Gar Wood

The Gadget King of America
Gar Wood and Miss America X [1934]

Gar Wood and Miss America X
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Gar Wood had been suggested as the Gadget King of America. The appellation was taken to Algonac, Mich., to the Wood experimental plant with the thought that the crown might be accepted, a coronation held and, too, that perhaps the Gadget King of America might have some news to divulge on a new and faster and more gadgeted Miss America.

The fifty-four-year-old, white-haired wizard of Michigan, who holds the world record for speed on water and the Harmsworth Trophy that England eight times has tried and failed to take away from him, was on the dock in front of the plant in which all the Miss Americas have been built.

Moored to the dock was a strange-looking power craft-a high-speed, pilotless target ship, controlled by a gyroscope and compressed-air cylinders and carrying a twenty-five foot iron mast with a six by eight red flag at the head. All of it had been devised or designed or invented and patented by Wood as a result of a visit to Fortress Monroe, Va., months before when coast artillery officers told him they needed something faster than four- or five-mile-an-hour tugs for the towing of targets in gunnery practice. Wood made the target and war department experts authorized the purchase of one for trial purposes.

After Wood had shown that the pilotless boat could run forty miles an hour even on a rough river and hold its course without hand of man on either throttle or helm, he was interested in a discussion of things he has devised.

The title, Gadget King of America, was mentioned.

"I don't know what you mean by that," he laughed. "Gadgets aren't things produced and proved by laboratory tests and practical demonstrations. Gadgets are well, here I'll show you one."

Wood walked over to a twelve-cylinder car. He removed from the dashboard an attractive, nickeled object that was about three inches long.

"It's an automatic cigarette lighter," he explained, "it lights and breathes, inhaling and exhaling, just as you do. All you do is put your cigarette in it, press a button and your cigarette is lighted and puffed on until you take it out.

Saves you taking your eyes off the road while driving eighty or ninety miles an hour. It's just a gadget but I think I'll have it patented."

But the Miss America, were there not a lot of gadgets on her? Didn't gadgets play a large part in the final perfection attained in the assembly of four motors having a total of 6,400 horsepower?

"Not on your life," Gar replied emphatically. "The Miss America X is the result of long research, of many painstaking laboratory experiments and of repeated practical tests.

"I am not denying that there are gadgets here and there that fulfill their purposes, I would even call the self-bailers on the boat a "gadget idea" — but the principal reasons for Miss America X's success lie in the gear-box assembly and the boat's variable step."

The gear-box assembly was the accomplishment of Wood's that astounded Detroit's gas-engine technicians. In powering

Miss America X it was Wood's idea to use four twelve-cylinder motors not as four distinct motors but as two power plants. He wanted them in banks, two in line on the starboard side and two in line on the port side. Four motors had been hooked together before but with clutches between and the gear boxes forward.

This arrangement required dangerously long propeller shafts at the speeds Miss America's propeller wheels were to be turned. Wood wanted the gear boxes in the middle of the banks, giving his boat short, sturdy shafts that would stand the strain. In effect, what Wood wanted was to make two motors function as a single unit, with the crankshafts of each bank synchronized and turning as one shaft! Engineers said the oscillations of the shafts would be so great as to wreck the gear boxes with the motors running at any appreciable speed. But Wood stuck to his idea which was to spline the engine shafts in each bank in a specially designed and specially constructed gear box. Each gear box was to be the heart of each tandem, with two shafts fitting into a main driving gear through a splined hub which was common to both. And it worked.

"You wouldn't call those gear boxes gadgets," said Wood. "I was sure I was right but it was never done before and nothing is ever proved until it is done. Don't forget that the strain of 3,200 horsepower was on each gear box. It had to hold together. The case of each box was reinforced by steel rods of high tensile strength with a turnbuckle attachment."

Wood explained that the crankshafts turned through oil-sealed vents in twelve-inch races containing specially made bearings, each bearing "as big as a golf ball." The shafts were made of a specially heat-treated chrome-vanadium steel with a tensile strength, of 280,000 pounds to the square inch. For perfect balance and so they wouldn't oscillate at 7,500 revolutions, the shafts were ground to a diameter accurate to a half-thousandth of an inch.

Wood is equally enthusiastic about the success of the boat's step — the secret to the application of the world record-holder's 6,400 horsepower.

"There is a point at which a hydroplane makes her best speed," he said. "We call it the point of oscillation. In practice runs, when Miss America began to oscillate we knew that a point just this side of oscillation was her best speed. We knew that if we couldn't feed her the revolutions we knew she had to take without getting that oscillation, her step needed adjustment. The step was designed to be variable by putting a duralumin plate across the full width of the step with shims between.

"The first time we took her out the angle of the step was too great to permit the expected speed. We knew that quickly because the bow rode high, even before oscillation was felt. We took out half an inch of shims. Then we went out again, and found we had taken out too much. We kept on experimenting until we had her running along absolutely even."

Finally the subject of a new Miss America was broached.

"We don't need a new boat yet," Wood said, "but when we do we'll have one. And if you think this boat is fast we'll be able to show you something. We've been thinking about it for a long time. It won't be the huge boat the Tenth is. The motors will be much smaller and so will the hull. But boy, it will be fast!"

Gar ran his fingers through his heavy shock of silver hair. Eyes twinkling but with a note of seriousness in his voice, he added:

"But before we race it we'll have to do a lot of work on blueprints, hold a whole lot of laboratory tests and do plenty of practical experimenting. The new one won't be a gadget, or a collection of them, any more than is the Miss America X."

(Reprinted from Popular Mechanics, 1934, pp.536-9, 124A)

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