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.
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.