A Record Cross-Country Motor-Boat Trip [1909]

A river trip of 450 miles made in one day between dawn and dark would certainly be a record-breaking performance. Such a trip could hardly be made with the ususual type of high-speed motor boat, as neither the engine nor the hull would be likely to stand 15 hours continuous running at a 30-mile clip. The annual French endurance race from Paris to the sea, in which a number of the fastest racers usually compete, is generally run in stages, so that it lasts several days and consists of a few spurts of several hours each. When these facts are considered, one can appreciate the bold undertaking of the Dean Bros., of Cincinnati, O., when they attempted to run their fast boat Br'er Fox II from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati in one day. This boat had previously made the 1,554-mile trip from St. Louis to New Orleans at a speed of 29.8 miles an hour, and altogether had traveled over 3,000 miles at a speed of nearly 30 miles an hour.

The start was planned for Sunday, July 10th last; but on account of low water in the Ohio River, it was necessarily postponed. A demonstration was given the Scientific American representative of the speed of the boat, however, in a round trip to McKeesport, Pa., a town 20 miles distant. The running time was 39 minutes one way and 41 the other, which was against a slight current. This was an average of over 30 miles an hour. Fortunately, within the next three days there was some rain, and the water rose enough in the river to make possible the undertaking of the trip, although only with the running of considerable risk, as the following account shows: The start was made from the landing of the Pittsburgh Launch Club on Wednesday evening, July 14th, at 7:09:25, with the intention of running through the six dams to Rochester, Pa., that night, in order to make an early start through the open river on Thursday morning, thus avoiding the loss of time in locking through these six locks. A storm came up after passing through dam No. 1, and the boat was forced to tie up for the night. Another start was made early Thursday morning, and dam No. 6, at Rochester, was reached at 9:25:10, the actual running time through the pools being at the rate of 25 miles an hour.

Below the pools the water was found to be so shallow that it was necessary to cut out four of the eight cylinders in order to reduce the speed of the engine to 500 R.P.M., or approximately half speed. Below Wellsville, O., the propeller struck the bottom of the river and was bent. It was decided to continue with the disabled propeller until deeper water was reached, as the extra propeller carried on the boat had been damaged on the trip up the river to Pittsburgh. It was impossible to make any speed until Bellaire, O., a distance of 95 miles, was reached, although the engine performance was perfect. The boat grounded several times, causing a loss of considerable time, but fortunately little damage was done.

All eight cylinders were set working at Bellaire, but four were cut out again after going about two miles, and but four cylinders were used to Marietta, a distance of 171 miles. Sisterville, W.Va., was reached on Thursday evening at 6:49. The night was spent here, and a supply of gasoline and cylinder oil was taken aboard. Leaving Sisterville at 6:37:10 on Friday morning, a quick run was made to Petticoat Bar, 9 miles down the river. The propeller struck the bar while the boat was running at nearly full speed. Two blades were stripped from the wheel, and the boat was paddled to the bank, where the other propeller was put on. The shaft was bent slightly just in front of the propeller. The accident happened at 7 A.M., when all eight cylinders had been put on for a short time, as there appeared to be about three feet of water. The start was made from Petticoat Bar at 8:43:40, the engine running on four cylinders; and no further changes were made until Marietta was reached at 10:22:05, where there was considerably more water owing to the Muskingum River flowing into the Ohio at that point.

Full speed was maintained until near Ravenswood, 218 ½ miles from Pittsburgh, where a stop was made to replace the batteries. The boat is equipped with a magneto, but this had been disabled in the storm on Wednesday night, and was out of commission. From Ravenswood to Ironton, 106 ½ miles, the engine was run at full speed continuously, and not a single adjustment of any kind was made. Had it been possible to run at this rate of speed with the same amount of water down from Pittsburgh, there is no doubt whatever that the run could have been made from that city to Cincinnati in one day. The performance of the engine on such high speed for such a distance is nothing short of remarkable, and is a triumph for the manufacturer of the two-cycle engine. No part of the engine heated up at any time, and not an explosion was missed. Vanceburg, Ky., was reached at 7:12 Friday evening. The boat was tied up for the night, and a supply of gasoline and cylinder oil was taken on. A fresh start was made at 7:22 Saturday morning, and the run to Maysville, Ky., was made without stopping or slowing down the engine. The landing at Maysville was reached at 8:38:50, thus making the 30½ miles between those cities at 1:16:50, and this with a bent propeller and shaft. Such a performance by a badly disabled boat is truly remarkable, and particularly when it is taken into consideration that while the Br'er Fox II

Is designed to carry a crew of but two, she carried a crew of four in this trip, and 85 gallons of gasoline instead of the 30 gallons which are generally carried.

At Maysville a telegram was received from Cincinnati asking that the boat’s arrival be planned and timed for one o’clock as the launch clubs of that city had planned a reception at that hour. The boat was accordingly held at Maysville until 10:49, when the start was made for Cincinnati, 60 miles distant. The engine was then run without change of speed or adjustment until the Ohio River Launch Club was reached, where ten minutes were lost in taking on an extra can of gasoline, the supply having run short. Cincinnati was reached at 1:15:45, where the boat and occupants received a rousing reception from a large crowd. The run from Maysville to Cincinnati was made at the rate of 26.54 miles per hour, the fastest long run on the trip.

