what a PIGEON MAN
|I have to be one of the luckiest pigeons guys around...why? To have been
Close friends with some of the very best flyers and the biggest characters in my
area of Northern California was amazing when I think of it now. This story is about
a guy that was very unique. Eccentric would be putting it mildly. Funny, always
cheerful and he also had a sense of charisma about him. Roy Hunter.......
We all hear about "don't judge a book by its cover" on occasion right? This surely
applied to Roy. Inside this man was a mixture of intelligence, generosity and an
old style personable character similar to those we knew of in the early days of
cinema. (alot like Cagney)
Roy quietly came onto the scene when he moved from the Bay area up to the
Novato area finding a little houseboat set on solid ground just 50 feet away from
the Petaluma River. The land was owned by Mike Narro, a wealthy guy who knew
Roy well (great friends) and let him just stay there.........Mike and Roy went back
some years alot of which I did not know. Roy was older than me, probably a
couple years younger than Al Boccone at the time he moved and eventually
raced in the Tam Club.
Well the story goes like this.........Roy looks up (he lived just below Al Boccones
new house which was on a hilltop overlooking the river....) and sees pigeons
flocking/flying around. He drives up and introduces himself to Al, parking his
worn and torn Datsun (it looked like it was a victim of a semi truck battering)...
in Als Drive way. After some small talk, Roy decides to buy 4 youngbirds from
Al. Heck Roy at that time did'nt even have a loft built yet.........!!! talk about
impulsive? Roy was a survivor, not having much money and learned to live
rather scantilly from being on his sailboat at sea. At the time, he was doing
some janitorial work, self employed.
Roy had no idea what to expect but felt the birds were probably going to be
cheap.......(ha!) The 4 birds were placed in a basket that Al vehemently said he
wanted back asap!! As Roy whipped out his checkbook (in which the account
was almost empty!), He was shocked when the price came out of Als mouth.
Without so much as a flinch though, he wrote out the check and left with the
Later on when Roy and I became great friends, he shared this story with me..My
description of Roy, his home and lofts is not meant to sound degrading . As Roy
was one of my very best and dear friends, my text merely attempts to draw a
picture of how it 'was' as seen not only by myself but nearly everyone who knew
of Roy Hunter, and specifically for those who did not know him.
Roy had already began to have a reputation as someone who was "different".
I noticed he had a keen sense when it came to ties with all animal species... He
had dogs, he had cats, he had parrots.....racing pigeons and of course later on
his famous goat !!
My friendship with Roy Hunter began in earnest when I had been fired from my
job as a service manager for a security firm in San Francisco. I was commuting
through Marin to Petaluma in those days and then landed a job with a firm based
in LA which opened an office in San Rafael....(turns out the firing was a blessing)
I used to train the old birds every saturday 100 miles and I would pick up Roys
team very early on my way up the mountain..... My office being close to his house
made it easy for me come visit on the way home.........daily. By this time, he was
the hottest flier in the United States as he had just won Big Grand All American.
When you came to his little humble patch of ground and saw what was there, you
would never think that HE was the best flyer in the USA at the time. People in our
combine were all scratching their heads.......wondering how in the world could this
be? On his meteoric rise, Boccone would come down the hill and visit, look
around at his lofts, look at this feed, taste it, smell it........shake his head and walk
away in total amazement.......
Jim Calia.........same story........many others came, looking for the visual secret that
could enlighten them as to how this man could become successful so quickly. No
one could see any semblance of reasoning that brought success. In fact, on the
contrary.......the word was......"what a mess over there" goat crap all over, dirty
uncleaned lofts.......damp, near the river......etec. etec. But how was he getting so
many birds out in front? Old birds and young birds.....wow.
Roys lofts? if you could peek inside the darkness of the widow loft, you could
see it was full of rice hulls both in the nests and floor.......never cleaned. Never ever
scraped. There were no drafts, there were no huge windows allowing the cocks
to see outside.........but there was a bubble skyight in the center of the rooftop of
the loft. Inside this skylight, Roy mounted a window shade horizontally so that
he could control the amount of light and the timing of the light anytime he wished.
When the cocks returned, he kept it semi dark and quiet......when he was ready
for "form" to revive he would slowly open the shade until full sunlight was in
the loft by shipping day........At the same time, Roy flew the traditional method of
cocks via the Mark Gordon book.........to the "T" as he would tell me. This also
meant that Roy used the typical cleaning mixture/ going to heavy for the race.
He raced the cocks every other week but often would double up on a cock
when he was really in "form".....and ship it again. We had 10 combine races in
those days. Roy fed in the box and went one step further, he watered in the box
as well!!! He knew which cocks to keep home this way since the more water a
cock had consumed, the less 'in form' he was....... Roy flew cockbirds only in Old
Birds and both sexes in Ybs.
One day we sat chatting and he had just gotten a Pit Bull with champion
bloodlines that was 8 weeks old...... "Skipper" he was aptly named since he would
go with Roy on the sailboat that he still owned...........tied to the end of his dock at
the edge of the Petaluma River. Roy always had two things with him, his pipe and
his dog. Later on to be followed by his goat...billy.
