Archive for November, 2009

This post is the fourth in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska.

Joe Redington, Jr.

Joe Redington Jr. and Mushing magazine publisher Greg Sellentin, photo by June Price

Joe Redington, Jr. was raised on the Iditarod Trail and learned to mush dogs from his father, Joe Redington, Sr., who’s also known as the Father of the Iditarod. Joe is a former World Champion sled dog racer, and he and his wife Pam make their home in Manley Hot Springs, 160 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Alaska. Their Iditarod Kennels offers a tour of their kennel, sharing their knowledge about dogs, equipment, sleds and strateg, and they’ll describe their subsistence lifestyle of fishing, gardening, hunting and mushing for their visitors.

For the Mushing History Conference Joe brought an amazing slideshow and a video of his family’s colorful history in Alaska. On Saturday, at the UAA in Anchorage, he shared the slideshow and explained the photos of his dad’s early days in Alaska, his fish camps and boats, dogteams and airplanes, the Redington boys growing up in Knik and at Flathorn Lake, both on the Iditarod Trail; Joe Sr. working for the Army salvaging wrecked airplanes, and summiting Denali with champion musher Susan Butcher and the reknowned mountaineer Ray Genet; and Joe Jr. winning the 1966 World Championship Sled Dog Race at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous. After the slideshow Joe answered questions and an interesting discussion ranging over many different topics ensued.

Joe Redington Sr., Father of the Iditarod

For Sunday’s presentation at the Grand View Inn in Wasilla Joe had brought a video he’s put together which combined many of the same slides with some additional images, but the narrator was his father, Joe Sr.! It was fascinating for those who were able to attend both the slideshow and the video showing, to hear father and son each talking about the family photos, commenting on things which happened over the years, ways of doing things, making observations and sharing laughs with the viewers. The stirring tribute to Joe’s father, “Redington’s Run,” by Alaska’s State Balladeer, Hobo Jim, ended the video. It was a delightful presentation, and certainly a highlight of the conference.

Jeffrey Dinsdale

In the early sixties Walt Disney Studios made a feature length film titled Nikki, Wild dog of the North, about a half-husky, half-wolf separated from its owner during the gold rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory. What many people don’t know is that Joe Redington Sr. bred the dog who played in the title role, and the story behind that dog, and all the dogs used in the film, and how they ended up in the kennels of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and what happened after that, is a fascinating tale!

Jeffrey Dinsdale, right, talking with conference organizer Tim White, left

Jeffrey Dinsdale has been involved in breeding and working with sled dogs for almost 40 years, as he and his family have lived in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Northern British Columbia. Throughout this time Jeff has maintained a keen interest in sled dog history; he was involved in the organization of the first Carcross, Yukon to Atlin, British Columbia Mail Run in 1975, and since 1992 he has been involved with the organization of the Gold Rush Trail Dog Sled Mail Run from Quesnel B.C. to Barkerville and Wells B.C. In the 1970’s and 80’s Jeff worked with the Canadian Kennel Club and the Eskimo Dog Research Foundation during a period when attempts were being made to ensure that these dogs, which are indigenous to the Canadian Arctic, would continue to thrive, and Jeff has published many articles in various sled dog-related publications.

Jeffrey’s interesting, engaging, and often humorous story of the Disney Dogs and the RCMP is available on his blog, titled simply Mushing Past. A very brief excerpt:

Nikki was bred by Joe and Vi Redington of Knik Alaska.(3). He was originally named Polar and was born February 4, 1958. At six months of age he was sold to Bill Bacon. His sire was Tok, a Malamute show dog and a fair working animal. His dam was Chena, also a Malamute, of Earl and Natalie Norris stock.(4). Nikki (Polar) had no Siberian Husky blood in him. The Redingtons later sold six other dogs to Bacon, three males and three females. Three were Chena’s pups, but three were sired by Tok of a ½ Siberian Husky ½ Eskimo Dog named Belle. Belle’s sire was from Greenland and was brought to Alaska by the U.S. Air Force 10th Rescue Unit of Elmendorf Air Force Base. In all it should be noted that over 200 different sled dogs were used in the movie “Nikki –Wild Dog of the North”, which was released in 1961 (5).

