Gale Warnings

Obsolete Outboards
by Max Wawrzyniak

Gale Warnings

It has been said that a “little knowledge” is a dangerous thing.

Many are aware that, in addition to Johnson and Evinrude, there used to be a third division of OMC that manufactured outboard motors. This was the Gale division, so-named because it was located in Galesburg, IIllinois. After World War II, the Gale division was involved in wholesaling outboard motors to department store chains and tire store chains. These outboards would be labeled with the name of the selling store, but other than differing paint and decals and some trim items, the Gale outboards were mechanically identical.

Starting about 1950, Gale also began to offer outboards for sale under it’s own brand, initially called Buccaneer and later just labeled Gale. The Buccaneers and Gales were offered through sporting goods stores and hardware stores that did not sell enough outboards to qualify for a dealership of the “flagship’ Johnson and Evinrude brands, and certainly did not have the volume to have outboards specially labeled with the stores’ names.

All in all, the outboard motors built by the Gale division were well-designed and often had features that the “flagship’ brand versions did not. The “little knowledge” part of the first line of this column concerns the assumptions by many people that the Gales were merely re-labled Johnsons and Evinrudes, and that most parts are interchangeble. Although some of the Gales were very similar to the J’s and E’s, none were mechanically identical, and some were completely different. Careful selection of a Gale model is warranted.

Back in the 1940’s, the senior management of OMC felt it best to have the divisions competing with each other. There were no “shared’ engines, and if one went to buy a 5 hp OMC outboard motor in 1949, one had 3 very different engines one could choose from; the 5 hp Johnson 2-cylinder model “TD-20:” The 4 cylinder (yes, 4 cylinder!) Evinrude 5.4 hp “Zephyr;” and the 5 hp Gale-built 2 cylinder outboard most commonly seen as a Montgomery Wards “Sea King,” but also available with other stores’ names on it., such as Goodyear” Sea Bee”, Federated “Saber,” Gamble “Hiawatha” Speigel “Brooklure”, and more. There were no common parts between these 5 hp outboards built by the three divsions.

The move to standardize outboard models among the divisions began in 1950 with the 25 hp model and as the next few years passed more models were standardized, so that by about 1955, Johnsons and Evinrudes differed only in cosmetic details.

The Gale line, however, shared a few parts on a few models with the flagship brands, but continued to build some outboards that were unique models. Gale also continued to offer a much more diversified line of outboards than the flagship brands, offering ‘standard” and “deluxe’ versions of most models.

In the late ‘40s, the usual difference between standard and deluxe was the presence of a recoil starter on the deluxe versions, whereas the standard outboards had a open sheave one wrapped a rope around. As the recoil starter was the weakest part of most of these ‘40s engines, one often sees engines missing their recoil starters and being started by using the “emergency rope sheave” that nearly all of them were equipped with. Since a collector wants an “original”-condition motor, he will place a low value on one that is missing the recoil starter that it came from the factory with, creating an opportunity for the “cheap power” buyer who has no such concerns about “completeness,’ and is only looking for the cheapest engine. And who does not mind wrapping a rope around the flywheel sheave in order to start it.

Missing control knobs and other minor parts, and bad paint and decals are all items that severely hurt the value of an outboard with the collector, but which have little bearing on the cheap-power seeker, who is primarily concerned with the mechanical condition of the engine, and with spending the least amount of money.

By the mid-‘50s, the difference between standard and deluxe often meant that the cheap motor had a powerhead - mounted gasoline tank while the deluxe version used a remote tank. It is odd that while nearly all of the J’s and E’s of the mid-‘50s used remote tanks, they used pressurized remote tanks whereas the deluxe Gales used more modern fuel pumps (see Obsolete Outboards column # 2)

Another difference was that the deluxe Gales usually offered better sound-proofing and often had rubber engine mounts. These sound-and vibration dampening features were standard on the flagship engines.

Finally, the Gale engine models usually were a few horsepower less than comparable J and E engines; for example, when J and E offered a 15 hp model, the Gales offered a 12; When J and E increased the horsepower of that model to 18, the Gales moved up to 15 hp.

Now on to discussions of specific models. Generally speaking, the Gale engines easiest to work on and to find parts for are those models that are the most similar to the flagship engines.

The smallest post-war Gales were little 1 ½ hp engines, made from about 1948 until 1950. These little guys are lightweight and give a good “shove” for their size. The only new mechanical parts available are rubber water pump rotors sold by an aftermarket supplier. I have a couple of these 1 ½’s and have used one on a Michalak-designed AF3 sailing sharpie and also on a 14 ft aluminum boat. There were no comparable flagship-brand models, and to my knowledge none of the little 1 ½’s were fitted with recoil starters.

