Need To Get Your Engine Started? It’s Noth’n A Dollar Bill And A Pal Can’t Solve!

IMG_8533Yesterday after three weeks of sitting on the lift in what has to be the wettest three weeks here in Virginia. Trying to start the Trusty W had its issues. I messed up and kept cranking until I had flooded the poor thing. But it’s kinda a normal thing. She has always started after a long sit with a little coaxing. Not this time. There is a point after cranking that you have to just sigh and say, OK, there is something a miss here. Even though she had coughed and spitted a couple times. I suppose that since we have had such rainy weather all over, some of you may be about to experience some of the same issues.


Good pals are there on Rainy days

First thing I did was call Dave Van Ness. Dave  is a perfect calm in this sort of situation. I knew it was something simple and that spark somehow was not happening. But a calm buddy even on the phone 300 miles away can help you focus. Especially when that buddy is the top engine guy out there. First thing. Check for spark. Now its me, and a cell phone. Pull the center spark plug cord and move it to a grounded area and open and close the points. Spark? No! Bingo.



Now. Get out a dollar bill, 5 dollar bill it doesn’t matter, Fold it and put it between the points and pull it through several times. This is not a Dave Trick BTW, its an old mans trick and man it works. By this point my son Hank, was there to help. So he could mess with the key and we had spark, but a full smelly gassy bowl of fuel. She was flooded. My fault.


That thing at the bottom there

There is a small bolt on the bottom of the carb. 7/16 That nut was taken off and the bowl drained into a paper towel. All this soulds simple, but man oh man, stuff is tight, and I hate gas on stuff. But… 3 cranks and Vroom. The Trust Van Ness W was up and running. Thank to Mr VanNess of VanNess Engineering, and a little dollar bill. The weather today is spectacular so hopefully we weill get some great Woody Boating in! Woohooo!

reedville reflection

Amazing after the rain run! Reedville Sunsets are amazing. Thats Pop’s Matthews Martinique on the left out of her boat house.

22 replies
  1. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    Been there, done that. That’s why the MCL in the continental now has electronic pointless ignition. A worthwhile improvement to the old flat heads.

  2. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    Do what Greg said! Electronic ignition will fix that and no more icky gas on rags in the boat.

  3. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Crank crank a full throttle, choke off and it will clear the flood. With auto chokes there is usually a linkage that forces the choke open at full throttle as well.

    • Troy in ANE
      Troy in ANE says:

      I have not found that method to work with Zenith updrafts. Once they flood it seems like you need to get the puddle of gas out of them.

  4. Matt
    Matt says:

    I like my points. No new stuff for me! These little querks are part of the zen of it all. Although, I have to admit at some point yesterday I felt differently. I did do the full throttle trick. The problem is that I had overwhelmed everything. And was glad to learn the the drain the carb trick. Its all part of the fun I suppose. After three weeks of work, that I can rarely fix in 1/2 hr, it was therapeutic to atleast solve one problem!

    • Troy in ANE
      Troy in ANE says:

      Be aware I have also run into a rash of bad condensers over the last couple of years. Historically condensers never go bad, so you will pull your hair out trying to figure out what the problem is.

  5. Verne
    Verne says:

    Matt, You just demonstrated why the old points system is best. IF you had the latest electronic gizzmo in it and IT failed, you’d be waiting for the new one to come in the mail instead of enjoying the lake.

  6. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    Not sure what it is about a dollar bill but the same thing is recommended for cleaning a fouled plug. I make sure one ( a dollar bill that is ) is folded and kept in the tool kit.

  7. Gary
    Gary says:

    Sticking with points is definitely Zen! I go looking for a matchbook cover at the start of the season. One time I even removed the points on a boat I was trying to start after several years of storage and burnished them on the fan belt of a car. There were several jaws on the floor that day.
    When our new cars fail it is either road side assistance or a haul to the dealer.

  8. Briant
    Briant says:

    Install and run daily the electronic ignition and then keep your points and condenser stored on board in a water proof container as a backup to a rare module failure.

      • Briant
        Briant says:

        I cannot take credit for the idea. When many of us British sports car owners began switching from points to electronic ignition years ago, the Petronix brand developed a questionable reputation as many modules failed. Keeping the old points and condenser in the glovebox was a bit of added insurance. Interestingly, a shop I spoke with yesterday sells 30 Petronix brands for every 1 Crane module, UPS trucks run with the Petronix brand, and I have never had a failure of my module in over twenty years of motoring about. Yet, there is still an aura of question with these modules. I have run a Petronix in our boat which allows for quick starts and smooth running for many years. I would never hesitate to install one, as they are dependable and fit under the distributor cap so no one sees a plethora of modules and extra wiring in the engine bay. My real question is this: “Who carries cash anymore to have a buck for this trick?!?”

