Big Springs

Hovercraft Club Of America's

22nd Annual Big Spring Hover-In

Big Spring, Tn.

October 6th,7th & 8th 2000


   Last minute preparations seem to be my general mode of operation. Not that I don’t actually plan things out mind you- it’s more like some weird variation of fate! I had actually planned on going to the Big Springs Hover Rally weeks in advance. My wife, Cher and I both took Friday off so that we could have an extra day!

   "Dixon’s Law" states that no matter how bad things get they can always get worse! Things were actually falling in line pretty good until I took the time to wash my Hovercraft on Monday afternoon. All clean and shiny, I started the engine to dry it out. Something caught my eye. It looked like something was moving near the top of the engine. I took a closer look and sure enough there was! My Rotax 532 has dual radiators. There is a shock isolated 6 inch "Tie rod" that connects the tops of the 2 radiators, and one of the rubber isolators had broken. The idle speed airflow through the duct had set up a nice little oscillating harmonic swing that was swinging the tie rod to within an inch of the spinning fan! ARRGHH! I made a panic dive for the "Kill" switch and managed to get things shut down before the "tie rod" could catch the spinning fan blades. Luckily I have all of the service and parts manuals for my Rotax and within a few minutes I had the part numbers for the broken rubber isolators, and had the offending parts removed. I’ve had some BIG TIME PROBLEMS with "Leading Edge Airfoils" so I decided to order from "California Power Systems". They came through with flying colors (expensive flying colors!!), I had my parts on Wednesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon I had everything back together. I had been watching the weather on the Internet, and it looked pretty dismal…. I packed for cold rainy weather- too late to change our plans now.

   Thursday I was home from work early and had everything ready to go before Cher even arrived home. We finally managed to leave Suburban Chicago by about 3:30pm. At 6:30 pm we were STILL in Northern Indiana! traffic and road construction! Leaving early had meant absolutely NOTHING!! Our average speed was about 30 mph- not good when our destination was over 600 miles away!

   My original intention was to drive straight all the way through to Knoxville, but with our little "Hoosier time delay" we ended up stopping at a Holiday Inn Express somewhere in Kentucky at around midnight. We left the hotel early, and after some "creative driving" finally arrived at Braden’s Rural Retreat at about 11:00 am. Nobody was home when we arrived so we just parked and walked around the deserted campground. We walked down the "hill" and checked out the beach area, and it didn't look any to promising….

   The water level was low enough to create about a 1’ squared off vertical step up to the grass. We walked back up the hill and met Linda Braden and got our tent camping area sorted out. Linda cut the grass and we assembled our tent and then flew the hovercraft over to the top of the hill.

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Camp Dixon


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Ready to Cruise!

   We donned our wet suits and then I flew solo down the hill to the waters edge where Cher jumped into the back. We flew for about 40 minutes, Cher got totally drenched from the wind and spray. We came back to the shore. I was pretty leery of the large "step" up to the grass so I came up close to the beach and set the hovercraft down. I had Cher get out. While walking the beach I had spotted 3 possible areas to come out of the water and back up the hill. I flew out into the river and made pass number one… There was a slight depression, which shot you up between two trees, then a traverse to the right around another tree on the way up the hill… Linda had mentioned that some people had "tried" this before... I guess it wasn’t pretty. My attempt was UGLY- I had a 30 mph of commitment speed… BONK!!… 15 mph gone from grounding… I made it through the first 2 trees at full throttle, just managed to squeak by the third tree and was slowing fast… about half way up I was moving way too slowly. I finally aborted, spun 180 and then returned to the river for attempt number two. Number two was just as ugly- the transition from water to land was just too steep and caused me to bottom again- robbing me of the momentum needed to make it up the hill. The biggest fiasco was attempt number three… Hehehehe… the boat ramp… FORGET IT!!!! I finally gave up and parked my portly Scat about 10 feet up from the water on the grass.

   We drove into town and got some lunch. By the time we returned Scott Cromwell and his dad Sid had pulled in. Scott was tent camping, Sid had a camper. They both had Scats. While Scott set up his tent next to ours a few more cars and trailers pulled in. A HUGE trailer pulled in with two hovercraft on it. Scott and I walked over and helped them unload. Much to my surprise one of the crafts on the trailer was one that I had read about in the "Australian Hovercraft News". This is about the last place I ever expected to see this craft! The craft was one of Owen Ellis’s "Racing Rockets" which competed in the World Cup races in England. It was built for team Australia, but one of their drivers had some serious medical problems. Kent Gano became the new owner. I met Kent, and then a little later Bob Rennick. I really enjoyed finally meeting them. (I’ve been in the Hoverclub of America since 1989, and the Hoverclub of Canada for a few years…. So both gentleman were well known to me!)

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"Kent's Rocket"

   Cher decided it was too cold for hovercrafting and decided to stay on shore while I went out and played. Sid was out playing too. Scott had some engine problems, but finally got his Scat running and came down and played too. I finally came in and parked my Scat at the bottom of the hill for the evening. I went topside and met our new camping neighbor Louis Bondurant. Louis has an older GPL twin engine craft. Harold Carter had arrived also with his newly painted Weber Starcruiser…. Harold was about to fly down to the hill when a reversed rudder linkage rudely surprised him! (And his wife who was walking nearby) Harold was kinda startled when the Starcruiser veered left instead of right as he had planed! He spent a few minutes correcting his error and it ran great the rest of the weekend.

