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March 2019

Our January Pylon brought a raft of comments, and not only from those involved in the disciplines more immediately connected with OTW. A number pointed out that there are lots of sports and pastimes than could be considered ‘anachronisms’ in this day and age, yet they continue to flourish. This seems in no small part to the willingness to address some of the issues we raised. On the other hand we had a long conversation with an internationally renowned competitor from another sport that we used to be closely involved with that has imploded quite spectacularly. Just a few years back it was vibrant, with national and club meetings keenly contested by a growing number of participants. Now, he is just one of three left competing in this country, as a sport it is effectively dead, and the reason is easy to understand, affordability. As he and the person that bankrolls him explained, costs have spiralled out of control. Whereas it used to be within the realms of a very wide range of people, now it is only open to the individually wealthy. Yes, there always were those able to spend more, but this meant equipment was percolating down through the levels for others to use at whatever level fitted their resources.

Another took up the point concerning the welcome and help they experienced when turning up as a ‘newbie’, and we can certainly associate with this. Having arrived at three different clubs on occasions as ‘green as grass’ but enthusiastic hopefuls, the initial rebuff, ridicule and condemnation by the officials of what we had brought along was quite disheartening. This was more than made up for though by the immediate encouragement and help of a couple of ordinary members who sorted us out with equipment that was surplus to their requirements so that we would be back the following week, and in one case, the next thirty years.

Other correspondents rued the ‘free for all’ development that created a two-tier system for their sport, a common theme for many years it has to be said. It were the conclusions that proved most interesting, from ‘if you can't afford to compete you shouldn’t be doing it’, which was hardly helpful, to national authorities and controlling bodies not keeping their eyes on the ball, not even being reactive, let alone proactive. One common concern was the gradual loss of facilities all round, car tracks, flying sites, boating lakes and even long established club railways. The message would seem to be to support and enjoy what is there, encourage anyone that shows an interest and not be averse to changes that might prove to be beneficial for the sport in the long term, if even a little painful individually to start with.

The new Album is another set of photos from the 1954 European Championships at Woodside. This time they are unpublished negatives, so we have had to do a bit of digging and guesswork for some of the captions. Thanks again to Miles Patience for passing on all these wonderful images and allowing us to publish them.

The Photos, this month, yes, plural are two superb images by courtesy of Christoph Zaugg. There are numerous examples of racing drivers and motorcyclists also being involved with tethered cars and hydroplanes and here we have two of Britain’s best known showing a distinct interest.

The new Pitbox item arose from another email enquiry as to a possible value and how best to dispose of it. Nothing unusual with the M&E ERA until it appeared on ebay, and this is the car mentioned last month that exceeded all expectations.

News from Keith Reynolds at Victoria that they now have a club website with a fascinating and detailed history of the Club as well as material relating to current activities. Important news also for visitors to Victoria Park where further parking restrictions are in place.

Returning to the theme of getting people involved in our sports, there is no doubt that promoting interest at an early age can be vital, and this was demonstrated most clearly in the old Eastern Bloc where simple kits for tethered cars were produced in huge numbers for use in schools and youth organisations. Most of us have come across these as they became ever more available from 1989 onward. What is possibly not realised is the huge range of models, designs and motors that were and are available.  Pavels Sarigins aided and abetted by Steve Betney has produced a highly informative and extensively illustrated article on the 2.5cc Diesel cars and motors produced in Russia. Thanks to Pavels who has added immensely to our understanding of these models and the variations. A whole new avenue of collecting opening up? 

Information is starting to trickle in concerning some of the tracks we highlighted last month. Sadly, most of it is reporting the total lack of any traces left on the ground. One track we do know that vanished after a very short life was Derby, but coincidentally, photos of the Derby Club stand at an exhibition, sometime in the late 1940s have turned up, the only photographic record so far of activity from that Club.

