Evangeline – Henry Ford’s 1924 33′ Hacker Custom Runabout (Part 2.1)
THE STORY OF “EVANGELINE” – HER HISTORY AND REMARKABLE RESTORATION is now complete (for now). Here at Woody Boater we are privileged to be the news organization to share this story with our viewers, thanks to our friends Tim & Brian Robinson – the father and son restoration team from Robinson Restoration in Fallbrook, California.
“EVANGELINE” made her long awaited debut last month at the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance and she left quite an impression – winning the coveted Overall Best of Show Award. On Saturday she begins her 2,000 mile journey from southern California to Gull Lake, Minnesota for the 2015 ACBS International Boat Show, where she is sure to attract more attention. To see this magnificent wooden boat in person is very special. Here is Part 2.1 of our two-part story, with Part 2.2 to follow on Friday. – Texx
Henry Ford’s 1924 33’ Hacker – Part 2.1
Story & Photos by Brian Robinson
It has been nearly 11 months since Matt and Texx posted Part 1 of the EVANGELINE story here on Woody Boater, please refer to Part 1 (If you missed Part 1 of the Evangeline story you find that by Clicking Here). I apologize for the delay. EVANGELINE is finished now, so here is the rest of the story: 2008 to today.
Following the discovery meeting between Dave Wright, Karl and Dave Elles, and myself, a dialog ensued over what was next for the boat. Initially, the Elles brothers wanted to simply have Dave Wright and I complete the restoration including rebuilding the correct Liberty engine they had since found, but this was right after the economy tanked in 2008 and that option was not in the cards for them.
Dave Wright began exploring some different partnership options (he was determined to do the project… after the restoration of APACHE II – his 1922 29-foot Hacker Gentleman’s Race Boat also powered by a Liberty V-12 – he was convinced that this was the only boat over-the-top enough to better it). By 2011, we had an agreeable partnership between four parties all owning a stake in the boat: Dave Wright, the Elles brothers, a mutual friend John Dullam, and myself.
Dave Wright and I picked up the hull, unrestored engine and most of the parts and pieces in July 2011, and brought it to his Fallbrook, California workshop. Though the hull was essentially finished, minus completed rigging and engine, there was much work to be done in light of the original photographs and general contemporary restoration standards having changed in the 22 years since it was last worked on. This meant all of the deck planking had to be removed and replaced because of incorrect hardware holes and larger than original hatch openings (more on that later). The interior was not correct, some of the rigging and wiring incompatible, etc. etc.
Fortunately, the double-planked, flush-copper-riveted Honduras topsides were beautiful, having been restored in the traditional manner of 3/16” full-thickness diagonally laid inner planks, then a layer of canvas between, then the outer layer of 5/16 planks – a combination of advanced (for 1924) lightweight yet strong topside construction. The original bottom was intact in terrific condition, but Dave wanted to roll it over, remove the existing coatings and evaluate it for himself and repair accordingly.
It is the best built factory bottom we had ever seen, with the unique matrix of frames, battens, and over 10,000 copper rivets. Its general condition after nearly 90 years is a testament to its construction and obvious disregard to expense. All of the original side frames and most of the original deck frames are still intact as well. Unlike a couple other famous Ford family boats that met a fiery demise (the “Nine Ninety Nine” and “Typhoon”), this is the only original Ford-owned runabout known to survive.
The Liberty V-12 engine was Dave Wright’s other priority. It was 100% complete and it was a Ford-built version of the venerable Liberty design – with a Capitol marine conversion as the boat was delivered with new, including the early style model K transmission. The Liberty was completely torn down, the machine work was sent out and Dave rebuilt it as he had done before – this was his fourth Liberty project. He had great respect and admiration for these motors. A few weeks after Dave got it running but not yet dialed in, he passed away from a stroke while with his wife Linda and my mother and father on the way home from an ACBS event in Long Beach. This was February 2013 – he was 73.
Obviously, our world was shaken. Dave was my father’s best friend and like a second father to me. The boat was put on hold while we helped Linda square away Dave’s boats and stuff. Like many of us, he was a bit of a hoarder of boat parts. When Dave passed away there were 23 boats and over 20 engines on his 30-acre ranch. Some were customers but most were his; not to mention the miscellaneous parts to sift through. My dad and I were the only ones who had any idea what all was there or where it was. We spent six months of bittersweet weekends organizing and selling it all off for Linda so she could move into a more manageable property.
It was Dave’s plan to work full time on the boat from January 2013 through July 2013 and have it completed for the Tahoe Concours that August. Unfortunately, that schedule was cut way short. The bottom and engine, which had been spread out over the course of 2012 while he completed customer’s boats, was all he was able to complete on EVANGELINE. Dave Wright had insisted on a clause in the partnership contract that if anything were to happen to him, my father and I would assume the project. I thought nothing of this at the time I signed. We moved the boat across town to our shop in June of 2013.
