A full day passed after we got off the Guide Training trip in Grand Canyon before we were rolling north at first light. We felt so rested. If I recall correctly, Nevada looks like this.
The brothels are in disarray.
We holed up in Klamath Falls for the night, then pressed on to Leaburg, on the shore of the McKenzie River, birthplace of the Oregon Drift Boat. We met with Roger Fletcher there at the McKenzie River Discovery Center–a pipe dream that is fast becoming a reality. It is based on the grounds and buildings of the old Fish Hatchery, where Keith Steele built many of his close to three thousand boats. Roger (below in the navy vest) and Gene Jones (in the green jacket) are two of the ramrods making the Discovery Center a reality. We got there in time to welcome a new donation to the Discovery Center. Bob Hirt donated his family boat, which is believed to be the last drift boat built by Woodie Hindman–the man who is credited with creating the iconic McKenzie River Drift Boat. A true relic. This is a design the Roger immortalized in his treatise on Drift Boats, and Cricket and I have been teaching the construction of for several years. But Roger and I missed the most exciting thing about this boat. Cricket pointed out the curves are different. Prettier, sexier. When I later took measurements and drew it up, it turned out Cricket was spot on. The measurements are substantially different. This, I think, may be the final and ultimate iteration of the Hindman McKenzie. Once we get the lines perfected, this is most likely the boat we’ll be building.
Andrew at Wayfarers Resort graciously hosted us for our stay, across the Mckenzie via this sweet covered bridge.
The next morning we joined the parade from Finn Rock down to Eagle Rock Lodge, where the annual McKenzie River Wooden Boat Festival was happening. We put Roger in one of our Doryaks. We figured with him pushing sixty years rowing drift boats he’d do okay.
We think he likes it.
The McKenzie Festival was beautiful. As one might expect, nearly all the boats were McKenzies.
But here is a Rogue. A Pritchett-built boat if I recall correctly. Note the fuller bow and stern. And the classic Rogue additions of splash shields up front and the truncated stern for easier motoring.
That night I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the McKenzie River Discovery Center’s finale of the Week of the Boat. We are in one of the old fish hatchery buildings, and the wood slats on the floor cover the tanks where trout once cruised.
My talk was centered around how boats built right here wandered south, got decked and heavily loaded and became the Grand Canyon Dory–a whole new family of amazing boats. This photo is Keith Steele with the first boat he built for Martin Litton in 1962.
And here are Stan and Steve Steele, Keith’s sons, with Cricket and I, standing outside that same garage door, just a few feet from where I was speaking.
Here’s a shot from a 1968 Sunset Magazine feature Martin wrote about the Steele family building a boat in one day. Stan, Steve, Keith and Loretta admiring their work. Looking out that same garage door.
Steve and Stan were pretty sentimental being back at their childhood boatshop. Steve is telling me here about the pond that used to be behind the shop, where he and Stan played and fished. I had the privilege of pointing out what Gene had showed us earlier that day–that they had restored the pond. The Steele boys were pretty overwhelmed. So were Cricket and I, being immersed in deep McKenzie heritage and its people, here where the journey to Grand Canyon began.
Cricket had to fly back to Arizona the next day to be a boatman, but before we left we made plans to return to teach a boatbuilding course here. The idea would be to recreate that first boat Keith Steele built for Martin Litton. The Steele brothers want to help. We can’t wait.
I drove east the next day to rendezvous with RJ and Vladimir for a float down the John Day River. I found RJ (hard to miss) in the heart of downtown Dale, Oregon, population 4.
I tried to lure the hottest babe in Dale to join us but she had to work.
We spent two nights on the North Fork before moving down to the main branch for another four nights.
RJ rowed his Doryak, Li’l Surprise, Vladimir took our Tandori, Rock Lobster, and I rowed Spooky, my Doryak. It is impossible to put into words how fun these are to row. You barely have to think of a move and it happens. Of course I am a bit biased.
If you are really into columnar lava, this is the place for you. Whole lotta lava.
The water was high at the put in and rose every night. By our last day we were on about 17,000 cfs. The trees were getting well watered.
RJ and Vladimir headed home from the take-out and I drove back to the McKenzie. What a gorgeous river.
I spent an afternoon, night, and morning at my favorite campground.
I visited a few builders in the area. Here is Jason Hayes, one of the few of the next generation to take up the trade. He builds beautiful boats. His dog is ready for a beer, though.
I stopped by Steve Steele’s shop and saw the heritage of his dad’s patterns and jigs.
Here is a pristine sample of his dad’s work.
I went through Coquille and stopped to visit the Buzz Holmstrom shrine. I gave him a bit of much needed polishing.
I couldn’t avoid spending a bit of time at Bandon Beach, where the Coquille River meets the Pacific.
It was here that Buzz, in 1937, and I, in 2001, found the perfect curved piece of Douglas fir driftwood to make the stems for the Julius F. and the Julius, respectively. In the background is the stairway to the road, where I heaved my 200 pound stump up eight stories of steps. Oof.
There’s enough there for a few more boats.
I stopped by the mill to pick up a few more Port Orford cedar sticks for future boats.
Then I got to winch my boats back up on top of the lumber, and began my homeward journey.
I stopped in Grants Pass at the Rogue River Boatshop. A few feet in front of my car is the spot where, legend has it, Jerry Briggs and Martin Litton sketched a boat in the dirt with a stick in 1970. That would become the iconic Grand Canyon Dory, the hull that eclipsed all others, and remains the gold standard to this day. Hallowed ground.
I spent a while with Bret, Jerry’s son-in-law, talking boats. I was telling Bret how the Briggs dory was the basis of all our more modern designs. “You know,” said Bret. “You guys are pretty crafty. But Jerry… he was REALLY crafty.” I couldn’t agree more.
Here’s a shot of Jerry’s dad, Squeak Briggs, wearing the same life jacket Jerry usually wore. Tradition dies slowly.
From there it was a marathon drive back across Nevada to my cozy home in Flagstaff. I found some juncos had moved into the sponge basket my shop loft.
An exceedingly rare (west of the Rockies, anyhow) Rose Breasted Grosbeak welcomed me home.
And my easy chair and I fell back into each others arms for an extended session of lovin.’