Sunday, June 10, 2012
Jerry Bentley was an unlikely pioneer of whitewater rafting on the Rogue River. A California transplant, he worked in the financial industry before getting the vision to start Orange Torpedo Trips in 1969. Jerry had a great passion for OTT and our “uniqueness”. His vision to create the first company in the world offering guided white water inflatable kayaking changed commercial river running forever. Jerry believed that with good training, great guides, and the proper equipment; first time river runners could paddle themselves down class II, III, and even some class IV rivers. The number of companies now offering some form of inflatable kayaking is a testament to the powerful vision Bentley had.
As OTT grew, Jerry found himself off the river more as he kept the business expanding and moving forward. He still kept his personal touch on OTT; who can forget his legendary two hour pre-trip orientation sessions ? Clad in a short sleeve turtleneck, khakis, and deck shoes, with his ever present unlit cigar clenched between his teeth, his eyes twinkled as he officially “welcomed” new paddlers to Southern Oregon. The sight of Jerry sprawled on the floor using Grape and Orange Crush cans to demonstrate the phenomenon of whiplash, or listening to him expound for 10 minutes on the finer points of how to fasten the “plastic doomaflatchie” on a clothing bag were not soon to be forgotten.
Over the years, his favorite river remained the Klamath, in Northern California. A good progression of whitewater from Class I to Class III over the course of three days made it an ideal learning experience for novice paddlers. “Graduates” of the Klamath then had the option of moving up to the Rogue or Salmon Rivers.
Jerry loved a good joke or prank and was occasionally on the receiving end. After he sold OTT in the early ’80’s, he returned to the Salmon as a guest guide. After a day of discarding his beloved unlit cigars into the river, he discovered his fellow guides had retrieved them from the river and placed them under the pasta on his dinner plate !
Jerry passed away in 2007. At a memorial service in Oregon, 40-50 guides and ex-guides gathered for a memorial float, including a symbolic empty boat. All those in attendance were a testament to the spirit that Jerry brought to OTT, and the great respect and affection that we all had for “JB”.
– The Great One, AKA Captain Skirt, AKA the Old Guy – Mike Slagle.