Jeffrey’s excellent article is well-referenced, and additional information is documented. As an example, here are the notes for the paragraph above:

(3) This is the same Joe Redington who went on to become the Father of the Iditarod.. There is a very interesting account of Bacon’s dealings for Polar in the book Father of the Iditarod, the Joe Redington Story, by Lew Freedman, Epicenter Press, Box 82368, Kenmore, WA, 98028, U.S.A. Go to page 71 for the story of Polar.

(4) The Norrises are well known for their Anadyr Siberian Huskies. It is perhaps not as well known that throughout most of the existence of their famous “Alaskan of Anadyr” kennels, Natalie Norris has also maintained a small breeding program of purebred Alaskan Malemutes. At one stage, Natalie also bred purebred Eskimo Dogs with breeding stock from both Greenland and Igloolik in the Canadian Arctic

(5) Have any readers ever seen this movie? Any comments would be appreciated, please reply using the contact email address on this site.

A long and colorful history of the RCMP in northwestern Canada is part of Jeffrey’s post, as is a detailed accounting of what happened to the Disney dogs.

Still to come are the presentations by author Jane Haigh, and Chas St. George of the Iditarod Trail Committee, and contributions sent for presentation by Thomas ‘Swanny’ Swan and Alan Stewart.


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This post is the third in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska. The first report in this series included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck. The second report described the display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, and the presentation by Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Dr. Linda Chamberlain

Dr. Linda Chamberlain of Homer, Alaska, is a scientist, author, professor, historian and dog musher, and she lives with her 20 Huskies and her husband, Al, on their 45-acre Howling Husky Homestead outside of Homer, Alaska. An epidemiologist specializing in childhood exposure to violence and brain development, Dr. Chamberlain has combined her public health career with her passion for dog mushing and rural living. During the summer months, she leads narrated tours of a circa 1910 wall tent, the sled dog kennel, and a living museum of dog mushing on their homestead. For her first book, Arctic Inspirations, she traveled from Alaska through the northern Canada and on to Siberia to gather stories of women starting businesses in the Arctic. She is currently working on a book called Mushing the Mail on the Iditarod Trail that traces the history of mail delivery by dog team in Alaska.

Collection of Linda Chamberlain

For the 2009 Mushing History Conference Dr. Chamberlain brought a presentation which traced the history of mail delivery by dog teams along the Iditarod Trail and the Kenai Peninsula, based on historical documents from the National Archives and Records Administration, the U.S. Postal Museum, the Alaska State Library, universities, museums and historical societies, interviews, private collections, and an extensive literature review.

While details on dog team mail carriers were sporadically and sparsely documented, Dr. Chamberlain has found many rich stories describing this dominant mode of transportation to deliver supplies and mail in Alaska from the late 1800s through the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Chamberlain described life on the trail of a Star Route Contract mail carrier and their dog team, and included many details about the types of dogs and equipment used, distances traveled, and the loads they carried. Her riveting stories of heroic deeds and tragedies on the trail provided a panoramic portrait of these postal pioneers and the Iditarod Trail that served as a lifeline between communities.

Rod Perry

Alaskan author, musher, filmmaker, adventurer and self-proclaimed raconteur Rod Perry brought a colorful exploration of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to the Conference, beginning with an impressive freehand drawing of the state of Alaska, which he filled in with rivers, mountain ranges, towns and cities, and of course, the Iditarod Trail. Rod was one of the intrepid mushers making the 1,000 mile trek to Nome in the very first Iditarod in 1973, with his media darling of a lead dog, “Fat Albert,” showing the way. Rod has been chronicling the rich history of the race for his two-volume set of books titled Trailbreakers. He describes Trailbreakers Volume I on his website:

“…Daring men and dynamic events that force the lock and break of the silence of the unknown North. Gold rush leads to gold rush, trail leads to trail, until it culminates in the last, glorious, hell-bent-for-leather gold rush and the final great gold rush trail in North America.

