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  • Oct. 9, 1963: Astronaut Gordon Cooper tests a boat at Cedarville Reservoir with Gus Grissom by his side. The pair were able to get the boat up to 40 mph.

  • File photos Oct. 9, 1963: Astronauts Gordon Cooper, left, and Gus Grissom arrive at Baer Field before donning flight suits and flying to Washington, D.C. The pair tested a “Hydrodyne” boat made in Harlan during the few hours they were in the area.

  • File Oct. 9, 1963: Astronaut Gordon Cooper drives a boat at Cedarville Reservoir during a stop in the area. Gus Grissom was by his side.

  • File Oct. 28, 1965: Astronaut Gus Grissom, right, was at Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan to work on engines for the race boat.

  • File Oct. 28, 1965: Astronaut Gordon Cooper works at Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan where he and Gus Grissom were working on engines for a race boat.

  • File Oct. 28, 1965: Astronaut Gordon Cooper, right, at Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan where he and Gus Grissom were working on engines for the race boat.

  • Oct. 28, 1965: Astronaut Gus Grissom at Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan where he and Gordon Cooper were working on engines for a race boat.

  • File Oct. 28, 1965: Astronauts Gordon Cooper, center, and Gus Grissom, right, at Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan where they were working on engines for the race boat.

  • File Oct. 9, 1963: Astronauts Gordon Cooper, left, and Gus Grissom file a flight plan at Baer Field Air Guard operations before flying to Washington D.C. to meet with President John F. Kennedy.

Thursday, May 31, 2018 1:00 am

Throwback Thursday Oct. 9, 1963

Throwback Thursday: Astronauts visit area for boats in 1960s

Spacemen came to town Oct. 9, 1963.

Officially, astronauts Gordon Cooper and Virgil “Gus” Grissom were stopping in Fort Wayne to shop for a trailer to be used as a dressing room at Cape Canaveral.

Unofficially, most of their 71/2-hour visit to the area was spent looking at and testing a 160-horsepower “Hydrodyne” boat manufactured by Midwestern Industries Corp. in Harlan.

A story in The Journal Gazette the next morning recounts how the newspaper had been tipped off about the pair's actual plans and was able to get photos of them testing the boat at its top speed of 40 mph at the nearby Cedarville Reservoir.

Herb Levihn, Midwestern vice president, told the newspaper that there was a chance that Cooper, Grissom and fellow astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Walter Schirra would buy boats for their shore-side homes in Houston.

Cooper and Grissom spent an hour speeding around the reservoir in the white jet boat before heading to the home of Midwestern President Ab Crosby for dinner. It was so last-minute that Crosby's wife had to send out a rush order for steaks for dinner, according to The Journal Gazette's story.

The pair had been scheduled to visit a month earlier, but inclement weather delayed their trip. The company didn't know the men would visit this day until after their plane touched down.

After it had been revealed that the famous pair were in the area, local media and fans were waiting for hours at Baer Field for the astronauts to return.

They spoke only briefly and didn't sign autographs, to the dismay of the crowd. Cooper and Grissom quickly filed their flight plan and took off in their training version of the F-102 jet fighter.

They were bound for Washington, D.C., where they were due to meet with President John F. Kennedy. The president would be assassinated a month later.

At the time of their visit, Grissom, a Hoosier native and Purdue grad, had piloted the second Mercury flight in 1961, and Cooper had orbited Earth 22 times aboard the Mercury-Atlas 9 spacecraft that year. Both would fly for NASA again in the Gemini program.

They returned to Midwestern in 1965 to help work on the engines of a Hydrodyne boat that they intended to pilot in a California race.

– Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette

Throwback Thursday appears in print the last week of the month. To see more archive photos throughout the month, follow @JGFeatures on Twitter. To suggest a date or event to be featured, email Corey McMaken at cmcmaken@jg.net or call 461-8475.

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The following story by Sandy Thorn appeared in the Oct. 29, 1965, editions of The Journal Gazette.

ASTRONAUT PAIR WORKS ON BOAT FOR '500' RACE

The redezvous of the Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 space teams, tentatively scheduled for mid-December, will be “a great step ahead,” according to Hoosier astronaut Virgil (Gus) Grissom.

Grissom enthused about the historic attempt yesterday afternoon while he and astronaut Gordon Cooper were engrossed in race talk – not the race for space this time, but boat racing.

