Evangeline – Henry Ford’s 1924 33′ Hacker Custom Runabout (Part 2.2)

Evangeline Portrait - Copyright Woody Boater.com

EVANGELINE on beautiful Lake Tahoe, August 2015 – Photo Texx

TODAY IN PART 2.2 OF OUR STORY ON THE HISTORY AND OUTSTANDING RESTORATION OF EVANGELINE – Brian Robinson reflects on her early racing days when the special order 1924 33′ Hacker was owned by Mr. Henry Ford. Then the final Liberty engine installation, water test and successful debut at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance last month. This just keeps getting better! – Texx

Henry Ford’s 1924 33’ Hacker – Part 2 (Chapter 2)
Story & Photos by Brian Robinson

Speaking of hardware, I need to flash back to 1926 for a moment…

Shortly after I wrote Part 1 of this story (in October 2014 Click Here), I came across one of several Ford employee “Reminisces” I had forgotten about on my research trip to The Henry Ford in Dearborn. This was a series of interviews taken in 1951 of friends and employees close to Henry Ford shortly after his death in 1947. One of these interviews of great interest to me was that of Mr. Al Esper, who was a Ford boat mechanic in 1925 and later a senior engineer for Ford Motor Co. In short, Esper recalled running EVANGELINE on the Rouge River in Detroit:

“As I remember, in 1926, [Ray] Dahlinger was driving the boat at the time of the bridge accident. This was after we stopped racing. There is a low bridge over there at Fort Street. Something started to happen—there was a malfunction of some kind with the engine. As I remember Jack Dewar got up to open the hatch on the engine compartment while they were running about 40 miles per hour.

The bow was up in the air because the engine power was on, and this man Dewar evidently forgot about the bridge. He was interested in getting at the engine, and crawled from the cockpit into the engine compartment as they went under the bridge, and he hit his head on the bridge. He was seriously injured. He seems to be in good shape now, but I believe he has a plate in his head.

That did not completely end the speedboats from that time forth; Dahlinger still drove Mr. Ford’s boat, EVANGELINE. I would go over to the boathouse a half-day each week to go over EVANGELINE, which was known as Mr. Henry Ford’s, or Ray Dahlinger’s boat. I would also go a half-day a week over to Edsel Ford’s boathouse to look over his boat, which at the time was the WOODFISH.”


A photo of the old Fort St. bridge on the Rouge River in Detroit.

This infamous bridge accident explained with great clarity why EVANGELINE appears in the September 1926 Harmsworth race photo with different hatches, an apparently work-in-progress forward windshield, and an added aft windshield.


(Photo courtesy The Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic Seaport)

To make a long story longer, the amazing 1926 Harmsworth photo is just part of a larger story of that September day in 1926. To paraphrase an excerpt from Speedboat Kings: 25 Years of International Speedboating by J. Lee Barrett (1939):

On the day when the race was scheduled to be run – Saturday, September 4 – the French boat arrived and was put into the water in Detroit. A little group of Americans stood by, watching-Chris Smith, Gar Wood, Henry Ford, Horace Dodge Jr., William E. Metzger, A. A. Schantz, Charles E. Sorensen, Sheldon Clark, Dr. James Inches, W. D. Edenburn, Otto Barthel. These men knew boats.


This September 1926 photo was taken at the Harmsworth Race on the Detroit River. In the foreground are Gar Wood’s Miss America’s III, IV, and V. On the right is the Excelsior-France challenger. On the left is the Evangeline, with Ray Dahlinger on the deck, Henry Ford behind the wheel in the light suit with his foot partially covering the name EVANGELINE on the side, and Evangeline Dahlinger over his right shoulder. Also in this photo far left is Horace Dodge, and standing center-right on the dock in white coveralls is Garfield Wood. The tall, narrow white-sided yacht in the background is Gar Wood’s 70-foot Gar Sr. Click on the photo to enlarge it. (Photo courtesy The Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic Seaport)

To them the Excelsior-France was similar to the American speedboats that Chris Smith had built fifteen years before. The water left the hull as it does in a displacement boat. The hull listed to one side as though it were out of balance. It was powered with two 16-cylinder Bugatti engines.

A few minutes before the race, T. A. Clark, pilot of the Excelsior-France, called Edenburn, chairman of the race committee.

