The Straubel Engine Story

CONTINUES
John M. Edgerton
March/April 1998

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27 Loon Lake Road Bigfork, Montana 59911

Since the Straubel marine engine story was printed in the July 1997 issue of GEM, I received a letter from Mr. Dick Straubel that his father, Don Straubel (son of Ernest Straubel, one of the founders of the Straubel Machine Company) passed away on May 13, 1997. He was 82 years old. I was going to wait until the article was published in GEM before I sent him an issue. I waited too long. Time waits for no man!

On the brighter side of things, I received a letter from Mr. Richard Eisenreich of Rio Linda, California, asking me to write about his experience with the Straubel engine. So here, in his own words, is his remembrance of the engine.

'I lived the first 20 years of my life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In 1948, my brother Larry and a friend, John Nugent, acquired a boat called the The Green Bay Kid. She was 23 feet long with an eight foot beam and had a draft of 2 feet. This boat was made in 1929 by the Kidney Boat Works of De Pere, Wisconsin.

'The Greenbay Kid was designed for work having a fan tail two steering wheels, one inside the cabin and one outside. The cabin was large enough to seat 10 people. Being able to steer the boat from inside was really a plus as I put this boat through many a storm in the bay, which at times, can get as rough as Lake Michigan.

'The boat was registered with the Coast Guard, so we had all the same waterway rights as the coal ships that came into Green Bay had.

'Very few people had boats of this size in the 1940s. Most just were skiffs or rowboats which were used for hunting or fishing on the inland lakes.

'Upon looking at the photos of your Straubel engine, I am sure that the engine we had in our boat was a Straubel, also. We were told that it was a 9 HP engine with a bronze work propeller. With 40 gallons of gas and six people on board, we were clocked at 12 knots, in calm water and at full throttle. The engine was very reliable and never needed repair, except for battery charging or cleaning the points.

'During the freezing winter months boats must be pulled out of water and stored on a cradle. We paid $1.00 a foot for this service, which included putting the boat back in the water when the river thawed. During the dry dock days, the engine would be lifted out of the boat so we could have access to the bilge, where oil had accumulated during the summer months. At this time, the engine was repainted and then set back in the boat to be ready for when the ice went out on the river.

'The reliability of the engine was proven many times when it could push this heavy boat across sandbars in the bay.

'During one rough storm I had to man the boat from inside the cabin. We would ride over one wave, and the next wave we'd go completely under water. My companions were ex-Navy men, and they were nervous. Even the Coast Guard came out to see if we needed any help. I told them, as long as we had engine power to run the bilge pumps, we were in no danger. At times, the stern was so high in the air that the propeller would activate letting the engine pick up speed until the next wave.

'There were three automobile bridges and two railroad bridges crossing the Fox River in Green Bay. Two of the car bridges and one railroad bridge had to be opened to allow us to and from our wharf to the bay for good perch fishing. While waiting for the bridges to open, most boat operators would go in circles having never mastered the fine art of using the engine to hold them in one place. I believe I was the only engine operator who could go from forward to reverse and back to forward by simply using the throttle and spark control. The bridge tenders knew it was me at the controls, just by the way my boat was idling back and forth waiting for the bridge to open and let us out to the bay.

During my employment at the Northern Paper Mill, I worked the-nightshift, which gave me time to run my boat during the daytime. I got so I could handle the boat alone quite well. I had no trouble starting the engine and then steering it, too.

'I recalled one experience my brother Larry, and I had when we took the boat way out in the bay, just where the deep water started, and where the fishing was good. After a successful day of fishing, it was time to head home. It was Larry's turn to start the engine while I pulled in the anchor. I was hauling in the anchor when I felt a small vibration and then a few choice words, as my brother threw the crankpin overboard on a false start. The pin was now lying on the bottom of the bay in deep water. Larry, being older than I, ordered me to jump overboard and retrieve the crankpin. I told him in so many words, 'You threw it in, you get it!' Needless to say, no one dived overboard to look for the crankpin. We were dead in the water with no spare crank or even a bolt to use as one. We had to get moving as there were ships using this same channel and we were in their way.

'About this time, my mechanical mind kicked in. We always carried a hatchet in case we had to cut the heavy anchor rope, and with this hatchet I proceeded to chop a piece of seat access door up into the shape of a cranking pin. I then pounded this crude looking pin into the flywheel crank hole.

'Grabbing the wooden pin and spinning the flywheel, I got the engine started and we headed for home port. Again we were in deep water, seeing how the flywheel was turning with the wooden crankpin so close to our legs. I still had the hatchet, so I told Larry to move out of harms way, and I cut the pin off as the flywheel came around. Good thing there wasn't an OSHA man around to see me do this.

'As a side note, I might add that if a person saw the knuckles of the right hand with the skin torn off, it was a safe bet it was from cranking the engine. It took great strength to turn the engine plus the driveshaft and propeller. There wasn't a clutch to disengage to lessen the drag. Clearance was so close to the seats that when the engine did start, it automatically threw the right hand into the seat upon the crankpin release.'

This concludes what Mr. Eisenreich has relayed to me on his experiences with the Straubel Marine Engine. Richard has a 1938 Neptune 4 HP opposed cylinder outboard motor which he used for fishing near the Chesapeake Bay. He used the engine for 40 years and never had any trouble. Now, it just sits in storage waiting for someone to put it back in use.

Richard has other interests now mainly in the line of John Deere Green. He told me about his John Deere 60 and how he restored it. Some 15 years ago he built a wooden tractor for his grand -son, using a hit and miss engine for power. The noise from the engine scared the child, so he changed over to an electric motor.

I have received a letter from Mr. Ken Hollenback of Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, telling me that there are two Straubel engines in the Maritime Museum in Gill Park, Wisconsin. They are a 2 HP, serial No. 1004, and a 5 HP, serial No. 1115.

I want to thank Mr. Richard Eisenreich and Mr. Ken Hollenback for writing me and telling me about the Straubel engine.


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