If you’ve ever visited Lake Tahoe, chances are you’ve heard of the legendary Thunderbird boat. It’s not your typical run-of-the-mill watercraft – this bad boy has a rich history and a unique story that sets it apart from any other boat on the lake. Let’s dive into the wild and wonderful past of the Thunderbird.
The Thunderbird was built in 1940 by George Whittell Jr., an eccentric millionaire who owned a large swath of land on the east shore of Lake Tahoe. He was known for his love of exotic animals (he had a pet lion named Bill) and his extravagant lifestyle. The boat was a reflection of his larger-than-life personality – he spared no expense on the Thunderbird, which was custom-built to his specifications.
The boat is a thing of beauty – it’s a 55-foot-long wooden vessel with sleek lines and a powerful engine. But what really sets it apart is the attention to detail. The Thunderbird is adorned with hand-carved mahogany and teak woodwork, and the interior is outfitted with plush leather seats and vintage gauges. It’s a true masterpiece of craftsmanship.
Over the years, the Thunderbird has had its fair share of famous passengers. One of the most notable was Frank Sinatra, who was a friend of Whittell’s. Sinatra loved the Thunderbird so much that he would often borrow it to take his friends out on the lake. Legend has it that he once took Marilyn Monroe for a spin on the boat – talk about a power couple!
Another famous figure who spent time on the Thunderbird was Howard Hughes. Hughes was a recluse who famously avoided public appearances, but he felt at ease on the water. Whittell and Hughes struck up a friendship, and Hughes would often visit Whittell at his home on the lake. The Thunderbird was one of the few boats Hughes ever piloted himself, and it’s said that he loved the feeling of being in control of the powerful vessel.
But it’s not just the famous faces that make the Thunderbird special – it’s the boat itself. In 1962, Whittell passed away, and the Thunderbird was left to sit in a boathouse for nearly two decades. In 1991, a group of Tahoe locals banded together to restore the boat to its former glory. It was a labor of love – the volunteers spent countless hours sanding, painting, and refurbishing the Thunderbird. But their hard work paid off – the boat was returned to its original splendor, and it’s now a beloved icon of Lake Tahoe.
Today, you can take a tour of the Thunderbird and get a taste of what it must have been like to ride on the boat back in the day. It’s a chance to step back in time and experience a piece of Tahoe’s history. And who knows – you might even feel a bit of Frank or Howard’s mojo rubbing off on you as you cruise across the crystal-clear water.