1921 Nordlinger Cup Race

The 1921 Nordlinger Cup Race

By John L. Von Blon; Photos by W. C. Sawyer

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The annual Nordlinger Cup motor boat race at Los Angeles is a graphic story of the past—a classic tamely gone out of existence. After ten years of battling—a period marked on the Pacific Coast in particular by astounding development in speed craft and their performance—the coveted trophy finally has fallen into permanent hands. The winner is Dustin Farnum, good actor on land and sea, and commodore, if you please, of the Los Angeles Motor Boat Club. He captured the exquisite solid-silver design Saturday and Sunday, November 19 and 20, with Miss Los Angeles II, his latest and finest trophy chaser — and catcher. Through a combination of circumstances that eliminated his most dangerous rival in a regrettable manner the plucking was easy, but that doesn't imply that every-body isn't glad to see the cup become Commodore Farnum's property. He made a long, sportsman-like fight for it, built boat after boat, spent a lot of money, and now has some-thing to show for his enthusiasm and effort.

To acquire possession of the trophy and take it out of further competition three consecutive annual victories were necessary. Commodore Farnum not only achieved these but each time took all the heats of the race—a total of nine straight. This is believed t o establish a world's record.

While Miss Los Angeles II, in the first heat of the last race, was dashing to what proved her triumph, a thrilling drama of the deep was enacted on the handsome power boat, one probably more dangerous and stirring than any in which her Thespian-driver ever figured on the stage or the screen. Overflow from the carburetors became ignited by backfiring of the motors and Harry G. Vorhauer, the mechanician, had a serious time with it. The blazing fluid, gasoline and oil, was running into the bilges and along and under the floor boards. Vorhauer, his clothing constantly catching fire, worked furiously with the extinguishers, exhausting all there were aboard, so Farnum, glancing back, saw the flames and the desperate struggle and for a minute or two thought Miss Los Angeles doomed. It looked like a case of leaping overboard for self-preservation. He had implicit faith in the mechanician, who is himself a racer of some note, and finally was relieved to see Vorhauer gain control of the situation. It was a brave, really a heroic fight, and lasted intermittently from the third to the last lap. Vorhauer was scorched and singed about the legs and hands. He made light of the incident.

Tragi-comedy, too, with more of the tragic element than the comic in it, came before the spectators at this time. William W. Paden's remarkably swift Hurricane II, a whole lap ahead of Farnum's entry and clipping off the miles at the rate of nearly fifty per hour, stopped within a few hundred feet of the finishing line in the last few seconds of the heat— for lack of gasoline! Billy Cubbins, her veteran driver, shouted his predicament to the officials on the near- by float and then lay flat on the Hurricane II, reached down and frantically paddled with a hand on either side of the bow to force her across the line, his mechanician meanwhile wielding an oar. They got her over well ahead of Miss Los Angeles II, against wind and current, but she was disqualified just the same by the judges on the ground that under American Power Boat Association rules, under which the Los Angeles Motor Boat Club held the Nordlinger race, a boat must finish under its own power. Some dissent from this ruling was heard but it was not officially protested.

The crowd laughed and cheered while Cubbins and his mechanician exerted their muscular power in the hope of getting by, and when the result became known its sympathies were distinctly with them and Hurricane II, which had raced rings around the other entries. There scarcely could be an instance of tougher luck than that of this apparently sure winner losing on a technicality under such conditions. It was accentuated and made the harder by the discovery, not many minutes after the engine died and the heat was over, of twenty-five gallons of gasoline in a spare tank which for unaccountable reasons had not been connected and was therefore overlooked. Cubbins wasn't able to figure where all his supply had gone but found the reserve too late. On the third leg of the first lap of the heat he ran off the course and Hurricane II lost more than a quarter of a mile. But for this early mishap she would have won the heat by more than three miles.

Probably the tensest moments experienced by fans who watched the Nordlinger race through its ten years were while Cubbins and his mechanic paddled Hurricane II over the line by hand and Miss Los Angeles II, spouting spray like a mighty geyser, roared down the home stretch to the goal. Screeching sirens and tooting horns and loud yells encouraged the contenders who were left dependent on arm-power against two six-cylinder Fiat aviation motors.

* * *

The 1921 Nordlinger Cup race, and the last, was held over a rectangular course one and three-eighths miles long by one-eighth mile wide off the shore of Terminal Island, the course within the harbor breakwater having been abandoned because of menacing driftwood due to construction and dredging operations. The race was run in three heats of twenty-four miles each, a heat consisting of eight laps around the three-mile course, and the total amounting to seventy-two statute miles. The first heat, and the one that developed the only sensational episodes of the contest, was held Saturday, November 19, at 11 a. m., and the second and third heats at 10 and 12 o'clock, respectively, Sunday, November 20. There were four entries, all local speedsters : Dustin Farnum's Miss Los Angeles II, Frank A. Garbutt's Mystery, Will W. Paden's Hurricane II, and Joe Fellows' Fellows IV.

