Monday, August 6, 2018

HYDROS: Skimming over Long, Forgotten Raceboat Museum Memories...

Past Unlimited Hydroplane racing legends Dean Chenoweth and Bill Muncey pictured in Acapulco, 1981. (Image source:
As it's time once again to Hear the Whoosh of those unbelievable Turbine powered Thunderboats! Like Didn't Y'all Hear 'em from the Shores 'O Lake Washington;'Chir-Chirp?

Author's Note
In lieu of currently unpacking a Moving Van somewheres' Northwards, with thou No Fenders Office certainly being Ah-Shambles, Mateys! As watch out for those Seafair Pirates R-R-R'

Not to mention presumably still Off the Grid. I'm rolling out the ; Err.. Uhm, this vintage story that's sat in Dry-dock on thou Isle 'O Nofendersville for over a Decade now. Enjoy...

Prior to leaving for Sasebo, Japan some ten-plus years ago, I told my "Pops" Tomas, Sr. that I knew exactly what I wanted for my birthday. I wanted to go to the Hydroplane museum.

Having known about the museum for years since it's being located in South Seattle, I'd never managed to make it there, but had always wanted to go.

Growing up in Seattle during the early 1970’s, the deafening roar of the piston powered thunderboats were unmistakable. As these Unlimited hydroplanes were truly mesmerizing as they reportedly skimmed the waters of Lake Washington at over 170mph while throwing mammoth roostertails behind them Skywards!

And although Seattle International Raceway (SIR) was in operation, the trek to far-away Kent, WA was seldom made. Sure SIR had 64 Funny Cars & The FoXX Hunt, but for me the hydros were truly "the boys of summer.

And as I've scribbled over thou years here upon No Fenders, as a 'Wee lad, I remember pulling a wooden hydro behind my bicycle which never seemed to work very good on our cobblestone street.

As later on while growing up, I was even allowed the privilege of watching the Seafair race on TV while my brothers had to do yard work.

And when the Goodyear blimp arrived at Sand Point, you knew it was Hydro-Time” Along with the Blue Angels arrival, although for Mwah, the hydros were always the “star” attraction of summer.

Museum Visit
The Hydroplane & Powerboat Museum sits nestled in Kent's valley, located in an industrial park complex east of the S. 188th Street exit off Interstate 5. (I-5) Nearing the museum on a Saturday Wayback in November, 2004, I really didn’t know what to expect or how many hydroplanes would they have?

Pulling into the parking lot, an Unlimited Hydroplane perched on its trailer jutted out from the side of the building. Walking towards the boat, a man admiring the hydro told me how he’d always wanted to drive one of these” since high school.

This first, non-descript sponsor-less boat was the U-4 Miss Burien. While closer examination revealed a 2nd hydroplane directly behind it.

Of course NO Unlimited Hydroplane could truly be called non-descript. As the Miss Burien simply lacked the financial resources of its more celebrated counterparts.

Parked alongside the Miss Burien on its trailer sat The U-12 Miss Budweiser. Both hydros sported the classic round nose front engine open cockpit design of the early 1960’s.

As I enjoyed being able to look at the details of these wooden monsters up close, finding the fore & aft hull shapes most intriguing.

While A small chequered floor motif area (indoors) houses the gift shop. With a single clothes rack of t-shirts along with a few display cases and donation box serving as the humble entryway to the 10,000 square foot approx. museum.

A small flotilla of hydroplanes awaits curious onlookers. As the warehouse building is divided into two sections, i.e.; Museum and Restoration Shop.

Behind the gift shop a display case holds a nice model of The Pride of Pay ‘N Pak, the first successful turbine powered hydroplane.

Against the far wall the Miss Budweiser’s bow juts directly towards us. With the boat’s sponsons proudly displaying the U-1. As this very significant hydroplane was the first Miss Budweiser to win both the Gold Cup & National High Points Championship for Bernie Little after seven years of trying...

Directly opposite the Miss Bud', a wall of assorted photographs are visible behind the famous Miss Bardahl.

As the metallic green “Dragon-boat” sits prominently tilted on its trailer. And the mighty Rolls Royce Merlin engine smoke stack exhaust covers proudly proclaim “Dragon Power!

Alongside the Miss Bardahl is without doubt one of my 2 All-time favourite Miss Budweiser’s! Tilted majestically on its trailer sits the all conquering Bud from the early 1980’s. Being the mighty Rolls Royce Griffon powered Pickle-fork Cabover boat, the 2nd of 3 Hulls produced.