My father Tim, and I knew that neither of us had the know-how to work the bugs out of the Liberty, so we took it to our friend John Allen in San Jose to put some time on the motor. He adjusted the cam and ignition timing, tried to get Dave’s custom $5000 electronic distributers to work properly (we ended up going back to an original points ignition), and set the valves with new valve springs. The twin updraft Zenith carburetors were sent to Dominic Spediacci in Idaho to be rebuilt.
The engine now starts and runs like a top and is something to behold with a 1,650 cubic inch, dual ignition, dual distributor, overhead cam, exposed valve train V-12 behemoth. Some basic specs: 5” x 7” bore/stroke, 5:1 compression ratio, 450 horsepower @ 1850rpm, 1,250 pound-feet of torque, weight with reverse gear is 1,350 pounds. The original propeller was 20” x 36”.
The Liberty L-12 V-12 was originally a World War I aircraft engine used in many bi-planes. Under war contract, the Liberty design was produced by Packard, Cadillac, Marmon, Buick, Lincoln, and Ford.
In September 2013, my father and I resumed where Dave Wright had left off. The back half of the deck planks had been removed, the hatch openings reframed, and Dave and I had started mocking up the windshield. A custom wood windshield to match a photograph was not something Dave, my father, or I had ever had to tackle before. It took my father and I two weeks to get it right.
We next proceeded with replacing the deck planking. You will note there are no caulked deck seams. The 5” deck planks are all edge-joined tight. We noticed in the factory photo that the king plank was a shade lighter wood than the adjacent strakes, so we were mindful of that when we selected the lumber. We fortunately had been hoarding some beautiful old growth Honduras mahogany boards up to 21’ long and 20” wide.
The front covering boards required 18” wide stock. Thirty-three feet is a long way to sand! Many coats of Epifanes followed. The boat was three feet longer than our varnish booth so we had to build a temporary booth for the final coat requiring a very, very large piece of 6-mil plastic. The much commented about bottom color is “Marblehead Green”, a product that Hacker was a long-time promoter of. The color is spot-on authentic.
The original instrument board was unstained, varnished black walnut. This seemed simple enough, but finding a clear piece of 13” wide 4/4 black walnut required several people on the lookout. Scott Dorrer in New Jersey made the beautiful finger-jointed custom 19” diameter black walnut steering wheel for us. Vince Bober in New Hampshire crafted the throttle and ignition hub and ‘guts’, using original aluminum levers.
This boat uses its original ingenious and complex steering box with a universal jointed steering shaft into a rudder gearbox… Mark Mason is convinced it was a Ford engineer’s handiwork. The two original Elgin Watch Co. Van Sicklen chronometric aircraft tachometers were not only challenging to locate and purchase, but also finding someone qualified to work on them was exceedingly difficult. The forward dash gauges are rounded out by the original fuel ‘sounding’ gauge, original Liberty switch (an ammeter combined with on/off switches for each distributor), the water temp and oil pressure gauges are WWI Army/Navy Air Corps units per original and the original brass Chas. E. Miller clock.
The aft cockpit is a pretty neat place to sit – fortunately the original aft bulkhead was intact and could be documented against the 1924 factory photo. It has a complete set of gauges (fuel pressure, oil pressure, and oil temperature) and glass window to see the engine, including a trouble light to round out the ‘mechanic’s seat’. The exposed 4” copper exhaust pipes could be checked by hand for operating temperature, and of course a Pyrene fire extinguisher is close at hand. Another interesting thing about the original bulkheads we kept is the factory use of plywood as the inner layer in 1924. Hacker and Nevins among others were experimenting with its use for bulkheads and other parts this early on. I had them lab tested to verify their age and poplar species.
The upholstery, specifically the leather, took a great deal of research. The original build specs for the later sister 33’ hull referenced the “Ford job” on several occasions, one being the interior which clarified several items. The leather upholstery in this boat was referred to as “Mustang Blue material”.
Now stop for a moment and think to yourself what happens when you simply Google “Mustang Blue Leather”? Not very helpful! After many dead ends, and hoping it wasn’t actual horse hide, a 200-year-old leather tannery in England returned my call and said “mustang” was a common term around the turn of the 20th century referring to a distressing process used on ‘pull-up’ leather. Pull-up leather changes colors when you ‘pull-up’ with your thumb through the material and stretch it.
After sourcing samples of literally every blue leather available in North America and the UK, and considering having a custom run made, I found exactly what I was looking for and quickly ordered 12 hides. One of the hides was 86 square feet… it must have been one huge cow! It allowed us to cover the 9-foot long ceiling boards out of one piece. The unique wrap-around channel backs and four individual bucket seats are an interior arrangement I have not seen in another boat before. No detail was overlooked, from the lap robe cords on each seat back, to the original tied coil springs and copper tacks.