The slender spacemen, wearing NASA uniforms, were sitting in their Hydrodyne boat at Midwestern Industries Corp. at Harlan. They were busily adding some personal touches to the 24-foot racing craft which they will pilot Nov. 12-14 in the “500” at Sultan Sea, Calif.

The astronauts arrived yesterday morning at the Air National Guard strip at Baer Field in a T-38 Talon two-place jet trainer from Ellington Air Force Base, Houston, Tex. They went virtually without fanfare to the Harlan industry where they began work on the two inboard engines capable of delivering a total 1,100 horsepower.

It was obvious that the two were concerned about one thing yesterday – the custom-made Hydrodone. Neither cared to digress too far from the subject, particularly Copper who continued wiring the engine.

At one point, a Midwestern employee, Art Schwartz of R.R.1, Spencerville, turned to Cooper with the comment, “You're doing so good with that wiring, I'll just let you go ahead.”

Cooper, with the same subtle humor that sparked both of his space flights, said, “I should have this done in no time. Get the trailer ready!”

In the meantime, Grissom talked about the race and the boat. “A whole group invented this,” he said. He praised Ab Crosby, Midwestern president, who had designed the hull and then plugged several other firms.

Questioned on the boat's speed, the affable Grissom pondered, “Well, we're not sure. That's really why we're here. We'll have to try it out. We hope – I say, hope – for a top speed of 90, and we hope to be able to cruise at 80.”

Grissom said it was his first boat race, but Cooper is an old hand at the sport. “Yeah, I've been doing it a long time,” said the man who became known to the world as “Gordo.” He was in sixth place in last year's Sultan Sea “500” when his craft developed engine trouble. “But,” he cautioned, “I was in a little boat last year. An 18-foot job.”

Cooper said he had teamed for boat races before but never with an astronaut. “And, I've teamed with astronauts before,” he kidded,” but never in a boat.”

“This will be the first astronaut team in boats,” Cooper joked as he turned to Grissom with a broad smile. “That's it!” retorted Grissom.

Grissom explained how he happened on to Midwestern Industries. This Hydrodyne is the sixth boat purchased by space heroes. Grissom said that originally he was interested in a sturdy skiing boat for his family when he visited the Harlan plant and that he has been so impressed with their workmanship that he has always returned.

“In fact,” he revealed, “I was so sold that I told the Secret Service about the skiing boats so they could get one for Jackie Kennedy.”

Asked if this was a bit of a vacation from space, Grissom shook his head. “No, we're not on vacation.” Cooper didn't disagree as he proceeded working on the sparkplugs. “Do you think we can get this out of here by dark?” Cooper asked anxiously. The boat was launched in the St. Joseph River before nightfall. (It is to be shipped to Houston on Monday for some final testing by the racing team before leaving for California.)

When the subject of boat racing had waned, Grissom was asked “Would you care to discuss the space program?” The native of Mitchell, much more talkative than Cooper, answered, “No, not particularly.”

Then when the question was put to him. Grissom, apparently startled, answered quickly. He was asked for a comment on yesterday's announcement. “What announcement?” he questioned. “I haven't seen a newspaper.”

When told that the White House revealed plans for a Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 rendezvous, a space first, Grissom expressed surprise. “Did they announce that today? I knew it but I didn't think they'd announce it so soon.”

He said that the rendezvous would be “a great step ahead for this country.” He watched as Cooper assembled more wiring and reiterated, “Yes, this new thing will really be a step ahead.”

Grissom said that Monday's failure with Gemini 6 “certainly didn't help us any” but said he did not consider it to be a crucial setback. “If we pull off this new thing,” he added, “the failure will be forgotten.”

(A few days before this story was originally published, on Oct. 25, 1965, the Gemini 6 mission was canceled after an unmanned target vehicle experienced catastrophic failure shortly before the module manned by Wally Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford was scheduled to launch.)

Asked about the impact of the scrubbing of astronauts Schirra and Stafford, Grissom shrugged. “Oh, we've gone through months and months of training. We've seen disappointments in the past and we'll see them again. We hate to see the schedule upset, but we don't break down and cry.”

At that, Cooper needed some assistance and Grissom closed the interview to lend a helping hand on the boat project.