Sunday, April 2, 2017

Z - The last is the first . . .

“The first shall be last, and the last first (Matt 20:16).”

Taken completely out of context, the same can be said for my good friend “Z,” Dave Zielinski, that is. “Z” hails from Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. Even though he’s the last entry into an alphabet soup mix, he’s long been first in my book. Z” was one of the first friendships I forged during my research, and writing about, the McKenzies. It was a digital friendship, like so many others I have forged around the globe.

Z” was the first to test the efficacy of the lines and construction detail of the Trapper. Had “Z” not stepped forward this boat might not have been part of my book’s inventory of recoverables (pp 213-221, Drift Boats and River Dories). 
Z” was one of the first to build my re-creation of the first Woodie Hindman double-ender with a transom, circa 1948. 
Z” was the first to get hooked on drift boat building, for himself first, and then for friends. He has built 13 such boats. He now has his own little boat building business that specializes in small drifters for those smaller neighborhood streams (
Z” was the first to visit Oregon, and with me, make his first trip to McKenzie . . . 

 . . . and meet my good friend, Dave Helfrich. 

The more I mature, the more I recognize that relationship is a central feature in my work, and in my world.

Monday, March 27, 2017


"Believe me, my old friend, there is nothing -- 

 "absolutely nothing --

 "half so much worth doing

"as simply messing about with boats."
(Adapted from Wind in the Willows)

The aroma of Port Orford cedar,
Fresh shavings on the floor;
The appropriate christening,
And the delivery to a flyfishers cave.

That's satisfaction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Woodenboat Festival and Dave Helfrich

Many thanks to Randy Dersham for orchestrating this year's McKenzie WB Festival. His poster this year features Dave Helfrich on the oars. His life partner, Terry Sambrailo rides shotgun. 

The McKenzie lost David Prince Helfrich on October 7 last Fall. He is a river legend, not only on the McKenzie, but also on the Rogue, the Middle Fork, the Owyhee, and the Bruneau. His legacy is part of the larger Helfrich legacy which began with his dad, Prince, then Dave, followed by younger siblings Dick, Diane, and Dean. Collectively, the brothers spawned 15 Helfrich guides who today ply the McKenzie and Northwest waterways. His is a remarkable heritage.

It his later years, it was Dave’s intention to write his life story, but the river, travels and other interests got in the way. Four months before he died, and knowing that his time was  very short, he decided it was time to do that book. By that time, he was unable to write. His mind and his voice, however, were clear, so an audio recording system was set up. Every Tuesday afternoon from early May until a couple of weeks before his death, Dave recorded his stories. His Hospice room became his “campsite,” and as several of us collected around his “campfire,” Dave told of his family’s early years on the McKenzie, his youth, his years as a logger, a back country pilot, a river guide and outfitter, and the intriguing characters he met and worked with. His stories have been transcribed and are being organized into a book. His book.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Just reflecting . . .

I don’t craft a lot of these. They are time consuming, and consequently, take me away from other interests I have. At my age, that’s an important consideration since each day is numbered, and those numbers are getting smaller – by the day. That’s life. The chrono clock just keeps ticking away. But the river memories are there, and as I sip my morning coffee or an afternoon IPA in the presence of this boat, I am heartened by the recollections it brings, the interesting shop projects yet to come, and the multitude of friends I have. Just thinkin’ this morning . . . pleasant thinkin'.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Two countries. Same Boat. Two methods.

I am enjoying two (among others) satisfactions from the 2007 publication of my book, Drift Boats and River Dories: The histories of these fine boats is much more broadly known, as well as the stories of the people behind the boats; and I am approaching 100 reports from people across the globe who have re-created one of these functional dories for their personal use. Here are a couple of current examples:

Gordon Olafson, Ladysmith BC, is building his Rogue River dory from the book. He formed the boat on a strongback to assure accuracy and now has a completed hull. He returns from the southern hemisphere in early March to complete the boat.

Across North America in Bolton, CT, David Sianez is crafting a quarter-scale model of the Rogue dory from the book. His approach is to model the boat first to determine interior configurations that suit his needs, then build it full-size via the stitch and glue method. 

Same boat. Two different methods. Two countries. How cool is that?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

If I can't row, I won't go..."

. . . . . .  is a Dave Helfrich mantra.
Dave at his 80th birthday event
Legendary river guide

Is there an experienced river boatman or boatwoman who feels differently? I doubt it.

When my derrière is firmly planted in the rowing seat, my hands are on the oars, and my feet are in the stirrups, my drift boat and I are one, in complete harmony, and in a synchronous flow. 

At the time of my passing, if I have a choice, I’d prefer to die peacefully on the oars somewhere, though it will less peaceful for those who are in the boat with me, especially if it happens at the top of Whitehorse on the Deschutes, or Blossom Bar on the Rogue.

But like Dave, "if I can’t row, I won’t go."