History

Dave Reinhartsen and the Founding of The Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc.

The First Meet

“The Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc.” has a long and interesting history. This year we celebrate our Club’s 50th Anniversary, commemorating the formation of “The Antique Outboard Motor Club” in the fall of 1965 by Dave Reinhartsen. 

Dave had been given a 1928 Elto Speedster by his brother-in-law in 1953, got it running and in 1961 entered it in a race where he almost won second place. He was hooked and started collecting old outboards. In June of 1962 Dave saw a tiny advertisement for “The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America” in Popular Science. Other people were collecting old outboards! Perhaps he was not crazy after all, he thought, and he sent in his $7.50.

By the summer of 1963, Dave was receiving publications from “The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America” and had been in touch with several members of that organization, including Chris Owen of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Richard A. (Dick) Hawie of Easton, Connecticut and John Harrison of Miami, Florida. Dave was very much involved and hoped to help the fledgling “of America” club succeed.

The “Antique Outboard Motor Club of America” was conceived in the spring of 1959 by George Ralph, who was assistant service manager for a Ford dealership in Clearwater, Florida. George enjoyed pre-World War II kickers and often compared his hobby to vintage car collecting. It was George’s feeling that Old Car clubs were flourishing with their members paying dues, buying publications and promotional materials; old outboard collectors would do likewise. A local advertising agency helped prepare ads aimed at acquiring membership. The desired enrollees were supposed to establish club chapters and pay a small amount of royalties for this affiliation.      

George Ralph was President, Frank Andrews was 1st Vice President, Phillip Lundin was 2nd Vice President, Gloria D. Ralph was Secretary-Treasurer and Jon D. Rothwell served as Controller. The Club was incorporated in August of 1962 and was headquartered in Clearwater, Florida. The first and only printing of an issue of The Antique Outboarder by the “Antique Outboard Motor Club of America” was August 1, 1962; however, after a total of one The Antique Outboarder and four newsletters in 1963 the publications stopped.  By 1964 “The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America” had for all intents and purposes faded away, much to the disappointment of Dave Reinhartsen.

On New Year’s Day of 1964 Dave first visited with Chris Owen, who at the time  was a junior in high school, at his home in Eau Claire, WI.  Dave had a wonderful visit, as Chris was also very much interested in engines and had a collection that included a 1929 Speeditwin on a 12 ft aluminum boat. Chris and Dave met several times that year to run their motors together. By the end of summer Chris had restored a 1928 Elto Quad identical to the one Dave had completed the year before. They had a pair, a picture of which would later appear on the cover of The Antique Outboarder, Volume 1, Number 1.

Dave visited Florida during his semester break in the late winter of 1965 with his wife Carole and two children, aged three and eighteen months. With $200 they got for Christmas in 1964 from Carole’s parents they hopped into Dave’s folks’ Rambler station wagon and drove through rain, snow, ice, sleet and carsickness to Florida, where they stayed with Dave’s aunt who lived in St. Petersburg, just a short distance from Clearwater, the home of George Ralph and the headquarters of The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America.

While in Florida, Dave called on John Harrison in Miami. When Dave had called ahead to see if John could suggest some inexpensive lodging, John invited him to come to his home, where his son would meet them and direct them to the hotel, which turned out to be the guest room adjacent to John’s fabulous collection of over 100 outboard motors and many antique boats. Dave and his family were treated like royalty and to this day Dave recalls this as one of the best stories that illustrate the wonderful people who are in this Club. John’s maid cooked breakfast, made the beds, and took care of the children. They had meals together, family style, and had a wonderful time. Dave had never felt so at home and so welcome as he did in John Harrison’s home. They were perfect strangers – except that they both collected Antique Outboards.

Dave also visited George Ralph, but that visit was not so successful. While Dave got to see two or three of his engines, taking special note of the one that was George’s pride and joy which was said to have once been owned by the infamous Al Capone, he did not leave that meeting with much hope of the “of America” club being reactivated. George indicated to Dave that he would be happy to have him take over the club and get it moving again. George promised Dave he would send the mailing list, bylaws, treasury, and other items that he had acquired and to assist in every way possible.

