For a River Heritage Museum at Grand Canyon National Park

Wee Red & Dock

The idea of powering a boat up the Colorado first arose in the early 1940s in the mind of eccentric Harry Aleson, who made his first downriver trip on the San Juan with Nevills. Aleson’s attempts failed, as did the next uprunner, Ed Hudson—another of Nevills’s passengers— in his Esmeralda II in 1949. It was not until 1960 that the dream was realized, as the result of New Zealander Bill Hamilton’s invention of the jetboat.

Hamilton, an inventor, perfected the jet thrust propulsion system in order to navigate the shallow streams of his country, and consequently invented the sport of motoring up whitewater rivers. His concepts proved so popular that he began producing jetboats commercially. In 1959 friends working with Hamilton’s American licensee conceived the idea of a promotional trip up the Colorado through Grand Canyon.

Enlisting the renowned Dock Marston as their Grand Canyon expert, the team piloted four jetboats down the river in 1960 to scout the terrain, test the boats, and stash fuel. However, due to an injury, Bill Hamilton was not able to participate, sending instead his son Jon as lead pilot. Of the four boats to descend, the two larger ones were rejected for the uprun because of their unwieldiness. The two smaller craft, Wee Red and Wee Yellow, were joined by two new small boats, Doc and Kiwi. On July 4 the team left Lake Mead. Two days later they fought their way up the toughest upriver rapid, Lava Falls. Three days later, with the hardest rapids behind them, the Wee Yellow sank unexpectedly in Grapevine Rapid. The remaining three completed the historic ascent on July 12. The Wee Red and Doc are in the NPS collection.

With the closing of Glen Canyon Dam in 1963, sufficient water for such craft was rarely seen again. And fearing the Colorado might become a motor thunderous testing ground, the NPS soon established stringent horsepower restrictions and banned upruns.

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