24 Hour Distance Record [1925]

Breaking World's Records

How a Canadian-Owned and Built Motor Boat,
Lowered Mauretania's Twenty-four Hour Record by Hundreds of Miles

By Robert H. Combs

I believe it is customary, when commencing an article on an accomplished fact, to quote history, but for the life of me I can't remember whether it was Stephenson with his locomotive, or Fulton mussing up the surface of the Hudson River with the Clermont, who was the father of what we know today as speed. However, there is no doubt in my mind regarding the identity of the reigning speed king of motor boating, as every man on the North American continent today realizes that the name Harry Greening is one to conjure with.

Harry, or as he is known in polite circles, Commodore Greening, did not have greatness thrust upon him. Nor was he born great, but, like all good kings, is really entitled to reign in sports, he having achieved his greatness. As far back in history as the leash of memory reaches, man's adventurous spirit has led to the sea, due perhaps to the fact that there and there alone does nature rule supreme. So that there came to young Greening, many years ago, that desire for mastery and for adventure which has ever been born in red blooded men-not for him was the humdrum of every day life, or the ceaseless turmoil of commercialism, and following his natural bent he took to conquering the watery distances.

Commodore Greening was a very young man when he first made his appearance in the great Muskoka Lakes of Ontario with a canoe, powered with a single cylinder engine; the following year he returned with another canoe with a 2-cylinder engine, and true to form lie came again with a canoe and a 3-cylinder engine. And from then on every year has seen Harry Greening with another engine and more speed, until today he stands supreme as the King of Speed insofar as the navigation of the earth's waters is concerned, as never before has any boat covered so many miles of waterway in 24 hours as did Rainbow IV, Harry Greening's latest champion in the Muskoka Lakes, in October, 1925, when without a mechanical adjustment to her motors, Rainbow IV covered 1218 miles in 24 hours' run, breaking his own former world's record, made by Rainbow III, and covering almost twice as many miles in 24 hours as the fastest of the ocean greyhounds has ever made.

All of this has been accomplished through Commodore Greening's indomitable spirit, as it is said among motor boatmen that if you want to see something done with a motor boat, the way to get it done is to tell Greening that it cannot be done, and presto! — another miracle, or whatever you may wish to call it, has been added to the long line of Harry's accomplishments.

It should be remembered, with the discovery of the hydroplane system of building speed boats, that the old type of displacement boat was threatened with destruction for speed contests. True, in 1909 the American Power Boat Association, who had stuck to the displacement type of boat, brought into existence a Championship for small boats of the displacement type and at Muscatine, Iowa, in that year, a 20-footer of this class made an average speed of a little over 20 miles an hour on a Government measured course, and for the first time in history a displacement boat displayed a speed equal to more than one mile an hour for every foot of her length. This seemingly did not interfere with the continued building and racing of the high-power hydroplane, which has often been described as an engine on a shingle, but later came from the boards of Hand what is now called the V bottom and which was a true displacement type. However, until 1920 the speed boat races in North America were confined almost entirely to hydroplanes which took professional builders and mechanicians to handle and operate. Carl Fisher came to the front that year, he too having been lured from the dusty highways to the beauties of nature in the waterways. In company with his partner, James Allison, he offered to the motor boat fraternity a $10,000 gold cup to be raced for by gentlemen's runabouts, or boats of the displacement type with moderate power. This appealed to Greening, and it did not take him long to make a deal with Herbert Ditchburn, the Canadian boatbuilding wizard of the Muskoka Lakes, to get under way a boat with which to annex Fisher's tempting morsel, the solid gold cup, emblematic of a real honest-to-goodness speed boat that could be operated by an amateur and used for other purposes than that of annihilating distance, and so there came into existence Rainbow I.

The first race for the cup was run at Detroit, and, of course, new world's records were established for the three 30-mile heats called for by the terms of the contest, and Rainbow I was crowned champion.

In 1921 the three 30-mile heats for this championship were run in Buffalo, and Rainbow I again won the event, although in the interim she had been exhibited at the great New York motor boat show, and the motor boating press had crowned her not only the fastest usable boat but the finest motor boat in the world; and also she had changed hands and had become the property of Sylvester Eagen of Buffalo. In this race Greening suffered defeat by his old Rainbow I, as Rainbow II, which he had built to defeat Rainbow I, did not come up to the mark, as Greening was trying to learn something and in the true spirit of democracy both he and Ditchburn, the builder, resented any interference with their God-given, inalienable and most precious right to make their own mistakes, "As," said Harry, "it is through the privilege of making our own mistakes and bumping our own noses, kind folks, that we learn." So that in '23 we again find Commodore Greening in another Ditchburn-built boat, Rainbow III, but unfortunately, through a mishap to the rudder, Rainbow III, heralded as the fastest boat in the race, by everyone who saw her, failed to get home in time.

In 1924 we again find Commodore Greening with another new boat — Rainbow IV at Detroit, and this boat, like Rainbow I, won easily and was lay far the fastest and one of the smoothest running and most stable boats in the race. However, on a technicality in the American Power Boat Association rules, Rainbow IV was disqualified by the racing committee of the American Power Boat Association after having been allowed to race by the committee in charge of the race, which was held under the auspices of the Detroit Motor Boat Club.

Many new features were embodied in Rainbow IV; which experts had claimed to be impossible, suffice it to say that the boat was 1000 pounds heavier than Rainbow III, was powered with the same engine and was four miles an hour faster.

