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Lucky Craigslist find

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3 weeks ago I was killing time looking at boat parts on Craigslist.  Found a listing for a 1988 Johnson 15 hp motor.  Picture looked decent.  Listing said he was able to pull start it the previous week, but last time working on it, the motor appeared to be locked up.  It was listed at $200 or best offer.

I really don't know why, but I replied to the ad asking for more information.  He got the motor on trade for some work done on a kitchen remodel.  Previous owner had it worked on by a local marina.  They ran it once after getting the work done and it died on them while on the water.  Supposedly, they waited a few minutes and it started up fine.  They got home, took the motor inside and left it in a hall closet for a year until this person asked about it and they offered it to him.  He repeated about the motor turned over previously but would not start, then found it locked up and did not have time to work on it.  I asked what he was looking for a price and he still was asking $200.  I told him I would have to look at it first because it could easily just be a paper weight!  Told him I would be by the next day,

Loaded up a bucket of tools and headed over to look at the motor.  Outside appearance was much better than I expected.  Lower unit had some stains on it, but overall it looked good!  Removed the cowling and powerhead was very clean...now I am surprised.1  Grab the flywheel and try to twist it.  Nothing, nada, it ain't budging!  A little odd as if there was a mechanical issue, there is still normally some crankshaft movement.  Try shift lever and lower unit goes into forward, neutral and reverse fine.  I ask him again what kind of price is he looking for and tell him without opening up the motor, I could be buying scrap metal.  He says make an offer. 

I told him I would haul it away if he paid me $10 to take it to the dump.  For some reason he did not see the humor in that one!  I then said $50 and he countered that someone told him he would give him $100 sight unseen.  I said $70 cash as I am here now and he agreed.  He was even nice enough to help  me load it in the truck!

Get the motor home and set up on the stand.  Pulled the head and immediately saw the problem; top cylinder had water in it and the piston ring had rusted to the cylinder wall.  I did luck out in that piston was at the top of the stroke, so the whole cylinder wall was not corroded.  Tilted the motor up so the piston was level, then soaked it with PB Powerblaster.  Tried a breaker bar on the flywheel nut after 15 minutes and it would not budge.  Sprayed some more PB on it, put a block of wood on the piston that almost went completely across it and tapped it to set up some vibrations then let it soak overnight.  A thought started to cross my mind I may have made a bad purchase.

Checked on it the next day and the PB was still pooled on top of the piston.  Uh-oh...was hoping it had soaked in.  Put the breaker bar on and tried rocking it; still no movement.  Did some more tapping on the piston to see if that would help dislodge it...no dice.  Yup...beginning to think I got taken.  Go inside and did some research on good penetrating fluids and how to unstick a locked up outboard.  Some of the internet suggestions and Youtube videos on how to free up a stuck piston had me wondering if these people were wanna-be mechanics based on some of the things they were doing. 

Finally found a machinist forum when looking for penetrating fluid suggestions and a number of different individuals recommended a 50% automatic transmission fluid 50% acetone mix.  The acetone I guess thins the AFT so it can flow better.  Pour on and let it sit.  One guy was adamant that it may take a day or it may take a week for it to soak in.  I was reluctant to try heating the piston with a torch, so I opted for the take it slow approach.  

After 24 hours, tried the breaker bar and no movement.  Fluid level was down some, but figured that could be due to evaporation of acetone.  Tapped the piston some more with the block of wood and a small mallet, added a little more ATF/acetone and left it alone.

Next day my brother stops by and I take him to garage to show him my so called "find".  By now I am a little frustrated, so put the breaker bar back on and hit the end of the bar with a 5 lb mallet.  After a few whacks, the bar is in a slightly different position....IT MOVED!!!  Started rocking it back and forth slowly by hand (no more mallet) and eventually got it to go to the bottom of the cylinder.  Amazingly, the cylinder wall was not in bad shape below where the ring was frozen, but above that point was obvious corrosion.  I got a piece of 600 grit paper and some 30 weight oil and sanded/polished as much of the crud as possible.  The end result was fairly good, but I still had my doubts.  Figured at this point get it running with as little money put into it as possible, then sell it as a project motor.  Someone would be interested in this size motor as the used prices are downright stupid right now; anywhere from $350 to $1000.