  9. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Just to clarify the flooded carb situation a little more explanation: typically a downdraft carb sits on top of a motor and air and fuel flow down thru the carb and if you flood it the fuel gets dispersed throughout the intake runners. In our woodies with 4, 6 and 8 cylinders (inline), the carb is an updraft model with air and fuel flowing thru the angled airhorn which is almost a 180 degree route. Flooding the carb causes fuel to settle in that angled air horn in a big puddle. Thats why in a v8 or v6 you can floor the accelerator peddle, crank the motor and probably start a flooded “V” motor but not an updraft carb straight 4, 6, or 8. So when they talk about draining the carb, that implies the fuel bowl, but what you’re actually doing is draining that puddle of fuel in the air horn.

    • Matt
      Matt says:

      You are dead right. That was where the fuel was and needed to be drained. Spent all day cleaning the bilge though since even the slightest has smell can cause marital issues

  10. Old Salt
    Old Salt says:

    Someone needs to invent a credit card with some fine 1500 sand paper on it for cleaning the points since most people don’t carry cash on them anymore…

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Funny you should mention credit cards. I was taught a long time ago that you can use a credit card to check point gap in an emergency. Chris Craft calls for .022 on the 6 cylinders and a typical credit card is around .030. Not perfect but it’ll get ya home. Same with the dollar bill and points. If the points just have a little corrosion the dollar is fine, but if they’re burned you’re gonna need a contact file to get things cleaned up for good contact but it will get you home. And Troy is absolutely right, new condensers are about as consistent as a coin flip. If you have one that’s fine don’t change it. Carry a spare in your tool box, along with a contact file and feeler gauges.

  11. Captain Nemo
    Captain Nemo says:

    I’ll keep my points, thank you. I just feel that electronic voodoo doesn’t belong on my old boat.

  12. Alex
    Alex says:

    Next time, don’t crank so long. A spritz of ether and it’ll light right up. Pour yourself a Moscow Mule beforehand so you can celebrate on the water whilst others debate points vs electronic ashore.

    And to the naysayers who say ether hurts pistons, we, as kids, started our 1946 25′ Sportsman (original engine) this way right up until the boat was mothballed (running fine) in the 80s. And we were NOT sparing with the ether. (Meaning, I shouldn’t be here typing this.)

    I still use ether to start a long sitting modern 350 (carb) in one of my boats and a K in another. They each light in a split second. And yes, I educate my kids about how to do this safely — an education I never had. But hey, we never wore bike helmets or seat belts ether (sic).

  13. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    Good thread…..on another tack I spent the day nursing my nice 40 Hp Merc outboard on a whirlwind back from a cruise 20+ miles from the trailer and launch ramp….ethanol …..I never learn….she would ran like a top until I throttled down to enter the creek at Urbanna Va….after a 20 mile cruise at near WOT…..then she starts starving for gas….won’t idle….on the return adventure…she has the handle set at nearly WOT and is going about 2/3 rpms…..scared to mess with it I rode her back…she failed approaching the dock….who cares..we are HOME….changed plugs…lit right up but still running rough…ethanol …..yeah I know, quit using the sh–….the bulb is slack though when I get back to the engine??? air leak? when she is missing/sputtering….hit the elect. choke and wham….off she goes??? Fuel pump? nah…gremlins…..but hey I WENT BOATING!!!
    John in Va.

  14. Dan T
    Dan T says:

    I’m a huge fan of a little squirt of starting fluid into the carb of an engine that’s been laid up for a time. Saves a lot of crankin and a floodin.


  15. Ronald
    Ronald says:

    Those points are for the tool box and history books. the condensers are mostly all made in China and no good, put in that pertronix module and forget it, the only thing that dollar bill or matchbook would do is maybe clean some surface contamination off the point surface and then is only temporary. The notion that an electronic ignition may fail in your boat is silly, Who even thinks about what sparks millions of automobiles everyday we get in and drive all over the country. I have had Pertronix in boats and British cars for mant years with no trouble while my older friends still sand their points and replace junk condensers yearly, Start using that starting fluid spareingly especially on 6 volt systems as Alex suggested and life will be much easier.

  16. Pete devito
    Pete devito says:

    No need for electronic ignition!!! Points and cond will never leave you abandon. I have now run my point and cond for 4 years and still runs great. Keep and spare set onboard in protected plastic bag. I have revived a bad find in the last couple of years that seemed unusual.

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