I love the smell of two-stroke in the morning. It smells like… adventure.
It was modest adventure my good friend Chuck Larson and I were after when we cast off from the Eureka Locks ramp for a little exploring up the Fox River in Chuck’s recently commissioned 14-foot Sea Nymph, which is now powered by a 1957 Evinrude Fleetwin 7.5 outboard that we decided to call “Ike” because it was new during the Eisenhower administration, and it’s a beauty. There’s not a scratch on it. Even the pretty cloisonné badges on the sides of the toaster-shaped, cast-aluminum cowl are intact. The cowl is hinged at the top, and the port side unlatches and opens to reveal the two-cylinder powerhead and its carburetor with a little glass bowl. Very cool, and worth every penny of the $50 Chuck paid for it at a farm auction he went to last fall.
Vintage outboards like this are easy to find in the North Woods, where the water is fresh and season is short, but Ike is especially pristine. This Evinrude either saw very low hours or had a fastidious owner. Despite its fine condition, Chuck turned the motor over to Dan the Outboard Man for a refresh—a new water-pump impeller, a carb kit, and new seals all around, parts that are still pretty easy to find.
According to the owner’s manual: “The whisper-quiet operation of your Evinrude Fleetwin will soon prove the good judgment you used in its selection,” and Chuck’s good judgment seemed confirmed when Ike started on the first pull. The morning breeze carried a glorious cloud of two-stroke exhaust over the transom, a purifying 16-to-1 smudge for my soul. Like a shaman, I waved my fingers to direct the smoke around my face and breathed it in deeply.
Smell, of course, can be a powerful trigger for processing emotions and memory; a whiff of that musky perfume a girlfriend wore in the 1980s still makes me sigh, and the redolence of thawing dairy manure is a sure sign of spring in Wisconsin. As we motored up the Fox, my mind was flooded with two-stroke recollections: childhood fishing trips, racing a Yamaha WaveBlaster, and the preteen satisfaction of starting my snowmobile on a subzero day; what an exhaust cloud that little Rotax thumper would make. The blue Evinrude is a powerful nostalgia generator because its once-common exhaust scent has become almost extinct. A generation of outboarders has motored only with clean exhaust, and has never pre-mixed gas and oil or changed a spark plug fouled with soot. Modern outboards are certainly better in every way, but they are not memory-makers in an olfactory sense. And that’s a shame, because without that old, familiar two-stroke exhaust, what does boating smell like? Fresh air?
I was still wallowing in nostalgia when we returned to the dock. Chuck killed the Evinrude by pulling out the choke, and then immediately pissed on my campfire.
“Man, does this motor stink!” Chuck exclaimed. “I’d forgotten how smoky these old outboards were.”
Oh well. I guess one’s man’s fragrance is another’s stench. After we finished our day on the water, I went home and started my old two-stroke Lawn Boy. Ahhhhh.