April 5, 2020
The journey into the world of hydroplane racing continues
This journey through the sport of hydroplane racing which was for the most part new to me. It has directed me toward people, places, and adventures that I never expected or anticipated when Fran Cyr of Caribou told me about Glenn Campbell and Lyn Michaud, a couple of the pioneers of the sport in northern Maine.
While talking to Glenn at his home in Fort Fairfield in January the necessity of seeking out others involved in the sport was emphasized by Campbell to ensure that I would understand somewhat scope of the sport in the County in the 1960- 1990 time frame.
What I have determined is that this story is bigger than anticipated and cannot be compacted in a couple of episodes where the recommended length is 1600-2000 words.
The timing could not have been better with the current state of racing coming to a sudden halt. These folks telling their stories have provided me hours of conversation and research. Some will require post COVID-19 interviews and photo sessions. Just digging up names and current phone numbers has been a challenge. One such challenge that will require an interview when I am able to connect is that of the Ketch brothers…
The Ketch Brothers
Hudson Ketch was one of the County racers who ventured outside his comfort zone of home to race. In fact, it was at one of his races in Quebec that an injury introduced older brother Hardie Ketch to hydro racing.
Glenn told the story this way, “Sometime around 1969 or ’70, Hardie and his younger brother Hudson, the driver, were up at Black Lake in Rimouski, Quebec when Hudson decided to change motors on his boat. While shifting the motor on his boat (motors typically weighed 100 pounds or so), he stumbled and the extra sharp racing prop damn near cut two toes off.”
“He (Hudson) told older brother Hardie, ‘Take that out there and race it’”.
“Hardie is high-strung and said, “I can’t race this’”.
“Well he went out won that heat race and I think he won the class overall in his first race”, remembered Campbell pondering that event marking Hardie Ketch’s boat driving career. “They disqualified me from that race because I jumped the gun. That was the start of him racing.”
“Boy over the years him and I had some unbelievable races,” quipped Campbell. “Hardie Ketch was one of the best hydro racers in the northeast. He had natural talent. He could race anything, snowsleds, boats, cars, etc.”
After racing hydroplane boats since about 1960, Glenn traveled together with Hardie for most of those years until 1972 when they decided it was too far to travel to the sanctioned races. Eventually Glenn sold his boat which is another interesting part of the story for a little later.
CastaCraft Boat Restoration
Glenn Campbell from Fort Fairfield told the story racing and restoring the only boat that he never got flipped out of and he never wrecked stating “Mike Dow from Woodland used to go to the races. When I got quit racing he was bound and determined he was going to buy the boat. I probably kept it until 1974. I had no more use for it so I sold him everything. He fooled around that summer. It was a turn-key operation. It ran perfect.”
“He went in the Army and got killed over in Germany,” Campbell recalled. “I saw Jerry (Mike Dow’s older brother) some time in the late 70’s or early 80’s and I asked him how Mike was doing?”
Jerry said, “Oh you did not know? Mike got killed over in Germany,”
“I never said a thing about the boat,” Campbell noted. “A couple years later, I asked Jerry, ‘Whatever happened to the old boat I sold Mike?’”.
He said, “It’s down in the potato house. The motor is in pieces and the deck is injured on the front.”
“What do you plan on doing with it?” asked Campbell.
“Well Mom and Dad still can’t part with anything that Mike had,”
They took a ride out to where two boats were stored and looked at them. They weren’t in good shape. In fact, Campbell described as “Terrible, terrible shape”.
“I said to Jerry, “Well if the time ever comes when your mom and father want to part with it, let me know first.”
Campbell estimated that about a year later, Jerry called and asked, “Are you still interested in that boat?”
“Ya, if the price is right. I sold everything to Mike for $450 because he used to help us lug stuff and he was a good guy.”
“Well mom and dad want $500 for it”, was Jerry’s reply.
After some time of hemming and hawing the two agreed to a price, $450 for the lot.
Campbell brought it back in pieces. It went into storage at the Campbell Farm “race shop”. Several pieces for the engine were gathered over the years until just a few years ago when the restoration began anew.
“The bottom was trued right up,” Campbell said about the process. “I remembered from experience how to do that even though the restoration began two or three years ago.”
When asked about what “true” means, he replied, “In order to maintain the highest speeds and control, your dynamics have got to be right. One little thing can slow you down three or four miles per hour. Even though the sponsions are never on the water much, when you come down it can drag you down. The back-end has to be offset just a hair. There is a lot to it.”
Campbell smiled as he described this memory, “One thing about this boat that I had over Hardie was when we were going into the wind, like a Rimouski, my boat would give me a little warning that it was gonna fly. I would pull myself up by the steering wheel and throttle just to keep it down.”
“His (boat) would lay as flat as a pancake, but when it went, it would just go whoosh! I saw Hardie go over twice. It threw him out.”
“The sun was here,” said Campbell describing the location of the bright sun. “He’s right beside me. That’s good if Hardie and I could get one or two we could hold them off even though some had speed on us.
