TODAY IN PART 2.2 OF OUR STORY ON THE HISTORY AND OUTSTANDING RESTORATION OF EVANGELINE – Brian Robinson reflects on her early racing days when the special order 1924 33′ Hacker was owned by Mr. Henry Ford. Then the final Liberty engine installation, water test and successful debut at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance last month. This just keeps getting better! – Texx
Henry Ford’s 1924 33’ Hacker – Part 2 (Chapter 2)
Story & Photos by Brian Robinson
Speaking of hardware, I need to flash back to 1926 for a moment…
Shortly after I wrote Part 1 of this story (in October 2014 Click Here), I came across one of several Ford employee “Reminisces” I had forgotten about on my research trip to The Henry Ford in Dearborn. This was a series of interviews taken in 1951 of friends and employees close to Henry Ford shortly after his death in 1947. One of these interviews of great interest to me was that of Mr. Al Esper, who was a Ford boat mechanic in 1925 and later a senior engineer for Ford Motor Co. In short, Esper recalled running EVANGELINE on the Rouge River in Detroit:
“As I remember, in 1926, [Ray] Dahlinger was driving the boat at the time of the bridge accident. This was after we stopped racing. There is a low bridge over there at Fort Street. Something started to happen—there was a malfunction of some kind with the engine. As I remember Jack Dewar got up to open the hatch on the engine compartment while they were running about 40 miles per hour.
The bow was up in the air because the engine power was on, and this man Dewar evidently forgot about the bridge. He was interested in getting at the engine, and crawled from the cockpit into the engine compartment as they went under the bridge, and he hit his head on the bridge. He was seriously injured. He seems to be in good shape now, but I believe he has a plate in his head.
That did not completely end the speedboats from that time forth; Dahlinger still drove Mr. Ford’s boat, EVANGELINE. I would go over to the boathouse a half-day each week to go over EVANGELINE, which was known as Mr. Henry Ford’s, or Ray Dahlinger’s boat. I would also go a half-day a week over to Edsel Ford’s boathouse to look over his boat, which at the time was the WOODFISH.”
This infamous bridge accident explained with great clarity why EVANGELINE appears in the September 1926 Harmsworth race photo with different hatches, an apparently work-in-progress forward windshield, and an added aft windshield.
To make a long story longer, the amazing 1926 Harmsworth photo is just part of a larger story of that September day in 1926. To paraphrase an excerpt from Speedboat Kings: 25 Years of International Speedboating by J. Lee Barrett (1939):
On the day when the race was scheduled to be run – Saturday, September 4 – the French boat arrived and was put into the water in Detroit. A little group of Americans stood by, watching-Chris Smith, Gar Wood, Henry Ford, Horace Dodge Jr., William E. Metzger, A. A. Schantz, Charles E. Sorensen, Sheldon Clark, Dr. James Inches, W. D. Edenburn, Otto Barthel. These men knew boats.
To them the Excelsior-France was similar to the American speedboats that Chris Smith had built fifteen years before. The water left the hull as it does in a displacement boat. The hull listed to one side as though it were out of balance. It was powered with two 16-cylinder Bugatti engines.
A few minutes before the race, T. A. Clark, pilot of the Excelsior-France, called Edenburn, chairman of the race committee.
“I’m afraid I can’t start,” he said. “All my air bottles are gone.”
“Air bottles?” said Edenburn. “What air bottles?”
“Why, to start my engines. I need compressed air to start my engines and all my bottles were used up in the trials, getting the boat ready.”
Edenburn said, “We’ll postpone the race one hour. Can you get ready in an hour if you get some help?”
Edenburn called Gar Wood on the phone right away, asking him if he could loan the Frenchman a tank of compressed air to get his engines started. Wood said he could.
That was against Harmsworth rules. But Wood waived the rules.
But after the hour postponement, no French boat was on the river. Edenburn called Wood again at Grayhaven. Over 250,000 spectators had crowded to the riverbanks and on countless boats to see the thundering hydroplane France had sent to America to lift the British International Trophy.
Edenburn sent the Committee speedboat [EVANGELINE] over to the French headquarters with instructions to tow the challenger at speed to get the propellers turning fast enough to start the engine. But even under tow the Excelsior-France refused to start.
The heat was canceled. The crowds went home. The French kept working on their boat, trying to get the engines to start.
