Robert Williams Rigg, Sr. – USGS Old-Timers 1994 interview

Jim and Bob Rigg 1951 speed run

Jim and Bob Rigg 1951 speed run

This is the River Runners’ Oral History Project. We’re here on the Stanton Photo Match Trip [the “Legends” trip]. We’re with Bob Rigg and it’s September 10, 1994. We’re at Eminence Break. Lew Steiger is the interviewer and Jeff Robertson is running the camera. [Also present is Tad Nichols, who makes a few comments starting on page 26.]

Steiger: How about if you tell us who you are, and give us a brief resumé of your river-running career. Then we’ll backtrack from there.

Rigg: You bet. We’re really excited about being on this trip. I didn’t plan on coming with you folks, until Tad Nichols called me sometime around the twenty-sixth of August, and between then and about the fifth of September, it was kind of hectic getting everything ready and flying out of Alaska, getting a boat down for them to work on, Brad Dimock and others. Just really a pleasure to be here, and I want to thank you so much for it.

As for telling my past history, my resumé, from the river standpoint, I think we’d have to start back about 1940, I suppose, when Norm Nevills was in Grand Junction and showed us movies of one of his river trips. He had been a guest at our home, actually, as I recall -stayed there, I believe, one night. But the Nevills came to Grand Junction from Mexican Hat -they knew my father and mother. And that was really the initial thing, and I was about ten years old, I suppose.

After the war, my brother was in the flying business at Walker Field in Grand Junction. He and Nevills became good friends. My brother Jim Rigg, Jr., worked with Nevills in the 1949 season. They ran the Green, San Juan, and of course the Colorado. I’m not sure they ran Cataract or not that year. But irrespective of that, following Nevills’ tragic plane crash in September of 1949, there was considerable discussion and to-do about who and what might take over the river expeditions. There was a lot of support for Frank Wright and Jim Rigg to do that, and through the winter months after the plane crash, they got together and decided to go ahead and make a run at it and take over the Nevills estate as far as the river-running part was concerned. That was by then, of course, spring of ’50, and they/we built three cataract boats and became involved in running the river at that time. That was my first opportunity to go on the river trips. I hadn’t been with Nevills, but I did some logistics things for them in the ’49 Split Mountain run, and I’d flown his airplane back for work in 1949 when they took off from the Grand Canyon. I’d flown it to Grand Junction to get some repair work done on it and maintenance. So we knew the Nevillses, I knew the Nevillses. Jim, of course, was a very close friend of Norm Nevills -at least I feel he was a very good friend of his -they thought alike in many ways. So that’s how we started.

Steiger: Jim and Norm were a lot alike?

Rigg: Just daring, great guys. I mean, very. . . . They attracted a crowd, they were just good people. People liked to follow them around.

Steiger: And I guess they obviously liked each other.

Rigg: I think quite a bit -both because of the aviation relationship in which they were. . . . Nevills’, for instance, plane being worked on in Grand Junction at various times, and Jim helping with passengers and working with him for a year. They became fairly good friends.

Steiger: So your first trip was actually not until after Nevills. . . .

Rigg: That’s correct. I did not make any river runs or any river trips until 1950 -started in May of 1950. Tad Nichols, who is on this trip, was with me on the first river trip down the San Juan that I made, and he and I sort of bunked together in those times and became river-running companions, as far as Tad was usually on my boat. We made four trips down the San Juan that year, and then the Grand Canyon trip in 1950. A post-season trip was the taking of a group of starlets down from Hite to Lee’s Ferry for the purpose of making a Hollywood short story, The River Goddesses. And that’s, incidentally, where Georgie White brought the river goddesses to Hite. We helped get ’em out there from Blanding to Hite -and that was a lot of fun too. I’m not sure, I guess the film was released, but that was kind of a post-season event for 1950. From then on we were fairly busy, fairly occupied in the river running until, I guess, ’57 or ’58.

Steiger: So the title of that was The River Goddesses?

Rigg: The River Goddesses. I’d love to get a picture of it.

Steiger: Who do you think might have a copy of that?

Rigg: Well, Irish McCullough was the real star on that post-season trip, and she has -I think she has been looking for a copy of it, and trying to secure one. She, probably more than anyone else, would have access to that type of information, ’cause she was later on a pin-up queen of the country here, for, I guess, two years; and she’s an accomplished painter in her own right. She lives in Prescott, incidentally. We hadn’t seen each other, touched base, from 1950 until a year or so ago, maybe, through a mutual friend, Dr. Gus Scott, we came in contact. I can’t tell you much about that ______ ’cause I really don’t know. But anyway, The River Goddesses is the movie.

Steiger: We should cover a little bit of your childhood. Where did you grow up. . . .

Rigg: Way back when?

Steiger: Yeah, and how far apart were you from Jim, and just what was. . . .

1950 Bob Rigg, Colorado River

1950 Bob Rigg, Colorado River

Rigg: There were three brothers: my brother Jim was the oldest, he’s six years older. My brother Jack was four-and-a-half years older; and myself. We grew up in Grand Junction, Colorado; we were all born in Nebraska. My father was back in Nebraska in school, and we ended up back, though, in Colorado where he had come from. We lived in Grand Junction, Colorado, all our lives, and continued to do so until about 1976 when my wife and I moved to Alaska, where we now reside. I attended several different colleges for that, and one of those is the reason we ended up running the Wind River in 1951. We were on the race up there in ’51. But we’ve all migrated back to Grand Junction. Interestingly, Jim went to medical school, as did I. I think that’s one thing we probably had to divert from running rivers. And with the dam’s coming, why, we ended up going into medicine. But I don’t consider myself a physician, I consider myself a river runner -consider myself a river rat yet.

Steiger: Well, when you took over the business, Mexican Hat, did you ever. . . . Were you thinking along the lines of maybe you would do that forever, or was it really just something that you’d do for a while?

Rigg: Well, I don’t know that I can really answer that. You know, I think Jim was probably more prone to consider doing it forever -I think he really was, and he would have done it. And for some reason, with the advent of the dam and other things, and pressures for education, why, we sort of diverted from the love that we really had, which was river running and flying. Jim was a professional pilot on the Rigg Aviation Service in Grand Junction. We built the Chris-Craft cabin cruisers there and ran those for about four or five years down the canyon. So I think our first love is certainly the outdoors and the canyons. He loved it greatly, as I did, and my brother Jack also was with us on a couple of trips, we were quite a river-oriented family, as far as running rivers at the time.

