brothers give new life
to aging hydroplane race boat
labor of love was supported
by many in community
(September 2008) When Dave and Joe Johnson
were young boys growing up along the Madison, Ind., riverfront, one
of the highlights of the year was watching the annual Madison Regatta
with their father, Frank, and friends.
by Konnie McCollum
with the newly restored
Miss Jean is (from left) Jim Kelley,
Chris Burke, Joe Johnson, Jan
Johnson, Jean Johnson and Dave
Johnson. The Johnson brothers
finished restoring their vintage
limited hydroplane in time for
racing exhibitions this summer.
The Johnsons werent rich; Frank was a factory worker
who struggled at times. Despite being poorer than some, Frank managed
to show the boys the best time he could, and they absolutely loved it.
They wouldnt have traded those times for anything in the world.
It was then that both boys became ardent hydroplane racing fans, and
that passion for the sport has not diminished.
Dave, 50, took his love for hydroplane racing a step further than most
fans. Years ago, he bought a vintage hydroplane, a 1958, 41-Ford Flathead
called Close Shave. He painstakingly restored it to near
mint condition and ran it for a few years. He later sold that boat to
its original owner.
Then he bought his next pride and joy a 266-class vintage
limited hydro and named it the Miss Jean, in honor of his
wife. For the past five years, Dave has worked on that old boat, putting
thousands of hours of labor and love into its restoration. But he hasnt
exactly done it alone. Friends, family and hydroplane enthusiasts from
the area have enthusiastically helped, providing their time, money and
expertise to make the Miss Jean a true boat lovers
Five years ago, Dave was traveling through New York when he heard about
an old vintage hydroplane that was simply rotting away. He went to look
It wasnt much to look at, but I immediately jumped on the
chance to buy it.
It was in sad shape when he pulled it into his workshop, but his wife,
Jean, recalled that she had complete confidence in his ability to restore
the old boat to its former glory. I knew it was going to be hard,
she said. But, I also knew that he could do it; thats just
the way he is.
Within a short amount of time, the restoration project became more than
just a repair job. It became a social time, and that workshop became
a cozy gathering spot for friends and family. I simply couldnt
have done this without the support of family and friends, said
Dave. The volunteers that have showed up to work and plan, and
the donations and services people have generously given just simply
Mike Hanson, the crew chief for the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison has
even pitched in his advice. Mike has showed us tricks with hand
tools that we would never have figured out, said Dave. Hes
been a great help.
by Konnie McCollum
Jean hydro during the
Sometimes, people who show up to help have ended up staying
overnight in the garage. Dave has decided to expand the workshop to
add a new computer area and bathroom. Through this entire process,
I havent found anyone I cant call a friend, said Dave.
Dave wanted to express his sincere gratitude to all of the friends that
worked on Miss Jean, including Billy Cousins, whom he called
a true genius, Jon Peddie, of Peddies Body Shop, Shawn
and Aaron Auxier, of Auxier Bulk Truck and Transport, his son-in-law
Chris Burke, and Bill Cantrell.
Joe Johnson was among those who put in too many hours to count.
Joe is the American Power Boat Association Vintage Representative for
Region 7. He was the race chairman for the Madison Regatta for several
years. Joe, 53, is a champion crusader for vintage hydroplanes. When
he talks about the vintage boats, his enthusiasm is infectious.
The vintage class is exploding and has become the fastest growing
ABPA (American Power Boat Association) category in recent years,
he said. More and more people are searching for these old boats
and putting lots of money into restoring them; for most its simply
a labor of love.
Jim Kelley, an engine builder, is another volunteer who played a vital
role in restoring Miss Jean. Kelley has been friends with
the Johnsons for decades. He was one of the friends who would go with
them and their father to the race when they were boys. Wed
have our own fleet of these boats if we could, he said.
The restoration process had to be put on a back burner in 2006 when
Jean was seriously injured during the Madison Regatta. A car careened
into the crowd of spectators, and Jean was one of the most critically
injured. She was flown to University Hospital in Louisville with head
and chest injuries after the July 2 accident. She had open fractures
to her extremities and was in critical condition on a ventilator. She
is recovering, but the process has been long and painful. We kept
going despite the nightmare, said Dave. We decided we couldnt
let it get us down.
This summer, after more than 38 years out of the water, Miss Jean
ran her first vintage exhibition in Detroit. We had some issues
with timing, but its nothing we didnt expect, said
Dave. We just have to keep tweaking until we get her right.
At an August race in Celina, Ohio, the vintage hydroplane made three
runs and brought home a trophy. We had a great time, and things
went much better, said Dave. We still have to do some adjusting
to the steering, but were getting there.
As for the next project, the shell of the 1976 Grand Prix Olympiad
is sitting in the garage, patiently waiting its turn.
Back to September 2008