1910 Championship of the Great Lakes

Fast Ones At Buffalo

Dixie II the Winner

Nothing to it but Dixie

With the danger of losing her laurels lessened a lot by the disabling of four of the fastest contenders in the field of seven, F. K. Burnham’s Dixie II, invading western waters for the first time, won the so-called Championship of the Great Lakes on the Niagara River, at Buffalo, on September 3d, and incidentally got one leg on the $2,000 E. R. Thomas Trophy.

To tell it in race track lingo, Dixie, with Burnham in the saddle, romped home an easy winner with her nose on the chin strap. Her average time for the 35 miles was 32.14 miles an hour. She finished with a good two and one-half miles of open green water between her well-ironed-out stern wave and the second boat, La Truda, which covered the distance at the rate of 29.75 miles an hour. Courier III finished third—10 miles behind Dixie. Courier’s performance was disappointing. She had been heralded as a 35-mile boat.

This race for the Thomas Trophy, under the auspices of the Motor Boat Club of Buffalo, was easily the greatest gathering of sure-enough fast ones. There were nine entries for this race, all but one of them known to be capable of 31 real miles an hour. Seven of these boats started. To Rear-Commodore Frank H. Bliss must be given credit for succeeding in gathering to Buffalo this unequaled field. More than that, getting this first grip on the Thomas Trophy was absolutely the last race of Dixie II—Burnham himself says so decisively—and Bliss was the lucky man to stage this big "farewell" attraction for his club.

From Buffalo, Burnham took Dixie to Toronto to treat the Canadians at the Toronto Exposition to a few exhibition miles. Then he will take that splendid engine out of the vigorous mahogany hull, replacing it with lesser power to turn the Dixie into a runabout. But cheer up, Burnham has by no means quit racing; he is just getting into it. He saw the Pioneer run away from him in the race for the Harmsworth Cup until she broke down, and he has come to the conclusion that a hydroplane is the real thing. Therefore, in an effort to keep that Harmsworth Cup here next year, he, too, is going to get a hydroplane hull. Into it he will put that Dixie engine. One of his followers says that he will have a duplicate of the Dixie engine built and that the hydroplane, which he will call Dixie IV, will have two such engines. But Burnham will not confirm the fact that he is figuring on two engines for his new hydroplane.

The race for the Thomas Trophy was run over a double triangle on the broad Niagara River, starting and finishing in front of the Motor Boat Club. The total of the six sides of the two triangles was five miles and the race was seven times around, 35 miles in all. There were four 90-degree turns to each round and it was but a fraction more than a mile from the starting line to the first turn. With the big, fast field this threatened disaster at the first turn, but Davy Jones was off the job and luck prevailed.

The race was open to boats flying the burgee of any club along the Great Lakes and the waters tributary thereto. The length was restricted to not less than 30 nor more than 40 feet. It was under this ruling that Elbridge-Secret, L. J. Seely’s 28-footer representing the Rochester Yacht Club, was barred.

The race had been ably press-agented and while only a chosen few could get on the little island which is the home of the Motor Boat Club, at least 10,000 of the public massed on the shore of the mainland to see the distant foam spots scoot around the course. It is safe to say that never before had so many boats, ranging from dinghies to steam yachts, clustered around a race course on the Niagara.

The real sensation of the race, one far greater than the winning of Dixie, was the fight to crowd Dixie out of first place put up by Cero II, Robert Deming’s steam-powered 32-footer from Cleveland. She gave Dixie a long, game stern chase that crossed the gap between the two in a way that was wonderful. Cero forced Dixie to run the fourth round in 8 minutes and 28 seconds, at the rate of 35.64 miles an hour. But Cero herself covered that round in 8 minutes and 7 seconds, 21 seconds faster than Dixie and at the rate of 37.11 miles an hour. Then, at the twenty-third mile, Cero broke down.

It is to be guessed that Deming, knowing something of the speed of his boat, had laid a well-calculated plan to beat the Dixie. He did not crowd Cero for the first five miles. At the end of the first five miles he was 1 minute and 13 seconds behind Dixie and fourth in the race. At the end of ten miles Cero had cut down this lead only one second. Evidently she was still saving steam. In the third round Cero began to open up, and when the boats finished 15 miles, Cero was second in the race and had cut down Dixie’s lead to 55 seconds. In the fourth round Cero ran the five miles at the record-breaking rate of 37.11 miles an hour, doing the distance in 8 minutes and 7 seconds, which was 21 seconds faster than Dixie could make the same five miles. Cero crossed the line at the end of 20 miles but 34 seconds astern of Dixie. The crowd held fast to its breath and strained its eyeballs.

On the back stretch of the fifth round Cero was still gaining. Then she slowed. The main steam line had started to leak under the forced pressure of her highest speed. The crew went into the scalding steam with emergency collars and clamps to effect temporary repairs, and Cero picked up speed, lifted her nose, gave her shrill whistle as before and was off again after Dixie with a loss of less than a minute. Two miles further Cero’s weakened steam pipe split its brass for a gap of ten inches. The little Cleveland fighter was out of it. Dixie was safe.

