Veltie Pruitt

Veltie Pruitt was blessed with a crystalline tenor voice and was a popular soloist at churches, public events, and riverside campfires from Grants Pass to Oregon City but it was his insatiable quest for adventure that lead him to the McKenzie River where he made his mark in the history of white water river boats.Roy-Pruitt-collection-03-14-(4-of-23)-Recovered

As a young man attending Eugene Bible College (now called Northwest Christian University) he had a desire to build a boat that was lighter, more maneuverable, and more portable than the heavy logging boats used by most guides in the mid 1920’s. He wanted to build a boat small enough and light enough that two people could easily carry it. He determined to make this boat out of the lightest and strongest material available, and he chose the finest lightweight boat building woods available, Sitka Spruce and Port Orford Cedar. The Sitka Spruce was milled down to an incredibly thin 3/8 of an inch thickness for the sideboards. The bottom planks were ½-inch thick by 12-inches wide, and unlike the planking of traditional skiffs, Veltie’s bottom planks ran the length of the boat. The sides and bottom planking were shored up from the inside with eleven lightweight frames of Port Orford Cedar. This little boat measured thirteen feet from stem to stern and was three feet wide on the bottom amidships. It had a fairly low profile, and it showed a slight rocker fore to aft, a feature that added to its maneuverability on the river. With the use of lightweight materials and sporting the smaller more nimble size this boat could be lifted onto a travel frame atop his 1929 touring car so he could travel greater distances without the worry of a trailer.Veltie-abe

It was in 1928 while fishing on the McKenzie River that Velte first met the twenty one year old Prince Helfrich. Prince noticed Veltie and a friend floating along in a little boat that seemed effortless to row and he liked what he saw. He hailed Veltie over to inquire about the boat. Unlike his own boat, Veltie’s was light and responsive. It could pivot on a dime, seemed to be as tough as nails, had a shallow draft, and was a charm to row. Prince also observed that one person could easily handle the boat on land. This was a huge contrast to his heavily timbered boat, which usually required four people to off-load and load onto a trailer. Prince asked Veltie to build a light boat for him. Veltie agreed and this began a lifelong friendship that engaged these two men, along with a few other friends, in a number of river runs made possible by the little lightweight board and batten boat. Whether it was for fishing or the sheer joy of running a river, Prince and Veltie used their boats to explore northwestern wild rivers that had not yet seen a riverboat.

The next ten years framed a series of trips where this duo of river adventurers became the first to run their lightweight riverboats on several Northwest white water rivers. In 1931 they put in at the Prospect Power Plant on the upper Rogue River and ran the river to Shady Cove, then later in the year finished the lower Rogue River from Galice to Agnes running rapids that had not yet been navigated. Several other firsts followed, The Smith River, the Crooked River, the John Day, the Metolius, and the Deschutes. The exploits on the Deschutes river trip of 1938 were captured on 16mm film and shown as a feature movie at the 1939 World Fair and in the Golden Gate International Exposition that same year.

Together they represent the character of the early McKenzie River fly fishers and rivermen. Veltie Pruitt and his little board and batten boat set the bar for a tradition of maneuverable whitewater boats as fishing platforms that can safely move people through a river’s white water rapids.Veltie-in-the-shoot