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?

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Steve lives in Lebanon, OR. He is listed in the phone book. If you can't find it I can check my resources. We would love to see some pictures too.

Rick N

Back in the 1960's, most of the drift boats on the McKenzie were painted the same green color used by the U of O.  Besides being true to Oregon, green also provided some camouflage when duck hunting.

Keith Steele build a boat for me in 1966 and I varnished it with clear Flecto Varathane.  Keith didn't approve, he thought it should have been painted.

Bill K

Thanks, Rick! I will try to look him up. I will also be sure to post pics along the way to restoring it.

I don't think I will go with Duck green, Bill, but that is an awesome piece of history. Thanks for passing that along.

I'd really love to dip this thing in the McKenzie while I am there. Anyone know a short, easy float near Walterville? I have never been to the McKenzie but I actually named my daughter McKenzie Lane after the river and the county. Is it strange to love something you have never even seen? (The river, not the daughter.)

Deer Horn golf course to Hendricks bridge. Done that run hundreds of time back in the 60,s

Take Steve a Beer.


  I talked to Steve a few years ago when I was restoring a Steel boat.   He identified the finish that was used, Famwood clear, DuraTuff... and I called them to get some instruction on how to re finish over the badly checked and peeling stuff...It worked well with just a bit ....ha!...of sanding..The owner was supposed to add a third coat, but he didn't...and he asked me to do another coat this summer...He's quite happy with the is a can see it is a lot of work but the Steel boats are excellent for a production boat of the era...

Got her home safe and sound last weekend and then turned around and went on a 4 day high mountain lake backpacking trip in the White Clouds. The boat is a bit rougher than I expected but seems to be structurally solid and rot free so far. Lots of paint gooped on it seems to have pickled her pretty nicely. 

My friend and I had a great trip over to Springfield to get her and found that she spent her whole life about a half mile from the McKenzie river and the past few years in a shed. I did call Steve Steele and arranged to meet him at his shop. What an awesome guy!! He was super, super nice and took a lot of time to look at the boat and give us a tour of the shop as well as restoration tips. He confirmed that the boat is a pre-1970 model.

Here is the first pic of many to come...


PS Can anyone post or send me some detailed photos of the rowing seat of a Keith Steele boat? I think mine may have been modified.

PPS Can anyone tell me how to upload photos directly into the post instead of having a link like this?

Here's how to post pictures: Right above the word where you type your message you will see a small icon that looks like a picture, it's just to the right of the word LINK. When you click on it you will see a box that says "ADD IMAGE". First choice is "from my computer", below that is a box that says browse. If you click on that you can look through your files containing photos after you navigate to the proper file. After you select a picture it will load and you can then choose if you want it left, right or centered. You can also decide if you want padding or space around your picture, for example 10 pixels will give a small white space around the sides, top and bottom. The last thing is the width of your picture, 720 is common and will fill the page on most computer screens. You can add five pictures if I remember correctly. If you want to add more, close the first post you started with and add a second or third one.

You are not alone in having a tough time in adding pictures. Post here again or send me a message and I'll try to help.

Rick Newman

Awesome, Rick! Thank you!



I will have to look through my pictures some more to see if I have one of an older Keith Steele seat. Most of Steele boat pictures are from Steve Steele boats.

  There may be a picture you can use in the link I sent in a previous post. that Steel boat restoration project album. One thing I did sort of wrong with that one is to use 'rope' that looked like the original manilla line, the old rope that was on the seat when it came to me...trying to keep it original looking...but the line is not as comfortable to sit on, it being a synthetic that is meant to look like Manilla line...

  If it was my boat I would probably use a modern yacht braid to lace the with low stretch..Personally, I like to row from a boat cushion on a solid thwart. Your butt gets wet, however, if you are in a rainy area... In some areas these boat cushions can fulfill the requirement for personal floatation safety devices, also...

Hi Don. Thanks for the feedback. The link to the boat restoration that you posted seems to actually be a Don Hill boat.

I am trying to figure out how the rope seat works on this boat. It is different from my Tatman and other boats I have seen in that it has only one metal pipe (it is on the right side of the seat). On the left it has a large wooden dowel on the underside with the rope laced around it but it is not attached to the seat. The rope is not attached directly to the turnbuckle, it it tied on with bailing wire. I would have thought for sure this was a hack job except I ran across another picture that seems to be the same way. Problem is that there is not enough detail to tell what is going on. 


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