A bit of the history of Eaton's and Eaton's Viking outboards...
2008 will mark 75 years since T. Eaton Company Limited first sold Eaton’s Viking outboards. The Eaton’s catalogue found itself in the homes of most Canadians as Eaton's was once Canada’s largest department store and catalogue retailer. Founded in 1869 in Toronto by Timothy Eaton, an Irish immigrant, The T. Eaton Co. Limited grew to become a retail and social institution in Canada, with stores across the country, buying offices across the globe.
The 1913 catalogue first hints at the availability of outboard motors from Eaton’s. Readers are invited to write for particulars and prices of “detachable motors for punts and skiffs.” The 1919 catalogue is the first to feature an “Outboard Motor.” The “well known as sturdy, dependable” Evinrude outboard motor was $135.
Click here to see the page from the 1919 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
It could be “easily attached to rowboat, canoe or dinghy” to “take all the hard work out of your fishing or camping trip.” A “One Cylinder, 2 cycle type; 2 H.P., high tension magneto and spark plug, reversible outboard” was available through to 1924 where it was first advertised as “The Evinrude Portable Motor.”
In 1925 Eaton’s switched suppliers, advertising the two cylinder “Famous Johnson Outboard Motor” for $160. This motor was adjustable to square or pointed stern, and weighed only 35 pounds. It was “a most dependable motor” that would “give indefinite service with a minimum of expense and trouble - no batteries to run down and no wiring to go wrong.” In 1926 you could also acquire the single cylinder 1 ½ horse power “New Johnson Fishermen’s Special” for only $155. In 1927 and 1928 for $275 you could also get the “Big Twin, 6 horse power.”
Click here to see the page from the 1927 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
In 1928 a small Johnson plant was established in Peterborough Canada. In 1928 the headline was “Get an outboard for summer enjoyment” and the ad contained the statement; “Before the advent of the outboard motor, a motor boat was the luxury of the few, to-day it is the proud possession of the many.” “The latest improved model” 2 ½ horse power and the “Big Twin” were the same price as in 1927.
In 1929 the B and C class “’Sea Horse’ The New Johnson Motor,” featured “the new release charger, an invention which supercharges one cylinder and releases all compression from the other” to facilitate starting. Further underwater exhaust eliminated “the usual staccato reports and gasoline fumes, leaving only the pleasant whir of a sweet-running motor.” “Rotary valves, circular disk crank arms and ball bearings in the pinion and propeller shaft,” gave “smoothness at high speed unheard of in outboard motors.” In 1930 you could write for a special folder with full descriptions of the Sea Horse “3,” B-class “10,” (that developed nearly 9 horsepower), and “other models.”
The Midsummer Sale catalogue of 1930 signaled another change in suppliers. Eaton’s offered the Muncie Twin for only $112 commenting that “for many years Outboard Motors have been a luxury.” They boasted that it “will easily and efficiently take you over the waters as fast as most of us care to ride in a boat and, at the same time, can be throttled down to as low as three miles an hour,” conspicuously omitting the motors actual specifications. In 1931 the Full Ball Bearing 4 H.P., was still $112 and the Muncie Master 16 H.P. sold for $195. “Monthly Payment Prices on above motors” was “given on request.” As the economy improved so did the selection available form the Muncie Gear Works. The Twin and Master appear at the same price in 1932 with the Muncie Junior-2 ¼ H.P. for $89.50, and the “Improved Muncie Twin rated 5-horsepower,” with a “full ball bearing high compression head with underwater exhaust” for $129.
Click here for an exerpt of the 1930 Eaton's Summer News
There was reluctance on the part of the newly formed Outboard Motor Corporation to supply the “mail order houses” in 1929; however by 1930 the depression was exacting a heavy toll on the outboard industry and OMC became willing to fill any order that brought in needed cash. OMC began supplying Montgomery-Ward stores in the U.S. in 1930 under the label Sea King. These contracts helped OMC make it through the depression without going into receivership, a fate that, in one form or another, befell every other outboard maker of that day. This opened the door for Eaton’s to drop the Muncie line in 1933 and begin to market OMC built motors under the label “Eaton’s Viking.”
