EVANGELINE – Henry Ford’s 1924 33′ Hacker (Part 1)

Henry Ford 1924 33' Hacker

Henry Ford’s 1924 33′ Hacker powered by a 1,650 cu.in. Ford-built Capitol Liberty V-12 engine – (Circa 1924 – source Mariners’ Museum)

American industrialist Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, developed and manufactured the first automobile that many middle class Americans could afford. In doing so, Ford converted the automobile from an expensive curiosity into a practical conveyance that would profoundly impact the landscape of the twentieth century. His introduction of the Model T automobile revolutionized transportation and American industry. From 1908 to 1927 the Ford Motor Company produced more than 15 million copies of the Model T.

Ford entered the aviation business during World War I, building Liberty engines. After the war, Ford returned to auto manufacturing until 1925, when Ford acquired the Stout Metal Airplane Company. Ford’s most successful aircraft was the Ford 4AT Trimotor, often called the “Tin Goose” because of its corrugated metal construction. The Trimotor first flew on June 11, 1926, and was the first successful U.S. passenger airliner, accommodating about 12 passengers in a rather uncomfortable fashion. By the late 1920’s the Ford Aircraft Division was reputedly the “largest manufacturer of commercial airplanes in the world.”


The Ford Trimotor (also called the “Tri-Motor”) was an American three-engined transport aircraft that was first produced in 1925 by the companies of Henry Ford and continued to be produced until June, 1933. Throughout its time in production, a total of 199 Ford Trimotors were produced, with only 18 in existence as of 2012. (Oshkosh, Wisconsin 2014 – photo Texx)

Henry Ford’s many accomplishments during the 1920’s are heavily documented, however his involvement with wooden speedboats is not that well known – until now. While he was busy building cars and aircraft, Henry Ford decided to order a custom made 1924 33′ Hacker from legendary designer / builder John Hacker. Today, Henry Ford’s wooden speedboat has a remarkable history, and she is now being brought back to life by Tim & Brian Robinson at Robinson Restoration in California.

Here’s Part 1 of the “EVANGELINE” story – Texx

Coming Soon!
EVANGELINE – Part 1: A Little Background
by Brian Robinson

First off, this story comes about two years late to my good friend Texx, to whom I showed this boat underway with the restoration while he was in Southern California in June of 2012. At that time we started to discuss doing something for Woody Boater.

This is not about just any old boat. Its early ownership and history is truly fascinating, so I will break it up into a couple parts. As I write this, the restoration is about 2/3rds completed, which will hopefully be finished in time to debut at the 2015 Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, then on to the ACBS International show in Gull Lake, Minnesota.


Photo courtesy Rosenfeld Collection – Mystic Seaport

Although I recall hearing about the “33-foot Hacker in Garden Grove” when my family got heavily involved in the wooden boat hobby in the early 1990s, neither my father Tim nor I, ever actually saw it in person. It wasn’t until 2008, when my good friend Dave Wright invited me to come along with him to take a look at the boat with brothers, Dave and Karl Elles who owned it. Dave Wright had got to know the Elles brothers over the years of rebuilding Liberty V-12s because the brothers had accumulated literally tons of Liberty parts to have as spares for their own engines.

Dave and the Elles brothers had started talking about finally finishing the boat project they started twenty years prior. I am a Hacker enthusiast and had restored a few of them so I brought along a binder full of original photos and documents I had accumulated. The boat was stored in the upstairs mezzanine of their caster factory in Garden Grove, California. Within moments of seeing the aft deck and transom uncovered, I was having déjà vu… “I’ve seen this before,” I exclaimed, “but where?”

After Dave Wright and I combed over the boat for an hour, I went to the car, grabbed my Hacker binder, and headed back inside. As I thumbed through my binder, I pulled out a Xerox of a photo I copied on a whim while at the Mariners’ Museum a few years prior (there were a handful of photos in the John L. Hacker Collection that I kept copies of simply as ‘boat porn.’ This was back when you could walk up to the copier yourself at the museum and copy anything you could get your hands on for a nickel.) Anyway, as the four of us sat around that table staring at the photograph, that was the ‘ah ha’ moment for this boat.

The Elles brothers had long speculated that they had “the Ford boat” as we call it, but never knew exactly what it looked like originally. They had copies of the letters written from John Hacker to Phillip Schaeffer of Buffalo, NY in December of 1924 for the purpose of Hacker trying to sell Schaeffer the second 33-foot runabout hull, often referencing the first 33-footer custom built for Henry Ford and powered by a Liberty V-12, which had been delivered earlier that spring. John Hacker referred to “the Ford job” as “the prettiest boat ever turned out.” (The second 33’ Hacker with a more conservative standard Dolphin deck was successfully sold to Mr. Schaeffer upon completion with a smaller Hall-Scott LM-6 engine in 1925. It still exists and is now in the collection of Lee Anderson in Nisswa, Minnesota known as “Rebel”.)

