1908 Portland Labor Day Regatta
Willamette River, Portland OR, September 1908


Labor Day Regatta On Willamette River
by James B. Welch

Regardless of the cold, rainy day, the Willamette Motor Boat Club of Portland, Ore., held the third of a series of motor boat races on the Willamette River on Labor Day.

The races were advertised to take place at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, but owing to the steady downpour of rain at the time, Starter Sexton decided to postpone the first race until 2:30. At 2:25 the storm was even worse, but the preliminary gun was fired for the first event. This was a race for boats of under ten miles an hour. The only entry was Silver Heels, owned and built by Allen Burdick, a boy of 18, but as the race for boats in this class had been advertised, Burdick ran his boat over the course in the best time possible, and was allowed first prize.

The second race was for the boats in the 17-mile class. The entries for this were Comet, equipped with a three-cylinder 18 h.p. Gray motor, owned and built by M. J. Bronough and E. Crowley, two young men yet in their teens; the Kitty, with a three-cylinder 20 h.p. Smalley engine, owned by Joe Mathiot; the Ethel, having a two-cylinder 20 h.p. Roberts engine. This last named boat is owned by the Driscoll Boat Works of Astoria, Ore., and came to Portland for the races under her own power. The course for this race was four and a half miles. The three boats started over the line neck- and-neck, but the Comet steadily gained the lead, which she held and came over the finish line a full minute ahead of the Kitty. The Ethel was a poor third, but owing to the fact that the Kitty and Comet circled the buoy in the opposite direction from that mapped out in the course, the judges gave the race to the Ethel.

The next race called was the free-for-all handicap. The entries for this event were the largest the club has ever had, being seven boats at the start, namely: Rochester, owned by J. C. Ainsworth and run by Harry Bell; May, owned by Joe Michels; Sterling, owned by Kahlins; Van, owned by P. Van Datta; Mercury, owned by Roderick Macleay and run by Ray Jameson; Ethel and Greenhorn, owned by the Driscoll Boat Works of Astoria. The Rochester was first over the line at the start. The next boat to start was the May, the Sterling, then Van, then Mercury, then Ethel and the Greenhorn. These boats had all been tried out the day before and the rule was that they could not cover the course in the race three per cent better than in the tryout. This, with proper handicapping, would bring them all to the finish in a bunch. The Rochester was first to finish, and then the Van came a very close second. Then came the other five boats all in a bunch and made a very pretty finish, but after figuring the time on the boats it was found that every one in the race had gone over their three per cent, and therefore the judges disqualified them all and the race was called off completely. The reason for this overtime running is laid to the fact that most of the boats carried a crew of two in the tryout and only one in the final race, which made quite a difference in speed.

The next was the big event, the race for the 23-mile boats, in which Happy Heinie, owned and built by Otto W. Ranft and equipped with a three-cylinder 30 h.p. Roberts engine; the Barb, equipped with a 30 h.p. Smalley, and the Greenhorn, with a six-cylinder 60 h.p. Doman, were entered. The start was a dandy, the Happy Heinie taking the lead and fairly flying through the water. The course was twice around a buoy just below the steel bridge, and totaled in all 9 miles. Heinie finished her first lap in beautiful shape and was a good 300 yards ahead of the Barb as she started on her second and last lap. As Happy came up the home stretch she was so far ahead that she made two circles around the stakeboat, finished the race, turned and went back down the course, met the Barb and came back up with her and finished again about 100 feet better than the Barb, the Greenhorn crossed the line about 3 minutes behind the winner. The judges, after a long and heated session, decided to give the race to Happy Heinie, but at the meeting of the club the members voted to disqualify her for not holding the course exactly, as she was instructed.

There seemed to be a hoodoo spread over these Labor Day races long before the day had dawned. One little thing after another happened to mar the success of the last races of the season, which, all in all, reflected no discredit on the officials of the races, as it must be admitted that they did admirably well, considering.

It was impossible to find a boat approaching the Silver Heels' class that would enter her race, even at a large handicap. Silver Heels is a little freak boat but fifteen feet in length, with a three-foot beam and equipped with a 2 h.p. engine. She was entered in the under-ten-mile handicap on June 21st, and July 4th, and carried off first prize in both events. It is rumored that two young men are building a small craft to after Silver Heels' scalp in the first race of next season, and young Burdick, the owner, says that if they beat him he has another model and engine up his sleeve which he will build as soon as he is defeated.

It seems a shame to have taken the 17-mile race from the Comet, but the rules of any race must be enforced by the judges and although their turning the draw wrong did not give them any advantage, they took their medicine like true sportsmen and have signified their willingness to run the race over or to abide by the judges' decision and give the prize to the Ethel of Astoria, who came in last.

The big scratch race was the big event of all races ever held by the club and was expected by all to be the closest run of the season. In an interview with Otto W. Ranft, owner of the Happy Heinie, after the race, he openly admitted that he did wrong in "rubbing it in," but he said he just couldn't help it, as everyone for the week before the race kept telling him to get in perfect condition, as he was going to have a close race and to just fly away from the other competitors was too much.

(Transcribed from Pacific Motor Boat, October 1908, pp. 11-13. )

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page —LF]


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