Long Distance Racing
Growing up Trenton
by Chuck Oshaban
Ed Oshaben around 1995
Growing up Trenton
I never remember not having pigeons in my life. My Dad told me at age four, I could hand feed a youngster as well as any pair of birds. A good bit of my childhood was spent either in the coops, watching the birds exercise, spending Friday at shipping night or of course waiting on race day. May sound crazy, but I loved helping maintain our birds. Breeding season was a major event for me each year. Seemed like it would take a month for those first rounds of eggs to hatch. By the way, my name is Chuck Oshaben and my Dad was Ed Oshaben.
My Dad was a collector of strains. In Cleveland, each of his breeder lofts would house one family of birds only. I can still picture his Hansenne section. Some almost powder blue in color, some splashes and all beautiful. With tight feather, shortened beaks and some still sporting a frill. A true breeder of perfection.
I remember in the 1960's he returned from the airport with a wooden crate full of Huysken Van Riels from Dr. Whitney. Half of the White City Homing Club membership showed up to see them. Fooling with Sions during that time, he had the old Foster's, which I tried to locate later in life with no luck and he also had his Bastins to name a few. But my Dads focus were his Trenton's.
The Trenton's are the First American Strain, sometimes called the Bright Eye Strain or also the Old Waxbills. They were developed back in 1886 by Conrad Mahr by crossing the Offerman strain, which were handled by an Irish flyer named McCluthian to birds from Henri Soffle. The McCluthian birds were descendants from the old ship birds that were used even back to the 1850's. These birds were tasked to deliver estimated arrival times and news from sailing cargo ships, basically as a dependable form of ship to shore communication. They were required to travel distances though rough weather and open waters. Which should tell you that these birds were bred with a high degree of endurance excellence.
The Success of the young Conrad and his newly developed Trentons rapidly exploded! In fact, in his early days he received much grief and ridicule from the older and more established club members of the time. His birds were constantly in the winner circle and were responsible for establishing such records as the FIRST 500 mile day bird, 600 mile day bird, 700 mile day bird and were the birds that repeatedly excelled in the 1,000 mile races, some completing over 1,300 plus miles in record time. The mating of the cock-bird known as Trenton 137 to his niece Bright Eye were responsible for producing over twenty-five 500-mile day-birds alone.
Besides developing an incredible strain of record winning pigeons, Conrad was able to totally comprehend the importance of giving his birds yet one more reason to return home, and that was by creating a love of loft atmosphere in his coops. He truly was a knowledgeable handler and well ahead of his time. Thanks to his Trentons, Conrad's reputation grew like wildfire and solidified his name in Pigeon History.
My Dad started with them back in the 30's and acquired a good bit of them from guys that purchased directly from Conrad Mahr, the founder of the strain. My Dad never lost interest or strayed from them and relied on his other strains for young bird and short (100 to 300-mile) races. His love was the 500 and 600 milers.
He joined the A.U. in 1938 and established a good name up in the Cleveland area. Then at age 50, he decided to move 90 mile south to a 60-acre farm in Lisbon Ohio, complete with horse's, cattle, duck, geese, peacocks and of course his pigeons.
Joining a new club and not having much to show for the first few years of racing was hard for him. The guys would say: Hey Ed, this is a Racing Club, not a fancy club…. picking on his Velvets, Reds, Red Mottles and the occasional Yellows. By the third year his Trentons showed their true colors and the teasing came to an end!
Throughout the years my Dad continued with racing but was not what I call a hard-core racer by any means. Minimal training, a less than basic feeding regiment consisting mainly of shelled corn from our fields mixed with wheat or oats and a zero-medication program. Yet he still succeeded in what was important to him and that was flying the distance races. All his birds would have to fly the 500 before it would go to the breeders' loft. Having a bird that flew 18 times from 500 miles or higher and having 600-mile day birds. Even towards the end having AU-1020-LIS-95 winning two 500's and a 600-mile race and then go on to win Champion Trenton at the American Trenton Breeders convention/show of 2000.
