Small Boats Are A Big Passion For This Detroit Collector
By Larry Zook
The double doors to Kent Lund's Royal Oak, Michigan office reveal both his profession and hobby. One side reads "Photographic Sales Representative" while the other says "Vintage Model Speedboat Works."
Inside, while Mr. Lund phones ad agencies to promote the talents of several automobile photographers, his gaze falls upon ten or 12 old model racing boats mounted on the walls.
"That's a tether boat raced by Henry Parohl on the east coast. It took the Class A Championship in New York in 1955 at 89 mph. And there's a boat raced by William Mesigian in Philadelphia in the late 1940's," says Kent as he points to a couple of models.
Brought to this country from England in the 1920's, model tether boat racing was a popular pastime throughout the thirties, forties and fifties.
On Sunday afternoons "down at the pond," America's engineers, tool-makers and draftsmen would test their talents at shaping wood and machining metal against fellow club members to see whose design would speed to victory.
Race clubs sprang up in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D. C., as well as along the west coast. Tether boat racing was also popular in cities throughout the Midwest, including Chicago, Detroit and Toronto.
The wood models were typically 40 inches long and featured single- and multi-step hydroplane hulls. Most were powered by one-of-a-kind, shop-crafted single-cylinder gasoline powerplants or commercially -available model airplane engines. Earlier ones were powered by steam.
In club-sponsored regattas, these model boats would be tethered to a pole by a 52.5-foot line, raced in four circular laps totaling 1/4-mile, and timed by a micro-switch atop the pole. Speeds steadily increased throughout the years with some winners achieving over 100 mph in the early 1960's.
The trophies were small but the other rewards much larger. "My father and I both participated in tether boat racing in the 1930's and 40's," notes Chicago native Howard A. Scott. "One of my best memories is a trip we took together to the International Regatta in Detroit in 1940. Just about the entire Chicago club came in a automobile caravan. The hospitality was great and it was a lot of fun competing against the Detroit guys, many of whom were metal pattern makers like my father and me."
Kent Lund's quest at preserving these boats began in 1992 when he picked up an old Model Craftsman magazine to research a boat model he intended to build.
While reading it, he happened upon an article about a club who raced model powerboats in a children's wading pool at Waterworks Park in Detroit. "As a model boat builder, I was fascinated by this group of enthusiasts and decided to preserve as much of their history as is possible," he says. So on weekends and holidays, Kent visits antique stores and flea markets -- talking about model boats, tracking down leads and occasionally running into former racers such as Mr. Scott.
Seven years of collecting has netted his "Vintage Model Speedboat Works" about a dozen tether race boats -- many of them rescued from dusty shelves in basements, attics and garages. He has a similar number of old "scratch-built" (e.g., one of a kind) model runabouts, launches and motor yachts
Related items, including club trophies, photographs, scrap books and home movies plus model boat plans and early magazines are also a part of his collection.
Mr. Lund's enthusiasm for boats goes beyond model collecting. In his home shop, he has created a 31-inch 1909 Fry Launch and is now at work on a wood model of a 1920 Hacker Gentleman's Runabout.
Even his family gets involved. Summer plans for Kent, his wife Gwenn, son Max and daughter Whitney include a stop at Michigan's Hessel Antique Boat Show in the upper peninsula as well as a visit to Detroit's Gold Cup hydroplane race.
In September, he will travel to Lake Kezar, New Hampshire to pick up a partially restored, 20-ft. 1919 Brooks Launch.
Yet while appreciative of past and present full-size wood boats, his true passion remains with the scale models.
"It's my hope to accumulate enough early model boats and memorabilia to put them all on permanent, public display."
"Until then," Kent adds, "When in the Detroit area, you're welcome to stop by the Vintage Model Speedboat Works for cup of coffee and some talk about old model boats."
Know of an old model race boat or runabout model or former race club member? Give Kent Lund a call at (248) 548-2100.
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