Cherry Picker Loft
We came across a pigeon donated by Cherry Picker loft on an auction site, hosting a charity auction. Drawn by Ulrich Lemmens, ‘Blind DeGust’ breeding line we were disappointed to find the bird had been sold. Curious my husband contacted Cherry Picker Lofts to inquire after the breeding. My husband has been training guide dogs for the blind for more than thirty years, when Tony Swanson offered a different bird from the ‘Blind Degust line’ we didn’t hesitate. We could not have predicted the friendship that would follow.
It began with one question and then another and another, for months Tony patiently answered questions; offered advice, and support. His sense of humor, charisma, and patience echoed through our conversations with him. During a conversation we suggested laughingly that we were asking too much of a person we had never met, we were surprised and curious at his response.
“You can ask all you want; I was new at this once too. And now I’m paying it forward.” He went on to explain, “To me, it’s paying a debt, I used to ask my mentor every time I saw him, what I could give him in return for his help, I didn’t have a lot, but I would have given it to him. Larry “Tuck” Long would respond every time, no need to give me anything. Just pay it forward someday and help someone else, so that’s what I do.”
How did you meet Larry ‘Tuck’ Long?
“Larry Long affectionately called Tuck by his friends looked a bit like Friar Tuck from Robinhood, he was a round man with the male patterned baldness that gave him the moniker”. Tony
explained in a tone warm with respect and deep friendship. “As a young man, I had been keeping common pigeons, right up until a cat ate the entire lot of them. A friend introduced me to Larry, I went to Larry’s house that first time and then just about lived there. The first birds that Larry gave me were from the Ken Swartz Fabry Family. I still have some of the old Swartz Fabry lines. Larry sold his loft and I wish I could have purchased some of them, but I just didn’t have the money at the time.
My mentor Tuck, you talk about Stock sense. He had these short little fat fingers; he could feel things in a pigeon that no one else could when he handled the birds. We fly the Mid-West Classic here, they had upwards of 10,000 pigeons in that race. We met up the day before the race Larry, Lee Bardot a fellow member of our club, at that time, and I to the basket for the following day’s race.
Lee pulled Larry aside and amidst bragging about his favorite, and best bird started handing Larry birds. Larry handled each bird and when it came to Lee’s favorite was not impressed. Lee said, what you don’t like this bird, it’s my best one! Larry looked at Lee and shook his head. Lee who lived ten miles from where we were was astonished when Larry threw the bird up into the air to fly home. Lee just about lost his gourd. Larry pulled another bird out of Lee’s basket and told him to lay every penny he had on that bird or Larry would. Lee reluctantly agreed. The next day on the three-hundred-mile race, Lee won with that bird. He named it Shist, because he couldn’t believe he had a bird return before he even had his clock ready! Not only did he win the three hundred with that pigeon, but he also won the overall against about ten thousand pigeons; with the one, Larry picked in the parking lot the night before. I don’t know how he did it but he could tell a Donkey, that’s what we called a pigeon that didn’t have the talent.
I could go on for hours with stories about Larry. He was amazing, I don’t know how he did it. He could breed any pigeon for conformation, and he was the best at it. when he was a kid, he bred a Rooster to crow over sixty times in half an hour to win a competition. Yes, Larry was the best. Unfortunately, Cancer took Larry ‘Tuck’ Long in 2013.
I was able to give Larry a lifetime achievement award from members of our combine. I was a bit younger then. Lol”
Nationally known by racing pigeon fanciers for his discovery of the color variant called “Drizzle” which describes an autosomal dominant. The “Drizzle mutation causes the coloring of a bird to appear as if viewed through a rainy drizzle. 1 Larry Long was also given a lifetime achievement award by the American Racing Pigeon Union. Deone Roberts, then sport development manager of the racing pigeon union, said of Larry “…he has quietly been responsible for many beginners getting involved (in the activity) and been very generous in his efforts to help various organizations.”2
Also, this is a color Larry brought into the Homer’s. It’s dominant opal. He not only brought them into Homer’s he won with them. The color originally was in show modenas.
