Take a 13-year old red-headed, freckle-faced boy -- a wrench in one hand, screwdriver in the other and grease smeared all over -- with an old 5-horse Briggs and Stratton Engine to work on and you have the picture.
'Doug's happiest when he's the dirtiest,' sighs Mom (Kitty) McDonald. 'And, when he gets grease all over him, which is about all the time,' says she, 'He's mighty hard to get clean again.'
It's all part of Kitty McDonald's business as secretary and treasurer (the boys call her 'the Boss with a ball-bat') -- keeping one eye on young Doug and the other on spouse Dick who's titular head of that long-established institution known as Snyder-McDonald's, the gas-poppin'est brotherhood of carburetor-adjusters and spark plug gappers in the Troy, Ohio, area. For years anyone and everyone who ever had a sick gas engine that 'home medicine' wouldn't cure, the final word has always been, 'Take it out to Snyder-McDonald's.'
And here it is that young Doug McDonald, red-headed, freckled-faced and very inquisitive about what makes a gas engine run inside, became indoctrinated over the growing years into the awesome world of small-power internal-combustion, observing his Dad and the veteran Bill Snyder make the 'blamed things' pop like new again. Is it any wonder that Doug, the lad, is following in the footsteps of Dad and 'Uncle' Bill whose skill in doctoring old lawnmowers and tractors adds life to their years.
Spark Plug, Doug McDonald helps Dad, Dick McDonald, adjust a lawnmower 'in for repairs.' Mom (Kitty) McDonald approves or disapproves from shop entrance at rear. Doug is all energy, verve and go -- which pleases Dad, you can betcha. (That's not a halo over Doug's head, but a neon light).
'At only thirteen, Doug's already retired. From the racing field, that is,' mused Mom McDonald. 'Two years ago he won the first heat in the Troy Soapbox Derby. Last summer he didn't do so well, his father didn't have the time to help him re-build his racer.'
There it sat, stashed away in a dark corner of the Snyder-McDonald shop behind a veritable collage of old vintage one-lung lawnmower engines all of which had either been repaired or were waiting their time of appointment with the team of 'gas engine doctors' who shortly would be getting to them. It was a beauty, the trim-looking, well-designed orange and black-lettered soap-box speedster with Doug McDonald's name and No. 13 printed in large letters along the side. Sleek enough to appeal to any younger lad's pride and joy, to all appearances it would remain there. For Doug had apparently outgrown another of his boyhood phases, graduating as he now has to tinkering on the innards of small gas engines to help Dad and Bill make 'em run again.
The Snyder-McDonald shop had its humble beginnings back when the senior partner, Bill Snyder, had a Massey-Harris dealership in Troy, Ohio, and Dick McDonald, Doug's father, worked with him for three years.
'We thought we'd quit the dealership and start on our own,' is the way Dick puts it. 'When we walked into the place here at 904 S. Union St., all we had was one engine -- an old 4-cylinder Wisconsin Combine Engine. After we worked on that and fixed it up, fellows began bringing in their old tractors - Massey Harris, Farmalls, some Fordsons.'
Thirteen-year old, red-haired and freckle-faced, Doug McDonald is a fireball when it comes to working over an old Briggs and Stratton Gas Engine. He moved faster than my old camera could snap. But I got one good pose, once before he moved. And this is it. Note his neat work bench. I felt like I needed a 'pit-stop' to have my head bolts tightened, after it was over.
That was some twenty-five years ago. And, last June, some twenty-four years later, Bill Snyder sold out his half of the partnership to Dick McDonald, although, seeing him around most days of the week one would never know it.
'This shop's open to Bill anytime he wants to work,' says Dick. 'He's here about four or five days of the week and helps out, which is just the way I like it. We're all in the family that way,' laughs McDonald.
As to old-time memories, Bill Snyder has a long line of 'em which he loves to tell about for the benefit of the younger generations, such as Doug whose knowledge of working on gas engines, at the tender age of nine, began when Briggs and Stratton, Tecumseh, Koehler and Lauson were making their impact on the market.
'I remember the old front-drive Indiana Tractors, later bought out by Moline,' reminisces Bill Snyder. My Dad had an old 8-16 International on our 800-acre farm out on Route 202. Later, when I began working on tractors forty-five years ago, back about 1927, I worked on the old International 8-16's, the 10-20's and 15-30's. That was on the corner of Walnut and Race Streets,' recalls Bill. 'When I started this place about 1949, along with Dick, we began working on combines and combine engines and mostly Massey-Harris Tractors. I still recall the old make-and-break magnetos.'
Hence our young Spark Plug, Doug McDonald, has a rich background to draw from, when and if his growing up with the Briggs and Stratton Engines, the Lausons, Wisconsins and other famous makes should lure him into acquiring an older engine or two to take apart and work on. All of which could well be in the offing.
'I like to work mostly on the older Briggs and Stratton Engines,' says Doug. 'They're simpler and more interesting. So many of the later engines are so complicated.'
At first I thought it would be a snap -- taking Doug's picture as he worked over an olds Briggs Engine. But it wound up my most difficult task.