“I’m afraid I can’t start,” he said. “All my air bottles are gone.”

“Air bottles?” said Edenburn. “What air bottles?”

“Why, to start my engines. I need compressed air to start my engines and all my bottles were used up in the trials, getting the boat ready.”

Edenburn said, “We’ll postpone the race one hour. Can you get ready in an hour if you get some help?”

Edenburn called Gar Wood on the phone right away, asking him if he could loan the Frenchman a tank of compressed air to get his engines started. Wood said he could.
That was against Harmsworth rules. But Wood waived the rules.

But after the hour postponement, no French boat was on the river. Edenburn called Wood again at Grayhaven. Over 250,000 spectators had crowded to the riverbanks and on countless boats to see the thundering hydroplane France had sent to America to lift the British International Trophy.

Edenburn sent the Committee speedboat [EVANGELINE] over to the French headquarters with instructions to tow the challenger at speed to get the propellers turning fast enough to start the engine. But even under tow the Excelsior-France refused to start.

The heat was canceled. The crowds went home. The French kept working on their boat, trying to get the engines to start.

They jumped into an automobile and scoured the city to find another air tank. They got one and brought it back. But the new tank wouldn’t work. The French coupling did not fit the American tank. Wood’s men went to work fashioning a new coupling but by the time it was finished there wasn’t enough pressure in the tank to transfer the air.

Finally, Wood’s men towed the Excelsior-France around the river until the engines finally started.

Clark desperately kept his engines going until Wood and the race officials got ready. Wood sent his three boats down the stretch (Miss America 3, 4 & 5) across the line with the gun. At that moment the Excelsior-France was roaring up the river-in the opposite direction. Clark swung his boat around finally and headed for the line. He went a half-mile, kangarooing all the way. Then suddenly, he stopped. His engines died.

Wood’s three boats raced on to complete the heat. The race was over-in one heat. Clark sat in the cockpit of his boat enraged at the pile of quiet machinery in his lap.

Before the race, when Wood’s men were working on the French boat, Orlin Johnson and Jay Smith measured her propeller pitch. It was fifty inches. Wood used a thirty-six inch pitch on his boats. Johnson turned to Jay Smith and said, “I don’t see how they can get any speed out of this boat with that much pitch. They can’t turn enough revolutions with that propeller.”

And so the 1926 Harmsworth race did not turn out to be much of a race at all. Though not originally intended to be a full-blown race boat, EVANGELINE did race in the 1929 Harmsworth Regatta in a new class: “The Dick Locke Handicap – Runabout Invitational” with Ray Dahlinger driving where it won against Gar Wood himself in a Liberty-powered 33’ Baby Gar, and the incredible 1,000 horsepower 40’ “Miss Dee-Wite” powered by twin-Liberty V-12s owned by Joseph Lodge, owner of Dee-Wite Lumber & Boat Co.

1929 Detroit Harmsworth results

1929 Detroit Harmsworth Race Results.


Preparing the correct engine hatches and vents for the 33-foot Hacker. Not your average hatches, these things are HUGE x 2. – Texx

By May of this year (2015) we had the engine in for the last time (the ninth time) and bolted down with all 28 square head lags. We were closing in on everything including the miles of wiring, plumbing the oil and fuel system, and were ready to fill up the beautiful copper riveted fuel tank with 120 gallons of 100LL aviation fuel and the matching oil tank along side the motor with 15 gallons of 50 weight AeroShell. The 6,000 lb girl was finally loaded on to her 39’ custom trailer.


The copper riveted matching oil tank in EVANGELINE.


Elsinore water test

After a few minor hiccups we started the Liberty in the boat for the first time on June 3rd. A few days later we were ready for a water test at our local lake, majestic Lake Elsinore. Everyone there was too enamored with the boat to notice we exceeded the lake’s length limit by seven feet, not to mention other laws we were probably breaking. The water test was amazingly successful, possibly the best we have ever had.


Tim Robinson (Brian’s father) guiding the big Liberty V-12 into EVANGELINE for the last time.


We officially finished the boat the morning of June 27th, about an hour before around 50 local friends and people that had assisted on different aspects of the project over the years joined us at our workshop see the finished product and hear it run.


Friends and family gathered at the Robinson Restoration workshop in Fallbrook, California to celebrate the completion of EVANGELINE.