In the Hacker correspondence letters, the Ford boat was referenced as being used as a “dispatch boat” for the Ford’s 224-foot steam yacht, the Sialia. Henry Ford was quoted by John Hacker in these letters as commenting “It is a wonderful sea boat.” Hacker went on to say: “We might also state that this boat has more flare forward than any boat we have built up to this time in as much as Mr. Ford insisted in this, and that it has an exceptional tumble-home aft. It is really the most beautiful boat we have ever turned out.”

With the Liberty power it was clocked at 49 mph in 1924 – faster than many race boats of its day. It was also believed to have been used as a chase boat for a short time for the Ford fleet of Sweepstakes race boats which it shares many of its design cues with – the Nine Ninety Nine, Goldfish, Woodfish, and Grayhound Jr – all of which were also Hacker designed and built, no doubt with a great deal of Edsel Ford’s design influence. It was Edsel who was heavily into boat racing, but after the Nine Ninety Nine caught fire and nearly killed the two drivers (including Raymond Dahlinger… more on him later) during the August 1924 Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River, the Fords pulled out of boat racing completely.

999 & Evangeline Rouge River - Collections of The Henry Ford

The Nine Ninety Nine being tested in front of the Ford Rouge River plant in 1924 with the Evangeline partially under cover off to the left. (Image courtesy The Henry Ford)

Following the Fords disastrous 1924 Gold Cup race, Henry decided to gift his custom 33’ Hacker runabout to his long-time mistress, Evangeline Coté Dahlinger, wife of Henry’s chauffer, first-rate mechanic, and racing driver, Raymond Dahlinger. It was a marriage that Henry himself arranged. Henry even reportedly proposed to Evangeline for Ray.

Lavish gifts to Evangeline over their 35-year affair included (but not limited to) a 150-acre Dearborn parcel with a 38-room mansion and boathouse on the Rouge River with secret passageways to her personal bedroom, a vacation home on Lake Huron, and a Curtiss Seagull flying boat (Evangeline was the first female to carry a pilots license in the state of Michigan.) Evangeline Dahlinger was hired by Ford in 1910 as a stenographer when she was just 17. She quickly rose to become Henry Ford’s personal secretary and handled personal correspondence for Clara Ford, Henry’s wife. Ford family historian David Lewis considered Evangeline Dahlinger to be one of the ten most influential persons to the Fords.

Evangeline & Henry

Photo of Henry and Evangeline



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)

In this 1926 Harmsworth Race photo, miraculously found by my friend Mark Mason, it is interesting to note that the then two-year-old boat already had a few modifications from the 1924 factory photo. A sleek aluminum aft windshield was added, the engine hatch opening was enlarged and butterflied, and the hatches were sheathed in aluminum. Also, it appears that a new forward windshield design was under construction. This was all likely done in-house at Ford Motor Co. where a lot of experimental aluminum fabrication was being done at the time.

Following the Harmsworth Race in 1926, the Dahlingers kept the boat for several years. It was sold and wound up in upstate New York by the early 1950s where it was named Hedonist. By the mid-1950s, a Long Island, New York boat broker named Benton Minton had it. From there it sold in 1960 to famed Lake Winnipesaukee collector George Johnson. Still unrestored, our pal Al Schinnerer bought it and brought it out to Southern California in 1982.

Thankfully, like many historically important boats, the flush-copper-riveted hull survived the decades in remarkable condition, without serious modification or accidents. In 1987, when Al and his son Brett parted ways in the restoration business, it was purchased by the Elles brothers under a restoration contract with Brett. The project was never finished, however, and when the former Liberty engine started making unpleasant sounds on the test stand, the brothers decided they had poured enough money into the boat, and it was literally shelved in 1989. And that brings us up to 2008…

1987 - Copy

Photo circa 1987 and in need of some TLC.

That is all I will get into for now, but I will leave you with a couple photos of Evangeline as she sits today with a few coats of build varnish and the rub rail on for a test fit. I will cover more details of the preservation-restoration, the research, the current ownership, and of course the 1,650ci Ford-built Capitol Liberty V-12 engine in a future installment.

Evangeline - 1

Evangeline - 2

Evangeline - 3

Evangeline - 4

Test fitting EVANGELINE with her new 1,650 cu.in. Ford-built Capitol Liberty V-12 engine.

