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  Nancy Streator Reuling
  The Passenger Experience in the late 1940s
  BQR ~ fall 1998

am a native from Salt Lake City and I was born here in Salt Lake in 1929. I attended the Rowland Hall school for girls throughout my pre-college years. I first heard about Norm Nevills's river trips from Father Liebler, who had the St. Christopher's Mission down in Bluff. I think it was '45 or '46. We had a school expedition down there and we saw some of the pictures of the trip that Norm had taken Father Liebler on. I was just fascinated, and that is how I became interested in it. I had been very interested in that part of the country, the Indians and all that sort of thing, so it was just kind of natural that I fell into it.
  It would have to be '44–'45 because I think that I went down the river—yeah, I went down the San Juan in '46, so it had to be before that.
   My father was very particular about this expedition that I was going on, as I'm sure that you well imagine. He owned Streator Chevrolet, here. He wrote to Norm and said the stipulation was that if I went I would go on Norm's boat and that sort of thing.

  Was that for the first trip?

   For all of the trips. I usually ended up being the thirteenth person, since I was fairly light and small. Norm would put on his boat three passengers plus himself. So I would usually share the back deck with someone.

  Could you tell me something about that, like how it worked out, how you registered, and what it cost?

   It was really quite expensive, and I don't remember how much it was. I think that each part of the Colorado River trips was something like twelve hundred dollars. I don't really remember what the San Juan was.
   In those days we didn't carry ice chests and we had all canned food; there was no fresh food. There was never any liquor or beer available. It was a really straight trip because I think that Norm wanted to keep everybody alert, you know, none of the fun stuff. It was serious business.
   It was in the summer. I don't remember exactly what time, but it was probably in the end of, I think, June, because we always ran the Colorado—the Grand-in July. In those days, that is when the water was the highest and the melt-off was the biggest.

  How did you get down to Mexican Hat?

   Well, I am sure my father (laughter)—I am an only child. I am sure my father deposited me and picked me up from the river; I am sure that he did. And in those days, there was nothing past Moab. [laughter] Literally nothing. The roads were graded, but they were all dirt.

  What was that trip like? Was that trip a little more relaxed than the Grand Canyon trips?

   Yes, I would say so. It was about a week, six days or seven days.

   Who all went on the San Juan trip? Can you remember the other boatman or any of the passengers?

   I would have to go back and look. I got movies of that trip which are just hysterical. But a classmate of mine was Ardie Robison, from Rowland Hall, and she went on that trip with me.

***

  Once you did that, is that what interested you in going on the Grand Canyon?

   Yes. Then the next year I did the lower end of the Grand Canyon from Phantom Ranch down. The following year I did the Green and the upper Grand. You see, the lower end in those days was two weeks. So the whole trip through the Grand Canyon was a three-week deal.

  What was the attitude of people that you knew, about you going? Was it really a crazy thing to do then?

   Oh, yeah.

  Like your schoolmates and your parents? They let you go, but did you have to convince them pretty hard?

   Well, my father was always pretty good about things that I was interested in. He would investigate thoroughly, and he certainly looked at Norm thoroughly. But, no, when he decided that it was safe for me then he would let me go.

  What did your mother think?

   Oh, she was always a good sport about it.

  A lot of people have written to [Norm], and their parents wouldn't let them go or their wives wouldn't let them go, so it is interesting that yours did.

   Kent Frost—he never was a boatman on one of our trips—was down there at one time and got my mother out in the middle of the river. My mother always wore gloves and a hat. I can't remember, I don't think that she probably would have at that time of year a fur cape on, but she always wore furs. Kent got her out in the middle of Lee's Ferry and said, "Now, I am sorry, Mrs. Streator, but I guess we just can't get back to shore, I guess we will just have to go right through the canyon." She was so gullible that she believed him. (laughter) Oh dear, it was funny. So she was kind of panicky about that.

  I just happened to be looking through your diary—I noticed that it said that you ran quite a few rapids with him because you were smaller?

   Yeah, I think so, I was little. He could see over me and I wasn't a big body.

  Did you ride in the boat or on the deck?

   No, on the deck; all passengers always rode on the deck. Stern first, always facing down river. There was actually nobody except the boatman in the boat.

   Tell me a little more about Norm. You say that he was theatrical?

   Yeah, you know, he was promoting his business, and he liked things to be fun and he liked them to be different and exciting and that sort of thing. He was really very dramatic and theatrical.

  In his pictures he seems really strong and really big. But he was small?

   He was a small man. Well, he was probably about five foot nine. I don't think that he was much bigger than that. He was very wiry, you know, very muscular, but he was not a tall man at all.

