Stanley Dollar and His Passion for Speed
by Leo Poppoff
". . . spectators were horrified to see the Mercury, speeding across the finish line at the end of the first lap, suddenly leap sideways in the rough water. Apparently thrown out of control as it leaped the edge of a deep trough, the Mercury threatened to turn completely over. With its gleaming hull bottom entirely out of water, Dollar and his companion, were thrown from the boat."
That was a description by a Tahoe Tattler reporter during the 1937 running of the annual July speedboat races offshore of the Tahoe Tavern pier. Stanley Dollar's companion was his close friend, copilot and riding mechanic, Ollie Meek.
Phyllis Jayred vividly remembered that incident.
"They never forgave me because I was taking movies of it - and I was so undone when it turned over that I didn't keep taking the pictures. My movie stopped just as the boat came out of the water."
Stanley, Ollie and Phyllis grew up together in Piedmont, and Phyllis later married Ollie. Her recollections of Stanley were that he "was a wonderful person - very handsome - a darling from day one that I remember - and so full of fun. "I remember tagging after them, so wherever they went, they'd take me. They put me to work cleaning spark plugs and the bilge. My mother almost had a fit. They used to try the boats out on me. Because I was lighter than they were, they'd get me in a boat to see how fast I could go.
"Ollie was kind of the mechanic. They always raced together. They were very close and loved racing. At Tahoe, every year, people would just wait for Stanley's boat."
A large part of the anticipation was the classic rivalry between the Stanley Dollars and the Henry Kaisers.
Phyllis recalled that "the Kaisers and Dollars were good friends. The Kaisers had crews working on their boats. Ollie and Stanley and various friends - and girl friends - worked on Stanley's boat. They were the underdogs, and I remember that sometimes they weren't sure that they could get Stanley's boat over to the races.
"They'd get there just in time to race because they were still working on the darn thing. I remember one time it looked like they were holding the boat together with wires - and they beat Kaiser again.
"One of the reasons Stanley's father bought him the Baby Skip-A-Long (a beautiful mahogany speedboat) was to have something competitive to chase Kaiser," Dick Clarke recalled.
Dick worked for Stanley at the Sierra Boat Company, which he managed for many years.
"Skip-A-Long would usually win," according to Dick, "though Kaiser had a hopped-up Gar Wood and quite a few other boats.
"Stanley was very popular. His father was commodore of the Tahoe Yacht Club and Stan was (commodore) later. Those old Tahoe races were memorable," Dick remembers. "Rivalries were always exciting. Everyone had their engines tweaked. The racing was fun, a lot of fun. You could go to the races and run what you brung and have a big time. And if you bumped into somebody, you went home and patched your boat."
In a 1949 interview with Curley Grieve, sports editor of the San Francisco Examiner, Stanley Dollar recalled the beginnings of his racing career. "When I was 10, father got me a runabout, then an outboard and later a hydroplane. But what sold me on speedboats was a ride with Gar Wood. It was the first time I'd gone 100 miles per hour. I'll never forget it . . . the most thrilling moment of my life."
Yet Stanley Dollar had been bitten by the speed bug long before that memorable ride.
According to a 1949 article in the Philippine Republic Press, Dollar "started racing before he was old enough to drive an automobile. When Stanley was 17, he made a trip around the world with his father, R. Stanley Dollar Sr. (president of Dollar Steamship Lines), his mother and his sister. He took his 28-foot speedboat and raced it in various ports where the cruise ship stopped . . . in Manila, he won all the races of a regatta staged in his honor.
"In 1935," according to the article, "Dollar built a speedboat, named Uncle Sam, and took it to Paris for the Spreckels Trophy Race."
He was the only American in the race. The newspaper reported that Stanley was ahead for the first half, "but the steering gear jammed and the boat overturned twice at 70 mph." Luckily, he was unhurt. "Dollar has rolled up an imposing string of victories. He won the Lake Tahoe championship 10 times," the reporter added.
World War II disrupted the fun at Tahoe, just as it did around the world. Stanley and his buddy, Ollie, enlisted in the 143rd Field Artillery unit and went to the Philippines.
Through all the action of World War II in the South Pacific, Stanley Dollar and Ollie Meek dreamed of better and faster boats. By the time they returned home, Stanley had a major's commission, a bronze star and plans for a dream speedboat, the Skip-A-Long of California.