" Can you find me a baby goat"? "Goat?" I said....for Gods sake man, you want me
to build you an Ark too?" He would laugh and say "ok, yeah why not"? hahaha
So it went, I brought him Billy and from then on things just got funnier and
Picture this: every morning Roy had his pipe in his mouth taking his morning
stroll with none other than Billy and Skipper..............by his side. Roy was about
50 at that time and having been in his past : a boxer and a world class solo sailor,
he knew how to stay fit and trim..........and he was. He never came out and told me
that I was eating too much..........instead we would talk and he would tell me what
he would eat.........."one egg", one piece of toast....one this, one that.....(not two or
three) then I began to realize he was telling me something.......in his tactful sort of
way. Its how he kept his weight down and alot of this, was due to his being on
the sailboat out in the middle of the sea.................with very few rations aboard that
he had to stretch out until he was land bound again.......great conditioning. In
reality, I now realize that Roy was a "minimalist''. A survivor who shucked the
need for "stuff", material collections. Looking back now, I realize alot of things
that back then at the time; I was young and not in the know......
When you came to visit Roy, out would come Skipper, daunting with his clipped
ears and huge muscular size.....but lick you to death so your fear was soon gone.
Roy would then be next to emerge and right behind him from the house, Billy. Yes
Billy was in the house too.....and we are talking about something less than 500 sq.
feet here folks.....!!!! There was goat droppings all over outside and inside the
house and Roy had goat hair on his shirt......and smelled of urine from Billy....now
I am not being disrespectful to Roy here, understand I am just painting a picture.
Anytime you hang out with a goat long enough ( and I had goats at one time myself
so I know this) even if you don't have the urine on you, the odor does linger and
You see folks, here was an intelligent man (not know by many) that would
speed read 2 paperbacks daily, who was worldly, well traveled........with a high I.Q.
who had a "give a - - - - attitude about what people thought"........and was happy
to be who he was........Roy Hunter. (Alias Jack Barker more on this later)
I would observe the widow cocks out and about..........never flying.. what? yes it
was early in the week, but sitting on the loft roof? going to the ground and eating
Goat terds??????? big time!!! All I had ever learned about Pigeons was now
creating huge "doubt" in my mind......what was to be normal when you visited
a loft with the birds out and about, was not the norm at Roys house.....
After I moved east about 30 miles to Vacaville........Roy would come visit when he
trained his birds and stay awhile. I had just lost everything I had and escaped
Petaluma with barely anything after interest rates climbed to 18% and I was stuck
with two Spec houses I had built.......so we were starting over, living in an old 2
bedroom trailer on 5 acres with my then wife Debbie and two young daughters.
Jenell and Lana.
I was very busy during this period, struggling to survive and Roy in his return to
birds realized that he was complacent. ( After so much success, Roy abruptly quit
and we sold most of his top winners to Taiwan.) After a two yr. absence, he came
back from sailing realizing he was too old for the Sea. Restarting pigeons again,
this time around he found that he had no "drive" and decided to quit for good.
He took skipper on his boat and just did the San Francisco Bay as much as he
could. Dropping pigeon racing .........cold turkey. When Roy moved on, he really
did just that............moved on.
I had had some success starting my own business and had bought a place down
in Mexico, Kino bay to be exact. One day Roy came by and I had finished our
house by then. I told him about Kino Bay and he wanted to go to Mexico and
see what I had discovered. I gave him the keys to my place and off he went with
Skipper for three weeks. On his return, he was a different guy!!! He had
purchased a lot and already began to have his place built.........right on the beach!
He was so happy, so enthusiastic that he was able to find and discover a place
that had everything he wanted in life............
He would make frequent trips down in his van and while staying at my place which
was just up the beach from his, he would have improvements made that were just
great! When he told me things that he wanted to do to spruce up my place, I
gladly gave him the dough and he had it done....
By this time, our friendship had reached a new level. His plan was to live there
every other month for a month at a time. This was great as I had a boat there
and we planned to fish and do some diving too. I felt that Roys new found life
and happiness were in part due to my opening Kino Bay up to him. I felt good
By now Roys house was just about finished......and he was heading down with a
van load of things for the interior such as some personal furnishings he had.
Story is, is that Roy had a Honda cycle on the back of his Van when he arrived in
Kino.... I had never seen nor heard of Roy riding a Motorcycle.
Roy was like a kid again. Through me, he had discovered a place, a land where
he was comfortable and he felt it had everything he wanted. He was in love with
the Sea and so this quaint little town, his house nestled on the beach that
stretched 7 miles was perfect for him. The water was warm, blue, clear and yet
not too hot. He was always grateful for me introducing him to it, but never ever
really said so. Roy was not a man of those words but you could read him and
his thoughts by his actions and his exhuberance. Like many pigeons guys I
knew, he had a crusty outer shell. Once inside that shell, you then would find
a man with the heart of gold......
One day while on his patio over looking the sea........Roy said to me...." There must
be a God"............. That stuck with me forever when he said that. It meant in
no uncertain terms, that he was at the pinnacal of his happiness in his life.
