What Wests Used to Be
Pigeon Debut, January 2003

By: Chuck Zeller
Today in America, very few breeders keep the West of England Tumbler for its flying and performing abilities, but not too many years ago they did. When the West was first brought to America from England in the early 1900ís, all of the fanciers of the day flew their Wests. From that time until the mid to late 60ís Iíd guess that at least 75% of the West fanciers flew their birds. By the early 70ís, probably only about 10% of the West fanciers flew them.

My first introduction to Wests came in 1946 at my cousinís house. I lived with my parents in Wilmar, California, and my cousin lived bout two miles away in Garvey. After the end of WWII, my cousins got out of the Navy and came to live in the home in Garvey, and my family visited them often. What I remember most about these visits were the pigeons my cousins had, I was fascinated by their feathered feet. Even though I was only six, Iíd beg my cousin to let me chase the birds up, because the other thing about these birds my cousin called ďWestiesĒ that fascinated me was their ability to flip over backwards many times while flying high up in the air. My mom said I would watch these birds for hours on end. When I used to beg to get birds of my own, my dad always said no. In 1947, my parents moved to El Monte, California, and the visits to my cousinís became more infrequent.

But it would not be long before I got to see Wests again. Sometime in 1949 or 1950, my family went to visit my aunt who lived in Eagle Rock. My brother and I did the usual kid exploration of the year, and in one corner of the yard we found a small fenced area where my aunt and uncle kept tortoises. Talk about a magnet to young kids. On a later trip to my aunt and uncleís I again found myself out with the tortoises, but I noticed something else. Next door, I saw several pigeons flying into a wire cage, and the closer I looked I decided they sure looked like the birds my cousin had. I noticed a man walking out to the pigeon pen, and I sort of froze not knowing whether to say ďhiĒ or run. The man looked my way and said hello to me, so I responded and then told him I noticed his birds and remarked how much they looked like my cousinís birds. I told him my cousinís name and the man said he knew him. Then he told me to come over and he would show me his birds. Didnít take me even 30 seconds to get around his lofts. He introduced himself as John Beckman and showed me all of his different birds. After visiting with him about 2 hours, Mr. Beckman said if my parents would approve he would give some birds to fly. I tried real hard to convince my parents, but again the answer was no. My dad must have felt bad though, a few weeks later he caught an ash-red fantail that was on our garage and let me keep it in a rabbit cage. I had that bird until a year or so later, when a cat got it through the wire.

In 1953, new neighbors moved in and they had three boys and a girl, just the same as my family. We kids were elated. If my memory serves me correctly, it was about a month later I noticed Mr. Brown, or Joe as he insisted we call him, working to fix up an old barn on the back of his property. Being the usual curious kid, I had to ask him why, and he said they were for his pigeons that were still at his dadís house. Pigeons, oh boy, I couldnít wait to see what kind he had. About a week later, after the barn was all fixed up I saw Joe taking boxes back to the barn. I ran over there, and Joe told me to grab a box and help him bring them back to the barn. I tell you, when I saw all those birds flying around in the barn, I couldnít believe it, I knew right away what kind they were. I said Joe those are West of England Tumblers. Joe was surprised I knew what kind they were, even more so when I recognized he had Selfs, Mottles, and Baldheads and could even tell him what all the colors were called.

After practically camping out in front of his barn for about a month, Joe said if I wanted a few Wests, all I had to do was get my dadís okay. Knowing the result of asking him before, this time I didnít say a word to my dad, I got some old chicken wire and scrap wood and built a loft. I recall it had three 2 x 4ís for corners; the fourth corner was a walnut tree. To me I had built a palace, but in reality it was about 3 feet square and 5 feet high. My dad saw me building this loft and he asked what I was doing, I responded ďoh nothingĒ. After I had finished, my dad said if I intended on putting pigeons in it to forget it, there was no way. I was beside myself, I sat by this loft I had built for seemingly hours, and finally my dad came out. He said he had talked it over with my mother and since I had worked so hard on building this cage I could get two pigeons.

Forty none years later I still have my Wests, mainly thanks to having an excellent mentor in Joe Brown. Itís been many years since Iíve put any of my Wests up in the air, but I can tell you some of the most enjoyable times Iíve had with my Wests were the times Iíd watch them do their thing up in the sky.

 Chuck Zeller
What Wests Used to Be
Pigeon Debut, January 2003

© 2006 - National West of England Tumbler Club