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2008 Celebrating 100 years of tethered hydroplane racing

View from the Pylon

July 2008

With the true Centenary of tethered hydroplane racing being celebrated at the end of September, OTW has been digging away in the vain hope that it could present similar biographical outlines for Messrs Teague, Delves-Broughton and Groves as it did for Fred Westmoreland. It would be fair to say that it has been hard going, although relatively successful, but at the end of April, the strangest thing happened, and it was all down to a model steam locomotive. Peter Hill, the MPBA historian, called with the surprising news that he had been contacted by H.H. Groves’ son, which in itself was amazing, but there was better to follow. John Groves had been trying to trace a model steam locomotive ‘Pioneer’ that his father had built in the 1930s and then sold to George Lutz. As well as marketing the ‘Victoria’ boat engine and being Vice Chairman of the MPBA, George was also the son-in-law of Fred Westmoreland, having married Fred’s daughter Edna. Much of this was already known, but OTW had drawn a total blank following up the ‘Lutz’ connection. Through some incredible detective work by the Groves family, John was able to contact George and Edna’s son Ken, who to his great delight still had the locomotive, trucks and track. It was at this stage that OTW became involved and some long phone conversations ensued that revealed an incredible level of information about these two families. This was exciting enough as it was, but what followed was almost beyond belief. Ken’s uncle was Fred Westmoreland’s son Frederick, who ran tethered boats from the 30s right through to the 50s. Unfortunately he died relatively young and as he and wife Audrey had no children, the complete ‘Westmoreland Archives’ ended up with Ken. The sheer volume and range of material is breathtaking, stretching right back to the turn of the last century and includes detailed information about many of Fred's fellow enthusiasts and model engineers.

Perhaps you are wondering quite why the excitement, but the upshot is that through the wonderful generosity of John and Ken, Peter Hill and OTW now have unlimited access to all the information and archive material from the Groves, Lutz and Westmoreland families for future use. The biggest surprise of all was that Ken still had ‘Minx’, Frederick’s 30cc ‘A’ class hydro complete with its 1930s four-stroke engine. ‘Minx’ is the first of the full house of ‘Pitbox’ offerings this month.

This leads on nicely to the ‘Centenary’ article. During the 1930s the IC engine finally eclipsed the flash steamers in terms of outright speed and Fred Westmoreland, like George Noble, Ted Vanner and Stan Clifford, embraced both forms of power. This month we take a look at how the ‘balance of power’ shifted.

The second Pitbox item this month is a ‘special’ as two cars turned up on eBay in June from the same vendor, each with something rare, impeccable provenance. The vendor’s father made both in the early 50s, and one of them was featured in an article in Model Maker and in a newspaper some 20 years later. You do not get more genuine than these two.

The final ‘Pitbox’ offering was spotted at Old Warden in May. It was a very rare example of an engine built by Gerald Smith, specifically for use in a car. While there is no argument as to who built it, identifying its exact origins is a more puzzling. A bit of a ‘head scratcher’.

Earlier this year, it was suggested that OTW might like to prepare an article about  the Nordec 10cc racing engine. It seems that Adrian Duncan was working along the same lines as he has published an incredibly detailed and well researched piece about the 'British McCoys' on Ron Chernich's Model Engine News site. Well worth reading and one less thing for us on the 'to do' board. Talking of Nordecs, details of another true 'attic find' will be revealed in 'Pitbox' next month.

May/June 08

Issue 38 of the Retro Racing Club magazine was published recently, and of particular interest are the three pages listing plans for tethered hydroplanes that Peter Hill can provide. This is not the complete list, but even so covers 70 designs for all classes from the first World War through to the 1990s. Contact Peter direct for this invaluable resource.

Important news regarding the ‘Pitsea Museum’. The long awaited redevelopment is now underway, which has meant the removal of the tethered hydroplanes and Peter Hill’s engine collection. The boats will be displayed in an entirely new way when the work is completed, and to this end we have removed the Pitsea article from the site. When the new displays are in place, OTW will revisit the museum and describe the new layout and exhibits. (sadly never to transpire as the the museum closed permanently)

It is always gratifying when a coherent story comes out of seemingly unconnected pieces of information or items, and these three related articles have their roots in a short report of a MPBA seminar back in 1936. Through a remarkable series of inexplicable coincidences, it continues to the present day, with an amazing story of engineering endeavour, which further expands the old adage that they really do ‘Do different in Norfolk’.

