View from the Pylon
Well, it’s coming up to that time of the year again, which we now must refer to as the ‘Winter Holiday’, closely followed by the start of another year of the ‘common era’. Presumably that means that Father Christmas, and all the joy he brings for young and old alike, is also consigned to the dustbin of political correctness? This is something of a pity, as preparing a list of things you would like has a certain degree of expectation when young, although precious little when a bus pass and heating allowance are an every day reminder of those days, long gone by. Doesn’t hurt to dream though, does it? As we move towards the New Year it is impossible not to reflect on the previous 12 months and the many sad losses that the modelling world in general has experienced. Two of the long-standing British hydroplane records are now held posthumously, and whilst it seems just a matter of time before John Rose’s ‘B’ record set back in 1994 is beaten, there seems little likelihood of another ‘B’ Class steamer appearing in the near future to challenge Stan Poyser’s 13 year old mark. It is ironic that we have to go back to 2000 and beyond for most of the records. It would be easy to become a trifle despondent and question whether there will ever be serious attempts at some of these speeds again. Mind you, the water speed record is 33 years old and Andy Green’s land speed record 14, so we are not alone! As far as the British hydro classes are concerned, it is a major undertaking to build either a 15cc or 30cc motor or a flash steam plant from scratch, yet none of the NAVIGA class records that rely on commercial motors have been troubled for many years either. The tethered car fraternity could easily experience a similar difficulty, with the deaths of Karpusikov and in particular Gualtiero Picco. With his factory behind him, he could push development and competition on, and ultimately pass on advances to customers (at a price), but that will now cease, as could the supply of engines and spares. Will someone, either with a commercial or philanthropic outlook, step into the breach and start building engines (and cars), or will we see aged ‘blue heads’ running alongside even more aged ‘gold heads’? Well, rumours abound, and by this time next year it could all be a lot clearer. Those committed to running Kapu cars and engines though, are already experiencing difficulties, with adverts looking for spares appearing worldwide.
No sooner had we been notified of ‘Thunderbird’ last month than the infamous ‘Buck 2A’ appeared again on ebay, and we will return to that thorny topic next month. It was another ‘interesting’ provenance and a price tag of unbelievable proportions though that kick started our interest in the subject of our main article this month. In spite of being in the public eye for 25 years and gaining an appropriately eye watering valuation, not a lot was known about this monster flash steamer, so it was time to get stuck into some serious research. What a fascinating tale unfolded, with a totally unexpected and coincidental update right at the end?
Two of our ‘Pitboxes’ this month are linked as they are probably the only items that still exist from the late Stan Poyser’s time spent with IC engined boats. The hydro and its accompanying motor are not currently together, but happily that is a situation that is soon to be rectified as their restoration is almost complete, although they are seen here in their ‘as found’ condition. The car is another wonderful example from the period in British tethered car building when appearance counted for more than performance. The RTD in last month's pitbox prompted Ken Smith and David Giles to contact us with detailed information about the car, which we have added as an update.
It has been a pleasure to receive regular reports throughout the year on the European tethered car scene from Olly Monk. He and Steve Turley, another hydroplane racer, have travelled extensively during the season and it has been great to have the stories behind the results on the speedmodelcar site. We very much appreciate these reports, thanks. A stark reminder that the season and year is nearly over with Mark Mansell's last report of 2011 from the Old Timers Meeting in Sydney. Thanks to Mark for getting the photos and reports to us every month, almost before the exhausts have cooled. Look out for a couple of superb hydro related articles from Mark in the New Year. The two 'Alf Lee' motors that Mark featured last month have been given a permanent home in 'Pitbox' as they are superb examples of racing engines built by enthusiast in Australia and New Zealand when imports were impossible to obtain after the second war.
You are unlikely to ever see so many miniature diesel engines in one place as there were at the Gildings sale. Yes, there were larger motors, but for some, the smaller they are, the better, and some were beyond small. If price and capacity were related, then none of us would ever be able to afford a 10cc motor and a 30 would require a mortgage. In general, prices were around the estimates, although there were a few surprises such as a pulse jet that ended up costing the purchaser the best part of £700. It is possibly no surprise now that the mass produced American sparkies can hardly be given away.