We also had the other advents of family. Besides education, we were all involved in the uranium exploration, as was everyone, during the boom days of the early fifties. So that took us into this river country, and you may not be aware, but Nevills and Jim and some others did some prospecting, as it were -uranium prospecting, before Nevills died -together.

Steiger: No, I wasn’t aware. What were they thinking there? Just that they might find some uranium and strike it rich?

Rigg: Absolutely. That was the hot spot of the country, down towards that part of Utah and the Colorado River Basin, along the Green and the Colorado out of Moab and Green River.

Steiger: Where did the pressures for education come from?

Rigg: Well, I think we were just indoctrinated towards that. We came from a professional family. My father was a physician, my mother and father both graduated from college, obviously, and it was just expected that you would go to school -which is the right thing to do, I don’t think it was wrong at all. It think it was the right thing to do, but then you always want to do more, so you go to school, you go to postgraduate school or whatever and eventually go to medical school.

Steiger: So how did you guys end up phasing the business out of your lives?

Rigg: Oh, I think we just stopped. I’ve often wondered about that, how and why we did. It was about the time I. . . . I graduated from medical school, actually, in ’58. Then with an internship and a residency, why, it just was very difficult to get time to do these kind of things -we just didn’t have it. We knew the dam was going to shoot the works anyway, and I guess we just didn’t persevere -we just quit, went on to other things: flying and work and families. Jim had a big family, I did too, and just went on.

Steiger: How many trips did you end up doing down here with ’em?

Rigg: That’s been a question that I really can’t answer exactly. I made five trips by the time I was twenty-one, starting at nineteen. Then we doubled in ’51 and ’52 and ’53. In ’54 we made at least two trips a year. Incidentally, that was a never-before done thing. Nobody had ever made two trips before. We made two trips in 1951. The paradigm was one trip through the Grand Canyon was enough, you know, which is, of course, ridiculous. We made the speed run in ’51. A commercial run in ’50 -I’ll start off there. The speed run in ’51, June ninth and tenth. Then we ran commercially later on around the first of July in ’52 . . . and ’51. In ’52 we built the powerboats that year and went down in powerboats May 25, 1952, and went through in about four-and-a-half days, and that was just sort of a shake-down cruise for the powerboats. We’d never even had them in the water when we took off. We assumed they’d float and run fine, and they did. I think it was a great event -powerboats and high water you can have a lot of fun and you can move down the river conveniently, just like you do here. I think we’re all basically lazy, like boatmen are lazy -we don’t like to pull on the oars any more than we have to, and if you can do it easier by mechanical means, why so much the better! But a number of years in there, we made double trips with the powerboats. Frank Wright was primarily involved with the cataract boats, Jim and I were primarily involved with the powerboats. One year we took three powerboats down -or two years I guess we did it with my brother Jack. So it was just kind of a family thing. We ran the powerboats and had a wonderful time.

1994 Bob Rigg on stern Horn Creek rapid

1994 Bob Rigg on stern, Horn Creek Rapid

Steiger: Sounds wild. I remember seeing. . . . I know Katie Lee -she was good buddies. . . . I mean, I just saw her like not two weeks ago.

Rigg: Is that right?!

Steiger: Yeah. Actually, I saw her last week. She was good buddies with my granddad before he died.

Rigg: No kidding! Now, Katie went down with us. I think she came down or hiked down -was a friend of maybe Tad Nichols or somebody.

Steiger: Uh-huh, that’s who it was.

Rigg: She was a fixture on some of the trips for a while. A great gal, wonderful ballad singer.

Steiger: (aside about sound quality) I remember [Katie] had movies of you guys going in the powerboats.

Rigg: Oh, is that right?

Steiger: Yeah.

Rigg: I’ve never seen some of her movies. I think she has some shots that I’m sure I’ve never seen.

Steiger: Well they were amazing. I swear she has you guys going through Lava Falls and those boats are gettin’ airborne. And to think of you guys down here all by. . . . What was it like to come down here? Did you even see anybody?

Rigg: We did occasionally see people. We passed Marston. He was at the Frank M. Brown inscription. As a matter of fact, I think that’s the trip in which they found it, in 1951. We didn’t see anybody else on the speed run. You would occasionally see. . . . I doubt that we saw people more than five times, three times maybe. I remember I think one of the last trips, I saw Georgie White go by. No, that might have been Stavelys’ trip, perhaps, in ’65.

Steiger: Well, did you guys ever have much trouble?

Rigg: You know, I think we were just extremely fortunate. We really never had any trouble -knock on wood – _______ on the river. We really never had any problems. We never upset a boat, we never really dinged one, hardly. We hit a couple of rocks, very minor things. _____________ from some of the boatmen, but fortunately never did we have any problems. I know of no problems. We lined some of the rapids. On our speed run we didn’t line anything, of course, but it was kind of a paradigm, again, that you looked at Hance very carefully, because you might need to line Hance, depending on the level of water -although we ran it, certainly, too. I’m talking cataract boats. Lava Falls, the only time it was run was when Jim and I ran it on the speed run. But the rest of the time we lined it. Things like that, we did line the rapids. But we really had no difficulty or no problems, ever.

Steiger: Well, if you’d have had trouble. . . . Did you spend much time thinking about what you would do if a problem arose or anything? Or was it scary for you to come down here?

Rigg: Well, I don’t know, we called it “Ulcer Gulch.” (chuckles)

Steiger: You mean the Gorge?

Rigg: Yeah. We referred to it like that sometimes. Sure you get the butterflies and the dry mouth when you run rapids, and it really is a challenge, but it’s there and you want to go off and do it. You want to go out and try it. We were excited about things, and excited about life, and any kind of a challenge that you could get to was worth taking, and we did. Frank and Jim were great leaders together, and I think Jim and I did a great job together, but you just went out and did it. You know, “full speed ahead.” We had all the lines from Danger River memorized, I suppose, and used to quote a lot of those things.

Steiger: Where did Danger River come from?

Rigg: That was the Nevills trip of 1942 -very dramatic photography and editing to make it look really, really bad. It was a true trip, but it was certainly editorialized to make it the most dangerous river in the world -which it is not, because it is…a great one.

Steiger: Now, this speed run deal. How did that come up?

Rigg: River runners never do anything ’til the last minute. Just like this trip. I was not going to come down here, until the last -I mean, just literally, two or three days before, I came down. I just wasn’t going to do it, because I had work and family and things that were more important.

