A Harley-Davidson Powered Mead “Whirlwind” Ice Yacht
In the 1920’s and 30’s, the motorcycle was still considered a tool and not a customizable extension of one’s personality. You often see old photos of motorcycle engines doing all manner of things that they were not designed to do because all you needed was a belt and a pulley to harness the power of these lightweight engines. Even though your grandparents may have told you that they only had time for working in their youth, it is obvious that some people were having a great time with these “Whirlwind” ice yachts from the Mead Ice Yacht Company of Chicago.
Since Mead was marketing ice yachts during and slightly after the Great Depression, they sold their products at different levels of assembly to make them more affordable. If you were an experienced woodworker and looking for the cheapest way to get out on the ice, you could purchase just the blueprints for $2.00. For the “do it yourself” types with a little more money to spare, a complete kit could be ordered for $49.50 containing the bent spruce, canvas and other necessary parts. The wealthier customers had the option to purchase a fully assembled model for $149.50 plus and additional $10 for crating. In any case, the new owner would be responsible for supplying and installing their own engine.
The ice yacht pictured here is owned by the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. It is powered by a 1925 Harley-Davidson JDCB engine which has been modified to use a magneto instead of a generator. A four foot wooden propeller mounts to the top of the engine and is driven via a chain drive. The control system is very basic with only four components: an on/off switch, throttle control, steering wheel and brake lever. In true Flintstone style, the brake lever pushes a piece of wood against the ice to slow down the yacht.
Hopefully winter will soon be over, but perhaps someone will be inspired to build an updated Whirlwind Ice Yacht for next season.