Feeding racing pigeons

Feeding pigeons

Even before the city took shape, Redlanders often created service clubs, political associations and hobby groups.    

United Women for Public Improvement began even before the city incorporated. They drew up a list of objectives that would make Redlands anything but the typical Western town.  

When Judson and Brown donated Triangle Park the ladies planted flowers and procured a horse trough so animals trudging up Cajon Street could get a drink.  When the stone mason completed the granite troughs the women further decorated the park with a central fountain that sprayed water into the troughs.  

Continuing on their list the ladies produced street signs for the downtown area. Once a week they held a fundraiser to obtain a wagon and driver to carry off the horse manure on the streets. The women lobbied the City Council to end the shooting of butcher shop animals each morning. Thereafter pigs, steers and sheep were slaughtered outside the downtown and then hauled to the butcher shop for further cutting and sale. The women successfully ended the carry of side-arms in both the downtown and residential areas.  

With an eye on aesthetics the women of the improvement group continued the Judson and Brown idea of prolific street tree planting, rose hedges and property clear of trash. The Horticultural Club of Redlands began with this group of active women.  

Several of the 1890s clubs remain active in Redlands today.  Spinet, Fortnightly, Contemporary and Family Service (Associated Charities) meet without interruption.  

Many clubs only lasted a short time with either the membership moving or interest dying off. Palette Club, Red Men Lodge, Magazine Club, Swastika Club, Altamira Club, Cosmos Club, Kopa del Ora, Rabbit Breeders, Clipper, Priscilla Bachelor’s and Daughters of Pocahontas lasted only a few years.

The Pigeon Racing Club lasted eight brief years but obtained extensive press coverage. Club members each kept a coop of homing pigeons that were trained to return home after short trips. The club held their first race in February of 1942.  

At first the pigeons were tagged by each owner and released from Beaumont and Banning with the times recorded for each bird. Some pigeons returned to their coops before the club members could arrive back in Redlands needing only 32 minutes.    

     Awaiting the fall Santa Ana winds to provide “tail wind” the club launched from Niland near the Salton Sea in October of 1943.  Going further east in 1944 the club sent the pigeons from Gila and Yuma, Arizona. Extending to Tucson, Arizona the club shipped the birds in crates via the Southern Pacific Railroad. Pigeons received outside flatcars so they could visualize their return trip. Flights from Tucson took place again in 1948 in May and October. The racing pigeons in flight averaged 36 mph.  

     The club reached a zenith in 1949 with releases in New Mexico. One bird named “Jet Propulsion” averaged 45.1 mph with owner, Forest Palmer winning “friendly” bets for the bird’s performance. The race did discover one cheater that set their flock free in Yuma cutting the distance prematurely. Doug Ferguson was the constant club winner when the birds flew from Indio.  

     The record time from Niland was set March 3, 1950, with a race beginning at 6:15 a.m. and arrival back in Redlands at 9:15 a.m.  The Tucson race to Redlands is 380 miles accomplished in 1950 by owner W.R. Derby pigeon in 9 hours and 42 minutes.

     Club members set their flocks free when club interest subsided giving downtown Redlands a persistent pigeon problem that remained for decades. The “feathered rats” left their deposits with all the banks but preferred Bank of America.  

Tom Atchley is a longtime Redlands historian and a former history teacher and newspaper adviser at Redlands High School.