KINGSLAND, Texas (KXAN) — As Texans seek water to soak up the sunshine on Labor Day weekend, many will see boats. But few will see boats like this.
Lee Gaddis never expected to spot a familiar, historic, custom-made, 1960s boat on the internet. That very boat, turns out, was owned by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who used it during his presidency on his trips to Lake LBJ in Kingsland, Texas.
Lee and Gay Gaddis found the boat online on a random October day, and bought it from a man in Houston who had been keeping it in storage. After purchasing the 1965 Glastron V-204 Gulfstream, Mr. and Mrs. Gaddis discovered it was in terrible condition.
“There was no engine in it, the finish was ruined, and basically the wood and it was rotted,” Mr. Gaddis said. “We had to strip it completely down, so what we were dealing with was a hull.”
To their benefit, there was photographic documentation of the former president on the boat enjoying time on the lake.
“We could see the color, we could see the upholstery and so we knew a lot about the boat before we started [on the restoration],” Mr. Gaddis said.
They entrusted the project with Rick Hartley, who owns Lake LBJ Marineland.
“I looked at the pictures and I said, ‘It is going to be a daunting task,'” Mr. Hartley said. “[Mr. Gaddis] said, ‘I am in for the long haul,’ and I said, ‘So am I, so we’ll get started on it.'”
Nine months later, the boat, now dubbed “Lady Bird” in honor of the former first lady, hit the water for the first time in years.
“I am so excited that we are back on the water again in the lake that Lady Bird, and Lyndon, and their friends and family [who] actually used this boat,” Mrs. Gaddis said.
Mr. and Mrs. Gaddis both have personal connections to the Johnson family. Mr. Gaddis said his grandmother befriended LBJ while he was a teacher in Cotulla, Texas. Mrs. Gaddis said her mother used to help run the docent program at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, and got to know Mrs. Johnson.
The Gaddis’ have the paperwork to prove the boat truly belonged to LBJ, and the team at the presidential library has vetted it. Both of Johnson’s daughters are also aware of the boat’s restoration, and the Gaddis’ hope to get them out to the lake and share memories of the boat.
“Many people who are from this area have vivid memories of the president out on the lake,” Mrs. Gaddis said.
The boat itself was custom built with jumpseats for the Secret Service agents who rode aboard. Other agents would ride alongside the boat.
As the couple took “Lady Bird” on her maiden voyage under new ownership, they recalled a story of the president gunning the engine, jokingly trying to outrun his protectors. Mr. Gaddis said the treasure trove of video and photos help keep Johnson’s legacy alive.
“It’s pretty rewarding after all this time and effort and research and money, but I think it’s going to be well worth it,” he said.
“The last touch we have to do is to put an American flag on the back,” she said.