"The Ground Shook....The
Crew Just Grinned"
Davey my boy, good mornin!
I hope that thie email finds you and Sue
half as enthusiastic about life as I
am this morning. We had another cool ass
evening last night at the Museum. We
fired up the Rolls merlin in the Atlas
for the first time, in the workbay of
the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum.
What a fucking trip that was!
Much of the restoration crew has been slowly
melting away since we had our
Atlas / Bud presentatiopn at the Museums
Christmas party. That was the point
where the project felt and seemed to be
at the point of completion. I mean,
there was the boat, looking for all the
world as if it was ready to qualify
for the Gold Cup. Truth be told, there
were another 100 little (and big)
tasks to be performed before last nights
big moment. Ron Brown, Jim Harvey
and Don Mock and a few of the crew have
been quietly attending to these
details for months now.
Harvey built this engine from an esoteric
collection of parts that came from
all over the place. I mean it. Worn parts,
remanufactured, scrounged parts,
dubious parts, new parts- there must be
the remenants of at least a dozen
merlin engines in that motor. Merlins
are just that scarce these days. Parts
is parts, man! Harvey borrowed parts,
bought parts, horse traded for them,
swiped them, raided his secret parts collection
for them and generally did
whatever it takes to build a good motor.
I don�t know the facts of the case,
but there has to be 40 to 50 grand bolted
into that hull, easy.
The restoration crew had nothing to do
with the engine. After all, what do
any of us know about Rolls Merlins, except
that the sound, to us hydro geeks,
is like a great Beatles tune- you just
never get tired of hearing it. No, the
Merlin part of the Atlas saga belongs
almost entirely to Jim Harvey. Crew
members volunteered to help him all along
the way, but he politely declined,
noting that he had to examine and bless
every part� before it went into the
engine. His 30 years of Rolls experience
isn�t something you can just hand
off to another person. Glen Davis, who
was the supercharger guy on the
original Atlas crew, gave Harvey a lot
of important help along the way.
Getting the motor to run took the usual
amount of fiddling and anticipation,
as you might expect. By the time it ran
the first time, about 6pm, most all
of the core restoration crew had arrived
to watch. It was great to see Jay
and Jeff, Steve, Alex, Kurt and some of
the other guys I worked with on the
crew. We were all having a great time-
except for Jim. He had the furrowed
brow of someone who wasnt entirely sure
of the outcome. I asked him what he
expected and he told me that a lot could
go wrong. I was tempeted to call
bullshit on him, because I know how good
he is with a Merlin, but his
concerned expression told me he wasnt
kidding. Jim really wasnt so sure about
how strong this engine might be.
On the first run, there was a small problem.
The idle mixture wasn't set right
when the carb was rebuilt and on a fuel
system that is this complex, it meant
Jim had to mash the throttle down half
way to get it to run at all and it ran
pretty rough. He shut it down and,
as we all voiced our approval at the
brief thunderous overature, Jim made a
phone call on his cell phone. The call
was to Dixon Smith.
Dixon Smith was just a college kid when
he worked on the 1963 Bardahl crew.
He won national titles with that boat
and has had a hand in the hydroplanes
ever since. In fact, Dixon Smith and much
of the original Bardahl crew are
restoring the 1963 Bardahl right now!
Dixon and Jim Harvey HAVE to be the two
most knowledgable Merlin guys alive, at
least as they apply to boats. Jim
summoned Dixon because Dixon knows the
intricate Merlin carbuerator like
nobodys business. I made sure to stay
as close as possible to evesdrop on
their conversation, which, for the most
part, was greek to me. These guys
talk in Rolls shorthand!
