It’s A Good Day For A Cruise On Thunderbird – Courtesy Of Steve Lapkin


Actually – Every day is a good day to go for a cruise aboard Thunderbird… providing it’s boating season on beautiful Lake Tahoe and not snowing. But hey – here at Woody Boater we live in a virtual world where it’s always boating season – right? The only place where Lake Tahoe is virtually open year round – kind of… It’s Saturday, use your imagination!! This is how we chase away those “winter doldrums” if that’s possible. I know our friends in Eastern Canada are doing that at the Toronto Boat Show this weekend.

Earlier this week we received a wonderful video courtesy of fellow Woody Boater Thomas Bottenberg and ace photographer Steve Lapkin from featuring the legendary Thunderbird on Lake Tahoe.

But first, a brief history for those of you who may not be familiar with this elegant Hacker Commuter.

THUNDERBIRD is a rare 1939 – 55’5″ Huskins Hacker-Craft powered by twin (1100 HP) 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 (2) engines. Based on the streamlined designs of John Hacker, Thunderbird is a commuter boat featuring a distinctive stainless-steel cabin top that was built for millionaire George Whittell who was fascinated with the late aircraft, automobile and boat technology.

Enamored with the lines of his personal DC-2 airplane, Whittell requested the boat’s hull and cockpit be built to resemble the fuselage of his twin-engine aircraft. He also specified the boat’s fit and finish, from double-planked Honduran mahogany to gleaming crystal accents.

Built in 1939 at a cost of $87,000 by the Huskins Boat Co. of Bay City, Michigan – she was launched at what is now the Tahoe City Marina on July 14, 1940. Thunderbird’s original twin 550 hp Kermath engines were replaced in the 1960s with twin 1000+ horsepower Allison V-12 aircraft engines.

The Hacker-Craft is now owned by the Thunderbird Preservation Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Nevada’s natural, cultural and historic treasures. Thunderbird is berthed in her original 1940 steel boathouse at the Thunderbird Lodge National Historic District on Lake Tahoe’s east shore.

Thunderbird Lodge is open for public tours from June through September. Learn the fascinating story behind this classic yacht at or by Clicking Here.
(Description courtesy Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance website)

Considered to be one of the most beautiful wooden vessels of the 20th century, Thunderbird was commemorated in 2007 by the U.S. Postal Service on a postage stamp.

Thomas Bottenberg – Friend of Steve Lapkin (and self confessed serial wooden boat owner) and partner in Tahoe Runabouts, a fractional use program for wooden runabouts – commented in his e-mail…

Texx – Steve Lapkin and I arranged this shoot summer before last, when three of us were operating a small charter operation at Lake Tahoe using classic Hacker runabouts with Greg Barraclough and Dean Woolery.

We shot the surface footage after Steve spent some quality time hanging out of a helicopter for the aerial footage. Steve’s Protector was fast enough to easily maneuver around Thunderbird. I think that’s why the clip is so cool; so many angles…

When Yachting magazine did a feature on Thunderbird last year, Steve showed them this footage and they wanted to use it on their website. Steve said no thanks. So this is a Woody Boater exclusive!

Thanks to Steve Lapkin from for sharing his fabulous video and photographs with us today. To learn more about Steve and also purchase any of his photographs, you can Click Here to visit his great website.

Also, thanks to Thomas Bottenberg from Tahoe Runabouts for sharing this video with us today. Check out the Tahoe Runabouts website by Clicking Here – It’s an interesting concept that I didn’t know existed in the wooden boat hobby.

The video sure helps chase away those “winter doldrums.”


25 replies
  1. Sean
    Sean says:

    What a beauty!
    Sure puts me in the right frame of mind while I’m on my way to the Toronto International boat show this morning….
    The problem is…there will be very little there that shows as nice as Thunderbird .

  2. Rick
    Rick says:

    WOW! I especially loved the shots of the two boats together at speed. Thanks for the video it is a great way to start the workday.

  3. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    I am a lucky guy…There is no way I can fit that boat in my shed. Think of all the time I will save in upkeep. Puts things in perspective. It is alot easier to care for the 67 feet of wood boat that is already in the family.

    • brian t
      brian t says:

      uh yeah, that song used for the soundtrack was also used in The Shining with Jack Nickelson.

      Redrum ! Redrum !

      A beautiful craft – from all angles.

  4. Chris B
    Chris B says:

    Great video, that must be one of the most photographed boats out there, and her home is pretty cool as well. Sure helps pass the no boating season, now I am ready to go to the boat show in Toronto, nice day here snows melting away, feels like spring. going to suck when the cold snaps us back into reality

  5. Bill
    Bill says:

    I like guy lombardo music but its not fair to keep showing footage of those 4 exhaust pipes and not even give us a little sample of the music they had to be makeing, great boat

  6. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Those Allisons would be music to my ears, not necessarily the sound track provided although it was well chosen. Fabulous video, great angles. Where’s the exhaust note, especiallly starting up in that boathouse.

  7. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    Hearing the sound of those engines start before the music would have been awesome! Beautiful footage of both boats. Great idea to partner the boats, lots more fun that a time-share!

  8. Rick
    Rick says:

    Honest question: If the boat was not Thunderbird and judged at a show would she be docked points for having different power than original?

  9. IRS
    IRS says:

    Stunning craft. Straight from the website: “Charitable contributions for private cocktail cruises start as low as $5,000.” Wow! Get a tax deduction for a cocktail cruise.

  10. brian t
    brian t says:

    Just for fun, $87,000 in 1939 is $1,441,000 in today’s money. One wonders if this boat could be recreated for less than $2 million today…..

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Yes – I agree Philip. It’s always fun to receive photographs (and now video) from your buddy Steve…

  11. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    I was just thinking about how much gas that thing blows thru, maybe I should buy something easier on gas like a B-17

  12. Chris Schmaltz
    Chris Schmaltz says:

    I have had the pleasure of being out on Thunderbird several times over the years, nothing and I mean nothing can compare to the sound of that boat ROARING across Lake Tahoe!!!!

  13. Alex
    Alex says:

    IRS, by “charitable contributions for private cocktail cruises start as low as $5,000,” I think they mean it costs $5,000 just to start those twins.

    Come to think of it, that’s about what it costs to “start” twin children too. Wonder if boat and kid costs diverge or parallel over time. I’m serious! You know, problems get bigger, more complicated, and much more expensive with age, and all that stuff…

  14. Greg
    Greg says:

    My wife and I rode on Thunderbird on the morning of June 18, 2010, as she was heading for the Concours d’ Elegance. The weather was perfect on the lake and Steve Lapkin was filming us from a chase boat the entire trip. This video contains quite a bit of video taken that day. We are on board as she backs out of the boat house and as she cruises in front of the lodge (2:48). When her engines were fired up in the boathouse, we almost jumped out of our skin! There is also a shot of me standing in the back of the boat (3:24) and a few that I believe were taken when I was driving, which was most of the trip, however you can’t see my face in the video. That day will forever have a place on my “Ten Best Days List” I have recently completed a 1:12 scale RC model of Thunderbird in her original configuration, complete with twin engines synchronized to a sound system playing digital recordings of Thunderbird’s Allisons starting up and running.

  15. Texx
    Texx says:

    Great story Greg – Thanks for sharing it with us…

    Here’s another shot from Steve Lapkin at h20mark.

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