Farewells


Bryce Mackay
You can't get there from here.” That was a line you heard from Ruben Bryce Mackay (a.k.a. U-Joint) more often than not. Bryce hated to be called Ruben. The ladies might be able to call him Ruben, but if you were a man, it was better to let it go, unless you wanted to piss him off. The nickname U-Joint came from shearing off so many on the Diamond Creek road. He was also known as Doom Cloud or the Forecaster of Doom—names that came from his sense of humor. People would always say that Bryce had a black cloud of doom following him around.
One time (it was the closest he came to getting fired) Bryce convinced the crew that the river season had been cancelled because the dam had been shut off. Some actually left for home. Ted Hatch had to fly down to round up the crew for a trip that was leaving.
Bryce was a one-legged truck driver. He drove with his left foot on the gas and hated using the clutch. He liked driving trucks with older transmissions because they would speed shift easier (shifting without the clutch). He was very adept at not only upshifting but also downshifting; a good thing to learn if your clutch ever goes out! This could be one of the reasons that the Hatch trucks went through quite a few heavy duty clutches. Bryce had lost his right leg when he was backed over by a dump truck in the oil fields of Vernal. Despite the fact that his prosthetic was often uncomfortable he never let it slow him down. In fact he would use it to set up people for his practical jokes. Years ago at the weigh station in Kingman, Bryce unstrapped his leg just before climbing out of the cab of the truck. When getting out of his semi to present his logbook and papers it would be to the disbelief of the attendant that his leg would fall off. Then Bryce would make a good show of rolling around on the gravel gathering up his papers and hopping over to the startled attendant. After that the weigh station attendants in Kingman tended to wave Bryce through.
Bryce would always tell kids that boatmen were tough, but truck drivers were tougher. He would prove it by smacking his shin with a stick or nailing shingle tacks into his leg. The heel on his prosthetic would occasionally break and he would walk to the hardware store for a new bolt to fix it. His foot would sometimes spin around backwards when this happened. One time he was stopped by a concerned woman who told him his leg was broken and that he should immediately go to the hospital. Bryce responded with a straight face saying that it didn't hurt and that he was on his way to the hardware store to fix it.
Bryce started in the river industry almost 40 years ago driving for Jack Curry at Western River Expeditions. In 1970 he stated driving full time for Hatch. Ted Hatch gave Bryce a company truck and unlimited gas as a benefit for working at the company. Ted thought this was a great idea, since Bryce would be tired of driving after going back and forth between Cliff Dwellers and Pearce Ferry, but Bryce loved driving. Bryce would come off a drive, take a shower put on a clean cowboy shirt, hop in his company truck and take off. Ted would then get gas bills from Tuba City to Texas. It is said that once Bryce drove to North Dakota for the weekend. In five years Bryce put 350,000 miles on the company truck, and went through two engines. Although astonished by Bryce's gas bills and where they came from, free gas and a truck was a benefit that was agreed on for years between Bryce and Ted.
Bryce was a friend to all those in the river industry and many on the highway. He had a spring mounted plastic hand stuck to his windshield that would wave to people as he passed them. At Christmas time he would mount a wreath on the grill of his truck. He was regular in many small towns in Arizona and Utah and was always treated with respect. On December 20th, two days after his 72nd birthday, Bryce had his last cup of coffee and piece of pie at the Marble Canyon Lodge. He drove home, lay down on his couch and covered himself with a blanket. Bryce Mackay left us behind with great stories, stranded boatmen, and quite a few broken hearted girlfriends. When Diamond Creek Road gets washed out or if you find yourself stuck on a sand bar on the way in to Pearce Ferry remember Bryce always said, “You can't get there from here.”
J.P. Running


Brick Mortenson
1950s and '60s Colorado River-runner Vernon Russell “Brick” Mortenson, “ran the last rapid” December 16, 2000, in Anacortes, Washington at the age of 83, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Brick, the middle son of five children born to Morten Mortenson and Ingeborg Mortenson, began life June 1, 1917 on a homestead in the farm country of western North Dakota. Since the midwife failed to arrive on time, his father's delivery foreshadowed the beginning of an adventurous life. During his formative years on the family farm, an off-hand remark about the red hair of that “brick-headed kid” gave Brick the name he eventually used the rest of his life.
Being very athletic, Brick played center and linebacker on the Williston High football team. As he put it, “Those were the days when you played both ways (offense and defense), wore a leather helmet, and if you had to, you played hurt.” After high school, Brick life-guarded at the city pool. Once, to entertain the locals, he performed a death-defying stunt as “Martin Yachek Ruspino from Flint, Michigan” who would high-dive off a 30-foot tower, while set on fire, into a 10-foot pool. Fortunately for Brick, his masked hood hid his identity from the community and, more importantly, his parents.
In the late '30s, Brick and a friend drove to Glendale, California in a topless 1926 Model T Ford. There, he attended Curtis-Wright Technical School and secured a job with the Lockheed Aircraft Company, retiring in 1972. During those years he worked on all of the great military and commercial aircraft that came out of Lockheed, Burbank including the p38 Lightning, the f104 Starfighter, the Constellation, the Electra, and the l1011. In 1958, Brick and his family lived in Japan for two years while he worked with Kawasaki Aircraft on the production of the p2v7 antisubmarine aircraft for the Japanese Navy. He worked for a number of years in the secretive “Skunk Works” and helped build unique aircraft such as the sr71, while developing new ways to manufacture aircraft tooling.
While at Lockheed in 1955, friend and co-worker P.T. “Pat” Reilly asked Brick if he would be interested in being a boatman on a trip down the Colorado River. P.T. cautioned him that once they started the trip they would be on their own until they reached Lake Mead. Being an outdoor adventurer and having seen a movie of Reilly's previous trips, Brick quickly accepted. That spring he helped P.T. build his second boat, the Flavell, named after the early river runner who, in 1896, ran rapids bow-first facing downstream. Brick's first view of Grand Canyon was from Navajo Bridge, his first view of a rapid from the Badger Overlook. Brick had as his passengers Martin and Esther Litton, also on their first trip. “Marty and his wife had to be the bravest people I know to ride with me since Pat was teaching me as we went,” said Brick.
Brick returned with P.T. in 1957, boating from


