March 3rd was a black day for all those who fancy pigeon sport in the whole world. The Lord called the greatest champion the Netherlands have ever known; Jos van Limpt from Reusel, nick-named ‘De Klak’.
Fanciers from Taiwan, England, Belgium and Holland at one table before Klak's birds were auctioned.
The man in sun glasses is Ad Schaerlaeckens.
His death was also a personal loss to me, as for some reason we could get along very well. He used to call me his ‘young friend’.
I felt flattered by the word ‘young’ and proud to be called ‘friend’ by such a great man.
We often had dinner together because a nice meal in a fancy restaurant was both for Klak and his caring wife Maria something that they enjoyed immensely.
Ever since I have known Jos he was suffering from poor health but nevertheless he stayed optimistic.
But it must be said, without the help of his nephews Borgmans Brothers and his loft managers the late v d Mierden and C van Gestel he would have had to quit the sport in the early 90-ies.
I also helped him out but my help was nothing compared with theirs.
What I did was clock the birds that came from the race from 1995 till 1998 as his health did not allow him to climb the stairs and enter the lofts.
When electronic clocking was introduced he could race on his own.
Of late his condition worsened day by day and in 2003 it looked like the hospital had become his second home.
He hated that hospital but never complained despite the immense pains he suffered.
Late 2003 those who were close to him feared that Klak, the man who had won so much in pigeon sport could not win his last battle.
Unfortunately they were right.
What people admired so much about him was that he never got ‘a thick neck’.
He was also one of the few champions that were not envied by fellow sportsmen.
His hospitality became proverbial, which the thousands of people from all over the world who visited his humble house would confirm.
In recent years though he could not handle those visitors any more, he had the doors locked and only good friends were able to visit him.
They will remember him sitting in his easy chair, watching the pigeons fly around with a sad look in his eyes.
Why he had that sad look in his eyes?
Since 2002 he had been in his loft only once with the result that he did not even know his own birds, which was hard to accept.
Jos, born in 1922, had been a champion all his life and it was the Janssen birds and only Janssen birds that made him so.
In fact it was father Cees who founded the ‘Klak-strain’ back in 1928.
Cees was always wearing that special cap; ‘cap’ is ‘klak’ in Dutch, that’s why the father was called ‘Klak’ and later on his son.
In those days the country was struck by poverty and people had to work hard for their living. Cees worked in a little cigar factory in his hometown and next to him a guy called Adriaan was working, a man who lived in nearby Arendonk and was obsessed by pigeons.
He could not stop talking about his hobby so it was no wonder that Cees got interested.
‘If you are going to race pigeons we will help you, come and visit us’ Adriaan had said several times.
Till Cees could not resist it and to Arendonk he went with little 6 year old Jos.
He could not imagine then that Adriaan was part of a partnership of brothers (Janssen of course) that would have a major impact on International pigeon sport by creating a type of bird that would dominate the races for decades.
In Arendonk 4 brilliant babies were waiting for Cees.
Initially he thought the birds were going to be a present as he and Adriaan were friends, but much to his surprise he was charged a weeks’ wages.
Later on I heard Klak often say that Janssen brothers never gave him a discount, but he had to pay as much for the birds as the others and people that bought birds know Janssen have always charged real high prices.
It must be said though that Cees had never regretted the money he spent.
The off-spring of the first birds he bought performed so well that he made many more trips to Arendonk with little Jos on the back of the bike.
Jos had never forgotten those trips and he had never forgotten the years 1935, 1937 and 1938 either. He and his father became champion in those years by racing no more than 15 birds.
Throughout the years Klak has won 100s of trophies and he got rid of most of them, but his first trophy has always had a special place in his house.
When father and son were on the point of dominating the regional pigeon sport with their Janssen birds World War 2 broke out.
The Germans ordered pigeon fanciers to kill all their birds but that was the last thing Cees would do.
The 8 best birds were hidden in a haystack and the plan was to breed off of them when the war was over and the occupying forces gone.
But in 1942 Cees (only 43 years old) passed away, about one month later the Germans discovered the 8 ‘illegals’ and confiscated them.
Now Jos had something to explain but as he did not have a good story he was in trouble.
Fortunately his mother, a talkative woman, helped him out.
She swore to the Germans that Jos knew nothing about those hidden birds, it was his father who was responsible for them but he was dead.
The Germans bought that story and Jos could walk but without birds.
When in October 1944 the town of Reusel was liberated by the allied forces life could go on.
Klak Junior got a job in the same cigar factory where his father worked and he too could get on with Adriaan Janssen well.
It stands to reason that he wanted the same good birds he and his dad used to have so Adriaan suggested a deal.
If Jos would smuggle 200 kilos of corn to Janssen Brothers he would get four of their pigeons in return.
Klak did not hesitate one moment.
In the middle of the night he and his brother Piet got on their bikes and carried 200 kilos of corn across the border.
The six kilometre long trip between Reusel and Arendonk was a real nightmare.
They had to fight their way through the fields in horrible weather, but with their faces covered with mud, they managed to deliver their freight at Janssens safely. Klak got his birds but still had to pay a good deal of money.
From then on 2 to 4 birds were bought from Janssen brothers nearly every year. Klak claims he owes much to the mother of Janssen brothers. She liked Jos and always said to her sons: ‘Jos is ok, treat him well’ and so they did.
