BY EZRA LEE KOHLI (                                   OPF SERIES #19





89 year old Ralph Spring Wins 13TH Ohio-Penn Fed 400

(Disappointed Zemrac Unofficially Tops Spring)





What an awkward twist of fate for two deserving pigeon men.  Why does it have to be this way? 


On a day when his young cock-bird just wouldn’t be denied, 67 year old Ron Zemrac of Orchard Park NY, flew the best race of his life, but for official reasons, it just wasn’t good enough.  His little checked cock-bird, 113 BISON 08 AU raced determinedly, getting home in just under 12 hours, unexpectedly buzzing a living room window and dodging a hawk attack while dropping in at the Zemrac home place. A surprised Zemrac was just settling in to watch the evening news. 


“I sure didn’t expect him this soon.  I was going to start looking at 8PM.  I have never won anything before in my life, not in club, combine nor federation,” said a disappointed Zemrac, “but when they explained the rules to me, I understood. I’m ok with it now.”  Bison 113 clocked in at 18:12:41, flying 1434 ypm for 569 miles.


The conundrum for poor Zemrac, you see, is that he flew 18 miles long of the official Ohio-Penn distance boundary of 550 miles for a 400 mile race, and got to experience the bittersweet honor of being great, but being great while being ineligible for the overall win, coming away from it with only a PONY Section win.


At the same time, in Meadeville, Pa, 89 year old Ralph Spring also flew an exceptional race.  Flying on an almost identical line of flight 90 miles short and southwest of his section buddy Zemrac, from Effingham, Illinois, Ralph and his 88 year old, racing partner, wife Zona, were on the back deck of their house, waiting, musing and sipping home-made wine when their bird hit the coop at 16:48:41.  “My lovely Zona, to whom I will be married 70 years in July, is still pretty spry, and can cover the 75 feet from the deck to the loft pretty fast”, exclaimed an excited Ralph Spring, who has installed an infrared alarm to his clocking system to stir him while waiting, in the event he gets drowsy.  Mrs. Spring gets as much thrill from her pigeon racing as Ralph, and now does most of the daily duties in caring for and preparing the racing stock.  Her Ralph has emphysema.  The Spring’s flew 479 miles, and clocked their checked Lew Cressler bred cock-bird, 842 HBG 08 IF, at 1373 ypm, officially taking First Place Overall in the 13th Annual Ohio-Penn Federation 400.




We frequently see the same names popping up in Ohio-Penn Federation races.  The unflappable GI Timmons (3rd), of Lisbon, Ohio; the consistent octogenarian Bud House (5th, 6th, 7th), of Girard, Ohio, His and Her Loft (8th), of Lisbon,Ohio, and then, of course, the exceptional long distance ace from Erie, Pa, James R Berdis (10th), made up the top one percent. 


Other section winners included Jerry Edinger (12th) of the Cleveland Section, the perennial Dr. Paul Benz (13th) of the Pittsburgh Section, your author, Lee Kohli (17th) of the Akron/Buckeye Section, John Bianco (31st) of the Interstate Section, and Joe Jirousek (114th) of the Lake Section. 


Up at 6:35 AM, on June 12, 2010, in Effingham, Illinois, 972 birds from 79 lofts competed all day long in temperatures that ranged from 70 to 83 degrees.  Skies were overcast with some scattered light rain, while SSW to westerly winds averaged 10 mph, being as high as 18 mph and reportedly gusting to 24 mph, before dropping off to 5 mph at around 4 PM.  Relative humidity ranged from 94% to 75% as the day progressed.  With the sun covered, it was a good day for good men to pigeon race.




Both Fed 400 champions are retired; ZEMRAC from relentless ‘24 hours on-call’ at the CSX Railroad; SPRING from the stout chemicals of the printing business that possibly tainted his lungs.  ZEMRAC lives 6 miles east of the NFL Buffalo Bills stadium in a crowded suburb of Buffalo, about 70 miles east of Erie, Pa, and is a member of the Bison club.  He has to look almost straight up to see his pigeons fly.


His old friend SPRING lives 40 miles south of Erie, Pa., and is an associate member of the Erie Club (meaning he can fly and win, but can’t vote). The setting is rural, relaxed, and like ZEMRAC, hawks drive him crazy.


After lying out for 26 years ZEMRAC came back to pigeon racing for good in 1986, while SPRING has lived and flown from nearly the same spot since just after World War II, in 1948.  The ZEMRAC pigeons come from Buffalo’s great US Army Pigeon Corps flyer Harold Rapin, and from Bobby Simco’s flying team at his final dispersal sale.  ZEMRAC has decided to make his stand with exceptional local pigeons. 