Cleaned the water passages the best I could around the cylinders (lots of salt residue), wiped down the cylinders, cleaned the head of carbon deposits and re-assembled.  Squirted lots of gas/2cycle oil into the spark plug holes and pulled the starter cord to blow out any residue, then tackled the carb.  This picture with the carb off is how it looked under the cowling!

powerhead_no carb.jpg

Prepped my work area for the carb teardown.


Opened it up, taking lots of pictures.  Laid the parts out in order so I would remember how to put them back together.  Inside of carb looked good; gas did smell funny, though.  Ended up going through a can of carb cleaner, spraying it in every opening then blowing out with compressed air.  Was very careful with the tear down so I could re-use the gaskets.  The only part that ended up needing replacing was the cam lever follower that syncs the carb butterfly with the timing plate when the throttle is advanced ($25).

Re-installed the carb, shot a little starter fluid in the throat, pulled the starter and it fired up!  Granted, it was on starter fluid, but at this point I was looking for any positive results.  

Stopped by our local marina the next day and picked up the cam follower and installed it.  Threw together a fuel line stuck into a 1 gallon gas can with 2 stroke oil, hooked up a water hose and cranked it a few times.  After about 10 pulls where it just turned over a few times on starter fluid, it finally caught and started running on real gas!  Smoked like an old Detroit 2 stroke diesel, but it was running!

Water from the pee hole was questionable, so shut it down after a few minutes.  Figured it was a good time to pull the head and check for any water leaks into the cylinders.  That checked out good.  Rotated the flywheel so I could check the cylinder walls on #1 cylinder and they were darn good looking!  You could barely feel anything when running a finger nail over the area.  Put that back together and time to check out the lower unit and water pump.

Removed lower unit and clamped in vice for a good over-view.

lower unit.jpg

First thing was to remove the top oil drain.  A little bit of oil seeped out and it looked brand new; no discoloration.  Screwed it back in then removed bottom drain screw.  No water seeped out and that oil looked good!  Screwed that back in and proceeded to the water pump.  It looked like it never had been flushed with fresh water...kinda the same look I found in the water passages on the block.

water pump.jpg

I was pleasantly surprised to see the shaft had a coat of grease on it, though.  Pulled the water pump apart and the impeller looked to be in very good condition.  Cleaned up the crud, greased the wear plate, re-assembled the water pump, and put some grease on the splines at the top of the drive shaft.  Also pulled the prop and found that shaft also had been recently greased....somebody was doing some maintenance!  Re-attached the lower unit and called it a night.

Next day was going to be the big test! Rolled it back outside and ran it on the water hose for 30 minutes at various throttle settings.  Motor did smoke a lot, but I am running Penzoil semi-synthetic and it does seem to smoke a lot.  But, that one cylinder was still in the back of my mind that it could be blow-by.  Also noted that the engine block never got above 80 degrees making me think the thermostat is stuck open and the cool block temp was contributing to the smoke. 

Before I got a new thermostat, thought it would be a good idea to see if blowby was an issue.  Hooked up a compression gauge to top cylinder and got 130 psi.  Sounds good but how does this compare to the good cylinder?  Hooked up to that one and it blew 130 too!  Alright, things are looking much better now!

Pick up a new thermostat and choke grommet for $55 to finish out the parts list.  Now I have $80 total in parts and $70 for the motor for $150 total.  Install these and spent an hour compounding and waxing the outside so it looks like this now!


So now I am thinking I can make a quick hustle for a decent little motor.  Call dad to stop by and see what I have been messing with for that last few nights.  He takes a look at it and says "I guess I need to find me one of them now."  Dammit....so much for flippin' this one!

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  • 5 weeks later...

Talk about a voice from the past....glad to hear from ya again.

This damn thing has gone in a totally different direction the last few weeks.  Now I am looking for a 12 or 14 ft john boat to put this on.  People are asking almost new prices for 20 year old aluminum boats!  We shall see what comes of it or I just go ahead list it and move on to something else.

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Yeah, haven't looked here much since selling the 1820 to help with kids tuition.

I know what you mean on the jon boat prices, have looked for a wider beam version for local large mouth fishing. No such luck at those prices, they can keep'em. Ended getting an old Ouachita 12' jon(max 5hp rated) with a 36" beam, free from my Dad's old neighbor. Tippy is an understatement, need to add some lateral stability. Thinking of some sort of foam floatation on the sides, just above the water surface when underway, yet stable at rest.

