View from the Pylon
Update: 'Empty Spaces' Within a few hours of publishing this edition we heard the news of the deaths of Phil Smith, an iconic figure in the world of modelling and Ted Martin who is best known in modelling terms for his work with AMCO, but who gained international recognition for his work on full size engines. Ron Chernich has published detailed tributes to both of them on his Model Engine News website.
Oh the dangers of definitive statements! It is indeed a brave person who puts ‘facts’ into print, as they have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt. Wikipeadia is a wonderful forum, but the information it holds has to be tempered with a nagging thought as to whether it is always entirely right. Any claim of a first, revolutionary, never before etc is something of a gamble, even if you believe it to be true. Once it is in print of course, then it is a target to be shot at, and there for all time as well. The latest Retro Club magazine contains a lovely example that shows how unwise it can be to make ‘the definitive statement’. In 1957, a book on model rail car racing was published by MAP that told of the ‘introduction’ of rail tracks in the post war period, with Laidlaw Dickson crediting Geoffrey Deason with this new development 'as early as 1948'. Once in print, this information was incorporated into later books, magazines and articles, and became accepted, until a chance discovery by Peter Hill that is. In the course of a ‘clear out’ he came across a 'lads mag' with lots of cars, and a very much younger Julia Bradbury presenting something much more personal than Country File. Other than the revealing pictures of Ms B. there was also a photograph of Sir Henry Birkin operating a 6 lane electric rail track. The only slight problem here is that Birkin died from blood poisoning in 1933 after burning himself on his Maserati exhaust. This then puts the introduction of rail racing at least 20 years earlier than has been quoted by numerous sources over the last 50 or so years. The full story and time scale of the introduction of rail racing will be revealed in the next issue of the Retro Club magazine.
Slightly closer to home are two developments in tethered hydroplanes. The first was the introduction from the USA in the 1940s of the two-legged bridle that became the norm from then on. Except, that a postcard sent from Ted Vanner to Fred Westmoreland in 1921, shows ToTo running on a two-legged bridle, with Ted in the middle of the pond holding the line. Last, but not least, is another device we rely upon totally, and that is the bungee for launching hydroplanes. Brought back from Bulgaria in the late 70s, this device changed the sport markedly---yet again, photographic evidence shows boats being launched by catapult at Fleet Pond in 1951. No bank to anchor the elastic to, so a concrete filled oil drum was dragged into the lake to serve. Having learnt from the above, we do not claim any of these as the ‘firsts’ but they certainly pre-date the accepted firsts by a couple of decades in each case.
Bridles and bungees have been largely irrelevant so far this season, with too much water at Althorne and drained lakes at Victoria and Hull resulting in continued cancellations. Happily, all of us that travelled to Chatellerault for the May Day International regatta had ample opportunity to run, and try to sort out boats and engines after a very long winter.
Something of a crisis is arising on the ‘Pitbox’ front as, with the exception of engines, there seems to be a distinct shortage of finds recently. The engine this month was the result of a very speculative bid on eBay and turned out to be something of a treasure, while the hydroplane is another from the late Gerry Colbeck’s collection and recently retrieved from Pitsea. We would not normally feature a repro, but make an exception as this was one of the cars that Ivan Prior was producing in the 90s to try and create interest in tethered cars. If you have, see, or know of any cars or hydroplanes that we could feature in Pitbox, then we would be more than happy to add them to the files.
All too often, enquiries from OTW can be greeted with, ‘oh we got rid of that’ or ‘it was all put in the skip/taken to the tip’. At the 2010 Model Engineer Exhibition, one of the showcases on the Model Hydroplane Club showed a group of flash steam motors that, happily, had avoided any such fate. Steve Poyser had put together a wonderful display of motors built by his father Stan and grandfather Harry. Photographing them effectively at Ally Pally was next to impossible, but thanks to Stan and Steve, we have been able to borrow the entire Poyser Family Collection of motors and their descriptions to add to our series of flash steam articles.
Distances and costs are relative and very shortly a contingent from the UK will be heading to Hannover in Germany for a tethered car meeting. The only choice for us in the UK is to travel to Europe. How we envy enthusiasts that have their own track, yet the distances travelled in places like Australia or the US make a European foray no more than day trip. This is something we tend to forget when, each month, Mark Mansell emails his reports and photos from the Sydney Clubs track days. Thanks as always to Mark for keeping us up to date on activities on their track as they prepare for the World Championships later in the year.