  I guess he was very much in charge of the trip. Were there ever any kinds of disputes that you noticed of any boatman talking back to him or anything?

   No, because if you remember Frank Wright and all the Rigg fellows, there were three Riggs. You know, they were in business after Norm was killed. So everybody was very, I felt, congenial. They would consult—I mean, they were his friends, too. I don't remember the boatmen on the San Juan, particularly, but when we got to the Grand it was Frank Wright, who is still alive, and Jim Rigg, who is not alive, you know, all the Rigg brothers and so forth.

  Did he have a loud or fine voice?

   No, it was fairly deep, I would say.
   He had eyes that were piercing and blue like a bird's, almost. I mean, you could tell that he saw lots of things that none of the rest of us saw. Very alert. I think that his eyes were the most striking feature about him.
   He always had a twinkle in his eye, you know, jovial.

  So when he was on the river, then—not at camps, per se, but on the river itself—was he all business?

   Oh, he was fun. He was singing and jovial. I mean, we had water fights and, you know, he would make it fun. He got serious when we ran rapids, you know. But no, he was always thinking up things to do with these huge great big driftwood piles on down there, you know, that would come down with the spring runoff. We would set those all on fire. You can't do that now, but it cleared out the river. You know, in those days it was really a plus and not anything that was damaging the environment.

  Did he do a lot of exploring and look at the canyons?

   Well, not as much as they do now because there weren't any trails and there was a lot of heavy growth down there that really made a lot of the canyons inaccessible. In fact, the trip to Havasu was almost impassable. Because of the brush and all of the stuff. But you see, there have been so many river people down there now and they have made trails and they have come down from the village to the river and then up from the river and so on and so forth. So actually, we didn't do a lot of extensive exploring in the canyons. Oh, there was some, you know. Dock Marston was on our trip. I am sure that you have heard all about him. He would sometimes go off for long treks, but the rest of us really didn't do a lot of hiking around because there weren't any trails at all.
   You know, we would go to Deer Creek Falls and that sort of thing.

  Did he do layovers; did he stop for a day in places?

   No, we always traveled. But we always had lunch and then we always had a rest because it got to be over 150 degrees in that canyon over the summertime, and it was hot. So we always had an hour or so rest after lunch, just in the hottest part of the day. Then we would go on down and find a campsite, but there were a lot more campsites then than there are now.

  Did he usually camp in the sand or did he camp up in the ledges?

   Both. I will tell you one thing, the sand was cooler than the rocks. Now the entrance to Havasu Creek, there were just ledges to camp on. The pools were so pretty up that canyon part way that we camped there, but the rocks were so hot and you just never cooled off at night. So the sand was really cooler than the rocks.

  What was his camp routine like?

   His boatmen shared in the work and we all helped with the dishes and stuff. It was kind of a mutual operation.

  So mostly canned foods?

   Oh yeah, nothing fresh. I don't remember dinners as well, but I remember that we would have tongue for lunch. I don't care for tongue. (laughter) I would slather a lot of mustard on it to kill the taste.
   All the milk was canned, you know, to eat on cereal and that sort of thing. We had eggs and bacon for breakfast. But for dinner—isn't that funny, I don't really remember. Lunches and breakfast I remember, but I don't remember dinner.

  Apparently you ran quite a few more rapids, it seems, than most people. Do you remember the big ones that you ran with them?

   Well, nobody ran Lava. I ran, I think, Granite Falls and Hance. When we went down to the top part of the river in '48—I guess it was—or was it '49? My diary would say, but I can't remember. There was eighty thousand second feet of water, which is a good amount of water. It was a high river. I mean to tell you that some of those rapids were something else, great big waves in them. So yeah, I ran Hance, I'm sure, and Granite the year before, but the water was lower. I don't exactly remember what it was, but I guess it was in the twelve thousand second foot range. I ran a lot of rapids with him, I guess.

  What was he like in rapids, was he real cool? He was obviously good at it.

   Yeah, very analytical of his water and everything, very good.

  Did he let you row many times?

   Yeah.

***

   Then, you see, on one of our Grand Canyon trips there was the fellow out of Green River that we found his boat. We were the first ones to find his boat when we were looking for his body, Bert Loper. Yeah, we were looking for his body, but we never found it. But we were the first ones to find his boat.

  You pulled that up on the shore?

   Yeah, we pulled it up further.

  At the end of the Grand Canyon he was met by a power boat and you were towed out?

   I think that we were towed all the way to Boulder. My father came up on the powerboat.

  So he would make it a very enjoyable trip, so people would come back. Did he have quite a few repeat customers?

