View from the Pylon
With the arrival of the long winter nights it is a time to reflect on the previous 12 months of OTW and look forward to what the next year might bring. Happily, there are still discoveries being made for us to feature in ‘Pitbox’, and many of these lead on to more detailed articles, so we are most grateful to everyone who continues to provide the photos and information. It is remarkable though how little turns up in the way of material for tethered cars, especially when you consider the number of manufacturers, clubs, tracks and individuals involved at the time. Given the number of cars that appear on the market, there must be a huge amount of material still buried in lofts and garages waiting to be recorded?
In some ways OTW is a bit like the Labrador we used to own, absolutely focussed when doing what he was trained for, yet would just follow his nose for miles when ‘off duty’, and so it has turned out with the numerous avenues of research that are ‘underway’. A detailed appreciation of the career of Stan Clifford is nearing completion, and having had the privilege of viewing the most amazing collection of items built by the North London 'maestro' we are embarking on a similar venture with regard to the late Arthur Weaver. If anyone can help with any recollections of Arthur, his connections with AMCO, or the remarkable engineering that he displayed in so many different modelling disciplines then we would be very grateful. We would also like to make contact with his son or daughter if possible, any leads please? In addition there is Mr Francillon and the FRC, timing systems for cars and boats, home built racing engines, flash steam and more, so we are never quite sure where we are going to end up.
As was mentioned a couple of months back though, thanks to the interest generated by the superb articles from Stan Poyser and the late Bert Martin, as well as the material from Rob relating to his father Jim Bamford and the appearance of boats such as ITSA, we intend to explore the world of flash steam much more thoroughly over the next year or so. From Arthur Cockman and Bernard Pilliner who were contemporaries of Bert Martin to John Benson and Frank Jutton right through to Stan, Olly Monk, Paul Windross, Ian Berne and Bob Kirtley in the modern era there have been numerous enthusiasts who have persevered with flash steam, constantly experimenting and developing. The intense competition of the 80s and 90s is certainly worth revisiting. There is nothing so impressive as a flash-steam boat at high speed and we hope to feature as many of the boats and builders of the post war period as possible including some of the less well-known devotees of the ‘art’. A mammoth task, but utterly fascinating.
It has also been suggested to us that the intense competition, rivalry and development that has taken place in 10cc hydroplanes would be worthy of more coverage. Again we are more than happy to devote time and space to this fascinating aspect of the sport, but we do need help. Happily, many of those involved are still active and it is to them that we turn for memories, results, photos and any surviving artefacts. Coverage of tethered hydroplane racing in specialist magazines was almost non-existent for much of this time so we have very little to go on. All assistance gratefully received.
An event that passed unnoticed in the magazines during this period was the first run at over 100mph with a tethered hydroplane. In a previous article we celebrated this milestone, and happily we are able to report that Arthur Wall who achieved this back in 1972, consented to a long and informative session in the OTW interview chair to reflect on this and his other achievements in a long racing career.
One of the projects we have been working on for a long time comes to a conclusion this month, with a second look at Ernie Clark of the Victoria Club and in particular, the five boats that have survived out of the 15 or more he built during his career.
Just last month one of our correspondents wondered what chance there would ever be of finding a 1066 MRC car on the market, and look what turned up. The situation regarding the Pitsea Museum is still unclear resulting in most of the tethered hydros having been removed. This gives us a chance to feature some of the less well known boats from the collection, starting with a lovely 1930s boat built in the 50s? A few months ago we posed the question as to what the ‘holy grail’ might be in relation to discoveries. The engine this month might well be considered in that category as it comes from the very earliest days of model boating and was built by one of the ‘pioneers’, but there is a nasty sting in the tail (tale).
Issue 43 of the Retro Club magazine has just been published and at 28 pages on quality paper is certainly impressive. Of interest to modellers in general are reminiscences from Phil Smith of VERON fame. The information is out there, and it becomes ever more important to get it recorded while there is still an opportunity, so congratulations to Peter Hill for keeping this venture going. The Retro Club magazine is more than worth the modest subscription.
