If you’ve fished out West for more than a little while chances are you’ve figured it out—Rafts rule. You jealously spy them drifting by the opposite bank, the one you can’t get to, past the “No Trespassing” sign and fence you can’t cross, into water you can’t fish. You wish you knew that guy on the sticks, and you wish he’d call you up. I hate to break it to you, buddy, but that guy has more friends than boat space.
You need your own whip, and you need it quick.
Your search leads you to Down River Equipment, or DRE as it’s known in the acronym-friendly world of sports that require a whole ton of assorted shit. You’ve come to the right place whether you found them via catalog, Internet, or happened to walk through the front door. You’re in good hands.
DRE has been in the same place doing the same thing for close to thirty years. From the get-go the emphasis has always been quality over quantity. Their custom approach and attention to detail have built them a loyal following and respected reputation among the practitioners of whitewater.
Owner Mike Prosser recently took a minute to give me a quick dog–and-pony show. We walked through the boat room and into the shop where an impressive old turret mill stands watch in a room full of bright diamond plate and aluminum. He pointed to a wall covered with hundreds of plastic jigs and templates and explained what they’re all for as he motioned me to follow to the next room. He introduced me to Jason, the shop manager, who is too busy tig welding oar towers to talk much. We walked and talked as he fired up a Marlboro Light and peered at me over his reading glasses with a look that indicated I just asked a really dumb question. In 15 minutes I began to get it. It’s not about getting rich quick or building some super slick production process to crank out off–the-shelf results, it’s about doing things one at a time and doing them right. Mike never really stops doing what he’s doing, checking something with a micrometer, then setting up a cutter of some sort on the mill.
He’s a bit of a perfectionist and I was slowing his thought process, so I ventured back the way I came. In the shop I poked around and eavesdropped on the staff discussing someone’s upcoming Middle Fork trip. Tucked neatly into every inch of space is everything and more you’d need to outfit a sick fishing raft or a 20’ barge for a month-long Grand trip. I drooled on the spankin’ new rubber and gleaming frames, admired the tig welds, and ran my hands over the taut Phifertex mesh seat covers.
I made my way back to the front and chatted up the staff. Matty was the lucky one that drew the permit and John is another shop manager. Their easygoing attitude seemed to mask the enormity of the jobs these guys do. I wondered out loud if they didn’t have some warehouse and call center where a team of people processed the phone and Internet orders. They both laughed loudly and set me straight. If you wander into the store, call on the phone, or order in ones and zeroes you’ll end up dealing with one of these two.
I’m told that yes, they do in fact have a warehouse, just across the parking lot and that there is in fact one other person named Eric that works there. I imagine to myself that his job must suck. (I tried to box up a raft once and it didn’t end well for me or the raft.)
I got the hint that they’re too busy right now with the hoards of people yearning to get some time on the water before things dry up this year. I bought the straps I needed on my way out. As Matty rung me up I couldn’t help but notice the sign next to the register that said: “We do wedding registries.” And I can’t help but find it ironic that a place that’s probably ended its share of marriages offers wedding registries.