[ Ron ]




Nearly all of the SPRING pigeons are sourced from the All American flyer, Lew Cressler, of Palmyra, Pa., near Harrisonburg, a predominantly Janssen family that can also fly the long races.  Cressler sends young stock to SPRING every year for racing and evaluation, and occasionally encourages the old whippersnapper to quit being so aggressive.  In fact, the sire, grandsire and brother of SPRING’S missing 842 cock were 500 mile race winners for Cressler.




Those among us that are keenly interested in how good young stock progressively develops into noteworthy old birds may be interested to know that ZEMRAC’S section winning bird was never raced as a youngster, only lightly raced as a yearling, and responded extremely well to pipping eggs as a two year old. The motivated cock-bird had previously been shipped to races of 200 and 300 miles before going into the long Federation 400 mile race. 


SPRING on the other hand, also scored with a two year old.  His winning 842 cock, after going 100/200/300, and being held for a week before heading into the 400, flew to only a mate and a perch; his 2010 breeding duties having been completed and his nest box removed. The SPRING system doesn’t accommodate late hatches, so after early breeding from the 35 bird race team, the nest boxes are removed from the garden loft, and the old birds are left to make do with only a perch.  Mates are still present.  Both cocks and hens are flown as serious old bird racing then begins in earnest.     


ZEMRAC competes on the natural system with a team of 60 old birds in a 2 story, dry-walled, insulated and heated garage loft that is garnished with storm windows.  In the winter, his water never freezes. The old bird section is 16’ x 8’; the first round young bird pen is 10’ x 10’; the second round young bird pen is 6’ x 8’. The stock loft is L-shaped, 6’ x 10’, and houses 15 pairs.  We’ve learned also that ZEMRAC does not race young birds, preferring only to train his young hopefuls to 150 miles; patiently letting them mature and develop, aiming with special enthusiasm for the Federation’s 400 mile event.  Hawks drive him crazy. 

[ Ron ]




RALPH SPRING quite oppositely, flies from a 3 section, 10’ x 20’ garden loft from which he forthrightly puts the hammer down and goes for broke, shipping the limit to every young bird race and holding nothing back.  He keeps no breeders.  The SPRING stock is expected to fly aggressively, is toughened by fire and learns through repetition.  You’ll find no wanna-be’s in RALPH SPRING’S racing loft, and he gives no quarter to slow learners. 


[ Springs ]





With that frame of mind, SPRING shipped his winning 842 cock to the great Federation 500 two weeks later, and today is still waiting for the good cock to return. ZEMRAC, on the other hand, stopped his bird, and will pick up where he left off in 2010, hoping the famous 113 cock can carry the day again in 2011.


During the racing season, ZEMRAC gives no loft exercise during the week because of hawks and neighbors, but gets his team down the road 40 miles, 3 or 4 times a week, to supplement their conditioning. 


At the SPRING operation, old birds are trained out to 60 miles, and then road work is reduced to once a week.   Exercise is given twice a day in early morning and late evening. 


Both men feed basic commercial mixes.  ZEMRAC buys his in Canada and adds corn, safflower and peanuts, and begins to heavy it up on Tuesday.  SPRING adds corn, but feeds a consistent diet throughout the week in an amount that the birds will clean up. 





So, what are we to conclude from all of this?  Possibly, only that there is more than one way to win.  The common denominators are obvious; good pigeons, consistent effort, keen interest, good care, some intelligence and patience.  An interested wife, or two, could also improve things.  Techniques can vary.  Lofts and loft management can vary.  Motivation, feeding programs and personalities can vary, but these fundamental common denominators combined with genuine enthusiasm can pretty much bring us all back to the same level.  Then spice up the whole mix with a touch of weather disparity, and any dog can have his day. 


It is a difficult thing for the sport, that as we go forward, we are getting so spread out, but that’s a reality we have to live with and adjust to. It’s not a choice unless you want to fly against only yourself.


Organization rules will have to morph to fit the changing environment so fairness is maintained.  The ever-increasing distance between us skews results in ways we don’t like, but we’re all in this for pleasure, so we should all genuinely celebrate and be glad when a hard-trying friend has had his day. 


“If a guy can fly 150 miles farther than me and still beat me, he’s really good.  God bless him.” said Jim Bedell, President of the Ohio-Penn Federation.   Both ZEMRAC and SPRING are great competitors that have had their day. They deserve our respect and applause.  On this day, they were both really good.  Make sure you tell them.