They jumped into an automobile and scoured the city to find another air tank. They got one and brought it back. But the new tank wouldn’t work. The French coupling did not fit the American tank. Wood’s men went to work fashioning a new coupling but by the time it was finished there wasn’t enough pressure in the tank to transfer the air.
Finally, Wood’s men towed the Excelsior-France around the river until the engines finally started.
Clark desperately kept his engines going until Wood and the race officials got ready. Wood sent his three boats down the stretch (Miss America 3, 4 & 5) across the line with the gun. At that moment the Excelsior-France was roaring up the river-in the opposite direction. Clark swung his boat around finally and headed for the line. He went a half-mile, kangarooing all the way. Then suddenly, he stopped. His engines died.
Wood’s three boats raced on to complete the heat. The race was over-in one heat. Clark sat in the cockpit of his boat enraged at the pile of quiet machinery in his lap.
Before the race, when Wood’s men were working on the French boat, Orlin Johnson and Jay Smith measured her propeller pitch. It was fifty inches. Wood used a thirty-six inch pitch on his boats. Johnson turned to Jay Smith and said, “I don’t see how they can get any speed out of this boat with that much pitch. They can’t turn enough revolutions with that propeller.”
And so the 1926 Harmsworth race did not turn out to be much of a race at all. Though not originally intended to be a full-blown race boat, EVANGELINE did race in the 1929 Harmsworth Regatta in a new class: “The Dick Locke Handicap – Runabout Invitational” with Ray Dahlinger driving where it won against Gar Wood himself in a Liberty-powered 33’ Baby Gar, and the incredible 1,000 horsepower 40’ “Miss Dee-Wite” powered by twin-Liberty V-12s owned by Joseph Lodge, owner of Dee-Wite Lumber & Boat Co.
By May of this year (2015) we had the engine in for the last time (the ninth time) and bolted down with all 28 square head lags. We were closing in on everything including the miles of wiring, plumbing the oil and fuel system, and were ready to fill up the beautiful copper riveted fuel tank with 120 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel and the matching oil tank along side the motor with 15 gallons of 50 weight AeroShell. The 6,000 lb girl was finally loaded on to her 39’ custom trailer.
After a few minor hiccups we started the Liberty in the boat for the first time on June 3rd. A few days later we were ready for a water test at our local lake, majestic Lake Elsinore. Everyone there was too enamored with the boat to notice we exceeded the lake’s length limit by seven feet, not to mention other laws we were probably breaking. The water test was amazingly successful, possibly the best we have ever had.
We officially finished the boat the morning of June 27th, about an hour before around 50 local friends and people that had assisted on different aspects of the project over the years joined us at our workshop see the finished product and hear it run.
EVANGELINE debuted to the masses a few weeks ago at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance where the featured Marque Class was conveniently “Vintage V-12s.” EVANGELINE was one of four original Liberty-powered boats lined up side-by-side, which was a real treat to see, especially when we had all four running on the Friday of the show (not to mention the other 14 incredible V-12 boats in attendance).
EVANGELINE took top honors: 1st Place in class, Marque Class Best of Show, and Overall Best of Show. On Sunday after the show we were able to run her at speed for really the first time. We did a fun photo/video shoot with Texx, Don Ayers, and Glenn Campbell with his incredible drone equipment from Rich Stout’s 38’ express cruiser. We hope to post some of that footage soon.
As I write this, EVANGELINE is put away safely in the barn, awaiting the 2,000-mile journey to Gull Lake, Minnesota for the ACBS International Show this September 25-26. Though I can’t honestly say we are looking forward to the four-day tow, we are looking forward to seeing the area for the first time and expect to see some fantastic boats, boathouses, and good friends.
Special thanks to Tim & Brian Robinson for sharing this great story with us here at Woody Boater – we appreciate everything you do for the hobby.
Back in June 2012, after the Lake Arrowhead Boat Show, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with the late Dave Wright in his southern California boat shop. Dave patiently taught me about this amazing 1924 Hacker, John Hacker’s lightweight construction techniques, the Liberty engine and Dave’s vision for Henry Ford’s vintage wooden boat. It was a day I will never forget.
Tim & Brian turned Dave’s vision into reality with EVANGELINE. – Texx
Also, I would like to thank my friend Jim Arneson for helping me prepare the Lake Tahoe photos of EVANGELINE for our story today. Nice work Jim!
Stay tuned next week as we will be reporting live from the Woods and Water events in Minnesota.