Dan, Bernie and Dale

Chinook Marine Repair employees pose for a photo in front of the business in Chinook. The business marked 50 years of ownership under Dale Hughes this year, pictured on right, alongside employees Dan Person, left, and Bernie Wilson, center. “The most common service is service,” Dale said.

CHINOOK — President Richard Nixon was midway through his term. Don McLean’s single “American Pie” was climbing the song charts.

Meanwhile, in the coastal hamlet of Chinook, 25-year-old Dale Hughes was mulling making a change at 785 U.S. Highway 101, then a filling station.

“It started out as a Shell gas station. I had it for several years before closing and tearing it down. It transitioned into a small shop, then building another shop. That was the lifecycle it went through.”

Some 50 years later, the former gas station continues to operate as Chinook Marine Repair, a vessel repair business serving countless boaters and commercial fishermen from the banks of the Columbia River since 1972.

“It’s gotten crazier,” Hughes, 75, joked when asked about how the business has changed over the past 50 years. “Busier and busier. Right now the biggest problem is finding people to work for you.”

The shop currently employs two full-time and three part-time technicians, plus Hughes.

“I could probably put two more to work, if we could find someone that knows anything about boats — that’s the biggest problem,” he said.

Loyal customers keep repair shop humming

Over the years, local customers have been the lifeblood of the business, returning each season for their vessel maintenance needs.

“We’ve had consistent customers over a long period of time. They keep coming back, so we must be doing something right. I’ve had a lot of people coming for the past 25 years,” Hughes said.


Chinook Marine Repair owner Dale Hughes is greeted by his black lab Ruby while working at his desk. “She’s our doorbell,” he said.

Some of the most memorable customer stories often involved mishaps on the water, when the marine shop would be called to fix whatever the various things people would hit while boating.

“We’ve had people hit sea lions and knock the lower end off their outboard, other guys hit whales, pilings or logs. You name it, they’ve hit it,” Hughes said.

Over the years the customer base has shifted, but the business remains busy as ever.

“Things have changed. We still do a lot of work for the commercial guys, but not nearly as much as we used to. It’s more recreational work now, but there’s still a few gillnetters hanging in there and doing quite well,” Hughes said.

The marine repair shop is a certified dealer for Honda, Yamaha, Mercury and Volvo Penta, with technicians that specialize in servicing such engines.

“We also carry and sell a lot of parts for them, for people that do their own work,” he said. “Just giving customers easy access [to parts] is a big part of our business too, rather than relying on the internet.”

Honda outboards are among Hughes’ favorite engines to work on.

“They’re very dependable engines, pretty bulletproof,” he said.

The Honda engines are becoming increasingly popular among local oyster farmers, many transitioning from Evinrude outboards.

“The majority have switched to Honda and so far they’ve worked out quite well for them,” Hughes said.

Honda, Yamaha, Mercury and Volvo Penta

The marine repair shop, located at 785 US-101 in Chinook, is a certified dealer for Honda, Yamaha, Mercury and Volvo Penta, with technicians that specialize in servicing such engines. Among the most requested services is the annual boat oil change or ‘service’, typically costing around $300.

Tricky fix

The biggest pain, according to Hughes, is the stuff that’s hard to fix, often starting with moisture where it shouldn’t be, with corrosion considered “the biggest bugaboo.”

“Corrosion. Salt water. That creates more issues than anything,” Dale said.

Another issue is inferior fuel.

“One of the biggest problems right now is fuel. We do a lot of work on small-engine carburetors, filter changes and draining gas tanks just because of the crappy fuel we’ve got in this day and age. The (fuel) sucks up a lot of moisture. We have lots of issues with water in the gas, things like that. It’s just a real pain,” Hughes said.

Among the most requested services is the annual boat oil change or ‘service’, typically costing between $200-300, depending on the boat and engine. The service is a bit more involved for a boat compared to a car, including changing the oil, oil filter, fuel filters and lower unit lube. The service allows technicians to also inspect for any other issues that may arise with the boat, often preventing potentially bigger problems.

“The most common service is service,” he summarized.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.