Seven boats maneuvered to the starting line. The Hurry, the Whitaker-designed, Buffalo-powered hydroplane, which Burnham feared more than any other entry, failed to start. She had been shipped to Buffalo at the last minute in bad condition and it was found impossible to get new stringers in her engine bed in time.

The Dixie needs no description. Burnham was at the wheel, and Rappuhn and Knaber, that top-notch pair of mechanics who have been with Dixie as long as we remember her, handled the motor. Burnham’s other entry, Intruder, with Gillespie at the wheel, was running faster than on the St. Lawrence. Once before they had moved her engine back 42 inches and just before the race they had shifted the engine 16 inches more toward the stern. Moreover, they had put 400 pounds of ballast in her stern. This had overcome her tendency to plow down at the bow and helped her chances a lot. La Truda, Commodore Vars’ 32-footer, had been tuned up to at least a mile faster than last year, and many were betting on her for second place. She got it, too. Cero II, loaded to the gunwales with boilers, and assorted machinery crowded into her 31 feet 5 inches, looked little, but dangerous. The H. S. was there, black and piratical. A day before she had cracked a cylinder but it had been welded over night and to the surprise of the committee she got to the start in time. W. J. Conners’ Courier III put in an appearance for the first time this year. She seemed to run in fast, easy fashion before the race, but during the race she dragged like a sea anchor. The seventh boat to line up for the gun was Van Blerck, a lean-lined 40-footer from Detroit. She carried twelve cylinders, two six-cylinder motors coupled tandem. But Van Blerck had a bad magneto that only shot a spark about once in six times, and Haggerty, her owner, was unable to replace it with another before the race. This was regrettable, as Van Blerck had been doped as the fastest of the visitors, with the exception of Dixie.

Out of this splendid field four broke down before the finish and on the event of Dixie’s first stacking up against Middle Western boats no one knows whether the race really went to the swiftest.

The little La Truda got across the line first. Dixie was but a half boat length behind. Van Blerck came next, with Intruder, Courier and H. S. in the order named, and Cero got away last. Dixie jumped into the lead. They got around the two upper turns and came downstream on the back stretch with Dixie ahead, Intruder in second place, La Truda third, H. S. fourth, Courier fifth and Cero last. Van Blerck had been forced to fall back on her coils and the coils couldn’t deliver. She dropped out at the third mile.

At the finish of the first round it was Dixie, Intruder and La Truda, in the order named, but Cero had worked up from last to fourth and had passed Courier and H. S. It was anybody’s race. At the first turn of the second round H. S. broke her steering gear and crawled back to the dock, using a paddle. This left Courier last and she stayed there to the end.

At the end of the second round Cero had crawled into third place and was rapidly leaving La Truda astern. Dixie still led, with Intruder second. At 12 ½ miles Intruder suddenly left the course and ran back to the dock. It was reported at the judges’ stand that she had broken a rocker arm. This left Cero in second place and she immediately let more steam into her cylinders and started to close up the gap between herself and Dixie.

At the end of the third round it was Dixie, Cero, La Truda and Courier. They kept this position through the fourth round with Cero cutting down Dixie’s lead and the two leaders running away from La Truda, while La Truda was running away from the tortoise-like Courier.

At the 23rd mile Cero, after cutting down Dixie’s lead from 1 minute and 13 seconds in the first round to but 34 seconds at the end of the 20th mile, split her steam main and the battle was off. The trhee remaining boats finished the remaining twelve miles with never a chance to head off Dixie and with no chance of La Truda losing second place. Dixie lapped Courier twice and was half a round ahead of La Truda.

It must be mentioned that one thing that prevented Dixie from making better time, had she wanted to, was the breaking of a trip rod on the mechanical make-and-break igniter on No. 8 cylinder. But Rappuhn kept Dixie running along on seven cylinders for a part of a round and replaced the broken rod in short order.


Crossed start line 5 miles 10 miles 15 miles 20 miles 25 miles 30 miles 35 miles avg speed

Dixie II 2 4:09:11 4:18:25 4:28:56 4:37:24 4:46:43 4:55:58 5:05:13 32.14
Intruder 4 4:09:44 4:10:00 dropped out at 12 ½ miles
La Truda 1 4:10:17 4:20:21 4:30:24 4:40:29 4:50:34 5:00:40 5:10:46 29.73
Cero II 7 4:10:24 4:19:37 4:29:51 4:37:58 dropped out at 23 miles
H. S. 6 4:10:36 dropped out at 6 miles
Courier III 5 4:11:13 4:22:39 4:38:49 4:45:27 4:56:36 5:08:30 5:21:00 25.89
Van Blerck 3 dropped out at 3 miles
Hurry did not start
Elbridge-Secret disqualified before start because less than 30 feet over all

Fastest round Cero III, 5 miles in 8 minutes and 7 seconds, at 37.11 miles an hour
Second fastest round, Dixie II ion 8 minutes and 28 seconds, at 35.64 miles an hour
Dixie II finished 2 ½ miles ahead of La Truda, the second boat, and 10 miles ahead of Courier III, the third boat.


(Transcribed from MotorBoat, September 10, 1910, pp. 42-44.)

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