As a tribute to my husband and his side of the family, I feature his story called “The Little Outboard” which is has been passed down from one generation to another.
The Little Outboard
Like many things, outboard motors have undergone an immense transformation. When I was young, a 25 or 40 horsepower (hp) motor was about the limit. The 200 plus horsepower engines of today were far in the future. My love for the water was born from my family vacationing on Eastern Long Island in the days when almost all of that area was affordable to “ordinary” folks and not so much the rich and famous of today.
My Dad would rent a rowboat for the two weeks or whatever our stay was that year from the nearby marina. We did have our own motor, however. It was a 5 hp Firestone outboard motor with the “Firestone” lettering a combination of red and white with the motor itself I would call a light “sea” green.
I was absolutely fascinated by a boat moving in the water even at the less than meteoric speeds we moved along at. The slight shake of the boat, the small wake, and the looking over the side into the water seeing the saltwater pond bottom disappear as we went into slightly deeper water. Even the smell of the gas seemed sweetly pungent.
Just like a verse from the Alan Jackson’s song, “Drive (for Daddy Gene)” I surely do remember like yesterday Dad teaching me how to steer it. I had to be about five since we got our own boat and motor about a year later, but that is another story. Though Dad was not usually the most patient person when it came to teaching things, he was this time. I still recall Dad telling me not to worry about the moored boats scattered nearby and that I really had as much room to go past them as a four-lane highway.
Around the same time, I recall being in the rowboat ride with my godfather steering the trusty motor. We were almost to the open water of the bay and the motor stalled. There was a breeze and the shore was nearby. To someone my age, it seemed like we were in an ocean surf ready to be hurled into the threatening shallows. Whether it took one, two or more pulls on the cord, my Godfather got the engine started on what was his final chance since he was then holding the snapped cord in his hand. I do remember crying out, “Now what did you do?” Naturally I heard that story or some version of it told to me for at least the next twenty years!
However, the old Firestone’s finest hour was one of those memorable fishing trips I remember taking whether with my Dad or my uncle. This time it was both of them along with my godfather, his son and my cousin. We three kids were quite small and the wooden skiff provided plenty of room for the day’s fishing. While not in “open” water we did have to ride a distance to get to my uncle’s fishing spot. It seemed like we were riding forever, but that was also due to the fact that the little 5 “horse” didn’t exactly push us along at breathtaking speed.
As we headed back in, I think all three of us kids sensed something wasn’t quite right. My godfather’s son, being the oldest, astutely announced that there is something wrong because they (the adults) were speaking Czech. In reality, it was a mixture of broken Czech, Slovak and some English, but code enough to keep us in the dark. As we made it to the dock with the little Firestone sputtering, My dad announced they had discovered a crack in the gas tank and didn’t know if we would get back to the dock before running out of gas. We just made it with not a drop to spare!
I should add the gas tanks on these old outboards were not connected by a hose to an external tank. After this incident, dad asked my best friend’s father if he could convert to an external tank system which he did. The old engine had some life after this, but I can’t remember using it or what its final fate was. What I haven’t forgotten is a boat load of memories.
Story by Russell J. Nemecek, Ph.D.