The speed run was a similar sort of a -it was referred to as a lark by the Rigg brothers. Well, it really wasn’t. I was in school, I believe, at Boulder, and I’d been in Casper College the year before. But anyway, I knew about a river run up there, a race on the Wind River. And this was 1951, Memorial Day race on the Wind River in Wyoming was to be the last race on the Wind River before the dam was built. And we were veteran river runners, and I mean, cataract boats were indomitable. They couldn’t be defeated, you know, as far as running rapids. And they talked about this white water and it sounded wonderful! It sounded really great. I called Jim and told him about the thing going up in Casper, Wyoming, “Up in Wyoming there’s a Wind River race. Let’s go run it.” So Jim picked up a cataract boat and we met in Casper and drove up to the Wind River. A classmate of mine from college, Johnny Harper, who’s been a veteran river runner on these trips down here. . . . John Harper is another person you really ought to talk with. But anyway, we went to the Wind River, arrived there late in the afternoon -a cold Memorial Day Weekend -put the boat in the water and ran the sequence of the race to see what the water was like. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever come to dying of hypothermia. We didn’t know what it was then, we just thought it was just bein’ danged cold, and exposure. There was only one huge rapid on the Wind River at that time, and as we came into it, Jim was rowing at the time, and we turned around, a kind of “Major Powell”, bow-first and cut off the side, and one of these huge all-enveloping waves came over the top of us, and just literally total blackness with the size of this wave, just crashed down on us -ice cold water. We’d just driven like 600 miles to get there. But from then on the rapids, there was really no major rapids of any kind -some big stuff, but not anything of any technical problem that you couldn’t go through. We were confident we could run the river the next day, but there were kayaks, and there were a couple of Klamath Falls boats and lots of inner tubes and other kinds of people running that. But running the river, Wind River Race, in which we placed fourth behind two kayaks -if they can make it through one rapid, we knew they’d make it, they’d beat us -and two guys rowing on the Klamath Falls boats, kind of like the dory boats. Well on the way back from Wind River to Casper and Jim down to Grand Junction and Johnny and myself back to college, Jim and I were talking on the way back about, “What would you do if there was an accident in the Grand Canyon? How would you get somebody out? Could you get somebody out in one day, or could you get somebody to medical help? Could you get them to Phantom Ranch or off the river?” And we were kinda probably thinking we’d. . . . We didn’t really shine in the Wind River Race -we placed fourth in that sort of a race. And that was, what, the thirty-first of May, and on this trip back, we just batted it back and forth as we drove along with an old Ford truck and a pickup, beating our heads together about what to do, and we decided, “Hey, let’s make a run down through the Grand Canyon and see how fast we can go through the Grand Canyon.” We didn’t really set a goal of speed, but we kind of talked about two or three days. I went back to finals, Jim went to Grand Junction, and soon as I was through finals, we left [tape cuts out, battery change] I was mentioning Johnny and I’d picked up the boat and headed on down across the Indian reservation and towards Lee’s Ferry, Marble Canyon. About seven or so miles out of Marble Canyon, regrettably, we ran out of gas, which wasn’t uncommon to do in those days. I was finally able to hitchhike a ride on in. This is early morning, like six o’clock or five o’clock in the morning, we run out of gas. No cars were on the road, of course.

Steiger: Why do you say it wasn’t uncommon to run out of gas in those days?

Rigg: Well, because there was nothing open between Mexican Hat and Marble Canyon, and even that’s shut down overnight. We were driving at night. This was about the second night we’d been driving to get down there. We’d been doing two days, two nights, __________ by the time we pick up boats, pick up gear, and just to get down there is a long, long trip. Anyway, I finally was able to get a ride by holding onto the light on the front of a car and sitting on the fender. I sat on the front fender, held onto the headlight, because these people didn’t want me to sit in the car with them. They took me into Marble Canyon. Jim was there, and I thought I’d been shot when he jumped up behind me. We got some gas, went out and got the truck, and got on down to Lee’s Ferry. We finally left about 7:20 in the morning on June 9, 1951. He’d called and told me what to take along. I’ve got a list about this long of emergency supplies, I think like a piece of plywood, a screwdriver, a few screws, and of course peanut butter and jelly.

Steiger: Do you have that list?

Rigg: Yes, I still have the original list.

Steiger: Oh my God, you’d better hang onto that!

Rigg: I still have the original list, and it’s about seven or eight items that he said to get -from peanut butter and jelly to a screwdriver and some screws and a piece of plywood. That’s about it. And sleeping bags. I think that was all we took. We pulled off in the brisk morning and headed on down the river. [We] passed Marston, as I mentioned, at the inscription where Frank M. Brown was drowned. And we just kept going. We ran everything wide open, of course. It was fairly high water, great run. We took turns, we drove about an hour and then switched. Each of us rowed about an hour and switched, and whatever rapid was there, you ran. When we got to Hance, Jim and I had neither one of us run it. I think they’d lined both times with Nevills and us in 1950. So he ran the Hance Rapid and we scooted past Phantom Ranch, and there was a mule train going by, and we all waved at ’em and said we’re on a run down through the Canyon. Run down through Horn Creek and such. We finally stopped at 107½, deep in the Granite. We’d run a lot of rapids that day. We tried a lot of long ways [?], and it was probably around 7:30 or eight o’clock that night when we finally stopped. So we run basically about twelve, twelve-and-a-half hours on the ninth of June.

Steiger: And the water was. . . .

