What Happens In Vegas… Goes On Woody Boater

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Last week Woody Boater reported on a very cool custom designed Hacker-Craft which was featured as one of the fantasy gifts in this year’s legendary Neiman Marcus Christmas Book catalog. The mahogany Hacker-Craft also received some national television coverage last week in New York on the NBC Today Show.

From our point of view, any time antique & classic boats can attract national exposure of any kind, that should be considered as a positive step forward for the hobby we all love and participate in.

While that was going on in New York, Tim & Brian Robinson from Robinson Restoration in southern California were called in to work on two national and international advertising shoots in Las Vegas, with their 1938 Gar Wood 22′ Streamliner, “Empress”.

The shoot sites were Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the USA and the man-made Lake Como at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, seen by more than 30 Million visitors a year.

Here’s the full story from Brian Robinson…

The Lake Mead Shoot

The helicopter shoot for a European manufacturing company (that is all I can say because I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement) went well at Lake Mead (an hour outside of Las Vegas). We were asked to be there at 6:00 AM (still pitch black outside) and to be in the water for first light at 6:30 AM – which was the earliest the helicopter was allowed to fly. They had special clearance to fly very low and caught up with the boat by 7:00 AM.

And low they flew – like 30 feet off the water, on top of our boat at 35-50mph, shooting with an exotic chopper mounted movie camera. They also had cameras set up on shore to shoot the boat. That only took about an hour – we had “Empress” back on the trailer by 8:00 AM. Obviously, I was not allowed to take pictures of the helicopter shooting the boat, so unfortunately all I could get was a few photos of when we launched and retrieved the boat. Weather was great, 65-degrees when we got there, 75-degrees by the time we left. It was a bit windy out in the middle of the lake, but there were only a couple fishing boats out on Lake Mead, which is the largest reservoir in the US.

The Bellagio Hotel & Casino Shoot

The Bellagio shoot, which was originally scheduled for the same week as the Lake Mead shoot, was delayed and we returned home to California with “Empress” with the hope that the Bellagio shoot would still happen. A few days later, we received a call that the Bellagio shoot was re-scheduled for the following week on Wednesday, October 26th at 8:00 PM.

My father Tim, and I left my house in Murrieta, California at 6:00 AM to arrive at the Bellagio by 10:30 AM, when they wanted to get the boat in the water. We did not know what to expect when we got there, except that the boat was going to be staged in the lake for a photo shoot.

We arrive at the valet and are instructed down a narrow sloped alleyway on the side of the hotel across from Caesars Palace. We back the boat down to a dead end with a unmarked roll up door on the side. They open the door to a roughly 10,000 sq/ft machine shop underneath the Louis Vuitton store and Todd English’s ‘Olives’ restaurant. Here is where they service the fountain cannons and entire lake water feature in-house with a staff of 20 machinists, welders, divers, etc.

The world famous Fountains of Bellagio is a vast, choreographed water feature with performances set to light and music. The performances take place in front of the Bellagio hotel and are visible from numerous vantage points on the Las Vegas Strip, both from the street and neighbouring structures. The show takes place every 30 minutes in the afternoons and early evenings, and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. to midnight. Before a water show starts, the nozzles break the water surface and the lights illuminating the hotel tower turn to a purple hue (usually), or red-white-and-blue for certain music. The fountain display is choreographed to various pieces of music, including songs by Andrea Bocelli, Frank Sinatra, etc.

Photo Courtesy - Glorious Las Vegas.com

The fountains are set in a 9-acre (3.6 ha) manmade lake. Contrary to urban myth, the lake is not filled with treated grey (effluent) water from the hotel. The lake is actually serviced by a freshwater well that was drilled decades prior to irrigate the Dunes Golf Course that previously existed on the site. The fountains actually use less water than irrigating the golf course did. They incorporate a network of pipes with more than 1,200 nozzles that make it possible to stage fountain displays coordinated with more than 4,500 lights. It is estimated that the fountains cost $40 million to build.(Source Wikipedia – click here to learn more)

Anyway, we could not turn the boat trailer sharp enough to make the 90-degree turn, even with a front hitch – and they did not have a forklift with a hitch ball on the fork. So, we unhitched the boat trailer, had about ten guys pivot the trailer on its own axis, and push it down the narrow path to the “ramp”. Once close to the ramp we hooked a strap from the bow post to a forklift to control the decent. Their launch ramp is designed to pull out small 6’x6′ barges and inflatable’s, not a 25-foot tandem axle boat trailer. We let the trailer slowly back down the ramp until the back tires reached the end of the ramp drop-off, and with about an inch to spare, Empress floated off. Satisfied, we tied it off inside the well, still inside underneath the hotel, hidden from view from the Strip and we went to check into our room.

Around 4:00 PM I got a call that they wanted to do a trial run in the daylight… This is when we learned that they actually wanted us to run the boat under its own power. We were surprised, but admittedly excited about the prospect at the same time. There are several millions of dollars worth of motorized fountains and lights located just inches below much of the 9-acre lake’s surface, which is why up until now they had never allowed a regular boat to operate on the lake. When the Bellagio first opened ten years ago, then owner Steve Wynn had his personal Riva Aquarama tied up in front of one of the restaurants for two years. It was never operated, nor meant to be, just there as a prop to add to the Italian ambiance of the lake. The constant barrage of fountain spray and 120-degree summers did not bode well for the boat, and it was moved back to Wynn’s Lake Tahoe estate thereafter.