Gildings sale on the 14th Nov certainly proved a point. Lot items individually, set sensible estimates and reserves, and the public will flock in. There was a huge crowd bidding on everything from the most common of glow motors to very rare 1940s ignition engines. It shows that there is a market, but sellers, dealers and auction houses must be more realistic in their expectations. But then, department of boggling minds!!! A clockwork Chinese tinplate Miller converted to IC by a Retro Club member just a few years ago sold on ebay last month. It beggars belief that it made £4,000! Yes, that is the right amount of zeros. One can hardly imagine the reaction of the buyer when they find out what they have really bought???
It is always rash to make claims and we suggested that the M&E ERA last month might be the only tethered car on public display in Britain. BTCA member and contributor Dave Cunliffe has contacted us to say that he saw a Dooling F in the motor museum at Bourton On the Water during a visit. Are there any more that we don’t know about?
Well, is it the ‘credit crunch’, has the bubble burst or was it just the circumstances surrounding that particular event? The sale of Doug Walton’s collection in September at Mellors and Kirk in Nottingham has certainly created some lively discussion. The bare facts are that 800+ engines were offered for sale in just over 200 lots, probably 80 or more of the lots did not sell, and the results would have been a grave disappointment to the vendor. Firstly there were very few people in attendance and to us; one of the main reasons for this was offering the engines in groups of up to 10 per lot. Experience of the Christies auction has shown that each lot will not normally sell for more than the single ‘desirable’ item in it, if that. This leaves the collector with several motors they do not want that they have to pass on. Secondly, add a whopping 20% buyers commission on top of the hammer price and then ask yourself why anyone should pay what is considered a ‘market value’ in the auction room? Makes a very expensive item if you are not quick enough with the maths! With buyers premium, lotting fees, commission and the dreaded VAT on each bit adding up to around £40 in every hundred, it is easy to see who makes the money Of course, if something is exceedingly rare and you are unlikely to find another example then the bullet may have to be well and truly bitten, yet this was not the case with most of the engines on offer. Other factors to consider is that several collections have come onto the market recently, eBay is awash with engines of every shape and description at present, every swapmeet and Old Warden event has tables of engines for sale and of course there are the established dealers and their extensive lists. Excess of supply over demand? Could it be though that we have reached the stage, like in the economy, where values have become ‘overheated’. If some of the prices still being asked at Sandown, Goodwood and Beaulieu are to be believed then this is certainly the case, but perhaps those more closely involved have a more realistic view of what items are worth? It is still the case though, that a ‘fashionable’ mass produced motor can command a much higher selling price than something that is much rarer and of much higher quality, which for some of us can’t be bad, as long as you are not ‘a follower of fashion’, that is.
The main articles on OTW usually come about through a piece of information that we have received, or contact or item that has come to light, and more often than not, some strange coincidences. Happily, just like Topsy, the articles seem to grow and grow from their initial outlines, almost as if someone is wanting a story to be told and pointing us in the right direction. This month’s feature article had its beginnings just about four years ago, which is when OTW came into being, but there was to be no connection between the two events for some while. It started with a TV programme of all things, and developed into a most satisfying and productive voyage of discovery and information that is irretrievably linked with the Victoria Club featured last month. Victoria V34 tells the story of Ernie Clark and the most successful of the post war ‘A’ Class boats to have survived.
Following the VMSC article, Vice President Terry Everitt has kindly clarified the succession of club secretaries and provided us with further information and material about the Victoria Club. This has enabled us to update the article significantly, one of the great advantages of web publishing.
Pitbox is reserved for items that have been discovered or have been lurking for a while, but the engine featured this month was ‘found’ in the most odd circumstances imaginable. The car on the other hand has been in full public view for a while, but has recently been 'discovered' by our intrepid 'seeker out of finds'. The hydro we are featuring turned up regularly in pictures and race reports in Model Engineer, yet it was not until last year we knew that it had survived. The larger 10cc stable companion appeared in Pitbox in March 09, but now, thanks to Nigel Lacey, here is Peter Lambert’s 5cc ‘Rhumba 5’.
With this edition, OTW is notching up four years of publication. Starting with updates as they came to hand, we then moved on to producing material monthly. Thanks to everyone who contributes articles, photographs, items or information enabling us to continue with this venture to record the past, present and future of tethered cars and hydroplanes.