Rigg: I wish I knew exactly how high it was. We had that at one time, and I really thought it was closer to 60,000 than anything, but we can get that from the records. We were kinda cold. It was late in the day, we hadn’t touched ground until that particular time -hadn’t stopped for anything. We rolled out the bedrolls and had a little bit of canned. . . . I’m not even sure if he sent any canned food or not. I think all we had was just peanut butter. We might have had a can of tuna fish or something like that, or canned meat. It was pretty marginal. I know we didn’t get any pots and pans -we couldn’t have cooked. We didn’t make a fire or anything, we just had a little bit to eat and laid down and went to bed. Woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and whatever to get everything movin’. We decided that the only place. . . . We had predetermined, actually, that the only place we were really going to stop was Lava Falls. We figured we were going to run everything else wide open, and we did. We went from 107½ down to Lava Falls and stopped there and hiked up as high as we could there and took a look at it. And of course on the right side, there’s huge waves coming in, which you see in Lava at high water -just absolutely immense. Along the left side, coming off the bank, at Hance we’d gone down the second time out at high water. We looked this one over and decided we’d hit the first tongue out from the shore, the first runable tongue that looked passable at Lava. And we piled back in the boat and run Lava. And from then on it was just exciting. We went past Diamond Creek at about this time of night, actually -it was a little bit later, about 8:00 or 8:30. It was getting fairly dark, and we went on down through the gorge there, 232 and the others, down past Separation. By that then it was really dark when we ran the stuff below Diamond. I mean, I say it was dusky, but it was more than dusk -you couldn’t do anything except row back from where the noise was, and that’s kind of how we made that last hour past Separation at 240. It was more of a row away from the rocks and the noise, because that might be where the hazards are. It was so black, we couldn’t tell. Anyway, we got past Separation, thought we recognized that, and from then on out, we just kept the boat goin’ and kind of drifted on down to about the Bat Cave area. And it was about midnight or so when we finally pulled into shore. It was a lot of tamarisk and the big banks, and we had a little bit of a tough time doing it. We found enough of a space we could pull up the boat, tie the boat up, get up on the bank and we slept that night, and the next morning we had good current all the way into Pierce’s Ferry, and we got in there probably eleven o’clock, something like that -10:30, 11:00, quite early. And Bill Belknap was there, came out to greet us and took some pictures of us. Jim being ________ in the air service, his Bonanza had been down there. . . . I think they’d flown over once actually, during the Grand Canyon thing -they might have flown over and checked on us. But I’m not certain about that one.

Steiger: Jim’s guys?

Rigg: Yeah, one of Jim’s pilots, you bet. I’m not sure he did, but they were down at Pierce’s Ferry that morning, so they must have been planning on us being there, and we were. I like to think that we left Lee’s Ferry at about 7:15 in the morning on the ninth, and we were past Diamond on the evening of the tenth, which we were, about eight o’clock. And that’s about the total time, and we made two stops -one for the overnight at 107, and the other to take a look at Lava Falls and run it. We run it together, I consider the total run together -I was the one that actually handled the oars in Lava, only because Jim had run it the year before when we retrieved the Esmerelda, and he said, “I’ve already run Lava, Bob. You run Lava. I’ll run Hance, you run Lava.” As you know, we picked up the Esmerelda on the 1950 run and took it out. He ran that all the way out.

Steiger: And that was Dock Marston’s?

Rigg: Well, it belonged to Ed Hudson. Ed Hudson and Dock Marston had taken it down, originally, together, as the first powerboat through the Grand Canyon in ’49, and they lost it in ’50 because of the blown gasket, and didn’t know what to do with the engine because it wasn’t workin’ right.

Steiger: P.T. Reilly was on that trip?

Rigg: P.T. Reilly hiked in at Bright Angel and joined us at Bright Angel Creek for the lower half. He’d never been through the Canyon in its entirety until that. He’d been on the upper half, as I recall, and he came on that one to pick up the lower half. I think that’s a correct synopsis.

Steiger: Boy, that must have been something!

Rigg: It was exciting to find the Esmerelda. We didn’t think that much about going through the Grand Canyon in record time. It just didn’t seem like that much. There were people that wanted to interview us at Boulder City or someplace down there, and we got in the airplane and said, “Let us head for home. We gotta go back and get to work,” or do whatever it was we were gonna do. I guess run some more rivers, because Frank Wright and Jim who owned it at this time, Frank was on a San Juan trip, and I think he was a little bit upset when he found out we’d taken a cataract boat and gone down the Grand Canyon, because he was probably scared of something, or concerned that something tragic might happen and it’d screw up the whole summer. Whether something happened to us, I’m sure that would be one of his thoughts too -but he was concerned about what it was going to do, how it might impact the river running for that 1951 season. We had a Grand Canyon trip scheduled, we had some more San Juan trips scheduled. Tad Nichols had come down the river and taken some pictures for us and with us. Had a lot of things going that were pressing, and I think Frank was a little bit concerned and upset. But irrespective, we got back, got boats retrieved and trucks, and went down and got the cataract boat, brought it back up, and ran the rivers as scheduled. It was a paradigm, was the first time people had gone ___________. When they ran later on in ’51, it was one of the first times that anybody had ever made two trips down the Grand Canyon. And certainly the record time was the first time that all the rapids had ever been run virtually wide open, except for the one at Lava Falls -we stopped there. You can talk about a lot of different records. I don’t look at it as a record -I look at it as a fun experience and a great time.

Steiger: Is it pretty vivid in your memory?

Rigg: Very much. Very, very much. It’s very much vivid in my memory -much more so than a lot of the commercial trips, which you kind of get all your passengers, kind of become a morass or an amalgam that you don’t really sort out, except for the people that are of some significance -Tad Nichols, for instance, and others. You remember most of them quite well, but this particular trip is something that you remember Badger, you remember Soap, right down the line. You remember every one of them, and the water coming over the boulders at Boulder Narrows or whatever it is. And Harding being virtually covered up. And Sockdolager and Grapevine were chuck full, and they’re just wonderful rides. Hance, and Granite was an exciting thing, of course. Just really, really fun rides. And all through the “Gems” as we called ’em, just bang, bang, bang, bang. We never took on much water in any rapid. We had some just great rides. Sure we had to bail -you’d take on a few buckets of water every now and then -but there was nothing in there I ever felt was dangerous or hazardous to us. As we went through Lava, it was a very narrow chute, and I could feel the rocks. I said to Jim -he was laying down on the deck, just kind of propped himself up, laying on the deck -and I said, “Man, we got rocks on the oars,” and he said, “You’re doing great, we’re going the right way.” Once you got into it, there was just nothing there. Just a little chute, rocks on this side, and here they were covered. But you’d “bang, bang” your oars off ’em a couple of times. Just “doomp, doomp, doomp.” It’s a very sharp drop off the left side, and we were down. From then on, we virtually, totally confident as a boatman can be that you’re home free. Boatmen don’t get overly-confident ever until you’re back on terra firma at the end of the trip. But I think we were as confident as we could be at that time, and started eatin’ and started thinkin’ and talkin’ and shaking each other’s hands and having a good time.

Steiger: Yeah, not until you’re back to the warehouse!

Rigg: Yeah, then reality sets back in, and you gotta go to work and start thinkin’ about other things. It was just wonderful.

Steiger: Boy, it’s amazing to try to visualize it.

Rigg: We never looked at the river speed run as. . . . I don’t know that it really ever gave us any quote, unquote, “mileage” from a commercial standpoint. I don’t know that it did. I think we probably got more mileage just out of maybe the powerboats as far as something different. But anyway, I didn’t think much about it, and of course Kenton Grua has gone down faster than we did, and I think he deserves a great deal of credit and respect for what he did. It was different eras, of course, but it’s still something that’s not going to be done again very soon.