A few days late, and not quite such a ‘bumper issue’ as last month as OTW has been on its hols and then straight off to the International regatta in France. As you probably realise that steam features highly in our realms of interest, laptops, wireless 3g Internet access and the rest is all beyond us, so here again as the saying goes ‘is one we made earlier’ with toilet roll tubes and sticky back plastic technology so to speak. A few quick observations though. Unfortunately water problems have resulted in the cancellation of all early season regattas so far. There is a distinct possibility of the season not getting under way until June apart from the recent International at Chatellerault. Hopefully a full report from this event next month although most of the British team, including OTW, will be turning a prop in anger there for the first time this year, apart from those that have a lake in their garden that is!
The Pylon items last month about motors in general and the plans by the Swedish to institute an OPS 29 only class has caused numerous comments and highlighted an ongoing difficulty that every technology based sport experiences at some stage. A while ago OTW investigated how the arrival of the commercial motors in the late 40s changed tethered hydroplane racing, and this type of occurrence can cause widely differing reactions. There seems to be something in human nature that accepts being beaten by a better person with similar equipment to your own, but if the ‘level playing field’ is tilted by a manufacturer producing a MK II version that is markedly better than all the MK Is, or has a model that bends the rules or breaks the unwritten spirit or is not available to others, then a sense of grievance and upset creeps in. On the one hand, there is the question of immediate and expensive redundancy, whereby the motors, spares and knowledge built up are suddenly worthless, and on the other continually escalating costs, not just to compete, but also to be competitive. Sometimes it gets completely out of hand and then the divisions appear. Some would contend that the sport must advance and any route is acceptable if it provides a winning combination, but there are also those that look beyond that and consider whether continuous development and cost increases are necessarily for the good of the activity. For a number of years, the free flight forum has debated the issue as it relates to their particular discipline, but one gets the feeling that even when there is just one person left stood in a field with their folding, flapping, bunting, geared, all electronic, mega money Ukrainian model, they will still not concede that there is a problem.
With cars, hydroplanes and planes, the motor is at the heart of the matter, and the emergence of something significantly better (and usually more expensive) can always be guaranteed to produce a wide range of reactions and opinions. In another of its ‘spring cleaned and redecorated articles’ OTW looks back at how engines for cars and boats have developed over the last hundred or so years.
Another full house of Pitbox items this month, starting with a ‘high performance’ two-stroke that hardly does justice to that phrase, but nevertheless had a very interesting gestation, while the designer might be new information to some. After the early and basic tether car last month, we move to the other extreme with probably the ultimate in the development of the British tethered racing car. The hydroplane is another of the boats retrieved from Pitsea and while not as successful as some, was ever present at regattas for many years. The owner does not seem to have received the recognition for his engine building that he deserved either, but perhaps we will be able to do something about that in the future?
Following Ken Smith alerting OTW to another clip he had found on the Pathe site, we spent a few happy hours searching their archives for anything else interesting. One that we had not seen before was an early meeting at Eaton Bray that featured Bob Curwen, Jack Gascoigne, Jack Morgan and Arthur Weaver, plus a demented looking cameraman. One can only suggest that you sit down and work through every possible key word. There are still undiscovered gems there waiting to be uncovered.
Something of a 'bumper edition' of Pylon to work your way through this month, with a full complement of articles and features, plus numerous other items that have come to our attention in the last four weeks.
Suddenly the winter is behind us and the new season of competition is beckoning. It is OK for the pampered followers of FI and Moto GP as they have decamped to warmer climes, but for ordinary mortals early meetings require a degree of stamina, especially when up to your waist in cold water! There was a time though when Boxing Day races at Brands Hatch were common, and free flight aficionados still search out the snow and ice regularly. The Swedish car enthusiasts seem to schedule races at very odd and cold times of the year, but there is still something slightly eccentric or masochistic about winter series, winter cups and ice pokals. For most though, April will see events getting under way and the fruits of the winter labours come to fruition, or otherwise. Enzo Ferrari used to refer disparagingly to other F1 teams as ‘Garagistas’ as they were not really constructors, but bought most elements in and simply assembled them. There must have been a touch of Ferrari in Edgar Westbury, not for the sporting nature of his designs, far from it, but in the belief that it only counted if you made it yourself. He conveniently did not mention that others built most of his engines, but that also the Atom Minor in Bowden’s ‘Jildi Junior’ was tuned by two-stroke guru; Andrew Rankine. If you have enough Euros you can buy a tethered car from Mr Picco that is guaranteed to exceed 330kph, and so it is in most other areas of model competition. Money is only the half of it though, because it is the skill and knowledge in setting up that brings the results. For some though, that is not the way to go, although like F1, when it comes to motors, then usually it is out with the chequebook for a commercially produced unit.