Seventy years ago, Britain found itself embroiled in a conflict, that far from being ‘over by Christmas’ would soon escalate into a second world war and all the terrible consequences that would stem from that. On a lesser scale, the war would also have an impact on the modelling scene, but probably not always quite in the way it may be imagined. Very quickly Edgar Westbury took an almost unilateral decision to suspend all MPBA organised regattas and activities, and effectively the MPBA ceased to exist until John Benson and others were instrumental in reforming it in the early post-war years. Of course this was not going to stop the enthusiasts who kept running boats and organising events throughout the war, many being reported, somewhat ironically, in Model Engineer along with numerous articles about tethered hydros and engines. One of the reasons for this continuation was that so many of the competitors were toolmakers and specialist engineers, working in reserved occupations
On a far more physical level, the bombing campaign inflicted on the British Isles did have a significant effect with individuals, property and firms suffering untold damage. By a strange quirk of fate, a bomb destroyed the Model Engineer offices, and along with them, the entire records of the MPBA from 1924 onward. Another bomb on the Rolls Royce factory at Crewe nearly ensured that Gerry Buck would not dominate tethered car racing for many years to come. There are numerous accounts of bombs destroying homes, workshops, boats and engines, including a yet to be published article, where the author speaks of his entire ME collection, back to the turn of the century, being ‘dispersed over a radius of a ¼ mile by the Luftwaffe’. On a more positive note, it was the enforced cessation of model aircraft flying that led directly to the interest and promotion of tethered car racing by D.A. Russell, Editor of Aeromodeller. Several names better known in the hydroplane world soon turned their hands to this new form of competition and none would make more impact than the aforementioned Gerry Buck.
One organisation that sailed serenely on throughout the conflict, unlike the MPBA, was the Victoria Model Steamboat Club, this year celebrating its 105th anniversary. With OTW not having been ‘born’ when the club notched up the century, this anniversary seemed the ideal opportunity to look back at the history and activities of this great club.
The sale of Doug Walton's collection last month did not quite turn out as expected, with a high proportion of lots unsold and very few items generating any great excitement. There were some happy, if poorer, buyers at the end of the fastest sale in living memory. Next month we will have a look at some of the points and comments arising from this event. The unsold lots are scheduled to be sold at SAS in Midgham, sometime in the spring.
The ‘Pitbox’ items this month are a bit different as there is not a car, hydro or engine amongst them, yet each represents an important piece of ‘history’ in its own right. The first is a tethered car trophy that ‘vanished’ 50 years ago, but was not actually missing as it transpired. Secondly we have a glimpse at the work and dedication needed to produce a record breaking hydro motor. Lastly, the only known surviving example of a device that used to be relatively common on hydroplanes, yet has not been seen for 40+ years.
The flash steamer ITSA, originally appeared as a workbench feature. The article has now been updated with information from a previous owner and more thoughts on who might have built it. This has been added to a new section created on the hydroplane index page that deals entirely with flash steam matters. We will be adding material here as articles and items become available.
It is easy to see why the British are so obsessed with the weather after the ‘summer’ we have experienced. In amongst the rain and thunder were the European car championships in Sweden at Orebro, and the World hydroplane Championship again in Bulgaria, but this time at Rousse. For whatever reasons, British interest in these two events were very limited, with just David Giles making the trip to Sweden, and no entries at all for the hydro meeting, although our own Stuart Robinson and wife Heather were deeply involved in the organisation, with Stuart serving as Chief Judge yet again. Earlier this year Heather was honoured with the ‘Presidents Award’ from the MPBA for her continued support of the organisation and tethered hydroplane racing in general. OTW sends its congratulations to her on this prestigious award. Results from Orebro are available as usual on the Speedmodel car site. The 10cc class at Orebro ran true to form with the last three World record holders taking the first three places. Mats Bohlin beat Gualtiero Picco by just 0.53 kph at 336.611. Remarkably, with his first run with his reserve car, Mats recorded 336.332kph, which would also have won him the title. Otto Stroebel finished third at over 334kph, which is still in excess of 207mph.
Last month’s publication of Bert Martin’s own story of his involvement with flash steam hydroplanes seemed to have created a great deal of interest. From the point of view of OTW it was a great privilege to be able to feature it on the site. It illustrates precisely why running the site is so full of the most wonderful surprises. While we were turning the album into a format suitable for the web, which included retyping the entire text and scanning and processing all the photos, we became involved with another remarkable tale. This started with a ‘pitbox’ item two months ago, featuring a lovely, but anonymous scale model of a MG TD. Very quickly it was established who had built it and revealed the entire history of the car. In terms of detective work it was a simple hunch that eventually led to the answer. If only all the pitbox submissions were as easy to identify?