“So, I pulled myself up,” exclaimed Glenn. “He was gone! He’s not there! All of a sudden, a shadow came across. It was Hardie way up in the air. He came down and struck sideways and tore half the fabric off his boat. So, they called the race and we went back in.
“The girls took towels and dried it, he got some duct tape and staples because it had to be the way it should be. They stapled and duct taped that and I’ll be darned it he didn’t go out and win that race.”
Using the photo of his restored boat, Campbell showed how the aircraft fabric covered the front deck of the hydroplane. He said the fabric had dope applied to stretch the material tight very similar to fabric covered vintage aircraft. He had applied 20 coats of the material.
While stored in the Dow potato house, several ribs that gave the boat shape had been broken yet had no rot. The integrity of the whole boat had been well maintained which was a pleasant surprise for the former racer when it came time for restoration.
Venues where Campbell raced over duration of his career
Over the course of the 12 years that Campbell actively raced at a large number of venues. He listed most, commenting that this list did not include every race. Some locations did not point out if the race was a lake or river race. Some sites have receded into his memory.
This is Glenn’s list of twenty-four venues he has raced at:
- Monson Pond, Fort Fairfield, Maine
- Long Lake, St. Agatha, Maine
- Nickerson Lake, Houlton, Maine
- Pushaw Pond, Hudson, Maine
- Sebago Lake, Sebago, Maine
- Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
- Canobie Lake, Worcester, Massachusetts
- West Thompson Lake, Thompson, Connecticut
- Van Buren, Maine
- Fredericton, New Brunswick
- Moncton, New Brunswick
- North Shore, New Brunswick
- Shediac, New Brunswick
- Bouctouche, New Brunswick
- Chatham, New Brunswick
- Richibucto, New Brunswick
- Bathurst, New Brunswick
- Dalhousie, New Brunswick
- Rexton, New Brunswick
- Rimouski, Quebec
- Matapedia, Quebec
- Vallee Field, Quebec
- Halifax/Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
- Antigonish, Nova Scotia
From this list it is obvious that Campbell raced far and wide in the Northeast and the Provinces.
Larry Castagneto, champion boat racer and constructor
Now living in Littleton, Massachusetts, multiple time American Power Boat Association (APBA) champion and Hall of Fame member, Larry Castagneto, is a fountain of knowledge about the construction of the hydroplanes raced by Glenn Campbell, Gib Beckwith, Mike Dow, and Greg Cyr.
Included in this episode is a video produced for the South Shore Outboard Association (SSOA) where he and Steve Noury (another hydroplane racing fountain of knowledge according to Castagneto) show the evolution of hydroplane racing.
Castagneto mentioned that his interest in racing and boat building began after attending his first race in Island Falls, Maine in 1955. He started building his first racer in the winter of 1955 and continued until his last race in 1984 while racing inboards.
After high school he went to Northeastern in Boston majoring in Civil Engineering. His boat building and racing career was put on hold in 1966 when he joined the US Army for a couple of years.
I mentioned to Castagneto about the restored D-Stock Hydro that Campbell had restored. After seeing the photos he remarked, “The pictures of Glen and the boat were great. That was the boat that I built and raced in 1962 and later gave to Don Pigeon in 1963. Don ran well with it and so did Glen by the looks of the trophies. Unfortunately, I don’t remember meeting Glen. He did a great job restoring it! Most boats of that era are probably dust by now.“
Imagine my surprise when Castagneto mentioned that he had the original sketches he made to build the 1962 models! He photocopied them and sent them to me with a 1967 price list from CastaCraft.
Larry Castagneto, former boat builder/National Champion boat racer, and Boating Hall of Fame member, built many boats in Melrose and East Boston, Massachusetts under the name CastaCraft. Castagneto now retired, lives in Littleton, Massachusetts. Castagneto was interviewed on the history of hydroplane racing in the northeast. From the South Shore Outboard Association (SSOA) video file.
St. John Valley Hydroplane racer Part I
Michaud’s story will be featured in the next couple episodes and will include the race in Connecticut that nearly took his life and testimony from the Cyr family from Madawaska who were credited with getting Michaud involved in racing. You will see and hear about hydroplane racing in the 1970’s and early 80’s from the viewpoint of some folks in the St. John Valley. You will not want to miss it!
Assistance for this episode was provided by:
Hayley Jipson, Cary Library, Houlton, Maine
Larry Castagneto, Champion boat racer and builder, Littleton, Massachusetts
Greg Cyr, Former hydroplane racer from Madawaska now living in Bangor
Another Penske race car video for your visual enjoyment
In memory of Kirk F. White the Philadelphia Ferrari dealer who provided the 512M raced by Mark Donohue at Daytona in 1971 and later at Le Mans. White passed away at his retirement home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.
Before I conclude this week’s episode, my prayer is that in the midst of this world pandemic that you will not be afraid. Concerned, yes; afraid, no. As we go through the Holy Week my mind often wanders back to what was going on some 2000 plus years ago this week.
In the end I know where my strength comes from, the Lord Jesus Christ and look to him for everything. I hope that you will as well.
Until next week,
Soli Deo Gloria (John 3:16)