I have been collecting antique outboard motors for about 15 years. Previously, I had been collecting the old hit and miss farm engines. On one occasion, I met a man who had an old hit and miss engine that I wanted for my collection. I found out that he also collected antique outboard motors. He would only trade the engine I wanted for an antique outboard motor. I had grown up on a lake in Wisconsin and my first outboard motor had been a 1953 Johnson 5 hp. I had always loved outboards and boating, but had been unaware that their history went back to the late 1890’s. I really wanted that hit and miss engine, so the search was on for something that I could trade for it. I finally found an old 1928 Evinrude fold-light that the man needed for his collection and the trade was made. In the process, my love of outboards and boating resurfaced and my hobby made a switch from old farm engines to antique outboards. Unlike old farm engines, I could find an old outboard, restore it, and go out and have fun running it on an old boat.

My experience of collecting outboards was typical of most collectors. At first, I wasn’t aware that they existed. I had never even seen one prior to meeting that old collector. Once I knew they existed and started looking for them, they started popping up everywhere. I would find them at garage sales, flea markets, and antique shops. Then one day I came across an old magazine called the “Antique Outboarder”. I discovered that there was a national club with over 2500 members. They had about 20 chapters scattered all over the country. I joined my local chapter about 10 years ago and have really been enjoying this new hobby ever since.

When I first started collecting, I would buy everything I would find. My collection grew quickly to over 100 motors. I soon learned that with over 350 manufacturers, and thousands of different models, it would be impossible to collect one of every model out there. My collection has since focused on two major areas. I collect the pre-1920 rowboat motors and the small trolling motors from the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Two of the engines featured in this article are from my trolling motor collection. The first is my favorite, and one of the cutest little motors ever made. It is called a Clarke Troller. It was made by the Clarke Engineering Company in Detroit, Michigan. They were produced between 1937 and 1941. This engine is small, lightweight, and portable. It is only 21” tall and weighs 10.5 pounds. It is a single cylinder, two-stroke design that puts out 1.2 horsepower at 4000 rpm. The engine is designed so that the main engine components operate below the water level. This eliminates the need for a water pump. Since the prop is mounted directly on the end of the crankshaft, there are no gears. This engine has only 5 moving parts. The piston, connecting rod, crankshaft, bearings, and point assembly. It is started by tilting it up out of the water and locking it in a horizontal position. A rope is wrapped around a pulley on the propeller and given a quick pull. When it starts, it gives a high pitched scream like a model airplane engine. It is then lowered back into the water and if it doesn’t die, off you go. If it does die, you readjust the carb settings and try all over again. The engine is constructed mainly of polished cast aluminum parts. This was state of the art for that time period. When new, the engine sold for $69.50. For $5.00 more you could get a canvas carrying case to store it in. Because they were so cute and easy to store, quite a few have survived.

I found my Clarke Troller at a swap meet down in Florida about 4 years ago. When I took it apart to restore it, I found that it had probably been run only a few times. It was like brand new inside. It starts and runs very well. I have a lot of fun taking it to meets and running it. I have found though, that 1.2 horsepower was not big enough to be very practical as a trolling motor, especially if you had a heavy rowboat. To address the need for a more powerful motor, the company designed and manufactured a few twin cylinder versions of this engine. It came out in 1940. It put out 3 horsepower and weighed 19.5 pounds. But, due to the war, they were unable to get aluminum; they were out of business by the end of that year. Up until a few years ago, no one was sure that they ever made any of the twin cylinder versions. In the last three years about 10 of them have been found. This twin cylinder engine is one engine I have been trying to find for my collection.

The second motor featured is a Ro-Peller. The Ro-Peller Manufacturing Company of Connersville, Indiana manufactured it. It was also made about the same time period. It is a hand-powered motor. You turn the crank to go and steered with the lever at the top of the motor. The advertising literature says that you could cruise at 2 mph with a top speed of 4 mph. It sold for $16.00. I have tried this motor and think that it would take a very strong man to make a boat go 4 mph with this devise. Rowing is definitely faster. It is, however, good for maneuvering the boat in tight quarters, or for getting into those hard to reach spots where the big fish are hiding. The Ro-Peller is always a hit at shows though. Everyone comes up and wants to turn the crank, imagining that they are speeding across the water. Especially the kids!

The third engine pictured is a 1919 Caille Bantam inboard canoe motor. This engine was built by the Caille Perfection Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan. It develops 2 horsepower and claims to drive a canoe at 10 to 15 miles an hour. The engine only weighs about 35 pounds. It uses a Model T spark coil and battery for ignition. I bought this engine from a friend of mine in Michigan. I restored it and made the display it is mounted on. The Caille Company originally started making slot machines. They started making inboard marine engines in 1910. In 1913, they came out with their first outboard motor. Caille was a major manufacturer until 1935.

Collecting antique outboard motors has really been a joy to me. Finding them and restoring them to like new condition can at times be challenging. But putting them on a nicely restored old wooden boat and experiencing what it was like for boaters at the turn of the century is the greatest thrill of all.