The promised materials did not arrive and by the fall of 1965 Dave had tired of waiting for George Ralph, whom he felt had lost interest.  Dave decided it was more practical to form a new organization, “The Antique Outboard Motor Club.” With the help of Chris Owen who (at age 16) volunteered to be Vice President, John Harrison who volunteered to be Treasurer and donated $100, and W.J. (Jim) Webb, who had just retired as General Manager of the Evinrude Division of OMC, they set out on the task. Richard A. (Dick) Hawie volunteered to be Curator, and Frank Johnston volunteered to be Restoration Editor. Dave’s wife volunteered to be Secretary, which meant that while she was keeping house, raising two children and typing Dave’s PhD thesis she was also typing correspondence for the Antique Outboard Motor Club, writing brochures, and working on the magazine.

 Dave had a vision for a club that would be worldwide, so they dropped the “of America” from the name of the new Club and redesigned the logo. They set dues at $5 and starting with a list of names Dave had culled from George Ralph’s publications, they made the necessary arrangements to publish a magazine, laid out advertising brochures, and made contact with all who might be interested in antique outboards, soliciting a sorely needed donation of $100 from Mercury Outboards. Volume 1, Number 1 of The Antique Outboarder was published in January 1966, listing Dave Reinhartsen as President and Editor, Chris Owen was Vice President and John Harrison as Treasurer.

The new Club only printed 50 copies of their first magazine and were such a shaky organization that the printer demanded payment in advance. Thirty-two copies were mailed immediately, as in the three months since Dave had first announced the formation of “The Antique Outboard Motor Club” they had accumulated 29 members at $5 each for an initial capitalization of $375. Postage and printing bills quickly dissipated that money. 

Dave did not receive George Ralph’s promised items until February of 1966, after he had mailed their first The Antique Outboarder. While Dave had held out hope to carry on the work of George Ralph, by the second issue of The Antique Outboarder Dave reported that the changeover was not progressing well, and that the new Club was in no way connected to “The Antique Outboard Motor Club of America.” Not knowing what legal encumbrances George Ralph’s defunct organization may have carried, Dave decided not to sign any papers, thereby avoiding any legal complications that might arise.

In January of 1966 Dave received his PhD EE degree from University of Wisconsin and moved to Texas, where he had accepted a job with Texas Instruments. Not knowing at the time what his permanent address would be, the forwarding address, which appeared in several of the early magazines, was “c/o Advanced Radar Systems Department of Texas Instruments.” Texas Instruments was not at all pleased. “The Antique Outboard Motor Club” mail began filtering through their mail system, ending up on Dave’s desk – sometimes as many as 30 letters a day!

That same month an article appeared in Popular Mechanics magazine, pages 142–144 and 218, describing old outboards. The Antique Outboard Motor Club was prominently featured. The popularity of the magazine and a keen interest in antique outboards were quickly apparent. Almost overnight Dave’s mail load increased to about 10–20 letters per day, all requiring an answer or disposition in one form or another. In less than a year membership swelled to over 200.

Dave and Carole were quickly overloaded. Dave’s first assignment at Texas Instruments involved a lot of travel. A new job, a new house and a heavy travel schedule combined to make the workload almost impossible. While Dave’s travel schedule was not always good for his marriage, it had its advantages as Dave had the opportunity to meet many members and to get to know them and their families well. 

Dave attributes much of the club’s early growth to personal contact; it helped him find good people to help the club grow. Dave frequently scheduled business meetings on Fridays or Mondays so as to be able to go Antique Outboarding with members on the weekend. He recalls:

“I went all over the United States, my expenses paid by TI, and my evening plans dictated by the AOMCI membership list. I recall visits to Dr. John Hunt of Sanford, Maine; Dick Hawie of Easton, Connecticut; Bob Zipps of East Hartford, Connecticut; Tom Luce of Summit, New Jersey; John Harrison of Miami, Florida; Chris Owen at his home and in Ames, Iowa; John Enright of Long Island, New York; John Schubert of Illinois; Bill Kelly of Kirkland, Washington; Jim Murphy of South Chicago, Illinois; a member in Washington, DC (just after the riots); Sam Vance of Unadilla, NY several times; Bob Brautigam of Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Bill and Gale Salisbury of Cupertino, California.”

 

Dave’s travels led him to many more good people, including Dick Jones, who would later serve as Membership Chairman, racing engine builder legend John Toprahanian in San Diego, Eric Gunderson, Bill Motley, Ray Rydell, Walt Ellis (who would later serve as President), Clarence Sitton, Joe Micheleni, Doc Craver, Glen Ollila, Tony Caglione, Sal Lentine and “countless but not forgotten others”. Wherever Dave went he tore the outboard motor section out of the yellow pages and sent it to Chris Owen. Chris sent the motor and boat dealers AOMCI literature.