Just to finish with, a couple of Christmas cracker ‘you couldn’t make it up’ gems from our area. Thieves tried to break into a shipping container of fireworks near Southend using; yes you’ve guessed it, an oxy acetylene cutter!!! A massive explosion and subsequent deaths occurred at an industrial unit in Lincolnshire where the occupants were distilling home brewed vodka!!!
After that brief wallow in OTW nostalgia it is back to some degree of reality, or what passes for it at present. It has been put to us on more than one occasion that we are too interested in the past, but then, judging by the television schedules, that must apply to half the country. A trudge round our local auction house is always enlightening, and in the last sale there was a huge collection of laboratory equipment and scientific apparatus being offered. Much of it was relatively modern, must have cost tens of thousands, yet could hardly been given away, but by contrast, the older items where there was mahogany, ebony, and brass in profusion were eagerly sought after. It seemed that the craftsmanship and the elegance of design counted for far more than function. It is probably not wrong to assume that a sextant in a wooden box and a cased ships chronometer, which are currently not cheap, will continue to appreciate, whilst in 20 years time, a Tom-Tom or Mio that can plot your position within yards will be worthless? Perhaps it is because we can appreciate what a microchip can do and embrace its use enthusiastically, but as for admiring it as an object or enjoying its workings, no chance. That is not to say that all that was old is good, and all that is new is bad, as that is far from the truth, but there was a degree of simplicity and mendability that has now all but vanished. We have also arrived at a position where ‘sameness’ and uniformity are the order of the day, born out graphically by the entries at the tethered car Europeans in Tallinn. With so many of the cars and engines originating from the same sources, only the paintwork distinguished one from the other, and when the bodies are bare carbon then its like looking for a lifestyle silver Ford Focus in the NEC car park.
Although most hydroplanes originate from the same basic design, because there is no commercial interest, the boats evolve differently and most can still be identified from a photograph, even without a name or number. It is with the British classes that there is the most variation, as each builder worked to their own level of design, skill and facilities available. There are the elegant and sleek, the basic and crude and every level in between. The engineering can exhibit the same wide variation as well, but as we have also been told regularly, it is ultimately about going fast. Well, yes, but surely that can also be accomplished without resorting to the completely utilitarian? After all, the SR71 Blackbird not only did its job amazingly well, but also looked absolutely superb. When it comes to going fast though, John Hyder has devoted all of his adult life to it, and not only with tethered hydroplanes, so it is with great pleasure that we present an extended ‘Who’s Who’ detailing John’s long racing career. In our view though, his finest achievement was in setting the ‘A’ Class record with his superbly engineered 30cc motor, which remains unbeaten eleven years on. It is also the highest speed ever achieved with a motor using piston rings, rather than ABC or other alphabet derived technology.
The Pitboxes start with a hydroplane that carries a ‘wealth’ warning. It is an old friend that keeps doing the rounds with a false description and an eye-watering price to boot, which just keeps getting higher. It is also an example of where function has definitely played second fiddle to design. The amazing little car is at the opposite end of the spectrum where everything else has been sacrificed for speed, but it does have a certain attractiveness to it all the same. It is relatively rare for a competitor to move into commercial design and then become a manufacturer in their own right, but the builder of our engine this month did just that.
Well, the cables are wound up for the season, bridles consigned to the waste bin and the winter head scratching started. It was good news that after all the difficulties at Hull, their final meeting of the season went ahead and was somewhat 'eventful' for Paul Windross. Congratulations to the folk in Brisbane on the opening of their new car track.
