Fifty years ago, the President of the United States of America, Lyndon Brains Johnson, phoned his Chief of Staff, Jack Somebody, and said “Git me some of them boat racing magazines”. “Right away, Sir”. Two days later, Lady Bird Johnson, First Cowgirl, said “Lyndon, what the heck are you lookin’ for in all those magazines. You already have a nice boat, and you have it on your own private lake. What else could you want?” “I want some privacy. I can’t even take a piss on Lake LBJ without having one of them goddam secret service guys shake it off for me. I want to buy the secret service a couple small boats, faster’n hell, that can lay in the weeds, heavily armed, and only come out to take care of bidness if the them Ruskies pull some crap”.
The Prez had a 24 foot Glastron (Texas built, get it?) with a pair of big block Mercruisers. It would run about 50 mph, and Johnson used it a lot. What chapped him was the proximity of two other, similar boats, which had to stay nearby in case some “bidness had to be taken care of by the guys in black suits and Raybans. They were not fast enough to hide in the weeds. In 1965, if you picked up a boating magazine, you were bound to see something about Donzi Marine. Aronow had a PR firm, John Crouse, and an advertising firm who had elevated him to the highest level of boatness. It was inevitable that LBJ and Aronow would do some “bidness”.
LBJ had a Navy chief in charge of his little Navy. His name was Jim something, but we never used his last name. We called him “Jimbird”. One hell of nice guy. Jim explained the security situation on the lake, and asked our recommendation. We had a target speed of 75 mph, so we recommended an 18 foot Donzi boat with a High Riser, High Winder, Side Oiler NASCAR 427 inch Ford engine on a vee drive. Damn few pleasure boats had ever seen 75 mph in those days, but we were confident that we could do it. We had just built a remote controlled 70 knot Donzi 19’ “Hornet” with a Turbo Daytona for the Military (ours) to use as a missile drone at Point Mugu, California. We all raced boats in those days, so we took the deal for one boat and one to follow. Jimbird stayed the entire time, and he and I tape-measured a one half mile straightaway course to verify the speed. After a couple of propeller and gear ratio changes, we were running 75+. We had an official test, with Navy folks who intended to go boat riding at government expense (until they saw the boat galloping down the cut at break-neck speed).
Strangely enough, they had chosen a white hull, with a dark red deck stripe and dark red upholstery (not to show blood?). We got our check, and an order for another boat. Jimbird and I had become good buddies over the boat building period, and I invited him to ‘last supper’ at Tony Roma’s restaurant. He had not had a single beer in the weeks that he attended to business, but he had a few pops with dinner. We finished a couple of racks of Tony’s famous ribs, and kicked back. “What’s the old man like, Jimbird?” “Well, he is a real Texan. He doesn’t hide much, and he tends to piss off a lot of important people”. “Give me a story”.
“When NASA got up and running in Houston, he threw a Texas Barbeque to introduce the Astronauts to the cowboys. He was a stickler for making things go his way. On the evening of the barbeque, he called the nearby Air Force base. He got the CQ duty officer at the base and said “Git me two Airmen in dress blues to accompany Linda Bird and Lucy Brains to the barbeque, and DON’T SEND ANY OF THEM GODDAM WETBACKS!” Right on time, at 7PM, the Airmen showed up at the Johnson’s front door. They were tall, handsome poised young black men. LBJ hit the roof. He called for the CQ, who was not available. He got one of the junior officers, and really chewed him out for the mistake. The junior officer said “I don’t believe it was a mistake, Sir. Lt. Rodriquez don’t make no mistakes.”
Years later, I met some of the Secret Service guys who manned the Donzi boats on Lake LBJ. He said that he had personally lost both his guns, some radios, sunglasses and hats, trying to hold on and drive the boat at the same time. Most all the agents “went swimming” one time or another. They never ever had to respond to an emergency. I think the Russians actually wanted to keep LBJ alive, but that’s just me.