When it comes to building custom houseboats, it’s all about taking it to the next level, and Destination Yachts has set the bar high with its latest creation. The 75- by 20-foot houseboat is from its new Elite Series and includes a design protected hull and an all-aluminum (no wood) wall structure for the exterior. As unique as this may sound, it almost didn’t happen if not for a chance meeting with Butch Olhausen. Butch is the co-founder of Olhausen Billiard Mfg., a top-quality pool table manufacturer, and it was his desire for something different that allowed the builder to move forward with this new series of houseboats.
Butch and his wife Dona bought their first boat in 1975 and have owned 10 different vessels during their nearly 40 years of marriage. This time around the couple was looking for their third houseboat after they decided to sell their vacation home on the Colorado River because they felt the river was too crowded. They were in search of something big that would help fill their recreational void.
The journey for the next big thing took a turn in the right direction when Butch headed to Nashville, Tenn., to visit his brother and the Olhausen factory. While there, Butch and his brother Don decided to visit the National Houseboat Expo at State Dock on Lake Cumberland in nearby Kentucky.
“After looking at one of the showboats, I was sitting on the dock when I met Sheldon Graber, the owner of Destination Yachts. He invited us to his booth to discuss houseboats,” recalls Butch. “I knew of Destination Yachts, but what he was building at the time wasn’t what I was looking for. After spending two or three hours with him, he showed me a picture of a concept boat that he wanted to build.”
“After talking with Butch for awhile I had a good feel for his experience with boats as well as his high-quality reputation for building billiards tables,” says Graber. “I knew what he did for a living and what he wanted and I told him, ‘I have been waiting for someone like you to build this for,’ and after seeing the pictures of my design he was sold.”
Butch was now excited about the possibility and told him he was in, as long as he could keep it close to his budget.
“Sheldon wanted our business and he was the only contact I made while in Kentucky who actually got back to me after the show,” says Butch. “He even came out to Lake Mead in Nevada to make the sale, plus he had an Olhausen pool table in his game room so how could I go somewhere else?”
Let’s Build It
When Butch returned from his trip following the Houseboat Expo he told Dona about the new boats he looked at and how he thought Destination Yachts could build what they both wanted.
At the time the couple had a 65- by 16-foot Somerset and were looking for a bigger houseboat so the proposed 75-foot Destination Yacht appeared to be the ideal fit, not to mention this was as big as they could have on Lake Mead and still fit in their covered slip.
The mantra for their project was to have a low- or no-maintenance houseboat. Dona was concerned with livability and comfort of their guests on the boat, while his main concern was the functionality of the boat.
“It was a new design for Destination and we had concerns about how the end product would look, but all those concerns went away the day we put it in the water,” recalls Butch. “It looked better than I ever thought it would. I would definitely recommend Destination Yachts to friends or anyone else who asks me. It did take a little longer than expected, but Sheldon, his son Dillon and the entire crew worked hard to make this boat come together and once you buy a boat from them you become extended family for life.”
It was a collaborated effort from the beginning as the final details were implemented into the design as the boat began production.
“I talked Sheldon into doing some things that I had not seen on any houseboat before this,” recalls Butch. “I would explain what I wanted to see and he would sketch it out on paper and we’d talk on how he could make it happen. That made things a lot easier to envision.
Butch and Dona ended up traveling to the Indiana plant six or seven times to pick out interior colors and check on the progress of the boat.
“I really liked sitting on the boat in the factory after hours with a beer and going through the process in my mind of how I was going to use the boat,” says Butch. “Sheldon would give me the keys to the factory and tell me to lock up when I was done.”
What Makes It Unique
Besides the unique hull design, there were a lot of other key components that help make this boat an original, including the exterior. The electric rear deck extension/slide out swim step and the built-in storage for stakes and ropes in the front of the boat are just two examples of what makes this houseboat unique.
“No more getting sand and mud all over the front deck after beaching the boat,” says Butch. “Plus the storage doubles as seating around the entire front deck. Another thing we really like is the seating area on the aft deck, which was Sheldon’s idea. There is enough room for six to eight people to sit comfortably.”
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The design also called for a sliding door on the port side of the boat for tying up the family’s deck boat. That way it’s not tied to the back in the way of the swimmers.
