The hat that inspired champion racing pigeons

Helping a friend retrieve a hat blown off by the wind 35 years ago led the late Bob Kinney to become a world-renowned racing-pigeon breeder and racer.

Bob was hang-gliding in Washington, US, with friends Ron and Linda, when Ron’s hat was blown off and carried by the air currents directly past Bob. He tried to reach it to save it for his friend, but failed.

Inspiration from an eagle
A bald eagle was flying above them at the time, and the grace and power of the bird inspired him to try to breed pigeons that could be almost as much at ease in the air.

He remembered the grace of this magnificent creature years later when one of his world-renowned Silverado pigeons won the Sun City Million Dollar Pigeon Race in South Africa. His son James’s pigeon, Pretty Stunning, scored fifth place in the Million Race. Rob later wrote, “We would all remember that gust of wind which took Ron’s hat for years to come.”

Strange coincidences
On the day of the accident, as they sailed into a gorge, glider was so low that it clipped a treetop and crashed. The eagle grabbed the hat in its talons as it blew off head, flew off, and later dropped it near the crash site.

With the hat in his hand, Bob knelt down to help Ron, but he had died in the crash. When he got home, learned his grandfather had also died that day. Rob wore his friend’s Tilley hat from that day on, and both were well-known worldwide. That hat has flown a million miles on United Airlines and 300 000 miles on American Airlines. It has survived a divorce, charges by black rhino, and the crash of a hot-air balloon into a pride of lions. ob wore it when he learned to fly small planes and tracked sable antelope for wildlife photography in Africa over the last 20 years.

The hat has even swum with dolphins and been scuba diving with great white sharks off the coast of South Africa. That hat has seen many great thrills, experiences and adventures. Photos of the hat and – because he was always under it – have been published in his books and in magazines in 20 countries around the world. “would be pleased,” Bob wrote.

He will never forget Kinney – or his hat.