Weather conditions were ideal, meaning that the sea was smooth as a mirrored mountain lake save for the white gashes and green furrows cut by the speedy flyers in tuning up for the contest and slower boats taking their passengers out to see the sport, the sun bright and warm, and the wind nil. These would, generally speaking, be regarded as conditions devoutly to be wished for, but in this event were two entrants to whom such do not in the least appeal—Fellows, the ancient mariner who likes to rough it and builds for water that would scare most others out, and Garbutt, the grey seadog who always is ready to start around Catalina when masters of the larger ships prefer to stay in port. Garbutt and Fellows were disappointed, for only in the last heat did the sea become even mildly choppy.

Spectators were there in force, particularly on Sunday, when hundreds of pleasure-craft owners took out parties of friends to witness the finals. There were boats from the north, from San Diego, from the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and the local fleet loomed big. Hal Roach entertained fifty-three guests on his new cruiser yacht, the Gypsy. Many came from the Los Angeles Yacht Club. Boats of the San Pedro Transportation Company carried out many passengers both days. With the battleships and other fighting machines of the Pacific Fleet for a background and navy hydroplanes darting over-head, pacing the racers and occasionally alighting on the water like huge splashing pelicans the scene was a striking picture aside from the features that brought it about — and a motor boat battle is highly spectacular.

In charge of the race was the regatta committee of the Los Angeles Motor Boat Club: Ray Thomas, chairman; Hal E. Roach, George Hill, Wally Van and E. R. Abbott, secretary of the club. The judges and timers were Messrs. Hill and Roach; starter, Mr. Thomas; scorers, Messrs. Van and Abbott.

* * *

The Mystery dropped out in the seventh lap of the first heat when an oil feed line broke and her engines began to smoke. This graceful boat, driven by Frank E., with his father beside him and carrying two others, held to the water like an ocean liner but glided along as lightly as a feather. Work on installation of the power plant—two 12-cylinder aviation Liberty motors—in Mercury had been rushed night and day for weeks to get her ready for the Nordlinger race. Almost the last day it was found that her wheels were not the proper size to hold her engines down and she consequently could not make good time. It was too late to get new wheels. Mercury speeded up to between forty-three and forty-five miles per hour for a short time. She will be fitted with wheels of the right size for the next event and is likely to go some.

With Mystery and Hurricane II out only Fellows IV and Miss Los Angeles II remained for the last two heats. Hurricane II gave a splendid demonstration of her capacity, however, making an average of more than fifty miles an hour in the fastest lap of all over the three-mile course—3 minutes 35 seconds. This won her the Commodore Dustin Farnum Cup. It isn't at all hard to guess that Hurricane II will stage a come-back and that before long, with plenty of gasoline aboard and all tanks connected up.

Joe Fellows and his son, "Rusty," distinguished themselves, as usual, by astonishingly consistent racing, and won the Hal Roach cup for the best showing in that respect. Joe's laps varied but little throughout and were sometimes duplications, as the time chart shows. He settles down and his Sterling engine keeps plugging along regardless. Some of these days he'll get a race in a sea that's kicking up, and those who know him and his boat aver he'll lead the field.

Farnum beat Fellows by only 55 seconds in the three heats of the race, and at the finish of the final lap was less than half a boat length ahead. Farnum's elapsed time was 1:48:01 and Fellows' 1:48:56.

Farnum's average for the race was a fraction under 40 miles an hour. Last year, with Eleda, he made 42, the best ever in the Nordlinger race.

For finishing second Fellows was awarded the Harry Keefe trophy, a handsome cup. Farnum, in addition to the Nordlinger Cup, was awarded the Ray Thomas trophy as winner of first prize.

First Heat

At the gun Fellows IV led across the line by several hundred feet, the others being bunched in his wake.

Hurricane II at once began to gain and increased her lead lap after lap, though Billy Cubbins drove off the course in the second long stretch of the first, crossed the finishing line instead of remaining outside, and had to go an extra quarter mile or so to round the third buoy. In the seventh she lapped Miss Los Angeles II, and soon afterward came the disaster brought about by an unconnected gasoline tank. Farnum, though he kept Miss Los Angeles II going lively, apparently was considerably perturbed by the fire aboard and let her execute a few spins, but she quickly recovered and kept to the course. Fellows IV plugged along steadily and hummingly, reeling off lap after lap with not more than a few seconds difference. Mercury, until she went out in the seventh, ran a smooth race, Frank E. holding her to the course like a destroyer, and making about thirty-eight miles an hour, except a test of speed when she cut into the forties.

