THE GREAT PIGEON
It is doubtful
that any U.S. cops-even those who shagged Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger
around the Midwest back in the days when gangsters were gangsters—ever got, or
even imagined, the kind of indignant cooperation which the burghers of
Gelsenkirchen, Germany (pop. 370,000) rendered the law last week in tracking
down what can only be described as a stool pigeon. A homing stool pigeon, that
is. Germans are nuts for pigeons. Ninety thousand of them breed the birds and
there are 2,500,000 registered ringed racing pigeons in the country. Pigeon
fever burns hottest among Ruhr coal miners and Gelsenkirchen is in the heart of
the Ruhr—people would as likely eat roast pigeon in Gelsenkirchen as people
would eat roast Thoroughbred in Maryland. As for stealing a racing pigeon—Um
Willi Sch�fer, a respected mine messenger and pigeon breeder, came home one day
last month and discovered that a fiend had broken into his tool shed, entered
his loft and had made off with six prize birds he valued at $240. Sch�fer went
to the police, choking back his tears, and reported the incident, but two weeks
passed before it became evident that the crime was not simple theft but a case
of pigeon-naping. Then a boy called at Sch�fer's home and handed him a box.
Inside the box was a strange gray pigeon and a note which read: "If you
release this pigeon immediately with 50 marks attached to its foot, I will turn
your pigeons loose. Unless my pigeon returns before 10 o'clock tomorrow
morning, I will butcher yours immediately."
After that all
H�lle broke loose in Gelsenkirchen. The town pigeon breeding society held
special meetings and the cops prepared for action as though someone had
snatched the mayor's daughter. It was decided to attach long colored ribbons to
the gray pigeon's legs, shut up every other bird in town and track the fiend's
bird to wherever it might fly when released. When the details of this scheme
were published in the newspapers, a second note arrived from the fiend,
reducing the ransom to 20 marks and pleading with Owner Sch�fer to call off the
manhunt to "spare my family from disgrace." It was ignored. Shortly
thereafter, the stolen pigeons—obviously released by the frightened thief—flew
back to Sch�fer's home.
The law, however,
was not to be bilked. On the appointed day two airplanes circled over Sch�fer's
house to track the beribboned pigeon, while 14 police cars stood by to chase it
on the ground and 100,000 excited citizens perched on their rooftops or jammed
the streets to chart the direction of its flight. It flew into a loft only four
blocks from Sch�fer's home. The loft's owner, an unemployed construction worker
named Johann Schonhoff, was arrested. He denied all at first, but last week
broke into tears and confessed. The Gelsenkirchen police predicted that the
culprit will be shown scant mercy by the court. "Where," puffed Karl
Kiehne, director of criminal police, "would we get if this sort of thing
became a habit?"
The Towering gray
dams which stand athwart the rivers of the Pacific Northwest have blessed the
region with torrents of hydroelectric power, with new industry, new people and
a lively new prosperity. But in so doing they have blocked, river by river, the
runs of salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout which make the country a
sportsman's paradise. The difficulty has not lain in getting adult fish up over
the dams and on to wilderness spawning beds in the mountain creeks beyond; fish
ladders which provide them with easy ascent have been in operation for decades.
But their progeny, bound downstream for the sea as little fingerlings, are
killed by the millions annually in turbine blades or in thunderous drops over
As a result, the
dam-proud, salmon-loving people of the Northwest have been gripped by a curious
schizophrenia. When the city of Tacoma proposed 10 years ago to build two high
dams on the Cowlitz River, it encountered heavy opposition from citizens
rallying to the defense of the stream's wonderful salmon and steelhead runs.
Four years ago the city—with the aid of fish biologists and engineers—began
trying to evolve a method of snatching millions of slippery little fish out of
a river above a dam and putting them gently back into it below. Last week the
city was able to boast that the awful problem was apparently licked.
Though it took
years of effort and cost a small fortune, the solution seems simple enough. It
is based on the discovery of two traits of sea-bound fingerlings: they tend to
swim near the surface of the water and they tend to follow strong currents.
Thus it was reasonable to assume that they could be kept out of the turbine
blades by locating the intakes to a powerhouse below the strata of water in
which they swim; that they could be "skimmed" off the water above the
dam by creating a strong artificial surface current, and could then be funneled
into a long, gradually inclined pipe and washed down into the lower river. A
scale model of the device, tested at the University of Washington Fish Biology
Laboratories, has convinced biologists that the method is eminently feasible.
If so, the Northwest's armies of anglers may be able to go on baking
fresh-caught salmon in their electric stoves for a long, long time.