These days we all hear stories about how social media and the Internet can bring people together and help us to learn and share information about every subject under the sun. This is one of those stories. Here at Woody Boater, almost every day (if we remember) we try to post photos of classic boats on our Facebook page, to simply help spread the word to our ever-increasing group of Facebook friends (now over 6,500) – and it’s always fun (and often surprising) to see the responses. Many of those people then come over to the Woody Boater website to join the fun.
Back in mid-December we posted a photo of “Miss America IX” on our Facebook page, that we shot during the ACBS International in 2011. Within hours of posting the photo, we received a comment from our Facebook friend Austin Gunning in Bangor, Northern Ireland. He said – “Here is a photo you may like to use, it’s from the cover of an original June 1937 Science and Mechanics magazine that I found a few years ago in our family house, my dad had a few magazines from from that time.”
Then, via Facebook, I asked Austin if he could send us a copy of the original magazine interview with Gar Wood. I gave Austin my e-mail address and a few days later a scanned copy of the article arrived. Thinking this would be a fun story to share with our viewers, I enlarged the original photos and copied the text to make it easier to read. It’s cool to see what folks were reading about almost 77 years ago – courtesy of Austin Gunning & Science and Mechanics magazine. – Texx
The ace of motor boat drivers tells of that moment in a long and exciting life out of which he got the biggest kick.
Gar Wood’s name has been synonymous with speed on the water ever since motorboat racing took its place among popular and dangerous sport. The Editors of SCIENCE AND MECHANICS felt that in his long career there must have been one moment that stands out in his memory above all others. They put the question directly to him. He answered it just as directly. Here is the answer! – Science and Mechanics magazine.
WHEN I was asked what was the greatest thrill I ever experienced during my racing career, it didn’t take me long to recall the time when, in 1920, I won my first Harmsworth trophy race in England. This race was the one which gave me the outstanding thrill of my racing career, for I won new honors for America and brought the famous trophy back to our shores.
Beating the English ace at that time was a sensational accomplishment and meant personal triumph for me and glory for the United States. This race, by the way, cost me about $150,000. Since that time I have spent more than $1,000,000 winning and defending the trophy. This Harmsworth trophy now reposes in the Yacht Club at Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan.
The Harmsworth trophy is a simple bit bronze on which two ancient motor boats are shown plunging in a heavy sea. Millions of dollars have been spent on it in competition. Its donor was the late Lord Northcliffe. The races staged in its name on the Detroit River have been known to cost $45,000 a minute.
But a champion can never rest on past laurels. England came back in1921 with a challenge for another race. This race however was run in America, and it is needless to say that I successfully defended the trophy. Orlin Johnson rode with me during this race. He has been my personal mechanic ever since and rides with me in all my races.
From a record standpoint, the most important historical event was on September 20, 1932, when I drove Miss America X on the St. Clair River, at Algonac, Michigan and attained a new world speed record of 124.915 miles per hour on a straightaway course – more than two miles a minute – beating Kaye Don’s record by 5.10 miles per hour. This record still stands. Don drove Miss England III 119.81 miles per hour on Loch Lomond, Scotland, July 18 of the same year.
The history of speedboat records is shown in the accompanying table. In establishing the worlds speed record with Miss America X in 1932, I used four motors. Each motor had 1,600 horse power, which together made a total of 6,400 horse power.
While I am not superstitious, I always carry twin rag teddy bears, one christened “Teddy” and the other “Bruin.” Before I start any race I make certain that the mascots are fastened securely to the steering column. During one race, while they were attached to the transom, I noticed they were working loose from the boat. Instinctively I slowed down so the wind would not carry my “goodluck pieces” away. I lost some time, but the records show that I went on to win the race. You can call that luck if you care to.
I know that the public oftentimes has premonitions that some accident will occur in races of this kind. Most of the people enjoy a motor boat race simply as a sport. But it is safe to say many watch it in anticipation of an accident.
In 1928 Orlin Johnson, my mechanic, was severely injured while we were trying out Miss America VI and traveling at better than 100 miles per hour. The boat suddenly cracked to pieces. The hull was too light to take the strain. Orlin Johnson was carried to the hospital with a badly lacerated face, his jaws broken and body considerably bruised. His injuries resulted when he was thrown against the motors. The only thing that saved me from serious injury was the fact that I had grasped the steering wheel tightly. This gives some idea of what might happen when one is fond of high speed traveling on the water.
While I take pride in being the nine-time winner of the internationally famous Harmsworth trophy, I must admit I cherish most the possession of the Carl G. Fisher trophy, of which I am now the proud owner. These races were fiercely contested. To obtain permanent possession of the trophy it was necessary to win three times in succession.
The Harmsworth trophy champions are also shown in an accompanying table (above). A reporter once asked me why I called my racing boats “Miss” America. I thought the best way to answer the question was to say the boat is called a “Miss” because she is hard to handle, and that in brief sums up the task of piloting of racing craft when you are after new world speed records and the costliest prize in sports – the Harmsworth trophy, which I now possess.
Gar Wood – 1937
Austin Gunning’s father was a long time wooden boat enthusiast in Northern Ireland, building a few boats – including this small cruiser in the 1940’s.
He became a race boat enthusiast in the 1970’s, building this race boat in 1971, which they successfully campaigned in 1972/73. Here they are competing in a race in Northern Ireland, Belfast Lough in 1972 (note what looks like a small castle in the back ground).
The power of social media… Early this morning (4:00 AM EST) as I was preparing this story, I wanted to confirm a few details. So via Facebook, I sent Austin a message (knowing it was mid-morning in Northern Ireland) and he returned my message with the information I was looking for within an hour.
Kind of makes you wonder what the Editors of Science and Mechanics magazine would have thought about the Internet back in 1937… Exchanging information and photos in mere minutes, half way around the world. They would probably have thought it would make for a good feature story in the magazine!
Thanks to Austin Gunning for sharing this with us today.