The Grand Old Lady
by Weldon Johnson
When three men met in early 1949 at a Seattle sailboat shop, none of them could have foreseen the peculiar and far-reaching consequences of their joint venture to build a better raceboat.
Slo-mo-shun IV was indeed better than any previous raceboat. But she was more than that: Slo-mo IV touched the hearts of thousands who cheered her on and changed forever the way generations of Seattleites feel about the first week in August.
Slo-mo IV transformed the lives of those most closely associated with her, nearly destroying some of them. She evoked thrills and anger and, ultimately, she prompted tears and inspired poetry.
AN URGE FOR SPEED
|On Wednesday, October 19,
1949, the Seattle Times made what seems to be the first mention in print of Slo-mo-shun
IV. Under the headline "Seattleite Grooms Boat for Record Speed Try" was an
AP story by Jack Hewins. He wrote, in part, "Just how fast the Slo-mo-shun IV
actually traveled in Its first semi-secret tests the owner, S. S. Sayres, would not reveal
The next morning, Hewins' story appeared in the Post- Intelligencer (headed, in P-I style, "Mystery Speedboat Churns Seattle Lake") along with a photograph showing "a recent test on Lake Washington."
Stanley St. Clair Sayres moved from Pendleton, Oregon, to Seattle in 1931 and purchased the old Williams Auto Company. His goal was to become the most prosperous Chrysler dealer in the area.
Eventually, Sayres' prior interest in boat racing resurfaced, and in 1937 he took delivery of a 225-class limited from Ventnor Boat Company of Atlantic City. That boat, Slomoshun, served as a fast runabout on Lake Washington until it burned and sank in 1941.
Seven years later Sayres purchased Pops Tops, another Ventnor three-point 225 powered by a six-cylinder Lycoming, but the boat suffered damage while in transit to Seattle. Together, Anchor Jensen and Tudor Owen ("Ted") Jones repaired it, after which Sayres renamed the boat Slomoshun II.
Soon afterward Slo-mo-shun III appeared, a three-point 266 designed by Ted Jones in Seattle. Legend has it that this boat ran in the 96-mph rangefaster than the world record for its class at the time.
Eventually Sayres, Jensen, and Jones began to talk seriously about constructing an even bigger boat-an unlimited-that might be superior to anything ever built. But those early discussions led to disagreement about hull design, materials, and construction.
In August 1948, Jensen, Jones, and Sayres went to Detroit to watch the Gold Cup race on the Detroit River. Sayres apparently suggested the trip, hoping that when Jones and Jensen actually saw the Gold Cuppers run their technical differences of opinion would wash away.
While Jones watched the race, Sayres worried: Jensen had spent the week measuring the step-hull My Sweetie, arguing with Sayres and Jones about the superiority of Hacker-designed boats; Jones lobbied for an unconventional 28-foot "prop rider" he'd devised to use an Allison aircraft engine.
So confident was Jones that he walked over to Guy Lombardo and Gar Wood, Jr., in the pits and announced, "You write this down so you'll remember it: I'm gonna build a boat and I'm gonna come back here and whip your butts with it."
BUILDING A RECORD-SETTER
Because it enjoyed such great success, Slo-mo-shun IV got credit for pioneering any number of design features. In fact, it was not the first three-point unlimited with a surfacing propeller. Though the bow spoiler and aircraft-style structure may have been unique, the streamlined flush deck and tall fin or "air rudder" were not.
However, Jones, by a stroke of genius, blended these elements to achieve an ideal balance. He showed an intuitive appreciation for lift vs. drag. The product truly can be called revolutionary.
And successful. Slo-mo, unlike its hurried or untested three-point predecessors, was a worldbeater. Its legacy is manifest: Within a few years, every competitive hull was either a Ted Jones design or copy. This pattern endured for two decades. Even today, design forms marked by sophisticated engineering are still "prop-riding three-pointers."
Several months later, construction began on Slo-mo-shun IV in the yard adjacent to Jensen Motor Boat Company. Disputes continued-about the oak keel, battens, and the ½" plywood bottom, among other things. Jensen lobbied for a full step in the bottom, and Jones argued against it.
Sayres managed to keep the uneasy partnership together, but the inter-personal rifts took their toll, stretching Slo-mo-shun IVs construction time to nearly a year. Finally, the boat was launched in October 1949 and began testing on Lake Washington.
Initial tests of Slo-mo IV led to changes in rudder design and placement, the steering system, strut, and propeller.
"I found that it would just idle at 100 mph," said Jones, who remembers testing the boat almost daily. "I'd punch it, and it would go up to 190 before I even got my foot off it. I ran out of guts before it ran out of speed. I knew right then that we could clobber any record there was."
Early in the morning of June 26, 1950, Slo-mo-shun IV roared across Lake Washington east of Sand Point Naval Air Station with Sayres behind the wheel and Jones seated alongside.
Officials timed two mile runs that averaged 160.3235 mph-a world record for the mile straightaway.