The talk of roundtuits in March seemed to stir a few memories as well as awaken the odd conscience of jobs or promises that never quite made it for various reasons. Now, whilst these are relatively well known, Peter Hill introduced us to another of these strange manifestations, the ‘hadnabinfa’. The perils of the hadnabinfa and the much more complex kinked hadnabinfa were expounded by a wonderful character and local philosopher, Dennis, the Fen Tiger. It marks the exact point where the expected outcome changes and is recognised by the statement, ‘if it hadnabinfa then’, followed by excuse, reason, and realisation of what ‘might have been’. They can of course be life changing, humorous, annoying or result in positive and negative outcomes, but like the roundtuit, we will all have experienced them to some degree or other. Certainly, six years ago when we sat with one page and nothing more than the OTW name, very little of what has transpired could ever have been guessed at, and certainly never anticipated. Certainly not running tethered hydroplanes, vintage and modern, at a World Championship. Our hadnabinfas then have been almost entirely positive, certainly life changing and all contributed to our original ‘mission statement’, although that has expanded somewhat as well. Thanks to all the people that have contacted us over the years and contributed by delving into their memory banks and sheds, the monthly editions keep coming. There is still a long list of topics that we are exploring, some of which require a great deal of digging, as the information is proving hard to come by, and others that are expanding way beyond the original intention. Happily (and hopefully) there is still the unexpected that arises through someone seeing the site and making contact. This might be a family connection, something in their possession, or an acquaintance, but is always an exciting prospect as it is this that allows OTW to keep churning it out, month by month.
As you will guess from the introduction, what we intend to work on during the year, and what actually happens are two very different and often unrelated ‘kettles of fish’. There is a ‘wish list’ though and we would like to continue the ‘flash steam’ theme by expanding what we have already published to include everyone who has built and run a flash steamer since the 40s and if possible, relate it to boats and plant that still exist. Sometimes it requires a bit of detective work and some ‘leaps of faith’ with a phone directory, and other times pure luck, but there are still boats out there waiting to be discovered. ‘Blitz’ and ‘Flash-2’ were known to have survived to modern times, but where are they now? Similarly, are the modern ‘A’ Class boats of the late Colin Harmer and Keith Norfor still in existence? More and more is emerging about Arthur Weaver from those that knew him, but it would still be wonderful if we could contact any of his family or anyone who has any ideas about the location of the many cars and models he built. Finally, we remain extremely grateful to, and almost entirely dependent upon those who view the site for its continued existence.
The ‘Pitboxes’ again almost entirely rely on items submitted from far and wide and so far we have featured over 150 cars, boats, engines and associated items that are now recorded for posterity. Some we have been able to identify, others have led to articles and updates, while many have just been a pleasure to see and know that they have survived. The car this month is the only known contemporary version of Ian Moore’s radical ‘Shadow’, although we did feature a modern reproduction some while ago. We believe that a relation of Stan Drayson, who had bought the original car from Ian Moore, may still be in contact with a member of the Retro Club? The boat is, we believe, yet another example of Arthur Weaver’s fine craftsmanship, and probably the last he made. Commercial motors rarely feature as ‘pitbox items’, but this engine has had an interesting history, especially as it has been owned by two tethered hydroplane enthusiasts who were much better known for building their own motors. Unfortunately, we have almost exhausted our supply of Pitbox items, so if you have anything still lurking or been lucky enough to obtain a 'gem' and would care to share it, then we would be extremely grateful.
After the flurry of regattas last month, there were another two events on the calendar for September, the first being the two-day meeting at John and Gill DeMott’s lovely private lake. The forecast was truly appalling though, with the USA sending over unwanted portions of its hurricanes. Do we believe forecaster though? A fortnight later was the end of season gathering at Kingsbury. Can it really be another regatta season drawing to its close? It was a landmark though for us to be able to present our first ever report from a tethered car meeting on a track in the UK, the September event at Peter Hill’s, Great Carlton Raceway. Almost forgotten what diesel fuel smelled like, or how much it costs now the chemists will not sell ether?
It did take two months to solve the little conundrum of who the fourth member of the quartet was who had held the longest membership of the MPBA, and we have to thank Peter Revill for the answer. It is George Kirkham of the Swindon Club who joins Alan Rayman, John Benson and Tom Clement in notching up well over 50 years in the Association. We also discovered that George was the owner of Ted Vanner's 'Ledaette' for many years.
Well, that has certainly been a busy couple of months, both on the road and at the keyboard. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to another 'bumper edition'.
