Museum showcases classic outboard motors

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published July 8, 2015

 Charlie Schmidt stands with a few of his outboard motors.

Charlie Schmidt stands with a few of his outboard motors.

Photo by April Lehmbeck


DETROIT — Charlie Schmidt bought his first outboard motor by raising money catching catfish as a child.

“That’s when I really got started working with outboard motors and collecting them,” he said.

“I’ve been around the water all of my life,” he said, adding that his father and uncles were all outdoorsmen.

Lee Holland caught and sold snapping turtles as a child to afford his first outboard motor.

“I would go up and down this drainage ditch, and I’d catch snapping turtles,” he said.

A friend of his wanted $15 for the motor, so Holland set up an installment plan to pay for it.

Both Schmidt, of Harrison Township, and Holland, of Clay Township, have amassed quite a collection of outboard motors and will be among many other outboard motor enthusiasts who will bring some of their antique motors to an all-day event at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle on Aug. 1. The museum will be open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

They’re not only bringing their motors, but they also have a wealth of information on the history of outboard motors, and they love to share that knowledge.

“This is the only time that it has happened,” Schmidt said of the museum hosting this event.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a real memorable experience,” he said. “The chance of it being duplicated (is) probably pretty slim.”

There will be motors dating back to the early 1900s and collectors with a wealth of knowledge regarding the many Michigan-made motors. 

The theme of the event is “Made in Michigan.” Schmidt said there were more than 30 manufacturers of outboard motors in Michigan at one point in the 1900s.

“Detroit is the birthplace of the outboard motor,” Schmidt said. “I don’t know why Detroit has never been recognized as the birthplace.”

Event organizers will have people coming in from families of famous manufacturers.

“We have people coming in that represent the Waterman family,” he said of one family that will be represented.

They’re inviting all outboard motor enthusiasts to participate, including those with motors built outside of the state.

The event will also include a swap-and-sell area.

There are collectors who will be there who have collections of hundreds of motors. Schmidt said that at one point he had about 300, but now his collection is down to about 200 motors.

He said he started his collection as a child because he built his own boat; that boat didn’t have a motor, so he worked to get one.

At one point, Holland had more than 800 motors, but he only has about 100 now.

“I know a guy who has over 2,000,” he said. “He’s got two big barns full.”

The organization they belong to — an organization of outboard motor enthusiasts — has members from all over the world.

“Just in Michigan alone, I think we’ve got about close to 250, maybe 300 members,” Holland said.

The event is open to the public.

For more information or to reserve a space for the meet, call Schmidt at (586) 463-4456 or email