Home     Updates     Pylon Archive                    Page 9     ←Previous     Next→          Contact On The Wire

View from the Pylon

December 2010

In the short life of OTW we have reported on numerous sales, auctions and disposals of individual items and collections large and small. Some have been simply a case of a change of direction or wishing to realise some assets. There are also those where a touch of ‘maritals’ have required this to happen. The vast majority unfortunately, are a result of the demise of the collector or remaining family. Most collections have been built up over a number of years or even a lifetime, with items coming in dribs and drabs, in the past relatively cheaply, but of late, somewhat more expensively. It might come as something of a surprise, just how large some of these collections are. The late Peter Chinn’s family consigned around 550 engines to the recent Gildings auction, and this seems a large number, yet by engine collecting standards, this was a drop in the ocean. OTW is aware of numerous collections that run into thousands of items and two that if combined would just nudge 10,000 motors. Of course, the rarity and desirability determines market values to a certain extent and a large number of engines at one time does depress values, as the sale at Mellors and Kirk amply demonstrated. Drip feeding via eBay is a route taken by some, but at 10 units a week it would take a year to get through 500 motors, and of course if it became evident that a large collection was being sold in this way one can only guess at the effect that might have on values. If supply and demand controls the market, then how on earth could a collection of 4,000 motors be disposed of and maintain the values that would be expected. Again, experience has shown that this is unlikely and one questions if many of the engines that appear at swap meets will ever find buyers? There is always that indefinable moment when something of age actually becomes worth more than was originally paid, and it will be a long while (if ever) before many of these come into that category. The suspicion is that like so many other areas of life at present, supply exceeds demand significantly, making it very much a buyers market, and heavily weighted in their favour to boot.

Certainly, an auction of 670 items in single lots, takes some getting through as we found at the Gildings sale. Unusually, most of the motors were relatively recent mass-market items, new and in original boxes and most sold at what seemed to be realistic prices, but whether these were as ‘users’ or collectibles of the future remains to be seen. Some of the more exotic OS multis failed to generate sufficient interest and remained unsold. Lots that did get the juices flowing included a boxed OPS B20 twin, which realised a staggering £1600. A very desirable Theobold/Wizniewski 2.5cc racing motor with provenance was a more modest £500, and one of Paul Bugle’s exquisite 2.5cc team race motors seemed about right at £680. There were some bargains as a NIB OPS sold for £35 and was last seen heading for £200 on ebay a week later! Talking of ebay, a 1066 MRC body for £232 raised a few eyebrows, but this was nothing compared with the E & M Maserati that topped out at an amazing £2,666.

You might consider that OTW is unreasonably fixated on the commercial aspects of our hobby, yet this can be the only time that historic or interesting items emerge from whence they have been hiding for how ever many years. They will then be on view or available for a few weeks, or days if on ebay, before vanishing again, so representing our only chance to record them. Some like the ‘famous OPS and Rossi beating flash steamer’ from Victoria keep cropping up, unfortunately not for the right reasons though. A case in point is the first of our ‘Pitbox’ items, which appeared on ebay, not knowing that it existed and might well disappear equally quickly. This is one of Bobby Grenier’s hydroplanes, which in itself is interesting enough, but included in the sale were replica trophies won at St Albans and other regattas 56 years ago. This type of memorabilia seldom comes to light.

From last month’ as yet unidentified ‘Coxheads Flyer’ we move on to another car with a name, but this time one that has a complete provenance and featured regularly in Model Cars and Model Car News. Bob Dixon’s ‘Sparky’ is also one of the oddest cars were have featured and we thank Geoff Sheppard for sharing this quirky little car with us and supplying the text and photo. The engine we have this month is significantly older, going back to the late 1920s or early 30s and is another example of the Grayson, Gamage, Sharpe, Bonds clone that featured so regularly in hydros of the period, and happily, we know where this one was used.

This month we conclude the story of the Eaton Bray Sportsdrome and where it all went so wrong. The final part of the article also looks at the life of D.A. Russell following the failure of this venture.

OTW sends its heartfelt condolences to Peter Hill and his family over their recent sad loss.  Peter would like to pass on his thanks to everyone who sent cards and messages of sympathy.