Another article celebrating the Centenary returns to the theme of ‘survivors’ with a representative selection of complete and original boats from the 1930s. Undoubtedly there are many more ‘out there’, but these boats illustrate what was happening in the sport from the turn of the decade and the depression, through to the outbreak of the Second War and the cessation of official regattas.

Our Aussie ‘corro’ Mark has kindly sent reports on two recent tethered car meetings that have used ‘nominated speed’ to determine the winners of prestigious trophies. This method was once very popular in the UK for hydro events as it enabled all classes to compete for the same trophy. The principle is being reintroduced for a regatta this season to see how it goes, but it would be amazing if anyone managed to predict their speed to within 0.03km/hr as has happened twice in a month in Australia.

Commercial Corner. A positive flurry of activity recently with a large collection of English tethered cars being advertised for sale, and numerous other cars and boats changing hands in private deals. OTW hopes to follow up some of these as details emerge.

As usual, ebay has been a fertile hunting ground. Well spotted by Gary Maslin, in an obscure listing, were two very interesting Oliver cars. A complete ‘Bottoms Up’ with an ED Racer converted to twin shaft configuration and the bulk of a ‘Tiger Bomb’ with a smaller ED, also given the twinshaft treatment. While there have been other BUs that have come up for sale, this is probably the first original ‘Bomb’ that has surfaced. Without Oliver motors, it was a guess where the market would put these two, but in the end they went to a member of the Retro Club for a tad under £300. See them both in this month’s Pitbox. Gary also spotted another M&E Wasp in the listings. These seem to be very desirable at present, as the sale prices have shot up dramatically. Nigel Lacey’s Hyder/Lambert vintage hydro was knocked down to another Retro Club member and awaits a suitable McCoy 60, while an unfinished Hamerdryad novice boat surfaced in the Hull area. (A hull from Hull???) Another month and another E&M Maserati. Mr Knowles must have sold more of these than anyone ever imagined and there are still more lurking in collections. This example has the more usual Stentor engine and is in good original condition with some history. Given the numbers that have come on to the market recently it was difficult to predict where it might go price wise, but no one expected it to sell for just £880. Details of this car will be added to the E&M page next month.

April/May 08

No doubt anyone who puts their head above the parapet and publishes a magazine, newsletter or website would agree that any factual errors, typos or mistakes are very quickly, and sometimes gleefully pointed out. The advantage of a website is that the error can be rectified pretty quickly, pretending it never happened, while the printed word is there to haunt forever. Given this, we do try to ensure that what is published is as accurate as possible, but along the way all sorts of interesting hazards occur to trap the unwary. The spelling mistakes and general finger trouble are not helped by the ability of a spell checker or automatic correction to put in a spurious word or spelling that defies every proof read. It is, however existing material that can provide the most opportunity for error and frustration. Unfortunately magazines are riddled with inconsistencies and misinformation and photo captions can prove most unreliable. In ME, the same boat is pictured three times and attributed to a different competitor each time? To confuse things completely, Stan Clifford gave one of his boats three different names in its life. ‘Fox’ was definitely ‘Foz’, but was there a ‘Gordon IV’ and which ‘Meteor’ is being referred to? Names, and not just of boats, are an ongoing pitfall if taken at face value. Many people are known by their middle names eg, Gerry Buck, but official records often use just an initial after the Christian name. Total confusion reigns when they are known by a totally different name entirely. Race results tend to use initials only and sometimes get the name wrong as well, but belief has to be suspended when a regular contributor to ME has his name spelt differently in two successive issues, a third spelling in the letters page and even gets the name wrong in his obituary? The real difficulty occurs when an error or incorrect information becomes accepted fact (or urban myth), such as the identification of an M&E Special as the Buck 2A in Robert Ames massive volume. Getting to the truth, and getting it believed can then be a veritable minefield. We do try, spending hours researching, sorting out conundrums and trying to get thing right, but still things elude us, so if you see something that is wrong, it might be right, a typo might not be, or a spelling mistake could be correct, but then it might not be!!! Oh the joys of publishing!

Thanks to several gallant contributors and the wealth of material that has survived, we are able to expand the number of Centenary articles to be published over the year and not adhere to a strict chronology. We will return to surviving hardware and connected stories in due course, but this time round, two very personal articles, quite different, but both reflecting on over 50 years involvement with tethered hydroplanes. Malcolm Beak of the St Albans Club has been a keen observer of hydroplane racing at Verulamium Lake since the early 50s and has very kindly provided reminiscences and photographs of his time with the club. An aspect of tethered hydroplanes that has not had a great deal of coverage so far is what was known initially as ‘hydro gliders’ and later as airscrew hydroplanes. These are the fastest class of all, capable of 160+ mph from a 2.5cc motor and Mike Drinkwater has been responsible for much of the development and popularity of this class, as well as many of the standard designs. It is then, a great pleasure to be able to publish Mike’s look back at a long and distinguished career with tethered boats. Thanks to them both for producing such detailed articles.

