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View From The Pylon

October 2020

October is the ‘birthday’ for OTW as we mark our fifteenth year of publication, but a somewhat muted celebration as it has not been the best of years for a variety of reasons. We have lost far too many enthusiasts in the last twelve months, the entire season has been turned upside down by ‘you know what’, which has meant that the content of OTW has been restricted somewhat. We owe a debt of thanks to all those who have provided extra material, photos and information that has allowed us to keep publishing. As usual, we extend our gratitude to all those 'first time contacts' throughout the year who have emailed the website with fascinating photos, reminiscences, and general enquiries that can lead in all sorts of unexpected directions. Finally, our thanks to all our contributors and all those who have allowed us to publish photos and information that they have shared with OTW.  

In the editorial of an International magazine that deals entirely with preservation and restoration there is a statement that ‘information is the key to everything’ and that ‘you can never have too much information’. This is probably true until the material gathered starts to throw up conflicts that have to be resolved, either by further research or informed decisions. In some cases the information gleaned can literally run into tons of paperwork, drawings and references, on other occasions, little more than a long remembered snippet or even a rumour or conversation. We have access to a reasonable amount of reference material that covers the commercial and well recorded, but often it is the dim memory of a photo, description or caption that can prove a vital connection when partaking in one of the greatest joys that can be offered to a true enthusiast, the opportunity for a good ‘rummage’. This may be anything from a single box or album up to an entire attic, garage or workshop and more. The essential starting point of such delving is not to have a clue as to what, if anything might be found. There might be a hint if there is a familiar name involved but as most modellers seem to be enthusiastic collectors, if not hoarders, it is always a voyage of exploration. We have been lucky enough to have been involved in several of these expeditions over the years, either first hand or by proxy, and being allowed carte blanche to explore is the ultimate pleasure of such experiences.

All too often recently though, those carrying out the operation are friends or family tasked with clearing out a lifetime of acquisitions by a now departed modeller where identifying what is found can be something of a nightmare. Even more difficult when there are substantial quantities of ‘roundtuits’, and not necessarily all of the bits for any of them kept together. Mind you there are those that keep engines, cars, boats and accessories separate anyway, which can be equally frustrating (annoying). This is where the delights of ‘rummaging’ are replaced by the seemingly unending task of disposing of everything, a situation that at least six of our regular contacts are currently involved in.

Half the battle in either case is identifying what has been found, not just putting a name to a run of the mill commercial car or engine, which is relatively easy (mostly), but that moment of recognition when the memory banks spring into action and that ‘snippet’ of long stored information forces its way to the fore. A pile of discarded boat hulls in a loft in Lancashire was only of passing interest until right at the bottom out popped an original Ted Vanner boat from the period before the First World War, remembered from a single photo copy sent to us several years previously and a single sentence in a ME exhibition report, but both still lurking somewhere in the depths of the grey matter.

The Photo and Pitbox share a common theme this month closely linked to the material above, in that the Pitbox features just some of the hydroplane related items discovered by the grandson of a well known competitor, while the Photo is an original of him at the lakeside with one of his boats.

The Album of flash steam motors continues for another month reminding us of the huge amount of engineering and work that goes in to building and running one of these boats.

A double header for OTW over the first weekend of September and something of a landmark with the first of the informal 'track days' at Buckminster and the first Retro Club track day of the season at Gt Carlton, 540 miles in two days, more than in the previous four months. Never thought that we would be able to publish articles from two current British tracks in one edition. It gets even better as the 1000th edition of Aeromodeller has a half page photo and feature on the new track at Buckminster. This is particularly pertinent as it was the same journal and its then Editor D A Russell that in 1942 set about promoting tethered car racing in the UK, remarkable that it was 78 years ago. The full story of Russell, Aeromodeller and tethered cars can be found in our Eaton Bray article published ten years ago.