In a few minutes, Dixon had the safety
wires off the carb shrouds and had his
hands into the guts of the thing, making
small adjustments to the rich lean
settings. We fired it again and almost
immeadiately it ran like the
proverbial Swiss watch. A few more tweaks
as it ran and the foot long blue
flames that licked out of the stacks like
the devils tongues, all began to
match in size and color. The motor warmed
up and smoothed out a bit more with
every small adjustment that Jim and Dixon
applied. It was like watching a
giant beast slowly awaken and come to
some kind of elegant agreement with
itself and the world. Another highly improbable
Rolls Merlin was born,
straight and strong, ready to test its
As Jim and Dixon shook hands, Jim was finally
wearing the expression we are
all used to seeing. The Jack Nicholson
version of Jim Harvey was back! The
motor ran better than great. It is strong
and smooth and it doesn't leak.
Every crewman there was shaking hands
while trying to contain the excitement
of seeing the beast come to life. In a
few minutes, I discovered that my
thoughts mirrored everyone elses- Now
let's take her to the lake!
As Don and I were making some over-excited,
semi-coherent small talk in the
wake of the events, Jim walked over grinning
and whispered to us- "Hey, we
beat the Bud one more time...we ran our
engine before they ran theirs"
referring to the 1980 Budweiser restoration
going on right next to us. I
guess that once you burn to beat the Bud,
that desire just never goes away.
I drove home, cracked open a nine dollar
bottle of Merlot and drank a few
toasts- to Jim Harvey, the Atlas crew,
David Williams, Dixon Smith, Don Mock,
Ron Brown and the Museum. I guess I went
to bed a little drunk, but I felt
great. The sense of excitement and satisfaction
still hasn't worn off this
As Bob Dylan once sang, "I got a poison
headache, but I feel alright...�"
We done good...again.
"Working with the Man"
(click here for PDF format version)
December 13, 2002
In every city worth a damn, there
are things going on all the time that are amazing. Almost always, no one
outside of those directly involved knows about these things as they happen.
And just maybe that�s what makes them so cool. An artist makes a breakthrough
in a dingy loft, a songwriter finds a hook in the tiled bathroom of a flophouse
downtown. Someone makes a fateful decision and it changed the course of
your history tonight.
Lurking out there in the corners
of the warehouse district, the oldtown neighborhood, the oddball Art community,
the Asian community, the industrial district, there are miracles being
performed that you and I will only learn about later. And when we
do learn, we will wish that we had been there. Tonight, on this stormy
night, catharsis is being forged into artful expression, of almost limitless
variety, all over the city. I know this.
And that is what I like about a city.
It throbs with the workings of Art . All the cities that I have ever been
to throb differently, but they all throb nonetheless. Me, personally, I
can hear it best late at night when the rest of the din settles down enough
to allow that stream of community alpha waves to shine on through. That�s
when I can feel it and that�s why I like the nighttime best. Major all
nighter stuff is going on out there. You can feel it if you try.
On Tuesday, December 10, 2002, at
8:45 pm,when we rolled the Atlas Van Lines out of Jim Harveys shop on her
trailer, completed, beautiful, shining in the crime fighting halogen street
lamps of South Park Seattle, reborn into the stormy night light like
she had been 21 years ago, we owned the rights to all the major Art throb
in our fair city. I suspect that we even scored high on the North American,
Inter-Metropolitan Art throbscale that night. I can tell you that we were
more than a blip on the International Art throb scale as well.
Just to let you all know, I am claiming
it in the name of the 1982 Atlas Van Lines restoration crew, the Hydroplane
& Raceboat Museum, and, of course, myself.
If you stepped out into the back
porch to have a breath of fresh air, or even to smoke a cigarette, and
looked out onto the lights of Seattle and though to yourself; �Hmmm, man
somethin�s going on tonight...� well, that was us.
