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Current owner Rick McGraw was looking for a “Canadian gentleman’s racer, of historical significance, but with some real style”. It was fate that he should come upon Heldena II. This was just the boat to fit his needs, and as luck would have it, his Muskoka boathouse. Not only was this boat more or less complete, there was so much documentation in the form of old photos and newspaper clippings, that a true and accurate restoration was possible. With a little effort, McGraw was able to locate Helen Miller, the daughter for whom the boat was named, as well as a descendant of J. J. Taylor. These people were kind enough to supply him with photos and even Taylor’s journals when the boat was in construction; pieces of the puzzle in a sleuthing of the true history.

Since the original Liberty was removed in 1929, another Liberty had to be obtained. McGraw located one in Minnesota. It is unique as the manufacturer was Trego, who was commissioned to build 500 motors but in actual fact only built two, with one retained for tests, and this being the other. It is of the later design and so develops more horsepower than the original, a fault which McGraw is resigned to live with.

Peter Breen, a well-known local (Ontario) boat restorer and builder was commissioned to do the restoration. Peter is, perhaps, unique as a restorer who can do it all, from the fine woodwork to the fashioning of hardware, to the completion of the mechanical systems. Peter tells me that there are less than a dozen Liberty engines running in boats, and, since all the mechanics who worked on these engines are long since retired (at least), they were on their own for tips as to installation and maintenance. Fortunately, Island City Boat Works of Buffalo, NY was able to restore the engine, fabricating or machining to original specs. All the known users were contacted and a few do’s and don’ts emerged. I heard it fire and I was impressed.

It is rare for any race boat to have survived from the early racing days. It is rarer still to have so much documentation survive the span of time. But while there is a lot of documentation on Heldena II, there are still many questions that could be answered more clearly.

Liberty Aircraft Engine
One of the outstanding achievements of our auto industry was the “United States Standard 12-Cylinder Aviation Engine” known commonly as the “Liberty” engine. When the U. S. entered World Was I in the spring of 1917, there was an urgent need for a powerful aircraft engine, and none existed. Packard Motor Car Co. had recently introduced the “Twin-Six” V-12 in 1915 and was working on a V-type aircraft engine, so its engineers had already gained knowledge that was invaluable in the Liberty’s development.

Packard’s chief engineer Jesse Vincent, and E. J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company, an aircraft engine manufacturer, were placed in charge of the Liberty design program. Within only a few weeks the new engines’ design was in place. It then went to Packard where the drawings were finalized, and then checked by other industry experts. A prototype was made in just six weeks after the initiation of the project, and delivered to the U. S. Bureau of Standards for evaluation. It produced 320hp, and by the end of August had proved its durability.

The early engines developed 320hp, but ultimately reached 449hp at 2000 rpm. At one-half horsepower per pound of weight, this was very advanced. The government placed wartime orders for 26,500 motors. Ford was to build 5,000, Lincoln Motor Co. 6,000, Packard 6,000, Nordyke and Marmon 5,000, Cadillac 2,000, Buick 2,000, and the remaining 500 by a company named Trego Motors. By Armistice Day, 1918, a total of 15,572 Liberty aircraft engines had been built.
The Capitol converted  V-12 Liberty aircraft engine powering Heldena II is a very special artifact in itself. There are very few running in boats in North America and it is the only one that we know of operating in Canada. It has such an amazing history in connection with the entry of United States into WWI as well as the fact that it became the engine of choice for race boat builders after the war. The book by Robert Neal is very informative as is the article by Warren Greatbach (Island Street Boatyard) that was written to explain the history in general together with details about how the engine in Heldena II was restored. Rather than repeat all the material, it is a must read for anyone
interested in the engine.

It is very important to note that the Island Street Boatyard in North Tonawanda did a fabulous job of restoring the Liberty engine. The process included many challenges and involved lots of people and very unique craftsmen associated with that group.

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