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The saga of Miss Spokane began in the fall of 1957 when a small group of Spokane, Washington hydroplane enthusiasts formed first formed a corporation and then raised a reported $13,000 to purchase a surplus unlimited hydroplane hull from Seattle aerospace industry giant Bill Boeing. Boeing had built the boat as a backup to his successful unlimited Miss Wahoo and had held in in reserve.
From the outset, the boat was “community” owned and operated. Shares were sold to Spokane residents making them “owners”, and at one point over 10,000 “members” had each paid at least one dollar for a share of the boat.
A small group of businessmen calling themselves Miss Spokane Unlimited Hydroplane, Inc. managed the boat’s finances and day-to-day operations. The group was headed by Don Klages.
The team that the Miss Spokane group put together was largely made up veterans of the Army and Army Air Corp, with a number of them coming from the Washington Air National Guard’s 116 Fighter Squadron and 141st Air Refueling Wing at Geiger Field near what is now Spokane International Airport.
The team kept the original mahogany deck and outfitted the boat with special gold leaf numbering and a two-tone lilac and white tail. The U-25 designation contained a star between the ‘U’ and the ’25’, and it is thought that this reflected the military background of many on the crew.
The team selected former Army Air Force officer and local limited class boat racer George Alexieve as the team’s crew chief, and he in turn recruited engine men and others from the community and the local Air National Guard unit.
One of those recruited was a young Dallas Sartz, himself a Major in the Air National Guard. He became the first driver of the boat in competition. He and Alexieve drove the boat in its initial testing runs on Idaho’s Hayden Lake, and Sartz was at the wheel in its debut at the Apple Cup on Washington’s Lake Chelan in May of 1958 and a month later at the inaugural Diamond Cup in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Sartz made a career of the Air National Guard and would eventually retire from the Geiger Field unit with the rank of colonel with 35 years of military service. At the time of his retirement he was the chief maintenance officer for the 141st Air Refueling Wing.
Another recruit was Kent Simonson, who would serve initially as a crew member, then as crew chief, and eventually as owner of the Miss Spokane hull. Simonson had served as a mechanic and crew chief for transport vehicles on the Burma-Thailand-India transport system during World War II, and when he returned to Spokane after the war and interned as a boat builder and cabinet maker. His motor pool experience and his expert wood repair skills were invaluable to the crew.
Others joining the crew for the initial campaign were Dan Colman, John Morse, Jack Finlayson, Don Revard, Dan Gmeiner, Jim Hern, John Beers, Harold Carmen, and Bud Newton. Finlayson and Morse were the main engine men in the first two years of operation.
In 1960, Simonson became crew chief when Alexieve stepped away. Lloyd Massender took over as head engine man that year with Hardy Holder and Mel Cantor assisting him. All had extensive experience in working on airplane and racing engines.
Warren Schott would join the team the same year as head hull maintenance man. Schott’s son, Skip, would also join the team along with Larry Pierce, John Coleman, and Leonard Blum.
Following Sartz in the Miss Spokane cockpit were veteran unlimited driver Norm Evans of Chelan and limited hydro driver and decorated Marine war veteran Rex Manchester.
The Miss Spokane would campaign for only four abbreviated seasons. Financial constraints would limit their participation to only the races on the western swing of the unlimited class race schedule. The team was best described as “hard luck” as they suffered several near misses in their quest for victory.
With Evans at the wheel, the team was leading the 1959 Diamond Cup when the boat hooked in the third lap, throwing Evans from the boat and disqualifying it from further competition that day.
Manchester was leading on the final lap of the 1960 Seafair Trophy race when one of the other boats caught fire in the turn behind him stopping the race. In the re-run the next day, Manchester could not keep up with eventual winner Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway.
A year later, Manchester would have the Lilac Lady leading by a good distance over the competition in the final turn of the 1961 Gold Cup on Nevada’s Pyramid Lake when he hit a huge rolling wave and flipped throwing him from the boat. The Miss Spokane sank in 80 feet of water, but was raised and brought back to Spokane after that race.
The badly damaged boat was leased to Bob Gilliam of Seattle in 1962, and the hull would never raced as Miss Spokane again. Home supply store owner Dave Heerensperger would sponsor the boat’s next campaign as Miss Eagle Electric for two seasons (1963 and 1964), and Jim Herrington of Michigan would race it as the Miss Lapeer from 1965 to 1967). As Miss Lapeer it would win its one and only race in the 1966 Sacramento Cup on Lake Folsom.
The Miss Spokane hull was retired after the 1967 season, and spent the next twenty years on display near Herrington’s business in Lapeer, Michigan. It was returned to Spokane in the mid-1980s and is reportedly stored in a garage in the Spokane valley area. Boeing’s Miss Wahoo was destroyed in an accident in 1966, but was an exact copy has been created by the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum of Kent, Washington and is popular at vintage hydroplane demonstrations around the Northwest.