Hours before his debilitating stroke the morning of the 16th of September he woke and wrote his story of how he started with his Trenton's. After all the chaos and confusion of that early morning my Mom saw my Dads notebook and pen placed upon her always immaculate kitchen table. It was still opened to the pages that told his story!
My Dad passed away in November of 2002. My youngest sister Laurie stepped in to care for his Birds. Strangely enough she became incredibly knowledgeable with pigeons in an amazingly short time. Almost as if my Dad did a Vulcan mind melt on her. This was a Godsend for all the family. Laurie continued breeding and maintaining our Trentons and her knowledge grew as well as the list of people that continued a following for our birds. She was highly effective in corresponding with those who flew and loved my Dads Trentons.
During all these happenings I was well into my career with the National Park Service. At the time, I was continuing in the footsteps of my Dad with one heck of a collection of birds. Sions, (both Hietzmans and Fenoyers), Gurnays, Hansennes and of course, our Trenton's. Thanks to my job I lived in many States and in some unique locations and always kept my pigeons with me. I spent eleven years down in Key Largo, it was beautiful and tropical and an awesome place to keep birds. There was only one other Racing Pigeon guy that lived down there and, of course, we became good friends. He was a truly knowledgeable pigeon guy and basically made the World of Racing Pigeons his whole life. He had no wife, no kids, just pigeons and was Dam good at it. Add that to a hardy appetite for beer and he had it made! Since there was no club down there, he would breed birds and send them out to money races. But he missed handling his own loft of birds so eventually he moved back up to Pennsylvania and, when he did, he took some Oshaben Trentons with him.
His first year with his young-bird Trenton's was not what he was expecting. They were pretty much the last bird's home from even a thirty-mile training toss, sometimes not showing up till the next day. One day he called me, and I could tell he had a few too many beers. He proceeded to tell me my birds were crap and not worth the feed they ate. Well of course that immediately ended a long-time friendship... Years passed, and my phone rang and unknowingly I just answered. I heard someone say… Chuck, please do not hang up. Yes, it was my old buddy and he was calling to inform me he took the I.F. Old Bird Hall of Fame and not only was calling to apologize but to thank me because he won the 500 and 600 with some of the Oshaben Trenton bloodline. It was nice to mend old wounds.
Sorry for being so long winded but basically this is the truth of the Trentons. They are a slow maturing bird and not a bird for the handler that is looking for quick results. Every now and then you will get a youngster that totally stands out, but for the most part they are their best as three years old or older. We won a 500-mile race in Lisbon Ohio with a nine-year-old cock. At one time the old-bird 500 milers were revered and gave you bragging rights for a good bit of time. Those were the days when weather predictions were as reputable as our politics of today. Birds would have to fly though rain, snow and wind. Truly the days of the Trentons! Somewhat different than the highly prized and desired young-bird money races of today. Why invest time with birds that are not bred to compete in fair weather young-bird race? Could be you may have a smash race and the slow and steady Trenton still comes through, many a handler has benefited from the Trentons on maintaining their average speed.
Since I am rambling, which I have been known to do, I will tell you of an incident that happened years ago. I was at a combine dinner at a club on the East Coast of Florida. It was the night before their 300-mile band race. My friend Jay Holder introduced me as the son of Ed Oshaben. Later that evening, I was approached by one of the club members and he told me he had purchased four Oshaben Trenton's and was not at all impressed with them. I asked him what the problem was, and he stated he bought the birds because his wife wanted some color added to his flock. Two of the birds were Red Mottles and were some of the first to be picked off by the hawks… which is a true statement. When you have a flock of all uniformed colored birds, hawks will go after the odd bird out. I asked about the other two and he stated he rang their necks because as young birds they were not worth keeping. Not all handlers take the time and have the determination to harvest the rewards from a bird's full potential, those that do make a name for themselves and their birds. To the respect of the gentleman I met that evening, he had the right to handle his birds his own way. I did not catch his name and honestly, I am sure he will remain unknown!