Ever hopeful vendors on ebay continue to amuse, especially if you are asking £500 for what others are seeking less than £200. The E&M Maserati that we mentioned last month turned up on ebay two days after the auction where it sold for £820 at a cool £2,000. To be fair, the price has been reduced three times so far, as was that for the Grayspec, somewhat rarer but vastly overpriced initially. Interesting threads on Facebook concerning the obsession with values and the tether car site moderator banning buying and selling.

Useful bits: Always happy to point builders in the direction of suppliers of parts for tethered cars, and this month we can add chassis rails for the E&M Maserati that John Goodall has available and beautiful, CNC Machined, McCoy style gearbox cases the Gary Barnes is posting on ebay. We can confirm the quality of the gearboxes after several have found their way to the UK over the years.

Empty Spaces: We were sorry to learn that the founding editor of Aeroplane Monthly, Richard Riding, had died at the beginning of January. Although his primary interest was aircraft, it was his close connection with D A Russell and Eaton Bray that was to provide a great deal of material and the photo galleries for our articles on the website, the most recent being in November last year. We were delighted to receive his contributions, which filled in several gaps in the story of Eaton Bray and other topics as well.    


February 2019

Not sure whether it is a conundrum or a dilemma, but on numerous occasions we have become aware of items, collections, or material that an individual, a club or organisation has in their keeping, that don’t really belong to them. This could be through being on loan, permanent or short term, donated, an interesting term in itself, or given with certain conditions pertaining. When the Pitsea museum closed there were a number of boats and engines that had been on loan where it was impossible to trace either the owner or a family to return them to, so what realistically becomes of these? Even more intriguing were a number of transactions where no money changed hands but with a clear understanding that the items were not to be put in a glass case or appear on ebay. There are also the thorny instances where an item is passed on at far below market values with the belief and understanding that it is ‘going to a good home’ and will be looked after. Inevitably though, there are those that are not quite so honourable, memories fade, people pass on and the origins and true owners can be lost in the mists of time. Hydroplanes, cars and engines have been passed on within families or between friends with clear understandings of the terms, usually verbal, but sometimes written, but often it is little more than hearsay as to what the true position is.

Occasionally, though a letter or document comes to light that can really put the cat amongst the proverbials, especially when it is several decades old and sets out clearly the terms of the original loan or donation. We are left with two positions, a legal one, if there is any sort of paperwork and a moral one if it was a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. Many of us in the ‘movement’ are aware of cars and boats that have been passed on with the very best of motives and those where they have been sold on with little regard for the original intentions of the owner or builder. This all too often happens when items are to be ‘kept in the family’ yet the family have little intention of keeping them, upon which they end up in a skip or tip, or sold on if there is any realisation of their worth. Of course a lot of what we are referring to took place before the huge escalations in value took place, which can now concentrate the mind significantly if there is a huge amount of money to be made. We reported some while ago of a museum that closed, only to promptly sell off the contents, irrespective of the terms of the many items that were simply on loan. Inevitably, some have now appeared on the market again, muddying the waters even further.

The February Pitbox item could have been a valuable and much sought-after motor were it not for its unfortunate past.

There have been very few disappointments for OTW along the way, yet one that has niggled away over the years was one of our earliest projects, which was to gather and present information about the numerous tethered car tracks that once existed in Britain. Despite pleas for material and details, very little has been forthcoming. Roger Alton kindly sent a number of photos from the Nottingham track and we have been promised more from there at some stage. Miles Patience passed on an entire album from one meeting at Woodside, and of course, a great deal of material was unearthed about Eaton Bray, but of the other twenty or so, permanent full sized tracks and even more temporary ones, very little, even locations have proved very difficult to tie down.

To this end, we are registering a plea for help. We have now updated the page featuring the Nottingham track and have listed all the full sized, tethered car tracks we have identified so far. There are also a couple of indoor venues that played an important role in tethered car racing history. If anyone can help with precise locations, information, photos or any traces of the tracks still existing, then we will be delighted to add them to this page. We hope to be be updating the page regularly over the next few months with any material gleaned, and the first addition is Sunderland one of the few tracks that can still be seen.

