|Duo brings vintage outboard motors back to life|
|Thursday, October 20, 2011|
By KEN BECK
In a Doaks Crossroads man cave/workshop, TK Walker and his pal Sam Wearlydo much more than bring old outboard motors back to life.
Smiles cross the faces of their clients when they discover that their vintage Mercury, Johnson or Evinrude once again will be able to propel their small boat across a lake or pond.
But there is also a nostalgia factor that stirs the hearts of men when they see and hear their old engine purr back to life.
These gasoline-powered water warriors evoke Technicolored memories of long-ago afternoons on a favorite body of water where a father and son fished for bass or resurrect true anecdotes and tall tales between aging sportsmen who went after “the big one” many a Saturday when their were young men in their prime.
“These old motors in our opinions are better than those outside there today,” said Walker, 65, who runs his business, Old Outboard Barn, with his buddy, Wearly.
The name comes from the ancient 60-foot-by-40-foot dairy barn behind their shop where they store more than 300 vintage outboard motor hoods.
Walker, who retired in 2005 from Nissan after working the afternoon shift for 21 years as area manager in maintenance at the stamping plant, also guided fishermen to trophy stripers on the Caney Fork for 12 years.
He planned to continue taking anglers out for big fish but found that didn’t suit his retirement ideals.
“I had to have something to do. But when you have a hobby and turn it into a business, it’s not fun anymore,” Walker said.
Then, he joined the Antique Outboard Motor Club, Inc. and found his calling for his retirement years.
“I joined them and started tinkering around with them. There were not many members in Tennessee collecting outboard motors. I tracked down Sam, who lives in Lascassas, and introduced myself. He came over one day and wanted to start doing something.”
That something was getting elbow deep in repairing and restoring outboards. That meant getting to know the ins and outs of motors produced by Evinrude, Johnson, Scott-Atwater, Gale, Buccaneer, Sea King, Neptune, Elgin, West Bend, Kiekhaefer Mercury, Wizard and Chrysler, among others.
“There’s nothing we can’t fix,” Walker said, not boasting. "But sometimes it may get expensive, depending on the motor and age."
In the past five years, he and Wearly have restored eight outboards and repaired hundreds of them so their owners can put them back in the water for fishing and duck hunting.
“Sam is my working buddy. He’s my partner. He’s taught me a lot. He’s a high-performance guy who knows how to do things that I can only dream of,” Walker said.
Wearly, who has lived in Lascassas the past six years and sells cemetery monuments, grew up in Muncie, Ind., where his father owned a Johnson dealership. From the age of 13 until he was 21, he raced hydroplanes in the Midwest. In the mid-1980s he began racing outboard tunnel boats and set records.
“When I raced, I built all my own race boats, and I worked in a marina when I was in college as a mechanic, so I’ve been in boat mechanics all my life. I can do anything from a total rebuild to tuning the carb to rebuilding the lower unit,” Wearly said. “I just enjoy working on ’em and the challenge of getting them running. I think they’re a better piece of machinery then anything on the market today.”
Rick McFerrin, who operates Tennessee Bass Guides out of Woodbury in Cannon County, would probably agree. The guide, who steers his clients in Tims Ford Reservoir, took a 1956 5.5-horsepower Evinrude to the Old Outboard Barn and was delighted with the results.
"My oldest son bought the motor in a yard sale, and I had it in my garage for a couple of years. I finally decided to take it to TK and see whether it would run," McFerrin said. "We lifted up the cowling, and it was clean as a whistle. . . . After it set as long as it had, TK had to reset a lot of seals. Back in those years, it used a pressurized gas tank, and I didn’t want to mess with it. It was all rusted, so I had him install a fuel pump, and then we went to a regular 3-gallon tank.
"When I got it back, we put it on the boat and went directly from his place to Walter Hill and put it in the water (the Stones River). I was rigging my son his first boat, and the thing run like it was brand new."