DETROIT IS STUNNED
That spring (1950), the Sayres family moved across the lake to Hunt's Point. Their new waterfront home, something of a showplace, included a boathouse for Slo-mo-shun. Convenience was one reason the boat tested so much. During races, Sayres used for his pits the marina at Leschi Park on the western shore. Leschi is less than a mile north of the floating bridge and four or five miles by water from Hunt's Point. The Seattle race committee, expecting that Mt. Baker beach would be crowded with visiting boats, suggested that Sayres use Leschi, instead.
The significance of that morning's events went generally unrecognized in Seattle, but 2,279 miles to the east, the Detroit News warned its readers: "Boat Going 160 mph just A Blur-Detroit is Next Stop." One especially interested reader was Joseph A. Schoenith, proprietor of an unlimited called Gale.
"When we heard the news that that boat went 165, no one in this area believed it," said Schoenith. "They thought there's got to be something wrong because the fastest anyone had gone in North America at that time was 127."
When a flatbed truck pulled Slo-mo IV into Detroit near mid-July, a small crowd of "river rats" and newspapermen waited at the Chrysler Boat Well, a company-owned boathouse that served as the Detroit base for Sayres' team. Appropriately impressed with the IVs performance on the straightaway, Detroiters wanted to see if she could turn at high speed.
Sayres told reporters that he, too, wanted to see how she ran.
"We want to find out if our boat is as good as it's proved on the straightaway," said Sayres. "It's really a backyard-built boat, a rule-of-thumb job that's been perfected by what you might call seatof-the-pants experiences in test runs."
When it came time for Slo-mo-shun IV to qualify, Sayres announced that the wash from pleasure craft made the course too rough for a high-speed trial, and that driver Jones would attempt to qualify at part throttle.
Jones qualified at 87 mph-second fastest in a field of nine. Still, one Detroit newspaper characterized the Slo-mo as "An eel on the straightaways, a worm in the turns."
The laughter stopped sometime during the first heat of the 1950 Gold Cup as driver Jones and crewman Mike Welsch guided Sio-mo through a 30-mile blast of speed and roostertail spray unwitnessed in the history of powerboating. The IV won at a record average of 80.151 mph and lapped every boat in the field.
In the second heat, Lou Fageol replaced Bill Cantrell in My Sweetie and set a record pace for. nine laps. Slo-mo started late, 200 yards behind Sweetie, and slowed after two laps when her engine mounts broke away from the stringers. Jones followed Fageol cautiously until Sweetie's engine overheated during the last lap. Slo-mo inherited the lead and won her second straight heat at another record speed of 80.892 mph.
The final heat was largely ritual. Despite steering problems, Slo-mo managed to outspeed Tempo and Chaz, thus capturing the APBA Gold Cup.
While Sayres posed with the Cup and Jones signed autographs, Cantrell set out to copy Slo-mo IV by surreptitiously measuring it with thumbnail and stick. Horace Dodge simply offered Jones $50,000 to make him a copy, and Jack Schafer sent marine engineers to the Chrysler Boat Well to gather intelligence.
THIRD ACHIEVEMENT: THE HARMSWORTH
|Part of the "magic"
of Slo-mo-shun IV is that she was a good boat right from the start. Early
tests-and no one else tested more thoroughly than the Slo-mo team-showed the need for
small improvements, but the entire package was always being studied, analyzed, and
refined. Welsch said the boat could go 190 mph: "it just took too long to get
there." Minor sponson shimming and different propellers addressed that issue. Hi
Johnson, who already had a mystique all his own, got credit for a 20-mph difference in the
Good balance was a key to Slo-mo's performance. "With the three-point suspension," said Welsch, "that weight distribution's gotta be on the money. . . the designer and the builder have to stay close together."
Ted Jones said, "That boat went from the first day. I don't remember changing any weight. One thing I learned was that you have to have aluminum on the planing edges ... we had to put aluminum above the propeller and on the bottom of the sponsons. I'd never built an unlimited before, and as soon as I build any boat I can see where I goofed and where I could improve it. I should have had more non-tripping chines on it.... Also, it didn't really get with it until it passed 95 mph. I assumed that it didn't have enough lift in the bottom proper-between the sponsons it had a 31 angle of attack.
"What made Slo-mo IV so successful? The power-to-weight ratio, number one," Jones continued. "The fact that it prop-rode, number two. Everybody told me you couldn't make an unlimited prop-ride. Well, that's no problem, because you have such a marvelous power-to-weight ratio."
Although Jones and Sayres agreed to enter the Gold Cup, their primary goal was the mile record. "Mo," said Jones, "was a pretty good competition boat and a real good straightaway boat. The nose stayed downa beautiful ride, extremely safe on the top end."
Welsch said, "It rode like a kiddy carno strain, no pain."
More than 30 years later, vintage movies never fail to impress: The IV appears well under control on all kinds of water. "Who showed Miss Pepsi around the famous Detroit River, knee deep in whitecaps, during the first heat of the 1950 Silver Cup race?" Anchor Jensen asked.