Readers of these monthly literary meanderings will realise that we have something of an obsession with engineering and those that employ it in the furtherance of their sport. Of late, most of it has emanated from manufacturing plants, and comes at a cost, but the question is whether this is always advantageous? It is too early to see what long-term effect the sad death of Gualtiero Picco will have, yet the limited edition cars and motors he produced certainly had an immediate impact, and therein lays the contradiction. This scenario is experienced in many technical sports, but is there still room for the lateral thinker or someone trying something different? Free flight is a prime example where all sorts of dodges and wheezes are tried and if they are successful, then either everyone will want one or people will vote with their feet and walk away. There is something to be said for both camps and occasionally there will be some official intervention either on grounds of safety or exerting some control over what is going on, but sometimes not until it is too late for the sport. Formula I is a constant battle between the rule makers and designers, which the designers initially win by the simple method of bunging billions into the pot, only to see their advantage copied or made illegal (or both). Tethered cars and hydroplanes along with F2A are not in quite such exalted financial spheres so it more often comes down to ingenuity, head scratching and a lot of work. All three disciplines also mirror each other in several other ways. Apart from the change to asymmetric planes and cutting one blade off the prop, like cars and hydro’s, not a lot has changed in the last few years. Eventually the control line pilots will reach the stage that they cannot run round the pylon fast enough and something will have to be done, but that is not a problem for us. This begs the question as to whether there is an Andriukov or a Dyson of the car/hydro world lurking who will come up with an inspired piece of new or lateral thinking that leads to the ‘quantum leap’ in performance? Would we then want it, or want it banned?
Being of a ‘certain age’ though it can be somewhat amusing to see that the ‘revolutionary idea’ has been around for years, but quietly forgotten. We had a wry smile watching all the hoohaa surrounding the setting of the new steam car World Record, which for all the money, effort and technology was something like 70mph slower than being reached regularly in the early 1970s. A little bit of research could have had the car faster, cheaper and far more reliable. In fact, if they had dug around they could have probably unearthed a 40-year-old vehicle that would have done it with a lot less hassle. There is absolutely nothing wrong with revisiting an ‘old idea’ though, as new thinking, technology, materials and techniques could overcome the problems evident earlier. The venturi flame tube was developed by Bob Kirtley to be the key element in every modern flash steamer, yet was abandoned 30 years previously, as it could not be made to work!
Two of the three ‘Pitboxes’ this month may seem like we have taken the easy route and pressed the ‘copy’ icon, but although the items seem the same, they have differing stories to tell. The motor is another product of Ernie Hills’ workshop, but is currently being run on a regular basis, while the E&M Maserati shows why dealers and collectors are two distinct entities. For the hydroplane, we have gone to a piece of historical ephemera, and another exciting find, which we are indebted to Mike Rose for sharing with us. In turn this has enabled us to add another update to the article on timing.
You've got to laugh! Recently there have been some copies of John Goodall's amazing book on the Olivers appearing on eBay. Just before writing this, one was headed towards £90 and the other towards £70. Not bad when you realise that John was still offering them new on his website at £30. Pays to do your research. Shades of the famous tinplate Miller sagas?
August has been a very busy month for the tethered hydroplane fraternity starting with a meeting at Althorne prior to the British team heading off for the A/B World Championships at Chatellerault. A couple of weeks later it was the traditional two day International Regatta at St Albans. For the dedicated band of tethered car enthusiasts in Britain, any event means a great deal of travelling, so we were indebted to Olly Monk for his photos and report on the events they have attended so far this season. Mark Mansell also waded in with a timely update on the happenings at Luddenham and in the Australian scene. Thanks to Olly and Mark for keeping us abreast of activities in the tethered car world. This serious exposure to methanol and action more than fills up our month’s quota of material with reports and results from all these events.
We start off this month with congratulations to Stuart Robinson, Tom Clement and Roger Lane, who have all recently been presented with certificates to mark 50 years continuous membership of the MPBA, although I suspect they may have been members for quite a bit longer? Tom and Roger are both practised and very successful exponents of the black art of straight running, yet the 'circular course' is no stranger to them either. Stuart was one of our leading competitors for many years before deciding to keep his feet dry with tethered cars, but acts as chief judge at all World and European hydroplane championships. It does beg the question though, if Tom has the 4th longest membership of the MPBA and John Benson and Alan Rayman must certainly be 2 of the others, who is the 3rd? Answer hopefully next month.
