Saturday, June 12, 2010

Deconstructing Old Ads with Bill Sonnett

The Vintage Trolling Motor
Bill Sonnett

My earliest memories of outboard motors are as a young boy, immediately after World War ll. Fellows in front of my Grandfather's Summer cottage in wooden rowboats would repeatedly try to start their outboards by winding on a cotton rope with a knot on one end and a wooden handle on the other. After countless pulls, gasps of white smoke and many words that I was not permitted to say, the boats either chugged slowly off or the owners resorted to oars. I don't ever recall seeing or hearing of an electric outboard in those days.

I can't remember when I first heard the term “Electric Trolling Motor” but I know that when one saw an electric motor 40 years ago, it was mounted on the back of a small boat and was used for trolling or moving about a smaller lake, often with no gasoline motor accompanying it. My first experience with one was in the early 1970's in a water reservoir that did not permit the use of gasoline motors. I was surprised how much the batteries weighed and how fast they ran out of energy. It was not until the emergence of the “Bass Boat” that I started to see them mounted on the front of boats and no longer used for “trolling” as such.
 I was a bit taken back by these ads for “electric outboards.” They certainly resemble the modern “Trolling Motor” especially the first ad shown here from the March 1936 issue of Sports Afield. The Second ad for an early Minn-Kota is from the June 1937 issue of Field & Stream.

If the improvement in trolling motor batteries over the past couple of decades is any indication, my guess is that the batteries needed to run these early electrics left something to be desired. Of course if your home was not yet wired for electricity, or you did not feel like fooling with heavy, inefficient batteries, there was an alternative seen on the same page of the June 1937 issue of Field & Stream as the Minn-Kota ad. No batteries needed, no gas can to carry, no trouble starting the machine. You just needed a strong arm or as the ad suggested a wife or child to do the cranking!

-- Bill Sonnett

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