In late August 1950, the Yachtsmen's Association of America held time trials on the Detroit River to assemble an American team to defend the Harmsworth Trophy against challenger Miss Canada IV. Six boats made qualification runs over the 5-nautical-mile course.
Sayres drove Slo-mo-shun IV in the first trial run of the week, averaged 96.720 for three laps, and was immediately awarded one of the three American-team positions.
Later, My Sweetie (driven by Cantrell) and Such Crust II (Dan Arena) averaged 94 and 91 mph and were granted the other two slots, leaving Miss Pepsi (Chuck Thompson), Miss Great Lakes (Bill Muncey), and Such Crust (Dan Foster) on the beach.
Jones had a broken hand, so he relinquished driving duties to Lou Fageol. Fageol and the IV, with Welsch riding, won the first heat easily, averaging 91.127. My Sweetie finished second at 85.004 mph, and Such Crust II (now throwing a full roostertail since adopting Slo-mo-shun's engine and gearbox arrangement) took third at 84.7.05.
The Canadian challenger finished last with steering troubles. It did not show for the second heat, which Slo-mo again won easily (beating Crust II) at an unprecedented speed of 100. 181 to claim the Harmsworth Trophy.
Fageol and Slo-mo-shun IV returned to the Detroit River course two days later to run for the Silver Cup. While Bill Muncey sank Miss Great Lakes in his unlimited debut, Fageol pushed the IV to another impressive heat victory, averaging 104.318. However, Sayres withdrew Slo-mo from further Silver Cup action because of shaft-bearing damage suffered during the heat.
On a weekend in November 1950, three unliniiteds gathered near Las Vegas at Lake Mead to race for something called the APBA Unlimited Hydroplane Trophy. Jones returned to the helm of Slo-mo-shun IV and won the first heat, averaging 85 mph on the 2½-mile course despite a gear ratio and propeller combination suited to the announced 5-mile course.
In the second heat, Slo-mo again roared to a big lead before breaking her propeller shaft after three laps. Jones blamed Jensen for substituting a too-soft stainless steel shaft for the K-Monel shaft Jones had specified.
SEATTLE DEFENDS THE CUP
|After 1951, Ted Jones faded from the Slo-mo picture. He left Sayres, left Seattle. Years later Jones explained his disillusionment, He'd thought he would drive the mile, but Sayres took the wheel. He'd thought there would be more boats to design and build. but Sayres refused outside offers, so only Slo-mo V materialized, Jones had agreed to work exclusively for Sayres and not disclose "any basic or essential features of design, construction, or development." Their contract probably was illegal; in 1957 a government attorney claimed, "Sayres simply took advantage of a talented and naive young boat designer." After Jones walked away, he still felt constrained and didn't design another hull for three years.|
In 1951, Slo-mo-shun IV defended the Gold Cup on Seattle's Lake Washington. Fageol qualified her at 90.452 mph for three laps around the 3-mile course, fourth fastest behind Miss Pepsi (Thompson) at 100.558, Such Crust (Foster) at 93.344, and the IVs new sister ship, Slo-mo-shun V gones), at 91.370.
Also qualifying were Quicksilver (Orth Mathiot), a Rolls-Merlin powered step boat from Portland, Oregon, and five other challengers.
Seattle's first unlimited race proved to be dramatic and tragic, and live television coverage showcased the race to those not among the estimated 200,000 spectators on Lake Washington's shoreline.
Fageol moved into the cockpit of Slo-mo-shun V in heat one and executed the first perfectly timed "flying start" from under the western high-rise of the floating bridge. While Fageol screamed around the race course (upping the previous 3-mile lap speed by 22 mph), Jones nursed Slo-mo IV to third behind the acknowledged Slo-mo copy Homet (Cantrell).
The second heat produced similar results as IV again finished third behind V and Homet.
Legend has it that Seattle television viewers found the first two heats so exciting that 100,000 of them left their homes to invade the shoreline and watch the final heat live and in color.
Fageol and Slo-mo V pulled off another well-timed flying start from under the bridge. After two laps, Slo-mo IV was second with My Sweetie, Quicksilver, and Gale II trailing.
In its fourth lap, Quicksilver approached the south turn, wrenched upward, rolled over, and disappeared beneath the water, killing driver Mathiot and riding mechanic Thompson Whitaker. As patrol boats collected life jackets, helmets, seat cushions, and hull fragments, Bill O'Mara recited the Lord's Prayer for the television audience. Race Chairman Jerry Bryant and Referee Mel Crook huddled. Crook declared the race completed and Slo-mo-shun V the winner.
The two Slo-mo-shuns were the only unlimiteds to compete in the Seafair Trophy Race a week later, so limited hydros from the 135 class were recruited to fill out the show. A larger 5-mile course extended beyond Seward Park for this event.
Thousands of new' hydroplane fans awaited the showdown: which was faster, Slo-mo-shun IV or V? Who drove better, Jones or Fageol? On race day the drivers swapped seats-Fageol to the IV, Jones to the Vfurther complicating the issue.