Having been for twelve years a member of the Championship Cups Committee of the American Power Boat Association, and having been one of the organizers of the motor boat racing game in the Mississippi Valley, and President of the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association, I feel that I am in a position to say, with all due respect to Mr. Fred Still and the American Power Boat Association as it stands today, that whether or not the action of the committee in disqualifying Rainbow IV was justified, technically under the rules, such action was ill-advised and undoubtedly will react to the disadvantage of motor boat racing, especially international motor boat racing, in the United States for many years to come.

They claimed that Greening started out deliberately to beat the rules and apparently he did it, and the Association should have been fair enough to have admitted that the rules were capable of being beaten and therefore incompetent and should have bowed its way out of court.

However, where Commodore Greening has won his great success and greatest respect from all motor boatmen is in his ideals and tenacity of purpose, for Greening, like my old friend, Carl Fisher, feels that a boat should be competent to go anywhere any time and at any speed of which it is capable, he failing to see any difference between the sort of brains which build the modern automobile and which can build a motor boat to do anything in the water that a motor car can do on land, and so we read from "Motor Boating," the pioneer motor boating journal, under date of October 10, 1923 "Harry Greening's little Rainbow III that created such a favorable impression during her first public appearance at Detroit, has won new laurels. No one suspected for a moment that her failure to win the Gold Cup this year, due to the loss of a cotter pin when nearing the finish at the third heat, has any reflection on her reliability — and now Greening has proven conclusively that the goal striven for when the restricted Gold Cup conditions were put into effect last year, has been attained — a thoroughly reliable high speed outfit with a degree of refinement equal to the standards created by the modern automobile. In fact, it would seem that Rainbow III, by sustaining an average speed of 44.33 miles per hour for 24 hours leaves so little room for improvement that she may be called the attainment of the Gold Cup ideal."

For two years prior to this outstanding achievement in the annals of motor boating, Harry Greening had been dreaming of such an event but had kept it pretty much to himself, for generous as Greening is in giving the results of his experiments or ideas to anyone interested, it requires persuasive efforts, almost to the extent of physical violence, to get him to talk about his achievements. Anyhow, this contest of speed and stamina was staged as planned and a world's record established, but this did not satisfy the redoubtable Hamilton Commodore, as after Rainbow IV, although disqualified as the winner of the Gold Cup race in 1924, and declared to be one of the finest motor boats ever built, one of the staunchest and most seaworthy high speed boats ever seen, Greening shipped a 450-h.p. Liberty motor in Rainbow IV and on October 2nd, 1925, again started out to beat his own record of 1064 miles in 24 hours, which had been made by Rainbow III, just two years before what then stood as a world's record for any sort of boat (the world's record for the Ocean Greyhounds is held by the Mauretania of the Cunard line as 773 miles in 24 hours).

At the long distance speed test of Rainbow IV I was present, and shortly after noon hour Rainbow IV completed her 1064th mile and with more hours to go was on every lap creating a new world's record. A brisk breeze was blowing along the Muskoka Lakes, and Rainbow IV was tearing off additional mile after mile towards a new international record, which may stand for a long time unless Greening himself decides to better it. The last I saw of Rainbow IV on that day, Herbert Ditchburn, her builder, was at the wheel and the little boat was touching only the high spots as she reeled off miles almost while we were thinking about it. At the end of the 24 hours Rainbow had established a new world's record of 1218 miles, and Greening was again vindicated.

As I said in the early part of this article, none of Greening's success has been thrust upon him — he is a student who is not only capable of thinking for himself but who insists on thinking for himself and paying for his own mistakes, which are few, as he does not go at things half-heartedly. For instance, in the basement of his home at Hamilton, he has a large glass tank, a circular affair, in which he tests models and studies their action in the water, and that he is capable of realizing on the results of his experiments is proven by what he has accomplished in spite of advice and information from others who might be supposed to know. Not that Commodore Greening does not listen to advice, but he has that peculiar faculty of an analytical, mechanical brain and takes what he wants and leaves the balance.

Again, early in Mr. Greening's boating experience, he contacted with Herbert Ditchburn of Gravenhurst, Ontario, who, as every motor boatman knows, can build a boat and who, like Greening, has a head of his own and insists on finishing every job he starts and going over everything down to the last detail.

Greening is now engaged in getting together in Ditchburn's shops, a boat of the 1½-litre class which is going to England next June to race against the world, for the Duke of York Cup. The writer has had the privilege of looking over this little hull and as Greening and Ditchburn are again working together I should not be at all surprised if Greening brings back to Canada the world's championship motor boat honors, as Greening is just as industrious and as much in earnest in his play as he is in the operation of that enormous business over which he presides at Hamilton, Ontario. The thing that has impressed me most in Greening's methods and accomplishments is the amount of real energy and steadfast attention to details overlooked by so many people, and which mean so much, which he expends on his endeavors.

One thing is certain in the motor boat world — Canada has a representative in this line of sport second to that of no other nation in determination, willingness and knowledge required to make champions, and that representative is Commodore Harry Greening of Hamilton, Ontario.

The following is a summary of the 24-hour run of Rainbow IV, Muskoka Lakes, Oct. 2nd, 1925: Length of lap, 19.5 miles; number of laps, 62; total time, 24 hours; total miles, 1218.88; average speed, 50.78; average running speed, 53.1; fastest lap speed, 54.0; length of boat, 27 feet; beam of boat 6 feet 10 inches; horse power, 400; gasoline used, 600 gallons of Shell; lubricating oil used, 18 gallons; total running time, 22 hours, 56 minutes; total time stopped, 1 hour, 3 minutes.

(Reprinted from The Canadian Magazine, May 1926, pp.22-3, 28)