Lake George Races Produced an American Champion, A Young Andy Rooney Told the Tale
By Mirror Staff
Monday, January 3, 2011
A local, Lake George rivalry, rather than an ambition to become the world’s greatest speed boat racer, inspired George Reis to acquire a 1922 Hacker called Miss Mary and then transform her into three-time Gold Cup winner El Lagarto. That, at any rate, is what an article that appeared in the March, 1949 issue of Motor Boating magazine claimed. To quote from the story: “In the late 1920′s, Reis got tired of having an old Lake George rival, Commodore Jonathan Moore, beat him. Moore had dominated Lake George racing for as long as any of the natives could recall and Reis decided it was time he was beaten. Dick Bowers, a Wall Street broker and World War I pilot, was a close friend who lived across the lake from Reis. He thought he knew of a fellow in Buffalo, Ed Grimm, manufacturer of Peerless marine engines, who had a boat he’d sell which might beat Moore’s Jolly Roger.”
The author was not a stranger to Lake George. His name was Andrew A. Rooney, better known today as Andy Rooney, the author, columnist and radio and television commentator. Originally from Albany, he spent his summers on Pilot Knob. If Rooney cannot recall specific details about the article, it is because he wrote so many that year, he says. In 1949, he and his wife returned to Albany where they lived while he tried to finish a book and make a living as a free-lance writer. “I was looking for any idea I could sell,” Rooney recalls. “I spent a week in the neck tie department at Fowler’s department store in Glens Falls in order to write an article about neck ties. I think I sold it to Collier’s.”
Rooney can remember, very clearly, the boats he wrote about. “There were so few of them on the lake in the 1920′s. When they came across the lake, we’d run out to see them. We recognized them.” And, of course, he remembers George Reis, Anderson Bowers and Jonathan Moore.
Moore was a New York City businessman who kept a summer home on Heart Bay. According to his granddaughter, Mary Chester Flagg, he inherited his love of racing from his father, Harrison Bray Moore. H. B. Moore’s New York Lighterage Company hauled freight, including the steel and granite for the Brooklyn Bridge. He loved fast boats and could afford to indulge his passion. In 1876, he commissioned a 54 foot steam yacht, the Pampero. In 1888, he challenged the owner of another steam yacht to a race from Bolton Landing to Lake George Village, with the loser paying for a banquet at the Fort William Henry Hotel. The Pampero won. In 1892, he beat the steamboat Horicon in a race from Rogers Rock to Hague.
Jonathan Moore’s first boat was the Jolly Roger. Reis bought Miss Mary only after he was certain that it could beat Moore’s boat. “Bowers got a bicycle, measured the distance one wheel revolution covered, then, counting the bike’s wheel turns, he rode off a mile… The boat clocked close to fifty miles per hour and Bowers bought it for Reis,” according to Rooney’s article.
On the day of one of Lake George races, Rooney continues, Reis sneaked down to the races on the far side of the lake. “The new boat had been entered under the name of Reis’ sister so that Moore would have no idea that George Reis had a plan afoot to trim him… As the race was about to start a thin streak of mahogany knifed across the lake and as Reis came abreast of Moore he waved gaily and took off in a cloud of spray to win the Lake George championship.”
According to Moore’s family, it was after that race that Moore commissioned the Falcon from John Hacker, powering her with a Liberty engine. He worked on the boat in secret in his vast boat house, even adding steps to its hull, according to his grand daughter.
Rooney writes that it was the Falcon that motivated Reis to find a boat even faster than El Lagarto. El Largtito, however, was a disappointment. Reis then placed El Largtito’s more powerful engine in the El Lagarto, added steps, and created the boat that would go on to win the Gold Cup in 1933, ’34 and ’35. “Reis and Bowers never set foot in El Lagartito again,” Rooney writes. “Reis had spent $12,000 to buy himself a boat that would beat his arch-rival Moore… and found out too late to save himself the money that he had one right in his own boat house. They clocked El Lagarto at 63 mph that day and during the next few years they were to get her closer to 75 mph”
While the El Lagarto went on to achieve world-wide fame, the Falcon retired to near-obscurity. Moore may have given up racing because of poor health, his grand daughter says. But, she suspects, his inability to beat El Lagarto may have played a role.He died in 1941.
As for the author of the story of El Lagarto and the Falcon, he,too, went on to bigger things. After a year as a struggling author and free lance writer, Rooney says, he thought he’d try his luck in radio and in that new medium, television.
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