Such has been the degree of interest in the flash steam items, that we intend to publish a series of articles in the coming months on this most fascinating of all the aspects of tethered hydroplane racing, both past and present. To this end, we would welcome help and assistance with any information, photos, material or items related to flash steam hydros or the people that devoted so much time and enthusiasm to the 'cause'.
Although the competition season is still underway, the workshops are beckoning, and for anyone that has any thoughts about building a tethered car or hydroplane, either for use or as a display item, then you might consider contacting Peter Hill and the Retro Racing Club. The Club has just published its latest newsletter, which is available from Peter, and this includes one of the few opportunities to advertise sales and wants. The club also has the world’s largest selection of plans and constructional articles for cars and boats, which can be ordered directly from Peter. At present plans for around 100 tethered cars, and 80 hydroplanes are available. A complete list and a copy of the current newsletter are available for £4, address on the contacts page. As a special deal, anyone ordering the lists will get a discount on their first year’s membership of the RRC.
The ‘Pitboxes’ return with a full house and a bonus item. We have a good idea what the two ‘Mystery Motors’ are for, but not a clue as to their origins, but it is thanks to Eric Offen for these early hydro engines. The hydro is a bit special as it is the mortal remains of Stan Clifford’s ‘Hell’s Bells’ and gives a clear idea of the degree of restoration that is required of the only surviving boat from this revered competitor. Although home built, the car we are featuring provided a ‘Remarkable Surprise’ when seen in the flesh for the first time.
Last month's 'Workbench' restoration by Gary Maslin of an E&M Maserati gave so much detail about the car that it has been permanently incorporated into the E&M page.
One Saturday evening in June we strolled around the POW Pond in Blackheath, reflecting on how small it was, yet how many record-breaking runs had been recorded there. It is now 30 years or so since tethered hydros last ran there, but what a place in the history of the sport that small piece of water holds. Sitting in the bar later, not the POW pub unfortunately, but just round the corner, someone from an entirely different sport, but who knows of our OTW activities, posed the question. ‘What would be the ‘holy grail for you’? This caused a bit of head scratching as the concept usually requires a ‘discovery’ and it is not until this is made, that you know you have found it??? If you know something exists, know roughly where it is and eventually get to see and handle it, then that can be wonderfully satisfying, as we found recently. To make contact with a relative or friend of someone whose involvement you are researching can again be immensely gratifying, but it is the unexpected that springs the surprises in all senses of the word. Of course, the unexpected cannot be anticipated, so what the ‘holy grail’ might be must remain a mystery. Yes, there may be a ‘wish list’ and we know of one person for whom that would be the discovery of one of Suzor’s racing boats and engine. High on the list would have to be any identifiable car or boat that had effectively ‘vanished’ for a long period of time and sometimes one speculates on what might have happened to the various cars and boats featured in books and magazines. Imagine the thrill though of finding ‘Little Star’, 5 decades after it set the British record, not knowing that it had survived? Or realising that what you had just seen was H.H. Groves 1911 flash steamer that was last heard of in 1938. Perhaps you have an item on your personal ‘wish list’ that you might like to share, anonymously or otherwise?
Certainly, some remarkable material and items have come to light since OTW has been operating, but this month we can present something that would feature very high on a ‘wish list’ and would arguably come into the ‘holy grail’ category. We were contacted recently by the son of someone we had mentioned in passing in another article. Unfortunately and inadvertently we had used the wrong Christian name, which is what prompted him to email OTW. In the course of the conversations, it transpired that two original engines were still in existence as well as some original photos and other information. This was sufficient for us to plan an article and we were sent a ‘copy’ of the material. To our amazement, this turned out to be an album containing the entire story of one person’s highly successful involvement with flash steam tethered hydroplanes, both in words and photographs. We are used to seeing ‘nuts and bolts’ reports and stories, but this was unique as it was more concerned with the philosophies and reasons behind everything that was done, including why he eventually retired from the sport. Even more remarkable was that the origins of the album were in a visit to a mobile library. This really is an important piece of work, and for this reason it is being published using the original text and photos, but put into web format. We are exceedingly grateful to Tony Martin for giving us the opportunity to present the story of his father A.W. Martin.
