"No Sweat"

And yes, I weighted the introduction of myself in this article so you might appreciate just why I am the best person who could write this story. That large photo of Charles Heitzman now in the American Racing Pigeon Museum in Oklahoma - that person standing beside him - that happens to be me. I am one of the few remaining fliers to this day who still maintain a colony of his Sions. And probably the only flier who actually takes those young Heitzman Sions out to 500 miles each year. During the last thirty-five years of his life I wrote more articles on Charles Heitzman world-wide than all the other pigeon scribes put together. I am that person who wound up with many of the articles he kept in his famous library. I am the person who has retained his famous yearly AU issued “KY" bands and each year band my young birds in the memory of him. I even train my racers from his original wicker baskets. Yes, there are long stories behind all of this. But why I am the best person for this story simply revolves around one fact, I loved the man. Yes, there were many pigeon fanciers who loved him - but I loved him more. And yes, I am quite biased when it comes to Charles Paul Heitzman. If you had shared the experiences with him as I did you would be, too.
I first met Mr. Heitzman when he was a flier's flier and a breeder's breeder in 1959. It is hard to place a thumb down on any given year as that year being his finest but certainly in 1959 he was at the top of his game and there was not a racing pigeon flier throughout North America and much of the world who did not know his name. I was eight years of age. My grandfather drove me to his beautiful home to see him and when they met I soon felt I had two grandfathers alongside me; the two men hit off immediately. They were much alike, laughing and sociable and each very successful in whatever they pursued. My grandfather bragged on me and Charles Heitzman took that to heart.
I have met many wonderful pigeon men; the best racing men in America and the best show men in America; and of them all, none have stood as tall as has Charles Heitzman. Not even close. By quirk of fate as that eight-year-old child - my returning one of his lost racers to him after it had been caught in a horrendous storm on its race home - I grew up somewhat his adopted "pigeon grandson." IT was simply unheard of for anyone to return a lost "KY" banded bird back to Mr. Heitzman - he laughed about it to me. Everyone knew the "KY" bands and who had them. And if a "KY" banded bird happened into their lofts - it remained there quietly forever.
As I grew older and began flying his Sions, writing pigeon stories and photographing his racers, it only endeared him more to me for Charles Heitzman was himself a writer as well, having written seven books concerning his pigeons; books I must add which were large successes and still are selling to this day. As much as he had admired my grandfather he later admired my wife, Chesteen, even more so. We had the very best of a relationship, mutually respecting each other and being fellow Kentuckians.
Mr. Heitzman was "Colonel Heitzman" because he was actually a "Kentucky Colonel," an honorary title which for many years has been given to citizens by the Kentucky governor. When I began going to college I swam long distance on one of the best swim teams in the nation, facing teams with Olympians, Mark Spitz, Frank Edgar and others. Heitzman was a strong and positive influence on my life and in swimming. He was always one big smile when I would come to stay with him as I would bring two cases of those small bottles of Miller pony beer which we would place in his refrigerator inside his famous pigeon library located out on the back lawn of his home and close to his fabulous array of pigeon lofts - a more picturesque setting for racing pigeons - never equaled. When I received my Masters degree in college, Heitzman sent me a letter and inside the letter was a $100 bill and a note stating he had never graduated from college and how proud he was to have me as his dear friend.
In his later years, I would sporadically be asked by Mr. Heitzman to visit him and live with him at his home in the country in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, usually for a few days; when his health began to falter and he had trouble finding help. At that time his wife, Agnes, had been dead for some time (we both missed her) and his daughter, Bernice, lived with him. It was a time - consuming and physical task to go around to some 41 different lofts and make sure his colony of some 1,000 racers, which he had at the height of his breeding season, were all amply fed and watered; and that every little matter pertaining to the pigeons was accurately recorded; nobody in pigeon history had ever kept such lengthy and perfect pedigrees. And such gorgeous pedigrees, most usually written in his unique, distinct and beautiful penmanship; they were, well, almost "paintings." In the 1980's he could easily, generation after generation, accurately trace any of his pigeons back for over fifty years. In the bedroom he reserved for me in his home, he kept a record file on cards, everything in neat and alphabetical order, which would have amazed any fancier or librarian. Many times, I would lay in that bed adjust the night lamp and pull out one of the oak drawers which went to his files and be dazzled by his attention to detail. Fanciers did not realize this, but it was nothing short of an honor to own one of his pigeons, simply because of the meticulous-recorded, genetic studies which had gone into the creative make-up of that racer. Mr. Heitzman raised 4-500 young birds each year and it was never enough to meet the sport's demand. Every November, he would place an ad in theAmerican Racing Pigeon News, usually listing 45 to 75 different birds for sale and within two days every bird would be gone. And yes, he kept an incredible thorough record on where each of his birds went. Many times, fliers would make outstanding long-distance wins with his birds and Mr. Heitzman would later manage to wind up with them back in his lofts for breeding. His famous logo on all he did: "FROM THE BEST COME THE BEST."
I have enjoyed an incredible life for a poor, ignorant hillbilly coming from poverty and alcoholic parents. My life has been such a strange dream. One day I am living with John D. MacArthur and laughing about his pet ducks. The next day I am wheel-chairing Rose Kennedy around her Palm Beach estate and listening to her stories about John. I was with Jacques Piccard when he lowered his Ben Franklin into the Gulf Stream. Arlo Guthrie and I shared an apartment for four months one summer. And. sadly enough, I was with Will Lang's daughter when she committed suicide. It goes on and on. All my writings, whether he is mentioned or not, are dedicated to my writing mentor, Guy Davenport. My next book which will appear by this time next year,Letters from a Genius to an Oaf, involves my fifteen-year relationship with him. For me to have known Charles Heitzman the way I did has to also rank up there in another strange dream moment. He knew so many people in our sport. Why he took out the time he gave to me will always remain a mystery. I suppose, perhaps, it may have begun somewhat with his feeling a little pity for me and then later a true and tested friendship. Real friends are so rare. I hope this article to follow will entertain and educate you. And I hope Colonel Charles Paul Heitzman, looks down for a brief moment and smiles. No person is completely dead so long as he is remembered.