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June 2013

We were asked, many moons ago, what would be our ‘holy grail’ of finds, which is a difficult question as it is probably what you don’t know about that would be the most fascinating discovery. Imagine then how our curiosity was aroused when an email arrived with the subject as ‘The Holy Grail’. It transpired that one of our regular contributors had been the recipient of a small number of Edgar Westbury’s engines directly from the Westbury family. These included his much-modified Kiwi from the highly successful hydroplane Golly and the Kinglet featured in the prototype ME 24" hydro, serialised in 1939. This was a remarkable find by any standards, especially as it was understood that there were some original drawings and books available as well. In March, Westbury’s daughter contacted us and asked if we would be willing to visit her and assist in sorting the remaining ‘bits and pieces’ so she would know what was worth keeping and what was not. It was our understanding that there was not much left, and so along with Eric Offen who was going to sort the books we journeyed in hope rather expectation. The family had made a start on the books and photos, so Lynn began wading through these to see if there was anything immediately relevant, while Eric and I were taken to the garage. It was something of a daunting sight as there were boxes floor to ceiling with not a clue as to what was in them. Much of it was not related to ETW, but then one box was found to contain a cased prototype generator set that he had designed. Another, an exquisite Kiwi and then a wooden box tied up with bailer twine revealed a 30cc OHC Sealion. This was beginning to become a trifle unnerving, and when 3 more of his motors were found lurking in the bottom of an ammunition box, we began to wonder quite what we had unearthed. After a break for coffee, Lynn and Eric made a start on the books, while I went back to the garage to see if there was anything we had missed? Two large boxes of glass plates and slides was the first answer, a mix of car, boat, engine and hydroplane material that needed sorting. The only area remaining was a mound of boxes and garden equipment, but in removing this I discovered an almost complete ME road roller with engine and below it a very large cardboard box. I am still not quite sure I believed what I was looking at when I opened the box, as it was full of motors. There were the rare, the prototypes, the development motors, experimental versions, commercial versions of Westbury’s designs and many others that he had obtained during his long career. Everything from a flat four, four-stroke Walrus to a simple hot air engine. This was an incredibly important discovery by any standards and one that quite overwhelmed all of us. The task was not yet finished either, as another chest revealed packets and packets of negatives, which there was not time to sort at that stage. The final discovery was Edgar Westbury’s own tool chest from his days in the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Whilst the engines were remarkable in their own right and have now been identified and catalogued by Eric, it was what came to light when sorting the photographic media that so excited us, as there was so much that has never been published and originals of images seen in ME and Westbury’s own books. It will take a while, and some serious outside assistance to tie down all the subject matter, but what a find, and how privileged we are to be able to have been part of it.

The Pitboxes have to start with another Westbury Motor that has seen service in a hydroplane hull. For the Hydroplane we move on just over 20 years to give a clear idea of how rapidly the sport developed in the intervening period. Quite by chance we received a set of photos and notes from Mike Drinkwater, who was the original designer of this very boat. We have added these to his earlier articles.  The Car is not the one we scheduled for this month, but came under the 'you cannot be serious' category at a local auction in May.

Tony Collins has sent us a very interesting facetube link showing 10 minutes or so of Italian tethered hydro racing from around 1960 converted from 8mm film.  http://www.youtube.com

Our roving (raving) reporter started his travels this month at the first meeting of the season at Great Carlton and with some exciting news about developments for the track. Having visited the recent Mayfly event at Old Warden there were some very interesting engines and cars  on show that will be featured in Pitboxes in due course. There was also a sneak viewing of the first new A class hydro engine to have been built for many years. From Paul Windross we have also had news from the Harrogate Exhibition where he revealed that an entirely new A Class flash steam boat is virtually complete. Paul is a great help and ambassador for OTW in the north as he keeps his ears and eyes open for any leads and information relating to tethered car and hydros. Thanks Paul.

The next trip was to Althorne Lake for which we hoped would be the first full regatta of the year. For a change the clerk of the weather was smiling more benignly on this venue, allowing the meeting to go ahead as planned. Always an interesting mix of the old, new, rebuilt and developed boats and motors with a couple of fascinating projects in the pipeline to add to the notebook.

Just like in the olden days of newspapers, each edition relies on 'wire stories' from reporters far and wide, only nowadays it is via the magic of email, not tickertape. Olly Monk and Steve Turley made their first foray abroad this season to race at Kapfenhardt and Olly was at the keyboard almost before the plane had touched down, so thanks to him for keeping us informed on the European tethered car activities. The list of fastest speeds of the year so far is remarkable in having Australians first and second in the 10cc category at present. Hope to see them over in Europe for the World Championships. It is heading towards midwinter 'down under' but they are made of stern stuff there so keep running whenever possible.