A quick headcount shows more than 30 people over the last 5 decades that have forsaken the commercial approach and around two dozen who have made the choice in order to build flash steam hydros from scratch. Given that many of them built several boats and plants in their career, that represent a huge investment in time, especially knowing the amount of development and rebuilding that is required. Olly Monk was one of these committed enthusiasts who found flash steam so fascinating, and we are delighted that he has provided OTW with a super article describing the building and development of a ‘B’ Class steamer, which now holds a place in the record books for all time.
Conscious of the ever-increasing costs of engines for tethered cars, the Swedish Union have proposed a new class that is restricted to OPS 29 engines only. Not only does this stop the spiralling costs of competing, it also could provide an outlet and market for dozens of cars that have had to be abandoned as uncompetitive, although that is a relative term. Many other sports have taken this route, and the key is the restriction to cheap, easily available equipment. Novice classes can work, but not when the standard motor is one of the most expensive available as is currently the case with the 3.5cc class.
The ‘Pitboxes’ this month are revisiting recent territory. The article on Bill Everitt’s ‘Melody’ included a photograph of him with his later ‘A’ Class boat ‘Swinging’. It is 47 years on from the time the photo was taken, but happily the boat has survived and Terry Everitt very kindly retrieved it from his loft for us to feature on the site. Only one thing could follow a ‘Half Pint’, and that is a complete ‘Pint’. Unfortunately, the only original Wreford part of this car is the body, but it is an interesting example of a home built car using proprietary components, which might just have a secret to reveal. After the very rare Pioneers, the engine is an equally rare item from 1946, and following the OTW principles is, to quote an advert for it, ‘Specially designed for speedboats & racing cars’.
On a sort of pitbox theme is the news of 3 more M&E cars that have surfaced, making around 30 in all that we know of. One is the earliest complete car so far discovered, a Special with chassis number 1037 that changed hands for the equivalent of £2,850, phew! The other two include a Challenger bodied version, being the 4th of these discovered and a chassis that is believed to have belonged to Modella of Bradford, manufacturers of the Owat that is illustrated in the cars in the M&E catalogue.
As part of the ongoing research into recent flash steam activity, OTW would like to contact any relatives of the late Colin Harmer or the late Keith Norfor, both of whom ran flash steam hydros in the 90s. Any help would be gratefully received.
Department of the 'hard to believe'. After the shock of the motorised Chinese tinplate Miller selling for £4,000, another has just sold at £3,600+. Given that they were selling retail for less than £200, are these real sales, are the vendors getting the money, and who on earth considers that this is an appropriate price to pay, and more to the point, why? Or is that what we are missing? Still, talking of bands and wagons, two more have appeared as a consequence, with starting prices of £3,250 & £3,500 respectively. Perhaps it should be 'department of wishful thinking'?
On a more serious note, and to give this all some perspective, what must be one of the most desirable and unique items appeared on ebay towards the end of March. This was the 5cc ETA powered car built and raced by Joe Riding of Bolton in the 1950s. What made this so special though was that it included 10 of the medals he won during his racing career, and most remarkably, the medal marking his 1/4 mile British record with a Rowell engined car, that stands for all time. Also with the car was a copy of the late Mr Riding's scrap book recording his involvement and racing against the best known names on the British scene at the time. Bearing in mind the history, provenance and unique nature of the medals, it is a sobering thought that the final price was just £1395.
Unlike the updates we get from Ron Chernich on the current state of the weather 'down under', what we have been experiencing for the last three months can be best summed up in one word 'orrible. Any other comment is superfluous, so on to other matters, not connected with snow, rain or gales.
A dilemma that faces both private individuals and those involved in any sort of publishing venture is what to do when an item offered for sale publicly is described wrongly. It might be an error such as seen in recent auctions when the primary reference work used by many is incorrect. Most auction houses cover this in the small print and usually a quiet word will remedy the situation. Sometimes of course it can be a genuine mistake based on lack of knowledge or incorrect information. eBay is a prime example of this and private vendors will often be grateful that people have bothered to provide correct identities and add them to the item description. Where it gets naughty is when the description is complete nonsense or substantially wrong in various details. An auction house will withdraw the item, as even the small print cannot cover this, although they do get involved in differences of opinion, which are not really in our realm. What do we do though, when the attached description of an item is obviously complete rubbish, and clearly intended to deceive? There indeed is the dilemma? Do you try and inform the vendor and give them the chance to do the honourable thing, which can have variable results and can sometimes give a fair idea of their true intentions. Or should one sit back and see some poor soul gets thoroughly taken to the cleaners and reflect that they ‘should have known better’? In the end it comes down to whether the motivation is provenance or profit and OTW definitely comes down on the side of the former. Regularly, OTW and others get asked to provide identities, histories or verify items, usually after the sale it has to be said. The end result can often be distressing as has happened far too frequently recently, with frightening amounts of money being involved. Something over £12,500 has been spent on just 4 items, which is roughly 10 times their realistic value. Just occasionally though, the opposite can be the case as with Lucy Gascoigne’s MG or the 'Pitbox' hydroplane this month, which is most gratifying for all concerned.