This is the view from Roys
patio. It was here he had found
the answers to what now made
his life complete...... Kino was a
simple place but rich with all the
natural elements that make our
senses stop for the moment.
Realizing there is more to life
than what we constantly strive
to achieve.. Its here that you're
at one with nature and spirit.
Roy became popular very quickly in Kino; his workers had realized his happy go
lucky attitude and laughter was addicting to them. He spoke some spanish and
gained their respect for his adaption to their culture. His funeral in the peasant
cemetary in Kino was attended by so many of the locals, and this showed his
popularity in this small town of 5,000 people. The workers who built his casa
were especially saddened by his departure....
On that fateful day Roy arrived with his Van full of items........it was a Sunday.
It was always understood that on weekends in Kino, you never rode a bicycle
on the main road, or anything that could get you involved with vehicles. On
weekends, people would come to Kino from one hour away, Hermosillo and it
was customary to hangout on the beach and drink a few beers....So on Sunday
when it was time to leave.....beware of being anywhere on the roads until Monday
morning.......then we had the town and the beach to ourselves for the entire week.
I received a call in California on Monday morning from my friends in Kino that
Roy had been in an accident on his Honda motorcycle and died.....
It was a day I shall never forget. Many things raced through my mind, including
the difficulties involved with getting him and his dog Skipper out of the country
and back to the USA. I called his mother (Roys dad had died the year before)
and told her I would go down immediately. She gave me the permission to do
whatever I had to do. Roy had inherited some funds from his Fathers passing
which enabled him to build his house in Kino......
Then the phone rang again and it was some woman claiming to be Roys wife....
huh? who? Roy was still married? Apparently they had no children and they
just never took the time to divorce........wow!! She had caught wind of his death
and asked to come with me to Mexico to take care of his business.
I was struggling with it all. Having lost my very best two pigeon friends who were
just like family to me was difficult. I watched Joe McEvoy go, I watched Al
Boccone go and now out of no where.........Roy departs this earth..........Call it an
empty feeling if you will.... Roy and Joe were like family to me....and when you
lose family.....well you just never get over it really. How close was I to Joe and
Roy? Ask yourself this question, ' how many pigeon guys leave YOU in their
will' ? Both of these guys felt our friendships were important enough to do just
that. To this day, I am astonished yet honored they placed so much importance
in our relationship....
Roys wife and I arrived in Kino on Monday. After viewing Roy layed out at the
morgue, it was very surreal to say the least. There was no evident sign of trauma
but when he fell off the bike, he did hit the rear of his head on the pavement.
Apparently, this trauma caused heart failure afterwards while in the ambulance.
We bought some burial clothes and made arrangements for Roy to be brought
to Kino Bay Cemetary. It was a nice funeral with many many Mexican people
coming to pay respects to Roy. Many people knew of him and liked his easy
going style and great sense of humor. Many of the workers who he had hired
were there with their families. It was a very touching scene. My respect for the
Mexican people there at Kino was high for they were simple God loving people.
Hard workers struggling to just be happy with their families and doing a good job
of it at that.......I thanked all of them for attending. I told them that Roy loved Kino
and that being here in this cemetary, was his way of giving respect to the country
and the locals of Kino whom he greatly admired.....
"Skipper" was a very special dog. I
knew him when he was a puppy. After Roys death
Skipper became my dog and lived to be 18. I have
had the honor of having many dogs in my lifetime,
but Skipper will always hold a special place in my
heart. Here, his expressive eyes tell you that he
knows full well his master Roy had departed. As it
turns out , Skipper adopted ME and we ended up
traveling to Kino together many times........Skipper
knew we both were connected to Roy........
The task of taking care of business was just now starting. Remember, we are in
another country and the rules are different.......vastly different. The Mexican
Government finally named me as the person to finalize Roys estate through
reading his will and getting certified copies of letters from his Mother that I was
in fact the guy to help out. During this rather long and arduous process, skipper
was at the house in the front yard being fed and watered by a 24hr. guard who was
posted by the local police to protect or prevent anyone from entering the house.
I arranged to go back down and sell off Roys personal items inside the house and
give the funds to his estranged wife.... I also towed back his Toyota for her. Later
on I arranged the sale of the house and the funds went to his Mother. I finally got
permission to take Skipper home with me to California where he immediately
became my dog at the office and warehouse. Skipper could not be around other
dogs (at my residence) for obvious reasons, so this was the next best thing since
I had lived close to the warehouse and someone was always there doing
something anyway..... Skipper lived to be a grand old man of 18 yrs. before we
had to have him put to sleep. Its hard to explain my connection to Skipper but he
made it easy for me to be his new master. He knew Roy and I were buddies and
it was apparent in his final years (skipper) when I would read his eyes. He had
such expressive eyes. I could read that whenever I was not at the office/shop he
would look at me as if to wonder if I was going to 'disappear'.........eyes of great
concern he had. Almost a true presence of mind....... We all cried when Skipper
left us..........he was put down at 18 yrs. old.
|The late Roy Hunter and Jim Lewis, 1976 Tam Club dinner