Late news is coming in that the seven year old B1R airscrew record was broken at Victoria Park by Jim Free, although it is currently awaiting official ratification.

May 2013

There has been an old saying rattling around in our heads for ages, but finding who it was attributed to was proving difficult, until it appeared as an editorial comment in a national newspaper. It turns out that it was Albert Einstein whose definition of insanity was – ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’. Sometimes it seems that way with a tethered hydro as we stand in the water regatta after regatta, sending the boat on its way. It has to be an expectation that this run will be quicker that keeps us all at it year after year. Of course, given the nature of the beast, this might be confused with hope? Certainly, when it comes to record breaking there are only two possible outcomes, success, or failure, and the latter is the more normal. Nothing brought this into clearer focus than a couple of TV programmes that followed the fortunes of four quite disparate groups of enthusiast preparing, and then travelling to Utah for Speed Week on the Bonneville salt flats. There was no doubting the enthusiasm and amount of effort expended in each case although the level of design and engineering skills was open to question at various times. Financial investment varied from almost non-existent, to many thousands in the case of the car, which resembled a giant tether car in many ways and showed a remarkable propensity for ‘falling over’. What each team showed in abundance was the dedication required to try and break a record in their respective classes, but that in its self is not enough, as they all found to their cost. Unless it is a new class or historic record where the speed is so low that any half decent performance will do there are seldom any ‘quantum leaps’ and an awful lot of records stay intact for a long while. Certainly none of the British teams troubled the record books, although one team probably ‘expected’ to, whilst the other three probably ‘hoped’ to, but will they all be back again doing the same thing next year, or will they have taken Albert E to heart so they are not ‘doing the same thing’?

This month we are taking a departure from ‘doing the same thing’ as two of the articles that were in preparation for the summer period have taken a remarkable turn, or to be more precise, turns. This has been down to us being privileged to have access to what must be the most extensive and important collection of material and items to have ever surfaced. Nothing of it had seen the light of day for at least 40 years and the volume was overwhelming. Our engine Pitbox hints at part of what was uncovered but full details will follow next month. The photos were exciting enough, but waiting to be discovered were boxes and boxes of glass slides, plates and conventional negatives, all of which have to be scanned, which will be a mammoth task, and as it transpired, required the purchase of a dedicated film scanner. Coinciding with this unique discovery was establishing two very important and informative family contacts for one of the articles in preparation and meeting someone who, by a strange series of circumstances, had a wodge of prints, some nigh on 100 years old that relate to another of the articles. With all of the aforementioned and a bit of time off for more mundane activities, like a holiday, this edition will be somewhat truncated.

Well that was what we thought until two of our regular contributors came to our rescue and filled our inbox with much appreciated material. Olly Monk has sent us more of his musing from his workshop and a timely reminder of the winter we have hopefully put behind us.  Development continues on the track at Great Carlton, with the meeting on the 5th of May giving British enthusiasts a chance to get their first ether fix of the season. Having said that, it will be a while longer before the tethered hydro enthusiasts can test out their waders, as strong winds put paid to the first full regatta of the season. Better luck next month. The meeting at Victoria Park did take place on the last weekend of the month, which did give a chance to have a run within the restrictions of the lake, now completely refurbished.

Having started the Pitboxes with a real ‘teaser’ for the Engine enthusiasts, the Car this month is a real rarity, as we only know for certain of the existence of one other, although they were produced commercially and were relatively common on the tracks. The remains of the Hydro are a complete mystery as it was rumoured to have been built by a very famous flash steam enthusiast, but that is all we know.

April 2013

It has been a terrible start to the year, losing two tethered hydroplane enthusiasts of such long standing and commitment to the sport, in such a short space of time. We start this month's edition with a tribute to Terry Everitt, whose active involvement in tethered hydroplane racing spanned almost 60 years.

Empty Spaces: 2013 is certainly not proving a happy one so far and it has taken a turn for the worse with the death of Geoff Sheppard at the end of March. Geoff was a stalwart of the Bristol Model Engineers and responsible for their magnificent Centenary publication in 2011. He was known internationally for his editorship of Model Engineers' Workshop and his involvement with the vintage sports-car movement. Geoff was a great help to us with photos and material for publication on the website. Condolences to his wife and family.

