Ronnie's Airboats & Fabrication, LLC


Airboat News

Ronnie's In The News

Airboat News
Originally published January 17, 2002 in the St. Mary and Franklin Banner-Tribune
Written and reprinted with permission by ROGER EMILE STOUFF

When the call came, Ronnie Thibodaux jumped at the opportunity offered.

It was the Discovery Channel, calling to ask if Thibodaux would like to be part of a team on a somewhat unusual project.

The producers had seen the website for Ronnie’s Airboats of Centerville and made contact with him. Thibodaux quickly agreed and before long was on a jet bound for Long Beach, Calif.

The project: Take a modern Volkswagen Beetle and turn it into a swamp vehicle.

On 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.

After the designs were completed, he returned home, but Discovery wasn’t through with him yet. They asked him to be on the building team.

"So 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."

The 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.

"We 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."

To 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 laughed.

"They 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."

Thibodaux 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. There’ll be a camera crew on hand to document it all. The exact air date will be announced later.

Discovery’s 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.

"It 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."

Jesse James is expected to be in Centerville for the occasion.

Ronnie’s 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.

Thibodaux is currently working on a custom mudboat for Gov. Mike Foster, and a 24-foot airboat for a Florida swamp tours company.

Back in 1995, Thibodaux said he found himself unemployed and undecided about what to do next.

He 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."

He 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 scratch.

"I ordered some aluminum, threw it down and started drawing," he recalled. "Since 1996, we’re building the same boat. Our boats are probably one of the better running designs in the industry."

Thibodaux said he never imagined the level of success he’s achieved, nor being part of the Discovery Channel project.

"It’s a dream come true," he concluded.

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