When I asked Klak which was the best pigeon he ever bought in Arendonk he said: ‘A daughter of Young Merckx’.
In those days (the 80-ies) when I was writing a book about Janssen brothers, it struck me how many fanciers were successful with the off spring of Young Merckx, so I bought one for myself. The first baby he gave won for me the 1st prize National Orleans 1985.
What many people do not know is that Klak also got birds from Tist Eyssen who was married to Marie, a sister of Janssen Brothers.
Eyssen had birds from his brothers in law only which made him their greatest competitor. Klak got two old 1942 birds from Eyssen and one of them was to become a real foundation hen, she bred ‘Goed duifke from 45’ that would be the mother of ‘Witpenneke from 54’.
‘Witpenneke’ would be mated with ‘De Vechter’ (‘the Fighter’) and that pair was the second best breeding pair Klak ever had; his best was ‘Jong Koppel’ (‘Young Pair’).
Honestly speaking Klak’s restart in 1945 was far from brilliant.
He had 2 pairs of Janssens pigeons, he bred 6 babies off of them which he was going to race, but they could not win a simple prize.
And you know how people are; they laughed at Klak with his Janssen birds, but not for long.
The same birds that were such poor racers produced babies that performed real well in 1946; they made him 2nd champion, and in 1948 even 1st champion.
In 1972 he had been champion for 25 consecutive years which was celebrated by a great party.
Also in the years that followed Klak was the man to be beaten.
He became 1st regional Champion nearly every year apart from the year in which a great deal of his pigeons were stolen.
Meanwhile his birds had made hundreds of others champions amongst whom for example illustrious names such as De Wit Brothers, Doctor Linssen and last but not least Verbarth.
Verbarth’s ‘46’ (hatched) from an egg that he bought from Klak is probably the best bird that ever came from Klak’s loft.
He was a flying miracle that became a legend in Dutch pigeon sport.
This 65-1384946 won 15 first prizes in the Combine whereas his son. ‘the 57’, won 8 firsts. ‘46’ Was a son of ‘Jong Koppel’ (61-212337 x 61-212328).
Of course ’46‘ is only part of the story; so many famous pigeons originated from Klak’s loft that it would take forever to mention them all.
In another article I described Klak’s racing methods, his way of feeding, training and so on. So let’s finish with a summary.
- Whereas nearly all fanciers race widowhood Klak did not. He raced natural till the day he died.
- Whereas most fanciers feed from ‘light to heavy’ during the week Klak had another method: He gave all his birds the same mixture.
- Klak did not believe in so called ‘Golden Pairs’ that only give good birds. That’s why he had a fixed price for all his babies and he changed his matings every year. Klak claimed that if a pair was mated too long their babies were no good.
- As Janssen birds have always been very expensive, all those who bought pigeons in Arendonk locked them up, but not Klak. He was probably the only one in the world who let birds with a ‘Janssen ring’ fly out. Everything has its price though: The miracle hen ‘Marietje’, a sister to ‘Rocket’ from Janssen and a daughter to legendary ‘Witoger 65’, died in the fields from eating poison.
- Klak never got other birds from Janssen than late breeds. ‘With them you need patience but this patience would be rewarded’ he always said.
- Klak hated medication but still his birds were surprisingly healthy the whole year round. ‘If you want health problems you must medicate’ was one of his sayings and he added ‘most vets live in a fancy house, but if all fanciers would be like me that would not be the case.
- Klak always said he knew nothing about pigeons. It is the result sheets that tell you if a bird is good or not. ‘But’ he often said, ‘it is a comfort to know that others do not know anything about pigeons either’.
And then he referred to a pigeon called ‘Knook’ (‘the ugly one’) that became father of the best pigeon he ever had; 89-1775613.
‘Knook’ (87-2542927) was for sale as a baby.
Klak had 11 birds that he could sell then. 10 Of them were transferred real soon but there was one bird nobody wanted: ‘Knook’.
Klak: ‘It was a bird that I did not want and that nobody else wanted that was to become the father of the best bird I ever had. So am I right when I say nobody knows anything about pigeons?’
Furthermore he could not help laughing at all those foreigners, especially Americans, that thought they could grade his birds by means of glasses. They wanted to study the eye sign, the greatest B.S. there is in pigeon sport, Klak claimed.
As for 89-1775613, the best bird Klak ever had, this cock was not an Adonis either. I have clocked this cock from many a race and whenever I handled him I could not understand; how could such a deep-keeled ugly bird be so good I wondered.
When Klak passed away I was in Taiwan, in the loft of Mr Lai, a great champion over there, if not the greatest. Probably his best bird ever was ‘05’ bred by… Klak.
Then I got home and nearly every magazine published its ‘Klak story’. How frustrating it was to read many of them. Scribes that had visited Klak only once or twice in all their lives came up with an incredible lot of nonsense and lies.
Of course they meant well but Klak, who always cherished the truth and nothing but the truth, deserved better.
If he would have read the nonsense about him he would turn in his grave.
The last foreigner who visited Klak was Mr Lin Yu Ta.
Klak was optimistic about the new season (2004) then but shortly later the Lord found that his time had come.
Those who were close to him will never forget him; neither as a champion, nor as a great man.