By Joanna Bastian
In February 2014, Dale Burnison invited me into his workshop, which was warmed by a woodstove and carpeted in wood shavings. At the time, he had just begun crafting a vintage style hydroplane boat.
For decades, Dale raced hydroplanes in the limited class (smaller than the unlimiteds that longtime fans of boat racing are familiar with), reaching speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. He has a cache of trophies from his racing days, including the Expo Championships Seafair 1963 280 Hydro, first place, and the Heidelberg Inboard World Championship 1975, second place.
As a boy he watched hydroplanes racing along Lake Washington, roaring with the same engines that propelled WWII fighter planes. Dale caught the hydroplane bug, and was soon racing in the 7-liter class with his own boat, “Country Girl.” Dale was instrumental in bringing the hydro races to Pateros, working with the chamber of commerce to start up the initial races in the early 1990s.
For the past two-and-a-half years, Dale has been working off and on building a new “Country Girl.” The Carlton Complex Fire of 2014 halted work on the project. Tucked into Murray Canyon, his property’s fencing, garden and all the trees were lost. It is a wonder that Dale’s home and shop survived.
When he wasn’t rebuilding fence and tending to home matters, Dale continued building his boat with help from his son, Bart Burnison, and friend, Mike Warfield.
The design was created by Ron Jones. The engine was donated by the Hey Jude racing team from Eatonville, led by Pat Bertram. Conn’s Collision Repair, a body shop in Pateros, painted the new “Country Girl” to match the same pink hue as her predecessor.
On a warm July morning, Dale was ready to test the waters in the pilot seat of the completed hydroplane. Friends gathered around as Dianna Tuinstra christened the boat with a bottle of champagne.
A large boom truck operated by Steve Varrelman gently lifted the vintage 7-liter hydroplane from boat trailer parked along the shore and swung the load until the boat hovered over the surface of Lake Pateros. A crew deftly and carefully used long poles to guide the hydroplane as Steve lowered it into the water.
“Dale, by golly it’s floating!” laughed Steve, as Dale donned a life jacket and helmet before climbing into the pilot seat. “Dale is a maniac,” said Linda Heaton, with a smile and a shake of her head.
The boat took off, with Dale behind the controls, with two chase boats alongside piloted by Ron Bange and Rod Hammons. On that morning, the boat did not go far on the initial test run to find out what needed to be dialed in. When Dale climbed out, there was not a drop of water on him, as he had designed the underbelly and edges of the boat to drive the water outward.
After the boat was again lifted by boom truck out of the water and onto the trailer, Steve reached for the pale pink hooks to release the boat from the sling. “Everything’s pink but my underwear, Steve,” Dale said with a grin.