Steiger: Well, you know what those guys say, the amazing thing -Kenton and Rudi [Petschek] both -they say they did it, but they had. . . . Both of ’em said it to me at different times, they said, “Well, we did the speed run, but the thing was. . . .” They probably had fifty or sixty trips a piece under their belts, and you guys, that was how many?

Rigg: That was Jim’s third trip and my second trip. We were veteran river runners. I mean, we were as veteran as river runners came. Jim’s very river wise. You don’t forget rapids, you don’t forget holes, and you don’t forget things. I might forget everything now, but at that time it was still pretty vivid, and from the ’50 run for me, and from the ’49 and ’50 for Jim, we were as river wise as anybody was. You know, it wasn’t long after that that we’d gone down seven times. And I said it’s very humbling. I think it was maybe our eighth trip through the Canyon, Jim came up and he said, “Well, you know what this trip is to you, don’t you?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, congratulations, we passed Norm Nevills.” And we had, in the number of trips through there.

Steiger: Because that’s what Nevills had before he died?

Rigg: He had seven trips before he was killed in the plane crash. “You know what this means, don’t you?” So we did. It really was humbling. You just didn’t talk about it. But people thought we were crazy anyway for running the rivers. So there was a little bit of blurbs on the news about the fact that we’d done it, and newspapers anyway. But nobody really understood what it meant, and we didn’t either. We proved that you could get out at that time in that stage of water from anyplace in the river, I guess, you can get to civilization. You can get to Phantom Ranch if something happened. Jim gave that as our excuse. _________ Frank, “What if somebody breaks a leg or something like that? At least we can get ’em out. We can run ’em down the river and get ’em out.”

Nichols: (inaudible, too far from mic)

Rigg: Yeah.

Nichols: We knew something was wrong, ___________________ San Juan __________. And you hadn’t showed up, and Jim hadn’t showed up, and (sound breaking up) himself. . . . Knew something was wrong. He was quite upset. (laughs)

Rigg: Yeah, well Frank didn’t like it when we went down the speed run, he didn’t like it when we built powerboats.

Nichols: Is that why he broke up with Jim, because of the powerboats?

Rigg: I think as much as anything, and he wanted to run the cataracts, probably. I liked the cataracts, personally. I really liked the cataract boats because I felt I had more control of an oar than I did of a stupid machine that stops every now and then, or you could lose your rudder or lose your prop or something. We had no problem with the powerboats, but it’s a mechanical thing that you really got a little bit less intimate with, as far as the river and the water and the rocks are concerned.

Nichols: Can you tell me one thing, What prompted you guys to build the powerboats?

Rigg: As I mentioned, I think we were probably just a little bit of basically lazy. And Jim was very [mechanical]. He likes to run things, he likes to fly airplanes, and he likes to tinker with cars. And if you can put a key in it and turn it on and run it and push your foot on the gas pedal and turn the wheel and push the throttle up, that’s a lot less work than going out and pitching hay and loading it by hand -which he had done as a young guy on the farm and ranch. I mean, he’d dug as much ditch as anybody and put as much hay up as anyone, and rode after cattle. But it’s just. . . . It’s a tough life, and it’s a lot easier to do it mechanically: If you can do it with a tractor, why use horses? And he’d used ’em.

Steiger: Okay, now this is Tad Nichols joining us here. (to Tad) No, no, that’s okay! You jump in whenever! So you guys grew up on a farm?! I thought your dad was a doctor.

Rigg: He was a physician, but he had a ranch up in the Book Cliffs of Colorado, north of Grand Junction, and a farm, and we were pretty good hay hands at one time, and pretty good ranch hands.

Steiger: So he made you work when you were kids and stuff.

Rigg: Oh, we worked hard! Whether you’re a doctor’s kids or not, we put in a lot of time on the peach orchard, the grape vineyards, and putting up hay and just punchin’ cows and everything. We spent a lot of time in the hills and mountains. Of course Jim enlisted in the service. Jim and Jack both enlisted in the service during the war. That deprived them of some of that later on, but Jim lived on the ranch, as did Jack, and they were good, good, hard workers. __________ as young teenagers, young kids.

Steiger: This is World War II?

Rigg: World War II.

Steiger: Did he go off to war and stuff?

Rigg: Yeah, both Jim and Jack spent a lot of time in the South Pacific, Okinawa, Guam, Philippines. Jim was in the Philippines and Okinawa; Jack was on Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

Steiger: So they were gettin’ shot at!

Rigg: Yeah, they both saw a lot of action. Jack was in the Marines, and Jim was in the 96th Infantry Division and was eventually wounded in Okinawa, I think, and Jack was too. Jim swore that he would never go back to war. We happened to be on the Glen Canyon in ’50 and a guy came by with a portable radio and said that Truman had sent troops into Korea. And he said, “You’re never goin’ to war, you’re never gonna be in the infantry.” He’d already told me that before and taught me to fly. But he said, “I’ll never go back to war,” swore he’d live someplace in the Grand Canyon or the San Juan Canyon if it was necessary. There’s a limit to how much you can spend in the South Pacific or on the Eastern Front or anyplace.

Steiger: But it wasn’t like Vietnam, was it?

Rigg: No. They seemed like heroes, like all the guys did.

Steiger: Well, and there was something that had to be done.

Rigg: It was the patriotic thing to do, they both enlisted, they both went in, and they were seventeen years old. That was just what you did.

Steiger: And so when you made the speed run, how old were you and how old was Jim?

Rigg: Jim, when we made the speed run. . . . Well, I’ll have to figure out how old I was first. I was twenty. So he was twenty-six. He was twenty-six then.

Steiger: And he ran Hance and he let you run Lava, ’cause he’d run it before, one time.

Rigg: Well, he let me run Lava because he’d run Lava before, and he ran Hance; and I picked up Hance I think either that summer or that next trip, I think, later on, on our commercial trip. But that way, we would have each run down a rapid, and we didn’t know when we’d get a chance to run Lava again -really didn’t, you know. But you know, that was a generous brother, a very generous brother. He missed one trip on one of our commercial trips, which gave me a chance to catch up with him as far as the number of trips we both went down. Don’t ask me why, but he did it.

Steiger: You think he deliberately did it? Missed?

Rigg: I’ve often wondered about it. But anyway, we ended up with the same number until I went down with Stavely in ’65.