The Club grew quickly, amassing over 120 members by the time the second issue of The Antique Outboarder was mailed. Dave met with Jim Webb and his wife Mildred several times in Madison during the early years. Jim was just finishing his book A Pictorial History of the Outboard Motor. They met several times in Madison, talked frequently on the phone, and once met halfway at the Fireside Restaurant in Ft. Atkinson, WI. Jim and Mildred bought their dinner that night; Jim knew Dave couldn’t afford it and wanted to treat “the new doctor,” who had just received his PhD. Jim introduced Dave to the public relations staff at Evinrude, who gave him a few old duplicate photos. He had words of advice based on his many years as head of the Evinrude Division and also from his long effort with the book. Jim said the Club as Dave was imagining it could never be successful; in order for such a club to survive it would take someone who would donate his time, energy and money on a regular basis and be utterly devoted to the cause. It seems Dave took this as a challenge. At one time, Jim Webb contributed an article to almost every issue of The Antique Outboarder. According to Dave, his articles were always interesting, well informed, and worthwhile reading

While Dave imagined in his Editor’s Corner in The Antique Outboarder, January 1966 that it would take some time to gain the critical mass to be able to hold meets, that August the club hosted its first meet, dubbed “The Great Race,” at Lake Dallas, Texas. Dave was approached by Valentine Marine of Dallas for a publicity gimmick so Dave established the Texas Chapter and organized the first ever chapter meet – in July 1966. The Texas Chapter rightfully claims First AOMCI Chapter and First Chapter Meet. According to Dave it wasn’t much at all, a rather hokey affair, but it was a start. The only “members” present were Dave and two people who promised to join. The winner of “The Great Race” was the local Coast Guard Auxiliary, who accumulated points for assisting and contributing to the safety of the meet.

While the first meet could have hardly been considered a success, Dave decided that it was important to further develop this vehicle for getting members together to show off their engines.  In the 1960s Long Distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive and there was no internet.  In those days everyone wrote letters and everyone else was a faceless name as a signature on a letter.  Meets were an important way to develop the Club and the relationships that would help the Club grow. Sports Illustrated, March, 6, 1967 ran an article about old outboards, which again increased Dave’s workload. On August 20, 1967 they held a much bigger meet that included a “Victory Dinner” at the posh Dallas Cattlemen’s Restaurant. For the purposes of the dinner, “Victory” was defined as getting your engine to start. This time Dick Jones of Miami, Florida, Bill Rust of Witchita Falls, Texas, and Dick Anderson of Los Angeles came, increasing member participation by a whopping 300%! The meet was complete with a Miss Antique Outboard – the 19-year-old daughter of neighbors across the street. KVIL, a local radio station, provided live coverage, and Channels 4 and 5 taped portions for the evening news.

By 1968 the club was really rolling. There were seven outdoor meets on both coasts and the Midwest, with meets scheduled for Long Branch, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Bladensburg, Maryland, Seattle, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Dallas, Easton, Connecticut and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Publicity was accelerating too; December Watersport, July Argosy and December Rudder all had articles about The Antique Outboard Motor Club.

By the summer of 1968, Dave felt that he had a tiger by the tail. His 1965 vision of a hobby club had been too narrow; his task was now to build an organization. Dave established an “Executive Council.” The Executive Council was an informal group of people whom Dave depended on to get things done. It was a way of spreading the load and developing officers, and “heroes” emerged to make things happen. Dave asked savvy and talented individuals to take on officer positions to handle specific tasks such as publication of The Antique Outboarder and establish a Newsletter, Membership and Parts Sourcing. Dave wanted the advice of people with skill sets different from his own. Dave’s vision of the Executive Council was never that of a governing body – its function was to be strictly administrative.

Marc Wright responded to the challenge by doing a marvelous job of creating a parts hunting service. Parts hunting has always been one of the major problems for collectors of antique outboards, and the system and the techniques that he developed survive today as the best way ever to find parts for these rare machines. Marc also wrote numerous technical articles and organized many New Jersey meets.