Brian Robinson
Robinson Restoration
Fallbrook, California

Stay tuned to Woody Boater for Part 2 of the EVANGELINE story, as Henry Ford’s 90 year old Hacker gets closer to her historic re-launch in 2015.

Story Update: You can Click Here to see Part 2.1 and Click Here to see Part 2.2 of the amazing Evangeline story.

Special thanks to the Rosenfeld Collection – Mystic Seaport for providing the historic photo from the 1926 Harmsworth Race on the Detroit River.


38 replies
      • Alex
        Alex says:

        Gorgeous Boat. Beautiful work Brian!

        And hey, thanks to KW’s comment, I’m having a late 70’s flashback moment.

        Remember the Flying Lizards? Their cover of Barrett Srong’s “Money”?

        Sing it with me…

        “The best things in life are free
        But you can give them to the birds and bees
        I want money
        That’s what I want. That’s what I want. That’s what I want.

        Your love gives me such a thrill
        But your love won’t pay my bills
        I want money
        That’s what I want. That’s what I want. That’s what I want.

        Money don’t get everything it’s true
        What it don’t get, I can’t use
        I want money
        That’s what I want. That’s what I want. That’s what I want.

        I want money
        In fact I want so much money, give me your money
        Just give me money”


        And I’m not even getting to Pink Floyd’s “Money.”

        Wow. Mark the day. This could be the first mention of The Flying Lizards on WB.

        • Kentucky Wonder
          Kentucky Wonder says:

          Those lyrics remind me of a couple of tunes: “The Big Money,” by Rush; and Dianne Reeves’ cover of Loads of Love:

          I never have been handed much
          I never have demanded much
          I just want money, a nice position and loads of lovely love
          I never have expected much
          I never have rejected much
          I want my dinner, some smart conversation and loads of lovely love
          Some people go for quantity
          Others go for quality
          I’ve got the answer now it’s not how much but how
          I do not ask for bliss I guess it all boils down to this I guess
          I just want money and then more money and loads of lovely love
          I just want money, a nice position and loads of lovely love
          I want my dinner, some smart conversation and loads of lovely love
          I just want money and then more money and loads of lovely love
          Some people go for quantity
          Others go for quality
          I’ve got the answer now it’s not how much but how
          I do not ask for bliss I guess it all boils down to this I guess
          I just want money and then more money and loads of lovely love
          Loads of lovely love…
          I want my dinner, some smart conversation, a nice position will do
          But I want loads and loads and loads of lovely love

      • Troy in ANE
        Troy in ANE says:

        If the marriage was arranged by Ford I would think there was a good chance that Raymond was not getting any action anyway. Sounds more like a business deal than a marriage.

  1. Troy in ANE
    Troy in ANE says:

    Brian: What a piece of history!

    It is soooooo cool to have the old pictures you have found and are able to identify the players.

    Can’t wait for the next installment. Will be up early tomorrow just waiting to read it.

    Thanks Texx and Matt for bringing us such great content. (and easy math questions)

    • matt
      matt says:

      Hi Mike, back in the day photography was done for poor reproduction. So the images especialy BW were in a higher contrast fashion. Also this photographer is one of the worlds top marine photographers. I imagine the camera was HUGE.. The header shot today is amazing for historic reasons but also as a very well done piece of art! No iphone crap for sure.

    • Cobourg Kid
      Cobourg Kid says:

      Even though they practiced their art in a low tech world Morris Rosenfeld and his Sons were true magicians when it came to manipulating light and shadow in a maritime setting. The photographic techniques they used were definitely far ahead of their time . Thankfully their amazing body of maritime images (such as the one featured in today’s header) has been preserved at the Mystic Seaport Museum. To find out more check out https://www.woodyboater.com/classic-boat-art/an-eye-for-wood-and-waves-the-improbable-tale-of-mystics-rosenfeld-collection/

  2. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great story, why do I get this feeling that she might be just a smidge out of my price range? The Liberty engine alone costs what? I know it’s crass to talk money so sorry. Killer boat!

  3. Wilson
    Wilson says:

    If you have to ask, you can’t afford it….

    Great story Brian…You and your dad are a blessing to the antique boat community.

    Was in a conversation just last night about ACBS new policy on judging fiberglass boats and we agreed there will always be a place for the old woodies.

    • Rick
      Rick says:

      The big question is whether I want many little toys or 1 big one. Right now I kind of like the buffet with a sampling but in the future who knows. Evangeline could be a future main entree.

