December 2, 2021

Bathtub tradition reborn

Moravia’s first races since 1999 make a splash

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

One of several teams run by the Powerful Porcelain Pushers, an extended family group of more than 70 people from mainly New York state and New Jersey, competes Saturday during the Fillmore Days Bathtub Races.

MORAVIA — The first bathtub races in two decades got off to raucous start Saturday with an estimated 2,500 people showing up for the midday event at Fillmore Glen State Park in Moravia.

While light rain fell about 15 minutes before the event started at 11 a.m., the sky quickly cleared for the parade of tubs, followed by the races at noon, in which 28 teams, using 20 bathtubs, competed.

The races of pasts decades were a more chaotic affair, with multiple tubs running pell-mell against each other down Main Street.

In keeping with the ancient adage, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets run over with a bathtub,” the races of old came to an end when someone got run over with a bathtub.

That happened in 1999, and the resulting injury put the kibosh on the whole tradition, until this year, when Moravia native Josh Marnell revived the races, moving the event from downtown Moravia to the flat driveway of Fillmore Glen State Park, where spectators stood and sat behind protective hay bales lining the course.

The speed demons of the day were Bubbles No. 1 — the second team using a tub built by Joe Marnell out of cast-iron bath tub dug out of a neighbor’s yard, the front of a motorcycle and the rear axle of a VW Rabbit.

Races this year were run individually, with two team members pushing the other two members who sat in the tub and steered. Team members would then switch positions and run another race; the times of the two runs were then averaged. Bubbles No. 1 had times of 1:01 and 1:06 over 200 yards, despite losing a pusher on both runs, so that Carl Hartwell in one case, and Zach Fitterer in the other, single-handedly pushed the tub to the finish line.

The winners

The winners of this weekend’s bathtub races at Fillmore Glen State Park:
• First place, cast-iron tub: Bubbles No. 1
• First place, custom tub: Rub a Dub Dub
• First place, fiberglass tub: The NUCOR Nasties.
• Most Creative: Moravia Tub No. 1.
• Down the Drain: Rub a Dub Dub.
• People’s Choice: Bloodbath.

Other contestants were less concerned with speed. Such as Night Tubbin’, the crew of Tub 54, the disco-themed entry that placed an emphasis on style.

“We’re not going for speed,” said team member Tom Schnurr. “We may not be moving, but we’re going to be grooving.”

Others were going for another kind of effect, such as the demonically costumed crew of Bloodbath. The horror-metal themed tub was not only splattered with fake blood but actually sprayed fake blood on the course as it went. Bloodbath won the People’s Choice award, which was based on write-in votes.

Another crowd pleaser was Rub a Dub Dub, whose team gyrated around the course, doing pushups and fist pumps during the initial parade of tubs that began the event.

But during their first run, the tub’s left wheel bent inward and soon blew out. Their tub sent to the showers, the crew then picked up the tub and ran it across the finish line. They won the coveted Down the Drain award, consisting of a toilet seat that team member Adam Hall of Moravia got to wear around his neck as he posed for photos.

Hall said he loved attending the races as a kid, and he was excited when he heard they were returning, “I had to sign up,” he said. “I had to do it.” He immediately texted his buddies Bob Lange of Scottsville and David Cox of Rochester, who agreed to join; they later brought in David Longeill of Auburn.

When it got out in May that Marnell was resurrecting the races, word spread fast, and far. The Powerful Porcelain Pushers, an extended family group from New York and New Jersey, including some members from North Carolina and Georgia, brought more than 70 people with two tubs and several teams.

In the past, this group sometimes imported more than 200 people to the races, said Ken Michel from Passaic, N.J.. Many in the group have last names of Wyckoff or Michel, and are descended from three sisters. The family made an annual reunion out of the event in 1980, when John Wyckoff bought property for summer house in Moravia and stumbled across the races.

The family had custom Tshirts made for every race from 1980 to 1998, with the sole exception of 1988.

The masters of ceremonies for Saturday’s event were married meteorologists Vanessa Richards of Spectrum News and Matt Stevens of WNTQ of Syracuse.

The origin of the bathtub race is uncertain, but it started as an ironic gesture to the bogus story that President Millard Fillmore, who was born in nearby Summerhill, was the first president to put a bathtub into the White House. This alleged historical fact was a hoax perpetrated by journalist H.L. Mencken in 1917.