Here we go again. Taking a little road trip to Oregon this weekend to pick up a genuine piece of driftboat history – a 1960’s era Keith Steele McKenzie boat.

This will be my third driftboat project and I am super excited to have one that was built and used in Oregon by a legendary builder.

My first boat was an early 1990s Tatman kit that I built while living in TN and sold a few years after building it. My second one was all fiberglass of my own design and build. That one was stolen a few years back.

Now I’m living out west and it just won’t do to not have a drift boat. I have spent several months deliberating on whether to build a super nice wooden one, pick up a cheap used glass one, or look for a Woody Hindman or Keith Steele. As luck would have it, this Steele boat showed up on Craigslist and a friend, knowing I really wanted one snagged it before someone else could. An older guy in Oregon had the boat built for him by Keith Steele sometime in the 1960s after Steele gained notoriety for building the first Grand Canyon dories. He had a stroke a few years ago and realized it was time to let the old girl go.

The boat looks all original and complete and the owner says it is solid and perfectly usable as-is but my friend and I are going to go through and restore her. But maybe we’ll do a float or two in her first.

So what do y’all think… should I finish the whole boat with a bright finish or paint the outside? If paint, what color? My first one was hunter green with a tan rub strip and bright inside. I liked that look. Also thinking of maybe a turquoise color. It currently looks to be painted white.

I'd also really like to go by Steve Steele's shop while I am nearby. Anybody know how to contact him?

Views: 7284

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Attached are three pictures of the seat on my old (1966) Keith Steele boat.

The seat originally had baling wire where you now see chains.

Let me know if you have questions or want more pictures.

Bill K


Bill, this is EXACTLY what I was looking for. That looks just like my seat. So is the wooden dowel not attached to the seat? Is it held in place under tension? I guess mine is original then.

The wooden dowel is not attached to the seat, but is held in place by tension, just as you surmised.  The rope has to be the right length for this to come out right, so be sure to save the old rope to measure against.  Sounds like your seat is an original, as Keith did use wire between the turnbuckles and the metal bar.

Bill K 

  Must be a senior moment...I didn't go back and look at the link

Ha! I enjoyed the restoration anyway. Thanks.

 I actually looked at that boat when I was out there for the show. Super interesting guy he is, I would still be there talking to him if I would have let myself. He wouldn't come down on the price. I am extremely excited the boat made it to you and into the forum anyways. It is a classic and deserves to be back on the water. I remembered it smelled awful in the little shed he had it in.

Check out the restore I did on my Steele.

PS  Better take Steve two beers.


Hi Adam. I have to say that I am super thankful that you couldn't settle on a price. I am so happy to have this boat! Also have to say that your restoration was a huge inspiration to me and my desire to have a Steele boat. I love what you did with your boat. I am going to be calling on you for some insight/advice on how you patched that hull damage on your boat. There is a patch on the inside of this one that isn't going to cut it for me. I'm not to the point of digging into it yet, but when I am...

So I would guess that most people on this sit already know all of this but I thought I would show you a few distinctives of a Keith Steele boat. Since many of these traditional framed drift boats all look so much alike that it was hard for me to tell the difference between a Woody Hindman, Greg Tatman, Don Hill, etc. Here are some pictures of things that confirm a Keith Steele boat in case anybody is looking for such info. Please feel free to add or correct me on any of this.

Beginning at the stem and working back, first there is this aluminum brace bolted to the stem and the sides. I am not sure exactly what purpose this serves but it is authentic.

Metal Brace on Stem by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

Next is the upholstered knee locks...
Padded Knee Locks by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The fly line deck and front brace are removable by pulling out this peg. On all the other boats I have seen the brace is bolted in place. This is removable so that multiple boats can be stacked on one trailer.
Removable Front Brace by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The front seat and seat backs came padded from Steele...
Upholstered Front Seat by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The front seat is easily removable to facilitate stacking of boats as well. Instead of the seat frame having a hole in it with the pipe running through it, there is this dandy system with a swinging "lock" that creates friction and prevents the seat from sliding. When you want to remove the seat you just flip these four locks aside and lift the seat out!
Front Seat Fastening System by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr
Front Seat Fastening System 2 by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The drain hole is in the lowest spot in the hull to the right of the oarsman's right foot. It is this flange and screw in plug.
Drain Plug by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

There are two braces for the front seat instead of just one. I think this has something to do with support for stacking boats as well...

Double Front Seat Braces by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The rope setup on rower's seat is made very differently and has only one metal pipe, unlike two on the other boats I have seen. I can't really describe how it works yet but I will show more details at a later time.
Rope Seat by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

Other framed boats I have seen have two weep holes on each frame and the are semi-circle shaped. Steele boats have just one on each frame and it is square and located on the right side of each frame. The reason for this is to channel water inside the hull to the drain hole.
Square Weep Hole by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

Cool plate nailed to left gunnel near the rear...
Badge by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

The original anchor system...
Anchor System by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr
Transom by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

And finally, on the batten caps is an aluminum strip that protects the oak batten caps from rock damage. This boat, while it has plenty of age on it, seems to have had very little rough use. The battens, rub strips, etc. are not even scratched. The missing paint on the aluminum in this picture is the result of me scraping it off with a screwdriver and sandpaper to try to show that it is aluminum.

Aluminum Chine Cap Protection by Carl Warmouth, on Flickr

First I was relieved to find that the wood under the batten cap is rock hard and solid. No sign of even a little rot in spite of having 161 screws in it! (More on that in a bit)

Secondly, I found that there was a strip of heavy black rubber used as bedding between the cap and the hull. It was stapled in place and then screwed through. I guess this boat was built before the days of 3M caulk. It apparently worked pretty well!

Finally, a discovery that leads to a couple questions... It appears to me that the hull side plywood comes down to and rests on top of the chine log. This surprised me. I was expecting the plywood to screw to the chine log. If I remember correctly, when I built my Tatman boat (and it was more than 20 years ago so I may not remember correctly) I screwed the sides to the log and the frames. Take a look at the pictures and tell me if I am seeing this correctly. Do you see the plywood side coming down to the chine log and then the bottom ply attached to that? And secondly, there are 80 more screws in the log. What the heck are they for?

Batten cap looks pretty good at first glance...

For some reason only the middle part of the previous post published and it won't let me edit. So here goes try # 2:

This weekend I took the port side aluminum chine protection and batten cap off and had three surprises (described above). 

Batten cap looks pretty good here...

But further inspection reveals serious rot...

But check out the clever rubber bedding. It did its job...

Now tell me what is going on here. Plywood sides on top of chine log? What is up with the screws? What purpose are they serving?

I don't see what you mean in this picture. However in your Flickr pictures I think I see what you mean. Is the strip of wood solid wood or plywood?


Rick, something screwy happened with that first post. Check out the last picture in the previous post. The bottom layer is the boat bottom, the middle layer seems to be the chine log (looks like mahogany), and the plywood side seems to be resting on top of it.


© 2021   Created by Randy Dersham.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service