In August last year Pylon talked about the impact auctions on line and ebay in particular were having on the market. A very graphic illustration of this has just manifested itself and the figures are quite remarkable. It concerns two M&E cars of the same model, one restored and complete and the other original, but with an odd motor and no internal fittings. The restored one sold at a major international auction house, whilst the other went on ebay. The result, just £336 for the one sold in London and, wait for it, £2015 for the ebay example. Perhaps it can be appreciated why we are very reluctant to commit too precisely on values, certainly could not predict these two extremes.

Sackcloth and ashes dept. We committed the cardinal sin of misidentifying the mystery motor in last month's Pitbox. As Ian Grantham kindly pointed out, the crankcase is a Westbury Atom III, although the cylinder does look like one from an Atom V. A marriage, later model, more research required before putting foot in it again.

Some while ago we saw John Goodall's latest aquisition, a very nice and original Experimental and Model Company 'Maserati'. These used to be considered to be amongst the rarest of the commercial cars yet over twenty have come onto the market, with a quite bewildering difference in prices realised, similar to the M&E tale related above. John has very kindly sent details and photos of the renovation job he completed recently, as well as his thoughts on an unusual Stentor motor that now sits in the car. Thanks to John for his continue support. The Barton Model Products website is well worth visiting for the latest engines that he and Paul have for sale.

Another project that John has been working on for a while were replicas of the Oliver 'Busy'. John had made several pan and body sets, three of which have already been completed, but he was going one stage further, building a pair of them, one to the published drawing and one matching the photos of the original car. That one of these was powered by a genuine and original Oliver 'nine port' twinshaft makes his 'brace of Busys' even more interesting. Thanks to John for sharing this project with us and for the superb body sets. 

Another twist in the tale of varying values for E&Ms. The auction house got it very wrong in their estimates for an original, but bare, 'Maserati' that cost someone over £1,000 with premiums, quite expensive with no engine, clutch, tank, ignition or anything else inside. We have now recorded prices on the open market for complete cars from £600 to £4,250.  

Always exciting to get stuck in on a new project, so we were delighted to receive Oliver Monk's 'Workshop Ramblings' describing work on the Junior car kit he purchased a while ago. We are all familiar with the 'school car kit' with its RYTM twinshaft, which appear regularly on ebay, although the prices vary dramatically, but Oliver's car is the current version and considerable faster.

The London Model Show is the first sign that the new hydroplane season is looming, and once again Tony Collins and his band of helpers put on a great display for the Model Hydroplane Club, with numerous people on hand at all times to answer questions.  

Peter Hill has provided a list of provisional dates for track days at Gt Carlton, mostly Sundays but a couple of Fridays to coincide with events at Buckminster. He has also sent photos of cars and motors that are coming out of the old eastern block and eminently suitable for the 2.5cc direct drive class of cars proposed for this season. Not only are most of them ready to go, but available at very modest prices. In order to encourage new entries to this class, Steve Betney has designed and built a simple car that fits the bill perfectly. To aid any prospective customers he has sent a very detailed article explaining how to build the car, precise sizes and sources of items that might be required. Our thanks to Steve for this superb venture all carried out in record time to give builders a chance to get ready for the new season.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this bumper edition.


January 2019

First off, may we wish everyone a very happy New Year and hope that the new season is a fruitful one for all concerned? We would further like to pass on our very best wishes to all those who have not been in the best of health in the past year and hope for a full recovery and return to 'active service'. Would be great as well if the weather was a little more cooperative for the scheduled hydro events.