Steiger: This is for you too, Tad, just to switch gears a little bit. Has the routine changed a lot, like as far as being on a commercial trip and stuff? What was it like to be on a Mexican Hat trip? I want to copy and give this to the archives, to Grand Canyon River Guides, to our Oral History Collection.

Rigg: A whole bunch of people talking, and I tend to try to clam up sometimes, for fear that people think they’re being B.S.’ed, so you just don’t say anything sometimes. But a situation like this, I can talk.

Steiger: Well, if you don’t mind, I definitely want to transcribe this stuff and probably run a piece in the newsletter and all that stuff.

Rigg: You just don’t like to go out and pat yourself on the back for something ____________________.

Steiger: You know, I tell ya’, I think this is something that’s. . . . It’s great for us to live it vicariously.

Rigg: See, I’ll talk to people like yourselves, who are river runners, who understand and appreciate what we’re talking about.

Steiger: You know, it just slays me -and especially now, gettin’ to see this cataract boat on the water and stuff.

Rigg: It’s amazing. I can’t get over some things myself -I really can’t. I think about flying Nevills’ plane on the Fourth of July, back to Grand Junction. The darned plane stopped about two months later, three months later, whenever it was. And it was one of the most beautiful flights I ever had in my life. They were leaving from Lee’s Ferry up there. I took off from the Marble Canyon dirt strip, which it was an old real rackety thing. I’d gone out and done a few touch-and-goes the night before. Jim would take me up in the plane, because I’d never flown it before, and just a superb plane. But as I took off the next day, and here they were gettin’ ready to go down there on the Canyon, it was just awesome. And you fly back up, no dams, no pollution, no plants. There wasn’t an ounce of dirt in the air. It was so beautiful that morning in ’49, flying back in Nevills’ plane, and you think about those kind of things, and the folks goin’ down, and the families, and our friends, and our families that have ridden on the river.

Nichols: You’re soloing the plane?

Rigg: Pardon?

Nichols: Was Jim with you?

Rigg: No. No, I got my private pilot’s license in ’48. I graduated from high school and got my pilot’s license in ’48. That was because Jim said, “You want to go in the Air Force if you gotta go in the war. But you don’t want to go in the infantry.” So I was only seventeen years old when I got my private license. Good grief, that’s forty-six years ago, something like that. And we’re still flying the same airplanes up in Alaska -the Cubs and the Super Cubs and the P-11s and the Cessna 180s. Well, of course the 180 came out in ’53.

Nichols: ________________ flight over the Alaska glaciers. One of the most wonderful flights I’ve ever had.

Rigg: We flew a bunch of glaciers ________________. That was also. . . . We’ll catch it again sometime.

Steiger: I guess we ought to just talk about the routine, what the routine was on the trips. That was something I was curious about. What kind of gear did you bring along, and how did the days go?

Rigg: Well, I think similar gear to what people bring now, only not as much. We tried to keep people relatively limited, as far as shorts, swimming trunks, something long, of course, as far as long sleeves or long pants. Categorically, the boatmen predominantly wore clodhoppers, good old boots like I’ve got on this morning. But we tried to keep it pretty minimal. We have a couple of old Nevills bags, made by Frank Masland [spelling ?] actually. On the Grand Canyon trips, you’d use a ground cloth, a sleeping bag, an air mattress and a sheet, and that was your -that was one pack for your bedtime gear. And then another one of those for your personal gear. We never, of course, limited photographic things, and people had their ammo cans. We didn’t provide ammo cans or tell people to get their ammo cans. I don’t think we provided very many -we might have had a few. So pretty similar in many ways. Camps were very much the same. We used the river for everything as far as noontime lunches, wash your dishes on the sand, like we do here. But we had buckets, we’d make a fire, wash the dishes in hot water every night. Historically, the first night out, someplace between Badger, Soap Creek, along in there, we’d have steak. At least the first couple of years, we’d bring one of these big containers with dry ice for ice cream, ’cause we’d have ice cream the first night, which was always kind of a shock to the folks to have ice cream and steak. We had potatoes, eggs -of course a lot of canned goods later on -eggs getting flatter and flatter as you go down the river. So pretty soon you’d be mixin’ up everything else -cheese and. . . . They got flat by the time you’re on down…. We did pack in supplies at Phantom Ranch -at least on the longer cataract boat trips in the initial years. Later on, we tended to try to carry more ourselves, and not bring things in at Phantom Ranch, because of the expense, and it didn’t really help you that much. Camp life is very similar. This is a first -I’ve never set on a lawn chair in the Grand Canyon or along the Colorado River, so this is a change. We always had logs and places to sit.

Steiger: I guess there was plenty of driftwood.

Rigg: Driftwood was just the greatest thing in the world. We burned quite a bit. Anytime there was a big pile, we’d probably stop and burn it, let the passengers join the “Driftwood Burners’ Association.” You know, you have one match, and with natural means -dried grass or little twigs -you had one chance on one boat trip to join the Driftwood Burners’ Association. I think we were pretty liberal on the rules, and everybody got their chance at igniting horrendously big driftwood fires so they could beat the boatmen, they could beat us.

Steiger: What was the theory on burning that wood?

Rigg: Well, we were not able to take out at Diamond Creek, we had to go to Pierce’s Ferry or clear across the lake, which we did with the Esmerelda in ’50. And the upper areas of Lake Mead were just inundated with miles and miles of driftwood. It was a morass. You spend a day or so trying to get through it. It was just submerged partially, sticking up. It was a real tough one. We use oar power occasionally, once in a while, on one or two trips to get down to Pierce’s Ferry, but even that was a tough go. It was just a lot of driftwood -lots and lots of drift -especially on the upper lake.

Steiger: How has the corridor changed? Have you seen the river corridor change? I mean, are the beaches different? What’s different down here from the way it used to be?

Rigg: Well, the biggest difference that I saw in ’65, which was my first trip after the dam, and then this trip which is now ’94, is the degradation of the sandbars, or the elimination of the sandbars, this far on the trip -and I have no reason to believe that it won’t be that way all the way through, pretty much. The sandbars did change from year-to-year, rapids would change from year-to-year before the flow, but we had some huge sandbars that were just beautiful, white. No grass would grow on them, of course, because they’d flush out and they’d build up. So you didn’t have much growth on the sandbars -at least on the lower stretches of sandbars. But they were certainly lower in level in volume and extent. Some of them have been just virtually eliminated. That is a significant difference, I think, that I expected, we all expected when the dam went in. We’re not novices in rivers, and we know sandbars, we know what the water does, and it’s just gonna go.

