Iron Fist pulls no punches

When setting out to write “an interesting book about an amazing man,” Jeffrey L. Rodengen had no idea the journey would last six years and result in a piece of cult literature that garnered him a few close friends and more than a few enemies.

His book Iron Fist is a no-holds-barred biography of Mercury Marine founder E. Carl Kiekhaefer that, when published in 1991, sent shockwaves through the local community and the worldwide marine industry.

The 600-page tome is painstakingly detailed and researched through 300 personal interviews and reviews of more than one million documents.

“Everyone I met had an apocryphal story about Carl,” Rodengen said, “stories that were as exaggerated and larger than life as the man himself. And the deeper I dug, I learned that every story was true, and I felt the need to document all of it.”

An historian and author of more than150 business books, including The Legend of Mercury Marine, Rodengen was “astonished” when he arrived in Fond du Lac, Wis., for a book signing to see 1,000 people lined up around the block.

The book was not warmly received by all, as it laid bare decades-old secrets. Revealed in its pages are “affairs of the heart” among a few company employees and the 30-year old conspiracy among Kiekhaefer’s two top engineers — Charlie Strang and Jim Wynne — to develop the stearndrive and bring it to market independently when Kiekhaefer rejected the idea. “Wynne was shocked that I discovered and documented it so well. His friends never forgave me,” Rodengen said.

Rodengen became very close with the Kiekhaefer family and, though he never met the man, admits crying when he wrote about Carl Kiekhaefer’s death. He also can claim an historic marine industry moment of his own. When Rodengen’s twins were born in 1993, both Charlie Strang — who became chairman of Outboard Marine Corporation — and Fred Kiekhaefer, Carl’s son and president of Mercury High-Performance, stood as godfathers to the children.

“To my knowledge, it is the only joint venture OMC and Mercury ever had,” he said.

Peg McIntyre, Master Mechanic

In Mercury Marine’s 75th Anniversary year, the sight of a female mechanic doesn’t raise an eyebrow. That wasn’t the case in 1966.

Clair and Peg McIntyre were the husband and wife owners of Big Flats (NY) Marine when she accompanied him on a trip to Milwaukee, Wis., for a two-week service school. Rather than play tourist, Peg decided to sit in on classes in hopes of learning something about outboards. She was surprised when the instructor put her in front of a 3hp engine and told her to take it apart, and was more surprised when he told her to put it back together. But she handled the assignment.

The McIntyre’s were the entire staff of their dealership, so they would split the service work — he handled sterndrives, she fixed outboards. The pair regularly attended Mercury service school in East Brunswick, N.J., and in 1976 Peg became the first female Mercury Marine Master Mechanic, and likely the first in the marine industry.

Edgar Rose (Mercury years: 1953-1962)

Edgar Rose and Charlie Strang shared a passion for engineering and boat racing when they met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1947. As colleagues, they built legendary careers at Mercury Marine, OMC and the American Power Boat Association.

Rose led outboard research, design and styling as Mercury’s director of engineering, creating the Mark 20-H; converting a “pleasure” engine to a race outboard with tuned exhaust that generated 26hp – exceeding competitors by 3hp – a major feat in 1959.

Rose enjoyed his high-pressure work at Mercury, but he and his wife were “big city people,” and he took a job outside Manhattan at Curtis- Wright, working on projects as varied as torpedoes and the Wankel pistonless rotary engine.

Today, at 88, Rose serves as trustee of the APBA Historical Society and chief inspector at the annual National Outboard Performance Class championships. In 2013 he was presented the Charles Strang Award for Superior Service to APBA.