Good news at last that with further relaxation the model weekends at Old Warden recommenced in September after their very successful CV compliant air show the previous month. There was inevitably some reorganisation of the layout and parking, with the traders being moved to what was the camping area. Lots of goodies for sale, some at very realistic prices, others still at 'wishful thinking' levels. One of the traders remarked that as it was a car boot style setup, people were expecting bargains, probably very true as it is definitely a buyers market at present. John Goodall was showing the replacement bodies he is making for the E&M Maserati, another service to those without the skill to form one from sheet. The good news was limited though with the Midland Model Engineering Exhibition scheduled for later this month being cancelled along with the Model Boat show at the same venue. The promoter is adamant that he wants them to go ahead next year. News on the 16th Sept. that the 2021 London ME at Alexandra Palace is also cancelled as are the MPBA tethered hydroplane conference and Model Hydroplane Club AGM.

There was a degree of concern that having had a successful weekend at Old Warden the new CV restrictions that came into force in the following week might curtail modelling activities further but so far events are still able to go ahead, which was good news. This meant another early start for a trek up the A1 for a second informal track day at Buckminster, something of a relief as the weather had been absolutely atrocious leading up to the day but we saw a bit of sun and stayed dry all day.

Adrian Duncan's model engine site has published another 'masterwork', an incredibly valuable and fascinating article dealing with model engine development and production in Russia along with DOOSAF and its preceding organisations. There is also an equally detailed article on the history and development of Hungarian engines, vital reading for all tethered car and speed flying enthusiasts. So much material on this site, well worth going back to on a regular basis as many of the articles are extensive and informative. 

Now events are happening again we have done a bit of spring cleaning on the Retro Club page to clear it for reports and moved the series of images of discoveries and new cars scheduled to appear on the track to a dedicated Gallery Page. The Lament from a Lockdown Workshop describing the connecting together of disparate parts from the scrap box that resulted in another car for the track has moved to the Work Bench pages, cos that wos wot it wos.  Peter Hill has scheduled another Retro Club track day at Gt Carlton for the Friday preceding the SAM Octoberfest at Buckminster Friday 16th October. Can you please let Peter know if you are planning to attend and if the weather is looking at all iffy perhaps you could phone him to make sure the day is going ahead. Already a number of people have committed themselves to the event and the unveiling of the 'Phoenix'.

Steve Betney is probably the most prolific builder of tethered cars in this country, and that is without all the aircraft, boats and other models that occupy his time. His cars and build articles regularly grace our pages but he has gone one stage further with a selection of photos of 'works in progress'. There are some really exotic and unusual cars in the process of construction and even more exotic engines being used plus more examples of his superb model making. We will be publishing a series of these over the next few months and start with two classic 50s grand prix cars. Thanks to Steve for passing all these photos to us. All his completed builds are still available in detail on his Work Bench pages 1, 2, 3.

September 2020

A small number of Covid compliant events were able to take place last month, both in Europe and the US. Hannover had around 40 entries with competitors from Estonia, Poland, Italy, Switzerland and the host nation. The new car track at Buckminster was finally able to open to visitors at the beginning of the month with a much more low key event than was planned for the original opening back in May. Sadly, there seems little prospect of any hydroplane racing in Britain this season and with no European Championships either, one leading continental competitor raised serious doubts as to the future of the sport abroad.

On a recent visit to pick up an assortment of bits and a couple of part finished, well just started, projects, a large collection of magazines somehow found its way into the back of the car. Oddly they were in no way related to engines, cars, boats or even aeroplanes but an entirely different avenue of modelling, yet the content bore uncanny echoes of what we have noted in past Pylons. Unless you are a commissioning editor, and most do not have that luxury, your content will be largely dictated by what readers submit, and we have yet to hear of anyone running a magazine, club newsletter or website that is not constantly on the lookout or even desperate for, new material. In his editorial in Model Maker in 1960, Vic Smeed, in reply to comments about the lack of car articles wrote "If you have nothing to write about, bully someone in your club who has-but are you sure you couldn't write something of interest?" Almost without exception this leads to complaints and accusations by readers about the direction being taken, the over emphasis of activity A to the exclusion of activity B, too many articles by certain people, and they don’t know what they are talking about anyway. It can get pretty vicious, as private comments and letter pages will reveal, and it can require a very thick skin at times, especially as most of the submissions that we are referring to are produced voluntarily.  There is no doubt that some do take on the task of producing newsletters or running websites with the best of intentions, many succeed and are still in the job many years on, yet after an initial burst of enthusiasm things can start to go wrong for others, late issues, missed issues, websites not updated, and sometimes everything just vanishes without explanation.

