Apparently, Frank Meyer was just trying to save a little money, which is never a good idea when it comes to powerboats.
“I told Frank that this is his outboard,” said Dan the Outboard Man as he reached into his jacket pocket, “and this is his outboard on E15 gasoline.”
Dan slid a small, black piston down the blue Formica bar top at the Lake View Inn, which Wally the barkeep intercepted and examined. The skirt of the piston was scored with deep scuff marks, and the rings were welded in place.
“I guess you can’t fix this with J-B Weld,” quipped Wally, handing me the piston. “Ethanol is keeping you in business, Dan.”
Wally scanned the bar to make sure there were no corn farmers within earshot. The discussion of politics is generally off-limits at the Lake View, a rule that extends to matters of ethanol and immigration, each a problematic topic for the local ag industry. Wally likes to joke that half the dairy cows in Wisconsin are bilingual. Spanish is their first language.
“Well, it’s a shame because this was a nice old two-stroke motor,” Dan said. “But you know Frank reached for the E15 nozzle just because it was the cheapest. So, he saved 70 cents a gallon over the premium with no ethanol, for a 6-gallon can of gas, which is what? About four bucks. I keep telling people corn belongs in tortillas, not in boat gas tanks.”
As I examined the piston, I thought of the hours and hours the old Johnson 40 had toiled pushing Frank’s equally vintage pontoon around the lake. It smoked a little at idle, but Frank was proud to be running the oldest outboard at our dock. That motor outlasted OMC and Frank’s first marriage.
“And you’re right about one thing,” Dan said. “It is cheapness that keeps me in business. Cheap gas, cheap oil and cheap batteries are at the root of almost every problem that comes into my shop. It’s really hard to understand why a guy who has spent $80,000 on a boat, or $350 for a cooler for crying out loud, would feel it necessary to save a few bucks on oil. Or gasoline.”
Or why a guy who loves his vintage Johnson would reach for the E15 nozzle.
“Too many people think that if gas is for sale, it must be OK for anything,” Dan said. “But it’s like the old ad. You can pay up at the pump, or pay me later.”
“You may not pay me later for that beer,” said Wally, who ultimately controls the flow of ethanol in the Lake View Inn, “and I won’t take that piston on trade.”