This month sees the European car and boat season getting well into its stride. It all culminates in two hectic weeks of action with the World Hydroplane Championships just south of Bordeaux in France at the end of July, followed immediately by the World and European tethered car Championships near Basel in Switzerland. This will create an interesting logistical problem for some, as several competitors will be attending both events. The Swiss can nip home for a change of underwear and exchange the boat box and tools for the car items. For those from further afield it’s going to require some ingenuity and a bit of driving to boot. As previous articles have illustrated however, it is remarkable how competitors have managed to get to events all over Europe, even before the relatively easy means of communication and travel that we now have. Imagine the contrast between the Moore’s train journey to Monza in 1954, compared with the speed and luxury of the Eurostar and TGV to get to a meeting at Lyon. The car journey would be even more illuminating with RoRo ferries or the tunnel now discharging directly onto dual carriageways, autoroutes and autobahns that lead almost to the gate of the venue 4-500 miles away. The real revolution though was ‘big silver bird’ and the budget airline industry, although they have proved to be a bit sniffy about diesel powered tether cars. For some reason they think that ether is a risk?? The choices for travel now are many and varied, but in the end it all comes down to balancing cost against convenience. Sadly, it seems that cost is the factor that is currently giving many car and boat enthusiasts cause for concern. It is not just the running costs, and here we were somewhat surprised to discover just what each run with a Class 5 car can do to the wallet. No, it seems that travel, accommodation, transfers, food and drink can be an even more significant factor in deciding if attending an event is viable? The fall in value of the pound has not helped here at all. An additional consideration that was ever thus is that probably 70% or more of competitors at any event are there and putting their hands in their pockets for their own enjoyment, and are not in with anything like a realistic shout. For them, the event, location, camaraderie etc has to have a positive enjoyment/cost coefficient to make it all worthwhile.

Running tethered hydroplanes has always been a notoriously frustrating business, yet untold numbers of competitors have kept plugging on regardless. Nowhere is this more evident than with flash steamers that add a whole load more variables to an already almost unfathomable scenario. The second visit to the Flash Steam Gallery features a competitor who came to the sport late in life and spent several seasons doggedly pursuing the aim of competitive runs with one of these fearsome machines. The Gallery also provided us with yet another spooky coincidence that was scarcely believable.

We have a pretty good idea how many M&E cars were made as they were conveniently stamped with a serial number, but of the confusingly similar E&M, not a clue. The Pitboxes then, kick off with a car that was once thought to be very rare, but is now turning out to be as numerous as the M&E. The engine, by comparison, may well be unique, but as neither the owner or any of the ‘fonts of knowledge’ he has consulted has a clue as to its origins, to use another QI phrase, ‘no one knows’. The hydro by contrast was built commercially, but is so rare that it needs to be recorded, although it is not quite along the lines of what we normally feature.

After many years at Bletchley Park, a change in management has forced a move to a new location for the Model Hydroplane Club AGM. Mind, you, aforesaid new chief executive has also banished Winston Churchill and several other organisations so we were not alone. On a similar vein, but with a happier outcome, a change at the top at Old Warden has overturned the plan to stop the aeromodelling weekends, so a number of these are planned for the year. How can trusts turn down guaranteed income?

'Winter projects' are very aptly named at present as most of our correspondents have steered clear of the workshops owing to the continuing Arctic conditions that we are experiencing. Olly Monk has 'braved the elements' however to update us on the projects he has 'on the go' and an interesting diversion for a full sized motor, where the figures are impressive. He also brings news of a 'new recruit' to the BTCA. Now how on earth did that happen, it was only intended for the mantelpiece?

March 2013

Update 19th March: Empty Spaces

The tethered hydroplane community has suffered yet another major loss with the death last evening of Terry Everitt. From the day he was old enough to get into the water until ill health brought an end to his racing career Terry was at the forefront of competition, always striving to make his boats faster. As well as competing at the top level, Terry has been deeply involved with organising, promoting and running tethered hydroplane racing in this country for many years. His competitive urge, organisational skills, engineering ability and sheer enthusiasm for the sport will be sorely missed by everyone. Terry was an immense help to OTW on so many levels and we pass on our sincere condolences to Ann, Colin and the family.