Lees Ferry to Bright Angel on a record flow of over 125,000 cfs, and in 1958 at flows approaching 100,000 cfs from Bright Angel to Lava Falls. After Brick flipped at Mile 137.5 and the subsequent unsuccessful recovery of the Flavell, Reilly thought the river too dangerous with only two boats and he let the Susie-R and the Gem go at Lava while the party hiked out. Georgie White found the Flavell and the Reilly party found the Susie-R, both on Lake Mead. Because the hulls of both were fiberglass, a new material for boats at that time, and too fragile for Grand Canyon, Reilly could not stop the leaks and scuttled them at Pipe Creek in June 1959.
Brick returned to the Canyon in 1960, hiking to Keyhole Bridge, and again in 1961 with Reilly and Brick's thirteen-year-old son, Dave. His final run of the Colorado River was in 1962, made in a boat he had designed and built, the Flavell II. When Brick first ran the river there were only about 200 people who had done it before him. He was also one of about 1,800 people to ever run the wild, muddy Colorado River before Glen Canyon Dam.
The family held a memorial service at the American Legion hall in Eastsound, Washington, December 27. Any contributions to Brick's memory may be sent to the “Brick Mortenson Scholarship Fund,” Orcas Island Lions Foundation, po Box 1212, Eastsound, wa 98245.
In early January Brick's son Dave Mortenson, generously donated Brick's 1950s pre-dam river running films to nau's Cline Library Special Collections and Archives (sca), establishing the Brick Mortenson Collection. In a fitting memory to his father, Dave then left for a 30-day river trip in the Canyon. Brick would definitely have approved.
For more information on Brick Mortenson, look up his biography, Running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon at Cline Library Special Collections.

Dave Mortenson & Richard Quartaroli

A Tribute to Dave Klopefer
When talking about boatmen, it is possible to ruin a good story with too much of the truth. Yet stories about my brother hardly needed to be embellished. As one of his close friends said to me, “David was one of those people who just made life throb.” How to pay proper tribute to my brother is a task that I will not be able to live up to…
…David was born in Richfield, Utah. He spent most of his youth in Logan, Utah. Our father was a pipeline contractor, so we spent summers in Afton, Wyoming, Telluride, Colorado and in the mountains north of Durango, Colorado. By the time he was 14, David was running heavy equipment for dad. At the age of 16 he was living on his own in Jackson, Wyoming…
…Being David's little brother was a character building experience. Because he was the oldest, he was often burdened with baby sitting duty. This never seemed to get him down though. There was always something cooking with David around. For example, he was an expert at getting his siblings to blow milk bubbles from their noses. His acting skills were unparalleled. With a bottle of ketchup he could make us all believe he was mortally wounded, and he would pretend to call the ambulance to come and get him…
…David started working for Western Rivers and Jack Curry in the late '60s. I heard him tell stories about how two of them would be sent to the Ferry to rig six of those big J-rigs, and then drive back to Fredonia. The grunt work paid off, and he was running boats in no time. Before he left Western, he had one major wreck at Dubendorf. He hit a rock so hard with his motor, that it not only launched that massive 40 horse-power Johnson off of the transom, it broke the safety chain as well. The story goes that the motor cleared the boat by twenty feet during its ascent…
…Mother and I went through Grand Canyon with Dave and Linda on an extremely low water trip in 1970. By this time David was a superb motor boatman. I can still remember the finesse that he used working that jackass lift up and down at every little pool of water between the rocks as we slid across what was usually Crystal Rapid. On that trip we actually backed down Horn Creek Rapid. I don't know if David invented this maneuver, but it seems extremely hazardous considering the danger that you were subjecting your prop to…but on that trip David had only dinged two props…
After David and Alan Harris purchased Harris Boat Trips from Don Harris, the whole operation was moved to the warehouse in Kanab. This warehouse was to become Dave and Linda's home…David and Alan were looking to expand the business. They decided to take a trip to the Sea of Cortez to see if they may be able to offer trips in the winter down there. David invited me to come along. This is the trip where I somehow earned the nickname Paco. It was an incredible time with a Grand Canyon motor rig, circumnavigating the entire island of Tiburon north of Kino Bay. It took us a whole week…
…We were all sort of sad about the end of Harris Boat Trips. In those days there were not a lot of regulations, but they were starting to pile up, and it was wearing on David. There is a lot of stress involved in dealing with the government. As river running got more popular the regulations became thicker…Harris Boat Trips was a small company that had to jump through all the same hoops. David and Linda got tired of jumping…
…For the last ten years David had been working overhauls on various power plants throughout the country. He was in demand and lining up work. Things were really going his way. He had even done three months in Panama, and his boss came to realize he was fluent in Spanish. David loved Panama… He loved the kind of work he did. It was technical, and interesting.There were constantly new things to learn. David was the cream rising to the top…
…In 1999 the Klopefer family got invited on a Cataract trip…of course we took over, and had a real good time. I was able to stay up late talking to my brother about things that we never had before… Nothing spectacular, just great to be with the family, to camp out and to have fun. I didn't know that would be our last trip together, but we did it as a family.
Jack “Paco” Klopefer