Eddies of Evolution on the McKenzie
A brief summary of chapters 1 through 5 in Drift Boats and River Dories
(Please note that all copy on this page is copyrighted and may be used only with the expressed permission of the author)
 

   
       
 

The Early McKenzie River “Old Scow”
Flat bottom rowboats of limited freeboard were the first boats to be used by serious fisherman on the McKenzie. Rowing in a river current, however, is quite different than rowing on lake or other flat water. Boatmen soon discovered that it was prudent to row against the current. This slowed the boat's descent down the river. Oarsmen learned how to move the boat laterally across the current to avoid heavy rapids, rocks, downed trees and other obstacles.
Among some guides the boat became known as the old scow. She was a flat-bottom, planked, rowboat 18 to 22-feet in length and about 3-feet wide on the bottom amidships.

The boat revealed considerable flare, and showed nominal rocker fore to aft, except for a slight upwardrake under the bow.

Vertical freeboard approximated 14”. The boat's strakes were planked or lapped, and frames were local material such as, Douglas

fir, spruce, and cedar. These boats served their guides well, but they were troublesome in white water and their weight and limited

freeboard required the guide to ceaselessly work the oars.  Though they loved their work, the end of the day brought welcome

 relief.

 

Dallas Murphy and Hal Richards in the old scow (circa 1917), a heavily timbered rowboat used on the McKenzie from the late 1800s through the 1920s

       
  The John West Boat

John West began guiding on the McKenzie in 1920 at age 19. West used the old scow boat type. He said of it, "You'd pull your

arms off
 and not accomplish much!" West also complained that he was bailing all the time due to the limited freeboard. A colleague

recalled West's complaint: ... you went through the rapids with one oar in the water and a bailing can in the other. West tired of

the heavy boat, and he and his brother, Roy built the first McKenzie riverboat with a bottom length of less than 16-feet. It was a bit

lighter, turned more quickly and it accessed water the more heavily timbered boats couldn't. The boat was different enough that

Thompson, a guide colleague, jokingly called the new boat a "bathtub with oarlocks." The boats performance proved attractive and

the boat became the standard for McKenzie River guides - even Milo Thompson.
 

Prince Helfrich and guides with a covey of West type boats, circa 1930.

   

Veltie Pruitt's light board-and-batten

In the mid 1920s, having tired of work associated with navigating the heavily timbered McKenzie boats of the day, Veltie Pruitt

 designed and built an even smaller, lightweight riverboat than the West boat for his personal use. The boat was highly

 maneuverable and it was easily  transported to and from the river. Veltie and his little boat caught the attention of

 McKenzie River guide, Prince Helfrich. The year was 1927 or 1928. Prince hailed Veltie over one day when Prince and his

 dude were eating lunch. Prince was using an old scow  and Veltie’s little riverboat had caught Prince’s attention on a previous

 trip. Veltie offered to let Prince take the little boat and row it about a bit. Prince, did, fell in love with the boat’s versatility, and

 he asked Veltie to build such a boat for him. This encounter launched a friendship that opened Oregon and Northwest wild

 rivers to navigation and fishing by adventurous river pioneers who developed and refined navigation techniques that made

 wild river travel and fishing possible.

 

Veltie fishes from his light board and batten boat

 
 
Tom Kaarhus and the square-ender. a.k.a. Rapid Robert
Torkel Gudmund (Tom) Kaarhus immigrated from Norway and landed in Eugene, Oregon (1923) by way of the mid-West and Alaska. Twelve years later, he opened his Kaarhus Craft Shop where he built kitchen cabinets and other home furnishings, skis, riverboats, lake-boats and sailboats. He had a keen eye for problem solving because he understood relationships between form and function. The first McKenzie River drift boats that Tom Kaarhus built in his shop in 1935 and 1936 were board and batten construction; with spruce ribs, cedar planking, oak chines and bottom battens. In 1936 he obtained a shipment of Philippine mahogany planks which he had re-sawed at neighboring. The introduction of plywood simplified riverboat construction. The flexibility and durability of plywood made it an ideally suited material for boats. More important, it was easy to work and it allowed for what I call free form construction. The plywood boat was built in half the time it took to form a board and batten boat. Two side panels were cut from a single piece of ¼” x 4’ x 14’ sheet of plywood on which the station lines were marked as guides for the application of the frames. The frames were pre-formed with the appropriate bevels and rectangular notches for the chine. The frames were installed at the station lines beginning with the centermost frame. Each frame thereafter was installed fore and aft until the hull was ready to receive the transom and stem. The frames gave the boat its shape and rocker. To help align the ribs Tom used a ¼” piece of plywood 10-inches wide tacked to the inside of the bottom frames along the marked centerline. Kaarhus often referred to this boat as the West boat in recognition of John West's contribution to the eddies of evolution.
 