November 2010

What’s in a name? Last Month we featured Howard Luscombe’s 10cc car ‘Coxheads Flyer’. The car was unusual in being almost entirely home built and having a very prominent name. It was thought that this might aid identification somewhat, but as of yet, we have been unable to find any reference to it. Inevitably this led to a degree of speculation about the name. Was it a Mr Cox, or Coxhead? Did he live in a place or house called Coxhead, or maybe it was a local track. Lots of possibilities, but no conclusions. This in turn brought to mind the whole questions of names for cars and boats. Full sized racing cars were frequently given names not relating to a manufacturer, such as ‘Babs’, ‘Bloody Mary’ or the marvellous ‘Freikaiserwagen’. In the States, the use of sponsor’s names became prevalent much earlier on, so completely losing the origins of the cars. This was carried over into boats becoming in the end, vaguely ridiculous with such gems as ‘Oh Boy Oberto’ (beef jerky), to give it its full name. In the model world, tethered cars rarely had names, and even more seldom did they have them painted on, such as the ‘Coxheads Flyer’. Jack Morgan’s Fox and Vixen, Wainwright’s ‘Black Magic’, ‘Mercury’, ‘Topsy’, ‘Red Arrow’ were well known and recognisable, but not by a name on their bodywork. Hydroplane owners were far less reserved and virtually every boat had a name that would feature prominently, right from the earliest days of racing. The derivations can be almost as interesting as the boats themselves, such as the naming of George Noble’s ‘Bulrush’ series. Others have family connections like Groves’ ‘Irenes’, Bob Thomas’ ‘Enid’ and Jimmy Jones’ ‘Wee Gareth’. Edgar Westbury’s ‘Golly’ and Joe Jepson’s ‘Darky’ would probably raise eyebrows in the current climate and what would be made of ‘Suna’ and ‘Llarregub’ can only be guessed at. If you can work these out, then Les Pinder's Rednip boats and cars should pose no problem. The wry and humorous are never far away, with the IFIT series, Miss Fire, Misshap, Mrs Frequently, Icanopit and many more. Where it gets a bit confusing is when the same name is used for a series of boats, without any further addition. How many ‘Wizards of Oz’ did Arthur Weaver build?  Sadly, naming started to die out in the 60s with disposable boats, and now there are just a handful that can be identified in such a way ‘Jaffa’, ‘Pisces’, ‘Passing Wind’, ‘Orthon’, ‘Hellcat’ etc. There must still be a greater degree of attachment to a boat that bears a name though?

Happily, a name painted down the side of a hull makes life easy if a photo or boat turns up, and such was the case with our first ‘Pitbox’ item this month. Keith Bragg spotted an unusual Challenger type hull with the name ‘Rodney’ and a KM (Kingsmere) registration number. This was a very significant find, as ‘Rodney’ was the ‘sister’ boat to ‘Lady Babs’, George Stone’s twin hulled boat that put the cat well and truly amongst the pigeons in 1949, and changed tethered hydroplane racing for ever. Norman Lara supplied this month’s engine, which has a direct family connection. Happily, he also supplied a bag of bits, which contained most of the missing parts. The car is clearly identifiable as we featured the original MCM Austin a long while ago, but while following the plan, this one has been built in a different way.

The first part of the ‘Eaton Bray’ trilogy last month saw how the Sportsdrome came into being. In the second of the articles we cover the period from the official opening in April 1946 to Eaton Bray becoming the prime location for tethered car racing and aeromodelling in the UK, as well as Russell’s influence and commercial involvement with both.

In order to free up the Workbench page, the articles recording the restoration of Bill Everitt's two 'A' Class hydroplanes have now been combined onto a single, permanent page. Following the restoration and successful running of the late Norman Dixon's 'Fast Cat' and the reappearance of his smaller 'Qwik Kit', the Dixon page has been updated with the new material. 

Unfortunately, the hydroplane season has ended with something of a whimper. In the course of one week, the strong northerly winds went round to the south and became gale force. Tom Clement describes the lake at Hull as being 4 times rougher than Kingsbury, so they helped pack away all the equipment for the winter and retired to the café. It has been an unfortunate year for our most northerly venue, and the enthusiastic group working hard to keep it operating. Lack of water and then rough weather has left them with just one regatta during the season, which is a great pity. The story was repeated with an easterly wind at Althorne a week later, bringing the season to a close without an engine running in anger. Ironically, the following Sunday would have been the most perfect day for running boats. Water problems and strong winds have been a problem throughout the year and records show that it has been a long while since so many regattas have been lost in one season. 

October 2010

A slightly self-indulgent ‘Pylon’ this month as it marks five years of publication of OTW. What started with occasional updates as material became available moved to monthly publication four years ago. Happily, the articles, leads, information and help keep coming, which allows us to put out a new issue every month. To everyone that contributes in whatever capacity, a heartfelt thanks. We are especially grateful to Peter Hill, as he continues to be the inspiration for much of what appears and is unfailing in his generosity with help, information, references and access to his archives. With just five years under our belts, we are but beginners compared with his 30 years of articles and reports in Model Boats and fifteen years of publishing the Retro Club magazine, but we hope in some small way we can continue to keep the information flowing. If some of the items we promised have not appeared as ‘advertised’ it is because our policy is to always publish what is submitted or put our way by contributors as soon as possible. This will often be at the expense of our own material, but that will usually keep. We have also come to realise that research can result in reams of material in some cases and a total dearth in others. A case in point is the occasional flash steam articles. Making contact and gathering the material has proved a lot longer process than anticipated and the scale of the undertaking has grown immensely as more information has come to light.

