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Western novelist Zane Grey owned a fishing camp at Winkle Bar on the Rogue River. His cabins have been preserved, and one of the boats he used is displayed on the property. These boats were the forerunners of the modern-day drift boat.

The history of the McKenzie style drift boat is interwoven with the rich historical fabric of the rough, whitewater rivers in southern Oregon; the McKenzie and Rogue. The history of these river dories is largely oral, but can be traced back to the Banks Dories used by the North Atlantic cod fishermen. The Banks Dory design was brought to Oregon by the men who came west to carve a living from the rugged Oregon wilderness. With many rivers and the Pacific Ocean at their doorstep, their minds naturally turned towards fishing from the stable Banks Dories they used in New England.

There are many stories about the old double enders and the tombstone- transomed dories that the old-timers rowed out through the breakers to the salmon runs. Navigation of the shallow and treacherous whitewater rivers that cut through the Cascade and Coast ranges were especially perilous. Many a life was lost as the roaring whitewater slammed the frail craft into a protruding rock or capsized the boat. Over the years, West Coast Dories were redesigned and modified from boats with deep, full displacement hulls to boats with wide, flat bottoms for shallow displacement on rocky whitewater rivers. The rocker was increased along with the side flare, while the high sides and extreme forward sheer were maintained. The early, turn of the century river dories were built entirely of cedar planking. They had a wider, more squared off stern, but with much less freeboard than today's drift boat.

The true drift boat design was the result of two Eugene area boat builders; Woody Hindman and Tom Kaarhus during the 1930's. These two were prolific boat builders for many years. They developed good reputations for the boats they produced, and their boats were sought after by many of the best guides of that era. A few of the boats they built 30 or 40 years ago are still in use. Hull designs were named for rivers on which they were used, primarily the Rogue and McKenzie. Eventually the differentiation between the two became blurred, resulting in two major styles of drift boats -- the McKenzie or Rogue (depending on who is doing the calling), and the Rapid Robert.

Today there are only a handful of Rapid Robert style boats left. They are characterized by the broad stern with the bow at the oarsman's back. While the bows of both style boats are to the oarsman's back, which would be upstream, the "BOW" of the McKenzie/Rogue has been sheared off to accept a small motor. Only the "STERN" of the McKenzie/Rogue now remains pointed.

Driftboats: A Complete Guide
by Dan Alsup

Meet the people who have made and continue to make these little river dancers possible. This book takes you from the early days of exploration, the first guided fishing and whitewater adventure trips in the West, to the evolution of the modern driftboat. From old planked scows to handcrafted works of art, from plywood to the aluminum and fiberglass found in the modern driftboats of today.
  • Driftboats and the pioneers who built and proved them on some of the wildest rivers in Oregon and Idaho.
  • How to handle your driftboat
  • How to acquire, equip, and row your own boat
  • How to read water. Identify and avoid dangerous river features
  • The basics of drifting a river while staying in the good graces of other folks you meet there
  • A complete set of checklists to help you to remember all of the vital items for an afternoon float or an extended multi-day river adventure
The book can be purchased at
Driftboats - A Complete Guide
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