It then becomes incumbent on other readers, subscribers or members to try and resurrect things, which can sometimes be easy if there is a degree of cooperation or exceedingly difficult if not. Our links page has to be checked regularly for new URLs for established sites, sites that have vanished completely and sometimes entirely new sites that have replaced existing ones. One by one, club and association newsletters are being replaced by digital versions or printed version duplicated on line and even some national publications are being offered as online versions. The principle is the same though, you can only publish what is submitted, but when not constrained by having to fill a certain number of pages for a print run there is a certain flexibility and lead time can be shorter. Of course, the invective and criticism can be much more immediate, personal and sometimes offensive with social media now involved. Problems with technology can also throw a spanner in the works as browsers become outdated, something experienced by many at the end of last month, screens get bigger and file sizes expand. We used to be sent photos that were 64Kb, now just one Iphone image can be 14Mb if the right button is not pressed. In-boxes have finite capacity so cloud storage is now an option, but as one club we subscribe to found out, it is OK putting your newsletter in the cloud but many of the members did not have a clue how to access it.

We have had to make numerous compromises along the way, the most obvious, a screen resolution that works for most but still looks odd on widescreen or if viewed in portrait format, but then so do many others. There have been many comments about our small, low-resolution photos, but that is so that the site can be hosted at a reasonable size. Monthly updates on the first of the month (normally) so that readers know we are still in operation. Nothing more frustrating than websites that have not been updated for months or even years so it is refreshing to hear that two car clubs and a model boat club are all creating new websites that they intend to maintain, well done.

We were notified in early August that the first of these was now up and running. After a great deal of work, the Swiss Model Car Club and EiWi have just launched a completely new website that combines all the activities of the car track along with the superb gauge 1 railway layout that shares the Club site at Witterswill. It is well worth spending some time on their site as they have digitised and uploaded a huge number of images that cover nearly sixty years of tethered car racing, fantastic record. Happily, the URL for the website remains the same.

A new Album, still on the theme of flash steam, but this time concentrating on the motors, some famous and successful, others as yet untested but survivors from a previous era that all include a lot of engineering.

Pitbox returns to an old OTW favourite with a trio of 1066 motors that appeared for sale, part of a larger collection of engines built from original castings and designs.

For the Retro Reprint we are going back twenty years before the Retro Club came into existence and an article written for another magazine that never made it into their pages. One of the enthusiasts at the forefront of the renaissance of interest in tethered cars in the 70s and 80 was the late Tony Higgins. He produced an incredibly detailed article on the restoration of a car from his collection with hints, tips and procedures that are still valid today. As noted in a previous reprint on restoration, not everyone might agree with his approach, which is universal in the car, motor cycle and aircraft world but thanks to his daughter Kate and Peter Hill who have both kindly given their permission for the article to be re-published, here is the entire process he applied to the restoration, nearly fifty years ago.

The recent Retro Reprint of the Rowell motors article contained additional material that has arrived since the original publication in 2007. This has now been added to the Rowell page

A glorious, if somewhat overly warm weekend for the first official event at the Buckminster track over the weekend of 8/9th August. In order to be Covid compliant, entry had to be restricted to just thirty people in total with strict guidelines to adhere to, but how wonderful that this facility has been built in less than a year and is now available to use.

With the current relaxation of restrictions, Peter Hill has notified us of his intention to host the first Retro Club track day at Gt Carlton on Sunday Sept 6th.

