We hate to interrupt a good story but theres another version of
this tale you need to hear
(from a panel discussion at the GCRG Fall Meeting 1993,
held at Ken Sleights Pack Creek Ranch in Moab, Utah. Bob wasnt going to tell
this one at first but Brad, whod heard it before, coaxed it out of him)
Bob Quist: My first trip with Tony Sparks was in 1969.
He had offered me a job that I couldnt pass up. I mean it was so much money that it
Brad Dimock: So much money... how much money was so
Ken Sleight: More than I was paying him.
Bob Quist: Way more. (laughing) It was fifty bucks a day.
But youve gotta understand that Grand Canyon boatmen were few and far
between. Hatch had the lock on Grand Canyon boatmen. You know there were outfitters that
did it. But at the same time the outfitters were the boatmen.
Tony was into the triple thrill trip. From Lees Ferry to
the Little Colorado, helicopter ride out, and then you got to look at some Indian ruins on
the drive. Of course this was on the rez. You got into it from Cedar Ridge and so you can
imagine... I mean if youve never been in that country, thats another world.
That aint the same world as we live in.
Brad Dimock: Thats the third thrill.
Bob Quist: Yeah. The third thrill. So we got old Woody to
build a frame that we could we were going to helicopter everything out at the
Little Colorado, the whole schmear. The boats...everything. So Tony and I went down there
and we built this pad. And the deal was, it was on the Indian rez so the Park Service
couldnt mess with us. But the Park Service insisted that the pad and the
helicopter and everything else was three hundred feet above the historic high water line,
which was the Park Service claim to the land, and the Indians were claiming halfway out to
the middle of the river as I remember, and it was a big battle royal... so we go
Tom Moody: But it didnt seem odd to you to have to
carry a 33 [@ 700 lbs. of rubber, alone] up three hundred feet above the river?
Bob Quist: Well, Tom... fifty bucks a day. (group laughter)
I was driving a tanker truck in Salt Lake at the time for about $2.35 an hour. You know,
delivering oil fuel. I mean it was like HUH? Yeah, you bet. Clair was down at
Lees Ferry rigging out a trip earlier for, I think Don Harris. Or maybe for Cross.
And Tony tried to hire Clair. Clair said Naaah, I dont think.. (laughs), for
fifty bucks a day... I dont believe...
voice in the crowd: But heres my sucker brother!
Bob Quist: (laughing) But Ive got a
brother in Salt Lake who is an old time river runner. Been running trips with Ken
Sleight for a thousand years. And hell... hed work for fifty bucks a
day. (huge crowd laughter) So we go down there we carve thisI dont know
if youve seen that pad down there(crowd answers yes) we carve that
sucker out, we drilled some bolts into the Tapeats Sandstone and we put up this big
L-frame winch thing. With the whole idea that we could extend this far enough over to the
beach and literally de-rig everything and pick it up and take it up to the pad and hook it
onto the helicopters.
So Tony hires Sandy Nevills husband Woody to weld these frames
together, and he gets the tubular square steel, the hardest carbon steel he could buy and
he says build us this frame. And I show up on the scene early in the spring
and this guy is gas welding this moly-carbon steel together. And IGod, I
dont know a lot about welding. But are you really sure this is the way to do
this? (laughter) NO problem. NONE whatsoever. (more laughter) So we
build this frame thats about ten, twelve foot long and then do the old Sanderson rig
with a tube down the middle and a tube on either side. And no gussets on the frame
whatsoever. Just this straight frame. And, and I told Tony... I was very honest
with him about this, I says
Dan Dierker: This sucks?
Bob Quist: I says Tony... Ive been running
rivers all my life but I dont know a f#@% thing about Grand Canyon. (huge
laughter) I hate to tell you this, but I followed John Cross down through here a
couple years ago, and Ive been on a trip with Ken... I cant really remember anything.
(laughter, Bob shakes his head and grins) NO problem.
So I take off on this trip, with this boat. Customers, weve got paying
customers. Weve got a reporter from Phoenix. Probably eight customers. Liquor to
order. Everything was first class. And, God, we make it down to Soap and Im feeling
pretty proud. (big laughter) We dive off into Soap and Im just having a good old
time, because I kind of vaguely remembered Soap, and there wasnt anything, you know,
just some big waves down there. And halfway the middle of the rapid two of the
arms that are supporting this frame just break. Literally break off. The whole basket
sinks down into the river. Rips, as it goes down, it rips a four foot hole in the back of
the boat. And Im standing in water up to here (indicates his chest). And Im
going Oh chit, man. And here my running motor is totally, completely under
water. My spare is under water. And I dont have a clue. (laughter) I know
were in trouble, but other than that... So I get, finally at some point go swimming
for the motor thats on the transom, because Im thinking if we hit anything
going backwards and that motor is still on that transom its really going to
hurt. And I manage to get that off. Meanwhile we wing through the next two little rapids.