Our ‘Pitbox items tend to concentrate on the provenance, not because of potential for increasing value, but because without a name or history, the boat, car or engine is just an object, which seems such a shame. The flash steam hydroplane we are featuring is a case in point. Fascinating and unusual though it was, the owner knew nothing more about it. Happily we were able to date it, provide the name of the builder and some pictures. Result all round. Having had the very rare Pioneer 5 in the ‘Pitbox’ last month, it seems only right to feature the equally rare but significantly more purposeful Pioneer 10, and not just one of them, but a pair! In the late 40s and early 50s, Formula 3, or 500cc racing cars were often referred to as ‘half pints’ but here we have a car that really is a ‘Half Pint’!
After 4 years of publication, just like the loft or garage, it is time for a bit of spring-cleaning and redecoration on the site before the new season of major articles. We have already tidied up the ‘Pitbox’ and ‘Pylon’ archives, which should be more easily accessed. The Hydroplane Racing Homepage is in operation, while numerous articles are being updated with new pictures or layouts. The first of these is the Workbench feature on Bill Everitt’s 30cc Hydroplane ‘Melody’. The story has been brought up to date and the complete article has been added to the hydroplane pages.
It is on the matter of photo's that OTW would like to make special mention of all those who continue to provide photographs for publication and illustrating our pages. In particular our thanks to Jim Free who keeps coming up with timely images for articles as well as a few 'head scratchers' to set us off on new ventures. Phil Abbott has a wonderful set of albums recording hydroplane and straight running activities back to the 1930s and is always very generous in allowing us to root through the pages. It is very seldom that a question posed to Peter Hill is not immediately answered along with a photo or reference from his extensive archives to back it up. Terry Everitt has recently allowed us access to his entire photographic archive, with hundreds of previously unseen images that kept us busy at the scanners all over Christmas. Thanks to all of you for your contributions and continued help, information and leads. The latest input of photos from Jim included several of the late John Rose that have been added to the relevant pages.
As a prelude to our occasional series of flash steam articles, it was thought prudent first of all to answer the question ‘what is flash steam’. To this end we present a ramble around the whole topic by way of explaining what it is all about and not a PowerPoint presentation in sight.
Department of the difficult to believe? A replica Oliver that had been on sale for a couple of years was put onto ebay. It promptly sold for about £200 more than it could have been bought for at any stage and for more or less the same price as an absolutely genuine original with its equally rare early Oliver motor. There could be no doubt as to what it was either, as the description of this 90s reproduction was scrupulously correct in every detail. It never pays to underestimate the vagaries of the commercial market!
Empty Spaces: We start off with sad news that George Chapman, whose tethered hydroplane racing career started in the mid 1930s, died on 22nd January at the grand age of 97. It was a pleasure for us to meet up with him last year and talk about his experiences during 25 years of racing. He was the last surviving member of the very innovative group from King's Lynn featured during the Centenary year. Our condolences go to his family and son Trevor, who gave us so much assistance during our research.
It has come as something of a blow to all those involved in the preservations of racing boats, full sized or model, that the National Motor Boat Museum closed its doors in December 2009. The concept of a national museum for vintage boats was proposed back in 1974 and it was thanks to a decision by the Basildon Council in 1982 that such a museum was incorporated into the Wat Tyler Country Park at Pitsea. Opened officially in 1987, the collection of boats, engines, models and memorabilia grew rapidly. Part of the development over the years was to include the boathouses and ‘shop window’ display cases that would be home for a fine collection of tethered hydroplanes and model marine engines. Around 20 years after opening, the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act required the premises to be adapted to include a lift. This meant that the area housing the tethered hydroplanes had to be removed and all the boats put into storage temporarily. All was going to plan with the redevelopment until the Council started to consider alternative uses for the building and all work was stopped. For several months rumours were rife, and finally the news was made public that the building was to become an eco centre and the Powerboat Museum closed. This meant that Julie Graham and her team were tasked with returning all the items in the collection to their owners, a mammoth and difficult undertaking, given the passage of time.