The moving of the boat was, itself
an act of being born. Before the fork lift pulled her out of the bay, Jim
Harvey pulled a bottle of very old, very cheap champagne out of his frig
and broke it over the trailer fender. Some crew members took pictures as
we rolled her out, but I couldn�t. The light was perfect for human perception
but lousy for any photography. Besides, the moment was too big not
to just soak in. So I just walked along side the trailer as we moved the
Atlas over to the Museum proper, in preparation for final fitting and display
at the Christmas party with the Museums other huge project: the 1980 Miss
I couldn�t help but think of Fran
Muncey as I walked along there. Shouldn�t Fran be here for this coolest
moment in our fair city? As we slowly swung around the corner of the industrial
complex where the Museum and Jim Harvey Motorsports are located, we passed
the storage bay for the Museums finished and unfinished works. For me,
that was a real moment, turning this gleaming new boat by the weathered
hulk of Bill Muncey�s Blue Blaster, as yet unrestored. They stood in stark
contrast as we passed in silence. But, in fact, 11 months earlier,
our fresh Atlas was in every bit as sorry shape as Munceys� famous charger.
I have already pledged my time to
the Blue Blaster project, whenever the money is raised to restore her.
(and I fully intend to help raise that war chest!) I personally think that
a full ten point restoration, like we have done here for John Goodman�s
Atlas Van Lines, ought to happen to Muncey�s boat. This is the one and
only point where I differ from the opinion of my crew chief, Don Mock.
When that time comes, maybe a couple
of years from now, I can only hope that I am a part of a crew that is as
inspired and capable and copesthetic as this one was. (I can only hope
that it is the SAME crew. But I hope big!) Over eleven months, and through
a lot of hard work, there wasnt one hard feeling shared between the dozen
or so crew membersthat were my associates. People who were, in most cases,
complete strangers to each other and completely unschooled in the art of
hydroplane restoration came together as a committed crew and manhandled
the task at hand like real pros. Each of us is very proud of our investment
and achievement here. All of us are good friends now.
Of course it helped just a little
to have complete access to Jim Harveys shop to do the job. And to Jim Harvey.
And Ron Brown. These guys are only like 3/5ths of the heavywieght hydroplane
guys around, that�s all. Ron worked his heart out on that boat and I admire
him for it. His standards were our standards, right from the start, period.
As a volunteer, whatever I did on any given Tuesday or Thursday night,
I did it like Ron would do it or like Ron said to do it. It became a real
smile maker amongst the volunteer crew, trying to please (or not displease)
Ron Brown. We all came to really appreciate and like this guy. He is absolutely
and remarkably capable at anything that he does. And there is nothing about
a hydroplane that he doesnt know cold, frontwards and backwards.
Jim Harvey built the engines and
was completely gracious in accommodating this project- especially us volunteers-
for eleven months in his shop. I mean, completely gracious. We were supposed
to be out of there months ago. We tied up important shop space all through
the 2002 racing season and I, for one, never heard him complain.
Jim has owned and campaigned this
hull in the past and was the Crew Chief of the 1982 Atlas campaign. Jim
knows this hull in most of its various incarnations because he performed
them. He guided the accuracy for our work and informed it with his constant
scrutiny. When our shifts were done, usually around 9pm, Jim and Ron would
often treat us hydroplane geeks to great stories from their racing past.
There isnt a member of the crew who wouldn�t walk off the pier for Ron
If anyone thought that our project
Crew Chief, Don Mock, was just another hydroplane wannabe, they discovered
their error quickly as this project began. Don is one amazing individual.
Hell, you would give him that just on the basis of being a consummate jazz
musician. But, in fact, he has more force of will than anyone I ever met.
Once committed, he turns how he wants it to be� into how it is� better
than anyone, just by throwing everything he�s got at it.
After breaking his leg badly, right
at the worst time, Don took exactly 5 days off before returning in a wheelchair
and crutches. And he pretty much worked 60 hour weeks right through that.
Even today, almost a year later, he limps and is in pain. But he out worked
us all on the Atlas. And, most impressive, he elevated himself from Museum
volunteer� to full peer� status with Ron and Jim. It was remarkable to
see the old pros like Ron and Jim listen to -and take- many of Don�s recommendations
along the way. Don knows as much about the 1982 Atlas as anyone alive.
They came to respect him. It�s hard to describe the full weight of
that statement to those who were not there.
