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It’s always disappointing to discover a hero has feet of clay. Mention good old No. 4 at the Lake View Inn, and some Packers fans these days are likely to respond, “Brett who?” But I never thought the sterling reputation of Dan the Outboard Man could be tarnished, especially by a 12-year-old girl.
It was early on a fish-fry Friday evening when Dan arrived at the Lake View, still in his shop shirt from work at the Merc dealership. My good friend Chuck Larson was waiting for him at the bar.
“Dan, let’s step over to a booth. I want you to meet my niece, Ryan,” Chuck said. And so the two men moved with beers in hand to the window booth, where a skinny girl with a head full of auburn curls was waiting. A small fan was sitting on the table.
“Ryan attends the ALPs charter school,” Chuck said. “That’s Advanced Learning Program. So, Dan, remember you told me that I hydrolocked my Merc kicker because the propeller turned backward when I left the motor in the water? Well, I’ve been telling people about your brilliant explanation, and last week Ryan heard me repeating this brilliance to her father.”
“I’m fascinated by hydrodynamics,” Ryan said. “And frankly, Mr. Dan, your explanation left me scratching my head. I was trying to imagine why the propeller rotation would be reversed. So, we did an experiment at school.”
The tiny girl with the big brain then moved the fan to the center of the table, leaned over, and blew with all her might at the front of the blades.
“Observe the fan turning clockwise when I blow on the front,” Ryan said. She then turned the fan around and blew on the backside of the blades. “Now observe that when I blow on the opposite side, the blades also turn clockwise. At school we did this with a large fan and a leaf blower.”
Dan sat silently watching as the fan blades slowed to a stop, a slight smirk on his face.
“So, Dan, I think the ALPs Science Club is calling BS on your theory,” Chuck said, “and I’m joining them. I think this proves that an outboard prop left dragging in the water will turn in the direction of its forward thrust.”
“Well, nothing!” Chuck said. “I think you made this up, and then let me go around spouting what is a bunch of baloney.”
“OK, OK,” Dan said. “Was there water in your powerhead? Yes. Was the flywheel key sheared? Yes. I have seen this happen to maybe a dozen motors over the years, and I’ve never been able to figure out why it happens. But my customers want an explanation. So, I came up with a reverse-rotation theory that is just complicated enough to seem reasonable to most people. It worked on you.”
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“It worked because everyone in this place assumes you are infallible,” Chuck said. “But now I’m not so sure.”
With that, Dan the Outboard Man was knocked off his pedestal, for now. And I have been left wondering about a few other things Dan has told me about motors, like that time he claimed my “throckle filter” was clogged.