The Stanley and Ollie team set up shop in the East Bay, in what's described variously as an old winery in Hookston and as an old barn in Concord. "It was a big part of my life," Phyllis Jayred (then Ollie's wife) recalls. "We all struggled over that darned thing for years. Of course, they had to work, too. They both worked for the Dollar Company."
In the fall of 1948, Stanley, Ollie and the sleek Skip-A-Long of California ran the fastest lap of the Silver Cup race at Detroit, with an average speed of 78.182 mph.
The Harmsworth was an international speedboat race that had been held in England. Gar Wood won it for the United States in 1920 and brought it to the Detroit Yacht Club. Because of a lack of foreign challengers and the war, the race hadn't been run since 1933.
But in 1949, Italy and Canada challenged the United States. Stanley and Ollie aimed to be on the defending team. They redesigned and rebuilt the Skip-A-Long. It was described as a 30-foot long, 12-foot wide aluminum hydroplane, equipped with a 2,000-horsepower Allison V-12 aircraft engine.
Before leaving for Detroit, Skip-A-Long had 1,000 miles of test runs on the Sacramento Delta, with speeds up to 119 mph in the straightaway and 85 mph in the turns. By comparison, Gar Wood's record was 124.915 mph and Sir Malcolm Campbell had hit 141 mph. By June 27, 1949, according to Detroit newspapers, 26 yacht clubs planned to compete for the fame and the honor of defending the Harmsworth Trophy.
Besides Stanley Dollar, the list included Stanley's longtime rival, the indomitable Henry Kaiser. Kaiser's boat, designed to go 160 to 180 mph, was to be piloted by the famous bandleader and speedboat racer, Guy Lombardo. After its extensive testing, the Skip-A-Long, was ready for Detroit.
During a stop in Sacramento, by the Capitol steps, Governor Earl Warren gave Stanley and Nancy Dollar and the Skip-A-Long his official send-off. Secretary of State Frank Jordan gave the boat an official I.D. and state seal. Stanley and Nancy Dollar and Ollie and Phyllis Meek flew to Detroit to prepare for Skip-A-Long's arrival.
The Dollars were warmly welcomed. Grandpa Dollar had acquired much of his wealth from timber in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. A famous lumber camp was still called Dollar Settlement by old-timers and Dollar Bay was named for him. Chrysler Corporation executives provided space in their Detroit River boathouse for the Skip-A-Long.
Bill Stroh, a veteran speedboat builder and pilot had been sent to California to evaluate the Skip-A-Long for the Detroit Yacht Club. He was impressed and, in a Detroit News article, stated that the Skip-A-Long of California was the U.S. hope.
News articles described R. Stanley Dollar Jr. as quiet and reserved, 34-years-old, 6 feet tall, 165 lbs., with wavy brown hair and brown eyes. They also noted that he was vice president of the Dollar Company, belonged to many prestigious San Francisco clubs and was commodore of the Lake Tahoe Yacht Club. One reporter observed that Dollar was happiest "sitting around on a dock in coveralls."
Skip-A-Long's first big test was the Gold Cup race. Phyllis described the weather as "hot - so hot - and (the river) so rough." She remembered that after their test runs, "they'd (Stanley and Ollie) come in - get out of that boat - and just lie there on the dock. Ollie lost 19 lbs. that summer."
During the Gold Cup trials, according to a Detroit News article, Nancy Dollar would wave encouragement to her husband with a bedsheet from her riverside hotel window. Other drivers began looking for the signal and Nancy became the unofficial starter.
By July 2, there were only nine entrants left in the Gold Cup contest. A race record of 75.599 mph was set by the Skip-A-Long. But Stanley came in second, beaten by "Wild Bill" Cantrell (a former race car driver) in My Sweetie, designed by John Hacker. On July 4, 125,000 spectators watched Stanley win the Henry Ford Cup Memorial Races. Skip-A-Long of California set a race record for that 90-mile course at 78.098 mph. Skip-A-Long had battery trouble, but the other racers waited 20 minutes for Stanley to change batteries. That victory was followed by winning the Percy Jones Regatta (and setting a record of 86.127 mph) in Gull Lake. Three boats sank and two men were seriously injured during this grueling race.
