Just Yesterday: Gale force

'These old beauties are often overlooked'

In 1937, 25 employees of the Johnson outboard division of Outboard Motors Corp. moved to Galesburg, Illinois, to assemble refrigerators and air-conditioning units. Two years later, Gale Products was formed to manufacture engine components and, eventually, small single-cylinder outboards: at first 1.5- and 3-hp models, then a 2-cylinder, 5-hp engine.

Image placeholder title

By 1946, Gale was a leader in outboard sales, outpacing its better-known sister brands Evinrude and Johnson. For a year, Gale was the largest-selling outboard in the world, with more than 100,000 engines sold.

Gale was different from most outboard manufacturers. Its success largely came from selling private-label outboards to chain stores such as Montgomery Ward and Spiegel. Private-label brands included Sea King (Montgomery Ward), Brooklure (Spiegel) and Sea Bee (Goodyear).

Gale outboards shared few of the mechanics of Evinrude and Johnson models, but they kept up with the latest innovations. By the 1950s, the higher-end Gale outboards had fuel pumps rather than remote, pressurized gas tanks, shock-absorbing rubber engine mounts and superior soundproofing. Forward-neutral-reverse shifting replaced 180-degree steering systems.

Gales were priced lower than Evinrudes and Johnsons, and they tended to have fewer horses than the flagship engines. Gale produced a 12-hp outboard to compete with the others’ 15-hp model, for example.

OMC eventually sold engines under the Gale nameplate, such as the Buccaneer shown here, and the lineup increased in size. The last outboards were built for the 1963 boating season, as OMC turned its focus to Johnson and Evinrude.

Collectors and other outboard enthusiasts now seek out Gale engines. “These old beauties are often overlooked,” one fan says. “Those of us in the know can’t get enough of them.”

— Steve Knauth

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.