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Harold's Starcruiser

   Kent Gano started his "Rocket" and then flew it down the hill and on to the river… AWESOME… Both the driver and the craft! Kent accelerated across the river and then up the hill. He hit pretty hard at the transition and pulled a couple of finger skirts loose. He fixed the skirts and then proceeded to continue playing for a while…. Like I said- AWESOME!! Someday if given a chance I’d love to drive it! Bob Rennick drove Kent’s modified racing Scat… it too made it up the hill and Bob is every bit the pilot that Kent is.

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Kent's Other Rocket.... er.... Scat!

   The weather so far was not what the predictions had been. No rain, but it was pretty cold. We sat around the campfire- nearly everyone in the campground was there trying to stay warm. The Galka family had arrived and we talked to Sherri and Dave for a while.

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Friday Night Parking

   We finally went to bed and were happy to have brought our winter camping gear… Sometimes it helps to live up north! We were nice and cozy in the 34 night.

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Early Saturday Morning

   Saturday morning I was up early- early enough to catch the sunrise. Overnight there magically appeared a Neoteric Questrek next to Louis’ tent… Never even heard it come in! We found that it belonged to Cecil Scalf. Sid got his morning exercise bye chasing after the neighborhood dog… bare footed… Seems the dog had a liking for Sid’s shoes! The dog ran home with them…… Hehehehe… took half the day Friday to train that dog!!! Hehehehe!!

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Cecil's Craft... Snuck into camp after dark!

   Dave and Linda Braden drove Louis, The Carters, and us to breakfast. Great food, great company, and great hosts! While at breakfast we decided to cruise the Hiwasse river up to the Ocoee river.

   Noon came along and we all headed up river. We started our cruise with 7 Hovercraft which included Scott (Scat 277) and Sid Cromwell (Scat 503), Louis Bondurant (GPL), the Carters (Weber Starcruiser), Cecil Scalf (Neoteric), Kent Gano (Revtech Rocket), and myself with my Scat 12HP. The wind was pretty strong, and we were headed downwind for the first half of the trip. Kent was the first to turn back… He has a very limited supply of fuel, and his high output engine can really suck down the gas! The rest of us continued up the river… pretty boring for the first part, but as we went farther it became more interesting. We made a couple of stops and at about 18 miles Cecil decided to head back to camp. The river continued to get more interesting with some rock outcroppings along the shoreline. As we went farther the river became shallower and the water was much faster. Scott and Sid turned around at about the 24 mile mark while the Carters, Louis, and myself continued all the way to the Ocoee.

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"Passing Zone" on the Hiwasse
(Photo courtesy of Louis Bondurant)

   We ate a snack at the confluence of the two rivers. The Carters headed back, But Louis and myself decided to continue 3 miles up the Ocoee. The Ocoee was by far the best part of the trip…. Nice and tight, plenty of obstructions, and some fast moving water with sand bars… Kinda like the stuff I run near home…. COOL!

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Ocoee! COOL!
(Photo courtesy of Louis Bondurant)

   I wanted to continue, but Louis reminded me of the time. Being 33 miles from camp, and having to battle a strong headwind we knew it was going to take a while to get back… it was also getting cold. The temperature had dropped into the 40’s. We fought our way back. Louis was freezing. I wasn’t getting too cold because I had a full wetsuit on with foul weather gear over the top. The narrow parts of the river weren’t bad, but when we came to the open lake portion it got pretty brutal with a nasty 1 – 2 foot chop. I hit some of the waves so hard that my fan hit the duct! We finally made it back to camp and up the hill- thanks to some nifty tractor work by the Bradens at the transition- the hill had become easy! That fire sure felt good!

   I went back to my tent and put on some dry clothes. I met Jerry and Pam Coffman, and a bunch of other people from the "HoverLovers Newsgroup" They must not be used to the cool weather… Hehehehe. They split for the warmth of their hotels. Linda and Dave Braden put on a great dinner, which was followed by some interesting conversations about hovercrafting and some videos of the "World Cup" in England…. Cool! Very Cool!!… er… Cold?

   We went to bed, and it was even colder than the night before… in the 20’s this time… still cozy… I’ve done this before- 12 and snow in the past. I have some "nutty" rock climbing friends that camp in below zero weather- I guess I must be getting old!

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Igloo or Tent?

   Next morning I got up early again. I got out of the tent and looked back at it. It was covered with an eighth inch of heavy frost! I grabbed my tools and went down to my Scat. Louis was awake and working on his craft too. I did a plug check, and it was UGLY! The jetting was way too lean. Add to that a broken spot weld on one of my rudder posts. The cold air was playing havoc with my jetting. I never figured on it being that cold that far south! I decided since I didn’t bring extra jets to just pack it up and head back north. Bob Rennick told me of 2" of snow in Chicago- I told him of my 2 spark plugs that were "snow" white when I did the plug check...... what a neat coincidence....... NOT! We continued to talk for a while about the design of "Kent’s Rocket" and some of the people who were behind the design and fabrication… someday when I grow up I want one! PLEASE!!!!!?????

   We left for home at about 12:00 noon. 1633.5 miles round trip to Big Springs and back! We Finally arrived home about 9:45pm Sunday night. I had already decided that I would be attending DuQuoin on the next weekend, but that’s another story……