Click here to see the page from the 1933 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
Page 202 of the 1933 Eaton’s Toronto Spring and Summer catalogue features a large illustration of an outboard motor with the headline “Dependable, Speedy, Easy-to- Start YOU WOULD PAY DOLLARS MORE FOR VIKING PERFORMANCE Under a Nationally Known Name.” While “the parts are interchangeable with a nationally known outboard motor,” with the exception of the unique model number and the Eaton’s Viking decal, the motor was indistinguishable from the 1932 Evinrude Fisherman. Evinrude was not named in the catalogue or the owners manual that came with the motor.
Early Eaton’s Viking Motors were essentially Evinrude and Elto motors, restyled on the surface so they did not resemble Evinrude-Elto motors any more than the competition. Evinrude-Elto salesmen in the US received numerous complaints from dealers and distributors about Evinrude’s connection to Montgomery Ward; this must surely have been the case in Canada as well. However when it became clear Evinrude-Elto was going to come through the depression and that these franchises still had some value the complaints subsided. Evinrude-Elto dealers in the US found that giving service to Ward owners was profitable, in fact it was reported that giving a Ward owner good service often resulted in selling them their next motor.
The original Viking 4 hp was available from 1933-1935. Eaton’s introduced an 8.5 hp model in 1936; carrying it and an improved 4hp model through to 1938.
Click here to see the page from the 1936 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
The decals not only identified these motors as Vikings but also as being sold by Eaton’s, sporting an old time Viking Sailing ship. According to Art Doling the most attractive decal was on the 1936-38 models. “Their background was a bright yellow with blue and silver waves on the bottom and a blue and silver sailing ship that seemed to come right out of the tank at you. On the back were the words Viking in blue and the words Eaton’s in silver, the sides had large heads of Viking warriors in yellow, blue and silver.”
Click here to see the page from the 1938 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
The only thing that was the least bit below normal in the private brand motors was the outside styling. Since especially in the early days, a rod or piston shaft didn’t know weather it was going into an Evinrude-Elto or an off brand motor, as the early off brands had the same dimensions, quality was pointed to the same high standard. In 1938 OMC shifted much of its private brand work to its Gale Products Division in Galesburg, Illinois.
In 1939 Eaton’s offered their first full line up of Vikings with the 1.8 hp (based on the Elto Ace), the 5 hp (a slightly larger version of the earlier 4 hp) and an 8.5 hp model. These motors were the first to look significantly different than their Evinrude-Elto cousins with their streamlined styling and distinctive kidney shaped tanks.
Click here to see the 1939 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
It seems all the pre-war Vikings were manufactured in the United States and imported into Canada. While production of outboard motors ceased in Canada in September of 1939, outboards were available from Eaton’s to at least the spring of 1941. The 1942 Spring and Summer Catalogue contained the following announcement:
“OUTBOARD MOTORS - In the interest of war production and the conservation of metals the manufacture of outboard motors has been discontinued in Canada. Their importation has also been prohibited, at the time of going to press, in the interest of the war economy. For these reasons outboard motors are not offered for sale in our present Spring and Summer Catalogue.”
The Johnson Plant in Peterbrough underwent several expansions in the post war era and produced all OMC motors sold in Canada and sold by Eaton’s until 1964. The Viking name continued on after WWII sharing catalogue space with the Evinrude line up from 1946 to 1964. Only a modest 5 hp were offered in 1946 and 1947.
Click here to see the page from the 1946 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
By 1948 a 1.5 and 3 hp were added, with the 12 hp introduced in 1949.
Click here to see the page from the 1948 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
Click here for a magazine ad featuring the 1950 Viking 5 hp.
Click here to see a pamphlet from 1951.
