne’s “runner,” sprinting to the club on race day to time in Hansenne’s   race birds. That was before 1900 when there were no timing clocks. Young Renier received many eggs and birds from Alexandre over the years. After the death of the old master, Renier Gurnay came to the forefront of the Belgian sport with descendents of   Hansenne’s pigeons. Gurnay would buy out a fancier’s entire loft to get his hands on just a few outstanding Hansenne pigeons!

It is said that Gurnay “supercharged” the Hansennes, creating the Gurnays by inbreeding, linebreeding and severe selection as to type and racing performance. He apparently did not believe in outcrossing and only made one cross, that we know of, with pigeons from another top flier, Monsieur Verhoye. They were red and silver, but their blood was only present in a small segment of the Gurnay strain. If Gurnay introduced a pigeon it had to be a Hansenne based pigeon, and that didn’t happen often. Renier Gurnay did not keep a breeding book, he kept his records in his brain!  His loft-man once talked him into keeping a loft-book for one season, but Gurnay got tired of it and threw it away!  He only wrote pedigrees of two generations!  Why? Because he said anything beyond that was useless! He was only interested in performances of today and one generation back! But Gurnay’s pigeons not only had to have performance, they had to have “ type, conformation and superior feather.”  We are indebted to the many Gurnay   specialists in Great Britian who were interested in extended pedigree details and kept records of the lineage of the Gurnays. One of the most noteable was R. G. Silson of   Boston, Lincs. who published extensive Gurnay pedigree charts, and of course Fred Shaw who was Renier Gurnay’s sole agent in England and wrote the definitive Gurnay book, Racing to Win.

Renier Gurnay was a legend in his own time; an acknowledged   Champion of the Wallon (French speaking Belgium), and  one of the Grand Masters of all Belgium. In the days of Gits, Dardenne, Bricoux, Bastin, Sion, etc. Gurnay had the stature of a “rock-star!”  It is recorded that when he attended a pigeon exhibition, the word that the “great Gurnay is here” spread quickly and crowds gathered around to get a glimpse of him, looking at him in awe!  

When it came to his pigeons Renier Gurnay was quite “egotistical.”   He stated emphatically that he had “the best pigeons in the world!” He would not exchange birds with other great champions of his time like Bricoux and Sion. He was invited to dinner several times by Dr. Bricoux, but never accepted the invitations because he said “He doesn’t want to eat dinner with me; he wants my birds!” Renier Gurnay had quite an “ ego” when it came to his pigeons! If you wanted to see the Gurnay pigeons you had to have a formal introduction by someone Gurnay respected or you could not gain an audience with Renier Gurnay, no less see his loft and birds!  

Renier Gurnay preferred exporting his pigeons to England, Ireland, Germany, France, and even America rather than selling them to his countrymen, which was probably a mistake in the long run as it did not allow his pigeons to spread their greatness through other lofts in Belgium. He did not want to compete against his own birds. He felt he had a superior strain which no one else in Europe possessed, and that it was the “closest thing to a pure strain” in existence; the “best type” for racing   possible. One of the few Belgians visited Renier Gurnay many times and obtained his birds was Georges Fabry of Liege. Georges went to Gurnay to obtain the “pure Hansennes.” Later these Fabrys (Hansennes via Gurnay) made their way to the Netherlands where they founded the great National & International longdistance winning strain of Sjef VanWanroy. Other Gurnays must have made there way into Belgian lofts on a limited basis as Andre Vanbruaene of Lauwe, Belgium introduced the famous Gurnay “Short Beak of 1934” which bred a line of winners including “De Libourne” and 1st Pau National 1951. It is also said there is a line of Gurnay blood in the old Stichelbauts and the Dutch Aardens…….

When Renier Gurnay was asked about the other well known Verviers champion, Lucien Bastin, he incredulously said “He beats me only two or three times a year. I beat him nine out of ten races! And he does not compete in the biggest organization in Verviers as I do. There is no comparison possible!” All these histrionics were gleaned from letters Renier Gurnay wrote to an American Gurnay flier in the early 1900’s.

