Stephen Moulton “Moulty” Babcock Fulmer began his river running exploits with his wife Janice and river runners Preston Walker and Norm Nevills on a four person San Juan river trip in 1942. The Fulmer’s had a wonderful time on the San Juan, so much so that Moulty started building his own boats. An athletic director at the Muncie, Indiana, YMCA, after work Moulty would row his small homemade craft on the White River through downtown Muncie, often when the White was at flood stage. While a Sergeant in the Army during World War II, Nevills asked Moulty if he would participate as a boatman on a Fox Movietone filming trip on the San Juan. The Army obliged with a leave, and Moulty joined Nevills’ Navy for a week. More importantly, Moulty was stationed in Oregon in 1945. It was here that he met Woodie Hindman, the noted McKenzie River drift boat innovator. Woodie spent an afternoon showing Moulty the boats and designs Hindman was working on in his shop.
Influenced by Hindman’s boat designs of continuous steep rocker bow to stern, immediately after the war Moulty built the first fully decked McKenzie River dory to run anywhere in the Colorado River drainage in 1946-47. Called the MOJA for Moulty and Janice, the MOJA was made of ¼” plywood, and measured 15 feet long and 5 feet wide at the oarlocks. Fulmer fitted the boat with Smoker oars. Made in Indiana of solid Ash, Smoker oars proved strong enough to rip an oarlock off the MOJA. Smokers are still being used by river runners today on rivers throughout the western United States.
Moulty and his wife, Janice, rowed the MOJA on a one-boat, two-person trip from Shiprock, New Mexico, on the San Juan, through Glen Canyon to Lee’s Ferry, AZ, in 1947. They were stunned by the beauty of the San Juan from Bluff, Utah, to Mexican Hat, a section of the San Juan even Nevills had not run. In Glen Canyon, Moulty and Janice met another couple on a one boat motor powered up-run of Glen Canyon, Georgie White Clark and Harry Aleson. For the next six years, Moulty would run the MOJA on many other sections of the Colorado River Drainage, gaining additional boating skills.
With the successful San Juan trip in the MOJA behind him, Moulty paid $1,000 to Nevills for a 1948 Grand Canyon river trip as a passenger. On the Grand trip, Moulty began to appreciate the superior handling of the McKenzie hull design in comparison to the cataract “sadiron” hull design Nevills was using. Also on this river trip, Moulty met fellow river runner Otis “Dock” Marston. The two would remain lifelong friends.
Moulty built his next boat, the GEM, in 1951-1952. The GEM was 15 feet long with a 15-inch rocker just like the MOJA. Unlike the MOJA, GEM was 6-feet at the oarlocks and was built with 3/8″ plywood sides. This extra strength, combined with 3/4″ thick vertical bulkheads and decking, made for a very tough boat.
With a new boat, Moulty wrote Dock asking if Dock knew anyone looking for a boatman. Marston introduced Moulty to Plez Talmadge “Pat” Reilly. Moulty ran Grand Canyon from Lee’s Ferry to Temple Bar successfully in the GEM in 1955 and 1956. He teamed up with Reilly and boat rowers Vernon “Brick” Mortenson in 1955, and Martin Litton in 1956, along with Reilly’s two boats, the Susie R and Flavell with their fiberglass hulls.
In 1957, running on 124,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), the river runners ran from Lee’s Ferry and got as far as Phantom Ranch, where they over-wintered their boats. Harry Aleson, stationed the winter of 1957-58 at Phantom Ranch, looked after the river runners’ boats. Returning to Phantom Ranch in 1958, Moulty, Pat and Brick set out downstream, but the Flavell capsized and was lost below Deer Creek. Her crew was taken aboard the two other boats. With the river running at 80,000 cfs, the river runners decided to “ghost run” the remaining two boats above Lava Falls, leaving the boats to their fate in the river while the river runners hiked out the Lava Falls Route. The following day, using a rented motorboat on Lake Mead, they found Georgie White Clark and her river party with the Flavell in tow. The Susie R was found half sunk the next day, but the GEM was lost. Amazingly, in 1964, the wreck of the GEM was recovered from a cove in Lake Mead. Today, the original GEM is in the National Park Service’s collection of historic Grand Canyon boats at the South Rim.
Tom Martin’s previous boat building experience centered around building a balsawood model of the GEM. Fortunately, Tom had prior home building experience, so was no stranger to woodworking. With the assistance of fellow volunteers Hazel Clark, Virginia Martin, Bill Brookins, Helen Ranney and Jim McCarthy, in 2006 Tom worked with Grand Canyon National Park Special Collections staff Kim Besom and Colleen Hyde to stabilize and clean up the original GEM in the Kolb Garage at the South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park. This allowed Tom to capture measurements from what remained of the original boat.Next, a friend named Kyle Frye mentioned to Tom that a large garage owned by Bob and Beth Goforth might be available to build the replica. The Goforth’s were interested in the project, and soon became accustomed to Tom arriving and departing daily to work on the replica. Tom works a month on-month off schedule as a physical therapist. The GEM slowly took shape in one month chunks over the spring and summer of 2009. The Goforth’s chickens kept Tom company as he slowly worked away, with occasional great advice and encouragement from Kyle, Beth and Bob.
In December, 2009, Tom rowed the GEM through Grand Canyon. In August 2010, Tom rowed the GEM through Grand Canyon again. “The GEM, like all decked Grand Canyon McKenzie River dories, rows like a dream,” notes Martin. On Feb. 1, 2011, Tom, once again, took to the oars at Lee’s Ferry and was joined by replicas of the Susie R and Flavell as they made their first return to the river. Tom rowed the GEM again in Spring 2012, joined by the Susie R, Flavell, Susie Too, and Portola replicas.