Back to Wednesday… with one of the fountain workers on board with us riding shotgun, he guided us around the fountains so we would have a better feeling of where everything was in the dark. This was really fun! Ever since I first visited Las Vegas, I have wanted to see a wooden boat in that lake, and here we were cruising around it in our own boat watched by thousands of tourist onlookers.

[youtube width=”440″ height=”285″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1RcDMLlIPQ&feature=email[/youtube]

When we took the boat back in to the stone archway visible from the strip that leads into the workshop, we were allowed to tie it up just inside the opening, which I realized later while walking down the Strip in front of the lake/hotel that the transom was in plain view – a prideful moment for any boat owner.

Empress Relaxing in the Gratto - Click to Enlarge

Earlier that day, I had called my only two Vegas-resident friends (and probably the only two fellow Woody Boaters in Las Vegas) Ron Schultz and Steve Hanst (aka Hamster). Ron and Hamster own the world famous Crown & Anchor Pub in Las Vega’s which, by the way, is Woody Boater friendly if you are ever in town for a few days and want to experience some great food and drink in an authentic British Pub.

Like me, they spend a lot of time at Lake Tahoe in the summertime messing with old boats. They were as excited about this as my dad and I, and they knew the best place to watch it all would be from the terrace overlooking the lake at Olives restaurant.

Tim Robinson - Waiting For Showtime

Though I had been in contact with the production company (this was all for a vodka company commercial) 8 o’clock rolled around with no word, then 9 o’clock, and finally at 10:00 PM they called to say the entourage will be at the boat at 10:30 PM.

We were not told who would be in the boat or even what the plan was, but it wound up being actor Frank Vincent (Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull, Sopranos) and four supermodels with cocktails in hand.

Frank Vincent Book Cover Image Courtesy - FrankVincent.com

With a short planning session, we loaded Frank in the middle of the aft horseshoe cockpit with two of the girls on each side (they were smokin’ hot but I thought it would be unprofessional if I snapped photos of them, so I did not), Tim drove the boat (so I could run to the Strip to snap photos) the fountain tech next to him in the middle front, and the camera guy riding shotgun shooting back, and the director and producer in the middle – nine people in the boat. A second small inflatable boat ran stayed alongside with another cameraman and camera tech guy. With the boat positioned between the Las Vegas Strip and the fountains, and the hotel behind, it was a spectacular sight!

The onboard fountain tech had communication with the fountain show controllers to make sure the lights and water were in sync with what the producer wanted. The whole shoot lasted 30 minutes. We unloaded everyone and the boat made it through unscathed (a miracle).

To get the boat back on the trailer, the Bellagio crew had to once again move the barges out to clear a path to the ramp. Since we had a few minutes to kill out on the lake I called Ron, Hamster, and Hamster’s girlfriend Jenny down to hop in “Empress” with us to take one last lap. Being Vegas locals, and local businessmen, they now have some serious bragging rights.

Hamster & Ron on board Empress

They helped us walk the boat back in through the well and load it back on the trailer. Ron even stripped down and jumped in the water to help get the boat safely on the trailer (though in reality, I think it was just so he could say he swam in Lake Bellagio too).

Ron - Always willing to lend a hand to a fellow Woody Boater

By now it was midnight, we pushed the trailer back out to the alley and pivoted in-line with the truck and hitched up. Every Bellagio employee we dealt with from the fountain guys, to the PR people, to security were all great. Even the camera crew and actors were great. My dad and I walked away with smiles on our faces.

I was reminded that we are likely the first to really run a real boat underway in chlorinated lake/pool – I don’t know if this is true. Lake Bellagio is essentially a 27-million gallon, 9-acre swimming pool ranging in depth from 4 to 17 feet.

What a fantastic few weeks we had with our 1938 Gar Wood Streamliner, “Empress” – To us, she was the star of the show!

Brian enjoying the Las Vegas Experience with Empress

Great story Brian, thanks for sharing with us here at Woody Boater. Thanks to the Bellagio Hotel & Casino management and staff for their assistance, that’s a very impressive operation.  The Bellagio Hotel & Casino has a very impressive website too, with lots of cool shots of the fountains, etc – you can click here to go there…


10 replies
  1. ranger
    ranger says:

    Empress is gorgeous.

    Lake Bellagio has to be a top contender for the coolest place ever to have a wooden boat in the water.

    If the picture of the boat in the grotto with all the orange bouys protecting her are any indication, the boat does look like she was well looked after. The description of getting her down to the ramp and in the water had me hold my breath…

    Wonderful story, thank you for sharing!

    What a memory!

  2. chad
    chad says:

    AWESOME! That is one for the story books.

    Did you take the 4 models tubing after the shoot? You can make stuff up if you like, it is Vegas after all.

  3. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Great story Brian. Thanks for sharing it with us. Beautiful Gar Wood Woody Boating on Lake Bellagio. That’s incredible. She was the star of the show but you and your dad (Tim) made it happen. Congrat’s!!!

  4. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    What a fantastic experience Brian. I am sure all us WoodyBoaters will be looking forward to seeing the adverts that come out of this. Thanks for the great write-up!

  5. Charles Bingham
    Charles Bingham says:

    Amazing! When I first saw the banner photo at the top I thought you had photoshopped the boat into the LV scene. My jaw dropped when realized it was for real. I wish I could have been there to watch it all.

  6. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Woody Boater story of the year! What a great experience. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story thanks Brian. Im relieved to hear that Empress made it back on the trailer without any damage. Film crews and precious things dont go together in my experience.
    Brilliant stuff.

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