  4. Wicked Wahine
    Wicked Wahine says:

    I have seen this Hacker during it’s restoration. Kudos to Tim and Brian for preserving another piece of history

  5. Rabbit
    Rabbit says:

    That photo is stunning. And Matt is absolutely correct: We’re not used to seeing photos from the 20’s which such clarity because they weren’t reproduced that way. But the information was in the film. A photo taken with a massive view camera of that era is impossible to match with a modern digital camera. Ansel Adams is proof of that. If you really want to see something stunning, look at this collection of vintage black and white photos that have been artfully colorized. I’m usually not one for colorizing, but here it makes you look at the images in a completely different way. Imagine colorizing that shot above like these. It would feel like you’re there. Today. Here’s the link:http://news.distractify.com/jake-heppner/52-colorized-historical-photos-that-give-us-a-new-look-at-the-past/?v=1&img=3c7d17

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      The original 1924 Rosenfeld Collection photo from Mystic Seaport is spectacular in so many ways. A while back, we sent the photo to our friend Dane Anderson who used some software to slightly enhance the image quality in its digital form. Thanks Dane.

  6. TommyHolm
    TommyHolm says:

    Great story, wonderful header picture, certainly puts one “right there”.
    Matt, where’s the photo credit on that picture? I,d think it would be most appropriate.

  7. TommyHolm
    TommyHolm says:

    And another thing, wonder what everyone in the historic photo is waiting for? For Matt to show up with the ’26 Harmswoody T-Shirts?

  8. ron
    ron says:

    Thanks Brian, after talking hearing your Dad talk about this boat at our ACBS- PNW “Garage Tour” at Curt’s, I have been waiting! Well done!

  9. Denis D
    Denis D says:

    Fascinating story, love the history of it. Can’t wait to see the finished boat at home in the water.

    Tommy, the photo is credited to the rosenfeld collection. Rosenfeld & Sons were prolific photographers out of New York City from the late 1800s to the early 1990s. Their collection is owned by Mystic Seaport and copies of their photos are available from their website.

    Denis D

  10. brian t
    brian t says:

    I love how these old boats seem to always be in a state of constant “adjustments”. For example, in the header shot, the craft has a windscreen for both the front and rear cockpits, yet in the 1924 photo of the stern, there is clearly no rear windscreen. And those by the way, look to have a heavy influence from Ford’s airplanes as well. Would be interesting to hear the design story of those bits….

  11. Brian Robinson
    Brian Robinson says:

    Thanks to all for the comments,

    Coburg Kid even found some racing history where EVANGELINE entered the Dick Locke Runabout Invitational at the 1929 Detroit Harmsworth Regatta under Dahlinger ownership that I did not know about. It raced (and won) against Gar Wood’s own 33′ Liberty-powered Baby Gar, and the 40′ twin-Liberty-powered MISS DEE WITE torpedo hull. It keeps getting better!

  12. Mike A.
    Mike A. says:

    Wow, that is an awesome story! The difference between the 1987 photo to what it looks like today is amazing! Great job with that! They always say that stories behind something classic will make it that much more desirable. Good luck at Lake Tahoe next Year!

  13. Frank Lane
    Frank Lane says:

    I have been a fine art collector for decades, this is a treasure. I have never seen such rich historical significance embodied in any work of art such as Evangeline. I want this one of a kind piece of Americana. Let me know if it ever goes to auction.

    I have always loved pinnacle speed in elite race horses, boats, and cars. I can’t wait to see Evangeline’s stunning beauty reflected on the water, and hear her 12 cylinders pant.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks for chiming in today Frank. We are very excited about the Evangeline project and looking forward to the planned re-launch which is scheduled for summer 2015.

      We are also planning to run another story as she gets closer to being completed, and will keep you in mind.


  14. Frank Lane
    Frank Lane says:

    I was just at the Newport Beach Woody Boat Show and saw some spectacular woody boats, and was asking about Evangeline. I was told by some old salts that this gem of Americana doesn’t exist? That it went to the grave with Howard Hughes. Why the secrecy?

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Frank – “Evangeline” does exist and will be completed and ready for her debut later this year. The V-12 Liberty is now installed and was recently test-run in the boat. The boat is at Robinson Restoration near San Diego, CA. Here is a recent photo. – Texx

  15. Dave Elles
    Dave Elles says:

    Brian send me the video’s of the boat in the water running. After all these years, I am going to get my boat ride!!

  16. Paul Coggins
    Paul Coggins says:

    Great story!

    I have searched without success for images of Ford’s yacht Little LuLu. Does anyone know if an image exists?

  17. Katherine Slagel
    Katherine Slagel says:

    Have you found any other historic pictures of your beautifully restored boat in the water? I’m currently researching Henry Ford’s relationship with his mistress and their son, who was conceived in my home.

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