Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum

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Model Tether Boat Racing at Detroit Water Works Park and Belle Isle

Hello Hydro Fans,

Before there was RC, you raced your boat on a 52-foot tether cable, one at a time.

The competition was against the clock-Model Tether Boat Racing.

These boats and their gas and steam engines were all homemade, scratch built

by the talented toolmakers and machinists of the 1924-1955 era.

Here in Detroit known as the Detroit Model Power Boat Club, we were the epi-center for

Tether Boat Racing at Detroit's Water Works Park. In addition to the Detroit Model Boat Club,

other Clubs from Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Toronto came to Detroit

to race each other. The "big years" (before the war) were the 4th of July weekends of 

1939, 40' and 41'. 

I realize that these boats are not full size, 

Tether boat racing may have inspired Hydroplane enthusiasts.

The grandfather of Joe Tate, a contemporary full size Hydroplane driver, 

built and raced his tether boat in Water Works Park. Urban legend has it that Grandpa Tate

created surface propping. And, in 1939 Garwood visited the Detroit Club at Water Works Park,

likely looking for "speed ideas."

In 1961, a tether boat broke the 100 mph ceiling, built by Ed Kalfus of the New York Model Knights Club.

I have been a avid tether boat historian and collector for 25+ years.

A website I recently started- www.tetherboat.com

I welcome comments and shared interest.

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Comment by kent Lund on March 4, 2015 at 7:20am

Phil, you are correct-Tether Line cars are the same era as tether boats.

The tether cars often the same motors as the tether boats.

Just like these current times, car racing has a bigger fan base than boat racing.

If you can find a copy of Model Craftsman magazine from the 1930's you will see a page or two about boat racing and three or six pages about Spin Dizzy cars.

Comment by Phil Lampman on March 2, 2015 at 5:54pm

This reminds me a lot of what, in scale model race cars, might be called "Spin Dizzies". Am I close? They too were largely tether-controlled racers.

For discussion's sake, dos anyone on this forum remember the Strombecker series of early 50's Grand Prix race cars that were battery powered, but could also race rom a central pylon with lines attached to the car. If memory serves, Strombecker offered about 4 or 5 different types of race cars. I think the pylon set-up was sold sparely and required D-call batteries. I seem to recall a Mercedes W196, a Ferrari - possibly a Lancia D50 and some British car, maybe a Cooper.

Am I getting close Ken?

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