However, this was as nothing compared to the project that we are bringing to fruition with this issue, which is as long lived as the website. The Retro Club Magazine made several references to Eaton Bray and the tethered car racing that took place there, with Keith Bragg making a visit a few years ago to find out what was still in existence. This was intriguing and it became a very personal quest to discover more about Eaton Bray and the driving force behind it, Douglas Russell. Just about every aspect of research and investigation imaginable was involved including the acquisition of a huge volume of material that was not always as authoritative or accurate as it should have been. It was also a great privilege to make contact with several members of the Russell family and in one of those coincidences that defy belief, meeting his granddaughter by pure accident. That was worthy of a story on its own and is an example of some of the wonderful people we have met during the life of OTW.

Such has been the degree of help and quantity of material that has been generated regarding Russell and Eaton Bray that we are presenting the article as a major feature in three monthly parts. The first part covers the early life of D.A. Russell, his involvement with Aeromodeller, and the opening of the Eaton Bray Model Sportsdrome.

Just when we thought that we were exhausting the supply of Pitbox items, three quite exquisite pieces have come to our attention. Each illustrates what amazing items that are still out there as well as very contrasting levels of knowledge about what is being discovered. The engine is a masterpiece from Dickie Phillips and was fully described and photographed nearly 70 years ago, yet we had no idea that it had survived. It was a chance discussion at Althorne one day that revealed that it was still in existence. The car is a superb piece of individual craftsmanship on all levels that has been in a loft for many years, yet we can find no references to it, which is strange as unusually for a car, it has a name. The hydro is that ultimate of gems, a complete and original boat in superb condition, with an almost continuous history. Happily, there are more of these gems to follow in the coming months.

More good news from Australia as Mark has informed us that they are in the process of recommissioning their hydro lake. We wish them luck with this venture and hope that we will soon be able to add some water borne activities to Mark's very informative and detailed reports. Thanks to Mark and Guy Martin for alerting us to a link  to the New York Times that has expanded their articles on tethered and rail car racing and includes further links to articles and film clips featuring racing in the States.

September 2010

Much of our time is taken up with trawling through books and back issues of magazines, either looking for specific information or trying to identify a car boat or engine that has come to our attention. No matter how many times we go through this process, there is always something new that becomes evident and gets tucked away in a corner of the brain for future reference. Our resources are very limited compared with what Peter Hill has access to, and he also has an uncanny ability to retrieve facts and remember references at the drop of a hat. We normally have to do it the hard way and go back through everything again. Updating the site earlier in the year with details about the situation at the various lakes we were reminded of a list of venues available for tethered hydroplane racing that was published in Model Engineer many years ago. Digging out the 55 year old page revealed that there were no less than 30 venues that ran events regularly and 8 more that had facilities for running tethered boats. This did not take into account the private ponds and lakes where individuals and small groups ran their boats. Britain is not short of water, but in most cases, it is the depth that prevents a pole being erected, so making it unsuitable. Mooring a boat with a pole in it now might not be such a good idea, but it is surprising what lengths some will go to. Eaton Park in Norwich was used by the King’s Lynn group prior to the second war and it is a lovely setting, but the powers that be decided that it was not acceptable to put a pole in the pond. Being crafty, the four of them overcame this by rigging up a line across the width of the pond with the running line attached in the middle. OK at the speeds of the day, but still not acceptable to the Parks Department. What they really meant was ‘we don’t want you running your boats on our pond, but can’t stop you within the current regulations’. So faced with this situation, the King’s Lynn Club went ‘private’ and used a pond on a farm at Watlington where they ran their regattas for several years. But what became of these 38 other venues? All of them are still there; some still have the pole, but just two host hydroplane events. Times change, but the search for suitable water goes on, and thanks to all those who are actively seeking out these venues.

Someone else who did not let the lack of an established club or water in his location stop his involvement with tethered hydroplanes was Stan Clifford. The second part of our tribute to Stan takes in the two-stroke years and the remarkable boats he built during this period, including our all time favourite, ‘Polyester’.