Several exciting discoveries in the last couple of months. An enquiry posted on facebook enabled us to identify Jim Dean's geared Oliver, but also in the box was a set of castings for his 'Incendiary' car. These had made the journey to the US many years ago. News also reached us via Peter Hill that another Austin bodied M&E has been discovered. This is just the third that is known to exist and the car still has its original Owatt motor, what a find, although it has to be said that it is in a sad way, but nevertheless restorable.

Returning to the subject of this month's Pylon, back in 1960 Vic Smeed commented on the MPBA trying to rekindle interest in tethered hydroplane racing but also was critical on how the 12-15 hydros at a regatta "that do not hold spectator interest for long" get 3/4 of the water time at the expense of the 100 or so other boats present. Even editors can 'stir the pot a bit'.

August 2020

Early last month the BMFA published a timetable for the reopening of the national centre at Buckminster, which includes the new tethered car track. As long as there are no major setbacks there will be a gradual relaxation of restrictions that should allow day visitors to enjoy the facilities from August 3rd. Until then it was season ticket holders only. This is encouraging as a look at the calendar for last month shows red lines through the Grand Regatta, the European tethered car Championships and a Retro Club track day, another 2,000+ miles and a not inconsiderable lightening of the exchequer along the way. These events would have provided the bulk of the material for this edition, a recurring theme unfortunately, so thanks again to all who have helped with articles.

The unfortunate circumstances of the last few months have led to us delving deeper into digital and Freesat channels and in the process finding some fascinating programmes that have had a direct connection or struck a chord along the way. One was one of the many ‘find it, fix it and flog it’ shows that have become prevalent, but in this case the item dug out of obscurity was a real tethered car. The researchers had previously contacted OTW for our advice and thoughts as to what was needed to do to the car and where they could run it for the grand reveal. Having answered all their questions they then decided that the production schedule was too tight to do a decent job, hence we saw Henry Cole trying to run a very nice 5cc car from the early 50s, but with bodged up rear wheels and rubber rings that did not last the course. Could have been so much better presented but that is not what they are about, just refer to Henry’s wondrous accounting system on his forays around autojumbles and auctions. No idea what happened to the car after the show either and no chance to look at it closely to even identify its origins.

The other has been the father and son duo of History Hunters who deal in militaria. The clue is in the title as they spend a great deal of time, effort and not a little money in establishing the history of items and the provenance to go with them. They consider that these two elements will add immensely to the value and status of the item, but they are also fully aware of the pitfalls that can lurk along the way. There is a world of difference between could, might and was. As followers of OTW will know, we share this desire to attach and preserve history and provenance to an item, not for the value, as unlike War and Son we are entirely non commercial, but because we can share it, both with owners and the wider audience. Some would question whether it is important, and judging by the lengths that vendors will go to providing an entirely false history, then commercially it seems likely. On the other hand are those that don’t value or respect the provenance or integrity of an item at all such as the Wainwright car featured in June. Very recently though it has been pointed out in a different context that people may not even be aware, but how can you have something and not want to know its history? Along the way have collected something approaching a virtual ‘black museum’ of cars and boats that have had their history ruined by various means that we rail against privately and share with OTW readers when it will not cause offence.

The militaria programme has a more personal connection though as both paternal and maternal grandfathers fought in the Battle of the Somme, in the same area at the same time. One had a very pivotal role in a historic action that is recorded in numerous volumes, the other less so, but he did leave a daily diary of his entire wartime experience. Somewhere out there are the named medal groups for these two WW1 soldiers, but neither resides with the families. Both groups have history and provenance but the owner of the one group does not have a family connection and the owner of the other does not have the provenance.

It is always a pleasure when we are notified on an item that can be identified and even better when its builder or owner is also known and a full house if its history is continuous. Same with photos if we know or can find out names, locations and details. That was one of the problems facing the purchasers of all the albums and boxes of photos at the second of Miquel’s sales in 2004, thousands of images but exceedingly difficult to identify even a small proportion of them. Even now batches of these are turning up for sale awaiting some knowledgeable or keen purchaser to continue the task.

The Pitbox this month is one such item. We know what it is have a pretty good idea of its origins, but its precise history is unknown so it is definitely a ‘could be’.