Numerous comments towards the tail end of last year led us back to one of the ‘hobby horses’ that we usually keep stabled. Every so often though, something occurs that requires we let them out for a bit of exercise. This time it was the hoary old chestnut, argued long and loud, that the area of boating this person was active in was declining, almost to the state of extinction. This is a cause for concern in many other modelling disciplines as well, but it is what happens then that can make all the difference. There is of course the ‘Nero’ or I’m all right Jack approach that involves doing precisely nothing, or the alternative, forcibly put to him, that he does something about it. Inevitably there were untold excuses why he could not or would not, it’s a lost cause etc, which will probably result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand we read a very interesting treatise by someone involved in an aeromodelling pursuit that is struggling in a similar way, setting out what might be done.

What this did involve in the first instance though, was a very painful period of discussion as to why the decline was happening, along with a few unfortunate home truths. Firstly and most cruelly, is whether the activity is something of an anachronism nowadays? Is there an attitude of elitism or exclusivity within that particular discipline that deters people? Have the rules allowed development that is now not sustainable in terms of venues, athleticism, or cost? Is the ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude prevalent in your particular area of modelling? Do you ever stand back and ask basic questions like ‘is this still enjoyable, fun, sociable or attainable? Is the equipment needed available? (At a cost sensible enough not to put off interested parties) There is no doubt that loss of venues and outgrowing existing ones is damaging several areas of model sport, so add in extra travelling time and costs and yes, there are plenty of reasons why certain areas are suffering, but doing nothing is not the answer. It may be quite radical in as much as your discipline needs to change to meet the requirements of venues, size, noise, speed, and safety.

As we have found, a warm welcome and involvement as a newcomer is much more likely to interest you in that activity than being ignored whilst the ‘experts’ get on with it. The enthusiasm and degree of help from those involved also makes a heap of difference. It is no chance that all the activities we have become inextricably involved in started with someone taking the trouble to welcome us, set us on the right road and help us to become established. Conversely where we turned up and were totally ignored we drifted away very quickly. In the same vein, how easy is it to become a participant, get hold of the equipment and get sufficient degree of success to maintain interest? Unlike the days of sheds, workshops and practical skills, expecting a newcomer to build a car, boat or plane from scratch in this modern day and age is no longer realistic, so the availability of useable models is vital. Yes, with experience and facilities people may work towards it, but it will not encourage new entrants, so is it ‘Nero’, or are modellers collectively going to do something pro-active to promote their particular discipline?

A new Album to start the year that looks at some of the less happy moments that are the inevitable price to be paid when racing equipment is pushed that bit too far. We have all experienced the bangs, the tortured sound of shaft runs and the ominous silences that can only lead to a lot of work and a 'wallet lightening' experience.

The 2019 Pitbox begins with one of our frequent email enquiries, have you any idea what this motor, car, boat etc is? Half of it was easy, and half has us flummoxed so again the plea goes out, anyone any ideas?

Many in the model fraternity will be aware of the development of the BMFA centre at Buckminster Lodge. What may not be so well publicised is that there have been plans afoot from the early days to incorporate a track for running vintage and retro tethered cars within one of the control line circles. Steve Betney has been very closely involved with this and has asked us to publish details of progress and the ongoing appeal to raise funds to complete the project, which heads our new Tightlines page.

A project that has never been far from our minds for track days is a steam car. Some while ago, Peter Hill published a photo of a flash steam powered car, which really got the juices flowing, especially when Paul Windross revealed that he had been working on one as well before the hydros took over his life. Too many other diversions and lack of hardware has precluded any further progress, but then from Steve Betney comes the news that he has done just that, and not only a steam powered car, but a beautiful replica of the record breaking Stanley. The joy of reading and publishing the article was tinged with a certain sadness as this lovely car is destined to be a shelf queen and never turn a wheel in anger, Ah well, still time for the 'grand plan'.   

Sometimes we just wonders. In the realms of unrealistic expectations, just how hopeful was the vendor putting an opening price of $77,500 on the Red Dragon twin engine, or have we missed something?

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