The partners left to right: Linda & John Dullam, Karl & Cathy Elles, Linda Wright, Laura & Tim Robinson, Shelly & Brian Robinson.

EVANGELINE debuted to the masses a few weeks ago at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance where the featured Marque Class was conveniently “Vintage V-12s.” EVANGELINE was one of four original Liberty-powered boats lined up side-by-side, which was a real treat to see, especially when we had all four running on the Friday of the show (not to mention the other 14 incredible V-12 boats in attendance).

EVANGELINE HACKER - Copyright Woody Boater.com

EVANGELINE hanging out with her Vintage V-12 friends at Lake Tahoe in August. – Photo Texx

EVANGELINE took top honors: 1st Place in class, Marque Class Best of Show, and Overall Best of Show. On Sunday after the show we were able to run her at speed for really the first time. We did a fun photo/video shoot with Texx, Don Ayers, and Glenn Campbell with his incredible drone equipment from Rich Stout’s 38’ express cruiser. We hope to post some of that footage soon.


To experience the sight and sound of EVANGELINE and her V-12 Liberty early Sunday morning on Lake Tahoe was fantastic. – Texx


Shooting from the roof of Rich Stout’s 38’ express cruiser gave us the opportunity to snap some fun photos. Special thanks to Rich Stout for his assistance and patience – he was a perfect Captain. – Texx

As I write this, EVANGELINE is put away safely in the barn, awaiting the 2,000-mile journey to Gull Lake, Minnesota for the ACBS International Show this September 25-26. Though I can’t honestly say we are looking forward to the four-day tow, we are looking forward to seeing the area for the first time and expect to see some fantastic boats, boathouses, and good friends.

Thank you,

Brian Robinson
Robinson Restoration
Fallbrook, CA

Special thanks to Tim & Brian Robinson for sharing this great story with us here at Woody Boater – we appreciate everything you do for the hobby.

Back in June 2012, after the Lake Arrowhead Boat Show, I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with the late Dave Wright in his southern California boat shop. Dave patiently taught me about this amazing 1924 Hacker, John Hacker’s lightweight construction techniques, the Liberty engine and Dave’s vision for Henry Ford’s vintage wooden boat. It was a day I will never forget.

Tim & Brian turned Dave’s vision into reality with EVANGELINE. – Texx

Al Schinnerer photo

Circa 1983 when our friend and fellow Woody Boater Al and Jim Thorpe hauled EVANGELINE all the way from Lake Winnipesaukee, NH to Huntington Beach, California. She has come along way in the last 32 years. – Texx

Also, I would like to thank my friend Jim Arneson for helping me prepare the Lake Tahoe photos of EVANGELINE for our story today. Nice work Jim!

Stay tuned next week as we will be reporting live from the Woods and Water events in Minnesota.


29 replies
  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    I am speechless!

    All I can say is thank you Brian, Texx, Matt, Tim, and all others who have taken the time to share this wonderful story with us all.

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I am curious about the choice of 100 LL as a fuel. With the Liberty’s low compression and relatively low running temps being water cooled, I wouldn’t think you would need the anti-knock properties, and lead deposits might be a concern. If I remember correctly, despite the name “low lead” 100ll has something like 4x the lead that old regular gas had.

      • Brian Robinson
        Brian Robinson says:

        That’s basically it, Troy. You cannot buy ethanol free gas in California anymore at the pump, not even at marinas. The indefinite shelf life of avgas is nice. Lead content in 100LL is slightly less than old regular leaded gas, at least here in California. You may be thinking of 115 avgas where the lead content is much higher.

        • m-fine
          m-fine says:

          Well, if you don’t have any other non-ethanol choices, I guess 100ll is probably the best available. Ethanol could be real corrosive with all of the dissimilar metals in a Liberty.

          I may be mistaken on the level in regular leaded, but 100LL is low relative to the old 100/130 “green” avgass which had twice the lead, but high (4x) compared to the oldschool 80/87 “red” that most low compression pre-war aircraft engines preferred. The lead in 100 LL can be an issue in low compression engines now that 80/87 is not available and many airports don’t have non-ethanol auto fuel available either. If you end up running a lot of hours, it may be something to keep an eye on.