'Grab that wrench, Doug - now stand this way - and don't move till I snap my camera,' I kept yelling. But no sooner was my back turned to take my camera-stance than young Doug has assumed a dozen different poses before I could flex my shutter finger. This young red-head exhibited plenty of ginger and go when he began working on a gas engine. Wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers began flying like humming-bird wings. One instant he was behind the engine', loosening head-bolts, then before I could bat an eyelid he was to the left of it, then to the right of it, yanking off this and that before I could center him in my viewer, let alone focus my blunderbuss.
'Doug's the fastest worker I ever saw,' said I, pleading for slow motion in order to get my bearings.
To which replied Momma McDonald, 'Doug's always on the move. That's the story of his life,' she laughed.
'Now Doug - hold that - and don't hide your mug,' I shouted. But Doug didn't hear me any more than if he'd been driving in the Indy 500.
Doug McDonald removes a lawnmower engine, helping his Dad, Dick McDonald in the well-known Snyder-McDonald shops at Troy, Ohio. Being only 13, his red hair and freckles help out greatly.
So all I could do was to try and keep snapping Doug's mug in fast motion -using more and more film as I went. And, after I got what I hoped was one or two out of the series which showed both Doug and Briggs and wrench in camera view, I felt like I was more in need of a pit-stop than the old engine he was working over. I could have stood a few of my own head-bolts tightened, and Doug's little boy-sized work bench, with wrenches neatly in order like a professional's shop, made me feel I was in the right place to be 'worked over'.
With that job done, no sooner had I replaced my film holder in my camera bag and retrieved another than young Doug was fishing out an old carburetor, from a box of odds 'n ends, to work over. For this one it meant a trip across shop to the side of veteran Bill Snyder to ask a few points about the old 'carb.'
'You've got too much screwdriver to work on this one,' said Bill to Doug, who then whipped out a much smaller one, causing Bill to reply, 'Now you haven't got enough screwdriver.'
But Bill answered Doug's questions just the same about the theory of the old carburetor and how to fix 'er up.
There are always so many small tractors and gas-powered lawnmowers at the Snyder McDonald shop, sitting wall to wall, that young Doug McDonald had to hop on one leg at a time to get from place to place. But he's used to it and counts it all in his daily stride.
Soon Dad needed him out in front of the shop to help adjust an old lawnmower which had to be put back in running order. And Doug was right there on the seat, pulling on the throttle and clutch linkage while the senior McDonald checked lock-nuts for taking up slack and providing proper clearance. All of this while Mom, the Boss, beamed approval or disapproval from her vantage point in the shop entrance.
'You know, Doug's the youngest of three children we've had,' confided Dick McDonald. 'For a long time we wondered why Doug came along so late, but when we lost our oldest son, Terry, two years ago, we understood as Doug looks exactly like him. Terry would have made a great salesman in this business, but Doug likes to work on the engines. I sure hope he someday takes over. This business is growing by leaps and bounds, and no one seems to be learning it.'
According to Dick McDonald, the repairing of small gas engines is a complicated business.
13 year old Spark Plug, Doug McDonald, consults about a carburetor problem with veteran member of the firm, 'Uncle' Bill Snyder.
'It requires a big stock,' explains Dick. 'For instance so many companies are making mowers requiring so many special parts. Like this Briggs Engine here in this particular mower -- this engine requires a longer shaft than a mower using the same motor that's built lower. Briggs and Stratton lists thirty-eight different crank-shafts for just one particular engine. Tecumseh is the same, in fact any engine for rotary mowers has similar problems. Carburetors require many parts in stock, although spark plugs and points are more standardized. At present we have over $2,000 worth of parts in stock. But we can't keep them all. But in gaskets we about have to meet every need. A fellow can't drive to Dayton just for a 15-cent gasket,' said McDonald.
'He could - but he wouldn't want to,' was my reply. To which Dick chuckled with a half-hearted sigh.
'We repair about ten engines a day, on the average,' explained McDonald. 'Figuring it up at about fifty or sixty a week, we repair from five to six-thousand engines a year,' he computed, mentally.
All of which amounts to a lot of gas engines that come out of the old Snyder McDonald tractor and lawnmower shops -- a fact which young Doug McDonald already seems to realize under that flaming red hair and behind those freckles of his. And which Dad hopes he does for the perpetuation of the long-established business so many people in the Troy, Ohio, area for miles around have come to depend upon.
And for which we are grateful to Doug, the lad in whom the future of the small utility gas engine may depend. Like the art of blacksmithing which faded out with the going of the horse -- may it not happen here with such as Doug McDonald and his kind taking up the mechanical know-how and business of repairing.
To Doug McDonald, for his tireless energy in seeking out the mysteries of what makes old gas engines run -- for tinkering with the old carbs and setting points and plugs, for fitting gaskets and replacing rings and tightening head-bolts -- we offer a front-row seat atop a pint-sized soap box along with all the rest of the noble Spark Pluggers in our Hall of Spark Plug Fame. Bring Mom and Dad along, too, Doug. Come as you are -- even with grease on your freckles and shirt. ('Cause Mom can't get it all washed off in time.)
Keep up the good work, Doug. And, who knows -- maybe someday you'll even graduate up to working on the old-time line of noble gas burners with the long strokes and heavy fly-wheels -- just like Dad and 'Uncle' Bill used to. And the banging and chugging of which can stir men's souls, yet today.
'I guess Doug's like his Dad,' chuckled Dick McDonald. 'He can be a good student when he wants to at school. But he'd rather dream and work on gas engines than study his lessons.' ('Nough said!)