Obviously, Don has become a good
friend of mine. I just have total positive regard for the guy. As volunteers,
the crew is generally managed by Don. More often than not, Don would give
us our assignments and the feedback on our work. Ive never worked for a
more supportive, fair or pleasant mannered boss. Don just has a knack for
turning even the most unpleasant tasks into a laugh and making everyone
feel like a part of an important mission. I think it is largely because
of Don that this crew got along so well. (That... and the fact that half
of the crew were his compadres, hijacked from R/C Unlimiteds, his model
boat racing club.)
As a parent of a grown child, I have
learned many interesting things. One of the hardest experiences I ever
had was watching my son move out, on to his own. It felt bad to realize
that a large part of my efforts as a parent were done now that Peter was
on his own, making his own life. For me, that was a biggie. Well, Don and
his wife Kathy don�t have children. But lucky Don gets to feel an equivalent
set of emotions as he must face turning the daily
responsibility for the Atlas over to its
That boat is Don�s kid, and a pretty
darned good one at that. He has a lot to be proud of in raising it up from
a heap of aluminum scrap.
Of course, there is the working crew,
like myself. We did a lot and I would like to think that they couldn�t
have done it without us, but Im not so sure. There was a lot of talent
amongst the working crew though. Im a guitar maker. That didnt hurt. Crewman
Lee is a machinist, among other things. Rob is an industrial sculptor,
by his own description. So he became out mold and cowling guy. And
so it goes, right down the line. We all knew how to run a sander and take
a joke before we even showed for our first day. And that helped.
We had a ton of dedication there
too. I have over 408 volunteer hours invested in Atlas. There are
others with more hours invested than me. But, that�s just the kind
of kamikaze commitment it takes to own the Art throb rights to a city on
any given Tuesday night.
I want to stake that claim again.
That was just too much fun!
May 15, 2017
Dear Dave & Sue:
Yesterday, I decided to try to make
both the Tuesday AND Thursday evening work sessions this week at the Hydro
Museum. I missed last Thursday night and it was like a big hole in my week.
I missed the crew, seeing the progress on
the boat, learning something new about
hydro making in general.
I dont go to the actual Museum shop,
but rather next door to Jim Harvey Motorsports, where my crew is restoring
the 1982 Atlas Van Lines. (ed note: my crew�- what a laugh!) Jim has a
deal with the Museum to use his shop, his expertise and that of Ron Brown,
in restoring this boat. This, combined with
the absolutely kamakaze comittment of
our Crew Chief Don Mock, are the primary reasons why this hull is getting
the finest restoration treatment possible. Everytime I leave that place,
I look back at the emerging new� Atlas in total disbelief. It is coming
out so straight, so right on the money, so wicked cool looking!
Last night, we bagged� a doubler
of 1/16th inch aluminum to the bottom of the boat. This involved cutting
two 13 foot pieces of aluminum to complex and tight fitting shapes and
then gluing them to the bottom of the boat with Hysol epoxy. It sounds
simple enough, but it took seven of us all night to get it done. (And we
worked hard!) Once everything was fitted and glued up, we built an airtight
bag� over the top of it all and sucked the plastic covering down tight
against the bottom, creating a flat, tight fitting bond across the entire
surface of the doubler.
Things are really heating up there
in the shop. Jim has his crew getting his raceboat ready for the
2002 season. His Trendwest boat is all torn apart there in his workbay.
Time is running short and he has plenty still to do on his boat to get
ready for the season opener. He also has an obligation to this restoration
effort that takes up precious time and half of his shop. This second item
features a bunch of us Museum volunteers- folks that he
doesnt really know all that well- eagerly
buzzing around the Atlas, creating all kinds of havoc and a bit of restoration
too. I am truly amazed that he is so tolerant and accepting of us being
there underfoot, using his tools, asking him endless geeky hydro questions.