Malcolm Beak’s reminiscences lead neatly to two of the full house of  ‘Pitbox’ offerings this month. Since starting this site, we are constantly amazed at the random coincidences that seem to occur and this is a prime example. Malcolm talks of the engine with ‘an unusual induction system’ used by Stan Clifford in ‘Polyester’ during the 1950s, lo and behold, the motor turns up, unprompted. Quite uncanny, but it does not stop there as the second ‘Pitbox’ items shows. Lurking in darkest Bedfordshire for many years has been what seemed to be a very sturdy copy of ‘Polyester’. Close inspection and a bit of brutality showed it to be the actual moulds for this famous boat that someone had spent a great deal of time, filler and paint to disguise as a hull. Quite bizarre that Malcolm’s article mentioning ‘Polyester’, two photographs showing Stan Clifford with the boat, its original engine plus the GRP moulds for the hull should all turn up at the same time, but from different sources?
Just occasionally a 'find' is so significant that it can take a while to establish quite what it is. This was the case for the third 'Pitbox' item this month. What started out as a mystery, but vaguely familiar, tethered car has turned out to be one of the most important items that has come to light for a very long time.    

Commercial corner. Yet another of the Experimental and Model Company Maseratis has come on to the market, but this one has a ‘claim to fame’. Originally featured on BBCs ‘Antiques Roadshow’ (and in Pitbox back in Feb 07), the car had been built by the present owners grandfather. The plan was to complete the car, but other commitments precluded this, so it was offered for sale on ebay at the beginning of March. The opening price of £400 did not attract any interest and it was relisted at 99p which soon had a few anonymous bidders at work. Apart from a few 'prods' it stayed below the reserve until the last 12 hours when it jumped in roughly £100 increments to sell at £1350. Considering someone paid £7 short of 5 grand for one at Christies, this was a bargain, but it reflects the number that have come on to the market recently. It is no longer as a model rare as was thought and the Roadshow valuation was not far off the mark. Following last months record of John Oliver’s visit to Sweden it was interesting to see one of his MK V aero engines come up for sale. Bidders fell over themselves in the first few days getting it up to £587 but then it stalled, waiting for the last minute bidding frenzy and sniping, before topping out at a whacking £908.

March 2008

Just as OTW was publishing the Feb edition we heard of the untimely death of another confirmed tether car enthusiast, Mike Day. Mike, who lived in the Channel Islands, was a long time member of the Retro Club and had recently organised the production of a number of vital tethered car components. The wheels, tyres, clutches and gearboxes that he was having made, found their way all round the world and enabled many fellow enthusiasts to get projects underway, or complete those that were ‘stalled’ for lack of parts. Because of his ‘geographic location’ Mike was a ‘voice on the phone’ to us all, but he will be sadly missed none the less. OTW and the ‘fraternity’ extend their deepest sympathy to his widow and daughters. This does mean, of course, that the supply of reproduction parts has been discontinued. If the situation changes in this respect then OTW will publicise any details.

Gary Maslin’s epic project to build each of the seven ‘Pioneering’ cars is moving on apace. Having completed the ‘Galeota’ he is now well on the way with D.A. Russell’s SS 100. At just on 30 inches long this is a seriously big undertaking, but there is a potential flaw in Gary's plan, well lack of, to be precise. The ‘magnificent seven’ could yet become the ‘famous five’, as Gary has so far been unable to find the Drysdale plan number 1 for the ‘Wright Special’ and number 3 for the ‘Russell Auto Union’. If anyone can help with either of these plans, then OTW will pass on the good tidings.

On the subject of appeals, a somewhat ‘long shot’. January’s centenary article prompted Peter Hill to dig out a request for information about an early flash steam hydro. In a Model Engineer back in April 1976, a Paul Bicknell submitted a photograph of a complete boat very similar in age and design to Irene III and Evil Spirit. His request for identity produced several letters from venerable contributors with a variety of suggestions that could all eventually be discounted. As far as is known the boat was never positively identified, so the question is, does anyone know of the whereabouts of either Paul Bicknell or the boat featured? It is certainly not a boat that has come to light recently, but must date from the period around the First War. Can anyone help???

