Sunday, May 15, 2016

Proper Dory Colors

When former Nevills boatman P.T. Reilly built his new pair of cataract boats in 1955, he asked his neighbor, Harper Goff, what colors might look best in Grand Canyon. Harper Goff was a good person to ask. 

A few years earlier Goff was in London, shopping for antique model trains. The one he wanted had already been promised to another customer, whom Goff met that evening: Walt Disney. A friendship developed and Disney soon hired Goff as a set designer and art director. Many of the buildings in  Disneyland's Main Street USA were modeled on Goff's childhood hometown, Fort Collins. And shortly before Reilly consulted him, Goff had completed designing the award-winning 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Goff's Victorian futuristic Nautilus, both inside and out, have since been credited as the foundation of the Steam Punk phenomenon.

Goff later went on to design such iconic films as Fantastic Voyage and Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. And he was the whistling banjo player in Disneyland's Dixieland jazz band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two. But I digress. But before I regress you really should check these guys out: Red River Valley And Firehouse Stomp.

Where was I? Oh, right. Proper Dory Colors. Harper Goff chose three colors that he felt would be perfect in the canyon setting: Refrigerator White, Cadillac Aztec Red, and Willys Beryl Green. Reilly went with it, and the boats looked great.

So great, in fact, that Reilly's protege, Martin Litton, adopted the tri-color scheme for his fledgling commercial venture, Grand Canyon Dories.

Until 1987, when Litton sold Grand Canyon Dories, those were the three colors we used. Here is Rudi Petschek's photo of eighteen of Martin's fleet lines up at Phantom Ranch beach in the 1980s. By then Cadillac no longer made Aztec Red, Willys had gone out of business, and we often went with whatever red, white and aqua/green seemed right.

But with the sale of Grand Canyon Dories many things changed, and the successor's fleet is a wild assortment of unrelated hues. I miss the the fleet colors. So much so, that last week I finally tracked down (on eBay of course) the original paint chips.

Refrigerator White was a bit of a puzzler, so I decided to go with white refrigerator touch-up paint.  It says "refrigerators" right on it. And it's white.

I packaged them up and sent them off to George Kirby Jr. Paint Co. to replicate and keep the formulas on my Rolodex card on George's desk. So if you should ever want to paint your dory the proper colors, give George a call.

And download a few albums of the Firehouse Five Plus Two to play while you're painting your dory. It's the right thing to do.


  1. Ha! Interesting timing, since I just finished painting my boat this week, after spending lots of time on color choices, and tracking down some of the same Jeep and Cadillac paint codes. I had George match the Pettit Newport Green which looks very nice. I'll have no idea how close it is to Willys Beryl until my dory commingles with some other ones down the line. But in the end I guess I really don't care, since it looks good to me. The green pinstripe I chose was unrelated to the GCD color scheme, rather related to my distant past.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to do this Brad. I know there are a LOT of dory builders out there who go to Kirby's for your custom colors! Especially that Tequila Beach...

  3. I ordered the Willy's Beryl Green from a paint company in California that specializes in antique car colors. not cheap and a urethane so you have to have a hardener but very accurate. My dory wore the colors of the Susie Too for this last trip but glad that it will now be available in a Pettit color as well. Thanks Brad.

  4. "Harper Goff chose three colors that he felt would be perfect in the canyon setting," and indeed, his selection did not disappoint. "They worked well in almost any combination," pointed out John Blaustein. Different patterns of these three colors on side-by-side boats never clashed. The floating dory flotilla was something to behold.

    This visual harmony was unexpectedly interrupted for three September weeks during the 1983 filming of the IMAX movie Hidden Secrets. On that occasion the dories' sharp angular lines and bright colors conflicted visually, much to their detriment, with the softer lines and natural wood of the Powell boat replicas built for the occasion.

    Several of us regular dory guides on the IMAX-filming river trip commented on, and agreed about, this unexpected visual clash -- the Powell boats blended harmoniously into their surroundings; they looked as if they belonged there. By contrast, the dories seemed out of place, similar to rubber next to dories looking out of place.

    It saddened me at the time to think that for the few of us who shared this experience, thIs change of perception might become permanent. But much to our relief, once the Powell boats moved on to fulfill their destiny elsewhere, leaving dories to again reign supreme on the river, our perception of the three bright colors that worked well in almost any combination promptly returned to its previous normal.

    Rudi Petschek, May 21, 2016.