Fageol led Jones in the first heat for almost two laps before taking a wide lane to avoid Snapper (Chuck Hickling). Jones moved Slo-mo V to the inside, and the two sprinted to the finish line with the V winning at a speed of 105.972. In the second heat, the IV won with a two-lap average of 111.742 mph.
In the third and final heat, Jones and Fageol crossed the starting line together two seconds after the cannon fired. Fageol pulled ahead and led through the south turn, but Jones gained ground in the east chute. Fageol stretched his lead again through the north turn.
On the second lap Jones and the V again showed superior speed on the straightaway, only to have the IV pull away through the south turn. Finally, Jones pushed the V past the IV on the east chute and won by 100 yards at the finish. Slo-mo V averaged 106.653 to 106.462 for the IV.
No one admitted whether the 1951 Seafair Trophy was a genuine race or an exhibition. Ted Jones simply said, "Seattle deserved a good show that day."
ANOTHER MILE RECORD
|No story about Slo-mo-shun
IV would be complete without Anchor Jensen's long-standing claim that he, not
Ted Jones, designed the IV.
Jensen's version (as reported by Henry Gordon in Waterlines) goes like this: While serving on an aircraft carrier in World War II, he saw a British plane make an emergency landing. He examined its powerful Rolls-Merlin engine, wondered what a Merlin-powered boat might do, and (presumably) began dreaming of building an unlimited hydroplane. After the war, Stan Sayres hired Jensen to finish Slo-mo-shun ///. Jensen didn't like the design and offered to improve it. Sayres agreed and Jensen made the changes. When Sayres decided to build an unlimited, Jones was to design the boat but didn't produce the plans on tirtie. So Jensen gave his own drawings to Sayres"kitchen table" drawings that depicted a three-point prop rider, which became Slo-mo IV.
Early in the morning on July 7, 1952, Slo-mo-shun IV entered the East Channel on Lake Washington for another run at the world mile-straightaway speed record.
With owner Sayres behind the wheel and crew member Elmer Linenschmidt in the jump seat, Slo-mo IV roared through the north-south leg at 185.567. The return run, into head winds that gusted to 15 mph, was 171.428 mph. The Slo-mo-shun log book noted simply: "7-7-52; 1 hour, 30 minutes; New World Record Av 178.497. SSS"
MOST DRAMATIC OF ALL
|Contention runs through the Slo-mo-shun
story like a scarlet thread. You almost need a scorecard to keep track of cooling
friendships, uneasy reconciliations, and bitter enemies. Here are some people who probably
wouldn't want to be stranded together on a desert island: Jones and the Jensens (almost
from the beginning), Jones and Sayres (after the first mile trial, even more so later on),
and Sayres and Sawyer.
Lou Fageol's ego belied his 5'-5" height. Pride made him a difficult competitor, but off the course he maintained a smooth social veneer. Personable Stan Dollar and genial Joe Taggart were easy-going, popular favorites.
It was part of the crew's job to get along with everybody, and they didexcept, perhaps, with Paul Sawyer. Among themselves, crew members had to prove they were congenial. Compatibility, respect, and mutual trust were characteristics of long-time crewmen.
When Lou Fageol telephoned Stanley Dollar (grandson of Capt. Robert Dollar of Dollar Steamship Line fame) and asked him to drive Slo-mo-shun IV in the 1952 Gold Cup, Dollar eagerly accepted. He qualified the IV at 93.024, third fastest in a field of six, behind Miss Pepsi's (Thompson) record 103.746 and Slo-mo V (Fageol) at 102.564.
Before an estimated 250,000 people, the 45th Gold Cup provided uncommon drama. The first heat saw Slo-mo IV lose her propeller while Fageol burned up the Vs engine. With both Slo-mo-shuns floating helplessly, Miss Pepsi ran the fastest heat in Gold Cup history at 101.024.
Between heats, the white-coveralled Slo-mo crew decided that the IV had a more reliable engine and hull, so they mounted the Vs propeller on the older boat. Then Dollar went out and chased Thompson for nearly a lap until Miss Pepsi lost power. Slo-mo IV cruised alone for the remainder of the heat while Such Crust IV burned to the waterline.
With Pepsi out of the race, only Slo-mo-shun IV and Hurricane IV (Morlan Visel) remained for the final. However, one or the other had to finish to prevent Pepsi from winning the race. Hurricane succumbed to shaft problems after three laps, and Slo-mo coasted home alone for Gold Cup win number two.
The huge throng of spectators (and countless TV viewers) cheered, and the string of boats crowding the log boom blasted their horns and whistles in celebration of Gold Cup tenancy. Slo-mo dominance on the race course, and the Slo-mo legend, were growing.
Sayres' boats were indeed the center of civic pride. Seattle citizens donated over $57,000 to a "Slo-mo fund" in the form of voluntary contributions and sales of plastic Seafair Skipper Pins.
