Big Water, Little Boats
Moulty Fulmer and the First Grand Canyon Dory on the Last of the Wild Colorado River
A book by Tom Martin, author of Day Hikes from the River and Guide to the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.
There was a time when river runners built their own boats and rowed the Colorado River through Grand Canyon on free-flowing water; no permit problems, no high-tech gear
and not much in the way of backup. What they did have were cameras, lots of film, cans of food, life jackets and journals to keep their notes in.
Tom has chatted with a number of the guys and gals still standing, then scoured libraries, attics and garages to find the stories and pictures the others have left behind.
He built a replica of Grand Canyon’s first dory, a fully decked McKenzie River dory, from photographs, notes, and the original wreck still housed in the Grand Canyon National Park Special Collections.
The replica has made it through the Canyon four times since, even with Tom's poor driving.
Here he tells the story of Moulty Fulmer, Brick Mortenson, P.T. Reilly, Dock Marston, and their friends on river trips on some of the highest water ever run in the Grand Canyon.
Big Water Little Boats includes many stories of other trips during the same time period, the 1940s through the 1960s, including the development of recreational river running and boat
design on the Colorado.
Soft cover, almost 200 historic b&W and color photographs, 240 pages.ISBN 978-0-9795055-6-0. $24.95. Publication date May 1 2012
To see photographs from the most recent replica expedition in the Grand Canyon check out the Big Water Little Boats page on Facebook.
See longer reviews
"Well written, fabulously researched, and beautifully illustrated."
- Wayne Ranney, geologist and veteran river guide
"Congratulations on the book. To quote the English poet John Keats: “A thing of beauty and (is) a joy forever.” The book brought back many pleasant memories and one very great sadness. The death of Willie. He was a fine person who truly loved the canyon."
- Ed Hudson, crew member on the 1948, 1949 and 1950 powerboat attempts
“Thank you so much for allowing my tiny part of the canyon’s history to be included in this project. You have done a wonderful documentation on a unique period of American History.”
- Amrette Butler, crew member on the 1956 Reilly-Fulmer run
“WOW! What an amazing book. I was thrilled and excited to receive it. It is so much more than I expected it to be. The photos are stunning. This is a real treasure that will be available for years to come. Without your efforts, this information would have been lost as time goes by. Congratulations on producing such a special history.”
- Bevan Wright, crew member on the 1950 Frank Wright ESMERALDA II recovery
“What a wonderful book! Your research is surely impressive and the pictures are beautifully reproduced. I just wish Frank Moltzen could have lived long enough to see this book.”
- Neal Newby, two-person fourteen-day trip Lee’s to Phantom, 1956
I thought is was one of the most accurate of writings that has come out about the river history and that era.
- Bob Rigg, veteran river guide
Many thanks for the book, a landmark for sure.
- Martin Litton, doryman and environmentalist
Back Cover copy:
Moulty Fulmer was bitten by the river running bug during a San Juan River trip in 1942. After a chance meeting with a McKenzie River dory builder, Fulmer constructed his first dory and rowed the San Juan in 1947.
Traveling through Grand Canyon in 1948 on a Norm Nevills expedition, Fulmer met Colorado River historian, Otis “Dock” Marston, and they went on to run rivers together and correspond for the next thirty years.
Fulmer built his second dory, the Gem, specifically for big water.
Joining forces with Pat Reilly in 1954, they ran the Grand Canyon five times in home-built boats. Their adventures included rowing the wild Colorado River in 1957 on 126,000 cubic feet per second, one of the highest flows in the last century.
Using historic photos, river logs, letters and interviews, author Tom Martin recounts the voyages of a number of unsung river runners during the transformation from Grand Canyon expeditionary river running into today’s whitewater recreation.
Big Water, Little Boats chronicles the start of the park’s river running permit system in 1955, the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, and the explosion of river running that occurred after the completion of the dam in 1963.
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Vishnu Temple Press
PO Box 30821
Flagstaff, AZ 86003
Phone & fax (928) 890 4214
Retail/Wholesale inquiries welcome.
If you are interested in arranging a book signing or slide & movie show, please contact us at
If you have journals, photos, films of self-guided trips from the 1930s-1960s and you think Tom may be interested in them or if you want advice on how to preserve them, please contact Tom at
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Vishnu Temple artwork © Ron Short
Vishnu Temple photograph © Mike Buchheit
Book cover design © Sandra Kim Muleady
Vishnu Temple in the Grand Canyon
Big Water, Little Boats is a publication by Vishnu Temple Press LLC which is owned by Tom Martin and Hazel Clark
Site last updated February 2014