A Guide at His Core

By Brian Chaffin

It is with heavy hearts that we share the recent loss of Tom Tremain, life-long river guide, Redside Foundation Board member, and dedicated supporter of the guiding community. Tom was one-of-a-kind. He loved guiding with all his heart. Yes, for the wild places it took him, but more importantly for the people that guiding brought into his life, and the lives he was able to influence. When not on the river, Tom could be found driving thousands of miles across the country visiting guide friends and past clients, sharing with them his pure joy for guiding, life, and friendship.

Tom came to guiding in 1981 when he asked a friend how he had come to find whitewater rafting. A few months later, Tom was running his own paddleboat down the American River, undoubtedly with that same wry smile that he carried with him through all the rapids in his life. The very next year he was given the opportunity to row a boat down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho; something he did every summer since with a style, grace, wit and wisdom that was all his own. Tom worked as a commercial rafting and fishing guide in Idaho, Oregon, California, and even in Alaska this past summer, earning a nursing degree along the way so that he could work as a nurse in the winters and continue to guide rivers in the summer.

Tom’s presence has inspired several generations of guides. From his no nonsense approach to river running, to his love of sharing small pieces of history or the natural world with unsuspecting guests in his boat, Tom was a guide’s guide. We were honored when Tom approached us and asked to serve as a Redside Foundation board member. His love of guiding and the guiding community was evident in his consistent and strong support of the Foundation.

As we mourn Tom’s passing in the early morning hours of the New Year, we are reminded of why we do what we do. Tom’s life was spent pursuing guiding as a profession and building community around the wild places that bring people together. We’re reminded to check in on our guiding community, to support each other through both exciting and challenging times, and to cherish every moment we get to spend together and working as guides. Thank you, Tom, for everything. We miss you, but know that we’ll see you around the next river bend.

Stories of Tremain

By Bob Volpert

When you knew someone as long as I knew Tom, there were lots of stories. He was a dedicated and knowledgeable professional who was sometimes stubborn but always willing to listen to other points of view.

When a new guide joins the IRJ crew they receive a briefing that includes a review of policies, expectations, and a short list of caveat essentials. Never argue with a welder, never get mad at shuttle drivers, never be rude at the laundry, never talk politics with guests, and most importantly, except when water is high and dangerous or if he asks for assistance, never help Tom Tremain land his boat.

In 40 years of his association with us, nearly every guide who has worked with Tom has heard his admonition. “If you can’t land your boat by yourself without ramming it into another boat, you shouldn’t be guiding.” When Tom works a trip for IRJ, his fellow guides are expected to bring their boat to shore without looking like a freeway accident. No banging into other rafts, no guests jumping out to help, no screaming at other crew members to “grab that line”. Most of the time the landing is successful but when it isn’t the offending guide will be subject to the Tremain “landing a boat” lecture. It is detailed and not always pleasant.

In the course of outfitting on the Middle Fork we’ve employed guides from many states but only two from Nebraska. Those two grew up together and attended the University of Nebraska where Tom wrestled and the other played football. They were working a late season Middle Fork trip that involved deadheading. At camp that evening the two from Nebraska got into a heated debate about the strengthening benefits of plant vs. animal protein. One had become a vegetarian; the other ate meat. This was certainly not a common guide discussion but it became mesmerizing given the strength and entrenched opinions of the two. As the crew looked on, Tom said “lets find out” and stripped off his shirt and waved a combat invitation to the other Cornhusker. The crew intervened, but don’t you wish we could have gotten an answer to that protein question?

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  1. that story is hiLARious!!! and i bet i know who that other cornhusker is……you painted a great picture of this man. i would have gone with and trusted him on the water and i am terrified of water!!!

  2. I trained (???) Tom on the Salmon River and spent the whole summer (1983) w/him there & on the MF Salmon. We kept in touch & he helped me out on the Owyhee and the Gila Rivers volunteering for BLM river patrols. Tom was simply the best boatman I’ve ever known. I’d go anywhere with him. Simple as that. I don’t believe it will happen, but if we ever get together again I’m sure I’ll be OK.

  3. Richie Law! There is a special place on the other side for river guides. Tom will be the greeter. Tom took life by the horns! He is a true inspiration.

  4. I had the privilege of getting to know Tom on the middle fork almost 20 years ago and made the mistake of trying to help him land his boat in a camp eddy. He let me hear about it for sure and I laughed out loud just now reading this story. Thanks for sharing this. Tom will be missed for sure! I am grateful to have worked with him, even if only briefly. I also tried to keep up with him on a deadhead once, with me being new to the river, and probably lost sight of him within about the first twenty minutes.

  5. Tree was a true friend and brother for over 50 years from Nebraska. Best vacay ever was with him on the Middle fork probably in early 80’s. First words out of his mouth were. “If I knew you were coming, I would have brought more beer”. RIP

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