CONTROVERSIES AND CHANGES
|Seattle had several different race courses during the Slo-mo
era. The original course was a 3-mile oval placed farther north than those of the same
length that came later. Five-buoy turns, 1,500 feet across, lay off the Colman Park
bathhouse and 50th Avenue South. In 1952, the course was moved slightly southward to
provide 1,000 feet of clearance from the floating bridge.
The 1951 Seafair "match race" took place on a 5-nautical-mile course (about 5¾ statute miles), "laid out to Harmsworth specifications." At the entrance buoy for the south turn of the Gold Cup course, the Seafair racers followed a dogleg left-southeastward-to a turn in the narrows between Seward Park and Mercer Island. The dogleg measured about 7,000 feet, the backchute all of 12,000 feet-well over two miles.
By 1953, the wish for higher speeds led the Gold Cuppers to compete on a longer course, 3¾ miles. The south turn was almost opposite Genesee Street (Lakewood marina); approaching the entrance buoy, the front straightaway was only 400 feet offshore. Two years later, a new survey resulted in the clearance being opened to 700 feet.
Nor were courses any more standardized elsewhere across the country. Detroit used a 3-mile layout for the Gold Cup (1950 and 1956) and a 5-nautical-mile course for the Harmsworth and Silver Cup (both 1950). Lake Mead's course for the 1950 race measured 2½ miles.
But other costs complicated Seattle's "Saturday by the lake": Local businessmen, who also contributed to the Slo-mo fund, complained about lost sales. Seattle consumers created a local commercial crisis by going to the lake on Saturday instead of the shops, they said. The businessmen lobbied for subsequent racing to be held on Sundays, when most shops were closed.
Thus, the 1953 Gold Cup was scheduled for Sunday, August 9-and promptly incurred the wrath of an ultra-conservative faction within the Seattle Presbytery known as the "Evangelist Group." It said that boat races were much too frivolous to be held on the Sabbath. (Within the boatracing fraternity, Mrs. Ted Jones, a local missionary, agreed.)
Trouble also visited the Slo-mo-shun camp before the 1953 Gold Cup. Dollar declined to drive Slomo-shun IV, so Sayres invited Paul Sawyer to replace him. Suddenly, mere days before the race, Sayres dismissed Sawyer, who promptly filed a $12,000 lawsuit for damage to his reputation.
Meanwhile, Fageol arranged for an old friend, Joe Taggart, to get the job. Taggart rushed to Seattle on Wednesday, rode with Welsch in Slo-mo IV the next morning, and qualified her that afternoon at 107.658, fastest of the seven-boat field and a record for the new 3¾-mile course.
Fageol attempted to qualify Slo-mo-shun V (now Rolls-Merlin powered) but threw a prop and sank. Sayres requested a time-trial extension so his crew could patch the boat, but the Detroiters were asked to vote on Sayres' request and they predictably voted it down.
Again the solitary defender of Seattle's honor, Slo-mo-shun IV won the Gold Cup, this time without much drama. The boat averaged 92.613 for 90 miles. Taggart drove the first and final heats, "dirt-tracking it" through the turns, and Fageol drove the second heat.
Sayres took the Gold Cup back to his Hunt's Point home for the fourth time. And once again, the Detroit boatsGale II, Such Crust III and V, Miss Great Lakes II, and Miss U.S.returned home with only points and memories.
Indeed, the Detroiters began to grumble about racing in Seattle at all. Joe Schoenith said it was "awfully hard to win a race in Seattle " in' those days.
"They had a man handling the clock and another guy calling out the seconds to him," Schoenith recalled years later. "Well, this guy would start counting a little bit faster if he thought Slo-mo-shun would be too soon. If they thought he was going to be too late, this guy would turn the clock slower. And on at least two occasions, they definitely jumped the gun and they didn't call it," he said. "That's why I was on the judges' stand in 1954-so we'd get a square deal."
The Detroiters also seethed because the Slo-mo-shuns didn't reciprocate by competing in "Eastern" races, and prior to Sunday's Gold Cup several Detroit teams announced they wouldn't return to Seattle the following year. To head off that controversy, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer launched a $37,500 public-contribution campaign to "finance the repair and maintenance of the Slo-mos for Eastern races."
SAYRES' FIFTH GOLD CUP
|Stan Sayres felt himself too old, at 53, for racing. His
determination to drive the record run surprised (and dismayed) Ted Jones. "He
couldn't see," said Jones. Though Ted was 14 years younger, he also had lost some
skills and physical acuity with age. Besides, by 1950 his heart was in designing, not
Experience was to Lou Fageol's advantage. His style combined daring and self-confidence. He clearly understood the machines he drove, both race cars and boats. In the Slo-mos he introduced the "flying start" under the west end of the old floating bridge. That tactic, which required expert timing, also showed Fageol's brashness. On the race course he was larger than life, facing every challenge, disdaining second place.
Robert Stanley Dollar, Jr., took a less emotional approach. His racing background paralleled Fageol's (they grew up in the same Oakland neighborhood) but wasn't as intense. Dollar had experience and judgment; he got the most from his equipment without abusing it or taking heedless chances.
