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Trouble with my Johnson

Ranger Rich



Once again the Rocky Mountains are alive with the magic of spring, another promise of renewal carried by the warming breezes. But I am sad. My Johnson doesn't work.

It was never much to look at. But my Johnson always seemed to get the job done. Then, last fall, it became unreliable. I never knew if it would work.

Like most guys, I thought I could fix the problem myself. I spent many Saturdays tinkering with my Johnson out in the driveway, even giving it a solid whack with a hammer now and then. It would roar to life for a few seconds and then, well, nothing.

As you'd imagine, messing around with your Johnson in the driveway doesn't exactly get you any good-neighbor awards. So, after much fussing and being unwilling to spend the rest of my life with an erratic Johnson, I decided to haul it into a certified outboard motor repair shop.

My Johnson outboard has been good to me. I don't want to brag, but the 40-horsepower, four-stroke workhorse has seen some pretty spectacular sights. But in the past few years, my Johnson began losing its get-up-and-go. Especially the get-up.

By September, things had worsened. It sputtered and had no zip. Finally, on a beautiful autumn day on Elevenmile Reservoir some 50 miles up U.S. Highway 24, my Johnson died on me.

A younger guy with a newer and more powerful Johnson towed me back to the boat ramp. We didn't talk much.

A few weeks later, my fishing buddies snickered when I told them what was going on. But I could tell by the way they avoided eye contact that they weren't thrilled with the performances of their own Johnsons.

Back home late that night, my wife sensed my depression. "It's your Johnson, isn't it?" she asked. I told her that in the hands of a knowledgeable person, my Johnson might still have a few good years left in it.

She said she hoped so.

This might sound odd to those who don't fish, but guys get very attached to their Johnsons. I took great care of mine, even covering it each winter. The last thing you want are mice nibbling on your Johnson.

Anyway, fishing season was over by October, and I tried not to think about it. Winter passed. But with the coming of another spring, my thoughts turned to my Johnson and how it had seen better days.

So Monday I hitched up the boat and motor and hauled the rig to the repair shop. The lot was crowded. I wasn't the only guy with a bum Johnson.

"My Johnson was very reliable," said an older guy named Bob.

"My Johnson had always been worry-free," chimed Dennis.

Then Roger, a guy in his 40s perhaps, spoke. "My Johnson," he said quietly, "starts OK. But then it makes loud grinding noises and dies. I can't restart it no matter how many times I pull on it."

The rest of us grimaced.

Soon a repairman came out, taking names and offering general tips.

"They can be temperamental," he said. "But take care of 'em, and a Johnson will last a lifetime."

Bob, Dennis, Roger and I perked up when we heard that.

In about 10 minutes, the repairman got to me.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"Well," I said, fidgeting, "right now my Johnson doesn't work at all. For a while it acted strange. Cold mornings were the worst. Last September, my Johnson even backfired."

His eyebrows shot up. "How old is your Johnson?" he asked.

"Got it new in '79," I said. "Looked around for some used ones, but back then not many guys were willing to give up their Johnsons."

He said not much has changed over the years in that regard.

Moments later he walked outside with me, pushing an outboard motor dolly. We unhooked my engine from the boat and together hoisted it onto the dolly. He let out a grunt. My Johnson is pretty darn heavy.

Then he wheeled it toward his shop. I fought back a tear, afraid the other guys would see me, and I waved goodbye to my Johnson. I hope I get it back.


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