Rainbows and Roostertails
For much of the 20th Century, Canada as well as the United States was a hotbed of boat racing activity, from tiny outboard-powered craft to the mighty Unlimiteds.
In the first half of the century, one of the most prominent names in competitive power boating was the Canadian sportsman Harry Greening of Hamilton, Ontario.
Greening campaigned a series of nine racing hulls named Rainbow. The best known of these in the United States was the controversial Rainbow IV, which had apparently won the 1924 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit but was ultimately disqualified for a technical violation.
At a time when most boats plowed through-rather than skim over the surface of the water, Greening was one of the first to experiment with surface propellers and tried one on Rainbow II in 1921. Those pioneering surface wheels generated roostertails of spray in an era when roostertails were not commonplace.
Harry started tinkering with power boats around 1903 when, as a young man, he installed a home-made 3-horsepower motor in a canoe. Greening built the engine on a foot lathe in the attic of his home.
The result was a craft that could do about 9 miles per hour on the rough waters of Lake Rosseau. There was only one problem. The canoe suffered from high torque. To stop the engine, Harry had to pull the kill-switch. When relieved of torque, the canoe had a violent tendency to capsize.
Greening's earliest boat racing experiences included a series of hulls named Gadfly. With these, he participated mainly in local races in Hamilton and Toronto. His frequent riding mechanic was his brother-in-law Norman Braden.
Gadfly IV, built around 1919, was Greening's first deep-vee hull. Designed by Al Crouch, a brother of famed Gold Cup designer George Crouch, Gadfly IV used a 165-horsepower Sterling engine.
With the dawn of "The Roaring 20s," Harry's racing career shifted into high gear when he acquired the Sterling-powered Rainbow I.
Greening guided Rainbow I to victory in the Fisher-Allison Trophy on the Detroit River in 1920. Donated by Indianapolis Speedway owner Carl Graham Fisher, the Fisher-Allison Trophy featured an unusual format.
The race consisted of three heats of 50 miles each on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Immediately after the boats crossed the finish line in Heats One and Two, they were to be driven to a specified point, where they were turned over to race officials, who locked them up for the night. No adjustments could be attempted inasmuch as the boats were relinquished to the drivers only ten minutes before the start of the next heat.
To gain an advantage over the competition, Harry and his crew chief Dave Reid decided to have the engine's crankshaft dynamically balanced. In later years, this process became quite common. But in 1920, dynamic balance was not common at all.
Up until then, marine pistons had always been made of cast-iron. Greening and Reid instead used aluminum pistons. These were cast in Cleveland, Ohio, and machined in Buffalo, New York.
The aluminum pistons were of the slipper-type and weighed less than one-third of the weight of the cast-iron ones.
All of this accounted for a significant increase in horsepower for the victorious Rainbow I.
So impressed was the Sterling Motor Company with the boat's performance in the Fisher-Allison Trophy, they displayed her at the motorboat show in New York City in January, 1921.
Rainbow II was fast but unlucky. At the 1921 Fisher-Allison Trophy in Buffalo, she punched a hole four-feet wide and twelve-feet long in the underside, after hitting a wave on the rough Niagara River. Rainbow II sank, while victory in the race ironically went to the former Rainbow I, which Greening had sold to Sylvester Egan of Buffalo.
Harry had Rainbow III built specifically for the APBA Gold Cup series. Since 1921, Unlimited hydroplanes had been barred from Gold Cup competition. From 1922 to 1927, only "gentlemen's runabouts" with no "steps" or "shingles" were allowed to compete for the APBA's top award.
A Ditchburn hull, powered by an unsupercharged 625 cubic inch Packard motor, Rainbow III was designed by John Hacker, who would go on to design the 1948 My Sweetie and the 1950 Miss Pepsi.
Rainbow III had the 1923 Gold Cup at Detroit all but won. Greening finished first in both of the first two 30-mile heats and led for 25 miles in the third heat. Then a cotter pin from the rudder assembly gave way and the work and plans of a year were undone.
Harry managed to effect repairs and finished the heat in fourth-place. This put Rainbow III in a point tie with Jesse Vincent in Packard-Chriscraft. The eight minutes spent repairing the rudder proved to be Greening's undoing. Vincent won the race on the basis of a faster total elapsed time, 43.867 miles per hour to 41.507.
The disputed circumstances surrounding the 1924 Gold Cup contest on the Detroit River are well known. As the often-told story goes, Greening's Rainbow IV had apparently won the race but was seen by some as being a hydroplane hull. And so, a protest was filed, which took several weeks to settle.
Rainbow IV was another Packard-powered Ditchburn hull, designed by George Crouch.
The double-ended craft's underside was of lapstrake construction, which was technically permitted by the rules. The APBA decided, however, that the strakes had been installed for the express purpose of achieving a hydroplane effect. In other words, Greening had followed the letter of the rules but not the spirit of them.
As a result, Rainbow IV was disqualified and Caleb Bragg's Baby Bootlegger was moved from an overall second to first position. This action effectively ended the Gold Cup career of Harry Greening. He never raced for the cup again.
