published January 17, 2002 in the St.
Mary and Franklin Banner-Tribune
Ronnie's In The
Written and reprinted with permission by ROGER EMILE
the call came, Ronnie Thibodaux jumped at the
was the Discovery Channel, calling to ask if Thibodaux
would like to be part of a team on a somewhat
producers had seen the website for Ronnies
Airboats of Centerville and made contact with
him. Thibodaux quickly agreed and before long
was on a jet bound for Long Beach, Calif.
project: Take a modern Volkswagen Beetle and turn
it into a swamp vehicle.
the team was a head designer from Honda Motors,
a special effects designer from Hollywood, and
Jesse James, descendant of the legendary wild
west outlaw. James, who owns West Coast Choppers
in California, produces customized motorcycles.
Thibodaux rounded out the team.
the designs were completed, he returned home,
but Discovery wasnt through with him yet.
They asked him to be on the building team.
we made arrangements to go back Jan. 3," Thibodaux
said. "I met five of the greatest people I could
have ever meet. Jesse was one of them."
six team members took the Volkswagen, cut open
the back hatch and squared it off. Thibodaux then
installed an engine on a frame, making it slide
in and out. A hydraulic cylinder, when activated
by a switch, would push the engine out of the
chassis of the car.
made an arm on the door that would open it the
same time the engine was coming out," he said.
"It was concealed to that point. Then we had to
make it float."
accomplish this, the team installed flotation
foam throughout the Volkswagen, including new
running boards and bumpers filled with foam. "Enough
foam, you can make anything float," Thibodaux
offered me a challenge, and I love a challenge,"
he said. "We did it in seven days. I like working
with my hands, especially something challenging."
was not allowed to share photos of the project
for publication, but the Discovery Channel team
will be in Centerville in early February for the
official launch of the vehicle. Therell
be a camera crew on hand to document it all. The
exact air date will be announced later.
new program, tentatively titled "Monster Garage,"
centers around similar unusual projects each episode.
A previous project, Thibodaux said, was a lawnmower
mounted to a Ford Mustang, and another involved
a Ford Explorer turned into a mini garbage truck.
was really an opportunity of a lifetime for me,"
Thibodaux said. "When I got back, people here
started calling me Hollywood. But
we were in Long Beach."
James is expected to be in Centerville for the
Airboats started business in 1995, and moved to
their present location on the U.S. 90 Frontage
Road at Centerville. They manufacture airboats
and mudboats for a large clientele.
is currently working on a custom mudboat for Gov.
Mike Foster, and a 24-foot airboat for a Florida
swamp tours company.
in 1995, Thibodaux said he found himself unemployed
and undecided about what to do next.
said he told his wife, Tana, who works with him
now, that he would take a week off to "get my
head together and figure out what I want to do."
decided to become self-employed, and started out
by doing repairs on the road. Eventually, he put
together an airboat and sold it. At that point,
he decided to start a new boat, completely from
ordered some aluminum, threw it down and started
drawing," he recalled. "Since 1996, were
building the same boat. Our boats are probably
one of the better running designs in the industry."
said he never imagined the level of success hes
achieved, nor being part of the Discovery Channel
a dream come true," he concluded.
Ronnies Airboats: www.ronniesairboats.com
West Coast Choppers: www.westcoastchoppers.com