The next size Gale was a 3 hp that was available in (2) versions; the late ‘40s version consisted of a single-cylinder powerhead mounted atop the same “leg’ as used for the 2-cylinder 5 hp engine. Later on in the early 50’s, the 3 hp powerhead was adapted to the smaller “leg” that had been used on the discontinued 1 ½ hp engine. The reproduction water pump ring for the 1 ½ hp should also fit the later 3 hp engines that use the 1 ½ hp leg; the earlier 3 hp versions use the water pump ring for the early Gale 5 hp, and there is no current production for this ring that I am aware of, although this 5hp ring, part number 550040, was still available through OMC before their bankruptcy a few years ago. It may be worth checking with a J or E dealer.

The Gale 5 hp models displayed the most models and the most diversity. there were (2) different powerheads and (4) different lower units used, and most models are various combinations of those parts

The 1940’s powerhead I refer to as a "wedge" block, because if one looks down on the powerhead, the cylinder area is slightly wedge-shaped. This powerhead was first mated to a lower unit with no gearshift nor 180-degree steering for reverse. a later-40s change allowed the motor to rotate 180 degrees for reverse, but still no gearshift. Both of these lower units use the water pump ring discussed above.

In the early 50s the lower unit was again modified, this time to provide a neutral clutch in addition to the 180-degree reverse. This version of the Gale 5 used a water pump impeller different from the previously-mentioned engines, and different than about any of the J and E engines. At about the same time that this model appeared, the Johnson 5 hp model TN was also fitted with a neutral clutch and 180 degree steering, and these two models may use the same impeller - I have yet to verify that bit of info.

It is important to note that no new parts are available for any of the Gale 5’s mentioned so far, with the exception that the latest, neutral-clutch version did use the same ignition components as the contemporary J’s and E’s, and replacement parts for these ignition systems are still available.

The next version of the 5 had the full-gearshift lower unit of the flagship 5 ½’s, mated to the old wedgeblock powerhead. The waterpump impeller used was the same as for the flagship engines, as were the ignition components.

The next version had the full-gearshift lower unit mated to an entirely new powerhead similar to that used on the flagship 5 ½’s, but not the same - for example the flagship engines had removable cylinder heads while the new Gale powerhead did not. This latest version, however, has the most interchangeable parts with the flagship Engines. Water pump impellers, ignition components, carb rebuild kits, and the like will all interchange, even if major castings will not.

All of the Gale 5’s mentioned so far utilized powerhead-mounted fuel tanks. a further variation of this latest version offered a remote tank serviced with a fuel pump.

If all of that was not confusing enough, the Gale 12’s went through a simliar multi-year metamorphosis resulting in a least (4) different versions.

Here are some rules of thumb; any Gale featuring a full forward-neutral-reverse gearshift is going to be the closest model to the flagship engines, meaning the most new replacmeent parts will be available. Any Gale with no gearshift is the farthest from the Flagship engines, and those Gales with a neutral clutch are in the middle. And finally, the later the model year, the more interchangebility there was, as the uniquely Gale models were phased-out.

So, should one avoid these "orphan" Gales? Not necessarely, but I would avoid spending much money for one. I once bought a pickup-truck load (6, I think) of early Gale 5’s for 5 bucks each, planning on getting 3 or 4 of them running and using the rest for parts. I got one running and then tired of the project and eventually got rid of the rest. A “parts” engine will be your usual source of parts for one of these but at the going price for an early 5 hp Gale, that is not an expensive way to go

I also happen to like the little 1 ½’s, owning 2 of them. They are about the smallest of the post-war OMC’s, and with reproduction water pump rotors available, they are not too hard to keep running.

The later 3’s (which utilize the 1 ½ hp leg and hence can use the reproduction water pump rings) are a bit lighter than the Johnson and Evinrude 3’s (with which they have nothing in common) and I think they push a little harder due to the “weedless” lower unit with which the vast majority of flagship 3’s are fitted. The single-cylinder Gale does make a little more noise and vibration than the 2-cylinder, 3-hp flagship engines.

If one desires a gearshift, then those models are available, but keep in mind that home-boat builders are not the only crowd out there looking for “cheap power.” Anglers are as well, and often anglers will drive-up the prices for engines with “convenience” features such as gearshifts, but usually they go after the flagship engines and won’t look twice at a Sea King or Buccaneer or Brooklure or Sea Bee or Saber or Viking that are virtual duplicates of the big-name engine.

Which is a good reason for the cheap power seeker to learn a little about these Gale engines. Knowing something the average angler does not may get you a bargain.

A little knowledge may save you a little money.

The last of the Gale outboards were the 1963 models, but that was not the end of the Gale division of OMC, which went on to become involved with the then-new OMC sterndrive unit.

For further information on Gale outboards and the labels they were sold under, I would suggest buying a copy of Peter Hunn’s “The Old Outboard Book,” which also has extensive model number and model year charts for virtually all outboards manufactured prior to 1970, along with a value guide for old outboards. In my opinion, the value guide is not without it’s faults, but it is the only one
available for older outboards.

Thanks to small-craft-designer Jim Michalak for the use of photos of (2) of his smooth-running Gale outboards.




(click to enlarge)