Wednesday, April 17, 2013

HYDROMANIA – THE ERA OF THE CHALLENGE RACE

The Lake City of Coeur d’Alene hosted competitive boat racing long, long before the first Diamond Cup Regatta in 1958. Beginning in 1913, competitive inboard races became the centerpiece of the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration and provided thrills, chills, and spills galore to entertain thousands of visitors over a three day period leading up to Independence Day.

The 1913 regatta featured the first of many speedboat “challenge” races, and it took place on the last day of the first regatta. It was so successful and well received that it would prove to be the main attraction of each of the thirty-some regattas that followed.

The first such “challenge” pitted Spokane boat merchant A.C. “Al” Ware and his race boat Spokane against Stanley “Stan” Case and his “fast hydroplane” Allegro. The regatta organizers had tweaked the design of the seven and one-half mile racecourse between the Thursday and Friday racing programs so that much of the action was in view of the many spectators on hand if front of the Tubbs Hill grandstands. With the new course configuration, the boats crossed in front of the spectators twice rather than just one time at the finish of the race.

The initial speed record for Lake Coeur d’Alene was likely set at 1913’s initial speedboat “challenge” race. The race between the Spokane and the Allegro was close from start to finish, and it was either boat’s race to win as they stormed to within twenty-five yards of the finish line. It was there that Ware floored it and won by a convincing three boat-lengths. Ware had covered the course with the Spokane in ten minutes and four seconds for an average speed of a blistering 44.7 miles per hour.

In light of the financial issues that would plague the Diamond Cup throughout its ten-year existence, it is interesting to note that that the initial Fourth of July regatta broke even financially after all of the expenses had been paid.

The success continued on to the second annual regatta, this despite the fact that the third and final day of the 1914 program was filled with a steady rainfall that lasted all afternoon. Despite the less than ideal conditions, an estimated 2,500 spectators witnessed the closing events of the regatta including the regatta sweepstakes “challenge” race. Street vendors, announcers, participants, and event officials who were not unable to take refuge in the covered grand stand on Tubbs Hill were thoroughly drenched by the downpour according to reports of the day.

In fact, according to the Spokesman-Review’s recounting of those races, the covered stands were able to accommodate most all of the spectators, but most chose to huddle under their umbrellas and “waterproofs” on the high rocks overlooking the racecourse. Another 400 spectators saw the regatta from steamers and launches on the lake, and a “remarkably good natured spirit pervaded the crowd.”

The 1914 regatta sweepstakes challenge race was particularly memorable because of what occurred at its conclusion. The race in question was an expanded nine-mile long regatta, and it was easily won by the aforementioned Ware brother’s Spokane. Henry French’s St. Joe finished right behind the Spokane, and Harlan Peyton’s boat finished a very poor third.

After the race it was discovered that Peyton’s boat had somehow picked up six feet of decorative bunting from somewhere on the course, and the material had become wrapped tightly around the boat’s propeller which certainly explained its lack of power during the contest.

The discovery of the unseen “handicap” led to shouts from the crowd of “race her over again!” and the judges huddled briefly to discuss the situation. The officials then announced that the three boats would race one more three-mile lap to determine the winner. The results of the re-run were exactly reversed with the Peyton’s boat taking first, the St. Joe taking second, and the Spokane finishing in third.

The Peyton brothers had donated a special silver cup to be awarded to the winning craft in the speedboat sweepstakes. Ironically, the Peyton’s overcame the stray bunting “handicap” to take that trophy home with them.

Despite the weather, race organizers reported that they finished the second annual three-day affair in the black, having made several thousand dollars in profit. The budget for the 1914 regatta had been set at $3,000 for program and entertainment.

Beach Regatta Seating photo circa 1915

Museum of North Idaho Photo

By 1915, the Coeur d’Alene Regatta group had inexplicably moved their venue from Tubbs Hill to back in front of the City Park as originally had been planned. I could find no stated reason for the move, but a post regatta review in the Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper had a crowd of six hundred viewing the boat races from the relative comfort of a temporary grandstand that had been constructed on a pier at the foot of the Sherman Street landing.

