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Gene East's Autobiography


Paul has asked me twice to submit a biography for his "Legends of Boat Racing" section of the Quincy Looper web site. I have been reluctant to do so because I don't feel I fit the description of a legend. I am merely someone who has been fortunate enough to have lived a dream and I have been rewarded in so many IMPORTANT ways. Ways that don't have $$$ in front of them. The friendships made over the past 50 years are truly priceless. God has richly blessed me in this area. (Note: Photo is the cover of the special edition of Tim Chance's Hydroplane Quarterly published for the O. F. Christner Memorial Meet held on 7/04/03 in Quincy, Illinois.)


I was born and raised in LaGrange, MO, a quiet little town 10 miles upstream from Quincy. LaGrange was the home of 2 true "Legends of boat Racing" Edwin Palmer and Eston Johnson. Both were champions and record holders. Ed Dickerson was just starting to race at that time. Ed had a lot of heart, but never achieved the success of Edwin and Eston. If you watched the national news last month, you know LaGrange is located right on the banks of the Mississippi River, and is subject to periodic flooding. Some of the flood pictures shown on CNN were taken by my brother, Steve, who still lives in LaGrange. Until I reached the age of 10, my family lived 1 1/2 blocks from the river's edge. Later we moved to 4th street, not much farther from the river, but high on a hill out of the flood plain. We were a bit crowded with Mom, Dad, 5 sisters, 2 brothers and myself in a small 3 bedroom house with no indoor plumbing. Dad left school in the 6th grade to help take care of his mother and sisters after my grandfather broke his leg in a farming accident. Raising 8 kids without an education was a challenge, but Dad was a proud man who believed you should carry your own weight. He refused to accept welfare and took every extra work opportunity he could find to support his family. One of his extra jobs was that of a commercial fisherman. He had a 16 foot john boat with a 12 HP Sea King motor that he bought on time from Montgomery Ward. That was my pathway to boat racing!


I was constantly experimenting with transom heights, prop shaft angles, different props, etc. Dad would get upset with me when he'd catch me throwing the old john boat into tight full throttle turns. He was afraid I'd flip and blow the motor and then he'd not be able to feed the rest of the kids. That never happened, but we did have the fasted 12 HP Sea King in town!! I read every boating magazine I could get my hands on. I went to every race within the area as a spectator. I even did a shop leather craft project in junior high school, a wallet engraved with the nickname "Hydro Kid." To say the least, I had it bad! I wanted to race, but there was NO MONEY for such foolishness.


Remember Ed Dickerson? He lived half a block from us and was aware of my love of boat racing. Ed asked me to come along on a racing trip and help him and his racing partner, Don Bockenfeld, in the pits. Ed and Don were sponsored by Chambers Equipment Company in Quincy. Mr. Chambers was impressed with my performance that day and made me his official pit flunky. I traveled with Chambers Racing the rest of the season. Ed had an old Pabst runabout with a KG-7 that was no longer competitive. He gave me the boat and motor. Now I was in business! I started driving that boat in amateur races in the Quincy area. I remember the first time I ever ran in front. I thought I had the race in the bag but the flywheel flew off and I was dead in the water. I beat my fist on the deck out of frustration. When the rescue boat got me back to the bank, Dad said "You will never act like that again as long as you live under my roof." What a wonderful lesson in sportsmanship! Thanks, Dad!


Another of Dad's extra jobs was Deputy Town Marshall. He received a complaint call one day about 3 boys in racing boats making a lot of noise. She was insistent that Dad arrest those 3 boys for disturbing the peace. Dad listed the 3 reasons why he couldn't do that: (1) I don't have jurisdiction on the river. (2) My boat isn't fast enough to catch them. (3) One of those boys is my son! Thanks again, Dad! I won lots of amateur races, and in many cases I intentionally ran 2nd or 3rd, because the prizes were often more desirable than 1st place.


It took 4 years to win my first real trophy. I still have it. It stands 4 inches high in all of it's bronze glory in the front of my trophy case. Many of my trophies have been destroyed over the years of relocation and one flooded rec room, but I still have this one and I consider it very special indeed. The Chambers Racing Team chose not to attend the NOA World Championships in 1958, the year I started. However, I made friends with Bill Seebold Jr. that summer. He and I were both in high school. One of his pit crew workers could not get time off to attend the race. Bill invited me to take his place. Can you imagine being 17 years old and attending the World Championship as part of the Seebold Racing Team? Thank you, Bill!! Of course, that 1958 season I met so many true "Legends," including O. F. Christner, John Dortch, Verne McQueen, Homer Kinkaid, Lee St. Clair, Clem Landis, Charlie Whitelaw and so many others I can't possibly list without leaving someone out.


