From W.J. Markerink’s Website, 1995
November 5, 2012
I’d forgotten about a series of yarns I’d let Wilhelm, a blogger in the Netherlands, have back in the ’90s. Here’s one in memory of Dr. Douglas Heron, a good friend who passed away this summer.
Someone once published a bumper sticker which said, “Never trust a man whose car cost more than his boat.” Some of the people at the Dock have obviously taken this to heart.
Rod has a very nice antique mahogany cruiser, upon which he lavishes time and expense. His car is a different matter entirely. He never seems to get around to taking out the tools and paint supplies accumulated in the trunk during spring launching, and Rod’s summer is built around attempts to get his most recent clunker to run well enough to make one more trip.
He drives elderly Volvos, which seem to have made their way to him because the previous owners left the country rather than deal with the electrical glitches in their cars. A man of infinite patience, he cajoles these otherwise solid crates into working for a few more years.
Rod claims that these cars run faithfully all winter, but that they seem to hate the grass on which they are parked at the Marina. Mornings are often punctuated with the grinding of the starter, followed by the hiss and smell of some ignition spray or other which Rod has found in his trunk. One spot on the road is notorious for tripping up Rod’s cars. One time Reggie was riding with him and was surprised when Rod suddenly pulled off the gravel road and waited. The car’s engine slowed, stumbled, and stalled. Rod got out, wiggled some wires under the hood, restarted the car and continued the journey. Reggie asked, “Why did you pull over there?”
“Oh, it always stops there on hot days,” was Rod’s reply.
Each car has had its idiosyncracies. The first had an annoying habit of lighting up every gauge and indicator on the dash, and then quitting. This required some wiggles to the wiring harness. The second’s fuel pump required occasional sharp impacts from a wrench — no mean feat when the pump was under the car, inside a housing. The last one has been perhaps the most taxing. Suffice it to say that, after three years of careful observation and interrupted rides, Rod discovered that an ice pack wrapped carefully around the distributor would restore the car to health and strength until the next time it quit.
One time we watched for six hours while he and his 12 year-old-son, Charlie, took the starter housing apart, soldered a wire from a battery cable onto it, and reassembled it, while leaving the main part of the starter still installed on the car. Why not take the starter out and replace it? Didn’t have a hoist, or a wrench big enough.
The funny thing is, this guy isn’t poor. He just likes the challenge of driving jalopies.
Rod’s patience is second only to Orville’s. A wealthy attorney with an exquisite cottage on Newboro Lake, Orville has the world’s ugliest boat, a battered 14′ runabout with an 85 hp. outboard he picked up from a colleague. In the last three years it has sunk twice, and had most of its exterior trim torn off by hostile encounters with docks. One strip of rub-rail hasn’t yet made it all of the way off, and lies twisted over the windshield.
This boat replaced a 16′ aluminum skiff which leaked so badly that all visitors to Orville’s cottage took to wearing farmer’s rubber boots. This one met its end one day in early spring when it bucked Orville out and took after him at full throttle for several hair-raising minutes. Orville dove repeatedly, and eventually got to shore, but he had lost his boots, and this was too much. The hull went to the dump, the outboard to a rental outfit.
Orville’s pride and joy is his Cessna 172 floatplane. Apparently he and his partner Kirk picked up the plane for a song, and then got another junker for its floats. They put them together and discovered that it would fly, if they could get the thing off the water.
A 172 has a notoriously lazy engine, and on floats it becomes strictly a two-seater, and that is if the passenger hasn’t eaten any breakfast and the tank is empty. Orville’s takeoffs have become legendary. At first we thought he liked to race us when we were cruising across the lake, for he would taxi up behind us, engine racing, and splash through our wakes. Then we realized he was trying to bounce off the waves and into the air. Another trick which would impress even a loon, I’m sure, was his tactic of bouncing ONE pontoon off the water, and gaining airspeed to get the other one up on the next set of waves. These cockeyed forced-marches across Indian and Newboro Lakes were more a source of merriment than inconvenience, until the day that Orville’s wife forgot to bail out the pontoons.
Orville and his wife had always seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time out at the Cessna’s mooring, pumping with an hand bilge pump, but no one thought too much about it until one morning someone saw that one wingtip had sagged down to the water’s surface, and the Cessna seemed doomed.
The rescue crew sprang into action. Wayne climbed into a skiff, started the engine, ran out to the mooring , where he promptly tangled his prop in the mooring chain. So much for Wayne. A couple of us in dinghies managed to disentangle Wayne and get him back to the dock. Then came the Cessna.
I guess the general thought was that, if it was sinking, the thing to do was to get it out of the water. But that’s not so easy with an object that sits on pontoons and has a board 35′ wide tied to its head. We hadn’t thought about the wings when we headed for the boat-launch ramp.
People on the dock quickly saw the problem and started moving boats to make way for the starboard wing, but nobody had the guts to move the oak tree on the port side. What to do?
Harry was in favour of cutting the wings off. Irwin wanted to let the thing sink, down in the bay, to let mud into the floats and seal them up. Orville was in court somewhere and not to be found. Saner heads prevailed and up the launch ramp it came, sideways, until it hit bottom. Then everybody lifted on the stranded pontoon, and up she came some more. There the Cessna sat, rather elegantly, actually, lording over the docks, fuse panels, carts and swimming area, this aluminum thing which didn’t fit the space.
I wasn’t around when the service crew came to pick up the Cessna. I understand that they pumped out the pontoons, somehow got the wounded bird into the air, and flew it to Constance Bay where they grounded it and rebuilt the pontoons at astronomical cost.
Not everyone on the Dock has been as patient as Rod and Orville. Reggie bought a slightly used Passat, and all went well until one day he ran out of gas. Something went wrong, and it wouldn’t start once fuel was added. Fuses started popping. Now Reggie is a Scotsman, and nothing if not careful with a dollar. He took to repairing fuses. This was amazing. He took a stray wire off a wrecked trailer, and bit strands of wire free from the others, then threaded them through the fuse to make the connection. Meanwhile he got madder and madder. Eventually the car started, but Reggie had already vowed we would never see that car again. The next week he had a new Nissan.
Then there was Veronica’s Fiat. Veronica is a new member of the community, and everyone admired her restored ’79 Fiat Spyder, at least until on a Friday evening a wheel fell off it (ball joint) when she backed down the twisting hill to the loading area. Great consternation swept the docks. You’d think these guys had never had a wheel fall off before. Then came the problem: what do you do with a ton and a half of disabled sports car on a 20 degree slope when there are six other cars waiting to unload and twenty more on the highway?
Wayne, the owner of the Dock, is nothing if not ingenious. Down came the lift truck. Under the car went the forks. Up came the Fiat, just like an errant runabout. Out to the parking lot. Block under the wheel. Veronica carefully locked the car up. We assured her that it wasn’t going anywhere, at least temporarily. A local mechanic had it going by the following Tuesday.
The trouble now is that everybody is buying SUVs. Rod’s 4Runner, Justin’s Pathfinder, Bill’s and Dick’s Explorers, Jeep Grand Cherokees’s too numerous to mention, have taken the fun out of fixing jalopies. At least the boats still misbehave…