But, over the past several weeks,
I have discovered Jim is a born teacher at heart. Patient, accepting of
other ways of doing things, fundamentally interested in people, Jim is
a genuine good guy. And now I think I understand why: racing a hydroplane
around the countryside for 30 years has to knock off your sharp and rough
edges. It is brutally hard work with high risk everywhere. You fail a lot.
I mean, a lot. You have to love it to ever consider doing what Jim has
done over the last three decades. And you have to be very good at dealing
with people- all kinds of people- to enjoy any success or self satisfaction
in that game. (Believe me, you see all kinds of people working down
at Jim Harvey Motorsports these days and everyone there is accepted whole
When I walked into the work bay last
night, I spied a tortured Rolls Royce Merlin short block, standing on end
in the entryway. The studs were all bent back and rusty, the front
end was melted off, the block was all oxidized and packed with dirt. It
looked for all the world to be recovered from a crash site in a French
field. A total mess! But every Merlin is precious now, so this one,
indeed salvaged from a field, was recovered for the few parts that
remained usable for our new engine.
It turns out that this engine did
not melt as a result of a crash at all. It melted when Jim Harveys entire
trailer burned to the wheels as he was travelling to the first race of
the season, some years ago. The boat that we are restoring was hooked to
that trailer, but was disconnected just in time and saved by the crew before
it too burned to nothing. Imagine that for a moment. You bust your knuckles
and your hump all winter just to see it all go up in smoke out on some
lonesome highway before you even get to the first race. Engines, tools,
everything. Gone. Would you just toss it all in, go home, and get a straight
job, or would you soldier on through the season and find a way to make
the best of it?
I feel a little beat up today from
crawling arouund on the Atlas last night. But its nothing like Jim Harvey
and his crew must have felt looking at their burnred trailer in the clear
light of day. Somehow, they soldiered on. That is one heartbreak story.
There are many more.
Now this old, melted engine- a victim
of that fire- has come back to offer a few spare parts to our continuing
story. Just like in Guitarville, there are small miracles scattered everywhere
in Hydroland- if you know where to look for them.
I doubt that there are many other
owners who would- or could- put up with the Atlas restoration experience
in their shop. But Jim seems to be enjoying it all. I havent seen him lose
his cool even for a second. He is a lot of fun to be around and the whole
crew likes and respects him. Jim is the key figure in governing our restoration
decisions. He and the original Atlas crew built this boat in under 100
days back in the winter of 1982. He campaigned it to a national championship
in that year as its crew chief, and owned it outright after that for several
years after that. He affectionately calls this hull his bad penny� because
it just keeps coming back, needing work. So who better to guide its restoration?
Although there are many remarkable
and worthy associations with this legendary hull, it seems to me that this
restoration is fundamentally a tribute to Jim and his career in boatracing.
When it finally hits the water, all eyes and most thoughts will be on Chip
Hannauer and the great come back story of the Atlas Van Lines boat of 1982.
But this is Jim Harveys boat, regardless of who legally owns it or who
drives it. This crew knows that. Though he probably wouldn�t admit it,
I�d bet that Jim does too.
That�s how I see it on this bruised
and battered Wednesday morning. Tomorrow is Thursday. (and you know what
that means: �Man up, sukka! Play through that pain!�)
Frankly, honestly, I cant wait...
March 15, 2016
Dear Dave & Sue:
Last night, I crossed the Prime
Meridian, I made the
grade, I arrived, I cracked through the
barrier. And all it took was lasagne for 25!
Every Thursday night, for the past
several, I sneak off to the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum shop to work
with the Atlas restoration crew. It is a life saver for me, a complete
distraction from the adventure of my work day. 4 nights a week, Im rubbing
guitar lacquer. And on one night- Thursday- Im spreading Hysol (epoxy for
aluminum) all over everywhere!
It isnt easy to worm your way onto
a restoration crew. Oh, there is plenty of work to do, and it is mostly
dirty, nasty, knuckle breaking work too, but not everyone fits into a work
crew, I find. There is a certain dynamic involved. The guys are great at
making you feel welcomed, but they have a lot of work to do, so it isnt
a social event. They cant stop to chit-chat or teach you how to use a screwdriver.
