Hydro Fan Restoring Tri-City Landmark
By Joe Harwood
The 42-year-old Miss Tri-Cities hydroplane won't be doing any racing anytime soon, but that doesn't mean it can't putter. At a putt-putt golf course.
The 1955-vintage hydroplane that served as a Tri-City landmark in Kennewick's Columbia Park is being restored. When finished, it may adorn the miniature golf course near the cable bridge.
The boat's Mid-Columbia history begins when it was zooming around the Northwest. As a teen-ager growing up in Milwaukie, Ore., in the 1950s, Keith Bowers remembers seeing the hydroplane called Scooter Too.
"It was the first hydroplane I'd ever seen," Bowers said. "It was being trucked to Seattle after a race in California."
The boat, with a 24-cylinder, 2,600 horsepower Allison engine, had its mangled drive shaft poking through a hole in the bottom back then. "The shaft was literally twisted like a corkscrew," Bowers said. "It was unbelievable how much thrust that engine had."
More than a decade later, Bowers, one of the founders of unlimited hydroplane racing in the Tri-Cities, saw the same boat again. This time in a Hermiston junkyard.
"It was very ironic," Bowers said. "That old girl and me had some history."
Bowers paid the owner $3,600 and brought the boat to the Tri-Cities to promote boat racing in 1965.
Renamed Miss Tri-Cities, she was mounted on a concrete block at Angus Village at the corner of Kennewick's Vista Way and Highway 395.
It lasted there for five years, and Bowers eventually convinced the Water Follies board to bring it down to Columbia Park and mount it on a pole.
Miss Tri-Cities, with her behemoth engine removed, was posted at the Highway 240 entrance to the park for nearly 26 years and became a virtual landmark. The engine, the rare 24-cylinder Allison, was sent to the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
By 1992, the wooden hull had rotted inside and out, prompting city officials to worry the landmark might blow off its post during the next big windstorm. The following summer, Miss Tri-Cities was taken down, and with her, a piece of Columbia Basin history.
But Bowers didn't want the boat that had visited him as a youngster then resurfaced when he was an adult to simply fade away. So he started looking for a home and a craftsman who might have the time and inclination to restore the boat. He found Jim Kilgore, a hydroplane racing fan and owner of Cable Greens Mini-Golf in Kennewick.
"I was afraid they would destroy it," Kilgore said. "So I went ahead and said I'd take it."
Kilgore said he didn't quite realize how much work restoring the boat would be. My wife asked me why I would do such a thing given the time and expense," Kilgore said. "I guess I just didn't want it thrown away," he said. "I figure it was up there for 25 years, and that meant something."
Kilgore and Bowers said a museum in Seattle has called to find out if the boat is for sale.
"Nope," Kilgore said. "I wanted to keep it here."
Kilgore has so far stripped the boat down to it wood ribs and says the hard part will be removing the thousands of rusted screws holding the skeleton together.
Kilgore already has cut the new support ribs and applied gallons of wood preservative to the boat three years ago to try to forestall continued rot.
In October, when he closes the golf course for four months, Kilgore will build a canvas tent around the boat and try to finish restoring her to her 1955 condition.
When finished, he plans to put Miss Tri-Cities up on stanchions on his golf course.
"It not a question of if, but when," he said. "I'll get it done, and then it will look real nice."
(Reprinted from the Tri-City Herald, July 21, 1997)
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