Centenary articles 1. If material from the 20s was in short supply, the subsequent decade provided a veritable plethora of boats, items and material that have survived. Better still, we are lucky to have competitors from the 1930s that are still active. Indeed, John Benson who has been racing since the mid 30s, won last years St Albans International with his 30cc ‘A’ class boat. A fellow Blackheath Club member and literary collaborator of John’s is Alan Rayman who has been competing with hydro’s and flash steam boats for a similar period, and we are pleased to be able to feature his extensive contribution to model boating.

Centenary articles 2. In the course of his very informative ‘Who’s Who’ interview, Tom Clement revealed that he still had the original hull and engine that had been built and raced by his ‘mentor’ Norman Dixon. Thanks to Tom, and Andy Humpish of the Heaton Club, we have been able to put together the story of ‘Fast Cat’, an outfit very typical of the period immediately prior to the Second War.

A double header of 'Pitbox' items this month with the E&M Maserati that was described in last month's Pylon and an interesting Spark Ignition engine that has certainly been ‘lurking’ somewhere. It is in the best tradition of ‘wotzits’ having caused a great deal of 'head scratching'. The hope is that someone out there can identify it's origins.

On the commercial front, a very unusual car appeared on eBay. It was a nice example of the MCN Grand Prix Special designed and described by G.W. Arthur-Brand in the pages of Model car News in 1950. The car was intended for competition and designed for home construction using available parts. With a sheet aluminium pan and body, it involved a lot of ‘metal bashing’. This example with a Hornet motor, which so far as is known is the only one ever to come up for sale is winging its way across the Atlantic for a majestic £1950, so prices are still holding up.

February 2008

We must, unfortunately, start this edition with sad news. The vintage tethered car movement in the UK is a close-knit group, and the death of Euan Forbes in January leaves a very noticeable gap. Euan was a true enthusiast, a very knowledgeable collector and builder, and has been running his cars regularly at Old Warden for a number of years, with no regard either to the weather or the relative value of the cars. He believed items in his collection were there to be used. He will be missed and OTW and the tethered car movement extend their sympathy to his family.

Returning to 100 years of tethered hydroplane racing, the statement last month that there was no intention to present material in a chronological order was somewhat rash, as we seem to be moving into the 1920s. Sadly, very little in terms of hardware has survived from that decade, but there remains a huge legacy of printed material from a number of very successful, influential and long standing contributors to tethered hydroplane history.

The most significant event of the decade had its beginnings in 1921, when the Victoria Club resigned from the Model Yacht Racing Association, who in turn announced that it would have nothing further to do with powerboats. Early in 1924 a meeting of interested parties took place, resulting in the formation of the MPBA, still of course the national body. At that meeting was a young Olive Goodman, who later married a stalwart of the Victoria Club, Jack Skingley and following his death, Arthur Cockman who did so much to further the cause of flash steam hydroplanes through to the 50s.

On the racing front, flash steam ruled throughout the decade with a new record set in 1922 by George Noble of Bristol who was to compete very successfully until after the Second War. 2 years later Stan Clifford claimed the record that he was to hold for 12 years. Amazingly, his racing career was to continue through to the 1960s with a series of highly innovative boats and engines. A future article will look at the career of this wonderful engineer. Also active were two brothers from East London, Sam and John Innocent who were just starting out on a racing journey that was to bring them so much success. John was also to write on hydro topics in Marine Modelling during the 30s.

Another name that was to become prominent as a racer, designer, builder and regular columnist ‘Spectator’ in Model Engineer, was that of L.J. French. Initially running his Flash steam ‘LJF Special’ he was to publish a number of designs, including the beautiful 15cc record breaking ‘Little Star’. Towards the end of the 20s he built two identical boats, one survived, and the story of that is this month’s Centenary Celebration article.

Pitbox’ exists to showcase items that may well have been hidden from sight or not previously recorded. Just occasionally it turns up something unexpected, unusual or truly amazing, and this month it achieves all these and more. ‘Another visit to Norfolk’ features an incredible piece of engineering, and we are indebted to John Demott for the opportunity to photograph and present it.

The reprint of the Rowell Motors "Miniature Race Cars" booklet, featured in December’s Pylon, has been well received around the world and Peter Hill of the Retro Club has informed us that he has just a few copies remaining of this highly informative little ‘tome’.

