Collectors Put the 'Putt, Putt' Back into Old Iron
Article by Dean S. Acheson, Editor
Original article published in 'Senior Style' magazine, August/September 2009 Edition.
©2009 Copyright, Assured Publishing, Ltd. - Reprinted with permission.
Tim Klotz's fascination with antique outboard motors – Old Iron – can be traced back to a challenge his father issued when Tim was about nine years old. Looking at the lifeless, two-wheel rotor tiller at their feet, the father said, "Fix it and it's yours."
Now what would a mere lad want with a rotor tiller, fixed or not? Garden work might loom in his future! But Tim says he had the go ahead to do anything he wanted with the tiller if he got it running. After addressing problems with the motor's timing and a dirty spark plug, Tim's toy was soon running – and pulling a sled after he put chains on the wheels of the tiller. The jerry-rigged "snowmobile" laid the groundwork for future tinkering in motors.
We caught up with the Rhinelander man on the second day of the 30th annual Tomahawk Antique and Classic Outboard Motor Show in Tomahawk. He was among the more than 250 exhibitors and their wares that lined the blacktop strip in back of the Ice Arena in SARA Park. The show is the largest of its kind in the nation and draws collectors from across the US, Canada and even as far as Australia. The wheeling-n-dealing had begun already in earnest the day before.
In between visits from customers and curious on-lookers, Tim talked about his vocation. He graduated to snowmobiles when that bug bit in his teenage years. He not only repaired and tuned snowmobile engines, but raced sleds at small tracks in western Wisconsin during the early '70s. He rubbed shoulders with Ricky Back, number two for his age group (15) in the world of snowmobile racing at that time.
Over the decades he kept his hand in small engines, fixing and collecting old outboard motors. A few years ago after his father died, he returned to his birthplace and started a small engine shop, servicing and selling lawnmowers in Rhinelander.
One day someone brought to him 14 old, non-running outboard motors. Parting with $200, Tim set to work to restoring the putt-putt in each. “I got them all running,” he says proudly.
A year ago, Tim pulled the plug on his lawnmower business and set sail to restore and wheel-n-deal in outboard motors full time. “This has always been in my blood,” he muses of antique outboarding.
The restoration side of the business – he's booked until November – puts the food on the table and pays the bills. But it's the “finds” that can be rewarding. He relies on “word-of-mouth” and a newspaper ad to generate leads, and scans the Internet for others. He purchased one outboard motor on eBay for $250 and figures it'll be worth more than $4,000 when he's done with it. However, the previous owner wouldn't ship it because of its weight so he had to dispatch someone to pick it up in Missouri.
It's a business/hobby that drives him – literally – to places across the nation. In addition to visiting antique outboard motor shows, he's traveled to several states to buy and sell motors.
Then there are the “barn finds,” but they come only every three or four months. “And it's getting harder,” he notes of those forgotten gems from the World War II. A lot of GI's in WWII didn't come back. Then, too, technology leaped forward and after the war Madison Avenue convinced most returning GI's that they wanted bigger and faster motors. Their pre-war outboards hung on rafters in barns and outbuildings for decades.
Like collectors throughout the world, many outboard motor enthusiasts specialize in a particular brand, era or type of motor. Tim favors early Evinrude and Waterwitches, known as “row boat motors.” He has a 1914 Evinrude – Ole Evinrude started making outboards in 1909 – and hopes to eventually fill many of the gaps between the year 1909 and 1920 or so.
Some collectors are purists, refusing to do anything other than clean the grit and grime off the motors. Others, like Tim, revel in bringing motors back to their original condition and then some. Tim nickel-plated one of his Waterwitches. It's an attention getter, but he wryly notes that some collectors think he's committed a cardinal sin.
The Waterwitch, while not the best running motor of the time, was cheap and popular in its hey-day. In the '30s you could buy a new one for about $25.
The Waterwitch was made in Wisconsin, adding to its allure. One model was nicknamed “Mae West” because the double gas tank hulls on the engine look like...well, a certain part of actress Mae West's anatomy.
Tim notes that exhibitors often hear remarks from onlookers centered on the theme, “That's what my dad...or grandfather...had on his boat.” They fondly remember the Martins, Champions and Scott-Atwaters of their youth.
Collecting antique outboard motors is still an affordable hobby, Tim notes, especially for young people. Tim is among club members who will donate an older engine on occasion to a youth sincere about taking up the hobby.
Though he was a mechanically driven kid, he says anyone can learn to tune and fix outboard motors. There are only a few major components to an old engine, all easily learned through books, the Internet and people like him willing to share their knowledge. It may take 40 to 100 hours to restore an engine, depending on model and what's wrong with it. The goal of most antique outboarders is to restore the engine to running condition.