How often on the TV programmes we refer to above has the phrase, ‘I found it in a box of bits that I bought’ been heard. Well, here is the story of a tethered car that came via this route having passed through more than a few hands before the lucky discovery.

Long Lost Lakes returns with what was reckoned to be ‘the fastest lake in the country’, purpose built in the 70s but later reverting to nature after problems at the venue. Kevin Fleet has provided us with more recent photos of what remains of the Cotswold Club lake at South Cerney and the redevelopment that still has not happened. Thanks to Kevin for this update.

We have made numerous appeals for information concerning the whereabouts of the cars of Arthur Weaver and Carl Wainwright so we were delighted to receive an email from someone who believed he had Arthur's own, and very distinctive Cooper Bristol. Photos confirmed that it was this very car so we can now add some hard information to its more recent history, including details of an earlier sale at auction. Thankfully, the car is more or less as Arthur last saw it nearly fifty years ago and still missing its engine.

They are still at it, a Russian schools car for £650 and another for $1400, methinks a touch of realism is called for?

Gavle started the ball rolling with a post covid tethered car meeting and now there have been small scale events in several countries. With restrictions still in place the Swiss Club hosted a one day event at Witterswill, a stark contrast to the European Championship that they had been preparing for that week. Results for all meetings are available as usual on speedmodelcar but Philipp Meier and Christoph Zaugg have kindly sent brief notes of their experiences on the day, plus photos of a less happy outcome. There is a meeting scheduled for Hannover in August, again with strict CV restrictions in place.

Work has been on going at the Buckminster tethered car track and with the safety fence now erected and the grass infield and surround growing, it really does look superb and a tribute to all those who have been working on the project. There is still work to be done, but essentially the track is now ready for racing, with the first event scheduled for early this month. As with all events at the moment, numbers are strictly limited with CV precautions in place at all times. We hope to bring you a report from the weekend in next month's edition, the first time OTW will have been on the road since March. To give you all a taster, Oliver Monk has sent photos and a report from the latest 'running day' late in July, restricted to season ticket holders only. Thanks to Oliver and Steve Betney for keeping us up to date on the progress of this venture. 

July 2020

At last positive and encouraging news. Tethered car races have been taking place in Sweden, the US and Hungary where a huge amount of work has been done to upgrade the track in Kaposvar. National meetings are being rescheduled and extra events put in for those starved of activity. For up to date details on the European tethered car calendar go the the speedmodelcar website. As can be seen later in Pylon, the new British track at Buckminster is now operational. CV restrictions have been lifted sufficiently to allow the first running of cars on this fantastic project but only with very limited access to the site. Less hopeful for tethered hydroplane racing in the UK as it is impossible to adhere to social distancing while starting and launching a boat meaning that the two day International meeting is officially cancelled for the second time in six years, last time due to Avian flu, is there a theme here?  Ironic that petrol is at its lowest price for many a year, yet we are still not able to take advantage. June was yet another month with a calendar full of events that are no more so a chance to dig out some different material for this edition. Thanks again to all who are stepping into the void left from the lack of event reports.

Spending time, as we do, trawling through archive material has led to a certain fascination with those builders of cars and engines that did not have the luxury of workshops that are now taken for granted. What is quite apparent is that this did not deter the people in question, but required an immense amount of dedication and ingenuity, not to mention help and assistance from friends and the occasional ‘homer’ that will be well known to many. Of course, many of them were highly skilled coming from an age of tool making and working in manufacturing industries. In addition, most would have gained a good background in using machines and hand tools during their schooldays, definitely a bygone age in all respects. We do have evidence of some extensive workshop facilities even from the turn of the last century but from material that has turned up, this was not the case for many.

Two of our early and successful competitors lived in flats with nowhere to work at all, relying on evening classes and their model engineering societies and club for access to tools and equipment. Others worked from spare rooms and bedrooms in their houses and must have had long suffering spouses to put up with the mess, smells, noise and the occasional conflagration when the bottom fell out of a ladle of molten aluminium in the lounge having been removed from the grate where it was melting. Yes, castings indoors, a lathe in the sons bedroom, treadled by elder son, any means necessary to get the engine, boat or car built.

