Hydro Racing

Hydroplane replicas recall originals

Though the 1957 U-77 Miss Wahoo and 1955 U-60 Miss Thriftway were destroyed in competition decades ago, their spirits live on in the replicas parked along the Columbia River this weekend.

It’s a labor of love to build the boats as they were in their heyday, but it’s worth it to see the reaction.

The Miss Wahoo is so close to the original in look and mechanics that former driver Mira Slovak, who piloted the hydroplane last year at Seafair, felt as though he had been transported back in time.

“He patted the deck like it was an old friend,” Miss Wahoo crew member John Sankalis said.

Miss Wahoo was finished in 11 months, thanks to a full-time paid staff of 7-10 people and a 30-member volunteer crew. The boat, owned by the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in Kent, launched in 2009.

The financing for the construction was secured by Scott Carson and Miss Wahoo’s original owner, Bill Boeing Jr.

Miss Thriftway, owned by Vashon Unlimiteds, LLC, was launched in 2007, but its replication took longer to complete.

“It was a lot of weekends and evenings,” said Alan McDonough, who helped build both boats. “Twelve people worked part time for four years.”

But Miss Thriftway also was blessed to have a handy group of owners.

Steve Compton is a woodworker, Larry Fuller is an appliance repairman, crew chief Steve Payne is an auto mechanic and Rob Wheeler, who grew up in Richland, is a composite fabricator.

“This is a total team deal,” Compton said. “Not one of us could have done this project by ourselves.”

The original Miss Thriftway was the first competitive hydroplane driven by Bill Muncey, but after two Gold Cup wins and one President’s Cup victory, its life was cut short in the 1957 Governor’s Cup in Madison, Ind.

Nine years later, Miss Wahoo, then known as Miss Budweiser, met its grisly fate in the President’s Cup on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Its driver, Don Wilson, was a casualty on a day that also claimed Ron Musson of Miss Bardahl and Rex Manchester of Notre Dame.

Miss Wahoo, which also was known as Miss Exide, racked up wins in the President’s Cup (1959, 1963), Governor’s Cup (1963) and Diamond Cup (1964-65).

Though crashes finished off the original Miss Wahoo and Miss Thriftway, the hydroplanes were reborn with help from the son of Ted Jones, the boats’ original designer.

Boat builder Ron Jones drew full-scale plans off his father’s drawings and gave them to the crews who would replicate the hydroplanes.

“The plans were the key component that allowed us to replicate the boat,” McDonough said. “It was something to work from.”

With the exception of some modern safety features, both boats are exact replicas of the originals, down to the World War II fighter plane engines.

The new Miss Thriftway is about 1,000 pounds heavier than the original because more aluminum was added and the sponson assembly was built as one piece.

“We’re a bunch of old guys,” Compton said. “If we get hurt, we don’t heal as fast.”

The vintage boats run a handful of times each year, and it’s a joy for the builders to watch their handiwork skip along the water just as the originals did more than 50 years ago.

“They’re like our children,” McDonough said. “I feel like I’m bringing my kids to this event.”

Paging through history: Those wanting to learn more about the legendary Miss Bardahl can pick up Jon Osterberg’s new book Dragon Days.

It tells the story of Miss Bardahl’s national championship streak from 1963-65 and how the boat was revived after a long stay on the East Coast.

The U-40 Miss Bardahl is in the Tri-Cities this weekend.

“It’s the history primarily of that boat, which was the most successful of the Bardahls, but five different boats were called Miss Bardahl,” Osterberg said. “Basically, it goes from 1957 to today.”

Osterberg saw Miss Bardahl for the first time when he was 8. The last time he witnessed it in action during its heyday was Aug. 8, 1965, when it won the Gold Cup in Seattle.

Now 58, Osterberg works as a media spokesman for PEMCO Insurance, but he remains an avid hydroplane follower. He takes photos at all of Miss Bardahl’s races and handles media inquiries about the boat, which was restored by former crew members.

The other project close to Osterberg’s heart is his book, which took more than three years to finish.

“I’ve been a hydro fanatic my whole life,” Osterberg said. “That has been my favorite boat. I’m a bit more sentimental and nostalgic than most people.”

The book can be purchased at www.dragondaysbook.com. The cost is $34.95 plus tax and $5.60 for shipping and handling.

w Katie Dorsey: 582-1526; kdorsey@tricityherald.com