News:- For the first time since OTW has been up and running, we can report on the breaking of a tethered hydroplane record. Although it is subject to official confirmation we congratulate Pete Dirs on breaking the Novice Class record, set by Jim Free in 2004.
Any publishing venture, either print or web based such as OTW is entirely dependent on the flow of information to keep it current and to have new articles in preparation. We have been exceedingly lucky in the quality and amount of material that has been passed to us since we began. Fortuitously, another story always seems to be lurking ‘round the corner’ and we thank all those who have contacted us and provided articles, photos, artefacts, reminiscences and information. What is particularly satisfying is a contact that will turn a simple pitbox item into a complete story or set us off on another new trail entirely. Happily, the last few months have provided several such opportunities for updating existing articles and getting new ones underway. It is always the unexpected that proves to be the most exciting, and again we have been very fortunate, although it will take some time to publish all the new material. The great advantage for OTW in all this is that the new material can easily be incorporated into existing articles, or the occasional clanger, typo or misinformation corrected, a luxury not afforded in conventional publishing. For this reason, the July edition of OTW will primarily be updating pitbox items and existing articles, where new information or material has come to light and been passed on.
Starting on this theme, we talked about George Stone last month, and how his use of Dooling motors had changed tethered hydroplane racing. Quite by chance, we have come across a film clip on the British Pathe site that features George, with Lady Babs at Epsom, making an attempt on his record in 1949. For the clips of George Stone’s record attempt and Faro at Victoria Park, go to the British Pathe site and type ‘model boat racing’ into the search box.
In the article on Lucy Gascoigne’s beautiful MG record breaker, there was a gap in its history. It was not known what had happened to it between the time it was owned by the Morgan family and it turned up for sale. Thanks to some sterling detective work by its current owner, Guy Martin, who managed to contact the person that bought it originally, this mystery has now been solved, and the story of the car is complete.
Much to our surprise there are still new items turning up in the pitbox features and we are most grateful to all who contribute to these sections. For ease of loading, the pitboxes are restricted in the number of items they feature on each page, but all previous pages are still available to view. The car pitbox this month carries on with the surprises, featuring one of the most stunning and accurate scale tethered cars that has ever appeared. Such is the quality of work in this lovely MG that it may well need a page of its own in the future to fully appreciate the fine detail embodied in this model. For the first time there will be a double header of cars as, thanks to David Giles’ extensive knowledge and contacts, we now have the correct identification of a ‘saleroom find’ from 2006.
Charles Booth of the Fleetwood Club built at least 6 boats in the 1930s including the two ‘Spooks’ already seen in the hydro pitbox. All survived to the present day, although the earliest of the Spooks and the flash steamer have ‘gone missing’. This month’s ‘Booth boat’ is ‘Snipe’, with an original OHC 30cc motor also built by Charles Booth plus photos of all the boats that had remained in storage for the best part of 50 years. Any information as to the current whereabouts of either of the two missing boats would be gratefully received. For the engine pitbox it is back to one of the most revered of the early hydroplane enthusiasts, Mons Gems Suzor, not British, but a regular visitor to regattas over here.
Pitbox items can vary from the total mystery and the hope that somewhere, someone might be able to recognise them, to those where the entire history is known, past and present. There are also the tantalising ones such as the hydroplane, QT V. It should have been possible to identify it, but it sat there for a long while with just the merest hints that all might be revealed. An extended update fills in at least some of the blanks in the boat’s history.
‘Tightlines’ continues each month with photo galleries and reports from regattas and other events. OTW is happy to publish results, but please pass them on, either by email or post. Quite unusually, Tightlines has also enabled two other articles to be updated, as the Althorne regattas in May saw the successful completion of a project to put John Duffield’s first engine, built around 1936/7, into a replica hull. This in turn led to OTW visiting George Chapman who had designed and built one of John Duffield’s previous hulls and still retained a similar boat of his own. Apart from having some fascinating reminiscences about tethered hydroplane racing and some of the characters involved, he was also able to provide new material on fellow King’s Lynn club members, John Duffield and Bert Stalham.