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The Story of Outboard Man

November 19th, 2010 Comments Off on The Story of Outboard Man

It all started when a few of our members, who were going to buy a Hickman Sea Sled, decided to find their way through the back roads of Pennsylvania without using the interstate. The trip was very scenic and quaint at first but after interminable hours of steep hills and sharp curves they became very tired and finally stopped at a tiny town with a bar and grille, for some refreshment. The bartender, who was not used to people from out of town, was very friendly and served great food and a few free rounds to his new customers. When he found out about their love of old boats he told them that his town had a very unusual character that lived there. Just then a crowd of locals came in and everyone had to have another round while they waited to hear more about it.

The town was built on a secluded lake that was owned by the power company.
For years they warned residents that they were going to raise the lake level so they could generate more electricity. They had bought up most all of the land around the lake except one that was holding out. It was an old hermit that ran an outboard motor shop on the lake since anyone could remember. The guy was a friend of Ole Evinrude and had raced outboards when they first became powerful. His shop was always the place to go for the best work, he was a mechanical genius. Oh, he never had time for the girls and his hygiene wasn’t the best but he sure could make those outboards run! Some people said he loved those outboards, he had up there. He would work long hours into the night polishing and perfecting; when he grew tired he would prop himself against the nearest outboard and tip his hat down over his eyes and soon it would be morning. On his rare visits to town for supplies, people would shake their heads, he smelled just like an engine. He was always carrying some parts around with him. Usually he would just order supplies and have them sent up to his shop and now lately for some reason he had taken to wearing an engine cover over his head! Very few people had seen him recently and now the power company was going to condemn the place. The bartender was the only one that knew him, in the great old racing days, and was worried about it.

The members of our club talked it over and decided that they would like to see the place and meet the guy. Then they had a few more rounds while they waited for the bartender to take them up there.

It was dark and the gravel roads were terrible, a fog had set in. They waited outside while the bartender went in, the lake had already come very close to the old tin building. Finally the bartender came out looking disappointed, he wasn’t willing to see anyone. The men all talked it over, this was a chance of a lifetime; they had to meet this guy. So the boldest, our former president, called in there that we were from down South and all owned old boats. He called out some famous names of boats in the teens and told about our show and how we work all year to get all these famous boats and people to come. – Silence. Then he said “Say, isn’t that a Caille Red Head over there? I had one of those when I was a kid!” There was a noise in the back and a shape moved in the shadows. The bartender makes a thumbs up sign. “There’s an Evinrude Rudder Twin, my grandfather had one of those!”

Some scraping and clanking, “So you like old engines, Aay?” – He spoke!

Then, out of the piles of parts and engines hanging everywhere, comes this 1954, Johnson 25, walking toward them. Who has ever seen a walking outboard engine? ” I built them engines.” He said. They felt shocked but were cool.
”I built a couple of them myself.” our pres. says. “Been collecting and fixin’ them for years, gonna show ’em off at a big three day show in Maryland. We need a guy like you, to tell everybody about outboards in the old days. Kids today don’t know what you know.” Outside the guys couldn’t believe their eyes, ol’ pres standing there talking to an outboard – with legs. The two of them seemed to get along and the others, one by one, came closer, marveling at the huge collection of engines and parts everywhere, all the famous and rare models piled up like cordwood. Then it happened, the outboard man spied the Hickman Sea Sled they had in the back of the pick-up. He threw up his hands and ran over to it excitedly,” I haven’t seen one of these in years! I can’t believe it. These things are really fast!” Everyone started talking at once; it was beginning to look like an all nighter. They talked about the rising lake and this fabulous lifetime collection and how great it would be if it could be part of a museum. Right then one of the guys said, “Lets take everything to the Antique Boat Center, there’s plenty of room, he can live in the shop and come to our show!” The outboard man said he was afraid the water would start coming into the shop the next day. So everybody pitched in: first they took a big load down to the bar, then they filled the pickup and the boat to overflowing. You would be surprised how many engines you can fit in a crew cab, dually pick-up! Then they set off for home, eager to find out all about Outboard Man.

* * * *

And a great trip it was! First of all they had come a long way. And they had had all those rounds, and moved so many outboards and now it was getting so late everyone was starting to feel half silly. At first everyone talked at once, then the heavy smell of the oil and the size of the outboard head sobered everyone up. They grew silent, outboard man could feel his oily face growing red. Our President, ever the diplomat clears his throat, Sea Sled set a lot of records in its day. I was a school kid in the twenties and I will never forget the sight of one of them flying by. So light they hardly touch the water and that little outboard just screaming. For the first time regular people could go fast on the water. That set everyone off and they never shut up again until they got home.

The first big problem was that they didn’t even come close to getting all the engines. So they decided to make a big run with some pick-ups the next weekend. With the thought of the rising water they decided to go back the next day. Outboard man had no idea how many engines were up there. Rosevelt was president back then he said. Lotsa guys thaought they could make an outboard better’n Ole. And make ’em they did, too, from A to Z. Hey they could arrange ’em that way, they decided.


