Presented by






Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society
Lake Tahoe, Nevada


Make: 1940 Huskin-Hacker
Model: Custom
Length: 55′
Engine:  Allison Craft (2) 550hp per
Hull #: 239493
Concours Catagory: Original Tahoe Boat



Spring, 1939. Geo. Whittell commissioned John L. Hacker to build Thunderbird

Summer, 1939. Constructed at Huskins Boat and Motor Works at Bay City, Michigan

November, 1939. Launch and sea trails on the Saginaw River

Spring, 1940. Fitting-out and fitting-out cruise(s)

Early July, 1940. Loaded onto a flatcar and shipped by rail from Bay City to Lake Tahoe

July 12th, 1940. Arrives Norman Mayfield’s Tahoe Boat Works, Tahoe City, CA.

July 15th, 1940. Launch on Lake Tahoe (her official birthday)

Summer of 1940 and 41. Operated by Whittell.

1942-1962. Laid up at Thunderbird Lodge boathouse.

September, 1962. Purchased by casino owner Bill Harrah. The “golden years” of Thunderbird.

1963-1964. Harrah’s repowered Kermath engines with twin Allison V-1710 WWII fighter aircraft engines, changed configuration, and added deck house superstructure.

June 30, 1978. Bill Harrah dies and Thunderbird is hauled out to Harrah’s Auto Collection in Sparks, Nevada.
June, 1979. Following acquisition of Harrah’s casinos by Holiday Inn, Thunderbird is auctioned off to journalist Owen Owens.

November 24, 1979. Owens unexpectedly dies.

1981. Hoteliers Joan and Buzz Gibb acquire Thunderbird from Owen’s widow, and take delivery in the parking lot at Harrah’s Auto collection in Sparks, NV.

Fall, 1981-Spring, 1982. Thunderbird’s bottom is refurbished and interior replaced at Svendsen’s Boat Works in Alameda, CA.

1982-1983 Gibbs operate Thunderbird in charter service on San Francisco Bay from Jack London Square in Oakland.

1984. Buzz Gibb acquires Tahoe City Marina at Tahoe City, CA and returns Thunderbird to the place where she was launched on Lake Tahoe 44-years earlier.

1984-2006 Gibbs operate Thunderbird in charter service on Lake Tahoe but mostly use her to raise more than $2-million for various arts, children’s, and environmental charities.
2001. The Gibbs return Thunderbird to her original home at the Whittell Boathouse at Thunderbird Lodge National Historic District on Lake Tahoe’s east shore.

2007. In a part cash and part charitable gift transaction, Joan Gibb conveys Thunderbird to the public trust in care of the non-profit Foundation 36.

2011. Foundation 36 conveys Thunderbird to Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society, where Thunderbird is maintained and operated in support the Society’s educational and charitable programs.

2015 Thunderbird celebrates her 75th birthday on Lake Tahoe.

2014 Engine failure, and twin Allison V-1710 WWII fighter aircraft engines are rebuilt.

2015 Taking advantage of drought when yacht cannot operate, the boat’s bottom is rebuilt.

2020 80th Birthday year on Lake Tahoe, no public cruises due to COVID-19 pandemic.


In the early 20th Century, flamboyant Captain George Whittell, Jr. was a very wealthy young man having many extravagant hobbies and obsessions, including acquiring the best machines that modern technology had to offer. He owned multiple airplanes, Duesenberg luxury motorcars, and a small fleet of watercraft, including custom-made vessels. Whittell enlisted Naval Architect John L. Hacker to engineer what would become one of Whittell’s most valued prizes, Thunderbird yacht. She was built in 1939 by Huskins Boat and Motor Works in Bay City, Michigan. Originally fitted with twin 12-cylinder Kermath 550hp Sea-Raider engines (and two 4-91 Gray motors for auxiliary power), the 18-ton craft topped out at blazing 43.1 miles per hour during her sea trials on Michigan’s Saginaw River. Whittell fitted her with the era’s latest technology: mahogany-paneled cabins, red leather upholstery, crystal mirrors, electric heat with window defrosters, running hot water, and a phone system to communicate from ship-to-shore. Total cost?  $87,000, or $1.5 million in today’s dollars.


Launched in 1940 on Lake Tahoe, Hacker’s design was influenced by Whittell’s love of aircraft, specifically the sleek look of his personal DC-2 aircraft, also named THUNDERBIRD. In 1962, an aging Whittell sold his beloved watercraft to casino mogul Bill Harrah. Harrah refitted the vessel with a pair of 12-cylinder Allison V-1710 WWII fighter aircraft engines from the P-38 Lightning, each delivering 1,150HP to 23” propellers.  Having undergone multiple retrofits in her storied life, Thunderbird still captures the aeronautical beauty of the art deco age.  


Aboard Harrah’s new toy, Frank Sinatra negotiated a return to Nevada to perform in Harrah’s showrooms[1], Sammy Davis, Jr. frolicked with his children, Gerald Ford contemplated his pardon of Richard Nixon, and Tony Bennett met his future wife. These are just a few of the stories handed down by guardian owners of Thunderbird over the years.  Following two decades in the care of the Joan and Buzz Gibb family, retired casino-industry executive and Nevada historian Bill Watson purchased the yacht through his Foundation 36 so that she could return home to the steel boathouse at Whittell’s Lake Tahoe manse, Thunderbird Lodge.

[1] In 1963, gaming regulators revoked the license to operate a casino after Ol’ Blue Eyes was accused of cavorting with shady underworld character Sam Giancana at Sinatra’s Lake Tahoe Cal-Nevada Resort.


This year celebrating 80-years on Lake Tahoe, Thunderbird yacht serves the charitable and educational mission of the non-profit Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society.  To cruise aboard this classic piece of Lake Tahoe history takes one back to a simpler time of unadorned luxury, elegance, and indulgence.  For more information, visit www.ThunderbirdTahoe.org