The Pitboxes this month are an all ‘mystery’ feature. The car we are showing seems home built, yet someone has taken a great deal of time and effort on its construction. Failing any positive ID so far, it would also seem that the motor is home constructed as well. The engine is equally obscure having been found on eBay and almost given away. What makes this interesting is the use of multiple inlet ports. When the hydro we are featuring this month was first discovered, it was thought that it might be an example of the elusive 1066, but a bit of research revealed it as another Keil Kraft product to sit alongside their Challenger.

After the relative calm of July with just one event, August has no less than five, including the 2-day International at St Albans and the European Championships in Bulgaria. David Giles’ account of breaking the British 3.5cc record in Hannover has now been added to his other articles on car development to bring the story right up to date.  After putting in the launching platform at Althorne, it was all hands in the water to remove it again as the level had dropped so much. This gave an opportunity for a day of testing and some unfortunate 'mechanical mayhem'. The water at Kingsbury the following weekend was perfect for high speeds, yet most of the engines had different ideas, with many committing metal munching 'hari kiri'. It was very much a case of what 'might have been'.

Commercial corner. A substantial collection of tethered cars and related spares and items has recently been offered via ebay, with varying results. Some items have sold very cheaply, some at about what was expected, and some have run away. A complete and pristine M&E Special we featured in Pitbox in Feb 07 topped out at £2350, but it did have all its original paperwork and packaging. The lovely scale MG  we featured in Jul 09 also sold for an impressive £1850. Most of the items are headed overseas though, as the weakness of the pound makes these cars and associated items very attractive. It is amazing though, looking through some of the purchasers feedbacks, just how much is being invested by individuals. We are talking 100s of thousands of dollars in some cases, and at top market values as well. Some remarkable breaking news is that two well known vintage hydros have been offered for sale in the last few days and we will bring details of these in due course.

August 2010

Phew, something of a bumper edition last month with regattas coming thick and fast after the slow start to the season. July was a bit quieter, which gives us a chance to reflect on other matters that have come to our attention.

The Norman Owst hydroplane from the Pitsea collection that we featured in Pitbox a while ago has now changed hands, and the new owner posed an interesting and thorny question. ‘How much restoration should I do on it’? In the case of this particular boat, the short answer would be very little, as it is sound, complete, and could be run with minor attention to the ignition wiring. With other cars and boats it can be more difficult, and the sad fact is that whatever is done will in some way undo part of the history. It is here that there is a major divergence of opinion that covers just about every extreme and position in between. Often the experts on the Antiques Roadshow will hold their heads in exasperation at an item that has been cleaned, polished or renovated, yet turn up at a vintage car or motor cycle rally with a vehicle that has not been restored to within an inch of its life and you will get nowhere. There was a crude suggestion that if it is yours, then you can do more or less what you like with it, but surely we share a greater responsibility? There have been some right old ‘ding dongs’ in specialist magazines over the rights and wrongs of excessive restoration, and inevitably, the effect this can have on values. It also brings into play the vexed question of replicas, reproductions and rebuilds, and what a minefield that can be. A modern replica using only newly made parts can never be more than that, yet could cost considerably more than a useable original, but might still be a lot cheaper than rebuilding a ‘wreck’ into a similar state. It’s a bit like hookey Rolex watches though. You know that it is not real, but are you hoping that no one else does? In our own small world, it is not quite such a problem. With a car, it is easy to recognise what is commercial and what is home produced, while most boats are by their nature almost entirely home built and in that respect will be unique. Hopefully decisions about restoration will be based on what is required, not what is desired. Having spent too many hours gluing delaminated ply back together rather than put in new, you can probably guess where we stand on this.

These considerations were well to the fore during the process of preparing this month’s article. It is surviving artefacts or material that usually set us of on a project, but for once it was something that no longer exists, and that was ‘Polyester’, the late Stan Clifford’s lovely tethered hydroplane. This remarkable boat was the catalyst for what has turned out to be a long and rewarding period of research into the life and long racing career of Stan Clifford. The result turned out to be a sizeable article that we are presenting in two parts. In the first, we trace Stan from a budding model engineer just after the turn of the last century, through to being the outright British Record holder.

The incredible contribution that the late Phil Smith made to modelling in general is well recorded in many magazines and websites, but what is not so generally known is that he was responsible for the design of a tethered car, the Alton Special, which we feature as the first of out Pitbox offerings. We also seem to be entering a season of ‘mystery’ engines with numerous examples having come to light over the last few months. The superbly engineered twin shaft diesel was obviously built to compete with the Oliver Tiger, but by whom we do not have a clue as yet. Normally we only feature items that have been discovered recently, but the hydro this month has sadly become another firewood statistic. It was powered by a motor we featured recently though, which is why it is included in Pitbox.