In the post WW2 era over one-third of all outboard motor sales were attributed to private brands. Eaton’s sold wooden boats manufactured by the Peterborough Canoe Company and later Aluminum boats manufactured by Thornes in Windsor Ontario and of course fiberglass boats.
Vikings were less pricy and lacked the power of the name brand motors. While a name brand 25 hp appeared in 1951, the 25 hp Viking was only introduced in 1956.
Click here to see a 1956 Eaton's pamphlet.
OMC did experiment at the Gale plant; the 1954 models came with fuel pumps and modern single line tanks which were not standard on the name brand motors until 1958. In 1956 the name brands began to put out 30 hp and in 1957, 35 hp . A 3,5,12 and 25 hp would be the standard offering until 1959 when a 35 hp Viking was introduced on the heels of the Four Fifty Evinrude of 1958.
Click here to see the pages from the 1958 Eaton's Toronto catalogue
Click here to see an advertizment featuring the 1959 Vikings
A 60 hp was introduced in 1960 and the 35 was upgraded to 40 hp in 1961.
Click here for an ad featuring the 1961 Viking Thunderbolt Sixty
Click here to the the page from the 1962 Eaton's catalogue
Click here to see an advertizement featuring the 1963 Vikings
In 1964, OMC closed the Gale Division and ceased supplying the private brand outlets. Eaton’s began to carry a full line-up of Chrysler built motors and boats in 1965 and sold those well into the following decades. The large inventories of OMC built Vikings were liquidated to make way for the new line. What follows is Allan Tucker’s first hand account of what happened in Winnipeg (and probably all around the country) in 1965 when Gale closed up shop. Allan’s Dad and Grandfather were vice-presidents and directors of the company over a span of about 20 years. His Grandfather, H.M. Tucker was in charge of the Western Mail Order from 1906 until the late 40s. Allan was working for the company at the time as a driver.
"As Eaton's got wind of the end of the Gale deal, they looked around for a new supplier. Mercury was the first choice but was a part of Brunswick so that was out. They needed a full line so Chrysler was chosen. There was a large parts inventory both in the East and in Winnipeg and when the Chrysler stock arrived they went to the dump. I was driving for the Winnipeg Cartage Department in those days and we brought 2 - 5 ton loads of warrantied and "waiting for parts" Vikings. More than a few were merely victims of the Store's too liberal "Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded" policy. Lodges would return batches of motors in the fall as not satisfactory after being used for a whole season and in two cases I have personal knowledge of, all monies including freight were refunded and these motors went to the dump. OMC refunded a set amount per motor for each motor officially destroyed. We bashed them with sledge hammers and took Polaroids for OMC. The goldmine however was the parts that filled about the equivalent of 2 dumpsters-the back alley size. That whole batch went to Main Outboard Centre in Winnipeg for $130.00 (yes, for the whole works!!!) and we took them over there for free. The parts seem to just have disappeared over the years as Main Outboard changed locales and owners many times. What a sad end to a great product."
According to Art Doling, a one of the founding members of the AOMCI Maple Leaf Chapter, the arrival of the Eaton’s catalogue was one of the highlights of the year when he was a kid as it afforded him the chance to see what was new in their line of fishing and hunting gear and particularly their boats and motors. The Eaton’s catalogue found itself in the homes of most Canadians as Eaton's was once Canada’s largest department store and catalogue retailer. For many Canadians of this era the Eaton’s Catalogue was the most important source of consumer goods, it must also be true that the Eaton’s catalogue was an important source of outboard motors and the boats that went with them. According to the catalogues everything from canoes to inboard launches and disappearing propeller boats could be delivered to the nearest railway station anywhere in Canada.
As Eaton's is no longer in buisness, and was out of the outboard buisness for several years, and used many manufactures over the years there did not seem to be any coherent list of model numbers available until the late Ed Townsend from Sudbury, Ontario came up with a set. (The guide that appears here is based upon this original list, the AOMCI database, and a number of original parts manuals.) On the early models, the model and serial number was on a brass frost plug on the head, or crankcase.
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Last updated August 14th, 2012