Mr Old Props!

Thanks to fellow Woody Boater Eric Zelman for sending us in his “Road Trip” Fun to Propville… A small town on the way to Woodyboaterville… Take it away Eric..

As I continue to slowly progress on the ’62 Lake n’ Sea it was time to address the engine. A 1962 Mercury 500 had been acquired to partner with her and the ’62 Super Gator trailer. The classic cloud white look would be a perfect addition. While all the hardware was there, it was apparent that some of the internal components would need to be rebuilt or replaced. The engine was put to the side while I continued to work on the boat.

(1962 Mercury 500 – Cloud White & Chrome)
A year went by and then some more time….. I started reaching out to some of the vintage outboard enthusiasts and clubs through the A.O.M.C. A few folks were recommended including Tom Thuerwacher who lives in Fond du Lac, WI., birthplace and still current headquarters for Mercury Marine.

I called Tom and we reviewed his credentials. He has been collecting and working on “Old Props” for over 20 years. Tom had met the management team at Mercury back in 2001 and befriended members of the Kiekaefer family and the head secretary, Rose Similjanac. She and the President at the time, Charles Alexander wanted a display compiled for a show in conjunction with the local outboard club. Tom was named the official “Historical Consultant” and worked with Mercury and the local Winnebago Chapter of the A.O.M.C. to pull together the engines, do restoration work and convey his knowledge to the public.
My older son had recently graduated and moved to Madison, WI approx. 45 minutes away from Fond du Lac. This would be a great opportunity to see him and get the engine work started, Road Trip! The engine was loaded up and off I went.

(That was a long drive from VA !)
Tom’s personal collection of outboards range from 1911 to more of the vintage green Mercs made in the early 1950’s. He has a nice “man cave” workshop filled with manuals, parts and pieces. Tom also has local artisans available to make specialty items like leather hand grips for steering arms, stainless polishing and chrome. When he needs an extra hand, his son Gary is close by and a mechanic. One of the more interesting engines in the collection is a 1943 KB-4 6HP engine used by the navy and painted for military use. Tom says his favorite is the 1915 Ferro.

(1943 Navy KB-4)

(1915 Ferro)

(chrome tank)
I left the engine and a few weeks later got the diagnosis; re chrome the handle, polish & lube choke, repaint motor, remove & clean power head, change stator, lower seals, bearing, clean water passages, replace full pump diaphragm, change plugs, remove distributor, checkpoints, check wires, repair electrical wires, lube linkages, check lower unit, replace skeg, replace zinc fin, replace tilt pin, touch up prop, replace water pump & cover, replace gear case nut, replace gear lube, clean carbs, replace decals, replace emblem on front cover, restore front cover, straighten wrap cover & repaint, polish stainless trim rings, check timing belt, replace pull handle, replace shock absorber, replace tilt tube caps, replace transom screw handles, polish shift controls, clean vacuum lines to dist., replace vacuum line to motor, clean inside of distributer…..Geez ! Well, a few more weeks later it was in the tank and running smooth.

Tom communicated with me throughout the process. Not everything may have been needed but why take a chance, do it right the first time, be safe and preserve a bit of history. The cosmetic work was completed, and it was time to road trip again a little over 3 months later. The local “home town” McDonalds is located just a couple of blocks away from the Mercury factory in Fond du Lac. Many of the folks work for Mercury and Tom was commissioned to tie in some local flavor to the décor. He sliced a 1959 Mark 78 in two and mounted it to either side of a partition wall. The same was done with a classic green engine cover and made into wall sconces.

(Eric, Tanner & Mr. Happy Meal in front of the Mark 78 décor. Bags under the eyes from the drive!)

(keep your extra parts & pieces!)

(Mr. “Old Props” with his collection)

(Tom’s classic Johnson…yes, that’s what she said…)

(My dock buster, back in the barn after a Wisconsin tailgate party and 14 hours on the road. I need some sleep!)

Here is the Lake n’ Sea Part 2 video link, topside body work: No snazzy music… That was all copyrighted.