Walker, who was born in Nashville, grew up in South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia, and has been around outboards since he was a kid and went fishing with his father on the Santee Cooper’s Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie in South Carolina. He treasures the 1946 1.1-horsepower Sea King that his dad bought the same month he was born.
“My dad used to rent those little plank boats at marinas. He put a Sea King on it. All of us had a paddle, and even with the motor running, if we were paddling, it would pick up speed,” Walker said, laughing.
He and his wife made their home in Wilson County in 1987 and have a son and a granddaughter. An Air Force veteran, he specialized in Airborne Electronic Warfare maintenance and worked on B-58s and EB-66s in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
“We restore outboards from 1970s and ’80s but we prefer to work on the older motors, especially the '50's vintage,” said Walker, whose oldest restoration project has been a 1938 4.4-horsepower twin-cylinder Champion.
He said it takes an average of 300 hours to totally restore a motor to showroom condition and about 150 to 200 hours to get one into running condition.
“After we get a motor mechanically where we want it, we’ll disassemble it and repaint it. It will be prettier than it was when it was new,” Walker said.
Among other tasks in general motor repairs, the duo checks the ignition and compression, rebuilds the carburetor and puts on a new water pump. The cost normally runs from $180 to $225 to make the motor so it will start on the first pull.
“The rule of thumb,” he said, “is whatever the parts are, the labor will be about the same. Our motto is if it does not satisfy us, it won’t satisfy you. These motors will start in three pulls and usually a lot less. What we enjoy most about this is how much fun we have. We don’t do it for a living.”
Walker and Wearly wear T-shirts that proclaim: Cause they just don’t make ’em like they use too.
“There was a ton of these old motors around here in Tennessee. We found out if you can’t fish with them, they’re worthless. Nobody kept them for antiquity,” Walker said. “Here they have a value of $200 to $300. You can go to Michigan and find similar motors will go for $5 to $10.
“As those little motors quit running, people would sit them in the barn and would leave the fuel tank with fuel in it. The tanks would ruin and they’d throw the tank away. Now you’re left with a decent little motor that’s easy to fix, but there’s no way to get fuel to it.”
Thus, Walker has harvested and restored more than 50 fuel tanks, and they are stacked and stored on shelves across his shop. “I’m gonna hoard all these pressurized tanks. I’m kind of a fuel tank man,” he laughed.
Walker and Wearly annually travel to about a half dozen outboard motor swap meets across the U.S. where they buy and sell parts.
His shop overflows with parts ranging from pistons, cranks, starter motors, gear cases, lower units, propellers, controls, carburetors, motor cowls and more. He also can locate hard-to-parts from an outlet on the West Coast that stocks new parts to 1950s’ motors.
“Everything is for sale except for my special projects,” he said, referring to three motors: his father’s 1946 Sea King, a 1958 50-horse Evinrude Starflite V4 and a 1962 100-horse Merc 1000.
And the same applies to a boat that he and Wearly built from scratch following instructions from a 1960s’ magazine. “It was a five-day project that took us 18 months. All the parts came from Lowe’s,” Walker said of the boat that they occasionally race at vintage boat meets. "The reason it took so long is that we had to repair customer's motors and attend club swap meets in other states."
The two are working now on a 1951 KG-7 Mercury Hurricane and a 1964 3-horsepower Evinrude Yacht Twin. He also likes to point out a 1947 two-cylinder Evinrude that he said, “Hasn’t been cranked since 2009, but it’ll start first pull,” and a 1933 twin fin, one of the earliest mechanical trolling motors.
He credited two Lebanon men, Larry Hagan with Hagan Boat Repair and Jerry Smallwood with Marine Sales, of helping him get started in his business-leisure time vocation.
As for their passion for outboards, Wearly said, “TK and I both feel the same way about them. They’re a quality piece of equipment, and, if it’s at all possible, they deserve to be put back in running condition.”
“We work on ’em year round,” Walker said. “We’ve got pretty good stock for these old motors. That’s what we specialize in: That and seeing how much fun we can have.”