When Bill Houghton and Brian Simpson salvaged a speedboat of 1920s vintage from Lake Conneaut, Crawford, County, Pennsylania, they had no idea of the impact it would have on thousands of people in the Keystone State. Many Pennsylvanians rallied around the restoration of Liberty the Second, one of the fastest boats of the roaring 20s. More than 15,000 people gathered at Lake Conneaut in the summer of 1987 to see its rebirth. Today, they come to the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society Museum, Conneaut, Pa., to see the refurbished time capsule that was power boating’s entry into the modern age of hydroplanes.
“When we asked for permits from the Pennsylvania Historical Commission,” Houghton said, “state officials turned us down at first saying it was impossible to get the boat out from beneath tons of mud. But we proved them wrong, using a portable dredge to suck the mud out and then slipping straps under the boat to raise it to the surface. It took eight days working in 43 feet of dark water.”
The divers and Linesville Volunteer Fire Department personnel were greeted by cheers from hundreds of spectators who had gathered on the beach. The mahogany hull was in excellent condition–preserved in the mud and cold water–and the large white letters: Liberty the Second, painted on the side of the boat, could easily be distinguished. Smaller letters printed in gold read: H.N.S. for Harry N. Snavely, the wealthy owner and driver of the highly ranked speedboat.
The engine was an experimental design developed by the boat’s namesake, Liberty Engines of Pittsburg. The 450-hp, V-8 injection model was built in WWI as a replacement in Jenny trainer airplanes, but test flights proved the engine to be too heavy and powerful for aircraft. There were only 15 original engines built. Only two others exist today, one at Smithsonian Institute and the other at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Divers found the boat’s engine devoid of rust after more than six decades underwater. When the spark plugs were removed, some still had air compression in them.
After two years of restoration, the boat was launched in 1987 and circled the lake at 70 MPH. When it originally sank, the boat’s rudder—set in the bow rather than the stern–caught a small wake and the 20-foot-long flat-bottomed craft flipped, throwing Snavely and his mechanic clear. Fortunately, both escaped unharmed.
When it’s not in parades or on display at the annual Antique Wooden Classic Boat Show, the boat remains in the Conneaut Lake Area Historical Society Museum. Curator George Rutherford says, “She’s always the queen of the show.”
For further information go to conneautlakehistory.com