by Carmen Macdonald
You just might notice a few more North River Boats on the show floor this week at the Pacific Northwest Sportsmen's Show at the Portland Expo Center. At January's Portland Boat Show, I couldn't help but notice a reinvigorated selection of North River hulls at Clemen's Marine.
The brand seemed to all but disappear when past owner Brian Brush led the company to financial ruin and then sealed his own path to hell by committing murder.
As Brush stood trial and awaited his impending life sentence, talk of the company was overshadowed by the sadness for the life Brush took and it was probably assumed that the company, and all of its' employees, had faded away.
That's certainly what I would have expected.
Surprisingly, however, the company never went anywhere. Downsized for sure. Owned by the banks and massively restricted by loss of available credit, absolutely. Unable to floor boats with retailers and without a motor company distribution deal, yep. But not gone.
Rather than going away, North River was held together by commercial contracts that kept a steady flow of craft moving through the production facility east of Roseburg. For the remaining employees, it was a stressful period. Under bank ownership, the company could have been shut down on any given day.
Buoyed by the strength of design, materials and construction quality that have always defined North River, the company pressed on. Contracts continued to come, and even some recreational boat dealers paid cash for boats so they could offer the North River product line to their customers.Clean lines, beautiful fit and finish and excellent handling qualities positioned North River as the hard-core riverboat with the finer detail points that allowed them to cross over into the family boat market.
For three and a half years, North River Boats operated day-to-day-to-day. On August 15, 2012, however, purchase of the company's assets was finalized by Oregon-based NW Bend Boats. The company does business as North River Boats. The investment firm has no intention of moving the brand's production facilities from Roseburg, Oregon.
Over the last five months, North River has continued to book orders from its recreational, commercial and government customers.
Brent Hutchings, new North River CEO said, "There's no longer the burden of receivership. Thanks to the efforts of North River's outstanding employees and the exceptional financial strength of the new parent company, the company has a bright future."
Fans of North River Boats will be excited about what has not changed within the company. Of 75 employees, a vast percentage have been with the company longer than 10 years. Jay, Mike, Gary, Jordan… all the familiar names are there.
Over 2 years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Jay Conn, North River General Manager. He mentioned that at the time when the company seemed to be falling apart, he made a commitment to the crew that if they stuck it out, he'd stand by them and be the guy to turn the lights out.
Fans of the Seahawk, Scout, Commander and Trapper will certainly be happy that switch was never flipped.