   Well, let's see, I think that I was on the river with Fish Eyes. [Frank Masland] He is just a wonderful person. He has owned Masland Carpet Company, as I am sure you are aware of, and he was on the Parks Service Board for a good many years. He was very interested in conservation in the early years before it was popular to be one of those.

   What was Marston like, Dock Marston?

   I remember that [Dock] Marston just had all kinds of reasons, psychologically, why people ran the river. He decided that everybody had to have a deep-seated psychological reason for running. You couldn't just run it for fun, there had to be something. He kept volumes and volumes of material on the river and he was going to write a book. I don't know that he ever did.
   But he collected more material and was always exploring and he always had theories about this and that and the other thing. He was very interested in the history of the river and the people that had been down there and so on.

  That is interesting that everybody had deep-seated psychological reasons. I always wondered if he did. (laughter)

   Oh, that is what I was wondering, too. He really thought that we were all nuts or something and we had to have some reason for doing this crazy stuff.

  Did you know Doris very well? What was she like?

   Much more quiet than Norm. I never knew her as well because, obviously, she was home preparing all the trips and the food. You know, she was the lady behind the scenes, so to speak. You never really got to know her that well. At least I didn't.

   Was she quiet?

   Uh-huh, you know, just a lovely, nice person. We would be there overnight to embark on a river trip, and you don't really get to know a person very well.

   Did you stay at Mexican Hat, like for your San Juan trip, and stay with her?

   Yes, Norm's mother had the motel there.

   Did you get to meet her and know her or anything?

   Yes, but I don't remember her that well.

***

  What did you think about your Green River trip as compared to the Grand Canyon, did you enjoy that?

   Not as much. I like the desert, I think, more than I like the Green River vegetation, though it was fascinating and we found some Indian things and the guano caves up by Steamboat Rock.
   The water was colder. I mean, I don't like cold, so the water was clearer and colder. The Grand, of course, at that point was very silty, it was always warm. We used to drink that water, by the way.
   It was a June trip and it was right after the heavy snow. I guess it was in '48 or '49, I don't remember. The mosquitoes were just terrible. My father insisted that I get Rocky Mountain tick shots. Ros Johnson got Rocky Mountain spotted fever. She was taken out to the hospital in Rock Springs. Her hair turned gray from it and she lost a lot of her eyesight from it.

  Really?

   Uh-huh. It was a very serious disease.
   Rosalind used to live in Pasadena. I went to college at Scripps, so I used to see her occasionally in California during my school year. We were always quite good friends. She was kind of, I guess, a big sister image to me or something. She was a horsewoman and she taught riding. We always got along quite well together—she was very outdoorsy and fun to be with.
   Now, let's see, Jim Riggs was on that trip, Frank [Wright] was on that trip, and Norm was on that trip. I think that there were just three boats. Anyhow, I think that Jim had been in the South Pacific during the War or something—Frank had—I can't remember which. But they said the mosquitoes were worse than anything that they had ever experienced during the War, it was just terrible.

   Was that through the whole stretch?

   Oh yeah, it was awful, it was just terrible.

  Did you take tents?

   Oh, we never did have tents.

***

  Have you ever gone down the river since?

   Yeah, I went down in about '81 or '82.

  Who was that with?

   Ted Hatch. Ted sat on the (Utah) State Aeronautics Committee with me. So that is really the reason that I went down with him. I mean, he wasn't on the trip, but I took my youngest son with me.

  Did you tell Ted that you were down there before him?

   Yes. (laughter)

***

  Did you ever fly with Norm in his airplane?

   No. You see, my father flew and I subsequently flew. That is what I have been doing. Before I retired that is what I was doing, I was an faa examiner. The reason that I started flying is because my father had detached retinas. He couldn't get a medical, so I took up flying and flew with him and then took it over as a career, sort of.

   I didn't know that. How did you learn about Norm and Doris' death?

   Oh, that was very interesting; I was driving to college with my mother and we were down there in Nephi. I had pretty good esp at some point. I was eating fried chicken. I thought, "We are going to have an accident," and thought I'd better put this chicken down and have both hands on the wheel. Sure enough, somebody hit me from behind. A truck was stopped on a two-lane road, you know, that way. The truck was stopped and you couldn't get around it because of oncoming traffic. So I stopped, but the car behind me hit me. We went into the truck and my mother kind of whiplashed her neck a bit. I called my father and he came running down to get us and he brought the news down.

  You must have been shocked…

   Yeah, I was, because we were very good friends. We really were good friends.

Interview by Roy Webb
September 1990

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