Tom Thuerwatcher is accepting new restoration projects and can be contacted via email at

18 replies
  1. Alan Frederick
    Alan Frederick says:

    Geez – All this time I thought Glassics were a breeze to restore as compared to a woodie.
    So much for that theory.
    It’s more fun sniffin’ the fumes though.
    The restored boats are most often done to a higher quality than the originals ever were. Back then, they just needed to get them out the door as quickly as possible to make a profit.
    Nice Job Eric!!

  2. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    That cloud white Mercury is sweet! The color, design and graphics are classic. Can’t wait to see the Lake n Sea.

    • Sean
      Sean says:

      There’s no shortage of fumes in a glass restoration! But, I do prefer the sweet aroma of Varnish to the pungent bouquet of vinylester resin and MEKP.

  3. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    wow! that turned out great. Are you taking it to Smith Mountain lake this weekend? Hoping the Hurricane rains don’t hurt that fine event….

    John in VA

    • Eric Z
      Eric Z says:

      Hi John, Headed to SML. will arrive Friday afternoon with the Hydrodyne in tow. Going to sell it if there is a taker. 1964 Hydrodyne and 1969 Evinrude 85 HP V4, the trailer is not for sale. First $350 gets them. I picked up the engine manuals and extra prop as well. Bring a trailer and cash!

  4. Dave Nau
    Dave Nau says:

    So glad we are talking outboards this morning. They have a style all their own, since they hang on the transom in plain sight, and they were sometimes styled by the same designers from the auto industry. The old Mercs from the late 50’s and early-mid ’60s had a lots of chrome and a style all their own.

    My 1963 Merc 350 on Little Blue, while a modest 35hp motor, has all the same styling and chrome of the larger Mercs. Over time, more and more chrome was eliminated, but 1963 still had all the trimmings, and was the transition year from Cloud White to the all Phantom Black models of 1964.

    Restoring a classic fiberglass can be quite complicated and expensive. The trick is to find a solid, original and unrestored one, but those are getting harder and harder to find. Usually, at a minimum, you have to redo the transom and usually the seats. However, I think this is where growth in the hobby will come in the future, since for every classic wood inboard boat, there are over 10 classic outboard boats out there. And while mahogany is great, I love the bright colors of the fiberglass boats of the ’60s era. I guess I have gel coat in my blood instead of varnish.

  5. Dennis Mykols
    Dennis Mykols says:

    Watching the video on your restore makes me sad that I ever sold my 59 Lake N Sea. While she was what you call a “20 footer”, I never did much to the outer hull, it still looked great. Lucky for me, I started out with a solid boat and did not have any stringer or transom repair issues.
    You will have a real show winner when you are all done, enjoy the restoration process, it seems you have a real talent for it.

  6. Bill Whitney
    Bill Whitney says:

    Beautiful photo’s; great story.
    But one typo: the “completed” photo of the Merc 500 refers to it as a Dockbuster. That term is a reference to Merc motors that were “direct reversing”- without a gear shift. They were always 6 cylinder motors; never 4 cylinder like this 500. Back in the day, Dockbusters were not a great idea for the general public, but they are highly prized by collectors now days.

  7. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Dockbusters had no neutral or reverse. To go in reverse the engine was stopped and restarted opposite rotation (“easier” to do with a 2 stroke). With the reality of hard to start and restart engines and no ability to warm up at the dock in neutral, plus the obvious disadvantages maneuvering in close quarters, it is a wonder of marketing that they ever managed to sell any of them!

  8. George Emmanuel
    George Emmanuel says:

    Glad to see outboards on Woody Boater! Tom Thuerwacher was the right guy for what you wanted! Can’t wait to see the end result.

    Treasurer, AOMCI

    • Dave Nau
      Dave Nau says:

      Wow another sweet 1963 Merc 350! Bet your AlumaCraft flies with that motor on it!

      BTW, AlumaCraft was purchased by BRP this summer. Now most of the motors sold on them will likely be Evinrudes. Definitely won’t see anything in Phantom Black.

      The times, they keep a-changin’.

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