Power & Motor Yacht
A ROGUE GROUP OF OUTBOARD RESTORERS FIND CAMARADERIE GIVING NEW LIFE TO ANTIQUE MOTORS. BY CARLY SISSON
The Pine Tree Boat Club restores and maintains antique outboards. Some members have hundreds.
Lincoln Davis knows many of the secrets in the long history of outboard engines. “Everyone credits Evinrude with the first outboard motor, but they weren’t the first,” says Lincoln, who fixes outboards for a living but whose real passion is collecting antique engines. “This was really the first successful outboard motor,” he says, gesturing toward a small 2-hp Waterman from 1907 in the corner of his compact museum.
Located off the beaten path in Waldoboro, Maine, Stetson & Pinkham is a service center that doubles as a repository for Lincoln’s impressive collection of antique outboards.
Old outboards are arranged in the rear of the shop: a small museum that is open for anyone who wants to see it, admissionfree. It’s organized chronologically, but Lincoln’s knowledge expands far beyond dates. He can speak endlessly about the relationships between competing companies and the individuals who founded them.
His collection is one of the largest on the East Coast. After re
storing his first engine years ago, his collection grew quickly. He always looks for rule-breaking, mechanically mystifying engines, such as the Flambeau on display. The engine is split vertically (most outboards are split horizontally), so that it could be assembled all at once.
The outboards in Lincoln’s collection may have poured in from myriad sources, but carefully arranged in the museum, they tell a little-known history about industrialization and mechanical progress. A walk around the museum is a walk through decades of change and improvement.
It is not Lincoln’s collection alone that has brought me to Stetson & Pinkham. Every Tuesday night, Lincoln hosts a group of antique outboard aficionados, helping them with restoration projects.
When members arrive, the first order of business is dinner. Everyone congregates on plastic stools around pizza boxes while they catch up on the past week and banter about those who have yet to arrive. Fosty the dog trots around our ankles, excitedly devouring discarded pieces of crust.
“I’ve got the cold beverages,” one guy says, placing a cooler on the floor. I expect to see beer inside but the cooler is full of seltzer. One member has opted for milk from a Gatorade bottle instead. This isn’t a typical men’s club; everyone has come to work.
As the pizza disappears, the group opens up about their ongoing projects. “For each motor, you have to have at least one boat— that’s the goal,” jokes Joe “The Plumber.” Joe has currently fulfilled half of his goal: He owns 10 boats and 20 outboards.
The Pine Tree Boat Club is the Maine chapter of the Antique Outboard Motor Club. “If you want to run outboards and have fun, you come here,” David Kelley, the group’s president, says. The Maine chapter is unique because it focuses both on restoring motors and running them. During the summer, the club hosts wet meets, during which they run the outboards they restored over
the winter. Other chapters choose to direct their attention toward restoring and polishing their outboards for display. “They think we’re crazy for running them,” David says. “But that’s where the fun is.”
After dinner, I catch up with Palmer Sargent, vice president of the Pine Tree Boating Club. He’s arrived at this meet without an outboard— his wife won’t let him put one in the new car.
He shows me the binder he has put together for the 1961 West Bend 10-hp Commodore he’s restoring. Inside is the owner’s manual, which is marked up with notes and highlighter to keep track of the parts he needs and where they might be found. It is often necessary to contact a number of sources to hunt down all the components.
Palmer has been a member of Lincoln’s group since its humble beginnings in the early ’80s, when there were only two or three people. At that time, Palmer had about 100 outboards of his own. He has since downsized to a more manageable 15.
Unlike those who have downsized, Bud Bowley continues to own an impressive fleet of engines. He has over 150 outboards, which he displays in his home. He estimates that 75 to 100 are in running condition.
Bud’s goal tonight is to get his 1950s Sea King running in the test tank. He wheels it to the tank, and a few minutes later the shop is consumed by a sputtering growl. Murky water churns as the outboard fires successfully. Bud keeps revving it until he’s convinced it’s running solidly. This is a tangible success, but restorations more typically involve many small, incremental steps with a finish line that could be years away.
The members of this group are unique in their passion for restoring antiques, and interest in old outboards will likely become more rare as the years slip past, says Lincoln.
The outboard industry is in the midst of a technology revolution, with engines growing larger and more sophisticated each year. Electronic diagnostics are standard and parts are replaced more than they are repaired. But understanding the workings of antique engines and learning to use hand tools has helped Lincoln better understand new models. There is value in keeping an eye on the past.
This story is excerpted from our new title, OUTBOARD magazine. Get the next issue for free (yes, really) at outboardmag.com.