Commercial matters, and yet another Experimental and Model Company Maserati was offered for sale on ebay last month. Possibly not the best time to hit the market given the financial chaos that was evident that week, but bidding was keen for several days for this example, correct, except for the gearbox. When the auction finished, a member of the Retro Club had raided his piggy bank to the tune of £1500. This is significantly less than other examples have realised recently, and it is staying in the UK, so it is well done to the 'demon bidder of Berkshire'. The mind is boggled again dep't! Several chuckles were raised a couple of years ago when clockwork tinplate models of an American Miller race car started appearing for auction. These cost just under £200 new and until word got around, were selling at many hundreds of pounds. Everyone got wise, except for some of our less well informed cousins across the pond, which accounts for one just being sold for £1350 at auction over there.

January 08

100 years ago, believe it or not, Herbert Teague, a competitor in the 1908 Model Engineer Speedboat Competition asked if he might be allowed to run his boat on a circular course via a line attached to a pole in a moored rowing boat. The competition had started in 1902 and up until this time boats had been run free over set distances, but the water he used was surrounded by stone banks and impact with these would be ‘fatal to his boat’. The Editor's opinion was that the circular course would operate to his disadvantage, so there would be no objection to his running in this way. In the July of 1908, at Wembley, the Model Engineer also promoted the first ever organised speedboat regatta. One of the entries there was ‘Folly’, a very basic flash steam hydroplane, hurriedly built by Teague and his friend Vernon Delves Broughton especially for the event. The hydroplane was not a new concept, but the combination of that hull form and the circular course style of running were to prove unbeatable, so creating the sport that flourished and developed into what we have today. Circular course running, especially with the very functional style of boats like ‘Folly’ was not universally accepted as they were not ‘real boats’ (not scale models) and not allowed to run in the correct manner (free). The situation was not helped when Teague and Delves-Broughton set a new British speed record of 13.92 mph on 29th Sept 1908 at Crystal Palace, the first time the record would be set with a tethered, purpose built, racing hydroplane.

Things have moved on a bit since then, and over the next 12 months OTW will be celebrating the Centenary of tethered hydroplane racing with a series of articles relating to boats, personalities, events and engineering from the last 100 years. This will be a celebration, rather than a history lesson as; Peter Hill has already done that so well in the pages of Model Boats, and in a comprehensive review and list of records he kindly provided for OTW. The articles will almost exclusively relate to boats, engines and artefacts that are still in existence, as well as original photographs and previously unpublished material. If anyone has anything lurking in a dark corner of a shed or attic that they would care to dust off for this purpose, then OTW would be delighted and happy to publish  details of any items submitted.

Although there is no intention to be chronological, as the song goes, 'let's start at the very beginning' and so the first foray is a look at a selection of very early boats that have somehow survived the ravages of time.  

Sometimes the terms of reference of the site are stretched a little, but once on the trail of a story there is no stopping. Amongst the IC engines on show at the Leamington Exhibition was a superbly engineered 7 cylinder radial. Totally unsuitable for either a car or a boat, or anything other than a very large plane, but a final chapter in the fascinating life and career of Gerald Smith whose exquisitely built engines were used in several cars and hydroplanes. Thanks to John Scott-Scott for this important contribution that brings to a conclusion the story of Gerald Smith and his engines.

A couple of 'follow ups'. The question was posed as to how far values for tethered cars might go, well a very nice M&E Wasp turned up on ebay in December and promptly sold for an impressive £1074, a record for this model. Surprisingly the lucky bidder was not from the other side of the Atlantic, but here in the UK. The car was however in the US, a complete turnaround over recent sales. We had hoped to feature the car in 'Pitbox' as it was such a good example, but the vendor was reluctant to allow the publicity. 

Following the Rowell article and the plea for information about items that were out there somewhere, there have been a number of responses which have added to the 'data base' of Rowell production. Details of these can be viewed at 'In search of Rowell engines'.

With the current interest in cars as 'collectable items' we have been given details of two more 'finds' that have been lurking for many a long year. Unusually both were home built, and the first of these, 'Ray's car', is the 'Pitbox' offering for the New Year.

The group of clubs around Newcastle were heavily involved in racing powered model boats, some from the very beginnings of the sport in the late 19th Century. Members still compete regularly, but sadly, tethered hydroplanes are not now allowed to run on the local lakes. Andy Humpish of the Heaton Club has put together a superb online photographic archive of hydroplane related and other boating activities at the club dating back to the 1930s. OTW is grateful to Andy for permission to use these images, but viewing of the complete Gallery on the Heaton Club website is highly recommended. www.heatonmodelboats.co.uk