Some of the more famous powerboats may appear in other collections, and there is still a possibility of another museum being set up, but it seems likely that all the tethered hydros will now be dispersed, which is a great shame. It does highlight an ongoing problem though, and that is what is going to happen to the better-known boats and cars in the long term. Pitsea was going to be the destination for even more boats in the future but now many will pass into private hands and may only reappear in the future when they are sold on. Families are still retaining others in the short term but this situation will change with succeeding generations. In the meantime, OTW will continue to record whatever comes to light and be grateful that we were able to visit Pitsea and photograph everything in the tethered hydro collection before the ‘repatriation’.
Happily, there is one collection of boats and engines that have not only been retained by the family, but are run regularly in regattas around the country. Having featured the racing career of John Rose last month we are very pleased to be able to relate how his son Mike, and Grandson Antony, are continuing with ‘The Rose Legacy’.
Pitbox will continue to feature hydroplanes from the Pitsea collection for a while so that there is a permanent record of these boats, and this month we are delighted to add one of George Noble’s last ‘Bulrush’s’. Our engine must have been at the very top of one ‘wish list’ and for a very personal reason too. OTW is happy to report on at least one dream ‘coming true’. Finding two original Oliver cars for sale at the same time is indeed rare, so following on from the Battleaxe powered Tiger 2.5 last month, here is another, but this time a Ferrari with a very different power unit.
Last November we indicated that OTW would be providing a section dedicated to current tethered hydroplane racing that was accessible directly from our Front Page. With no other sites or magazines providing such a service, it is our intention that this will provide relevant information, contacts, results and useful links for the tethered hydroplane community. The Tethered Hydroplane Racing Home Page is launched this month and can be viewed directly from the Racing link from now on. As well as linking existing articles, we are particularly pleased to be able to add a very detailed account from Roger James on building and developing a Gold medal winning A3 hydroplane of the very highest quality.
Welcome to a new decade. Where on earth did that last ten years go? Mind you, that Dome thing would have made a superb car track. First of all we wish everyone a healthy and successful year in whatever they take on, and if that should include an article, photo or item for OTW then it would be most welcome.
Newsflash: We start with some unfortunate news concerning the Powerboat Museum at Pitsea. It has been decided that the building is going to be used for an entirely different purpose and so the Museum closed for good on 4th Dec. All items are currently being 'repatriated' as their website describes it. More on this topic next month.
Tethered cars and hydroplanes have one very significant difference (apart from the obvious of course) and that is the question of noise. Cars have run un-silenced since their inception and continue to do so, even with the arrival of the tuned pipe. A 10cc tethered car can go beyond the threshold of hearing quite easily, as anyone who has stood by the fence at a track will admit. The indoor venues must have been mind blowing, especially in the days before ear defenders! Speed planes also have the luxury of operating sans silencers, an opportunity that has not been available with hydroplanes for 70 years or more. The fact that most lakes were in public spaces or built up areas meant that byelaws were introduced requiring silencers to be fitted to boats. This did not go down well in every case and eventually the MPBA stated that boats would not be allowed to run without silencers and produced a specification to work to. Since then ever stricter noise limits have been imposed that have been adopted by NAVIGA. Noise is subjective and accurate measurement subject to all sorts of external influences, yet it continues to cause major problems at championship meetings, dictating the final results on many occasions. Waterscrew boats are always close to the borderline while the airscrew classes have largely not bothered until the last couple of years with the majority of runs being discounted. It is not a problem that will go away, and for petrol heads of any scale it can be the noise that has an attraction of its own. The most amazing engine note ever experienced by OTW though, has a very close tethered hydroplane connection, and that was…..well, read this month’s lead article ‘The West Country Wizard’.
Another marked difference was the availability of commercial equipment for those that wanted to get involved. From the end of the Second War until the effective end of racing, there were untold numbers of companies offering everything that could possible be needed to compete at the highest level with a car, yet in the hydroplane world there was almost nothing available, a situation that still exists. True there were 6 or 7 hull kits on the market, but apart from the 1066 (if it existed) and the Keil Kraft version, most were fun items, such as the ED featured in the hydro ‘Pitbox’ this month. The engine this month is homebuilt, but something of a rarity as it is an EM 30 design by W. Cooper, published in English Mechanics magazine back in 1938. For the car we have a genuine and original Oliver ‘Tiger’ but with a much rarer, pre Tiger, twinshaft.
A regular feature most months, is Mark Mansell's report on activities in Sydney. By coincidence the meetings at his home track are usually on the last weekend of the month giving him very little time to get the words and pictures to us before publication date. Happily, Mark puts this task before eating and sleeping on a Sunday evening and we thank him for his support throughout the year.