Saturday, April 27, 2013
HYDROMANIA – THE GREYHOUND, THE FIRE CHIEF, AND THE WASP
I have uncovered records of competitive boat racing dating as far back in time as 1913. For thirty plus years following that initial competition the sport of inboard boat racing became the centerpiece of the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration. This installment will close out that chapter of boat racing’s history on the lake.
After the surprising success of the first three years of Coeur d’Alene’s Fourth of July celebrations, the three-day event suddenly faced major challenges. The development of a competing Independence Day celebration in Spokane, and the growing popularity of a horseracing track near the Idaho-Washington state line appeared to threaten the future of the Lake City’s multi-day celebration. Despite these challenges, Coeur d’Alene’s city fathers held on to their multi-sport format, but they tweaked the event to make it more community centered.
Along side of the evolution of the Independence Day celebration, boat racing was undergoing steady change as well. New hull designs and bigger and more powerful engine were slowly changing the sport.
For example, the 1920 race saw Paul Mitchell pairing his newly constructed mahogany runabout Freckles with a Liberty airplane engine. Machining the needed parts himself, Mitchell had converted the aviation motor to power his runabout. With the new power plant, the Spokanite turned the four-mile course in a record 18 minutes and 1 second, and the Freckles easily dispatched the Miss Coeur d’Alene to take the cup.
The 1921 race went to the Greyhound owned by Spokane’s R.C. Dillingham. Built by Coeur d’Alene boat builder Bob Yandt, the 33-foot long gentleman’s raceboat, employed a John L. Hacker bottom design and a 250-h.p. Sterling engine that allowed the new boat to power through the typically rough water conditions that had prevailed on Lake Coeur d’Alene during earlier races.
|Greyhound in dry-dock at Yandt's Boatworks 1921|
Museum of North Idaho Photo
The powerful Greyhound edged the 1920 champion with a new record time of 6 minutes and 58 seconds over the four-mile course. The time eclipsed the Freckle’s previous mark by slightly over eleven minutes.
The 1924 version of the challenge race was unique in that it was held during the evening hours rather than the heat of the day. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., the race was followed by the city’s fireworks display, and an estimated crowd of 25,000 people viewed both the races and other 4th of July activities from the sands of City Beach.
While warming up for that same 1924 race in the late afternoon hours, Coeur d’Alene’s Bruce McDonald flipped his brand new boat, the Black Maria. The boat was estimated to have been traveling at a scorching fifty-five miles per hour when it suddenly overturned. McDonald and his engine man Fred Boyer were both thrown into the water, but they were quickly rescued by another boat. It was reported that there were a few tense moments when Boyer and McDonald had to frantically swim out of the way of another passing race boat. McDonald’s craft was retrieved from the lake, but it was deemed too waterlogged to compete in that evening’s racing.
The winner of the 1924 competition was another of Bob Yandt’s creations. Built for Dr. Max Smith of Wallace, Yandt’s Attaboy was smaller than Yandt’s Greyhound design by nearly four feet in length and was powered by a much bigger and more powerful 300HP Fiat engine.
|Attaboy Museum of North Idaho Photo|
Attaboy took the ’24 challenge race despite a valiant effort by Dillingham and his Greyhound. The sister boats dashed around the two-mile course in front of the beach twice during the race, and at one point in the first lap the Greyhound even held a slight lead. The Attaboy appeared to be faster on the straightaway stretches, while the Greyhound held an advantage on the sharp turns at each end of the course. With a powerful surge on the final straightaway, the Attaboy took the lead for good, and Dr. Smith happily took the new Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce Cup back to his Silver Valley home.
|Greyhound and Attaboy at City Dock - Museum of North Idaho Photo|
So well built was the Attaboy that it was said to have still been in use on nearby Newman Lake well into the 1950’s. The Greyhound also survived into the modern era, and it was used for years on Lake Coeur d’Alene as a water taxi.