First port of call on the 1st of each month is Ron Chernich’s Model Engine News site. Those who read his editorials (and his rants at Microsoft) as avidly as we do know that Ron has been none too well and we all hope he is restored to health and vitality soon. In a recent editorial he raised an interesting, or some might say contentious point. He has been re-reading Model Engineers from the past and has noticed how dogmatic many of the contributors were, typified by Curly Lawrence’s ‘Words and Music’ and ‘nuff sed’ ending to any possible discussion. Ron ventured that constructional articles would be more valuable if they told you why you needed to do something, rather than just the how. There is a certain security in the LBSC creed that if you do it the way he said, then it will work. Edgar Westbury took very much the same approach with IC engines and was responsible for dozens of successful designs, although many of his theories do not stand up to close scrutiny now. A counter to Ron's argument is that probably more money is spent on cook books and recipe books than all other non-fiction reading, and all they tend to do is give a list of ingredients and instructions. Follow the words and you end up with a pie, something like the one in the picture. Modellers are a breed apart though and they seldom take too much at face value, which leads on to ‘I wouldn’t do it that way’ or ‘I could do it better than that’ syndrome. Many of the contributors to journals were of such high standing that there was always the implication that you deviated from the instructions at your peril. That never stopped correspondents from disagreeing vociferously and is possibly why so few people are now willing to write constructional articles or give advice. Once it gets into the realms of competition though, it is a whole new game and there were some very merry exchanges of opinions between the tethered hydroplane exponents as to ‘the correct way to do things’. Getting involved with tethered cars and hydros now could be a very frustrating affair as there is virtually nothing in print, either instructional or theoretical. Information has to be gleaned, and luckily, most people involved are only too happy to pass on their acquired knowledge and provide advice, but as has been discovered recently, taking the advice and making it work can be two totally different and frustrating matters.
Bob Kirtley produced a superb series for Model Engineer describing all his experiments, which lead to a precise description and drawings for all the elements required to build a replica of ‘Pisces 2’. The ‘words and music’ for a 122mph flash steam hydro in fact. Assuming that you built it to the plan and applied Bob’s 30 years of experience you might have something that approached that speed, but to go any quicker, there would need to be development, refinement, new thinking. Perhaps this is where the understanding that Ron Chernich spoke about really comes into play. Someone who was not afraid to try something different was Frank Jutton, and the second part of the article looking at his career, focuses on his return to racing and one remarkable boat in particular.
The Pitboxes start with a motor that is a real rarity in this modern era, yet would have been relatively common at one stage, a home built 10cc hydro motor. John DeMott is currently the only competitor using an engine of his own manufacture, but there was one other until a short while ago, built by Ernie Hills. Tethered hydros are seldom ever seen at swapmeets, yet this ED Challenger had found no buyer so was put on ebay recently. The car is yet another E&M Maserati, but this one has been in the same family since new. It also ended up on ebay where someone bagged a real bargain, as it was not listed in the more usual categories. On the subject of bargains, Gildings annual model engine sale is scheduled for Saturday 5th November at their Market Harborough auction rooms. There is always a heady mix of the rare and desirable and the cheap and cheerful and probably still time to consign that unwanted 'gem' and raise a bob or two.
With all too vivid memories of the drenching we got at Kingsbury in June, the weather forecast had particularly close scrutiny leading up to the meetings this month. For the 17th July it looked even worse than last month, if that was possible, but then forecasts are noted for their inaccuracy, or are they? Although Althorne can be a bit breezy at times, I don't think we have ever experienced the same problem that Mark Mansell higlighted in one of his eagerly read reports from Luddenham. To quote "It was so windy that the farmer from over the road said he had seen the same hen lay the same egg three times!!!!!" The latest edition of the Retro Club newsletter has an extensive photo gallery of the inaugural meeting at Peter Hill's Great Carlton Raceway, where a number of Club members enjoyed running a variety of cars for the first time in something like 11 or 12 years. With the size and location of the track precluding the running of FEMA style cars, the whole event was an evocation of tethered car racing as it might have been some 65 years ago. It is hoped that OTWs intrepid team of reporters will be present at the next meeting.