Trailbreakers Volume I is the most-complete, most-accurate telling of how the fabled Iditarod Trail came to be. As it relates the 1840-1930 progression of events establishing the “Last Great Gold Rush Trail in North America,” the book educates and corrects long-standing myths and misinformation that have grown up.

Amongst the misinformation that has come down through the years, the very beginnings of the Iditarod Trail constitute some of the most interesting, and Rod addresses this at length in his book Trailbreakers, Volume 1. Rod explains how there were trails running north from Seward for about 200 miles to the Alaska Commercial post at Susitna Station, a steamboat stop on the Susitna River; and trails which coursed south from Nome, 300 miles to Kaltag on the Yukon river, over a popular route between Nome and Fairbanks; but in between the ends of those routes lay over 400 miles of little-used and rarely traveled terrain:

Did the natives of the trail route at one time or another travel every foot of the country over which the trail passes? Of course. Did they trade with one another? Absolutely. But were any of their trails of a character to constitute ready-made, connected, serviceable platforms for a direct trail between Susitna Station and Kaltag? Any close look into the situation strongly indicates that that is a most fanciful stretch.

Alaska 1915

This post is the third in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference, which took place Nov 6-8 in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska. The first report in this series included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck. The second report described the display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, and the presentation by Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

Still to come are the presentations by Joe Redington Jr., Jane Haigh, Jeff Dinsdale and Chas St. George, and contributions sent for presentation by Thomas ‘Swanny’ Swan and Alan Stewart.

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This post is the second in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference. Click here for the first report in this series, which included the presentations of Tim White and Carol Beck.

Denali Park Kennels Display Panels

sleds panelConference organizer Tim White had procured the wonderful display panels on mushing history from Denali National Park, filled with historic images and explanations of sled dog travel down through the ages. The panel shown here, titled Native Sleds – Form and Function, for example, shows several types of sleds such as an Athabaskan Buckskin Toboggan made of bent wood covered with skins, “ideal for traveling through the deep snow and narrow trails of Interior forests;” a “Built-up sled by Fred Akmalik of Tulugak Valley,” with the explanation, “Heavy runners and a raised bed held up well when traveling throughout the arctic coast of Alaska.” There is an illustration of the heavy Greenland-style sled, which could be pulled by either dogs or a snowmachine; and a “Siberian Yupik hauling sled made of whale baleen and walrus hide line.” The bottom of the panel shows a Malemute Eskimo Family in 1878 with their large sled.

Kevin Keeler

old dogsThe third speaker on Saturday morning at UAA was Kevin Keeler, Administrator for the Iditarod National Historic Trail, which commemorates a 2,300-mile system of winter trails that first connected ancient Native Alaskan villages, opened up Alaska for the last great American gold rush, and which now plays a vital role for travel and recreation in modern day Alaska.

Kevin KeelerKevin brought a wealth of information, beautiful posters, booklets, flyers, and other materials to share with the conference attendees, and he explained how January, 2008 marked the 100th anniversary of efforts to open the now famous overland route from Seward to Nome, and to commemorate this epic achievement, January 2008 to October 2012 has been designated the official Iditarod National Historic Trail Centennial.

audienceKevin also gave a powerpoint presentation which provided an overview of the history, route selection and development of the Iditarod Trail, the sleds and types of teams used, discussed the variations in routes, trail marking, a few of the old roadhouses, and explained a bit about what’s being done to preserve and protect the current day Iditarod National Historic Trail.