There are many interesting lessons to be learned from the masters of old…….. It is a shame that much of the written material by them and about them was lost in the wake of WWII……Even Gurnay wrote a book, but it is long lost. Luckily overseas fanciers preserved some of the material. The letters mentioned above were correspondence between Renier Gurnay and a rich banker in Montana, USA,   Lee Ford. Gurnay sent many aces at high prices to Lee Ford, but didn’t realize Montana was isolated and had only a few fliers. As incredible as it sounds, Lee Ford tried to settle many of the imported Gurnays – even National winners! and lost them of course! What a waste! A suitcase of letters and photos was bought at an estate sale; somehow I was called to see if I was interested in them, but the price was too high. Years later I was talking Gurnays with my friend Dr. John Kasmierczak and   remembered the letters. I told John about them. He called the fellow and bought them for $5000!!! Much has been gleaned from those  letters.

When I read that Henri Mornard of Verviers, Belgium won 1 st National 1 st International Perpignan in 1995 with a half Gurnay pigeon, I was both surprised and elated! Now I knew there were still Gurnays in Belgium! And to top it off, Henri Mornard had bought Renier Gurnay’s three story loft, renovated it, turning the second floor into his home, and the top floor back into a loft for his race birds, the same place from which the pigeons of Renier Gurnay once flew! I had to go there and see it for myself……So, the next year my wife Gigi and I were on our way to Verviers! The impressive Gurnay chateau was still there at 61 Rue aux Laines, now owned by a German family. Henri bought the large backyard garden and three-story pigeon loft. One can only imagine what the fanciers of Belgium in the 1920’s thought when they saw the “mansion” Gurnay had built for his pigeons! You might say that he was the “Donald Triump” of the pigeon world. There had never been such a grand, modern loft in all the pigeon world.

Henri and his wife were very friendly. Henri showed me news clippings of his performances and articles about Renier Gurnay. Then he took me to the loft and showed me his Foundation BCh Gurnay cock. What a pigeon. We went to the yb section that was full of “bronze” youngsters. On the wall in his home was a large painting of two Bronze Gurnays, the absolute spitting image of a pair of Gurnays I imported from Tom Watson of Washington, GB a few years before!! I was amazed that the “type” truly was the same……..Of course, like all Belgians, he had made several crosses to increase performance. We climbed the steps to the roof of the loft, three stories up, into the “look-out,” the very same “look-out” from which Renier Gurnay had watched his many National winners return home. What a grand view of the hills and countryside. A vantage point few had in Liege. It was like living a “fairy-tale’ for me……Henri had installed modern Belgian widowhood boxes in the loft. I asked him where the original Gurnay boxes were, but he had discarded them….and hadn’t taken any photos…. What a lost to history, in my eyes…. But he described them as being four times the size of modern nest boxes.

Henri asked if I would like to see Gurnay’s original home and loft, before he became rich and bought the chateau on the hilltop. We went to the old neighborhood, quite rundown now, but the small house and loft were still there. Then Henri said “Let me take you to see the other well known Verviers champion Lucien Bastin’s house and loft.” We went a few miles and there it was as pristine as the day it was built! What an experience…… A few years later it was a very sad day when I learned that the jovial, big man Henri had passed away……

Along with this article I have sent some photos of modern day Gurnays. Those of  “the grand old man of the American Gurnays,” Hal Conn; the “fountain-head of the Gurnay strain,”   John Kazmierczak, the California “Gurnay Specialist,” Alan Dyar; and   two from GB, one from Paul Butt of Wales and the other from Ian & Tom Watson of England. There are still Gurnays   being flown successfully around the world, in such places as Taiwan, and even Australia. If you would like to see a nice display of modern, pure bred, racing Gurnays, search   www.Gurnays.com the website of Copper Beach Loft  owned by John Kazmierczak DVM of New Jersey, and feast your eyes! The website even has an extensive article on the history of the Gurnays, written by me in 1968……. John has the premier loft of Gurnays in North America, and maybe the world. They are beautiful, true to type, and have raced very well…

Members of the Gurnay USA Club would love to hear from other fliers of the Gurnay strain around the world. You can be put in contact with them through the club president at 9506 Elida Rd, Spring Hill, Florida, USA 34608-4747 or email Birdman32347@TampaBay.com

Long live the GURNAYS!!!

Tom Smith