Saturday, April 6, 2013

HYDROMANIA –THE HISTORY OF THE DIAMOND CUP

This coming Labor Day weekend, the Diamond Cup for Unlimited Hydroplanes will return to Coeur d’Alene Lake after a hiatus of forty-five years. Not since 1968 have inboard speedboats competed for supremacy of the waters at the northern end of the lake.

Image courtesy of Museum of North Idaho
This is the first of several blog entries designed to tell of the rich history of the Diamond Cup and of Coeur d’Alene’s love-hate relationship with boat racing. It is my hope that you will enjoy reading about the people and race boats that brought thrills, chills, and general excitement to the waters near the shores of the Lake City over the past 100 years.

How It All Began

This year we celebrate fifty-five years since the inaugural race for Diamond Cup trophy for unlimited hydroplanes, but the story of racing on Lake Coeur d’Alene doesn’t actually start in 1958 as most residents of the community might think. In actuality, one must travel back a full 100 years to the day when the actual inaugural of competitive inboard racing on the lake first occurred when the city fathers of Coeur d’Alene first made it the centerpiece of their annual Independence Day celebration. 

Newspaper records show that the first competitive roostertails spouted over Lake Coeur d’Alene on July 3rd of 1913 as part of a city’s inaugural three-day water sports-oriented Fourth of July celebration organized by the newly formed Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.

That first event had its genesis at a January 16, 1913 meeting of the city’s chamber organization where the idea of holding a “regatta” was first hatched at public meeting of the organization.

An article in the Coeur d’Alene Press in 1914, reflecting back on  the pivotal chamber meeting revealed that it was a local physician, Dr. W.W. Scott who led off the meeting with a proposal that the group develop a “summer amusement” event along the lines of a Chautauqua meeting.  The proposed event would occur annually and henceforth would form the centerpiece of each Fourth of July celebration.

Another Lake City businessman, Ray Hart, seconded the proposal made by Dr. Scott and the proposal was passed by the Chamber membership unanimously.

Having settled on holding the first ever event, the chamber group’s discussion focused on what such an event might include. At some point in the discussion, an unidentified chamber member “remembered” that the city had a lake that was not being used for anything other than steamboat travel and for the towing of logs to the various lumber mills that had sprouted up around the lake’s shores. While lumber and steam travel had both placed many dollars in the pockets of the young Coeur d’Alene community, nothing had been done to use the adjacent lake for the amusement of its populace. 

To paraphrase a news report on the meeting that ran later in the Coeur d’Alene Press, the question was posed: “Why not use the lake for sport as well as business?” 

Chamber of Commerce President T.R. Gerdes appointed an executive committee to develop a plan for a “regatta” to focus on use of the lake for entertainment. Eventually, the committee settled on a plan that would provide a full-slate of water based activities over a three day period leading up to the Fourth of July each year. Among the events included in the proposed regatta were “competitions” which included canoe racing, logrolling, swimming and diving competitions, and inboard and outboard boat racing.

The original plan was to actually hold three separate regattas – one on Memorial Day, one on the Fourth of July, and the third event coming in August, but that plan was rejected because of the enormity of the planning involved, and a decision was made to hold the aforementioned three day event surrounding just the Fourth of July instead.

One of the biggest problems facing the executive committee that first year was a decision on what would be the best location for the majority of the regatta events. The first location that was considered was just off the lakeshore in front of the City Park, but this area was rejected for several unstated reasons.

The next property the committee considered was the summer residence of the Austin Corbin family of Spokane, which was located on the southwest point of Tubbs Hill (now called Corbin Point). That location was also eliminated from consideration, however, when an unidentified third party stepped in at the last minute and purchased the property. Disappointed and angry at the turn of events, the members of the committee set about again looking for another site.

The location that was finally settled upon was located on the south side of Tubbs Hill, and the committee moved quickly to purchase it for use as the official regatta site. The rocky hillside there made a grand venue to watch action on the racecourse and the areas designated for the watersports competitions. The location also presented the spectator with an unparalleled view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Access to the event grounds was relatively easy, and could be reached either by a five minute boat ride by water taxi or by a dirt and gravel trail which still winds around the perimeter of the of the hill.

The Fort Sherman Dock Company quickly erected a grandstand facing the watercourse, and they did so with an understanding that they would receive a fifty-fifty split of the revenues from the structure’s use each year.  The committee also purchased chairs and tables from the Spirit Lake Chautauqua, and the furniture was placed around the site in areas with “advantageous” views. Things were falling together nicely for what everyone hoped would be an event to remember.

Tubbs Hill Grandstand image courtesy of Museum of North Idaho
Community members donated “liberally” to the regatta committee in the early days of the project. They gave in large and small amounts, and the Merchant’s Association made news when they gave a generous $500 donation to the committee (Note: In modern dollars, the donation represented approximately $11,284 in buying power). At about the same time, a Miss Emma Nikolas donated use of the ground floor of the Otterson building as the headquarters for the regatta.

The town of Spirit Lake as well as the Northern Pacific, Milwaukee, Spokane International, and electric railway companies each donated silver trophy cups. In addition, the city council unanimously donated $400 from its budget to go towards providing music for the event.

The very first inboard race was held over a seven-mile course on July 3, 1913 on the very first day of the regatta celebration. Details are somewhat sketchy, but the seven-lap race around a one-mile course in front of the Tubbs Hill viewing area pitted the motorboats of Dr. W.W. Scott of Coeur d’Alene and W.H. Carver of Rockford, Washington.  Dr. Scott’s launch Kryptok and Carver’s launch Ogema were driven in the race by their twelve-year-old sons, W.W. Scott Jr. and Gale Carver.  The record shows that the Carver boy easily won the race by exactly two and one-half minutes, covering the course in thirty-five minutes and thirty seconds. The record also shows that eight horsepower Perfection engines powered both boats.

Over the three days of that first regatta, classes representing 8, 16, 20, 24, 26, and 40 horsepower engines raced. The competition reportedly drew great interest from the crowds and established the motorized boat racing as a staple of the yearly regatta activities. It was clear that a tradition of competitive boat racing on Lake Coeur d’Alene had begun.

Word of the event reached far and wide as Ralph A. Earle, western cameraman for Pathe’ Weekly filmed moving pictures of the various regatta events. The resulting footage was used in the Pathe News newsreel features in movie theaters both in the United States and abroad. Also carrying the story of the event to the outside world was an illustrated report of the boat races was published in the August issue of Seattle’s Pacific Motor Boat monthly magazine.

It must be noted that the inaugural three-day event ended with nary an accident on the water nor a problem of any kind in the community. Orderliness prevailed in all venues, and the city police reported that there were no attempts at pick pocketing or any other “strong arm” behavior. This was made all the more surprising by crowd estimates of nearly 20,000 people visiting the city and attending the various events.


Steve Shepperd
Author/Historian
Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs











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