It just doesnt work that way. There is a lot of work to do and a very real
deadline for getting it done. So it is up to the volunteers to show some
initiative and bond up to a crew by showing some value to them. It takes
a few sessions before you even get to show value. Until then, you are mixing
epoxy, sweeping up, sanding something.
I think that I have been patient,
but it is unlikely, knowing me. I am getting to know Don Mock pretty well.
He is the Crew chief� for the Museum on this restoration project. Ive talked
about him before. He knows hydros like nobodys business, is a great guy,
and a huge fan of the Atlas boat. But he isnt really the construction ramrod
on this project. As much as Don knows, Jim Harvey, boat owner, racer and
shop owner, and Ron Brown, former crew chief and builder of several Budwieser
boats, are the main men. Don wisely defers to them on serious construction
issues. They know howa hull is supposed to go together because they have
built and raced several of them. Jim is a very affable guy and I liked
him right away. (He picked up Marilee Rush out of a bar. How bad a guy
can he be?) I still try not to waste Jims time with the many burning questions
that I have about his racing history. He was the crew chief for Muncey
(and then Hannauer) for this Atals boat that we are restoring in his shop.
Ron Brown is another deal. He seemed
distant to me right from the begginning. He is not a guy you are going
to win over with a hearty handshake and a compliment on his past work.
So I gave him plenty of space and didnt try to win him over at all. He
just works and stops only to answer serious questions. When Ron Brown listens
to you, he listens hard. But he often scrinches up his face as he does
so, giving the impression that someone just farted. Only after several
interactions with him did I realize this was not a gesture of disgust,
but an idiosyncratic personal reaction to concentrated listening!
So, after eating 4 pretty terrible
dinners in a row of four succesive Thursdays (They feed the work crews
pizza), I volunteered to provide dinner last night: lasagne, fruit salad,
that kind of thing. The crews know me now! It helped to break the ice a
little with the people that I dont know yet and made the work session a
little more homey feeling. There is one brave woman on the work crews and
I dont know her yet at all. She even told me it was better than her lasagne!.
Three home made lasagnes and a bowl of fruit salad dissappeared pretty
Jim and Ron Brown were stewing over
making some transom reinforcement brackets for the Atlas last night.
They didnt seem to want to make them and yet they didnt ask me to do it
right away either. (Im not sure that they get that I can do any of this
stuff, yet..) Among other things, it involved drilling holes in the transom,
which you dont do unless everything is just right. And it involved fitting
some semi weird shapes of aluminum extrusion together tightly. It didn�t
seem all that daunting to me, so I asked some questions and then volunteered
to just do it for them. And Jim agreed...reluctantly. They kept a wary
eye on my progress, asking me why I was doing it this way or that. I made
sure that I had answers. And, of course, I just made the damn parts
up for them. Chop, chop, grind, grind, there you go. Well, it seems that
I passed this test too. As we washed up to leave, about 9:30pm, Ron Brown
uttered his first words to me directly: �That was some nice work on those
parts that you made.� Man, I was floored.
Wow. Ron Brown liked my work. THE Ron
Brown! Damn cool!
Before I went to the work session,
I had stopped by Linda Waterfalls house to pick up the Harrison, that guitar
I made for George ahilke ago. Linda had been trying it out for me to give
me some feedback and now I was picking it up to bring it home to completely
reshape the neck. A side hole cutaway Puffy. After the work session, Don
Mock asked to try it out. Man, can that cat play! Jesus! All over
the place, all the jazz chording vamps that you wish that you knew, Don
has them all down cold! Man! Don and I dont know each other well
enough yet for him to really give me the critique that I�d like from him,
but I think that will come. He was complimentary, but not effusive or critical.
(Id sure like to know what he really though about it...) It was great to
hear him play a Puffy though! Wow! Ill be taking another (better) Puffy
to an Atlas work session again soon!
Thursday nights. They rock!