Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Gold Cup Race Boats of A.L. Judson

The Whip-Po-Will - Lake George Mirror File PhotoAfter Gar Wood won the 1915 Gold Cup Race on Long Island and carried the cup home to Detroit, A.L. Judson said, “I’m going to bring the Gold Cup back east. That’s where it belongs.” Judson meant that it belonged on Lake George.

A president of the American Power Boat Association (APBA) and a commodore of the Lake George Regatta, the sponsor of the lake’s first motor boat races on the lake, Judson is, nevertheless, a relatively obscure figure.

He appears to have been the president of a chemical company when he first started spending his summers at the Sagamore. He did not purchase a house in Bolton until 1918, when the Sagamore sold him one of the Green Island cottages.

In 1909, he launched the Whip-Po-Will, a 45-foot pleasure boat that was capable of speeds of 20 miles per hour. As Judson himself is reported to have said, he made his pleasure boat a speedboat.

The Whip-Po-Will Jr - Lake George Mirror File PhotoAs president of the APBA, Judson helped organize the 1914 Gold Cup races on Lake George. That year, a boat owner from the south threatened to build a boat fast enough to defeat Count Mankowski’s Ankle Deep in the 1914 races. In response, Judson organized a syndicate that included H.B. Moore of Heart Bay and W.K. Bixby of Bolton Landing to build a raceboat that would keep the Gold Cup on Lake George in the event that Ankle Deep failed to win the race. That boat, the Hawkeye, set an unofficial world’s record on Lake George in 1914, but performed poorly in the Gold Cup races of 1914 and 1915. To wrest the Gold Cup from Gar Wood and bring it back east, Judson needed a new boat.

That boat was the Whip-Po-Will Jr., a 28-ft single step hydroplane built by the Beebe brothers, once partners of Chris Smith.  In the autumn of 1917, the boat set records on Lake George, reaching speeds exceeding 70 miles-per-hour.  That may have been of some consolation to Judson, since the Whip-Po-Will Jr. had capsized at the Gold Cup races in Minneapolis earlier that year.

By 1918, Judson was ready for another shot. He entered the boat in the Gold Cup races held that year in Detroit.

George Reis was serving in the US Naval Reserves. The government gave him a furlough so that he could go to Detroit and pilot the boat. “Gentleman Jim” Kneeshaw, a resident of Bolton Landing, was one of the mechanics.

According to Speedboat Kings, an early biography of Gar Wood, Whip-Po-Will Jr. was a threat to Wood until the third heat. “We have one more heat, fellows,” Judson is reported to have told Reis and Kneeshaw. “And a chance to get the Trophy if Wood cripples his boat. The way to cripple it is to make him open up his throttles and keep them open. It’ll smash his skinny boat to pieces. Our boat is heavier, stronger. It can stand it. Wood’s can’t. Keep crowding him.”

Gar Wood had the same strategy. He told the pilot of one of his boats, who also happened to be his brother, “Take Detroit II across the line first and keep it there till it smashes up. Detroit III will take it easy.”

Detroit II and Whip-Po-Will Jr. pressed each other until the Lake George boat caught fire and Detroit II broke down. Detroit III glided across the finish line to win the race.

George Reis and A L Judson - Lake George Mirror File PhotoIn 1920, Judson took Whip-Po-Will Jr. to England to compete for the Harmsworth Trophy. In a trial run, the boat’s engines backfired, igniting gasoline and setting fire to the boat. Reis and Kneeshaw jumped into the ocean to save themselves. Gar Wood picked up Reis, and Kneeshaw was rescued by a passing motorboat.

All that could be salvaged of Whip-Po-Will Jr. were the engine’s cylinders, which, local legend has it, Reis and Kneeshaw used to smuggle scotch back to America, then under Prohibition.

The destruction of Whip-Po-Will Jr. put an end to Judson’s hopes of bringing the Gold Cup back to Lake George himself. But by giving George Reis valuable experience, he helped make it possible for Reis to accomplish that feat in 1935 and 1936 with El Lagarto. James Kneeshaw returned to Bolton Landing, where he continued to work as a boat mechanic. He died in the early 1960s.

Photos, from above: The Whip-Po-Will; The Whip=Po-Will Jr.; and George Reis and A L Judson.

A version of this story was first published in the Lake George Mirror.

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Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.

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