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.”
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 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
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
…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
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
…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
…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