Thunderbird Yacht Decommissioned for 2014 following engine failure, $250k repair needed

| May 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

Special to Tahoe Quarterly

The historic Thunderbird Yacht heads toward the 2013 Concours d’Elegance. Photo by Tom Zikas.

A plea from Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society Executive Director Bill Watson went out this morning after it was discovered the historic wooden Thunderbird Yacht’s engines were damaged, putting the vessel out of commission for the 2014 boating season. The yacht, which is housed at the eponymous East Shore estate and once belonged to eccentric millionaire George Whittell, Jr., is used for cruises for a variety of events held at the lodge.

See Watson’s message in its entirety below:

Dear Friends of Thunderbird Yacht,


I must reach out to you with a most urgent need: Thunderbird’s engines are blown and the yacht cannot operate this season.  The only good news is the failure occurred in a year when Thunderbird is trapped in her boathouse due to low water levels.  If we work together to raise approximately $250,000 before Labor Day, I can get the replacement engines into a Tehachapi,

California aircraft shop for refurbishment in time to be operational again for the 2015 season.   One wonderful family has already committed $50,000 on the condition we raise the remaining money before Labor Day-meaning we are 20% of the way to our goal! Only 40 donations of $5,000 each or 20 at $10,000 each or one generous angel will take us to the finish line.  Of course, I’m grateful for contributions in any amount.  This is something I know our wonderful Thunderbird family can accomplish!

Where is all of this cost coming from you might ask?  After a stellar 2013 season, engine oil tests spiked with unsafe levels of contaminants.  Tearing down the engines, we discovered scored cylinder walls, ring failure, and main bearing failure.   The fact this occurred in both engines simultaneously tells me an overhaul performed 5 years ago was flawed-that shop is now out of business and we have no recourse.    We will use replacement engines our donors purchased in 2009 but these are in preservation status.    Each engine will be unpacked, broken down, gooey cosmoline (preservative) stripped from every part, X-rayed, inspected, an reassembled to aircraft specifications.  In 2008, we did a minor overhaul. Today, the price of this work has nearly doubled.  Fortunately, we have the spare motors or the rumbling basso note of vintage WWII aircraft engines on Lake Tahoe would be forever silenced.   More details appear in our summer Thunderbird Preservation magazine arriving in your mailboxes soon.  And not having the yacht has a huge adverse impact on our programs and operating income this year.

The Preservation Society has started building an Allison engine shop in the Incline Village facility and expanding its education program to do this kind of work in-house.  If we are to keep vintage engines in Thunderbird, we need to be able to service and repair them locally.   We never wish to find ourselves in this position again.  We have many of the parts: we simply need tooling, jigs, test equipment, and skilled mechanics.   This effort is already underway and, if you have too machine tools or shop equipment to contribute, please reach out to us.   We’ll raffle off a private cruise and dinner from amongst all those who help.  And, there’ll be a great party when the engines return home.

Any amount is much appreciated.  Please don’t hesitate to call me with any questions.

Yours gratefully,

Bill W.

(775) 832-8755


Category: Arts & Culture, Historic Tahoe, Museums

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