This Ron Jones, Sr. designed boat was one of the two most successful hulls ever campaigned in Unlimited Hydroplane History! As this Juggernaut (trio) of Griffon powered Hydro's won three championships (1980-81, and 1984) 24 Races and a record 20 consecutive Heats!

A small open area with photo display on stand leads to other hydros. Sitting vertically on its stand looms the Slo Mo Shun V. Arguably the most famous hydroplane to ever come out of Seattle. As it’s wonderful to see the boat meticulously restored!

Slo Mo V electrified the shores of Lake Washington's crowds with its famous flying starts underneath the old HWY-520 Floating Bridge. Whilst dubiously, the boat also performed the first barrel roll (1953) prior to Tex Johnson's mesmerizing, and unexpected Barrel-roll of Boeing's first ever jet powered commercial Aeroplane!

As I've subsequently scribbled 'bout the Driver of that Slo Mo Shun V Hydroplane, Lou Fageol and his Indianapolis Motor Speedway connections in;

It’s ground breaking predecessor was the 2-seater Slo Mo Shun IV. This was the first hydroplane from Seattle to upset the apple cart, stunning the racing world on its debut in 1950. Before the streamlined futuristic Slo Mo V’s dynasty cast a stranglehold over unlimited racing by shifting the vaunted Detroit dominance of the sport to Seattle for five years.

While admiring the Slo Mo Shun V and having the museum entirely to ourselves, an older gentleman approached us. He seemed to serve as the museum’s caretaker?

Who shortly engaged us in conversation. Before my Dad & Ron began waxing nostalgic over the mighty Slo Mo hydroplanes. And after Tomas, Sr. recanted how the Slo Mo IV stunned Detroit by capturing the 1950 Gold cup - Ron replied how the 2nd driver had needed to plant his foot atop Ted Jones to win the race.
As Ted Jones was scared “shitless” by that boat, according to Ron!

They babbled on about how you needed to bother the staff at the MO-HI (Museum of History & Industry) for a possible chance to glimpse the Slo Mo IV. (Although Larry has just informed me that the MO-HI’s property has been sold when I originally wrote this Wayback in '04)

Ron followed us as we stopped to view the photo display where the two continued to name names of past boats & drivers. As it was amazing hearing my Pops' divulge more information about Hydroplanes than I'd ever heard him say before. Most interesting being his waxing on 'bout having worked at the Machine Shop that produced the Quil Shafts for the Slo Mo' Hulls.

 Standing near The Bud, I asked Ron if that was the Griffon powered boat driven by Jim Kropfeld? Ron replied yes but it’s missing its engine. Grinning Ron said it had a little problem at this year's hydroplane classic's race on Lake Washington. It threw its prop!

Actually the notorious problem of running the Griffon had reared its ugly head. Upon leaving the pits the quill shaft had sheared. This spun the over-revving “lump' to 6,000 RPM’s before Detonating a piston and snapping the Prop Shaft!

Ron said that the divers found the prop in fewer than 20 minutes. While Ron mentioned that he thought there was enough left of the destroyed Griffon to turn it into a museum piece…

Examining the empty engine bay, Ron commented how the Griffon boats were Widow-makers', when The 1st hull was destroyed trying to set the mile record in 1979. And this boat (hull #2) had tragically claimed the life of the legendary Dean Chenoweth at Tri-Cities in 1982.

I asked Ron if the story about Bernie Little holding a monopoly on available Griffon powerplants was true. Ron claimed that Bill Muncey had actually purchased Griffons to campaign. (prior to his death at Acapulco in 1981)

The late Dan Wheldon stands alongside his Bryan Herta Autosports IndyCar at the 2011 Indy 500, which he'd win on the final lap! (the Tomaso Collection)
Muncey v Wheldon...
Fast forwarding seven years, ironically but sadly, I'd just finished putting to bed my story commemorating the 30th Anniversary of Bill Muncey's Death in Acapulco at the helm of his dreaded "Blue Blaster!" Which I posted just two days after the senseless Death of 'Ol Dannyboy SPIKE' Wheldon at the 2011 Las Vegas IndyCar World Finals. Having already procured my Aeroplane ticket to The Valley of The Sun for some much needed R 'N R.

While Y'all can check out this great Speed Freaks interview with the late Dan Wheldon from 2011, just weeks after winning his second Indy 500 when he was doing guest commentary work for Versus...

To continue reading, see; HYDROS: Long Forgotten Raceboat Museum Visit Thunders On

(Dan Wheldon photo c/o No Fenders ‘Offical Photographer CARPETS')