They did find out all about Outboard Man on that long trip home so many years ago, more than they even wanted to know. His name was really Oliver Bertram Mann and went

by O.B. most of his life. No matter what they mentioned, it seemed he’d been there, raced there or worked on that particular engine. His folks had run the outboard shop on the lake and he’s grown up there, setting speed records as a child, in hot rigs his dad built and working on high performance engines, before World War II. Whenever anyone came to the lake with a new, fast boat, his dad would send him out and say “Give ’em hell, kid”. And he would go zooming by; there wasn’t anything he couldn’t pass in his A racing hydroplane. Soon his dad would be packing the engines, boat and family for car trips to APBA Races around the country. With his lightweight boat, his dad’s innovative engine modifications and some audacious racing tactics, he became the one to beat. All through his teen years they raced and won until they had a house full of trophies. Suddenly the war broke out and he enlisted with all his friends; no Jap could do that to us!

After boot camp at Fort Bragg, South Carolina, OB was assigned to the outboard corps and sent to North Africa to ferry the troops ashore to assist the British in fighting Rommel. Within a week he was piloting heavily laden troop barges. On a return trip, he came under enemy fire and a piece of the Evinrude cavitation plate was shot away. Later he found it in the boat and put it in his pocket. On the following return trip he was hit and barely made it back to the ship. Shrapnel from an exploding shell had caused him a severe head wound. The Luftwaffe were everywhere; there was chaos on board the ship. In the frenzy of battle he was just one of hundreds of injured sailors. Sinking in and out of consciousness he found the plate in his pocket and pressed it in place, to cover his bleeding wound. The next morning he was surprisingly better and did what he could to help restore order aboard ship. The medics washed and bandaged his head and he resumed his duties. They assured him that they would fix him up right, back at the base. Somehow in the pressure of war he went on from one campaign to another. Months later the doctors decided that no further surgery was necessary. The aluminum had healed into place without a sign of infection.

After North Africa it was on to Italy and then some much needed R&R at Bragg and on to the South Pacific through the Panama Canal. The Army Outboard Corps fought on.
When the war was over he returned home to mom and dad and running the outboard shop. Business was brisk as the returning soldiers all wanted boats. They fixed up every boat and motor they had and sold them all; there was little time for racing now, his dad was older and needed his help full time. Sometimes he would suffer spells from his war injury and when he would feel the plate in his scull, somehow it seemed a little bigger.

His folks told him he should find a girl and settle down, but he was shy and couldn’t quite find the right one, besides, what woman would want a man with an ugly scar on his head or would want to live around an outboard shop? Instead, he worked with the Boy Scouts and the Sea Scouts teaching boat handling and helping the neighborhood kids fix up boats of their own. Many times he would take a whole group to boat races for the day and pay for everything, he wasn’t rich but boating, when you’re young, now – that’s important.
OB’s father knew something was wrong when he found his son sleeping with some outboards. OB explained that he was working and became tired and dosed off. His father said he spent so much time with outboards that he was starting to act like one. It was time to see a doctor about his war wound. OB had taken to wearing hats all the time to hide the growing problem. Otherwise everything was great living on the lake and boating every day, with plenty of happy customers and fresh fish for dinner.

It seemed innocent enough, the first time it happened. OB ran out of cooking oil and tried outboard oil. He’d been smelling the stuff all his life so why not? First he tasted a little tiny bit, – not bad! So he put a little in the pan and the fish had a new and unique flavor.

O. B. did not like doctors or appointments or examinations. When his head got to aching he would take Rolaids or Tums and the pain would subside. The size of the metal part had definitely grown but he was used to it and kept it covered. Years later he finally went to a doctor when he could no longer cover the aluminum part of his head with a hat. Coffee was no longer enough to get him going in the morning. Now he needed a dash of gasoline, too! The doctor found that most of his skull bone was now aluminum. OB had a habit of eating Rolaids which is calcium silica aluminate, no wonder the aluminum was so compatible with his body!

His parents eventually retired and left him taking care of the shop. He hired one of his boys to meet the public and spent most of his time making repairs in the back. Gradually he became more comfortable around the engines than around people. The engines never asked questions, or peered at him strangely and he knew just what they needed and felt at home around them. At night he’d lean up against his favorite pile, tip his hat down over his eyes and nod off. There wasn’t much need for showers.

When he was older a hat would no longer cover the engine that had grown into his head, so he took to using an outboard engine hood. He tried them all on until one seemed to fit. When the power company announced that they were going to raise the level of the lake, he was in despair because he had nowhere to go and he didn’t know what to do. He was secretly glad the people came from Maryland and discovered him.

The years went by hanging around The Antique Boat Center that is now Old Time World and Antique Boat World. Recently some Old Bay Chapter outboard club members were helping Howard clean out his basement when they came out with a shocked look on their faces. They had found Outboard Man sleeping with those old engines. Some leaking gasoline caused him to stir. It scared hell out of them. He had been asleep for 3 years, a cup of coffee with a shot of gasoline brought him back to life. It was almost like he had never fallen asleep. He pitched right in with them, carrying engines and asked about this year’s show. Had they been helping any youngsters get into boating? Were they going to be there, he wanted to know. Outboardman loves kids and is always thinking of how to get them out on the water. He also likes coming to our Antique and Classic Boat Society, Chesapeake Bay Chapter Show; so if you know of any child that would like a boat or would like a boat ride you make sure he comes to our show and meets Outboardman!

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