The Boat Motor

The other day when I wrote to you about fishing, I happened to mention the old boat motor that my Dad owned. It was just a small piece of the story. Certainly not the center piece of the story. But my good friend and neighbor, Glenn, picked up on that one thing and sent me a text.

Him: You didn’t tell the whole story about the motor.
Me: You should forget that detail.
Him: If I remember correctly, something happened to that motor.
Me: You weren’t there.
Him: It would make a good story.
Me: It’s embarrassing.
Him: Tell it anyway. I think it’s funny.
Me: Of course, you do. You would.

I embellished that last part, but it’s typical of the conversations that Glenn and I have. We’ve only known each other for over 25 years, but it seems like we’ve been connected longer than that. We have both laughed and found it a little creepy how similar our life experiences have been. We both grew up with Depression era Dads who saved everything in coffee cans. We both have a piece of pencil led stuck in a leg from elementary school. Both our Dads had big ditches on the farm that they filled up with trash. Stuff like that. It just never seems to stop. The connecting points keep surprising us.

So, when Glenn asks me to tell what happened to the boat motor. I have to tell it.

It was just an old Western Auto 5hp outboard. It wasn’t a Johnson, or Evinrude. And it certainly wasn’t new when it came into our possession. Dad never bought anything new when there was something used that would work just as well. I think he might have bought used underwear if he though Mama would have let him get away with it.

The paint was kind of WWII grey and scratched up, but it was clean. The Western Auto decal on the side of the gas tank was mostly still there. It stayed in the smokehouse out back most of the time, clamped to 2×4 that Dad had nailed to the work bench just for that purpose.

I remember when he brought it home. He set up a 55 gallon drum, clamped a 2×4 to the rim and clamped the boat motor to that. We filled up the barrel with water and he tried to fire it up. The fella he bought it from swore it would run. Dad pulled the cord. Nothing. He tuned and fiddled and kicked for a couple of hours on that thing. And, finally, on about the hundredth tug, it cranked. I’d never seen a boat motor run in a barrel before, but there she was.

We took it down to the pond to try it out on the homemade flat bottom boat we had. It was the best thing I had ever seen. I had visions of water skiing on our lake. (I evidently didn’t know much about water skiing) Dad had other plans for that motor. He was already thinking about fishing on the big lake at High Falls. That was the only time that motor ever ran on our small farm pond.

So, for several years and what seems like more times that I can count, we loaded up that boat motor on a Friday after Dad got off work and headed for the fish camp at High Falls. We camped, fished until early afternoon, and then loaded up to come home.

As I got older, I lost interest in fishing with Dad. Stupid of me, I know now. I asked if I could invite my buddy Scott to go with us. And instead of fishing, we found an old piece of rope, tied it to the back of the boat, and fixed a stick to it for a handle. We thought it kind of looked like the beginning of a ski boat. Only one problem. Well, maybe two. We didn’t have any skis, and all we had was a 5hp Western Auto motor.

We started dragging each other through the water behind the boat. Just hold on to the stick at the end of the rope and try not to drown. High Falls was a dangerous lake for this because there were lots of snags, old broke off tree trunks, that were hidden just beneath the surface of the water. If you bumped one with the boat, no big deal. But if you drug your friend over one while dragging him through the water, well, it might not end well.

I asked Dad if Scott and I could take the boat motor over to Lake Talmadge. Now, this was a lake built for recreation. I had tons of friends who lived around this lake. It was not a huge lake. 5hp limit, But that suited us just fine. And in full disclosure, Dad knew exactly what we were going to do with the motor, and it wasn’t fishing.

We spent most of a Saturday dragging each other around that lake. We used a V-Hull aluminum boat that belonged to the Chastains. Much slicker in the water that a flat bottom John Boat. Other friends got into it with us. We improvised. Inner tubes. Pool floats. We even tried to use a piece of board like a surfboard. We were just goofy teenagers.

We had so much fun, the plan was to do it again on Sunday. We left the boat motor over there. After church and a lunch that I choked down as quickly as I could, I headed for Lake Talmadge. When I got there, Scott was out at the end of the dock sitting there with his feet dangling in the water. He looked puzzled. Maybe worried. Maybe suicidal.

“What’s going on? Where’s the boat motor?”

He pointed out to a spot about 30 feet from the dock. “It’s gone. It’s at the bottom of the lake.”

“What?” My Dad’s motor.

The C-clamps on a small outboard are not always dependable. You really should check them before you use it. I mean like every time you use it. The vibration. The twisting and turning. The clamps work loose.

Scott thought he would get the motor all warmed up for an afternoon of fun before I got there. He got in the boat. Pulled the cord, and she came to life. But idling at the dock was no fun. He spun away from the dock and took her out. Straight out across the lake. When he got back close to the dock, he decided to take one more run at it. He cut it hard for a sharp turn. And when he did . . .

“It just came up out of the water. I was holding the handle and it just came up out of the water and twisted outta my hand. About this high when I had to let it go. I saw it spin around a couple times in the water. And then it was gone. Lots of little bubbles. Right out there.”

He pointed again.

I got ahold of Billy Dan and asked if we could borrow the drag from the Fire House in town. They used it for dragging for the bodies of drowning victims. I kind of felt like we had a drowning victim ourselves. We paddled around for hours and came up with nothing.

I’m fuzzy on this part, but Scott never gave up. I was over to his house one day and there was the motor laying by the garage. I think he tinkered with it for a year, but never got it going. It was down too long. Too much water. Too much crud.

I felt bad for Scott that afternoon. I can still see him just sitting there in total disbelief. Like he was in shock. “She just twirled in the water a couple times. Gurgled and was gone.”

My boat motor days were over.