Eventually the Greyhound was retired from use and dry-docked, where it slowly slid into a state of disrepair. Alan Thomle of Seattle saved it from destruction and lovingly restored it to its original glory. It is now a work of art, and I was fortunate enough to see it run on Lake Chelan during the Mahogany and Merlot vintage race boat event in October of 2012.
|Alan Thomle and his Greyhound, Lake Chelan 2012|
Photo by Steve Shepperd
During the 1930’s, two point “step” hydroplanes replaced the cigar shaped gentleman’s raceboats that had dominated the races during the teens and twenties. The radical new racing design employed a large transverse “step” in the hull, located amidships, to create a hydroplane. As a result of the innovation, the bottom of the boat made contact with the water at only two "points" on the hull. The first point was a small two-to-three foot portion of the hull just forward of the transverse step, and the second point was at the extreme aft section of the hull above the rudder.
It is not surprising that veteran Coeur d’Alene boat builder Bob Yandt would choose to integrate the new design factor into one of his creations. The opportunity came when he was contracted by Spokane’s Clarence I. “Cip” Paulson, the son of mining magnate August Paulson to construct a boat for him to be launched in time for the 1932 race.
Shortly after its launching, the sleek 26-foot mahogany craft was seen cruising through the four-corner regatta course at speeds in excess of 70 mph. It employed a 450 horsepower, V-12 Liberty aircraft engine which developed nearly 2200 rpm, and it easily dispatched with Joe Pedicord’s Number III in the 1932 race.
When Paulson tired of racing his unnamed boat, Yandt stored it at his lakefront boat shop for a while and then negotiated its sale to the partnership of Howard Hudson and Harry Wilson. The two downtown Coeur d’Alene businessmen took possession and operated it as a thrilling speedboat ride concession for a few years scaring passengers on high speed runs across the lake.
To facilitate passengers, Hudson and Wilson cut a rectangular hole in the long foredeck ahead of the open engine and installed seats for up to six paying passengers. In its new configuration, the boat enjoyed a lengthy second life while continuing to race in the yearly challenge cup races.
|Fire Chief off of Lakeshore Drive|
Museum of North Idaho Photo
Hudson and Wilson named the reconfigured hydroplane the Fire Chief, the result of a deal the two young owners had struck with the Texaco Oil Company to sponsor the boat. Texaco Oil provided the partners with fuel as part of the sponsorship deal – and the big boat supposedly used a considerable amount of it – and in return, Hudson and Wilson painted the hull partially red, added the Texaco “star” logo, and gave it the Fire Chief moniker.
|Fire Chief running off of City Beach in 1935|
Museum of North Idaho Photo
In the fifty-lap 1940 challenge race, Hudson and Wilson’s Fire Chief failed to finish. The boat had rolled over on a turn during a test run on the two-mile course prior to the race and the clutch plates became wet and swelled. In order to run, the mechanic had to loosen the clutch plates. That adjustment proved to be the team’s undoing when at the end of thirty-two miles of racing the plates became too loose to hold and the boat went dead in the water, forcing them to withdraw.
|Fire Chief owners Harry Wilson and Howard Hudson|
Museum of North Idaho Photo
The Fourth of July challenge races appear to have been discontinued before the 1941 rendition could be run, and outboard races seem to have replaced them as the staple of the annual three-day celebration. The final 4th of July Coeur d’Alene inboard regatta that I was able to document appears to have been the very same 1940 race where the Fire Chief failed to finish.
In that series ending 1940 race, a crowd estimated at between 30,000 and 40,000 spectators watched as Don McRae of Seattle driving the Miss Take edged fellow Seattleite Ted Jones in his The Wasp to win the Northwest Speedboat Championship. McRae’s average speed for the fifty miles was listed as 60.250 mph and he covered the marathon course in fifty-six minutes even. He was a full two laps ahead of Jones at the finish line.
While McRae easily won that final challenge race, his other contributions to the sport of hydroplaning have largely been lost to history. Conversely, the significance of Ted Jones and his The Wasp to the history of the sport has to be considered monumental. Built in 1936 as a three-point hydroplane, The Wasp appears to have acted as Jone’s experimental laboratory for the later hydros that he would design and build including the legendary Slo-mo-shun unlimiteds.
By 1957, the Fourth of July event had shrunk to a single day celebration, which consisted mostly of water skiing and wakeboard demonstrations.
Then came the early summer of 1958… and boat racing on Lake Coeur d’Alene would never, ever be the same again.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Slot Machines, the Athletic Round Table and the beginnings of the Diamond Cup for Unlimited Hydroplanes.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The Era of the Challenge Race
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