Johnsburg resident Bob Switzer has died.
Switzer was the racing half of the Switzer brothers’ boat building operation in Crystal Lake.
Dave Switzer, now retired in Naples, Florida, was the building half of the team.
When my family was on a tour boat on the Mississippi out of Dubuque, the captain told us of his father’s having raced Bob Switzer on the Rock River on weekends.
After the informal competition, they would discuss how to make their boats go faster and, the pilot remembered, Bob Switzer would come back the next weekend with a faster boat.
The company was based in Crystal Lake at the corner of Route 14 and Pingree Road.
While researching his life, I found this first person account of his having been akin to a jet plane test pilot.
The location of what must have been a world record at the time was probably north of the Algonquin Dam.
That’s where the Mercury racing teams practiced, operating out of Treadwell Marine.
Reading it tells so much about what kind of a life he led.
“The Day I Flew a Boat”
by: Robert Switzer
It all began with a phone call, (person to person) to me, Bob Switzer, from Carl Kiekhaefer, President of Mercury Marine.
The date was July 17th, 1962.
The meat of the call was a request for Switzer Craft to build a boat for twin Mercury 100 H.P. outboards that would exceed 100 M.P.H. on water.
The call was impressive.
Imagine … out of hundreds of boat builders, we were called to do this project.
We immediately began designing our first effort based on the pattern of the Switzer Hydro Cat (commonly referred to as the “Switzer Wing”).
In 1961, the Switzer (U4) wing was a major breakthrough in the twin engine Stock Outboard Pleasure Craft Class U. (Unlimited engines but required to be a minimum of 15 feet in length.)
The first Switzer Wing was built in 9 days, just prior to the Winnebago Outboard pleasure craft event, where the Switzer Craft Wing finished first overall, and the next two classes were also won by other Switzer models.
The U4 was the first Cat to exceed 80 M.P.H. with only a pair of 76 cu. in. 80 H.P. Outboards. (see below)
Our first new design developed to meet Mr. Kiekhaefer’s request was not a complete success.
At speeds of over 85 M.P.H. the bow had a tendency to kite or “bow up” (a feared maneuver of every driver).
In late August, we tried a new hull concept, mounting the engines mid-ship in a hull much like the Hickman Sea Sled.
It featured square simple lines and a shovel nose.
We hoped that the engines forward could control any bow lift tendencies.
Much to our regret the trial runs showed that the thrust of the propellers forward and under the hull clamped the back of the boat to the water and drag was too much for our twin 80 H.P. Mercury’s to overcome in the initial plane off.
Time was slipping away, the leaves were turning into their fall colors and we estimated approximately five weeks of open water to test on the Fox River near our plant.
A decision had to be made…
Do we call Mr. Kiekhaefer and postpone the project until spring, or do we keep going “right up to the wire” as the saying goes.
The decision was made!
My brother, Dave Switzer was the designer in charge of the construction phase of this project.
He knew that now the pressure was on to design and build that 100 M.P.H. boat in minimum time.
Russell “Pop” Switzer, a pioneer in light aircraft and sea planes since World War I, injected some new ideas he had long thought were necessary to control a boat at flying speeds.
Dave welcomed these new ideas and also accepted a weight distribution change that I had recommended.
We also concentrated on making a cleaner air-flow version of his original U-4.
Several days later the materials were flying into shape and the U-6 hull was finished in record time.
With time running out fast it was rigged for the first test runs.
The time was now!
We proceeded to the test area on Nov. 29th, 1962, only to find that there was a 1/4″ of ice on the river, stopping all progress.
The weather reports promised warmer weather for the next day.
All was held in readiness. November 30, temperature 45° -Sky clear -water open and calm. Time, 10:00 A.M. we launched the U-106.
I got into the enclosed plexiglass cockpit (much like the capsule boats of today) , checked out all instruments, fired up engine #1, check, #2, check, water pressure and cooling systems OK, tachometer reading steady, fuel pressure normal, closed the aircraft type canopy over the cockpit, bring the engines to warm up speed and taxi to position for a wide open run.
Now, increasing speed to 50 mph -60-70 -80 and now at the speed range where the previous design started to kite I used the foot throttle over-ride and steering with my left hand, I put my right hand on “Pop” Switzer’s stabilizing control lever which operated the elevon (wing tail flap) controlling the last 2 feet of the center section between the twin hulls.
At 85 M.P.H. the bow lifted slightly off the horizon – too high for safety, I pushed the lever forward to position 1 ( of 4) and the horizon line returned to normal.
Now, at 90 M.P.H. a slight bow lift again, lever to position #2, now the bow was normal in good trim again. Suddenly, at this moment many things seemed to occur.
While my 17 pitch (Record props from Switzerland) were turning almost 6,000 R.P.M. my neck snapped back, the Hull lifted off the water about 2-4 inches … no vibrations from water contact.
I felt like I was in a sea plane just after lift off of the water.
The R.P.M.’s suddenly dropped back to approximately 5,000, and at the same time the speed increased to the shrill sound of the two engines harmonically balanced.
I glanced down at the Keller calibrated speedometer, reading 96-97 -98-99 -100 with those 76 cu. in. 80 H.P. direct reversing engines revving at nearly 7,000 R.P.M.
I knew we had just what Mr. Kiekhaefer asked for. Now, almost tranquil from the experience of “The Day I Flew a Boat” with a full boundary layer of air between the hull and the water and seeing houses go by like a picket fence.
I realized that the straight away water was fast running out.
So, deceleration of the U-6 was started with the same caution used in increasing the speed.
The stabilizer control was returned to various positions as the speed was reduced.
When the boat speed was between 80 and 85 there was a loud sound and vibration from the hull re-entering the water almost like driving from the highway to a washboard gravel country road.
Taxiing to the launching site where all the Switzer Craft crew were on hand for the verdict I could hear all the questions.
How did it handle?
How fast did it go?
What was it like? …..
And, you know the answers.
The Hull was then returned to the factory for final preparations to be delivered to Mr. Kiekhaefer at Lake X where she was fitted with a pair of 99 cu. in. 100 H.P. engines with stacks and double pinion speedmasters. She went on to reach speeds in excess of 120 M.P.H.
This same hull driven by both Johnny Bakos and Dave Craig startled many of the onlookers and the Helicopter pilots that could not keep up with her to allow the photographers to film her, as she won the Gold Coast Marathon from Miami to Palm Beach and return on the inland coastal waters, with a record average speed of 81.78 M.P.H. that may still stand today!
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This where I found the article above
. There are fascinating comments.
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A relative told me two examples of how competitive a racer Switzer was.
Before races, a clock could be seen ticking down the seconds until the race began.
Switzer asked the judges if boats had to be at the starting line or could they be crossing the starting line when the race started.
Then he timed how long it would take for him to reach the stating line roaring at full speed.
It took a while for the other racers to copy his tactic, but, until they did, he had a definite advantage.
Another time, his boat lost its prop in the middle of a race.
Switzer was seen on an innertube replacing the propeller.
Despite the interruption, Switzer won that race.
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One of the Switzer Craft boats is on display at the McHenry County Historical Museum.