Steiger: Do you think that that’s what’ll happen? Do you think these’ll all eventually go? Or do you think we can get a handle on this?

Rigg: Well, I would hope that they’ll get a handle on it, whether it’s by something which is going to require some … [interview is interrupted here]

Steiger: Well it sounds like you guys had a lot of fun.

Rigg: Oh, we did -lots and lots of fun. Lots of laughs and ha-has.

Steiger: What were you saying you were going to come back to? We were talking about the beaches and stuff.

Rigg: Oh, yeah, come back to beaches. I really think that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility or it’s not beyond belief that by some type of a conduit, bring sandy water, sandy flow, from the San Juan and the Colorado through a submerged conduit. . . . (brief interruption) There still needs to be some means -whether it’s a conduit or otherwise, to get sand back into the river -notwithstanding Trout Unlimited or the other environmental people, because the river was murky and muddy before, the sandbars were here before. I realize it’s a political hot potato, but somebody will have to stand up for it sometime and do something to replenish the beaches. I see no alternative for it. Otherwise, over the next -not necessarily generations -it won’t take many to deplete further much of the sand that’s remaining. So that’s been a significant change.

Steiger: So, let’s see, you did these trips in the early fifties.

Rigg: That’s correct.

Steiger: And then when was the last one there? I know you said this before, but I think I forgot.

Rigg: Well, ’57 or ’58 was the last trip through the Grand Canyon before I went down with Stavely in ’65.

Steiger: And that was your last trip?

Rigg: That’s correct. It’s been twenty-nine years, I guess. I didn’t realize it.

Steiger: Did you see a lot of change in ’65?

Rigg: Well, yes, I felt the sandbars were going down then, even. They’d had a few years of no runoff with the filling of Lake Powell, so there really had been pretty much a good closure for at least three years or so -two or three years, I suppose. Even the buffer dam, or whatever they call it, had to have affected the flow of silt through the river from whenever they put it in up there. I don’t know the dates on those things exactly, but we know it happened. So we’ve not had a good resource to get sandbars built up, except for what comes in from the side streams, or the debris flows and the flash floods in the Little Colorado. But you’re missing 99 percent of it that comes down the Colorado River.

Steiger: What did you guys think of the Bureau of Reclamation, and has that changed?

Rigg: The National Park Service was the only people we dealt with at that time, and if we can put them in the same category, we dealt with them, we’d call ’em and tell ’em when we were leavin’ on our trip and tell ’em how many. But it was pretty loose. We tried to get along with ’em. We had some controversies with the retrieval of the Esmerelda. They wanted it, and we wanted it. Ed Hudson had verbally called the Park Service and said, “If the Esmerelda ever shows up in Lake Mead, it belongs to them, they can have it.”

Steiger: Oh. Where did that boat end up?

Rigg: With the Park Service.

Steiger: Is it up there. . . .

Rigg: It’s up gathering dust someplace in the corner either of a building or a storage shed or something. I saw it one time. My brother and one of the boatmen tried to retrieve it one time at the South Rim in an evening of frivolity, and the Park Service showed up and didn’t let them take it home. If we had just taken it with us, it’d have been fine. If we’d have just taken it back to Colorado, I think we could have kept it. And we salvaged it. It was probably legally our boat. It certainly hasn’t done the Park Service any good. They don’t show it.

Steiger: Yeah, ’cause I guess it’s not out there at the Visitors’ Center.

Rigg: Nope, it’s not at the Visitors’ Center. Higgins landing craft is what the Esmerelda was, but that’s another story.

Steiger: How’s this trip strike you?

Rigg: Words just cannot describe it. I mean, I just cannot describe the feeling that I have coming back here. Just a lot of nostalgia. Almost brings tears to your eyes, when I saw the cataract boat fixed over there, sitting on the trailer coming down to Lee’s Ferry. It’s just like the old song we always sang, Back in the Saddle Again. It just does that do you.

I think I tweaked Joanie Nevills this morning. We have a tradition -normally boatmen shaved every day. I think it’d been a Nevills philosophy. I never ran with Nevills, but I’d heard of these things through Jim and Frank, that generally the boatmen shaved every day. ______________ tradition -it may have gone back to [Eddy?] for all I know. Supposedly it improved the morale of the troops, according to Eddy. But they did it because they wanted to be clean shaven before any rapids, because you didn’t want to end up in the river unshaven. But anyway, as I was washing up this morning on the cataract boat, just Joanie tells me that it just really reminded her of her dad and Jim and the boatmen that used to run. I think it really got her. Kind of gets me too -just little things like that, that are tradition. It’s just a tradition that we had, certain things we did. But you asked me what the trip’s been like. It’s just been absolutely wonderful, just outstanding -great people, as all river trips are and should be, with great people and lots and lots of years of river running now with the— those people that are on this trip. You’ve got a vast wealth of knowledge that needs to be taught, and get their stories. I don’t feel like an oldtimer, myself. But these people have a lot of years of river.

Steiger: You don’t even look like an oldtimer!

Rigg: I don’t feel like one, I hope.

Steiger: I wish that plane would. . . .

Rigg: We’ve been counting the aircraft.

Steiger: Oh, there he is. Maybe if we just pat our foot for a second and let that guy get out of reach. I’m wondering, usually when we do these things, I always get up and shut it down and get up and walk away and ten minutes later think of something, some question, “Oh, God, why didn’t I ask that? Why didn’t we cover that topic?” I wonder what that is for this one. I wonder what we’re forgetting to get into. I mean, just as far as stuff that’s important to record.

Rigg: There’ve been a lot of things that have been recorded, of course. We’ve talked about a lot of things. The Esmerelda was kind of a unique thing. It had been cast adrift at relatively high water. By the time we found it, it was not quite this high up from the water, but it was almost that high, kind of a rocky, sandy beach, standing upright. We pulled in -that was on the lower half, of course, in 1950. Everything was there: maps, gear, gasoline -including the places where gasoline was stashed on down the river. Jim, being quite mechanically oriented, turned it on, and the thing started right up, without even a hesitation. The Esmerelda started right up. But the problem was that it had a. . . . Well, it wasn’t making full power. And after we started it up, we decided, “Well, if it runs this good, we can take it out.” So we got our crew -I mean, all the passengers and everybody -and turned it on it’s side, and got a bunch of logs, and gradually were able to pull it down to the river, got it into the water, and upright. Cranked it up again, and backed off, and we were not powerboat experts at all. Jim took over the powerboat and I took over his boat.