Being primarily concerned with creating permanent records through this website we do not always see eye to eye with some of the more ‘interesting’ commercial activities that involve boats cars and engines. Happily, most people are willing to share information, material and photos and take a great deal of time and trouble to assist us in our quest. Lately though, there have been more than a few grumbles about another trend, which for some seems normal, yet for others leaves a less than pleasant taste. But first a story, and it’s true. A young couple had gone to a Christie’s model auction with a view to buying a small barrel organ. They had an absolute limit, which they stuck to, but as the bidding there goes up £200 a time, they soon lost out. The winning bidder then approached them, and asked them what their maximum had been. He promptly sold the organ to them, for considerably less than he had paid, and picked up the auction fees as well. Why, you might ask, should anyone want to do this? Well, Mark was a wonderful example of someone who cared more about the object and where it was going than the money it represented. To be fair, he was also significantly wealthy. The tethered car and boat scene is blessed with numerous people who will help out by searching through their spares, making bits, selling items at knockdown prices or even passing them on for free. Happily there are also many grateful enthusiasts who have benefited from this largesse and appreciated the help.
Unfortunately, there are those that look upon these acts as a swift way of making a profit and we have been made all too aware of the recipients who cash in. There can be little more galling than the item that has been the subject of a philanthropic gesture of some sort reappearing on ebay, or in a private ad and being sold on at a thumping profit. It does bring into question the oft-made statement; I’m a collector, not a dealer! It would be great if the philanthropic seller always met a buyer with similar principles, but unfortunately for us all, life is not like that. Of course, we are also well aware of the vendors who, for whatever reason, want the very best price for what is being offered. On this basis, they have little control over what happens to it, where it goes, or who buys it, and presumably the buyer has no obligation either. It may come as something of a surprise, but almost every car boat or engine that has been sold by that route has vanished off the radar completely. Apart that is from the ‘wrong uns’, the hugely overpriced and the falsely described, which have a habit of turning up again as someone along the line realises that they have been ‘had’.
The articles on Bernard Pilliner over the last two months came about because of just such a philanthropic gesture. The generous donation of the last of Bernard’s boats to a model engineering society, who in turn contacted OTW, set the whole venture in motion. Thanks to the continuing help from his son Tony we have also been able to add photos to the Pilliner articles of some of the medals and trophies won by his father, Bernard. It has been a very similar story with the subject of our next series of articles, where we continue the flash steam theme. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of all involved, we have been able to put together a fascinating account of Frank Jutton’s life and involvement in tethered hydroplanes. Frank’s name is held in such regard in the annals of flash steam, that it has been a pleasure to prepare these articles.
We are also grateful to Steve Betney who has kindly sent photos and details of a rare Rowell that we have been able to add to the list of motors and items that have come to light. The Pitboxes though start with a flash steam motor that is in a different league, but has a model connection. One of the most illustrious names of tethered hydroplane racing is that of Gems Suzor and this French boat definitely has a connection with the great man, but quite how we don’t know at present. The car was on display at the Old Warden swapmeet and is another example of a 1066 Conquest, but again there is something most unusual about it. On the 1066 front, what a topsy-turvey world ebay is? A MK I Conqueror sold for £340 in June, which must make it the most expensive ever, yet a superb and original E&M Maserati (next month in Pitbox) made just £500. Try figuring that out.
Now to an exercise in semantics. What is the difference between water resistant, shower proof and water proof? Well, at Kingsbury on the 12th of June the answer was about five minutes before getting soaked through. It was good to see several new boats and so many competitors braving the elements in what turned out to be the first major regatta of the year. On the same day was the inaugural meeting for the Retro Club on Peter Hill's car track, and here the rain stayed away until after lunch allowing a variety of cars to run for the first time for many years. Peter deserves a vote of thanks for getting Britain's only car track up and running. The FEMA contingent had travelled over to Kapfenhardt the same weekend and the results of their efforts can be viewed as usual on the speedmodelcar website. Good to see that concrete is being poured for the new track in Brisbane.
It was something of a double celebration at Althorne Lake on the 26th of June. Not only was there no wind for a change, but Sue and Jim Free kindly invited all of those present to join them in a very refreshing cup of Asti to mark their 40th wedding anniversary. If it was the hottest day of the year for us, what a contrast for Mark Mansell reporting from Sydney where there was frost on the grass in the car circle. Thanks as always to Mark for keeping us up to date with events at Luddenham and commiserations to all those who suffered mechanical carnage on the day.