Three longtime IOGA members, Leo and Dee Crane of Orofino and Zeke West of Grangeville, were honored as Lifetime Members at the annual IOGA meeting last week in Boise.
Grant Simonds, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, said the honor is the equivalent of a “lifetime achievement” award because of the many contributions that the Cranes and West made to their communities, IOGA and Idaho’s recreation industry.
Leo and Dee Crane operated Clearwater Outfitters, based in Orofino, for nearly five decades before selling their big game hunting business and starting a business they now operate on Dworshak Reservoir called “Lake and Leathers.”
Zeke West, owner of Whitewater Outfitters for nearly five decades, ran trips up and down the Salmon River and Snake River from Lewiston to Corn Creek, and he also was licensed on the Clearwater River from Kookia to Lewiston. He guided hunters in Units 20 and 20A adjacent to the Salmon River, and he guided bear and cougar hunters adjacent to the North Fork of the Clearwater River.
“Zeke was the consummate jet boat captain. He had a million-dollar smile, he provided quality customer service and he always operated in an exemplary, safe manner,” Simonds says. “Plus, he’d make himself available to assist other outfitters or other boaters with just about anything. He was a real gentleman.”
West purchased Whitewater Ranch in the late 1960s, and that was his base of operation on the Main Salmon River, long before it became the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in 1980. The first jet boat he purchased in 1971 was a 24-foot Oaks. A decade later, he bought a 26-foot Bentz jet boat, which he used until after he retired. He also had a 30-foot Smith boat named “Old Faithful” that he bought from Mackay Bar.
In 1982, the Nez Perce National Forest gave Zeke an award for logging 2,000 hours of jet boat operation without an accident. When he sold his last boat in 2012, he was still accident free. “That’s quite an achievement considering the wild nature of the Salmon River at many different water levels,” Simonds said. “Zeke’s outfitting career is the epitome of providing quality customer service while maintaining the health, safety and welfare of those who utilized his outfitting and guiding talents.”
Plus, West was part of a close-knit community of outfitters, guides, guest ranch owners and caretakers who live along the Salmon River in the remote and primitive wilderness section in Central Idaho.
Leo Crane first got his outfitting license in 1964 as the owner of Clearwater Outfitters. He’s been a member of IOGA since 1966. He started the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter in 1987. He also served on the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board from 1987-1999, and the IOGA board from 206-2008.
Crane took guests on big game hunts for elk, deer, mountain lions and black bears for many years. He operated during the “glory days” of big game hunting in the Clearwater region for several decades, hunting in the popular Mallard-Larkins roadless area. After wolves affected that operation, he switched to leading fishing trips on Dworshak and white-tailed deer hunting trips.
“Leo has been a steady and reliable IOGA member who’s been willing to be involved in leadership posts over the years, and he’s continued to have an interest in being a volunteer leader on many levels,” Simonds said.
Leading up the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter for several decades, Crane helped with new membership recruitment and staying abreast of outfitting, land-management and Fish and Game issues with fellow members. More recently, Crane has been serving on the Clearwater Basin Collaborative on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest and serving on IOGA’s wilderness committee.
Both Leo and Dee have hosted “The Roundup” community event in Orofino since 2000, a fund-raiser for the IOGA Clearwater Valley Chapter. The event raises scholarship money for local students and funds for I-CARE, a benefit fund for families coping with cancer. I-CARE stands for Cancer Assistance and Recovery Effort. Since 2008, I-CARE has raised $13,350 to benefit more than 30 families in the communities of Orofino, Pierce, Kamiah, Kooskia, Weippe, Deary, Ferdinand, Harpster and Peck.
“Leo and Dee are the epitome of small family-run outfitting businesses where the husband and wife work hand in hand,” Simonds says. “Their connection to the local community, and the way they give back to and support the community, has been really important to IOGA’s image.
“For decades IOGA has been blessed to have Leo and later Dee as active members,” Simonds continues. “At every turn they have stepped forward to provide IOGA with the leadership, knowledge and energy necessary for it to function as the leading statewide professional organization and effective advocate for outfitters in Idaho and America.”
Zeke West’s youngest son, Bob, reflects on the life that Zeke lived on the river.
“I awoke in the cabin to the fresh, damp forest air. The sun had not yet risen over the high green mountain top, but it was still daylight. The sun would not shine directly into the bottom of the canyon for another hour or so. The world around me was wide awake. I could hear the cawing of the crows in the distance. The gentle roar of the river in the background, its frigid waters cascading through the rapids not 100 yards away. The gentle never ending voice of the thermal flow of life. Small birds were singing and chirping and playing amongst themselves in the trees or the hill. The same birds had been there for years and years.
“I rose from my bunk and looked outside at the dew covered grass, the world filled with the air that still held the chill of night in the light of morning. The bees were already hard at work, dashing from blossom to blossom on the wild black raspberry bushes on the hill behind the house, the large log house where my father would soon emerge and whoop at me to come get breakfast. Even breakfast had the feeling of the country. The sourdough pancakes that magically formed from the same crock on the kitchen counter every day without fail. Sometimes as a special treat my father would make sourdough biscuits and jerky gravy instead of sourdough pancakes. There was the smell of bacon on the griddle, a smell made to wake up to.
“Conversation at the breakfast table would be of events of the day to come. How we had to take the jet boat 50 miles downriver to pick up the Forest Service workers: About the horses that had wandered to the neighbors again and had to be retrieved. (4 ½ miles downriver) Somehow they always remembered the greener pastures at Campbell’s Ferry. What green pastures they had. Natural Mountain pastures with no fences. Only a few fruit trees scattered sparsely through the pastures and surrounded by a blanket of evergreens and of course the timeless whisper of the river.”