INHT bookletOne of the many resources available free from the BLM Alaska site for the Iditarod National Historic Trail is a downloadable PDF of the beautiful and informative full-color, 24-page Visitor Guide, which details the route, the history, and the current projects along the trail. Of special note are the numerous easily accessible sites of interest along the present-day trail, especially between Seward and the Mat-Su area, and the wonderful old historic photos and interesting descriptions:

Sled designs proliferated, with manufactured sleds joining the ranks of toboggan-style handmade sleds. Most every sled at the turn of the twentieth century was equipped with a “gee pole.” The gee pole was a stout pole lashed to, and projecting from, the front of the sled, which the driver could use to leverage and steer the sled. Most dog drivers still did not ride the sled, instead running beside or riding skis or a sort of early snowboard between the dog team and sled. Riding the sled-runners was used only by drivers of light and fast mail and race teams.

There is also information about the Iditarod National Historic Trail at Iditarod100.com, the site for the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance, including a full-color PDF of a four-page flyer detailing the Centennial Framework, with additional details from history:

For the past century, wooden tripods have been placed at close intervals along treeless sections of the Iditarod Trail to guide travelers safely through blizzards. A 1912 article titled “Trail Making in Alaska” described how Colonel Goodwin, leader of the Alaska Road Commission expedition to mark the trail from Seward to Nome, constructed the tripods:

tripod“…tripods…consisted of three sticks of timber each, two of which were eight feet long and the third ten or eleven feet long. They are so fastened together that the longest of the tree sticks projects two or three foot over the others and directly above the trail.”

The same design is still in use today, with volunteer groups and public land managers working to provide these safety markers over hundreds of miles of the trail.

Next: The presentations by Rod Perry and Linda Chamberlain. Still to come: Joe Redington Jr., Jane Haigh, Jeff Dinsdale, Chas St. George and others.

This post is the second in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference. Click here for the first report in this series.

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Image from a slideshow presentationThe first Mushing History Conference was an unqualified success, bringing together many veteran mushers and a broad assortment of authors, historians, researchers, storytellers, writers and photographers for a wonder-filled weekend! On Friday the speakers and presenters, organizers and those interested in attending gathered at the beautiful Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters log cabin near Wasilla. Photographer June Price was on hand and shared several photos of the event, along with some great commentary, on the weblog for her book, Backstage Iditarod. Joee Redington shared a few slides from his family photo album at the gathering, and speakers who traveled to Alaska for the conference were delighted with the opportunity to tour the colorful Iditarod Headquarters log cabin, which is filled with race memorabilia.

Tim White

UAA CommonsThe 2009 Conference got underway Saturday morning at the University of Alaska Anchorage, with Conference Director and organizer Tim White giving the first presentation, on The Evolution of Working Sled Dog Nutrition and Diets From Prehistory to the Present. Tim is a champion musher, expert Tim Whiteinnovator, reknowned sled builder and designer of the famed Quick Change Runner (QCR) System, in which an aluminum rail is screwed to the bottom of wooden runners, then lengths of plastic can be slid into the rails, greatly simplifying the process of changing plastic during a race.

In a 2004 interview with Mark Nordman, an accomplished racer and longtime Race Marshall for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, June Price learned that Mark and Tim’s friendship extended back to the early 1980’s, when they traveled to Alaska together, Tim as racer and Mark as his dog handler:

Asked to characterize White, Nordman pauses to think. “Sled dog sports are his life,” he begins slowly. He explains that as being someone whose every thought and action is somehow connected to the dogs. “Tim White is the ‘ultimate dog man,'” concludes Nordman.

2. TimWhiteTim’s slideshow presentation traced working and racing sled dog diets, from the ingredients of wolves and of aboriginal people’s dogs to the typical modern racing diets in long distance events. Tim explained the diets used during historic expeditions and explained how, under difficult circumstances, things can go wrong when an animal is expected to perform under difficult circumstances without the foods it is adapted to through evolution. An interesting sideline was a spirited discussion of the various feeds used in the first Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1973.