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I hear ya on the tuition.  Thankfully that is behind me now (finished up a year ago), but still have a little balance to finish paying off where mom and dad had to "subsidize" a little more than expected.

Make it a point to check back frequently...I may need to bounce some ideas off ya regarding these metal boats.  The bad thing about this is it got me thinking it would be nice to have a second "small" boat for running into shallow water down at the beach.  Plus it did not help when my brother got a deal on a 14 ft john boat with a 25 Yamaha.  He says the metal boat goes out 5 times more than his Scout center console.  He lives down in Hampstead, NC, just north of Wilmington on the Intercoastal Waterway.  He said some of the advantages of running in skinny water with the boat is that it is easy to push off sandbars or mud banks.

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Yep, finishing up, my daughter just graduated and my son in the spring. Both went to VA(Radford & VA Tech).

Will do. If I was buying one it would have at least a 48" beam for lateral stability. Definitely a decent back bay boat, ideal for crabbing. Take a look at SeaArk for a quality built jon, pricey though.

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  • 1 month later...

I too have been looking into a tin can. Right before COVID hit I got the great idea to look for a zodiac that we could take with us when we are out with the travel trailer. Found a actual 1985; zodiac with a 1988 Merc 9.9 that a retired yacht delivery Captain had . He took it on deliveries Incase the worst happened and was in a travel  bag. The motor had maybe 200 hours on it and that was when they used it when he was on vacation. Handed him $500 and left with it. Had to put a carb kit in it and runs great. The boat I put in a internal sealer and holds air for 2 weeks without loosing hardly any. So put some wheels on the transom to roll it to the water and fixed up the rest of it. It was great at the house BUT CHERYL and I took it to a park to use it . It was a pain in the ass getting it out of the Durango blowing it up with all the floor put in .then carrying the motor and hanging it on( not to mention smelling gas in the suv). Wheels worked ok until I had to fold them down in the water to pull it out. Tearing it down repacking it’s up and loading it.  Too damn old for all that anymore . So I’m going to sell the zodiac and we can just get a tin can with a trailer to put the 9.9 on. The price of the boat is  outrageous and then they want another $600. For the used trailer and most are steel. So I guess there all high priced everywhere.

And the worst part is almost all of them listed don’t have titles for the boat or the trailer and in Fl. That don’t fly at the tag office and if you say it’s homemade they just look at you and say yea right. No titles NO  REGISTRATION . You can bring it there for them to look at it but they can see it a manufactured boat and trailer . So I will continue to cruse daily through Facebook Marketplace hopping to find one. 

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Happy New Year!

Tell me about the no title on boats!  I have found a number of 12 and 14 ft boats that all had no titles.  Virginia has a little more lenient process that involved contacting the last registered owner, but in a perfect world, it slows the process down by 45-60 days.  The people on MarketPlace that do have a title for their 30 year old beer can realize that piece of paper has value and add at least $500 to the price over one without a title.  And like you said...trailers are another rabbit hole I am trying to not go down the "no title" fiasco.  So now the motor is sitting upstairs in the shop while I keep cruising the Craigslist and MarketPlace ads.

But, like I need another boat to work on.  This past summer, I told a friend at the beach that my son had been toying around with the idea of getting a Hobie cat.  He told me he had two more Hobies at his house in addition to the one he drags to the beach and we needed to come look at them.  He promised the price would be very reasonable.  First of September, stopped by his place and he had a Hobie 14 and 17.  The 14 was in very good shape; the 17 needed the decks re-worked due to stress cracks and the trailer had a bent axle.  Ended up with the 14 for a ridiculous low price.  I then told him drop the 17 off at the house over the winter and I would take care of the glass work.

Just before Thanksgiving, I get a text asking if I was ready to start working on the 17.  I told him bring it down and I will take care of it.  Well, the next text was "if you are interested, I will give you the boat and trailer as I don't have the time to play with two boats."  He then delivers the boat to my house two days later.  Now I have two Hobies behind the shop, the Robalo on the driveway, and here I am looking for another boat.  I am beginning to question if more severe brain damage occurred 2 years ago that has caused me to loose common sense.

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Well get a little creative make a cat John boat out of the 17 and put the motor on it. It would be damn stable for sure.

Yea I guess we are both gluttons for punishment , I have to fight with the old farts complaining about me working and building stuff in my carport. Like I told them woodworking is my hobby I’m making things for my house . Lol glad your feeling better, you went through the ringer for sure. Happy New Year!

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