Another three thousand spectators lined the lakeshore and city beach to watch the water sports competitions and motor-powered boats roaring around the course. According to the news report, “great demonstrations” (loud cheering perhaps?) were brought forth by the “zip zapping of their powerful engines and the way they skipped over the water.” The report also reveals that the “speedy motor boat races seemed to cause more excitement and thrills” than the man-powered shell competitions that were on the same program. The writer noted that “everything went off with a snap, and all the races were started promptly.”

The 1915 race participants got an early start on their preparations when an estimated eighteen motor craft were seen on the lake trying out the course on July 2nd, the day prior to the beginning of the regatta. The boats reportedly plied the waters “with exhaust pipes wide open and speed regulations thrown to the winds, while each driver allowed his engine to the limit.”

Among the entrants that year was Ramsey Walker, an early day banker in the Lake City. He had contracted to have the Tipperary built by a young Coeur d’Alene boat builder named Bob Yandt in hopes of winning the challenge race. The boat’s engine was in the area of 225 cubic inches and was said to have turned over at 1,200 rpm and was capable of speeds near 65 mph.

Also building a boat for the 1915 races was Wallace mining magnate Jerome Day. Day went as far as having an Eastern U.S. boat builder construct what he was eventually to christen The Pep in hopes of defeating Walker’s Tipperary, but the boat almost didn’t make it safely on to the lake.

A small fire in the Carver Boat Shop on Second Street on Friday evening threatened to damage The Pep. Fortunately, the spanking new craft escaped undamaged, and Day was able to launch it on Saturday afternoon in time for the first round of racing.

The Sunday, July 4th portion of the program on the Regatta’s middle day drew what was estimated an estimated 6,000 spectators during the day, and even larger crowd was expected for the Monday closing program of racing. The big draw on Sunday was a parade of watercraft led by the steamer Georgie Oakes and the burning of pioneer steamer Spokane. Despite having a charge of dynamite in its hold, the Spokane refused to sink and burned to the water’s edge.

The 1915 sweepstakes challenge race went to Walker’s Tipperary, and news reports tell us that he covered a much shorter four-mile course in eight minutes, nine and three-fifth seconds, edging out the Peyton brother’s boat. With Bob Yandt doing the driving honors, the Tipperary easily ran away from the The Pep as well.

The final day of the 1915 regatta drew over 5,000 people, and because of its growing success and the ideal weather enjoyed over the three-day event, the organizers made plans to increase the budget from $3,000 to $5,000. The profit from the event was reported to be in the area of $2,000 to $4,000.

By the fourth year, coverage of Coeur d’Alene’s event began to dwindle somewhat in the Spokane media. The lone reference to the boat races came in the Coeur d’Alene Press, and it tells us that Horace Peyton, driving a new version of his earlier winning design had won first place over an unidentified craft driven by Paul Schroeder in what was now called the Peyton Trophy speed boat race. The two boats reportedly covered the three-mile course in record time, but the time was not recorded for posterity.

The regatta continued be a great success in the eyes of its organizers and to be modestly profitable, but efforts to create an Independence Day celebration in Spokane and the introduction of motorcar racing at the Alan Race Track near the Idaho-Washington state line eventually cut into the bottom line of the event. Later regatta weekends did not appear to match the huge crowds that watched the races in the first four years of the event.

A post regatta article in the Spokane Chronicle revealed that in 1917 only several hundred witnessed the event, and it raised only “several hundred dollars” for the Red Cross.

Despite the drop in popularity, the city fathers stuck with the Fourth of July regatta format, and the event continued to evolve in much the same way that the boats evolved over time.


NEXT INSTALLMENT: Tales of the Greyhound, the Fire Chief, and the Wasp
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The History of the Diamond Cup - How it all began.



Steve Shepperd
Author/Historian
Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs

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