Steiger: Was that before you’d ever run powerboats? Was that the first?

Rigg: No, we didn’t have any experience with powerboats.

Steiger: At that point.

Rigg: No motorboat experience or powerboat experience. I don’t know that Jim had any particularly. I’m not aware of it. Nothing like this, of course. But it would only go up about half power, three-quarters power. The first night out, we took it and went on down the river, through several rapids there, and it just didn’t quite have the umph that you needed, that you wanted. That night, Jim and Frank pulled off the head and found a blown gasket -just about a half-an-inch, between two of the cylinders. They made a little patch from the edge of the head gasket, put it in between the two cylinders, wrapped it with gum wrapping -you know, aluminum gum wrappings -and made a perfect fit of it, wedged-in such so that it matched and wouldn’t blow. Put the head back on, cinched it down tight, cranked it up, and it ran perfect. We took it on out. We’d never run Lava or anything else along the way. The water was fine. It was considerably lower than it had been when we took off, but I think that was a unique experience for us, was Esmerelda. It came off in great shape, actually took it clear across Lake Mead. We didn’t pull it out at Lee’s Ferry or at Pierce’s Ferry ___________. We went clear across the lake with it. We wanted to prove that we could get it out, and we did. We were the only group that I know that started with four boats, and came out with five.

Steiger: Pretty good!

Rigg: We salvaged the boat, and I think we had a feeling it should have been ours, but we didn’t want to get crossways with the Park Service. They were the ultimate controllers of the river and the trips.

Steiger: I wonder who that was, who was the super?

Rigg: You know, I don’t know. I used to know their names, but I don’t know. Chris Christianson was up on the North Rim, and we used to go up there frequently. He was just a prince of a guy, but he was not the one that was controlling the Park. I know their names. I’ve known them in the past, but I don’t recall them now. 1950.

Steiger: If you had to pick what was the best part of this whole thing for you, could you do it?

Rigg: As far as the river era?

Steiger: Yeah.

Rigg: I think the best part of it was the people. I mean, not to take away from the Grand Canyon -I don’t mean that. But what made the trips were the people -good people. And of course the beauty, the solitude, the quietness. People came down with worries of the world -ulcers or whatever -and they went out rejuvenated, feeling better. _________ have a good time and take a different perspective on life. It does that for you. The Grand Canyon is awesome. We all can describe that in our own words, and I don’t know that you can. But people made the trips, and it was just a fun time for all.

Steiger: Okay. I guess we’d better pack this stuff up. Thanks for talking to us.

Rigg: Thank you. It really was the people, I think. I hadn’t thought about that before.

Steiger: Yeah, I know what you mean.

Rigg: It has to be something in there. Sure, you can say, “Was the speed run the greatest? or the Esmerelda the most high point?” but it’s really the people. Being in the Grand Canyon is the high point too, but anyone can do that, if they want to. Anyone can do that. We had some harrowing experiences, but wonderful fun. Thank you so much.

Steiger: Thank you.

 

 

 

http://www.nau.edu/~cline/speccoll/guide/n_q/nevills.html

 

Norm and Doris Nevills Collection

Browse this Collection

Volume:

75 black-and-white photographs, 3 color photographs, 2 black-and-white photographs with hand coloring, 1 picture postcard, 2 cabinet cards

Views include:

The collection shows Norm and Doris Nevills with family members, as well as various river trips, and the people that went on those trips. Also shown is Norm Nevills on the famous 1938 river trip with Elzada Clover and Lois Jotter Cutter. Views of Mexican Hat, Utah and the Nevills Lodge at Mexican Hat are also included.

Biographic note:

Norman Davies Nevills was born in April of 1908 to William E. Nevills and Mae Davies Nevills of California. In 1921, William E. Nevills left his son and wife Mae to seek his fortune drilling oil in Utah where he became fascinated by rivers. In 1924, he took a trip down the San Juan River in an open boat. Mae joined William in 1925, while Norm stayed in California to continue his education. Norm Nevills attended the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California for two years before leaving in 1927 to join his parents in Mexican Hat, Utah. Norm was greatly influenced by his fathers’ adventures on the river and soon took to the idea of running the river himself.

 

Norman met his wife, Doris Drown, in July of 1933 at a dance in Monticello, Utah. They saw each other three more times and married in October of 1933. They planned for their honeymoon a river trip run down the San Juan River. Norm built the boat himself out of his mother’s horse trough, with the holes patched with tin. In March 1934, the Nevills went on their long-awaited trip and made it through with very few problems. This trip, in turn, fanned Norm’s desire to guide paying customers down the river.

In 1938, Norm got his first chance at doing a complete run of the Colorado River from Green River, Utah through Cataract and Grand canyons to Boulder Dam. This trip meant publicity and a chance to make money for more commercial trips. Dr. Elzada Clover, a botanist from the University of Michigan, wanted to make a river trip to catalog the flora of the Grand Canyon. She brought along Lois Jotter, a botany graduate student as her assistant. This trip starting in July of 1938, lasted 43 days and 666 miles and brought publicity and recognition to Nevills not only for successfully running the entire length of the Colorado River, but by having the first women aboard ever to complete the run of the entire Grand Canyon.

Norm Nevills and his company, Nevills Expeditions made many more runs of the San Juan and Colorado rivers, including six more of the Grand Canyon, after that famous trip. Such expeditions included his 1942 trip, where he took two teenage boys with him to prove the “safety” of river running. Norm also took Barry Goldwater on a river trip in 1940. His wife Doris and his two daughters, Joan and Sandra, often accompanied him on these trips.

In 1946, Norm Nevills bought his first plane, named “Cherry,” after a pet name he called Doris. Flying became not only a pasttime, but aided in the transportation problems he sometimes faced along the river. In 1948, Norm exchanged his first plane for a more powerful one which he named “Cherry II.” In 1949, after receiving the news of the unexpected death of Doris’ uncle, Norm and Doris took off from Mt. Pleasant, Utah on a trip to Sacramento, California. With their daughter Sandra watching, the engine of their plane died and the plane crashed, killing Norm and Doris.

Nevills Expeditions was sold to two of Norm’s boatmen, J. Frank Wright and Jim Rigg, who renamed it Mexican Hat Expeditions. In 1950, family, friends, and river runners gathered to honor Norm and Doris by having a plaque dedicated to them at Navajo Bridge, Marble Canyon.

Cline Library
Special Collections and Archives Department
Northern Arizona University

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