Thomas W. McBrien Jr., 79, formerly of Point Pleasant, the founder and former owner of Bucks County River Country, an excursion outfitter on the Delaware River for 35 years, died Thursday, March 26, of renal failure at a rehabilitation facility in Allentown.
Born in Philadelphia, he was the son of an Irish immigrant, Thomas McBrien, and his wife, Mary. Although Mr. McBrien did not have much formal education, his family said, “he left a legacy mirroring the American Dream.”
He married his wife, Marie, in 1959. Initially, he worked as a contractor for Sears, Roebuck & Co.
While walking through a Sears warehouse in the mid-1960s, he saw aluminum canoes awaiting delivery. He suddenly realized that he could make a few extra dollars by renting canoes for use on the Delaware River from his front yard in Bucks County.
At first, Point Pleasant Canoes was a small operation with 12 canoes. But as weekend excursions became popular, the number of customers doubled each season.
What began as a sideline became a full-time business. Mr. McBrien quit his construction job and added inflatable rafts and inner tubes to his rentals. He set up two more bases of operation, at Riegelsville and in Martins Creek.
Tubing was an instant hit. Despite copycat businesses, Point Pleasant Canoe Rentals had cornered the market by 1983, the Allentown Morning Call reported. The Point Pleasant operation alone could put 1,600 tubes on the river at a time. The business served 100,000 visitors a year.
“Six dollars got you a pastel-colored inner tube with a map of the river printed on its side,” the newspaper wrote in 1984. “There were buses to carry people back and forth, and trucks to haul all the equipment.”
Mr. McBrien ultimately renamed the business Bucks County River Country. He custom-designed the inner tubes for production in Italy, making two inflatable compartments so that if one was punctured, the other would keep the tube afloat.
“At the height of the business, he had over 200 employees seasonally, mostly college students, teachers, and school bus drivers,” the family said in a statement. “He spent his workday patrolling up and down the river greeting his customers.”
In Bucks County, he created Haunted Woods Hayrides and Pumpkin Patch Hayride, and renovated, owned, and managed the Indian Rock Inn, all in Upper Black Eddy.
In the mid-1980s, neighbors started to complain about traffic, litter left behind by visitors to the river, and drunkenness. Some banded together to challenge the company’s zoning. There were lawsuits. Over the years, the suits were settled, and the company was sold.
Mr. McBrien, who had undergone a kidney transplant, moved to Carbon County, Pa., in the early 2000s.
“Tom was a larger-than-life man and grateful of his good fortune. He was caring and knew he was blessed, sharing generously through donations and support in both communities where he lived,” his family said.
He was a family man who loved animals, especially dogs and birds. He enjoyed travel, skiing, flying, and scuba diving.
Besides his wife of 60 years, he is survived by children Tom IV, Mark, Matthew, Marie Maislinger, and Liz Griffin; a sister; nine grandchildren; and nieces and nephews.
Services delayed by the coronavirus pandemic are being rescheduled for the fall.