  3. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    Congratulations on an incredible achievement! The legacy of those who designed, built, owned and ran that boat through the years has been beautifully honored. The respectful, painstaking job you have done to bring “Evangeline” back is without compare. Thank you – to the entire team – for holding fast to the vision and putting that magnificent boat back on the water!

  4. Steve M
    Steve M says:

    Brian and Tim….Beautiful, as is all your work!!! Thanks for sharing and all you do for our hobby! Can’t wait to see what you top this one with?????

  5. Texx
    Texx says:

    We sure had fun that warm summer morning on Lake Tahoe with “Evangeline” and “Fin & Tonic”.

    Thanks again to Rich Stout (and his crew) for their help, and for letting us use his 38’ express cruiser for the shoot.

  6. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    It is interesting to me that the 1929 Harmsworth results credit Ray Dahlinger as the owner of Evangeline.
    I suppose it would be a big slap in the face to have a document like that showing you as the owner of a boat named after your mistress.

  7. Wylie
    Wylie says:

    Quite the restoration story. What a fine piece of history. The relationship between Henry and the Dahlinger’s is another fascinating story. Henry boated between his house and Evangeline’s on the Rouge River. If he used this boat she definitely knew when he was arriving. Thank you Brian and Texx.

  8. Ron - Seattle
    Ron - Seattle says:

    Brian, Tim, Texx-
    Great story! Was fascinated with Tim’s talk about her at Curt Erickson’s ACBS-PNW Garage Tour. Been looking forward to this story for a while. Gee, even got a comment from Rob!
    He and I will see you and her next week, WooHoo!

  9. Cobourg Kid
    Cobourg Kid says:

    A truly amazing tale of how two artisans redirected the dream of a fallen friend and craftsman, ultimately bringing his dream and now there’s to life.

    Thanks Brian and Tim for having the resolve ( some would call it guts) to not only complete the Hacker project but also for your unwavering quest to crack the secret history of EVANGELINE and with it uncover a rare snippet of Henry Ford’s unfiltered life.

    It’s also remarkable that you were able to put all that research to work assuring that Hacker’s cutting edge work was recreated just as he and Henry had envisioned.

    Brian and Tim sincere congratulations on your Opus… Dave would surely be proud.

  10. Paul
    Paul says:

    There’s some interesting ‘back stories’ to the Dahlinger family, Mr. Ford and his one time Chief Engineer, Edward Gray, without getting into the ‘affair theories’ between Evangeline and Henry Ford. The woman Evangeline’s maiden name was ‘Cote’- her brother, John Lafayette Cote, married Edward Gray’s daughter, Mildred. Gray was good friends with Gar Wood- in fact Wood’s Detroit mansion was on Gray’s ‘Grayhaven’. Just an aside to those days of classic wooden boats. My grandfather worked for Gar Wood after Gar’s racing days- 1937 to 1945 and looking into the past of some of those folks turned up all sorts of crazy little things. John Lafayette and Mildred Cote’s daughter then married Warren Packard III- and in those circles it just goes ’round and round’- none of this was what I was looking for, I just wanted to find out more about Edward Gray.
    Gray enjoyed boating himself from his ‘Grayhaven’ location (and hosted parties watching Gar’s boats race in the Detroit River from concrete barges he built)- that’s his yacht, the Mildred G. III named for his daughter c. 1915.

  11. Paul
    Paul says:

    Oh, and forgot to mention grandpa worked for Edward Gray from his ‘Oil City’ days in 1906 to his ‘post Ford days’- 1919 (Gray was Ford’s Chief Engineer from 1909 to 1914) before returning to Pennsylvania. In 1937 Gray had grandpa come to Detroit and interview with Gar Wood as well- he worked for Gar until grandpa died in 1945 (Gray died in 1939).
    The Benson Ford Oral Histories have some pretty interesting stories. Hugh Dolan, who worked in the power plant area at Highland Park, tells an amazing story of boating with Edward Gray. Imagine your first day on the job and your new boss invites you to go boating with him the next day- of course you don’t say no so off you go. What an adventure! You can read the full story of his trip on the Mildred II, Gray’s boat before getting the Mildred G. III- he first tells how he got the job then gives us a little insight into Mr. Gray- https://prentz2.wordpress.com/about/hugh-dolan-recounts-an-adventure-with-edward-gray/

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