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Old Line Janssens and Their Impact in the USA

By Gerald Hebert & Daryl J. Honey Sr.

1950-1970, the pre "Merckx" era of the fabulous Janssen Brothers, was where it all began.

Names like "Bange of '51", "Winterjongen", "Lichte of '50", "Blauwe of 48", "Oude Witoger of 65", and the "Geeloger of '67", were just a few of the many greats the Janssen Brothers raced and bred to form the most successful line of racing pigeons in the world.

These awesome racers not only helped the Janssen Brothers fill their pockets on race day, but the potent blood that ran through their veins, would boost almost any loft of that era to absolute greatness.

The ability to produce a high percentage of outstanding racers has been a trademark of the Janssen pigeon since then.

Over and over again the stories go on about how this man, or that, was able to obtain one or two eggs from the brothers of Arendonk, and form a loft of unparalleled greatness that would bring the competition to their knees for some of their birds.

Gust Hofkens, Joseph De Klak, Herman Brothers of Germany, Albert Van de Flaes, and the list goes on, were some of the fanciers who made the pilgrimage to the brothers of Arendonk and changed history in pigeon racing forever.

Everyone knows what the Janssen pigeons did after the "Oude Merckx", and his fabulous sons made their mark in racing and breeding; but where did they come from? Did the Brothers just get lucky breeding birds from several lofts to make their elite pigeons?

No, not in the least. The old line Janssens were there, tearing up the best of their day. They won more than their share of races, and with the unmatched ability to breed pigeons that not only kept the quality of pigeons in their loft very high, they could breed winners and breeders for other lofts as well.

1. The "Vernazza" Janssens of California.

The early Janssens of the US made a tremendous impact almost immediately after arriving in America. The early sixties in California was one of these places.

Henry "Hank" Vernazza, of the Martinez Club, had bought several imports from Piet deWeerd of the new Janssen Strain. His record for over a decade was unbelievable. Soon thereafter other fanciers were dying for some of these new Vernazza pigeons. Jim Calia was one of those fanciers.

Jim obtained as many of Hank Vernazza's pigeons as he could and started his own strain of very successful pigeons known today throughout the US, and much of the World. The Vernazza pigeons are responsible for the foundation birds of more lofts in the US than any other line of pigeon we know of. To this day many, futurity birds and combine winners, are bred from descendents of these pigeons.

The most famous, and surely one of the best producing hens the world of pigeon racing has ever seen, is the "Red Hen". She was one of the original birds Hank purchased from Van de Flaes, through DeWeerd. The "Red Hen" was not an "original Janssen", from the brothers of Arendonk, as her breeder was Albert Van de Flaes of Ravels, Belgium. She was a daughter of Van de Flaes "Red Fox", a National winner of many races. He, being bred from the "Bange of '51" stock of Janssens of Arendonk.

After learning what an impact the "Red Hen" was having in America, Van de Flaes sent a cousin to mate with her. This cousin's name was the "Poot" cock", a black check that would turn California upside down with his youngsters from the "Red Hen".

It is said that the "Red Hen" is the mother or grandmother to more than 200 winners. This is simply unheard of in the racing pigeon sport.

Through experiments, it was determined that the "Red Hen" had the ability to produce outstanding racers for as much as 6 or 7 generations. Hank was not going to leave this incredible ability stand idle. He mixed the blood of this wonder hen into every pigeon he raised, and like wise, every Vernazza strain pigeon alive today still has the blood of that same "Red Hen" running through their veins.

2. The "Mexico" Janssens of Maurice Jemal

Maurice Jemal was the type of fancier who could spot a good pigeon when he saw one. The day Piet de Weerd brought by those Janssen pigeons, Jemal's life changed! He bought as many as 3 pairs from Piet, and more later, he "had never seen a finer pigeon".

Some were original Arendonk Janssens while some came from Van de Flaes.

After some experimenting, Jemal started a system of breeding virtually unmatched in the US. (Even today most fanciers don't understand his system correctly.) Maurice Jemal took the competition by storm, winning more races than anyone before that time. Because of the first birds being brought in late in the year, Jamel he raced the young birds in the next season of old birds. They won 70% of all the races, at all distances.

Breeding was another nightmare for his competitors. Jemal's 'inbred pigeons' would breed racers like no one had ever seen in Texas! Over and over again he had the top money pigeons.

It seemed impossible to beat Jemal, so they joined him and bought his pigeons. After a while, if you didn't have "Mexico" Janssens (what they called the Jamel pigeon after it left Jamel’s hands) in your loft, you didn't have a prayer to ever win a race in Texas.

One pigeon comes to mind, The “Mex 16”! Although not actually bred by Jamel, he was bred from birds that Jamel bred. This bird was raced with much success in Mexico, but his fame came in his breeding abilities. “16” was bred to a hen, Mex 72, and out of that mating came 5 birds, and what breeders they were, as good as the “16” himself one fellow told me. “Mex 72” was sold to a group in New Orleans, and continued to have success, but not near the success she achieved with the “16” cock. “Mex 16” was bred to many hens in his 13 years, and he never failed to hit some great racers or breeders out of them. I will be writing future articles about this line of “Mexico Janssens” in the future.

Several fanciers of that time told me they were the best. Trouble is no one kept up the breeding system Jemal invented, and those early birds were soon bred out of the bloodline.

One fancier told me they were so good, you could tell what kind of a pigeon it would be right in the nest. The blue ones were the racers, and the red ones were the breeders, it was that simple.

There are a few of the old birds with most of this bloodline still intact, but the ones who's got them, won't get rid of them!

3. The "Durkins Janssens" of the Northeast US.

Out of the Northeast came another group of early Janssens that we came to know as the Durkins. One of the men who flew and bred these fabulous birds was Harold Durkins, he and Russ Burns raced very successfully with them. Unkown to many fanciers, these birds not imported by Durkins himself. Through Piet De Weerd, John Spuria and Herb Brazzo imported the Janssens, and from these birds Harold was able to obtain this fabulous bloodline. Not unlike the "Vernazza's" and the "Mexico's", they were an immediate success.

Racing and breeding racers, the new Janssen strain was proving it's worth in every loft. No one noticed this more than Russ Burns, Russ capitalized on the racing ability of these new sensations like no one else. His awards and records stand to this day, as a mark to work for, 36 Registered AU Champions!

Harold Durkins realized the quality of the Janssen pigeon, and bred numerous birds that have founded many lofts also, and after some consulting with Henry Vernazza, they swapped birds into each other's lofts. This is the sign of two men who knew quality, and knew how to keep such quality birds breeding quality. Many fanciers can use a strain of pigeons to breed and race, but few can keep the strain intact, and continue to breed quality pigeons years after they were introduced. We have to thank these men, for keeping the "Old Line Janssens" in such a pure state, so we can enjoy the abilities they are known for to this day.

Now for a little recap, the Old Line Janssens are responsible for ......, well they are responsible for the Vernazza's, the Mexico's, the Durkins, the Merckx, the DeKlaks, the Vos's, the Van de Faes, the Hortogs, the 969's, the Calia's, the Russ Burns, "019's", the Continental Class's, the Zazueta's, the Lumachi's….. and the list could go on and on!

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