The Modena pigeon is a breed of domestic fancy pigeon from Italy. It derives its name from the city of Modena in Italy, where it was first bred centuries ago. The breed was actually developed over many years of selective breed. This breed and other varieties of domesticated pigeons, all are descendants of the feral or wild rock pigeon.3
Tony has kept his promise to ‘Tuck’ to pay it forward. “I’ve met a lot of people through pigeons and had a lot of fun with it. I really enjoy the birds especially when they’re successful, I don’t know everything, but what I do know I’m always willing to share”.
Like his mentor, Tony too has a way with pigeon stock sense.
Tony, you buy imports, what draws you to specific birds, do you have a particular breeding?
“Well, I look for, the performance of the loft, but I personally am drawn to smaller lofts. The breeding of any particular genetic bloodline tends to be of a higher concentration. If you are breeding from ten or twelve pairs of breeders and it does well in Belgium, you have a pretty good chance of getting something good from that breeder, whereas if the breeder is breeding a hundred pairs, you might not be as lucky. It is more than performance and loft size though, it’s that something extra in a pigeon, like the one you have from Blind De Gust. Ulrich Lemmens told me when I purchased the bird; “the bird had its cards stacked against him. He was a late hatch and I didn’t even have a band for him, but he was off one of my better pairs and I really wanted to test him. So, I got a French Band from a friend of mine. I pushed him hard, and he didn’t disappoint. He did well, winning in several national races, but then he was hit by a hawk. I kept flying him and even after he began to lose his sight in one eye, he kept coming back.” Tony continued, “It’s that something extra that a winning pigeon has. The spark and determination to return, through every race, against all the odds. I’ve seen it and have it in my loft”.
Do you have a Favorite bird in your loft?
“I think my favorite is ‘38 Special’, she is the mother to some really outstanding pigeons. She is my favorite because of the way she performs and what she is breeding”. Whatsheisbreedingindeed, this Hen is the mother of the bird that we purchased from Cherry Picker Loft, in which we named ‘Cherry picker’, (not terribly imaginative, I know) but she really does not require a fancy name. She is our favorite as well. Her offspring, fly with a love and drive that belies the fact that Tony sold her to us for far less than she is worth, from stock he had not intended to sell.
What is your favorite memory?
One of my favorite memories is of my first race. I was 16 at the time and I flew out of a treehouse that had been my brothers. When I inherited it, I of course made it into a loft. The treehouse was small 4/8. I and a friend were waiting for the birds, bored we went out to check the tomatoes in the garden and there were two birds, they circled and came in. That was exciting, I still remember the bird’s numbers, 1313 and 1316. I clocked them and called Joe Tordai; he was an old Hungarian pigeon flier; a self-made man. Mr. No nonsense, I called him, and he said, “Oh they’ve already taught you that bad nonsense”. I asked what he meant? He said, “ I haven’t heard from anyone else having birds, and you’re on the long end! I don’t have birds yet, and I’m on the short end! If you lying to me…” Well, I told him I had two. And you know I won that race; it was my first race and I won it! that’s one of my favorite memories”.
“A lost pigeon is soon forgotten; you have to move on to the good ones!” Larry ‘Tuck’ Long.
While we never had the opportunity to meet Larry ‘Tuck’ Long, we have gotten to know Tony Swanson, and just as he speaks with respect of his mentor so to do, we. Thank you, Tony, keep paying it forward, and someday so will we.
Kelly Jo Stone &
1: Barnhart & Son Lofts | Tom’s Genetics Page (barnhartlofts.com) /New Page 1 (angelfire.com)
2: Racing pigeon group to honor Davenport man | Local News | qctimes.com
3: Modena Pigeon: Appearance, Origin, Uses & Breed Information (roysfarm.com)