What a thrill it was when a package arrived recently from a man I had never met, Bill Schroeder. The envelope contained photographs and a letter with great information about Bill’s grandfather E. J. Schroeder, the original owner of the Dixie II. Bill had read my book, Thousand Islands Yacht Club, and offered to fill in some blanks concerning the club’s history.
Since there’s a Dixie II, have you ever wondered was there a Dixie I? The answer is yes! The original Dixie, launched in the spring of 1905, was designed by Clinton H. Crane. Built at a cost of $15,000 and powered by a 150 horsepower engine, it was roughly 30 feet long. Its owner E. R. Thomas raced the boat just a few times and then sold it to E. J. Schroeder for a reported $10,000. Even though Dixie was regarded as the fastest American motorboat in 1905, it was speculated Thomas wanted a faster boat.
Thomas’ decision to name his new boat “Dixie” is a charming and romantic tale. His third wife was a Tennessee beauty by the name of Linda Lee and as a tribute to her southern heritage, he named the boat “Dixie.”
The Dixie, representing the New York Athletic Club, entered the 1906 Gold Cup race held at Chippewa Bay. She had the fastest time in each of the first two races but due to handicap rules in use at the time, was only in fourth place heading into the final race. The next day high seas swamped the Dixie before the race even started forcing her to withdraw.
At the time E. J. Schroeder was a member of the Motor Boat Club of America and in the fall of 1906 was elected commodore. Later at the club’s annual meeting he announced his intention to enter Dixie in the 1907 Harmsworth Trophy Race to take place in England. Both France and England had already made plans to participate.
Dixie easily won the race and became the first American boat to win the Harmsworth Trophy. However it was amidst great controversy. The French were late with their entries and the Americans refused to approve a waiver. Thus the race ended up being between three British boats and the Dixie.
There were more ramifications than just the French’s irritation with the Americans. The Dixie represented the Motor Boat Club of America and the decision to deny the French the right to race opened a schism within the club’s membership. Consequently E. J. Schroeder was not reelected commodore. This most likely caused hard feelings as he soon resigned and joined the Thousand Islands Yacht Club.
Today there’s a question as to who initiated the move. The general consensus is that the Thousand Islands Yacht Club had the most to gain by having E. J. Schroeder [with his boat Dixie] as a member. Motorboat racing was at the height of its popularity and the Thousand Islands Yacht Club had yet to produce a Gold Cup winner while their rival, the Chippewa Yacht Club, was on a four year winning streak.
This scenario seems plausible as it happened during the time when Gilbert T. Rafferty was commodore and George Boldt was vice commodore of the yacht club. These two gentlemen held these positions from 1903 to 1910 and, in my opinion, did an outstanding job running the club during those eight years. Did Rafferty and Boldt offer E. J. Schroeder membership in the yacht club? We’ll probably never know the entire story but however it happened, it turned out to be a marriage made in heaven.
The handicap rules established by the American Power Boat Association [APBA] were being severely criticized. The complicated formula applied to each race boat had become more important in deciding the winner of a race than the race itself. The APBA relaxed its rules allowing the boat with the fastest time declared the winner.
Shortly after joining the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, E. J. Schroeder contacted Clinton H. Crane to design a new race boat and the Dixie II was born. It was built by B. Frank Wood, powered by a 200 horsepower engine with an overall length of slightly less than 40 feet [to comply with the Harmsworth rule regarding a boat’s maximum length]. The plan was to enter both Dixie and Dixie II in the 1908 Harmsworth Trophy race.
The race was to take place in early August on Huntington Bay, Long Island Sound. According to the Harmsworth rules a country could enter just three boats. Nine American boats wished to participate, so qualifying races were run with the three boats with the best times representing America. Dixie II easily qualified and went on to win the Harmsworth Trophy. The August 10, 1908 edition of the magazine Motor Boat described it as the “greatest motor boat race the world has ever known.”
Maybe it was since it certainly had its share of excitement. During the race Albert Rappuhn, Dixie II’s engineer, felt himself losing consciousness from inhaling the exhaust fumes but rounding the final turn he had the presence of mind to open the throttle full speed propelling the Dixie II to victory. The final four miles were run with Captain S. Bartly Pearce steering the boat with one hand while he held up the unconscious Rappuhn with the other. All this while racing against boats with twice the horsepower.