The missing hardware fabrication fell into the hands of several friends. We had about one-third of the original hardware. The major obstacles dealt to our neighbor and dear friend Jan Plischke were the one-off bow light, side lights, flush hatch handles, and 20 aluminum louvers (among numerous other small items).
His foundry and machine shop in his unassuming garage coupled with his incredible skillset were priceless on this entire project – from the scratch made wood patterns to the finished product. My good friend Mark Mason helped with having some of the larger patterns like the exhaust rings and the aft louvers cast at a foundry local to him in New Hampshire. All of the hardware is either nickel-plated brass or polished aluminum per original. Nothing was chrome plated.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2.2 of the EVANGELINE story, as we learn more from Brian Robinson about the racing history of Henry Ford’s 33-foot Hacker – against non-other than Gar Wood at the 1929 Harmsworth Regatta in a new class: “The Dick Locke Handicap – Runabout Invitational.” As well as the final Liberty engine installation, water test and debut at Lake Tahoe in August 2015.
Incredible craftmanship, then and now. Wow
Brian the 11 month wait for part 2.1 has been well worth it.
Your attention to every little detail is amazing.
I will be up early tomorrow waiting to read part 2.2.
Great story about a truely extraordinary and amazing boat. How great that it has now been preserved for it’s tremendous historical value. I never realized that the Liberty engine compression ratio was so low (5.1). It’s amazing what you can do with that much displacement. Thanks for this amazing early morning read!
Compression ratios had to be low because the fuel available at the time the liberty was designed (1917) was more combustible (very low octane rating). Anti-knock additives like Tetraethyllead (TEL or leaded gas) and better refining techniques were not developed until the 1920’s.
Amazing craft!! I really enjoyed this segment of the restoration. I would love to see it in person.
Right now, Dave Wright and Henry Ford are up in heaven trying to find Free WIFI to see the restoration. Yes in heaven it’s free, but spotty. They wont allow Verizon or AT&T up there! It’s some sort of Vatican WIFI thing. This is the story of the year and look forward to drooling on her on Gull Lake. If they allow me even that close… Which they shouldn’t by the way.
I thinking Matt will need an official Woody Boater chamois cloth bib to catch the drool.
Amazing work! You can tell a lot of passion and skill went into that restoration.
Really beautiful work and amazing story. Everything about it over the top. You could do full stories on ever aspect of this boat, original construction, racing history, the motor, the list goes on.
By the way, where can I read more about Dick Locke? I am fairly new to this and his name has come up a couple of times in the last few days. I tried google, but there are millions of them.
Thanks for sharing, I look forward to tomorrows post!
I was talking to Mark Clawson the other day and he spent 20 minutes going on and on…and on, about how cool those gauges are. How he wished he had done them, and how only a few folks on the planet could do those. He even has a video of one working and winding down. Who shoots videos of gauges working? I guess folks obsessed with gauges like Mark! HA. Your right Steve, each detail could be a story.
I recall talking to Brian and Tim about this very early on, before work had started. I thought it an amazing project and could think of no one better to restore the boat. A difficult project was made that much more challenging and bittersweet with the loss of Dave, but kudos to all for taking up the work and completing her.
I can’t wait to see the boat next week – she’ll compare well with the best of the best which already reside up there in the collections of Lee Anderson and others.
A little side note to Brian’s story. At 1500 rpm the boat is traveling 38 mph. It just occurred to me that Brian may cover this in tomorrow’s segment (sorry Bri.). We may get up the nerve to open her up at Gull Lake. I think she will run 50 mph at 1800 rpm.
Great story, thanks for all the work to make it happen.
Can’t wait to see AND hear it next week!!!!
Great background and detail Brian. Looking forward to seeing her again at Gull Lake.
Amazing stuff,, and I thought my project was difficult…
I look forward to drooling on her next week in Gull Lake.
I keep coming back to the fact that Evangeline has a “mechanic’s cockpit”.
Not real encouraging that you have to take a mechanic with you all the time.
Was this the intent of all aft cockpits in triples?
Tim R. Are there any videos of this engine running, or can someone video this engine starting and running for a couple min. Would be a real nice addition to this story
The video of the Liberty running is tomorrow in Part 2.2.
Kudos to all of you for bringing back to life a great boat in history. Evangeline is just “Amazing Beauty”
Thanks for sharing
It was fun to rework those carbs! I love anything with a challenge-or a Liberty engine. They’re my obsession, and are a joy to work on. Great article, thanks for the mention 😉
Was this boat ever refinished in Port Carlng Ontario Canada in the late 1980’s ?