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W. J. McDuff Machine Company History   -   by Jeff Fay

William J. McDuff
Born 1870
Died - November 11, 1945 at the age of 75 of a rattlesnake bite and loss of blood and exposure in Fernandina, Florida.

W.J. McDuff purchased the block on Gold Street from Edwin L. Cram on August 3, 1902. He was 32 years old at this time.

On this block he founded and operated the McDuff Machine Company, a marine engine firm, in Lakeport.

The marine engine was a 2 cycle motor in 1 or 2 cylinders. Horse power ranged from 2-50. Make and Break. These motors were also used as stationary motors on farms and in ice houses to power winches and other machinery.

One of the smaller one cylinder engines model name is the "Bumble Bee" because of its black color and brass fittings.

Another development was the reversing propeller which could be controlled by the boat operator from inside the boat. You could change the rotation of the propeller without stopping the engine and starting it in the opposite direction.

The early McDuff engine firing (ignition) system was controlled by a make and break igniter built into the cylinder's combustion chamber (low tension), with an external battery and coil.

The later models used a distributor which was externally mounted - also known as the jump spark system with a high tension coil. With this system a motor would easily increase an extra 100 rpms which would raise an engine horsepower by one.

Johnson Boat Builder's made wooden launches next door to McDuff. Naturally these boats were powered with McDuff Motors. Many of these boats still have the brass intake screens attached to the hulls, although most have been repowered over the years. An example of an improved engine is one from the George N. Varney Company in Weirs, N.H. who took the Star Automotive 4 cylinder engine and converted it to marine power. This proved to be very popular and is still seen in the 1990's.

The main reason for repowering was unreliability and lack of power in the older McDuff engines.

Wilbur Fay worked for W.J. McDuff in 1918 as an apprentice when he was 14 years old.

Vinnie Callahan, a well known business man who operated Channel Marine, took an interest in McDuff Engines. Vinnie recalled seeing combinations of the one cylinder engines being connected to create up to a 4 cylinder engine.

The McDuff Building in Lakeport is now Lakeport Landings Corp. owned by Paul Blizzard and used fox: boat storage.

Glendale, N.H. has the last evidence of McDuff Marine Corporation in a series of boat houses, shops and storage facilities built by Henderson. Gus Francis, we believe operated a business using the McDuff name. The corporation built boats. A 19' lapstrake is still around. The hull number is 412 which was built in 1941, the second boat that year. It had a 4 cylinder Graymarine. This was a very popular engine then.

There is a picture of the dock showing a Texaco sign indicating gas pumps. Wilbur Fay wanted to purchase the property but was refused. Gus Francis committed suicide, reason unknown.

Goodhue Marine bought in Glendale and made many changes. But, before the fire on Halloween night, 1960 the name McDuff was still visible on the building.

The above research done by Jeff Fay of Gilford, N.H. who has an avid interest in marine engine history. We are indebted to him for his contribution and continuing efforts.

 

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