Another big plus is that all the lighting, air conditioning and the stereo equipment is controlled with iPads.
“I can lie in bed and turn almost everything on or off with a touch of a button,” says the new houseboat owner.
Included in the four-stateroom houseboat is a geothermal heating and cooling system, Amish-crafted cabinetry and seven flat panel televisions with a self-tracking dish. Final touches include a giant refrigerator in the galley, which Butch highly recommends if you have the room, plus two smaller fridges upstairs under the bar with ice makers on both levels.
“There’s really nothing I would change,” says Butch. “We ended up with more room in the salon than we thought we were going to have so looking back now we could have moved the kitchen island a foot or two towards the bow, but really that’s it. We love how the boat turned out.”
The Destination Yachts boat was named Bank Shot because the family felt they should have something connected to the business they are in. Butch likes to joke that the boat also “shot the bank” when it came time to pay for it.
The Olhausen Billiard story dates back to when Butch and his brother worked for their father in New Mexico, setting up and re-covering pool tables. In the summer of 1969, Butch moved to California and his brother followed a few years later. The Olhausen brothers decided to start their own company, moving and re-covering pool tables. They also delivered new tables for a small manufacturing company in San Diego. They charged $12 to deliver and install a new table, using Butch’s classic ‘59 El Camino.
Then came a great opportunity. The owner of the manufacturing company that they delivered for offered to sell them the business for $1000 and take a note back on the inventory. So in 1973, the Olhausens took everything they had and bought the company and that's when the world changed for them.
“We started out making approximately 30 tables a year, but at its peak Olhausen Billiard Mfg. was producing well over 30,000 pool tables per year,” says Butch.
It is still family-owned and operated, but Butch is no longer involved in the manufacturing of pool tables yet he still talks with his brother at least once a week.
The factory is located in Portland, Tenn., because it just became too hard to keep the business in California.
“I would say about 75 percent of our U.S. dealers are within 750 miles of our 250,000-square-foot factory,” estimates Butch. “I stayed in San Diego and own an Olhausen dealership where my sons work. I still come to work, but not as much anymore and that was my plan. I can say I’m living the American dream!”
Who’s The Celebrity?
Olhausen billiard tables have been featured in many television shows, movies and tournaments over the history of the company.
“It’s amazing to me the number of celebrity and sports figures who have Olhausen products,” says Butch. “Once example is when we met Garry and Glenda Templeton when they purchased an Olhausen table for their home. We happened to be neighbors and became good friends. Garry played baseball for the Padres and they used to have team parties which we would get invited to. Players like Tony Gwynn and Bruce Bochy would attend. They were all good guys and a lot of fun, but what’s funny is they thought I was the celebrity because I made Olhausen pool tables; go figure.”
A Need For Lake Time
The Olhausens took delivery on Bank Shot the first week in August and as they head into their second summer with their new houseboat, plans for the next party have already begun. Butch and Dona usually bring a full house with them when they go to the lake, plus they’ve already made friends with the people at their marina. With three kids and two grandchildren, it’s always easy to find someone who would like to go boating.
“With our kids all grown we can’t get everyone together like we did when they were younger,” says Dona. “But the kids come out whenever they get a chance.”
When Butch and Dona first started looking into having a custom houseboat built, they also searched for the right lake to put it on. They considered Lake Powell in Utah, but since it’s nearly twice as far from their home in San Diego, it was clear Lake Mead was the better choice.
“We have a covered slip and even during the most crowded times of the year it doesn’t seem that crowded, not like the river anyway,” says Butch. “It’s a five-hour drive unless we get caught in the Las Vegas to Los Angeles traffic, so that’s why on our weekend trips we usually leave on Thursday and return on Monday.”
The houseboat is docked at the Las Vegas Boat Harbor, which is just down the hill from Boulder City and close to Hoover Dam.
“I can’t say enough good things about the Gripentog family who own the marina,” states Butch. “They have helped make our houseboat experience one of the best of our lives. They are a great family and if we have a problem they are on it immediately. I would recommend this marina highly, plus the neighbors we have met at the marina are the best. I don’t think we could ever move our boat anywhere else.”
As for Butch and Dona, they’re living the American dream and that dream continues to improve each time they take their houseboat out.
Photos by Michael Maze