Dale Thomas invented new ways to let his guests enjoy Water Follies in luxury and cool comfort Saturday.
As the owner of Dale Thomas Commercial HVAC Services in Kennewick, Thomas can't help but think about beating the heat.
So it was only natural that he wanted the guests of his company's private tents on the west side of Columbia Park to keep cool in spite of the 90 degree heat.
His solution was to build a swamp cooler that makes chilled air from the melting ice cubes of an oversized soda chest. Metallic ducts extend from the cooler, which then are attached to the frames of the tents and emit cool air to guests below.
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"You have a place to escape," Thomas said of his guests. "You walk outside and it's hot and you can come in here."
Thomas had more than 100 family, friends and customers enjoying his specially made cool air Saturday afternoon. Among them was Merv Schmidt, who sat below one of the cooler's vents with great pleasure.
"We've been out here when all you've got for shade is your hat," said Schmidt, who's attended hydroplane races on the Columbia River since the 1960s and now lives near Grand Coulee Dam.
This is the fourth year that Thomas has sponsored a corporate tent, and each year he brings new amenities. He has used the swamp cooler before, but this year, he designed it to pipe its cool air directly into the handicapped and women's portable toilets. His wife insisted on it after growing tired of having to use hot, smelly facilities.
Another addition this year were two fiberglass pools brought in by Desert Oasis Pools of Kennewick. The refreshing Columbia River may have been right before them, but many of Thomas' guests preferred a game of water volleyball in the deep pool or splashing around in the shallow kiddie pool.
Not everyone savored the luxuries of corporate tents Saturday, however. Some fans like Andrew Garcia of Richland wanted to sit with a few friends in a low-key shade tent instead. The blanket-lined tent was right along the river, giving him and his friends a front-row seat to the racing action.
"It's pretty mellow," Garcia said. But he and his buddies perked up and cheered loudly when the unlimited light hydroplanes roared past them.
And then there were the no-frills spectators. Friends Kline Welsch and Zach Case, both of Richland, were wandering the Columbia River's shores on foot in search of the best viewing spot. Their only source of shade was a miniature, inflatable hydroplane hat.
They bought the plastic hats at the booth of their favorite unlimited team. But Welsch became self-conscious when he didn't see anyone else wearing them in the crowd.
"We thought, 'Hmm... we must seem pretty dumb,' " Welsch said.
Thousands enjoyed the races Saturday in relative peace. There were few incidents reported to Kennewick police at their Columbia Park command post.
Sgt. Ken Lattin said officers handled one case of marijuana possession and several other incidents of illegal alcohol possession. Alcohol is only allowed in the official beer garden or at private corporate tents with serving licenses.