Photos by Larry Edsall
Ole used his row boat to court Bess, who lived across the lake in Wisconsin. One Fourth of July, the ice cream Ole was carrying in his boat melted before he reached Bess’s family’s dock. Embarrassed, Ole rowed home, where he took a small engine he’d already built, added a shaft and propeller, and not only created a way to get across the lake before the ice cream melted, but he invented the practical outboard boat motor.
Mark Trimble shares that tale, emphasizing that practical is the key word in the story of Ole and Bess Evinrude, because a fellow, and appropriately named Waterman at that, had actually invented the outboard boat motor a year before Evinrude. Except that Cameron Waterman’s first model hadn’t worked quite so well. Nor, it seemed, did it come with such a fascinating story as Evinrude’s.
Mark Trimble is full of fascinating stories, and he has one for each of the 1,200 vintage outboard boat motors in his collection, a collection he’ll make available for viewing Saturday at an open house at his shop in Hollister, which is just across the White River from Branson, Missouri.
If Trimble’s name sounds familiar, it may be because he founded the Branson Auction, a classic car sale, 35 years ago. He’s owned a variety of businesses in the area, including Fantastic Caverns, the world’s only such underground cave of stalagmites and stalactites that you visit while riding in a car.
Speaking of the Branson Auction, Trimble sold his interest in the sale some 20 years ago, but the twice-a-year auction has continued under the ownership of Jim and Kathy Cox and is scheduled October 17-18 at the Hilton Branson Convention Center.
At the age of 83, Trimble has whittled his personal car collection to only a few dozen. He’s owned some 1,100 classic cars, though as he points out, never more than 300 of them at the same time.
Trimble was only 12 or 13 years old when he bought his first car, a 1935 Chevrolet, which he fixed up and got running. He drove a Ford Model T to the University of Arkansas, where he studied civil engineering. He replaced the Ford with a 1935 Packard in his senior year.
His favorite car remains the yellow 1936 Packard roadster he’s owned since the mid-1950s. Through all his buying and selling of cars, he’s also always kept sort of a personal automotive Mount Rushmore — a Ford Model T, a Cord, a Jaguar and that ’36 Packard (now with 80,000 miles on its odometer) in his personal fleet.
Trimble had started flying not long after he started driving and boating, and the U.S. Air Force sent him to Penn State University to study meteorology. In addition to cars and outboards, he collects airplanes and has nearly two dozen, though he plans to reduce that number soon.
However, he’s still adding to his collection of vintage outboard motors, and expects to buy a few at the swap meet that will be part of his Huge Fall Color Meet begin staged by the Mid-America Prop Spinners, Twin Rivers Chapter AOMCI and Trimble’s own Ozarks Auto Show company.
“I always find one or two I haven’t seen before,” says the man whose collection seems to have every sort of outboard ever made, including some of the very earliest and rarest — such as one that Admiral Byrd had made of brass to deal with the harsh, salt-water conditions at the North Pole.
Trimble bought that motor from the Byrd family. Speaking of families, let’s get back to the Evinrudes.
In 1913, Ole Evinrude had 400 employees building engines for rowboats, but in 1914 Bess became critically ill and Ole sold his company to care for his bride. He also started designing a new motor, one that would be stronger and lighter and have twin cylinders.
Bess’s health got better and Ole had his new engine, but he didn’t know quite what to do with it. After all, he’d not only sold his company, but the rights to the Evinrude name.
“We’ll start our own company,” Bess said.
She also came up with the new name — ELTO: E for Evinrude, L for Light, T for Twin and O for Outboard.
By 1924, Trimble explains with a grin, Elto had grown larger than the former Evinrude and Ole bought back both his old company and the rights to his own name.