Group seeks engine repair of historic Tahoe yacht

By The Associated Press | Posted - Jun. 19, 2014 at 3:51 p.m.

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. (AP) — A Lake Tahoe group is trying to raise $250,000 for an engine overhaul of a historic yacht that casino magnate Bill Harrah once owned.

The Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society is hoping to repair the twin aircraft engines of the wooden speedboat "Thunderbird" in time to have it back in operation on Tahoe in summer 2015.

Powered by a type of engine used in World War II fighter planes, the Thunderbird's two 1,100 horsepower Allison engines began having problems last summer.

Oil testing found high concentrations of metal and indicated the engines had scored cylinder walls, pitted crankshaft bearings and fragmented piston rings, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported ( ).

The preservation society has two spare Allison engines, but the V-12 aircraft engines have been packed away for more than seven decades and need to be completely disassembled, inspected and rebuilt.

The yacht is housed in a granite boathouse at the Thunderbird Lodge on Tahoe's northeast shore near Incline Village. Both the boat and lodge were custom built in the late 1930s for eccentric business tycoon George Whittell.

"If there's a silver lining in this catastrophe it's that we had a drought this year and the 'Thunderbird' is trapped in its boathouse because of the lack of water anyway," said Bill Watson, chief executive and curator for the preservation society, a nonprofit that operates the lodge and boat.

The yacht was bought in 1962 by Harrah, who used it to entertain celebrities who performed at his Stateline and Reno casinos, including Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis. Jr.

Harrah loved fast boats and replaced the Thunderbird's original engines with the two aircraft engines, boosting its top speed from 45 to 70 mph.

"Harrah called her his 70-mile-per-hour cocktail lounge," Watson told the Tribune.

A family in Pleasanton, California, has agreed to donate $50,000 for the engine overhaul if that amount can be matched by Labor Day. Another family in Incline Village has offered $25,000 if it can be matched.

"We are plodding along toward the $250,000. Our goal is to have it by September," Watson said.


Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune,

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press


    Catch up on the top news and features from, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast