Update: I made my first run with these oars this past weekend and was pleased with the balance and performance . . . and yes, I am able to lift them with one finger.
I finally had enough. The pain in my shoulder, neck and spine from my functional but poorly balanced oars became unbearable and I had to upgrade as soon as possible. I looked around and priced out drift boat oars from a few well known manufacturers and also placed a call to Frank of Frank’s Custom Oars located on Cloverdale Road just off Highway 58. I’ve heard owners of Frank’s Oars rave about them so I couldn’t believe my ears when he quoted me a price. “Two eighty for the set.” he said.
Frank was working on the greenhouse when I arrived. A throwback to the pioneers of drift boating and really to the earlier days of our region, Frank has done it all and on his own terms. If he needs something, he builds it, fells it, whatever it takes to get the job done. In his seventy seven years he has fished with the legends of the Mckenzie, trapped, guided, built and repaired boats, felled trees for his handcrafted oars and just about everything else you could think of. It seemed right to buy my oars from him . . . .
As for the oars, each shaft is generally lathed from a single air dried Douglas fir log. “Kiln drying makes the wood brittle”, he explained to me, “and I want ‘em to last.” That makes two of us. The shafts are a little beefier than production oars but don’t feel heavy, they are nicely balanced. After lathing, for lack of a better term, Frank laminates the blades and then hand shapes them. The blades have a wooden wedge to prevent splitting and the outer edge of the blade is made from Madrone or from Ashe that Frank fells from the grove behind his homestead. The blade and the shaft are single piece construction, “keeps em from rotting.”
I was sold and sold my backbreakers yesterday and headed back to select my oars and custom place my oar stop. We measured the distance between my oar locks and subtracted six inches, three on each oar to keep the oars at the proper distance from each other. Here Frank marks the oar for placement of the stopper:
Like I mentioned, Frank’s drift boat oars are a little chunkier than production models, some talcum powder and elbow grease and the stop was in place:
The next step was to wrap the oar. Frank definitely has the hands of a lifelong woodworker:
After wrapping, he coated the wraps with Urethane and we headed out into the sunshine as we waited to turn the oars a couple times, making sure they dried evenly.
It isn’t everyday I sit down with someone like Frank and we had a far ranging conversation. He “grew up on the Mohawk” he explained to me and the “only time [he] left the state was to fight the communists in Korea.” There used to be pretty good fishing on the Mohawk for cutthroat and some rainbows. As a boy, he says he saw steelhead up there too, though just a few. He fished the smaller creeks, Mcgowan and Parsons and in the fifties and early sixties guiding before Dexter and Lookout Point, Cougar and Blue River dams, the spring salmon were thick and the catching was easy . . or so it was remembered.
On Woody Hindman: “He was a nice guy, real nice guy. Not the world’s greatest carpenter but a hell of an engineer. Engineered one of the best boats in the United States.”
Frank’s an opinionated guy and much of our conversation was off the record. But, if you are in the market for good oars at a great price, you might consider asking him yourself. It beat the hell out of a department store or marina experience that’s for sure!–KM