Stephen Fry, in his introduction to QI, talks about ‘general ignorance’, and there is a lot of it about, but in the nicest possible way. At an Old Warden swapmeet, a large lump of grey metal was handed over with a certain reverence, and while it could instantly be identified as an engine, that was about as far as it got. The look of incredulity that followed the ‘what is it’ had to be seen to be believed. In truth we were not much wiser when we knew, but that is another story. This came under our general principle of ‘we knows what we knows’. It is very easy to fall into the trap of pretending otherwise, but that can lead to severe covering of the features with egg. So it is best to admit to not knowing, as there is usually someone more than willing to pass on the required information in those circumstances. You can find out the hard way though, as a trip to our local sale ground proved. A nice piece took our eye and the very modest estimate indicated that it was a relatively modern repro, although the description gave no further info. An equally modest bid was left on it, so it was something of a surprise to find that it made £1300 instead of the £40-£60 estimated. Either it was our ignorance in thinking that it was a repro or at least two others who thought it was genuine? The description did not help, which is often the situation with cars, boats and engines for sale, especially on our friend ebay. We are not referring to the out and out falsehood here, but the wonderful choice of words that can mislead. It is difficult to accept that any commercially, mass produced motor could be described as ‘rare’, unless you use the East Anglian expression, ‘thas a rare owd thing’ which neither implies age or rarity, merely peculiarity! Neither does fairly-pretty-very ‘unique’ hold true. It is either unique or it is not, in which case it might be ‘rare’ or ‘unusual’ or both. Rarity would indicate that there were not many in the first place, ie the Speedwell 10cc motor, but is that more rare than the Pioneer 10? Of course, if the item really is rare, then it could also come under the ‘hard to find’ category, but equally it might have been quite common at one stage, but still ‘hard to find’. The FRC prototype car featured last year is truly ‘unique’ yet there were several production versions around at the same time, so in tethered car terms, they were not uncommon, yet only one is currently known to exist. That is not ‘unique’ as there were others, but is now exceedingly rare and by definition, equally ‘hard to find’ yet because we know others existed, more might still come to light, as did E&M Maseratis, which are now neither rare nor ‘hard to find’. What ‘hard to find’ usually means is that they do not appear on the open market very often. ‘Vintage’ is another very widely misused term, which in its true sense refers to age and quality yet is now applied almost universally to anything that is not modern, which goes alongside an even more abused term, ‘classic’.

Our ‘Pitboxes’ regularly feature items that can fall into any of the above categories and the Car this month is a case in point. The Olivers probably produced more cars than any other manufacturer, yet to find one in such original condition and with provenance is, we have to admit, rare. The Engine by comparison is relatively common, but this one is a superb ‘new build’, which makes it worthy of inclusion. The Hydro was featured in Model Boats many moons ago when the owner was asking for more information and the request has been repeated recently, hence its inclusion in Pitbox.

Having had something of a lull recently with avenues of research it has given us the chance to realise an ongoing project that we promised many moons ago, and that is the ‘Flash Steam Gallery’. We have been lucky in being able to publish some very extensive articles on the subject, but this feature is intended to cover situations where the material and information is a little more sparse. Like much of what we do however, one anonymous boat was just the start, so the first Gallery Entry has more history than we first envisaged.

We have heard, that due to ongoing difficulties at East Park, all hydroplane regattas at Hull have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. It is always sad to lose a venue, considering how many lakes and ponds that used to be available.

February 2013

An annual trip for OTW, except we weren’t that until relatively recently, was to the Model Engineer Exhibition through the various venues from, yes, the Horticultural Halls, on to Seymour Halls, Olympia, Wembley and finally Ally Pally. When it finally left for ‘foreign parts’ that was a trip too far, and so we became ex-visitors. With the return to AP, in its different guise admittedly, we now make the annual trek. Unlike the Midland Exhibition, there is always a hydro presence in London, with the Hydroplane Club stand overseen for many years by Jim Free, and latterly by Tony Collins and Sonia. At the originals MEs, the tethered hydros were part of the MPBA stand, and some years ago we enquired about this branch of the sport from the people manning the stand. ‘Oh no, there is no interest in that nowadays, it’s dying. If you are interested in engines, you want to get into multi racing’. Well, that was the period when there was nothing about hydros being published in ME and almost a similar amount in Model Boats, so that piece of disinformation stuck with us and determined our lack of involvement for years to come. Happily we later discovered the truth, and thanks to the MHC stand at Ally Pally and the enthusiasts who patrol daily, no one can be under any similar misconceptions.

Over the years, the Exhibitions have reflected what is happening in the outside world, with ever more Ready To ---' (fill in missing word) models, a thriving market in second-hand locos, tools and machines, but fewer than ever suppliers of bits. What has almost completely disappeared are the IC engines, built with a purpose, such as those two wonderful examples seen on the MHC stand this year. Of course, the major reason that this strand of engineering is under represented is that, it is no longer necessary to go through the engine building process in order to compete. If you consider the era when Stalham and Chapman were active, the entry list at any regatta would comprise almost entirely of home built motors. Now, the A and B Classes are the last bastion of this discipline, yet even here, Ron Hankins in 2012 is the only competitor to have an entirely new motor. The rest of the 15s and 30s that have seen the water in the past season vary from the relatively recent to the positively aged, yet each had a common origin, as Classes A and B still require the engine to be home produced (however that is defined?). Some while ago, Tom Clement sent us a fascinating set of prints of the two 15cc hydro engines that he and the late Jimmy Jones had built. Just a few weeks before his death last month, Tom sent us a lovely article describing the building of these two motors, which we had intended to include in this edition. As a tribute to Tom therefore, we have decided to publish the article on the Clement/Jones 15cc, along with an appreciation of his 65 year involvement with model boating.

