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River runner discusses Colorado River 'ghost' boat

Courtesy/Joe Szep collection<br/>“Flavell,” “Susie R” and “Gem” (in river) at Deer Creek Falls on the Colorado River during the Gem disappeared.<br/>

Courtesy/Joe Szep collection<br/>“Flavell,” “Susie R” and “Gem” (in river) at Deer Creek Falls on the Colorado River during the Gem disappeared.<br/>

PRESCOTT - Low water at Lake Mead in 1964 revealed a lost gem of Colorado River history - Moulton "Moulty" Fulmer's 1952-built wood river dory, "Gem."

At 2 p.m. Sunday in the Prescott Public Library, boat builder, river runner and avid hiker Tom Martin discusses the discovery of the formerly lost Gem and his 2009-10 river run down the Colorado River in a replica of Gem, duplicating Fulmer's 1958 run when Gem disappeared.

"During that river trip (December 2009 to January 2010), we started to replicate some of the 1950s river trip photos," Martin said. "That has been amazing. We found one camp the river runners used on the 1957 high-water trip that we were able to photo rematch pieces of driftwood (from old photographs), meaning we identified driftwood this last December that was in the 1957 photos."

Fulmer took Gem on four runs down the Colorado River: 1955, 1956, 1957 and the disastrous 1958 trip.

In 1957, Vernon "Brick" Mortenson piloting "Flavell," Plez Talmadge "PT" Reilly piloting "Susie R," and Fulmer piloting Gem made a run down the river. Flavell and Susie R were fiberglass boats, whereas Gem is wood.

When the boat party launched at Lees Ferry near Page, the river was raging at nearly 120,000 cubic feet per second. Because of the dicey river conditions, the trio decided to dock the boats at Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon and hike out.

The three boatmen and their three passengers hiked down to Phantom Ranch in 1958, loaded the boats and proceeded downriver. The first mishap occurred when Mortenson flipped Flavell below Deer Creek. Fulmer and Reilly collected Mortenson and his passenger, and the six continued in two boats.

Although the river's level was not quite as high as it was the previous year, the boatmen thought it still too dangerous for comfort. So when they reached Lava Falls, they decided to "ghost run" the boats downriver and collect them at Lake Mead.

They found Flavell and Susie R, but Gem was nowhere to be found - until 1964.

The Grand Canyon National Park supervisor agreed to store the badly damaged Gem in the Kolb Studio garage. Brothers Emery and Ellsworth Kolb were pioneers in river running and successful photographers of their journeys and tourists.

After years of sitting in pieces in a warehouse in Grand Canyon Village, the restored Gem is now part of the Grand Canyon Park's historic boat collection.

Martin heard about Gem and her history and started researching the boat. He contacted Fulmer's niece, who was a passenger on one of the 1950s trips, and discovered that Fulmer's design, which incorporated self-bailing, side boxes in the boatman's well, and a 15-inch rocker, was based on the McKenzie River dory.

"Fulmer brought the first McKenzie River dory to Grand Canyon, and if we hadn't stumbled on this story, no one would know it," Martin said.

While Martin ran the Colorado River in his replica of Gem, Dave Mortenson and Ian Alexander were busy in Seattle building replicas of Flavell and Susie R. Martin said he is planning a river trip in 2011 with the three dory replicas.

Martin started river running and hiking the Grand Canyon in the late 1960s. In the 1990s, he became a vocal advocate for wilderness protection for the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

"These guys in the 1950s didn't have to compete with today's river concessionaires for a permit," Martin said. "Though their heritage is very rich, little is ever presented on the do-it-yourself river runners and their contributions to river running as we know it today."

Prescott Public Library is located at 215 E. Goodwin St., in Prescott. Martin's multimedia presentation is free and open to the public.

To read more about wood boats and blogs about Martin and Gem, visit


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