The Straubel Engine Story

By Staff
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Front of cabin top hatch would open and forward windows hinged to open.
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Oiler system worked good. Run engine with a light whips of blue smoke coming out of exhaust port just above water line rear right side.

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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