Until the end of his life, Greening offered no apology or excuses for his disqualification. In a 1940 issue of Canadian Boating Magazine, Harry explained his team's philosophy with regard to the 1924 Gold Cup.
"The rule specified that hydroplanes were banned. Now what was the first thing that occurred to us? It was to build a hydroplane and yet be within the rule.
"I don't call that sharp practice and I don't call it cheating, because the whole development in yachting and motorboat racing has been brought about by those who skate on very thin ice.
"Before building the boat (Rainbow IV), we had looked up every authority we could find, including the encyclopedia, on the word 'lapstrake' and found it to mean: 'a plank laid on top of another in a way to form a lap or landing, something like a clapboard house.'
"It was claimed that the way we had laid the planks formed a hydroplane-which of course we had. But on the other hand, the rules said we could use lapstrake construction.
"Although we won the Gold Cup hands down, we didn't get to keep it."
Despite the debacle of 1924, the American Power Boat Association recognized Greening 24 years later as a charter member of the prestigious APBA Honor Squadron. This was mainly for Harry's accomplishments in the area of long-distance performance.
Rainbow III covered 1064 miles in 24 hours on a 19½-mile course on Lake Rosseau in 1923. The boat ran perfectly from start to finish and covered 300 miles more than the previous record.
Rainbow VII, which was patterned after Rainbow III, made it into the record book in 1928. Described as "an out-and-out rough water hydroplane," 38 feet in length with a 9-foot beam, the VII covered 741 miles in 720 minutes, or twelve hours, also on Lake Rosseau. This included all stops for fueling and changing of crews.
Greening boasted that his team was able to take on 180 gallons of gasoline in 52 seconds and also replenish the oil and change drivers.
Long-distance record runs represent a format of competition that has long since vanished from the power boat racing scene. But in the 1920s, it was quite popular. At about the same time that the Rainbow boats were plying their spectacular trade "North of the Border," the Hoosier Boy, owned by J.W. Whitlock, from Rising Sun, Indiana, set a never-to-be-equaled distance record in 1924. This was a round trip between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky. The Liberty-powered craft covered the 267 Ohio River miles in 267 minutes and 49 seconds.
One of the more interesting members of the Rainbow family was Rainbow V, built in 1926, and designed specifically for participation in the Duke of York Trophy over in England. Rainbow V measured 22 feet but was limited to not over 91½ cubic inches in piston displacement, as per the rules.
Harry Greening and Dave Reid acquired an engine from Harry Miller of Indianapolis fame. The eight pistons, each about the size of an egg-cup, turned at 8000 rpm and developed 200 horsepower.
Rainbow V performed well in trials and was touted as a favorite in the Duke of York event. Unfortunately, the Thames River was a cesspool, filled with debris. Seemingly every boat in the race hit something and suffered some degree of damage. Rainbow V was knocked out of the race when she ran over the trunk of an apple tree that had been cut down and thrown into the river a few miles upstream. It was a very sad story.
Rainbow VI, built in 1927, was intended for a "development class." Unlike her predecessors, the VI was a problem boat right from the start. Greening and Reid gave up on her rather quickly and moved on to the successful Rainbow VII.
Greening kept the engine from out of Rainbow VI. This was a supercharged 16-cylinder Miller, rated at 720 horsepower. (This compared to 420 horsepower when unsupercharged.)
The engine was eventually purchased by John Shibe, the baseball magnate, and used in Shibe's Miss Philadelphia, a Gold Cup Class hydroplane. The Miller-powered Miss Philadelphia crashed at the 1931 President's Cup in Washington, D.C., and driver Billy Freitag was fatally injured.
Rainbow VIII and Rainbow IX were essentially high-speed pleasure boats. The IX used a Packard racing engine and reached speeds of around 68 miles per hour but was never entered in competition.
By 1930, Greening decided that he was too old for speed and called it a career.
After World War II, Harry's nephew Bill Braden (whose full name was William Greening Braden) continued the family boat racing tradition and won many trophies as an inboard hydroplane pilot.
Braden drove Miss Supertest and Miss Supertest II in the APBA Unlimited Class of the 1950s. Bill lost his life in a 266 Cubic Inch Class race at Hamilton, Ontario, in 1958, when he was run over by another boat.
Harry Greening, in assessing his years of racing with the Rainbow team, was quick to share the glory with his friend Reid. In a statement to Canadian Boating Magazine, Greening acknowledged, "Without his help and encouragement, I would have quit the game with Gadfly III. I remember one night at Gar Wood's house in Detroit. Gar said to me, 'What would I do without Orlin Johnson and what would you do without Dave Reid?'"
Even today, the Rainbow legacy of Greening and Reid lives on. In the 1980s, a new Rainbow IV a line-for-line duplicate of the original boat-was built by Bill Morgan for owner Jack Binley of Hague, New York.
The 27-foot 6-inch replica, complete with a surface propeller, kicks up a roostertail every bit as impressive as that of her illustrious predecessor. Rainbow IV the second is a fitting tribute to a bygone era in boat racing's classic past.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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