Joe Taggart, probably the least known of Sayres' drivers, did the best job. Before Slo-mo, the only big boat he'd driven was Miss Great Lakes II in 1952. He campaigned his own limiteds for many years, perfecting a "negative steering" technique that proved ideal for Slo-mo-shun IV. The IV lacked adequate non-trip chines on the afterplane and didn't corner well. Taggart "dirt-tracked it" by using left rudder to start the turn, then hard right and power on. That stunt kept the back end up. While Fageol went wide and fast with the livelier V, Taggart worked the inside and could save four seconds or so on every turn.
Other men drove Slo-mo IV during tests or practice. Mike Welsch spent hours behind the wheel. (He wanted to drive the IV, but "my wife vetoed the idea.") Paul Sawyer, an accomplished but idlosyncratic person, lost his chance because, Sayres said, "He couldn't get along with the crews." Marion Cooper prepared as a "relief driver" but never raced. Then there were the guests, notably Mel Crook, Eddie Meyer, Ray Fageol, and Russ Schleeh.
Boycott threats forgotten, 11 hydroplanes showed up at Lake Washington for the 1954 Gold Cup race-the last one scheduled on a Saturday.
Taggart qualified Slo-mo IV at 103.106. His speed was third fastest in the field, but the IV suffered through an otherwise undistinguished week owing to carburetion trouble. Fageol and Slo-mo V, though, turned in some spectacular runs.
In Saturday's first heat, Taggart jumped the gun along with Lee Schoenith in Gale V, then failed to finish when he ran out of fuel. In the next heat, he finished third behind Fageol and George Simon (Miss U.S.) while Bill Cantrell crashed a lawn party with Gale IV.
Taggart again finished third behind Slo-mo V and Gale V in the final. He said Slo-mo IVs Allison had been sick all week, getting him no more than 130 mph. Thus, it was Slo-mo V that gave Sayres his fifth consecutive-and last-Gold Cup.
The 1955 Gold Cup race proved to be the beginning of the end for both Slo-mo-shuns. Thirteen boats appeared at Seattle, including two improved versions of the Slo-mos: Rebel, Suh and Miss Thriftway, both designed by Ted Jones. Some people said they were "spite boats," referring to the bitter feud between Jones and Sayres.
The atmosphere at Sayres' home and boathouse was especially tense.
"I don't think it would have been a good thing to strike a match around Hunt's Point that weekend," Taggart said.
When race referee Mel Crook announced his intention to disqualify any contestant making a flying start-the spectacular but dangerous tactic employed only by Fageol-the provincial backlash from Seattle's once-a-year bigshots caused Crook to resign in protest. His ruling was ultimately upheld.
Tempo VII (Foster) qualified at a record 116.917 average for three laps. Minutes later, Taggart qualified Slo-mo-shun IV-now Merlin-powered-at 117.391, including one lap at 119.575.
Lou Fageol, whom Sayres regarded as "the greatest raceboat driver of all," didn't qualify Slo-mo V until Friday. Despite instructions from Sayres and the crew to take it easy, Fageol went out and executed something far more spectacular than a flying start: a 360-degree somersault at high speed on the backstretch. Fageol suffered serious rib and lung injuries.
At that moment, half of the Slo-mo-shun team was retired forever. The next morning, Sayres announced that Sunday's race would be Slo-mo-shun IVs-and his-last race as well.
On Sunday, August 7, 1955, the estimated crowd of 500,000 came early and stayed late. Elsewhere in King, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties, thousands tuned in their TV sets at 11 a.m. to watch the spectacle. The churches were nearly empty.
As the first heat began, Gale V (Schoenith) led the field into the south turn but was soon passed by a smoothly running Slo-mo IV. Taggart won the heat, setting a lap record of 107.965 and a heat record of 103.159. Scooter Too (Jack Regas) sank, Tempo VII (Foster) burned, and in the confusion the six finishers weren't flagged until a lap after the heat should have ended.
The second heat introduced thousands of suspicious Slo-mo-shun fans to Miss Thriftway, one of the "spite boats." Its driver, Bill Muncey, took an early lead and held it for all eight laps. While Schoenith chased Muncey and Walt Kade plowed along in Such Crust III, Taggart struggled to finish third.
In the unbelievable final heat of the 1955 Gold Cup race, Taggart and the IV led everyone for six of the eight laps. But Muncey had gained on Slo-mo until, after the sixth lap, Taggart suddenly shut down his engine: With a cracking manifold and a hull that actually started to burn, he reluctantly pulled off the course and fought the fire.
Muncey roared past the IV,and won the heat, but not the race. Gale V did, on elapsed time and bonus points. The Schoeniths camped out at the Olympic Hotel, waiting for Seattle officials to hand over the Gold Cup. Meanwhile, agitated fans telegrammed and telephoned Sayres at home, accusing him of throwing the race.
In early 1956, Sayres reconfirmed the retirement of Slo-mo-shun IV. He'd had enough, he said. That winter, he also sold Slo-mo V to the Miss Seattle syndicate.