Their impressive performance in Detroit won Stanley Dollar and his Skip-A-Long first place on the defending U.S. team for the 1949 Harmsworth International Speed Boat Race. Stanley placed second in the first 42-mile heat of the Harmsworth, losing 12 minutes when Skip-A-Long shipped water while passing My Sweetie. The winner was Dan Arena with Such Crust I. But Stanley came back on July 30 and won the second heat with a new record of 94.285 mph. Such Crust was ahead but broke down a half-mile from the finish.
News articles noted that "Dollar was gracious in allowing a delay so Such Crust and Miss Canada could be repaired." The Skip-A-Long crew worked till 1 a.m. to help repair the Such Crust.
The Harmsworth Committee ruled that the trophy would be awarded to the winner of a 16-mile runoff on Aug. 1. In the meanwhile, Stanley entered the 100-mile marathon and won first prize, a four-door Chrysler sedan. He then won the runoff for the Harmsworth Trophy.
Stanley Dollar, Ollie Meek and the remarkable Skip-A-Long of California won 13 heats, the Ford Memorial Trophy Gull Lake Trophy, Harmsworth Trophy, and the Marathon. The 1949 Silver Cup was still to be won, but Stanley decided that he'd been away too long - it was time to get back to work.
Before leaving Detroit, Stanley went to see every mechanic and working man on the river that he had met. He had promised a boy, Peter Whyte, a ride in the Skip-A-Long, but Peter was away at summer camp. So when Stanley returned to California, he telephoned the boy to promise him two rides the following year. But, it wasn't to happen.
Skip-A-Long was entered in the Lake Tahoe unlimited races on August 14. Stanley consented to give the crowd an exhibition of Skip-A-Long's speed before the race. After two impressive laps at 100 mph, the boat began to take on water. Stanley cut the speed and tried to edge it toward shore. Three boats rushed out to help.
Dick Clarke, driving a customer's boat (the Zimmeru) that he had raced, saw the Skip-A-Long get lower and lower in the water. "I went out with this Chris Sportsman with a big Scripps-12 engine in it and said you guys need to get to shore, but quick. So I took them in tow and headed for the beach down near Homewood. She (the Skip-A-Long) went down - and it started to pull this 25-foot Sportsman down." According to news reports, Stanley dove into the lake and attempted to cut the rope on the Zimmeru's propeller.
"I was in back beating on the tow rope," Dick remembers. "The line finally broke just about the time the poop deck of the Sportsman was about to go under. We popped out of the water like a great big cork."
"It was awful, just awful, watching that thing sink," Phyllis recalled. "It was like losing an old and dear friend," Stanley told Curley Grieve. "It was like a funeral. Nobody said anything. It was a tremendous shock. We all felt the same - like somebody had dropped dead."
Frantic attempts to salvage the Skip-A-Long continued into the fall. Ollie Meek fashioned special drag lines. The Navy helped. But they couldn't locate it. Finally, charges were dropped to rupture fuel tanks. Skip-A-Long was located by the sheen of released gasoline. The boat was hooked once, but was lost when the power winch started to pull the drag line.
For 35 years, Skip-A-Long of California rested under some 500 feet of water in Lake Tahoe. In 1984, it was located using an underwater video camera and then raised. It's now in storage at the Race Boat and Hydroplane Museum in Seattle.
Stanley Dollar, Ollie Meek and a partner bought the Sierra Boat Company in the fall of 1953. Dick Clarke, who had restored boats for Stanley, joined them. Stanley continued to race at Tahoe and once in Seattle.
Later years weren't kind to this gracious, fun-loving boat racer, who helped make the Tahoe racing scene so exciting. His two daughters and daughter-in-law died in tragic accidents. Stanley died of cancer in 1975, as did Ollie several years later.
The Dollar estate at Carnelian Bay became the Dollar Hill and Chinquapin developments. And the Dollar estate in Walnut Creek is now the Rossmoor retirement community.
But memories of golden days of roaring speedboats, pulling rooster tails and skipping along Tahoe's sparkling waters - and the fun of the Dollar-Kaiser rivalries - live on, as does the marvelous Skip-A-Long of California.
Phyllis Jayred, Dick Clarke, Herb Hall and Joe Meek were very gracious in sharing their memories with me a few years ago. Joe Meek generously allowed me to study his father's scrapbooks. Thanks to all.
Leo Poppoff is a retired atmospheric physicist with NASA and has been a member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's advisory planning commission since 1983. He is also a former member of the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board.
(This article was originally a three part series that first appeared on Tahoe.com in October and November 1999. Reprinted with the kind permission of Tahoe.com).
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