Monday, September 12, 2011

Sore Thumb

My friend Allen Wilson up in Gold Beach, Oregon stumbled across a historic boat a couple years ago. The Betty Boop was built in the late 1960s by Keith Steele of Leaburg, Oregon for actor Ronn Hayes. Hayes spent a few years decking her out and spent the summer of 1970 rowing Grand Canyon trips with Martin Litton. By '74 Hayes had gone back to acting and sold the boat to Larry Testerman who rebuilt and rechristened her the Great Thumb. Testerman ran her for the next decade, culminating with a wicked wreck at Badger Creek on the flood of 1983. More on that later. Testerman later moved from New Mexico to Salt Lake City and the Thumb sat in a field for a quarter century until Allen spied and acquired her. He took her up to Oregon in 2009 to rebuild her, but eventually came to his senses. So he tricked me into adopting the project.

Allen also coerced me into taking a bunch of lovely Port Orford Cedar home including one 20-foot plank. Somehow the cops ignored this for 1200 miles.

The Sore Thumb soaking in a last helping of Oregon fog.

And saying goodbye to the redwood trees.

And flying up into my boat loft to spend a while commiserating with my other peculiar boats.

Bizarre paint peelings in a side hatch.

Oh, and then there's the front footwell. Something about a quarter century in the Santa Fe sun. And rain. And snow. Ooog.


  1. My name is Peter Hayes, and I am the son of Ron Hayes, the original owner of the "Betty Boop". I spent the summers of 1967-69 helping Dad to deck this special little dory. When he brought it down from Oregon he had it tied over the roof of his pick up, such that the bow pointed straight to the sky and the stern was hanging a bit out of the tailgate. He drove it under a low beam to fill up with gas, cracking the hull in half! He pulled into Martin Litton's home in the Bay Area a day later, and it is said that Martin cried. Dad spent the entire winter reinforcing the entire bow, and that is why she is so stout up front. Dad insisted on using only brass screws, and he fashioned a bear-trap ski binding closure for the aft compartment. We spent countless hours shaving millimeters off specially curved wood to make every piece fit into the complex structure a wood dory is. In the Spring of 1970 a fellow named George Mancini was living at our home in Sylmar, learning how to weld. When the dory was all finished and brightly painted, George got the idea to epoxy a huge, colored "Peter Max"-style butterfly image across the bow hatch. Dad was not pleased, but he came to love it. The "Betty Boop" is designed to carry only 2 guests, and the first tow on the maiden voyage were both actors: Arthur Franz and Tim Consadine. Tim was "Timmy", one of the original "Mousecateers" for the TV Show. Dad never flipped the "Boop", but he did stand her on her tail in the "V-Waves" on the Right side of Lava Falls (Dad ran the rt. run almost every time) and he slid right off the stern. Until his death, Dad carried a picture of the event in his wallet: a chance photo taken by a passenger on the bank. Dad died in 2004, and I am sure he would be more than leased to know that she is now being restored by a master craftsman. Thank you. I will send you photos of the Maiden Voyage, taken in the middle of "Hance Rapid".

  2. Peter--what a treat to hear from you. I've been hoping to track you down for a few more stories and pictures.
    The Boop is just about done and you'll be happy to know that I re-used about 90% of those brass screws you put in. The decks are a hybrid of what you built and what the next owner did. Same goes for the paint job, although it looks a lot more like the original Betty Boop than the Great Thumb. I hope you approve! (I think I will skip the Peter Max butterfly though!)
    More later--
    Thanks so much for dropping me a line--

  3. Just a few more details. The Harpoon design is from the original painted by Dad. He added "Betty Boop" across the transum. The name is for his second wife, Betty Endicott, who was one of the bar maids on "Bonanza". You may find a profile of her with a Google search of: Bonanza Girls. Betty was quite the buxom gal, and when ever she was mad at Dad, she'd tell him to, "Go out and screw your boat!" And he would. There were two metal handles on the inside front compartment under to the gunnal. I put them there by mistake, because they were supposed to go on the passenger side of the forward hatch, to give them a place to grab. Turns out the low placement was an advantage for staying in the boat, and Dad kept them there.
    Just a bit of trivia on Dad. He did not sell the "Betty Boop" because of acting, rather, he had to give her up because he had to work full time in the Grand Canyon operations for his own river company, Wilderness World, Inc. which he owned with his Stanford University climbing buddy, Vladimire Kovalik. Dad sold out his portion of the company in 1978. He had to sell the dory when he did because he divorced Betty, spen too much time away with his own company, and had no place to store her. Dad ended up with about 70 trips down the Canyon, and he did his last one taking his grandson, Jesse, down. He had a near fatal swim in "Lava" when he was blown into the Ledge Hole and his boat window-shaded for 5 minutes. Dad almost drown, and Jesse had to do a push-up off a boulder on the bottom of the river to stay alive. Jesse, a third generation river runner (I guided for Dad's company starting in 1973, and ended with almost 70 trips down the Middle Fork of the Salmon and 50 trips down the Rogue) proved to be the craziest of us all amassing an incredible list of descents: guide on Cherry Creek, Guide on the White Nile in Uganda, South Fork of the Silver River in a raft (this drops 750 ft/mile) with his wife, 35 Middle Fork Trips, etc. BUT, The Betty Boop and Dad's affiliation with Martin Litton started it all. Dad was one of Martins earliest guides, and in the early '70's he became sort of a legend in a helicopter retrieval of a wrapped Havasu in the middle of "Hance Rapid". The choper dropped him off on the rock, Dad rigged the ropes and the chopper lifted the boat off the rock. When it returned to fetch Dad, he dove for the skids, latched them, and the whole craft lunged toward the waves. Witnesses said they thought is was going to be a disaster, but nothing happened. It was the first rescue of its kind in Grand Canyon commercial river history. Just sharing, and thanks again for taking care of the "Betty Boop"!