Second Heat

Miss Los Angeles II crossed the line first. Fellows IV was not hitting right and made a slow start but picked up rapidly and overtook his adversary, running nose and nose for some distance. In the middle of the lap Fellows IV took the lead and held it into the second lap. Then it looked as though Farnum opened up, for he speeded ahead. He ran off the course, however, missed the third buoy and had to go back, losing some seconds but still maintaining the lead. In the third lap he was 150 yards to the good, and increased it to 300 yards. Miss Los Angeles II was going so fast that she nearly ran down a pelican that had dived for a fish and got in the way. She took the fifth lap by 400 yards, gained slightly in the sixth, lost some in the seventh, but was well ahead of Fellows IV at the finish of the heat.

Third Heat

Miss Los Angeles II got over a few seconds ahead of Fellows IV, but the latter made steady gains and at the end of the second lap was leading by two-thirds a boat length. At the end of the third they crossed the line bow and bow. Fellows IV led by a slight margin through the fourth lap and crossed 150 feet in advance of Miss Los Angeles II. Then Farnum took the lead, apparently stepping on her and showing a burst of speed, crossing three feet ahead. It was becoming exciting and hats were waving on the assembled boats. Right after they crossed Joe again got the lead, but Dustin came around 150 feet ahead in the seventh. The eighth lap was nip and tuck. At the finish of the heat Fellows IV was perhaps two feet behind on the line.

Nordlinger Cup Race Winners

Year Boat Driver Elapsed Time Aver. Miles Hr.
1912 El Veinto S.G. Cousiner 4:27:17 15
1913 Bull Pup Harry G. Vorhauer 4:34:33 16
1914 Fellows II Joe Fellows 3:51:58 20
1915 Tazus C. Merritt 4:41:06 15
1916 Biff P. H. L. Wilson 2:52:35 21
1917 Fellows III Joe Fellows 2:38:46 30
1918 Mystery IV Frank A. Garbutt 3:00:58 23
1919 Miss Los Angeles Dustin Farnum 1:58:03 36
1920 Eleda Dustin Farnum 1:41:32 42
1921 Miss Los Angeles II Dustin Farnum 1:48:01 40

 

Though speed has had its ups and downs a glance at the records will show that wonderful progress has been made since the inception of the Nordlinger Cup race, when the entries looked like canoes as compared with those of today, and the cost would bear somewhat similar comparison. It took almost five hours for S. G. Cousiner, with the little El Veinto, to win the classic the first year, 1912, and up to that time it had been believed impossible for a boat of the kind to stand the grind of seventy-two miles in three heats. The average speed was only 15 miles an hour. When the Bull Pup came into fame a year later there was an improvement of only a mile, but Joe Fellows shoved the figure up considerably in 1914, when he made 20 with the Fellows II. The greatest showing in the first five years the trophy was contested for was made by P. H. L. ("Doc.") Wilson, who reeled off the whole distance in less than three hours. Then Fellows came along with his "III" and made a marked jump to 30 miles per hour. Since then there has been good progress except in 1918 and this year, when there was a drop from the previous years.

The coast now is clear for the winter races of the Los Angeles Athletic Club Motor Boat Racing Association, and these are to be vigorously put through, rain or shine or other conditions notwithstanding. Additional events will be announced in a short time, and after next year the program will cover summer as well as winter events, all of a high order and calculated to bring the best boats in the world to the Pacific Coast, here to remain permanently.

Statistical Summary of Final Nordlinger Cup Race at Los Angeles
24 Times Around Three-Mile Course — Distance 72 Statute Miles
Heat No. 1
November 19, 1921 10 am
Boat I II III IV V VI VII VIII Elapsed Time
Miss Los Angles II 5:07 4:27 4:19 4:56 4:28 4:14 4:13 4:32 36:06
Mystery 4:38 4:20 4:43 4:26 4:24 5:05 Out    
Fellows IV 4:57 4:30 4:32 4:36 4:31 4:32 4:30 4:30 36:36
Heat No. 2
November 20, 1921 10 am
Miss Los Angles II 4:51 4:21 4:16 4:22 4:25 4:35 4:25 4:21 35:45
Fellows IV 4:49 4:31 4:28 4:29 4:30 4:27 4:28 4:26 36:08
Heat No. 3
November 20, 1921 12 noon
Miss Los Angles II 4.34 4:38 4:27 4:23 4.32 4:29 4:25 4:42 36:10
Fellows IV 4:42 4:29 4:28 4:27 4:28 4:29 4:29 4:38 36:10

 

(Reprinted from Pacific Motor Boat, December 1921, pp. 23-27)