Whole time everything is totally out of control. Nothing to do. Finally we hit a little
back eddy and somebody, one of the passengers as I remember it, swims to shore with the
bowline. And, god, then we proceed to start repairing the damage. Drying the motor out.
Getting the frame built back up and doing one thing or another.
Dennis Silva: So in those days you brought oxyacetylene
Bob Quist: There was lots of driftwood. Youd be amazed
at what you could do with driftwood and just a little imagination. We managed toI
think we camped that night somewhere above House Rock. And I didnt know where the
hell I was. I had that old Buckethead Jones scroll map... We put her back together
somewhat. Next morning I dive right into the hole in House Rock and bust the whole @#*!
thing again. Major repair. I got three days to get to the Little Colorado. This is morning
two. And I remember... You know somehow or another I had confused Unkar with Nankoweap.
Id gotten Nankoweap somehow screwed up with Unkar, and I remember walking the whole
length of it [Nankoweap], to scout the rapid. I mean I was totally... the whole trip
was... and this guy, the reporter on the trip, he was pissed. He was on my case
like stink on... cause hed figured out that I didnt have a clue. And
this other guy, who was one of the paying customers, he thought I walked on water.
Oh god, if it wasnt for you we were going die down there. This
iswere talking mid-June and not another boat on the river. That was 1969, so
you can see how much its changed down there.
So we finally get to the Little Colorado and by then I am so flaked out,
spaced out, screwed up, I dont know whether Im coming or going. I actually
make the turn and start (huge laughter) down into the rapid. And old Dave [the swamper]
was the one who says Hey theres the pad up there!! Remember?!! We built
I turn the boat around and actually motor it back out, and get it back up to
the beach, and were standing there just going Oh my God, you know.
Its finally over. And the helicopter comes in and this is where Marv
[Jensen, the old head of the river unit, who is present] enters the story. The helicopter
comes in, lands at the padwere going Oh man, were saved. And
the first person I see get out is this Ranger. He comes down and he says Im
here to assure that you helicopter this thing out at the three hundred foot high water
I guess the last of the story is the last thing wed hooked up... I
dont think it was the boat, I think it was the basket. But we had it heavily
loaded, and wed hooked it up to our big winch thing and were sitting
there cranking on this winch... and the whole #@% thing rips out of the sandstone and
comes crashing down the hill. (laughs) And missed my head by that far, that part I
remember... (crowd laughs) Tony is sitting there going, cause he flew in with the
helicopter and hes What are we going do now? And Im looking up at
the Ranger sitting there, hes going Three hundred feet. (More crowd
Marv Jensen: My kind of guy.
Bob Quist: I mean its just... theres no way.
Theres no way! I finally go up and we talk to this guy for... I mean forty-five
minutes, and I says Just look at that boat! WE CANT TAKE THAT BOAT THROUGH THE
CANYON! I mean, its obvious. (Bob shrugs, big crowd laugh) He finally says,
Well okay you can helicopter it off the beach. But dont you let anybody else
know that I gave you permission to do this.
And we helicoptered everything off the beach, got back to Lees Ferry
and Im going Oh man, I dont know if I really want to be in this
Clifford Rayle: You have to know that the mortality rate on
the helicopter pilots at Phantom was only about five months... no joke.
Marv Jensen: Well that was on the pipeline. Yeah, they lost
a number of helicopter pilots on the pipeline.
Bob Quist: And the whole time that pipeline was being
rebuilt it was great times for the boatmen, because Phantom Ranch was really a wide-open
concern at the time.
Tom Moody: Social spot.
Bob Quist: Yeah. You could bum over and grab a chopper ride
up on top regularly if you knew the right people... But it was so damn much fun trying to
put this thing together, and then going Holy #%#*! Did we screw up! And
nobody... everybody was experimenting. Everybody was trying something new. Everybody
Clifford Rayle: Testing new equipment.
Bob Quist: Testing new things. And plus the fact... there
again, you talk about involvement of the customers. Ninety-five percent of the customers
were very involved. (laughs) Were de-rigging today!
I mean it was such an adventure because there was nobody doing anything like
that. You know, there was nobody down there.