On the water, the vintage hydroplanes move forward fast, but their existence is steeped in the past.
Inland Northwest residents caught a glimpse of history in Coeur d’Alene this weekend at Hydros, Hot Rods and Harleys, an event sponsored by the Diamond Cup Hydromaniacs featuring vintage piston-powered hydroplanes, vintage hot rods and custom cars, and a motorcycle show. It was held in conjunction with the annual Coeur d’Alene Wooden Boat Show.
The vintage hydroplanes’ 2,000-horsepower engines roared to life before they idled out to the starting point off the boardwalk near Independence Point and took off, a deep, loud rumble reverberating through the air. Onlookers applauded as the boats raced around a three-mile course at speeds that reached about 135 miles per hour.
“It hits every sense you have,” said Ken Strong, docent coordinator with the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, Wash., which restores about one of the boats per year. “You can see them, you can hear them, you can feel them. If you’re close enough you can smell them.”
After World War II, racer Ted Jones wanted to design a boat that would break a world water speed record using engines from P-51 fighters no longer needed for the war effort. He did so, and broke the record by reaching 160 miles per hour in the 1950 Gold Cup on Lake Washington. That win, with the Slo-Mo-Shun IV, catapulted hydroplane racing popularity in the Northwest.
The races were popular in Coeur d’Alene, and around Washington, throughout the ’50s and into the ’60s. As the sport’s popularity grew, however, so did the cost of holding such events. This year was the first year the boats have run on Lake Coeur d’Alene since 1968.
The boats traveled to Coeur d’Alene last year, but the race was canceled because of a severe rainstorm that caused rough water conditions. This year, aside from bragging rights, there was no prize for the first boat to finish.
“We’re running these because we love to put on a show,” Strong said. “We re-create the hydros so people could understand what we enjoyed about racing in those days.”
For many enthusiasts, he said, the wooden hydroplanes are a nostalgic piece of their childhood they want to share with younger generations. Many hope to pass their love of the boats on to those who were born long after they received vintage status.
“An entire generation has grown up since these boats have been on the water,” he said. “I think that’s probably the most fun, is bringing our joy to that generation and having them enjoy it in the same fashion we did.”
Gary Nesbitt, of Spokane, came to see the “wonderful” boats because they reminded him of his own childhood.
“It’s just kind of a trip down memory lane,” he said. “It sounds and looks just like it used to. It’s just very fun.”