Carol Beck

Carol Beck of Yellowknife, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, was the next speaker, and she brought to life the colorful history of the Diavik 150: The Canadian Championship Dog Derby, one of the longest-running sled dog races in the world, with a video clip from the outstanding DVD Trapline to Finish Line, The Story of Yellowknife’s Canadian Championship Dog Derby.

Carol BeckCarol Beck has raced for the last 26 years in many races in North America. She’s a very active race volunteer, and Carol and her husband Grant were co-chairs of the 2008 Arctic Winter Games Dog Sledding Committee. In addition to the video, Carol brought copies of the companion book, also titled Trapline to Finish Line, by Fran Hurcomb. The book begins with a brief history Trapline to Finish Lineof the northern sled dog and goes into the early years of the Dog Derby, from 1955 to 1973 when local brothers Ray Beck and Danny McQueen dominated the race. Holcomb then explains the changes which happened between 1974 and 1986, as mushers from “outside” began entering the race, including Minnesota’s Tim White, who won six times, beginning in 1977 and placing in the top five in almost every race until his last first place win in 1996. The final chapters of the book relate the inevitable changes which have taken place in recent years, and toward the end the author notes how the young mushers from the north country understand sled dog racing in its original context: “Where their parents and grandparents once traveled with dogs out of necessity, mushers today run dogs for sport.”

This shift in perspective was epitomized in an exchange between Yellowknife musher Scott McQueen and his father, the late Danny McQueen. “Dad,” said Scott, “I just can’t seem to find enough time to run my dogs. The elder McQueen shook his head and laughed. “Boy,” he replied, “Times are sure changing. I could never find enough time to rest my dogs.”

The DVD Carol brought, Trapline to Finish Line, opens with a dynamic and riveting sequence shot from a lead dog’s-eye-view of the ice. The film was produced in 2005, on the 50th anniversary of the first race in Yellowknife, and includes historic footage of the early races. The DVD can be hard to find, but director and producer Greg Hancock has a short clip available at his website, figments of imagination. (Dec. 2009: Correction to this entry: Please see the much-appreciated correction and update regarding the “Trapline to Finish Line” book and DVD from Dave Anderson in the comments below.)

Next: The Mushing History Panels from Denali National Park Kennels, and the presentation by Kevin Keeler, Administrator, Iditarod National Historic Trail. Still to come: Rod Perry, Linda Chamberlain, Joe Redington Jr., Jane Haigh, Jeff Dinsdale, Chas St. George and others.

This post is the first in a series of reports on the 2009 Mushing History Conference.

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Helpful information for those who will be presenting or attending the 2009 Mushing History Conference. Click on the links for maps, driving directions, facility websites and more:

Friday evening, November 6, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm:

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters

This will be a very informal gathering of the organizers, the presenters, and anyone interested in this event, sort of a pre-conference orientation meeting. We’ll be finalizing plans and the weekend conference schedule at this time, and we’ll provide coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, and cookies. The public is welcome to attend this meeting.

Saturday, November 7, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm:

The University of Alaska Anchorage

The Commons Conference Room 107A, 3700 Sharon Gagnon Lane, from 9 am to 5 pm. The Conference parking lot is east of the Commons Building, on Elmore Road, just east of Sharon Gagnon Lane. Cross the footbridge over Chester Creek to the Commons Building; watch for Mushing History Conference signs when you arrive. Maps and driving directions can be printed from this page.

Seating will be theater/auditorium format. In addition to the conference room there are convenient restrooms, a fireplace gathering area for conversations, a convenience store, and the Creekside Eatery dining room, adjacent to the Conference room.

Sunday, November 8, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

The Grand View Inn, Wasilla

The Grand View Inn is located at 5700 Parks Highway, Wasilla. The Conference room is downstairs, watch for Mushing History Conference signs when you arrive. The Inn provides a virtual tour of the Glacier Canyon Grill and their comfortable downstairs lobby. Seating will again be theater/auditorium format.

If you have questions please contact Helen Hegener at (907) 354-3510 or email: helen@northernlightmedia.com

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