Young Tom Kaarhus

Rick Fenill of Hebo, Oregon launches his new Rapid Robert on the Nestucca.

       
  Woodie Hindman and the birth of the double-enders

The early McKenzie River drift boats reached their apotheosis through the deft hands of guide and boat builder Woodie Hindman.

 Woodie was born in McLean, Texas in 1895. During his early years he was a Texas Panhandle ranch hand and café operator. In

1934he moved to Eugene to lease a hotel, The Hampton. Shortly after his arrival he became interested in the McKenzie, its

fishery and the boats. He had a spirit of adventure, a keen sense of humor and talent as a camp cook. In 1937 he met and

married Ruth Wilhoit, an equally robust adventurer.

 
Woodie and Ruthie on the Siusalaw (lft)in the square-ender, and Ruthie running the White Water Parade (rt).
       
 
Woodie and Ruthie soloed the Middle Fork in August 1939. Their experiences on that trip prompted Woodie to think about a new

design for the McKenzie. He built and used the square-ender at the time. The only problem was it tended to be slapped around a

bit as the down river transom encountered heavy water. Woodie's boat was turned around in some serious white water so that he

had to negotiate the water bow first. "I liked the way it cut through the waves," he noted. I believe his cumulative experiences with

the square-ender, not simply the '39' Middle Fork trip, led to his new design. He built his new boat during the winter of 199-40. It

was a 14' (around the sheer) double-ender. He simply repeated the bow frame pattern and replicated it for the stern, except that

he lengthend the down river frames to accentuate the down river prow. The new design revolutionized McKenzie River drift

boats, although it was not until 1946 that he was able to build 16' boats due to the limitations on plywood panel lengths. The

double-ender became Woodie's boat of choice. The boat's popularity was tied to its functionality. It was a charm to row due to the

accentuated rocker. It would pivot on a dime. This boat sports the most extreme rocker of the early McKenzies. Its crescent lines

are lovely. As Woodie noted in one of his diaries, the lines had a purpose: "…to resemble the crescent shapes of the waves …"

The boat, however had at least one limitation, the loss of some interior space. This boat also became the choice of many River

guides through the 1940s. In 1946 Woodie modified the double-ender. He removed the up-river bow and replaced it with a small

tombstone type transom. McKenzie River guide Everett Spaulding claims he talked Woodie into this modification. A 1974 Eugene

Register-Guard article about the McKenzie boats quotes Spaulding as saying he was tired of rowing the long, slow, lower

stretches of the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers. He said he wanted Woodie to build a double-ender with a small transom so he could

hang a motor off the transom to move him more quickly through the slow water. Regardless the reason Woodie built his first

double-ender with a transom in 1946. It was 16' around the sheer and measured 5'6-1/4" across the beam amidships and 4'

across the bottom. It was this boat that set the standard for all subsequent McKenzie style drift boats. It also raised questions

and debates about which end of the boat was actually the stern and which end was actually the bow.

 
 

 

   
Hindman built double-ender (left) and a Packard Phillips built Hindman double-ender with transom

 

 














Roy Pruitt and Ray Heater discuss this historic boat, a Hindman double-ender that was built by Marty Rathje. Marty purchased Woodie's boat building business in 1954
.


If you ever come across a boat with a small plate that reads" Built by - Woodie Hindman - Springfield, Oregon," then the boat was probably built by Woodie himself.


A boat that carries a small plate that reads, Built by - Woodie Hindman Boats - Springfield, Oregon, was most likely built by Marty Rathje, the man who bought Woodie business in 1954.

 

 

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