Flashback Friday: Early River Running Boats

Flashback Friday: Ted Hatch Talks About Early River Running Boats


Ted continues his stories about early Hatch River Expeditions in Grand Canyon and rafting the Salmon River


In Ted Hatch’s interview with Elizabeth Sowards from June 20, 1984, they look through pictures of archaeological relics and the specially designed wooden oar boats originally used in early river running. These Galloway boats (that’ll be a post for another time!) revolutionized whitewater rafting by having a flatter bottom, covered decks, and – most importantly – turned the rafter around to face forward, allowing for better navigation through rapids. Most of the wooden boats were retired in the 1950s when WWII surplus pontoons were found to work even better, but still there are some companies today offering dory trips through Grand Canyon.

If you’ll be visiting the Grad Canyon National Park South Rim area, check out the GCNPS museum. If you’d like to learn more about the history of Arizona – both ancient fossils and more recent Native American presence – the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff has an extensive collection and works directly with many tribes.

As mentioned in past blogs, this was a different era where taking Native American pottery and other relics was common. This is no longer regarded as ethical and in fact in nearly every circumstance is illegal. These days we practice following the Leave No Trace principles: take only pictures, leave only footprints.


E. Sowards: I was reading in this John Wesley Powell Book, and it’s quite interesting.

Ted: Oh, yeah.

E. Sowards: Someone had done some art work in it. See the three arches there.

Ted: Yes. The triple alcoves.

E. Sowards: And it has these pictures.

Ted: Oh, the pottery. Oh, that great. Those pots are really neat, and they date the culture….two to three thousand years old. Now I have found a lot of pottery chips of this type.

E. Sowards: That’s quite a pretty design. Up on one…..we stopped up on that one little knoll and saw that one house. I can’t remember the name of that. It was a wider spot in the river, and we went up there to the ruins on the edge.

Ted: Was it Nankoweap, or Unkar…Unkar is low and flat.

E. Sowards: I think it was Nankoweap.

Ted: That’s the high Indian ruins, sure.

E. Sowards: People had been gathering little pieces of pottery and they have them there…

Ted: They leave them there on the rocks.

E. Sowards: Yes. But anyway in this book it was telling about John Wesley Powell’s boat, and it had on each end, kind of a storage place. He felt that if it turned over it would help the boat to float.

Ted: The early wooden boats were built with a deck on each end, and waterproofed. Because the deck was hard to build on the first ones, they took steel drums and put screws lids in them, and tied them down in there, so the boat filled with water, but it would still float, and you could turn it back over and use it. I might have a picture of one of those.

Now this is a picture of my dad when he ran the middle fork of the Salmon River. Here is the Salmon they caught. Here is the type of boat that they used. Do you see how that is decked in? These are the type of oars that he used and that’s how they ran it. His repair kit was a hammer and some nails and pieces of wood…..and some tar. He had a little pot of tar and when the boat got a leak in the bottom, he would turn it over and he would melt the tar and smear it on the bottom. You can see this black mark where they put tar along there. This tells about the early history on the middle fork of the Salmon, and these are the early guys. Most of these men went through Grand Canyon. Captain Mowrey did. Frank Swain, my dad, Doc Frazier did….

I’ve got a picture of my dad in here. They mention his trips in the thirties, but he ran a lot earlier than that. Here’s one of the old type boats…that’s a Galloway….this little wooden one. That’s the kind they used in Grand Canyon. I’ve got some more pictures too.

E. Sowards: They are kind of…they are sort of an over-sized kayak aren’t they?

Ted: Yes. About 14 feet long….which is tiny. We believe that he is the first person…..his expedition was the first one to run the middle fork of the Salmon River completely through. Several people tried, but didn’t make it. They ran it in 1936. Here are some pictures of some of their boats. You can see the early types.


Thanks for joining Hatch River Expeditions for this week’s Flashback Friday! This is just another part of the interviews with Ted Hatch. We’ll be running this series all through the 2024 river season to celebrate our 90 years in Grand Canyon. Look for more in upcoming blogs about rafting Colorado River and preparing for your next Grand Canyon adventure.

Book your 2024 or 2025 river trip today! Get your 90th Year T-shirt or sticker!