Dave recalls that Nancy Wright’s participation in AOMCI activities alongside Marc was an inspiration. She was “all in” for everything that Marc wanted to do and anything more. She inspired Dave to push for more emphasis on their all-important wives and girlfriends. “Shore dinners,” Friday evening picnic dinners with Marc and Nancy Wright were particularly memorable for Dave, who cherished the Wrights’ friendship and generosity. Dave attended Marc Wright’s 1967 and 1968 meets in Long Branch, New Jersey and one at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

In those early days the Club acquired members in unusual ways. Dave still recalls receiving a letter in 1966 from Bob Zipps. Bob “wrote a letter inquiring as to just who were the officers, what were their qualifications, were we rated by Dun & Bradstreet, what was the name of our bank, and so forth.” Dave wrote a humble reply, telling him that “we were not small—we were tiny!” Because it was only one man carrying the largest share of the load, the young Club needed help and Bob’s response was, “How can I help?”

Dave realized that the quarterly magazine was not adequate. He noted that between issues, interest in Antique Outboarding and the Club seemed to just go away, only to be revived when the next quarterly issue arrived. Dave challenged Bob to create a Newsletter and he did a fantastic job, as evidenced by the fact that the logo, the format and even the general tone of the Newsletter are still nearly the same as Bob’s original issue. Dave credits Bob with tremendous enthusiasm: he not only started our Newsletter but also sponsored countless meets on the East Coast.

                The idea of an indoor or “dry meet” was conceived by Richard (Dick) A. Hawie. According to his son, R.C. Hawie, it all started after the first East Coast wet meet held at Long Branch, New Jersey. The date was set for Saturday, April 6, 1968. R.C. remembers his Dad being so involved in talking to those in attendance that they never got their boat off the trailer. The meet was a success, with over 25 members in attendance.  Another one was held in 1969 and after that, Bob Zipps took over hosting the Connecticut Indoor Meet for the next ten years. Dick Hawie provided an article for every one of the early issues of The Antique Outboarder, writing well over 50 articles.  R.C. Hawie, our Racing Historian, is still a regular contributor to The Antique Outboarder (you can read more about the first dry meet in R.C’s account in his article in this edition).

According to Dave, his most unusual recruitment was Sam Vance of Unadilla, New York:

“A friend who worked at Texas Instruments told me of seeing a very strange looking outboard in a junk shop in Colleyville, TX, approximately 30 miles from Dallas. I drove over there on a Sunday afternoon to see it, but the $15 price tag was just a little too much. That is, until I got home and decided that I really did need that strange machine. So the next day I drove over and bought it. I did get a better deal; the junkman threw in a bass viol that had been run over by a car. I took the Evinrude home, and sometime after midnight left the viol on that friend’s doorstep. The Evinrude was unusual because the exhaust system was made out of 1” copper tubing with a neat and very craftsman-like construction, which went directly from the exhaust ports into the water. As it was so unusual, a picture was published in the January 1967 issue of The Antique Outboarder.

 

“Sam Vance, who once lived in Dallas, happened to be visiting member Bob Thurstone in Alabama. Bob handed him a copy of The Antique Outboarder and said, ‘I have just joined.’ Sam thumbed through the issue and there on the last page Sam saw the outboard that I had purchased in Colleyville. It was Sam’s. Sam wrote immediately asking if I would consider selling it. I quickly wrote back saying that after all that work that Sam put into the exhaust system, Sam needed the engine more than I did. I gave it to him.”

 

In letters, in discussions and in the magazines, Dave always tried to emphasize the running of old outboards rather than collecting or restoring. For Dave, “Unless we run our acquisitions after we restore them, we are missing the real joy of ownership.” It was not until 1977 that Dave even acquired a non-antique engine – a 1967 Mercury 1100. Until that time Dave and his kids water-skied behind a 1936 Evinrude Big Four, however  only an inboard pulled them out of the water as well as the Big Four.

Dave delighted in showing off his antiques to their best advantage. He recalls an impromptu race at Big Bear Lake, California where his 1938 33 hp Evinrude beat a “new” 35 hp Johnson on an identical boat. 

“Of course, my older motor won. My suggestion to the loser was that he should get his motor ‘looked at.’ On Lake Dallas, I would look for people having (new) motor trouble so that I could tow them in. Then there was the Chrysler ‘Hot Rod’ boat and motor combination that I beat with an antique Class F racing runabout and a Toprahanian 4-60. At one point we entered a 5 mph ‘no wake’ zone going well over 60 mph.”

Dave’s move to California brought him closer to a good friend whom he had only known by correspondence, Bill Salisbury and his family. The two families met at Lake Nacimiento, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dave’s daughter Kaarin and their son David played together. In another beautiful story, seventeen years later they met again and were married. 