Someone of our immediate acquaintance continued his entire modelling career until retirement through ‘homers’. For the unitiated this was using the firms tools, equipment (materials) and time if it could be wangled in order to do their own work. Sometimes this was even with the blessing of the management. At one local company they actually employed an ex foundryman who would do unofficial work for the company and ‘homers’ for the work force. What an enlightened attitude. Times have changed now though as there is little in the way of training in the practical skills, either in schools or further education. Apart from the growing number of ‘Men’s Sheds’ very few facilities now exist in private homes, manufacturing industries are very scarce and model engineering societies are finding it more difficult to function. It is difficult to comprehend nowadays how someone like William Blaney could set to and make a crude lathe before beginning to build his engines or how an award winning, multi cylinder, radial engine could be created from scratch with just a treadle lathe and hand tools?

The Pitbox is a bit of an oddball as it is a glass plate negative that turned up on ebay of an as yet unidentified tethered car but with some familiar features that helped correct the erroneous dating.

Something that has been a long time in the gestation as it is a little beyond our immediate remit is a gallery of railcars, the sport that took over in the UK from tethered cars when enthusiasts became disenchanted with the continual search for speed.

The great news for all tethered car enthusiasts is that the Buckminster track is now operational. The less good news is that until the relaxing of the CV restrictions and suitable health measures put in place, it will not be available to anyone other than Buckminster season ticket holders. From the original proposals we saw at Ally Pally for a shared track within a control line circle to a FEMA sized, dedicated car track is a tribute to all those who have put in countless hours of work on the planning, raising money, physical work on site, and sourcing the items required to run cars. Thanks also to all those who have donated items or cash to allow it all to progress. Unfortunately and entirely due to the current crisis the fund raising events and opportunities have not been able to go ahead so reports of the maiden runs on the track from Oliver Monk and Steve Betney does contain the inevitable plea for more donations. Our thanks to Oliver and Steve for their continued input and articles on this project.

Another effect of CV is that Alex Phin's car project is stalled as supplies of his kits, tyres and wheels are locked down in foreign parts. However, as John Goodall has now sent details of the completion of his Vanwall version of the prototype car, we have added a page dedicated to the Redfin Project where we have added all the material to hand on the engines, cars and components. More will be added as further details become available from Alex and we will also post photos of cars built from the kits or using the Redfin twinshaft motor.

News from Peter Hill that assuming the continued relaxation of restrictions, he is proposing the first Retro Club track day of the season could take place early in September. There is a possibility that there may also be the first Old Warden that was originally scheduled for the 19/20th.  Everything is of course dependent on changes in the number of people that can gather in one place (legally that is).

With the prospect of a gathering interest in tethered car racing in the UK, retro, modern builds or FEMA style, sources of supplies for parts become ever more important. We have added to our Spares page a selection of tyres that have been moulded by our long time, but now retired 'Aussie corro' Mark Mansell. In addition there are a selection of useful parts for builder available from Lev Shprints. We have featured rear wheels, a gearbox casing and a fuel knock off. For wheels, tyres, kits and motors for the smaller twinshaft and other cars, Pavel Sarigins always has an interesting and useful selection available on ebay where he trades as P12man.

The entire collection of engines, spares, material and other items resulting from the loss of one of our long time competitors is currently being sold in batches on ebay. Search for items from hydroplane0 to see what is currently on offer. Starting prices are most realistic, unlike a couple of vendors, one of whom is asking a record £1,000+ for an incomplete 'schools car' and another who bought a listed item and then relisted it for over double the previous price.

Last January, Pylon talked about holding people to ransom for parts and the case of a missing gearbox worth a cool half million that the then owner refused to pass on. Well, after long and expensive proceedings, the court found in favour of the purchaser, so now he can have a completely original car, assuming the gearbox does not go missing again?