During my senior year in high school (1959) I joined the US Navy Reserve and attended meetings every Monday night in Quincy. I often came to town early and hung out at Quincy Welding in uniform until they closed for the day. Chris (O. F. Christner) used to call me "Admiral," we won't finish the statement, but it wasn't Nimitz! I kept in touch with Chris for the 2 1/2 years I was on active duty. I had been working as a ship-fitter and Chris hired me as a welder at the amazing rate of $1.65/hour. I reported to work 2 days before my discharge. I had several travel days allowed by the Navy that I didn't use. The Navy taught me the basics of welding, but I learned far more working for Chris and training with master welder and machinist, Al Herrmann. Al was a very talented craftsman and very proud of his German heritage. Many racers who visited 5th & State will remember Al as the older gentleman sitting on a stool in the corner of the shop, puffing on his pipe as he turned out piston after piston. Chris and Al both treated me like a son. I learned a great deal from both of them.


I was privileged to have played a role in developing the converging tuned pipes for the Mercury engines. Chris taught me how to weld aluminum with the TIG process and I padded many of the Mercury cylinders. Following the development of the Looper, Chris entrusted much of the machining work on the Looper parts, in particular porting the cylinder blocks, to me. Moreover, I was a team mate with drivers like Freddie Goehl, Arlen Crouch, Jim Schoch, Frank Volker and Earle Hull. Earle was quite likely the most under-rated driver of his day. Imagine if you were playing second fiddle to Jim Schoch every day. I also got to work with mechanics like Ronnie Williams, Mark Hummelsheim and the "super wrench" Jack McGrury.


I have been a part of many championships and records but what I hold dearer than any of these accomplishments are the friendships I have made. I can't name them all, but a few are very special. They included true legends like Alan Ishii, Charley Bradley, Tim Chance and Art Neadeck. Art and I co-hosted a memorial race honoring Chris 5 years ago. No one has worked harder to promote Quincy Welding and Chris's legacy than Art.


I was also involved, to a lesser degree, in the Reunion held at DePue in 2007. Working with other "Legends" like John Schubert, Ron Hill, Joe Rome, Bruce Summers and Wayne Baldwin. What a great time that was! If I didn't list someone, blame Paul; he asked me to keep this to 4 typed pages. There are others who stand out in my memory like Claude Fox, Charlie Strang, Marshall Grant, Bill Sr & Pauline Seebold, Baldy, Jerry Simison, all the Kirts, Kuglers, Nydahls, Larry and Frances Latta and so many others. Of course, there is everyone's favorite; a man I proudly called my friend, Gerry Waldman. God knows how we all miss him.


I left Quincy Welding in 1973, before the development of the Z engines. I wish I had been there for that. Chris treated me like a son rather than just an employee and I loved him like a father. It was an honor and a privilege to know him. I must also thank Ed Dickerson. In many ways, he was my mentor in the beginning of my racing experience, and as fate would have it, I became his son, Ron's, mentor when he started racing. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be? I'm so thankful that boat racing is a caste-less society! Where else could the son of a poor fisherman rub elbows with millionaires and be treated as an equal? Thank all of you for a lifetime of wonderful memories. Gene East 6/14/08

Gene East at Depue races


Photo courtesy of Charley Bradley. Gene East was preparing to "deck ride" for Wayne Walgrave for an F Runabout race. The 1000cc engines for this class were so powerful on the small runabout boats that 2 men were required for each boat to race -- the driver and the deck rider, who would use his weight to negotiate the balast and balance of the boat at well over 90 mph. For those of you who have never done this type of racing, imagine riding on a surfboard at 90+ mph and trying to influence it's direction with your body movements on the board while still maintaining coordination with a partner on the board with you that's steering the board. Being a deck rider requires great skill, dexterity, physical ability and above all, teamwork. Deck riders are still active today in the 1100cc 2 Man Runabout class.

Gene East with Vera & Paul Christner - 2006


Vera Christner, widow of O. F. Christner, and youngest son, Paul, presenting Gene East with the last Quincy Welding check, which Paul had kept since the shop closed in 1984.

2007 - Gene East (R) & Alan Ishii (L)


Gene East at the 2008 World Championships


Gene East helping out in the pits at the 2008 World Championships held in Lake Alfred, Florida, in October. (Photo courtesy of Tim Chance)