Basically, the point that I am trying to make with my stories are that so many people judge the Trenton strain before the birds have time to prove themselves. We have all heard to be successful at racing pigeons, it comes down to Birds, Location and Handler. I have a friend who flew the Philadelphia area many years ago. He was shy one homer hen, so he allowed his homer cock-bird to pair up with a roller, mainly just to keep peace in the loft. For the heck of it he banded a pair of youngsters and would train them out with his young bird team. One youngster never made it past 50 miles. The other, which was a petite little hen, ended up winning two 100 miles races and one 200-mile race. So, back to the three factors of successful racing. Birds, Location and Handler. In my opinion, that proves that the Handler is the MOST important factor in that equation.
With all this rambling that is flying from my typically ignored keyboard about pigeon stories and my years with Oshaben Trentons, I will say I am extremely proud of my Dads birds. They are amazing representatives of a True Trenton. Still, they are not without fault. Probably the number one problem would be, to be successful, they need to be in the loft of a seasoned and knowledgeable handler that will take the time to allow them to be what they were bred for.
For all these years my Dad maintained not only the same strain but the same bloodline of this remarkable family of Birds. The Blood/Bloodline of the birds I still maintain can be traced back to the same birds he kept as a young boy. Unlike most young men and their Pigeons my Dad never had a break from his birds. He did not abandon them during his late teens or even later with the marriage of my Mother and raising six kids. The closest he came was when he tried to enlist during WW2, but due to a lifelong effect from an eye injury he received as a young child he was not eligible for service. Instead, he had his loft certified with the military so he could donate birds to the effort.
Throughout my life I have found myself arguing and defending the existence of a pure Trenton but, through the years and the boredom of battling detractors and critics I have decided to just let them foolishly ramble on. For me, all I need to do is walk into my loft every day and know they exist!
After my Dads passing, we heard from pigeon guys all over the world. I was surprised to hear from enthusiasts in Australia that referred to my Dad as the "keeper of the strain". In fact, they did a story about my Dad and featured his birds in a 2005 Australian Racing Pigeon Journal as well as one in the British Homing World magazine.
There are so many factors that make up a Trenton. Unfortunately, to some it means a Yellow pigeon!!! Wrong… Color can be a factor but mostly it is in the bird's body confirmation. They have a long cast deep keeled body, long wing, broad flights with a noticeable step in-between the primary and secondary flights. A pearl eyes with a pronounced eye cere and healthy wattle as well as an amber beak. Even in flight they have a different gate to the snap of their wing. As for the color, they are totally unique. As my Dad would say (some have colors there are no name for) Probably the easiest way to categorize them would be to say, no matter what color you may have in your own loft, just add a Smoke or slate equation to them. A blue bar, blue check and a red check in a Trenton would be and smokie or a slate. Even my solid blacks are black smokes. In my opinion, a good mahogany/plum velvet would be the poster child for a True Trenton.
The Trenton's still have a small following. Some keep them for racing and do quite well, others love their history, and their unique qualities. Of course, I still maintain our Trentons and, hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.
My thanks to Jimmy Schaberl for also maintaining, respecting and representing the Oshaben Trentons. I go back 60 plus years with Jimmy. His Dad Ernie and my Dad were pigeon buddies back in the early 1930's. His Love and knowledge for these birds are unequaled.
I am toward the end of my article and I am finally asking myself what was the purpose of all my rambling? I have no secrets, no tricks that could help in today's world of pigeon racing, I have no pills, no powders, no potions to add to today's medication list that would already make the Mayo Clinic envious!
There is a zero chance that I am trying to start a Trenton renaissance. They have had their day in the sun and their place in history. Most handlers of today would not benefit from the Trentons and equally, our Trentons would not benefit from today's handlers. Like many of us retirees, I guess I just felt like reminiscing…
One last thing, we have an incredibly unique hobby. We are truly fortunate to have the guidance, assistance and protection we receive from the A.U. and the other pigeon organizations. So support those who support us!
For those of you that may have an interest in learning more about our "First American Strain" please visit the American Trenton Breeders web site at https://americantrenton.com/ .
True Trentons since 1938
all rights reserved