The first of the month is not just publication day for OTW (usually) but also brings the eagerly awaited update from Ron Chernich of his superb Model Engine News website. Finding out why the monthly issue was delayed stopped everyone in their tracks, and we pass on our very best wishes to him. All is explained in his July editorial, which also provides a link to an excellent appreciation of the life and work of Ted Martin put together by Adrian Duncan and Jim Woodside. We also pass on our very best wishes for the future and appreciation for all his past efforts to our chief 'sniffer out of undiscovered treasures', Gary Maslin. Gary has been suffering somewhat recently and has had to curtail many of his building and restoration projects, but hope he still has the 'nose' for unearthing some more 'gems'.

Somehow, August has also ended up as another 'bumper edition' and we thank everyone who has contributed articles, photos and information to enable us to put it all together.

July 2010

We live in a remarkable age of technical and scientific advance. Who would have thought that Captain Kirk’s ‘communicator’ would become a reality and a way of life (or nuisance) within 40 years? Even more remarkable is the ZX81s and BBCs that were the cutting edge of technology before being consigned to the skip as they were swiftly superseded, are worth more now than we paid for them at the time. With our quad core processors and terabyte hard drives, what possible relevance could a Commodore 64 have nowadays? Well, it is down to history and nostalgia and how we got to where we are. OTW unashamedly wallows in these aspects; after all, it is why we exist; yet to someone who does not share the love of the past, it is difficult to explain. Nostalgia can be very big business, just try and buy a Ferrari 250 and see how little change you get out of several millions. Any event featuring old anythings will have the public flocking in for their ‘bit of the past’, and anyone who was canny enough to snap up a few tethered cars or engines when they were virtually being given away will now be sitting on a very handsome profit. But is that what it is about? Well, human nature being what it is, that will be the driving force for many, yet up and down the country, countless thousands of individuals and groups are devoting huge amounts of time and money to preserving, restoring and displaying objects and material from days gone by. Often enthusiasm on its own is not enough as the scale of the venture, cost and lack of facilities can lead to collections being broken up, items destroyed or left to rot. The TV series on museums shown a few weeks ago provides an interesting insight into these aspects, and our own experience of Pitsea is a prime example of what can happen. At least a tethered car or hydro is portable and should avoid the fate that some full sized aircraft have met recently when museums have closed.

In our own sphere one can only speculate as to whether MB 10s or PICCO EXRs will be changing hands for £20,000 in 2050 or the ‘inter-thought net’ equivalent of OTW will be sending out stories about tethered car and hydroplane racing back at the ‘turn of the century’. What we do know, is that the process will be the same, because we will continue to throw out what is recently past its ‘sell by date’, not thinking that anyone will be interested 40 years hence. Happily this is not always the case as shown by Stan and Steve Poyser and the collection of flash steam motors last month. OTW is eternally grateful to all those who have ‘hung on’ to items for whatever reason, as it keeps us going and makes each months edition possible. July’s ‘feature’ is somewhat different, and was inspired by just one item that was in the process of being thrown out, but happily was brought to our attention before being disposed of for good. ‘How Fast Does It Go Mister?’ takes a look at timing systems from the last 100 years, well 98 to be precise.

Pitbox starts with the last of the boats from the Pitsea collection and a rarity at that, being a commercially produced Drome. ED Challengers are not uncommon, but sightings of the Frog Whippet are rare and the 1066 24" hydro non-existent. Will we ever be able to find either of those? The engine is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship and had several of us scratching our heads as it seemed obvious what it was, but in truth, it wasn’t. Our car, well not ours exactly, serves to illustrate the desirability and value that can be attached to tethered cars. It has no connection at all with the British scene but is included because, as far as we know, it is the most expensive car ever to change hands (unless someone knows differently that is?)

Model Boats has recently published its 60th anniversary edition, which almost completely avoids any mention of tethered hydroplanes. Very little used to be printed before 1985, apart from major championships and the occasional article by Jim King. From then on, and for the next 20 years, thanks to all the hard work of Peter Hill and the other correspondents, tethered hydroplanes and vintage news were very well publicised with a incredible number of detailed and informative articles and reports. With the retirement of John Cundell however, Model Boats seems to be ignoring A/B matters entirely? It does raise another question. How did Model Engineer in the days of hot metal typesetting and block making for pictures manage to get regatta reports published in a week, yet with all the modern technology there is 4 to 5 months lead time with magazines? Happily, OTW uses its technology a little more effectively and Mark Mansell's reports and photos that arrive overnight from Sydney go the DTP route in double quick fashion. Thanks to Mark for keeping us up to date on events in Australia