By January of 1969 heavy travel and his work schedule were cutting deeply into the time Dave had to work on Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc. affairs (the Club was incorporated in 1968). With his marriage breaking down, it was impossible to get the January issue out. Bob Brautigam of Minneapolis called Dave in late February, wondering when to expect the January issue. “I told him that frankly that I did not know what to do; it was a question of time that I didn’t have.” Bob called back in several days, offering a team consisting of himself and others in the Minneapolis area to assemble, publish and mail The Antique Outboarder.

Dave remained President into 1972; however, Bob gradually assumed most of the presidential duties as well as those of Editor. In the fall of 1971 they worked on establishing new bylaws to reflect the advice of the Executive Council. These were approved and Bob officially became President at the first “National Meet” in the summer of 1972. Dave believes he does not know of anyone who could have done a better job.

When writing his first draft of the history of the Club in 1981, Dave was sure not to forget Bill Motley, who took over from Bob Zipps as Editor of the Newsletter. Bill was a professional journalist who really polished up the Newsletter. Dave also acknowledged Dick Jones as Membership Chairman, who was given a thankless chore and who did it so well. Jim Smith from Toronto, Ontario, Canada was another major contributor, not only during the 1960s but also throughout the life of the Club. Jim contributed many articles to the magazine, discussing construction, features, etc. of a number of unusual engines.

Dave Reinhartsen has many times been honored as the founder of The Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc. In 1972 Dave was awarded a “Meritorious Service Award” by the Club. In June of 1976, he received an award from President Walt Ellis in appreciation of his efforts as “Founder, First, and Past President of The Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc.”

At the 1988 National Meet in Winona, Minnesota, Dave was given the Founder’s Memorial Award for his hard work and perseverance. The award was presented by Dave’s daughter and future son-in-law. Dave had tears in his eyes as he accepted the award. 

In 1994 the Texas Chapter made Dave an honorary life member, and Dave has also been honored with honorary lifetime membership by the AOMCI.

While Dave has been acknowledged many times for his hard work and dedication by many of those who followed in his footsteps, according to Dave (and echoed by his friends) the organization has not always treated him fairly. 

Dave has always held the organization to the highest standards and has not been afraid to speak his mind when he feels that something is amiss or the organization is moving in the wrong direction. Dave pushed for expanding the definition of motors recognized by the Club to include Classics at a time when many on the Executive Council were opposed.  Dave saw the future of AOMCI in Classic Outboards, saying, “People collect what they remember”.  Dave joined the chorus campaigning for “Classic” outboards and was perhaps too outspoken.

Dave also called for greater transparency, honesty and integrity in the leadership. His outspokenness and determination in pursuing these objectives resulted in Dave not always seeing eye to eye with the organization’s leadership. According to Dave his concerns were met with retaliation, which included an organized attempt to discredit him as Club founder, unseat him as Texas Chapter President, revoke the Texas Chapter Charter and have him removed from the Club. There came a point for Dave where it was just not fun anymore and he resigned as President of the Texas Chapter and sold all of his outboards.

Dave still believes that AOMCI is its members: the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the skilled and the unskilled. So why did Dave do it? First of all, according to Dave he didn’t do it alone; a number of people worked just as hard if not harder than he did to make those early years a success.

“The honest answer to the question, however, is that I don’t know. I do know this – that as a result of those early years, I have over 700 friends, all over the world. When I travel for business or pleasure I can call ahead, or even on the spur of the moment and say, ‘Hi, my name is Dave Reinhartsen. I collect old outboards. Is there a chance we can get together?’ Invariably there is a John Harrison-like welcome, and an ‘I’ve been wanting to meet you for years! Let’s get together.’ That is probably why we have been a success. We are hundreds of fine, dedicated, interested people, who love boats and machinery, and who, through perhaps a quirk in their nature, want to see these examples of past workmanship restored and preserved, mainly out of respect for the craftsmen who built them. To those wonderful people, many of whom I have yet to meet, this article is my way of saying, “Thanks!” (Dave Reinhartsen; 1981)

 

Bibliography

 

Hunn, Peter The Old Outboard Book Third Edition, International Marine, 2002, p 69.

Reinhartsen, Dave “History of the Antique Outboard Motor Club 1960-1970,” The Antique Outboarder, The Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc. July 2001, Reprinted from The Antique Outboarder, April & July 1981.

Bob Zipps “Of Historical Interest,” The Antique Outboarder, The Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc. October 1990, October 2006 and October 2011.