ONE MORE FIGHT
|Records kept by the famous
"volunteer crew" give some idea of the intensive, well-organized, and
technically expert care afforded the Slo-mos. Overall, the crew's effort on both
boats was estimated at 57,000 man-hours.
Anchor Jensen, Mike Welsch, and Elmer Linenschmidt, who with Ted Jones and Joe Schobert composed the original cadre, worked about 6,400 hours apiece-160 full, 40-hour work weeks. Schobert, Martin Headman (who joined in 1950), and Don Ibsen each worked 4,400 hours. Jones, Fred Hearing, Wes Kiesling, George McKernan, Dort Lounsberry, and Pete Bertelotti put in 3,000. Kiesling and McKernan, employees of Sayres' Chrysler agency, were the only team members (including the drivers) who received pay.
Shortly before Seattle's 1956 Seafair Trophy Race (which substituted for the relinquished Gold Cup), Sayres brought Slo-mo IV out of retirement because, he said, its sale didn't materialize. Sixteen other boats gathered at Lake Washington, including three new Jones boats, Shanty I, Miss Wahoo, and Hawaii Kai III.
Taggart qualified Slo-mo-shun IV at 113.573. The "Old Lady," or "Grand Old Lady" as the hull was now called, was making a fight of it.
For the first time in Seattle, each heat was divided into two sections. Heat 1-B saw Taggart take Slo-mo IV wide to the starting line, speed past the field, then cut to lane one approaching the first turn. He led Miss U.S. II, Gale VI, and Miss Seattle (formerly Slo-mo V) to the checkered flag, averaging 103.516.
In Heat 2-B, Slo-mo-shun IV drew Shanty I (Russ Schleeh), winner of heat 1-A. Again, Taggart swung wide at the start and shot into the lead on the front stretch. Slo-mo led Shanty I by 16 seconds for most of the heat and won easily, averaging 104.257.
An estimated half-million people waited for the final heat, most of them expecting Slo-mo IV to perform the old magic. Taggart repeated his tactic of starting wide and blasting to the inside. He picked off Miss U.S. II (Don Wilson) but not Schleeh, who held lane one through the first turn and up the backstretch.
Taggart cut through Shanty's roostertail at the north turn. Washed down (perhaps damaging the supercharger), Slo-mo faltered and lost precious seconds. Schleeh pulled nearly half a lap ahead. He turned a quick 116.360 for the first lap and kept the advantage to the finish. Although tied with Slo-mo IV for total points, Shanty I took the Seafair Trophy home: Schleeh's total elapsed time was 62.8 seconds less than Taggart's.
FORCED RETIREMENT-GLORY ENOUGH
The "two men looking at me" were on a patrol boat leaving a serious wake. Even Slo-mo, famous for its stability ("it always came down flat"), could not ride through this one. The left sponson went up, down, up again, and down on the bow. The rounded nose forced it sideways and the boat tumbled. Taggart smashed through the dashboard and out the side. He survived, with multiple injuries. Slo-mo's log read: ''Finish 8-30-56. Driver still with us (thank God)." Sayres appreciated less the alibis and accusations that soon covered up the cause of the accident. Three times Sayres and Taggart had called the tower for clearance. If the course was open for testing, and it was, no patrol boats should have been abroad. The Coast Guard commander offered two excuses: 1) 'Nobody told me," or 2) "I have no control over the Auxilliary craft," He was only the first of several officials who would be caught mismanaging the 1956 Gold Cup.
Afterwards, Sayres heard a cacophony of unsolicited advice to send his boat to Detroit for the Gold Cup race. Caving in to pressure (especially from the Seattle Yacht Club), Sayres told crew chief Welsch, "Let's go for it one more time and see if we can bring it back to Seattle."
Thursday, August 30, 1956: Most of Slo-mo's Seattle fans were sleeping when it happened. At the scene of Slo-mo-shun IV's first competitive victory, Joe Taggart asked race referee Gib Bradfield for clearance to enter the Detroit River course. Taggart planned to take one warm-up lap, then qualify for the Gold Cup.
Taggart never finished his run.
"I came up past the Detroit Yacht Club ... all of a sudden, the boat went up at a 45-degree angle," Taggart recalled.
"I was in the air long enough to be aware of what was going on: The boat had turned sideways and I was looking right into the entrance of the Yacht Club, and I could see these two men looking at me," he said. "Then, the boat came down. That was that. Everything went black."
Seattle radio stations carried the news to the now-awakening Northwest, and afternoon newspapers ran pictures of the shattered hull and critically injured Taggart. A general distrust of Detroit and the various explanations for the accident didn't matter much to the horde of nameless faces that had cheered and waved and gladly bought Skipper Pins. Jack Hewins, longtime feature writer for the Associated Press in Seattle, captured the collective sentiment when he wrote: "The Slo-mo gone? ... Non-Seattleites never will understand the shock that news brought to the hundreds of thousands here whose affection for the Old Lady was something close to worship ... And now she has called it quits, bowing out the way she always ran-at full throttle. For Seattle, the Queen is dead."