Shortly thereafter Dixie II realized a speed of 36.6 mph in official time trials. It was the highest speed achieved by any boat in the world during the year 1908.
Toward the end of August 1908, Dixie II won its first Gold Cup race at Chippewa Bay flying the colors of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club. Dixie II easily won the first two races but had a problem in the third and final race. Shortly after the race began, she broke down and lay dead in the water for two minutes. The other boats surged ahead but when Dixie II restarted her engines, she went full throttle and soon outdistanced her foes by a mile. Captain Pearce and Rappuhn continued to serve as helmsmen and engineer.
The British withdrew their 1909 challenge to the Americans to compete for the Harmsworth Trophy as they did not consider their boats worthy of an international race. This allowed the Americans to keep possession of the trophy for another year.
In March 1909 the Dixie II, along with its two member crew of Captain Pearce and Rappuhn, arrived in France, having crossed the Atlantic aboard the steamer Roma. Upon the Dixie II’s arrival, special arrangements were made to transport the race boat to its final destination, Monaco. Flying the colors of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, Dixie II competed in three of Monaco’s International Motor Boat Races. Commodore Rafferty and E. J. Schroeder were both in attendance.
It was in Monaco that the Dixie II suffered her first and only defeat. [She ended up winning 105 races.] The race she lost took place in rough waters. Dixie II was more suited to race in calm waters. Newspapers reported the conquering boat’s overall length at 50 feet powered by a 500 horsepower engine.
Dixie II won its second Gold Cup race in the fall of 1909. E. J. Schroeder was the guest of honor at the Thousand Islands Yacht Club’s winter meeting held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York City. There he was presented with a miniature replica of the Gold Cup in recognition of his sportsmanship. Vice Commodore George Boldt presided over the meeting.
After the 1909 Gold Cup race, E. J. Schroeder employed George Lawley of South Boston to replace Dixie II’s hull with a heavier and stronger wood. The cost was said to be $25,000. Some people referred to the “new” boat as the Dixie III.
In the spring of 1910 E. J. Schroeder sold the Dixie II [or III] to Frederick K. Burnham for an estimated $10,000. It was reported at the time that Burnham had made a bet in excess of $20.000 over who owned the fastest boat. Burnham reasoned that buying the Dixie II would cost him nothing and put money in his pocket IF the Dixie II won the race.
Dixie II, now owned by Burnham, won the 1910 Gold Cup race. The Dixie II had now won three straight Gold Cup races. Burnham was a member of both the Thousand Islands Yacht Club and the Frontenac Yacht Club but chose to race the Dixie II under the colors of the Frontenac Yacht Club. The Gold Cup remained in the thousand islands but would have a new home.
Dixie II, flying the colors of the Motor Boat Club of America, defended the Harmsworth Trophy again in 1910. The challenger was a considerably faster hydroplane boat named Pioneer. The hydroplane quickly built up a huge lead but running her engines near full speed created a problem. Her engines broke down long enough to allow Dixie II to win the race.
Soon after the race, Burnham announced he was retiring the Dixie II. He planned to replace the boat’s engine with a less powerful type and use the boat as a runabout. Motor boats were changing. The displacement hulls, so common on boats like the Dixie II, were being replaced by hydroplane hulls which ran on top of the water and not through it. The result was greater speed. It was time for the Dixie II to retire.
After selling the Dixie II, E. J. Schroeder announced he was giving up motor boating. His plans were to construct an airplane with his brother. Schroeder and his Dixie II had made boat racing history and now, a hundred years later, we can still experience that history by visiting the famous Dixie II on display at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York.
By Robert L. Matthews
Robert L. Matthews is the author of two popular books: Glimpses of St. Lawrence Summer Life: Souvenirs from the Thousand Islands: Robert and Prudence Matthews Collection, and A History of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club, published in 2009. Bob presented five articles last winter. He and his wife Prudence (well known River artist whose work was presented in TI Life’s Hooked on Prudence in 2009) have one of the most extensive collections of Thousand Islands memorabilia. When not at their beautiful River cottage at Fisher’s Landing, they live in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Special appreciation to Bill Schroeder of Lawrenceville, NJ. and grandson of the late E.J. Schroeder. We owe a great deal to Bill and those families who collect family histories and offer to share their photographs. Their material brings past history alive.