The ‘Pitboxes’ start with a car that is something of a mystery, yet we know quite a bit about the builder and his previous cars. It is also something of an appeal for help as the car and its builder deserve a more detailed coverage. The hydro appeared at a local auction and has something of a tale to tell, along the lines of ‘perhaps a little more thought was required before getting the saw out?’ The engine is common in its standard aircraft form, but much more rare in the alternative ‘Racing’ version, although that description would be gilding the performance lily somewhat.

Like all true enthusiasts, Olly Monk has ignored such intrusions as Christmas and the bad weather and has been putting in the workshop hours to prepare his cars for the new season. He has kindly sent the first 2013 edition of his Workshop Ramblings illustrating the care, thought and precision that goes into getting his cars ready for the track.

January 2013

Update 10th Jan: Empty Spaces. The entire model boat community has been saddened by the death overnight of Tom Clement. His presence as a competitor, both in straight running and hydroplanes, and his involvement at club and national level will be sorely missed. Tom has been a great friend and contributor to OTW and shared our enthusiasm for vintage boats, engines and history. Our thoughts go to his wife and all his friends at this sad time. A full appreciation will appear in the February edition.

Welcome to a New Year and new season, and let us all hope that it is significantly better on all sorts of fronts compared with 2012. Last year will long be remembered for the continuing wet weather that curtailed so many events around the country and is still causing problems. We are also unlikely to forget the drive to Old Warden with the lowest temperatures we have ever seen. It has also not been a happy year for a number of competitors and enthusiasts who have not been experiencing the best of health and we wish them all well in the coming year.

Conscious, as we are, to find ways of encouraging new blood into our relative sports, it is fascinating to reflect on the paths that have led people into tethered cars or boats. Often full sized motor sport is involved, which is not normally revealed until the famous OTW interview chair is brought out. For one tethered hydroplane exponent though, their exploits were well known to us, long before either they or us donned a pair of waders. It takes us back to the late 60s and the world of motorcycle sprinting and drag racing. This really was a sport where ingenuity, cunning, enthusiasm and untold toil bore fruits, and before throwing money at something became the norm. The garden shed seemed the location for much of the serious construction and machining although, no doubt, a few ‘homers’ were carried out in various workplaces around the country. It was also a period when it was not so much a case of what percentage of nitro was in the methanol, but what percentage of methanol was in the nitro, and mostly it was just enough to get the fire started! To our delight, the bikes created also had names that will evoke all sorts of memories for those of a ‘certain age’. Olympus, The Hobbit, Yellow Peril, Pegasus, Mighty Mouse, Nero and the frightening ‘Aggs Barra. Amongst the names that appeared regularly in the weekly specialist press was one ‘Windy’, otherwise Paul Windross. Yes, the same Paul Windross who broke the flash steam hydro record last September. It was not until we first met Paul however, that we made the connection. It is probably not appreciated now that Paul was a serial record breaker in this past career, and of all of us must be our ‘fastest ever’ competitor, having averaged over 207mph on one of his runs!!! Here then was an eminently suitable candidate for the interview chair, even if an interpreter was needed at times. Thanks then to Paul, for digging into his memory banks for a new ‘Whos Who’ in tethered hydroplane racing.

Still on the flash steam front, it is congratulations to Bob Kirtley who was recently presented with the MPBA Presidents award by Tony Willett. Tony commented that Bob had been an ambassador up in the North East and always willing to help out at club, area and national levels for the MPBA for at least 40 years.  Well done Bob!

The Pitboxes start with a favourite of ours, a hydro with a name. Now, whilst the history of this particular boat is hazy at present, its predecessor in the series was well recorded. We have also added an update to the flash steamer from December as its identity has now been confirmed. The flash steam motor featured also comes into this category, as details of it appeared in Model Engineer, many moons ago. The car has appeared before as a finished article but here we have it in its original kit form. This does raise a point that has been argued out by others much more qualified to pass judgement. Faced with an original kit for something like a 1066 car, Conqueror motor or similar do you keep it as a kit or build it? The late John Maddaford was unequivocal, 'no use as a kit, make it up', but on the other hand, there are dozens of examples of the finished product, so isn’t the original kit more interesting and significant?