*This post is dedicated to my husband Bob *
It was a different time and a different town. There was a big airplane company but no technology. The Smith Tower but no Space Needle. There were wrestling matches and roller derby and stock car racing. But no major league sports. It was the nineteen fifties in Seattle and the biggest show in town was Seafair.
Seafair started in 1950 and quickly became Seattle’s premier event. There were neighborhood carnivals and parades with drill teams and marching bands, where Seafair Pirates roamed. Floats carried princesses who perfected the wave to the crowds lining the streets and honorary parade marshalls included celebrities like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.
But these were only the warm up to the Grand Finale. The Races. Hydroplane, that is.
Every year Seafair climaxed with the Gold Cup races on Lake Washington. Where racers were sports heroes like Bill Muncey and Myro Slovak and drove boats named Slo-Mo IV, Gale V and Miss Bardahl.
The year was 1959 and a young boy named Bobby was with his best friends, Delbert and his little brother Norman.
They were watching the races at a friend’s house near Lake Washington. The race was over but there was confusion over who won, Maverick or Miss Thriftway. Deliberations were taking awhile so the boys thought they had time to go watch the winning driver be thrown into the lake.
They headed over to Sayres Pits which was swarming with the boats and their drivers, as well as radio and TV personalities. It was also protected by a chain link fence about 50 yards long – and the fence was guarded by a cop who patrolled it back and forth. They hadn’t planned on that. But they sure wanted to be on the other side where the action was.
Bobby and Delbert looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking. They’d jump over the fence whenever the guard went to the other end.
Delbert went first and made it safely over. When the cop walked away again it was Norman’s turn. He made it over too and disappeared into the crowds while no one noticed. Finally it was Bobby’s turn and when the coast was clear he climbed up the fence and started over the other side. But while he was coming down the cuff of his jeans caught and when he landed on the other side he heard a loud pop! He got up to run but his leg buckled beneath him and he heard a woman scream, “Look at that boy’s leg!!”
Bobby looked down and saw his leg strangely bent between his ankle and knee, and a wave of nausea hit him. And fear that he’d been caught. As a crowd gathered around the cop arrived to comfort him, then sent for a medic.
While he was lying on the ground, the winning driver of the hydroplane Maverick, Bill Stead, came over to see him, dripping wet. “I broke my leg when I was your age too,” he said. Bobby may have missed the dunking, but he got to personally meet the driver. Heady stuff.
A few days later he was recuperating at home where his mom and grandma were all dressed up waiting for the sheriff to come. Bobby would be interviewed for the local news, as the only casualty of the races that year.
There was some consolation when he saw himself on TV that night. But he was stuck with a cast the rest of the summer. He’d have to give up jumping over fences for a while.