Within days the smashed and splintered carcass of Slo-mo-shun IV returned to Seattle. Something like a state funeral followed as thousands lined up to view what remained of The Grand Old Lady. Her wreckage lay strewn across a flatbed trailer in the KING-TV parking lot.
It seems oddly romantic today, but many boys and grown men in the crowd wept. Something special was gone, forever.
Few speedboats are memorialized with poetry, but it didnt seem silly when P-I sportwriter Royal Brougham penned this epitaph in his "Morning After" column:
|"...but whats that distant sound we hear from the lake in the dead of night? And now we catch it, low but clear, like a thundrbolt in flight. The rumbles growing louder, men, its the old familiar roar. The phantom hydro rides again, the ghost of Slo-mo IV."|
EPILOGUE: Stanley Sayres was not among those who waited for a final glimpse of the ruined boat, which was displayed over the weekend of September 15-16. "I don't want to see her in her present condition," he told Royal Brougham; "I never will." Sayres died early Monday in his sleep, of heart failure.
Tragedy did ease the differences people had with Sayres. "Some folks thought him a little severe," Ray Krantz wrote, but "Stan Sayres was a great man." "The man with the slow smile and the fast hydroplanes," said the Seattle Times obituary. Edgar Kaiser offered the Seattle Yacht Club $2,500 toward a memorialperhaps a trophy, a plaque at lakeside, or naming in Sayres' honor the new pits planned near Wetmore Slough. SYC, too, petitioned the APBA to retire permanently the registration number U-27.
In the Times of September 17, Georg Meyers declared, "The Slo-mo-shun has earned a place in Seattle's Museum of History and Industry as the instrument which added to the city's culture a public phenomenom unparalleled in the world." Quickly the historical society responded: It was "eager to make the museum the last resting place of the boat."
By popular demand, the hulk was shown again, at the annual boat show. Then It went into storage at Jensen's. The museum had no space or money for repairs. A plan to have students of Edison Vocational Tech restore Slo-mo to a decent appearance proved impractical; they lacked boat-building experience. Bob Brinton and others urged public contributions, but little happened until Stan Dollar gave $2,500 in mid-1957. Next, the volunteer crew (which, with Sayres' blessing, had moved over to Hawaii Kai III after the Detroit crash) gave $1,500.
Anchor Jensen offered to donate all work and expenses over $4,000. With further underwriting by anonymous citizens, he began the job. Later that year the other problemroom for displaywas solved when H. W. McCurdy's large donation to the museum made possible a new maritime wing.
On April 18, 1959, Jensen, Bertelotti, and McKernan helped move Slo-mo into the building addition just being enclosed. Mrs. Madeline Sayres watched as the famous hull was put on a pedestal, where it belongs.
* * *
Slo-mo first was powered by an Allison V-1710-113. According to Mike Welsch, "We didn't know the difference back then. G6s weren't available until after Korea." For the 1952 mile run, Slo-mo used an Allison prepared by Howard Gidovlenko. This one indeed may have been a G6; it had water-alcohol injection. Gido's engines cost $10,000 apiece and were considerably more than stock (90" of manifold pressure, Joe Taggart said). The G6, designated V-1710-143/145, ruled in 1953 and '54. In 1955, the Packard-built Merlin took over following two years of trials and triumphs with sister ship Slo-mo-shun V.
PERFORMANCE LOG OF SLO-MO-SHUN IV
(*indicates record speed)
Lk. Washington, 6-26
|Ht. 1||80.151 (1)|
|Ht. 2||80.892 * (1)|
|Ht. 3||73.602 (1) - 1|
|(Fageol)||Ht. 1||91.127 (1)|
|Ht. 2||100.181 * (1) - 1|
|Silver Cup||(Fageol)||Ht. 1||104.318 (1)|
|Ht. 2||DNS x -5|
|(Jones)||Ht. 1||79.946 (3)|
|Ht. 2||84.905 (3) -3|
|Seafair||(Fageol)||Ht. 1||105.702 (2)|
|Ht. 3||106.462 (2)-2|
|1952||Mile straightaway- East Channel, 7-7||(Sayres)||178.497*|
|Ht. 1||DNF x|
|Ht. 2||75.491 (1)|
|Ht. 3||84.356 (1) - 1|
|Ht. 1||95.268 (1)|
|(Fageol)||Ht. 2||92.014 (1)|
|(Taggart)||Ht. 3||90.557 (1) - 1|
|Ht. 1||DNF x|
|Ht. 2||98.711 (3)|
|Ht. 3||97.755 (3) -4|
|Ht. 2||97.631 (3)|
|Ht. 3||DNF x -3|
|Ht. IB||103.516 (1)|
|Ht. 2B||104.257 (1)|
|Ht. 3||102.837 (2) -2|
(Reprinted by permission from the Unlimited NewsJournal, "Profile: Slo-mo-shun IV" (1986)
Hydroplane History Home
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010.
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Leslie Field, 1999