With the arrival in 1984 of not one but three
thunderboats, the interest of media and fan alike
Who? Was the first person to think of a turbine?
What? Was the year when the first turbine hit the water?
When? Did this initiation take place?
Where? Was the site of the first turbine's test?
Why? Did the sport of hydro racing gravitate toward turbines?
Veteran hydro fans may remember the name Jim Herrington. An
Irish face, pug nose and all. An Irish personality, a drinking
man. You get the idea.
Herrington was active in the sport during the 1960's and very
His Mariner Too and Miss Lapeer hydros won their share of the
marbles and were
always front runners.
Miss Lapeer won the Sacramento Cup in 1966, and Herrington
about a new Miss Lapeer.
Loathe to stand still and not make progress, he began an
turbine engines, and decided in 1967 to try to make one go.
First he retired the older of his two boats - the Mariner Too.
transported that boat to Les Staudacher's boat shop in Kawkawlin,
Staudacher, renowned builder that he was, made changes in the
moving the driver's seat forward and making room in the back for
11 feet of
The engine dwarfed the boat. More properly, both engines
30-foot long boat.
Herrington engaged the services of master mechanic Charles
Voelker to put
together the power package. After much discussion, Herrington
Voelker and Staudacher to marry two turbine engines.
The First was a General Electric J-25 used in a Navy seaplane.
little "hair dryer" was used to produce gas pressure to operate
The larger, free turbine, engine was a Westinghouse J-46, also
used in Navy
The two engines took two years to perfect and were installed in
Too which was taken to Guntersville, Alabama to run on the placid
Tests by driver Fred Alter were far from conclusive but the idea
Herrington next commissioned Staudacher to build a new boat.
The result was
a new U-99 Miss Lapeer completed in 1971. She had to be 34 feet long
to handle 11
feet of engines. The extra length required extra width, 14 feet
to be exact.
As a result the entire rig weighed 7,250 pounds. A behemoth.
engines are about three to four feet long.
The 2,800 pounds worth of engines developed 3,200 horsepower,
but in this
configuration lay the seeds of the Miss Lapeer's demise.
As Staudacher recalls it, the "gas producer engine" was "about
17% shy" of
having even pressure to produce a well-balanced machine.
"Had we been 17% over, things would have been great, but we
weren't, is his
Taken to Detroit for a race in 1971, the Miss lapeer, as owner
put it, "just putt-putted around" and the lack of enough gas
the engine to overheat and destroy itself.
End of Miss Lapeer. End of turbine power for the present. End
Herrington as an unlimited owner.
But the idea wouldn't die.
Watching Herrington's project from the sidelines was Don
Edwards, of Santa
Barbara, California. Edwards, a drag boat racer, in 1967
Hallett to build him a 30 foot boat which was modeled after jet
holder Lee Taylor, of Downey, California (later killed in a jet
trying for a water speed record at Lake Tahoe, California).
Hallett's product was called Golden Commotion, named after
boat of the same name. Edwards worked on it and installations
in the garage and driveway of his home.
For power, Edwards chose two Allison T-40 turboshaft engines.
supposed to deliver 5,000 horsepower and 14,000 RPM's.
In 1968, all systems installed, Edwards decided on a trailer
There was a major malfunction of the engines and the whole kit
exploded and then burned.
Scratch another hopeful.
About the time Herrington was overloading his Lapeer turbine on
River, Jim Clapp, Seattle business and investment executive
decided he might
have a go at a turbine powered boat.
He engaged the services of Chuck Lyford, well known flyer
soldier of fortune
and Dwight Thorn, another aircraft engine bug. Lyford also had
with hydroplaners and it wasn't long, comparatively speaking,
till Ron Jones
turned out a beautiful 30 foot long three-tailed speedster called
the U-95. No
Sponsor. Just a number. U-95.
Click here to hear the U-95 ...
Driven by Leif Borgersen, the U-95 was powered by two Lycoming
the sort used in Huey Helicopters. In 1974, the U-95 made its
Clapp had more success than anyone else, even winning a heat now
But, misfortune again struck a turbine pioneer. Clapp
contracted a terminal
illness and died.
There was still no solution, as yet, to the main problems of
engines in boats - heat! Sequestered down in the hull (as
opposed to out in
the open on airplanes) the turbines simply could not operate
It was 1980 before another owner took a shot at turbine power.
Heeresperger, President, Chairman of the Board and absolutely the
where the buck stops at Pay 'N Pak stores, had been a force with
contend for several years, winning Gold Cups, races and National
with almost diffident ease.
He commissioned crew chief Jim Lucero to build him a new boat -
and it, too
was to be a turbine with Jim Lucero the crew chief and engine
Lucero chose a T-55 Lycoming, grandchild of the T-53. The
progeny was more
powerful than the antecedent. The T-55 Lycoming developed 2,200
and weighed about 600 pounds. The two T-53's could develop only
horsepower each. The T-55 was also a helicopter engine, and was
Chinook (CH-47) helicopters that whizzed over Vietnam jungles.
Lucero and driver John Walters had a hair raising experience
the first time
at a race. The Pay 'N Pak got airborne and did 2 complete 360
enroute to an accident.
Repaired, the Pay 'N Pak picked up the first turbine-powered
victory ever in New York in 1982 - and then crashed in August
1982 in a first
lap melee at
Scratch Heerensperger, who left the sport with a blast at
the turbine. Scratch the Pay 'N Pak.
Advance the calendar two years. The 1984 Season. Turbines were
Steve Woomer, Seattle auto parts dealer, purchased
Heerensperger's old boat
and a brand new hull that was waiting to make its debut. It,
too, used the T-
55 Lycoming engine. Woomer completed installations, testing and
drove the boat.
Lucero, Winner of many national championships and world
Pay 'N Pak, and Atlas Van Lines, decided to take the turbine
plunge again in
Again T-55 Lycoming. Again Lucero built the boat. In 1984
Hanauer won two races and raised the lap record to almost 146 MPH
general convinced everyone that when the turbine Atlas finished,
But the biggest chunk was bitten out of the turbines by
"Bob" Taylor, who won one race as a freshman owner in 1983.
Armed with a new sponsor, Lite Beer, from Miller, Taylor
to build the Lite All Star and adapted a General Electric T-64
horsepower) to run his new mount.
Problems. Wouldn't start. Weird installations of various
Unable to start because of required high pressure. There's more,
It took four races into the season before the Lite All Star
qualified for a
race. It took several changes in personnel to come down with a
But once the Lite All Star qualified it was steady, and
Since the year of 1984 turbines have won every race but seven -
and the last
time a boat won that wasn't turbine-powered was 1989 in
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