The Truckee River Rafting Story
Our story starts when we were mere kids in the 60’s. We lived in Santa Barbara and would vacation in Tahoe, “roughing it" in a cabin built by my dad and a bunch of his friends. One of the activities we enjoyed was floating down the Truckee River. My parents would drop us off in Tahoe City and pick us up at River Ranch. Looking back, I think my parents were just trying to get some “peace and quiet" for a few hours, while our little clan of 12 year olds splashed and floated on anything we had that would hold air!
Back then, there were no raft rental companies, no rules, no bike trail, and floating down rivers was something new. I remember floating over discarded tires, old auto parts, and rusted metal junk. There was even a half submerged wooden footbridge or dock with rusted nails poking out that my parents always said to be careful of. Luckily, we escaped each trip without a visit to the hospital for Tetanus shots!
Little did we know that in a few short years we would be supplying adventurous tourists with tubes and rafts to float our original course that we enjoyed while growing up, and that we would be the ones responsible for removing all those dangerous hazards that our parents always warned us about!
It was the fall of 1973. I was a junior at Santa Barbara High School and my sister Jennifer was a sophomore. My dad and mom had this crazy idea to start a new summer venture in Tahoe. The plan was to collect a bunch of used bicycles, fix them up and rent them in Tahoe City during summer vacation. It sounded like a great idea and what better way to spend time in Tahoe and make a few bucks! So our family business began…
By the end of our first summer in 1974, we had 50 bicycles of every shape and size, 50 large truck inner tubes, and 10 rafts for floating the river. It seemed as though there was more of an interest to get on the river, so we decided to expand into the float trips. Our location in Tahoe City just happened to be next to the river and tubing was a perfect addition to our summer bicycle business. Our sign-up desk today is in the same location as when we started.
There were two raft rental businesses operating before us, both opened in 1973. The first was owned by the Conn Brothers, who set up shop to earn money for college. The second was jointly owned by Judy and Bob Nelson and Andy Baird. Bob and Andy had a bit of a “falling out" and split their company in two, each taking 20 rafts. My family saw an opportunity and decided to help Andy, who wanted to “get the heck out of Dodge." We purchased his half of the raft company. We also purchased the Conn Brother’s company a couple years later and Nick Fuller purchased Judy and Bob Nelson’s share after the summer 1975.
So…by the end of 1977, Nick Fuller, with a couple silent partners, owned Truckin’ on the Truckee. We owned Truckee River Rafting, High Wheeler Bike Rental, Andy’s Truckee River Raft Rental, and the Conn’s Dollar-an-Hour-Raft-Rental. I guess we were a little ambitious! Anyway, with all the stress and so much happening, Judy and Bob Nelson parted ways, as did my mom and dad. Some sad days…can’t always be perfect!
In 1976 Placer County elected to limit rafting operations and put a very strict rafting ordinance into effect, requiring legal ingress/egress points, number of rafts allowed, parking, insurance, monitoring, river clean-up/restrooms and the list goes on and on… In another turn of events, our dad, also named Bob, marries Judy! One big happy family, so to say! At this point, it’s Nick Fuller’s Truckin’ on the Truckee and the Bell family, Bob, Judy, Jennifer and Ryan with Truckee River Rafting – Mountain Air Sports.
It’s 1977 and Richard Courcier, from Maryland, joins our family team. He was my best friend from day one, but I think he had an eye on my sister, Jennifer, all the time! They, of course, eventually got married…and had two daughters, Sydney and Lexie, who have worked along side their mom and dad at Truckee River Rafting and The River Grill Restaurant in Tahoe City since tiny tots.
Me? I’ve “traversed my own set of rapids", but always land at the Truckee River come summertime. In 1984, I married and had two children, Whitney and Parker who have also enjoyed growing up around the rafting atmosphere. After ten years and being closed six of those years due to a drought, I separated. Now married to Jill, who’s always supportive, knows how demanding the rafting business can be. She brings along Paige and Parker, who also have grown up around Truckee River Rafting, working and learning the “family businesses".
We’ve endured some hard times with drought, flood, short seasons and federally regulated water flows at the Tahoe City Dam, but each year we’re open, we try to improve and make our little family business, which isn’t so little any more, better and better. Our dad, Bob, is gone now but not forgotten. He was the inspiration and leader, and always the optimist. Judy, never missing a day, “holds down the fort" at our rafting store, making sure there are plenty of water guns, “Riverman" t-shirts, snacks and supplies!
All of us are devoted to our company and to each other, and are on site everyday to ensure each customer is given the highest possible level of service. We strive to be the best, that’s the way our dad would want it.