The actual running time for the trip from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati was 21 hours, 35 minutes, and 25 seconds, which is a new record by water between these cities. This was an average rate per hour of 21.25 miles, a most notable performance for a disabled boat in low water, where two-fifths of the entire distance was made under half power. At least ten per cent additional distance was covered on this trip, due to the necessity of crossing and recrossing the river in order to keep in the channel, maneuvering which would have been unnecessary had there been a sufficient stage of water to permit running straight ahead and cutting the bends and curves in the river. The crew on this trip was composed of : M. B. Dean, captain; William Stevenson, engineer; James Rowley, pilot; and George D. Steele, representing the Scientific American. It is the intention of Mr. Dean, who is one of the owners of Br'er Fox II to make another attempt at a one-day trip from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati this fall, when there will be a better stage of water in the Ohio River. With proper conditions there is but little doubt of his accomplishing the remarkable feat. The second attempt will probably be made with another type of boat, as the Fox Company is installing its 8-cylinder motor in a hydroplane craft that it is thought will prove very speedy.

The Br'er Fox II was planned and assembled by Mr. A. G. Dean, one of her owners and also one of the officers of the Fox Reversible Gasoline Engine Company, of Newport, Ky. She is 40 feet in length, 4¼ feet beam, and draws about 26 inches of water. The hull is of rib and carvel construction, planked all over with ¼-inch white pine, and weighs, without engine and equipment, about 625 pounds. She is built on racing lines, and was designed and constructed by Wright brothers, of Newport, Ky.

The power equipment consists of a Fox motor rated at 56 to 65 horse-power. This engine is unique in that it has eight cylinders of the two-cycle type arranged in line above an 8-throw crankshaft. In appearance the motor is similar to the usual two-cycle engine, excepting that the cylinders are set farther apart to permit the use of wider bearings. The cylinders are all 5-inch bore by 5-inch stroke, and the based is a solid one-piece aluminium casting. The crankshaft is cut from a solid steel billet, and the throws are set to fire the cylinders 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7, 4, 8. At a speed of 800 R.P.M. this gives 6,400 piston oscillations per minute, and results in wonderfully steady and efficient power.

The one special feature of this motor is the design and location of an auxiliary fourth port, which is now being patented. Through this port air is drawn into the explosion chamber slightly in advance of the incoming charge of gas, and this injection of air accomplished the double purpose of expelling the burned gas without waste of fuel, and leaving pure air in the explosion chamber instead of vitiated gas.

These fourth ports can all be operated together by means of a lever, and when opened, result in a marked increase in both power and speed. High-tension ignition by means of two distributors and two coils is employed. Lubrication is effectually accomplished by a force feed system into the journals and by a spray taken by the incoming gas to the wrist pins, connecting rods and pistons. A clutch of the self-locking type is used, but no reversing gear is required, since the motor is readily reversible.

As is customary with boats of this type, the exhausts are open, and extend several feet above the sides of the boat. These exhausts are 2½ inches in diameter.

The motor drives a 22-inch diameter, 44-inch pitch wheel at from 750 to 800 R.P.M. with ease, and in short test runs has turned the wheel at from 810 to 825 R.P.M. in the Pittsburgh pools giving a speed in excess of 30 miles per hour in the slight current of those pools. On the run from Pittsburgh down the Ohio to Cincinnati, the engine kept up a steady speed of from 750 to 775 R.P.M. without forcing, and maintained this speed for hours at a time without perceptible heating. This speed could be maintained easily for an entire day, or even more, were the stage of the water sufficient to permit the boat to run at such speed in safety.

In the run to Cincinnati four gasoline tanks were carried, two rear tubular tanks in the stern each having a capacity of 15 gallons; one 20-gallon tank under the seat; one 30-gallon tank in front of the seat; and one 5-gallon gravity feed tank directly over the 30-gallon tank, making a total capacity of 85 gallons for long runs. The tanks all feed into the 5-gallon gravity tank, a hand pressure pump forcing the contents of the lower ones into this gravity tank. Besides an individual carbureter for each cylinder, the transfer pipes of each pair of cylinders are connected to a second carbureter, so that there are no less than 12 carbureters used on the engine.

Based on rated power, the motor in the Br'er Fox II consumes approximately 14 pints of gasoline per horse-power hour, but the engine unquestionably delivers more than its rating, so that on actual wheel performance turning a 22-inch diameter, 44-inch pitch wheel 800 R.P.M. , it is very close to a pint per horse-power hour.

The boat has a capacity of 14 gallons of cylinder oil in tanks. She is designed to carry two men averaging about 155 pounds each and 36 gallons, or about 240 pounds of gasoline. On the trip from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati she carried four men, whose combined weight was 670 pounds, and 85 gallons of gasoline, weighing approximately 600 pounds, or a total of 1,270 pounds, against 550 pounds, which is her estimated capacity when speeding.

(Transcribed from Scientific American, Aug. 21, 1909, pp. 125, 126.)

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page — LF]