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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‚Äôs 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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The 2009 Mushing History Conference is bringing together an unprecedented gathering of authors, historians, researchers, writers, veteran mushers and supporters of the colorful history of sled dog travel. Presentations will cover the evolution of man’s relationship with working sled dogs, including delivering the U.S. mail by dogteam, sled dog use in polar expeditions, the Centennial of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Joe Redington’s work with dogteams for the U.S. Army, trapline use of sled dogs in the North American fur trade, historic and present-day sled dog races, the early Nome author Esther Birdsall Darling, the evolution of sled dog nutrition and diets, the Iditarod Trail Committee’s historical documentary about the race, and much more.

Among the speakers and presenters will be Jane Haigh, Kenai, Alaska, author of Gold Rush Dogs, Assistant Professor of History, Kenai Peninsula College; Joe Redington, Jr., Manley, Alaska, veteran musher and son of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race founder; Jeff Dinsdale, Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada, writer involved in breeding and working with sled dogs for almost 40 years; Kevin Keeler, Anchorage, Alaska, Iditarod National Historic Trail Administrator; Dr. Linda Chamberlain, Homer, Alaska, scientist, author, professor, historian and dog musher; Rod Perry, Chugiak, Alaska, author of Trailbreakers and veteran of the first Iditarod in 1973; Carol Beck, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, musher, co-chair of the 2008 Arctic Winter Games Dog Sledding Committee; and Tim White, Grand Marais, Minnesota, inventor of the Quick Change Runner (QCR) System, winner of multiple championship sled dog races, and a Mush with PRIDE Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Among the presentations and media will be Alan Stewart’s half hour slide show on Scotty Allan with many pictures and details of his life from his early years in Scotland as recounted by his relatives there and more; A reissued DVD of the first Iditarod movie, 1974, with additional footage in a new prologue and following segment on Joe Redington’s legacy; and a presentation which was prepared by Thomas Swan, Two Rivers, Alaska, Stardancer Freight Dogs, on Dog Mushing in the North American Fur Trade, 1763 to 1821.

Also presented will be historic photographs, books, maps, pamphlets, posters, slide shows, mushing films, videos, short subjects, documentaries and more.

The Conference will open with an informal gathering for the presenters on Friday, November 6, from 5 to 7 pm, at the Iditarod Trail Headquarters in Wasilla, mile 2, Knik-Goose Bay Road, and the public is invited to meet the conference presenters at that time.

The Conference will begin at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Saturday, November 7, at the Commons Conference Room 107A, 3700 Sharon Gagnon Lane, from 9 am to 5 pm. The Conference will reconvene at the Grand View Hotel in Wasilla on Sunday, November 8, from 9 am to 3 pm. Both events are free to the public, donations appreciated but not necessary, and families are encouraged to attend. Maps and directions to both venues can be found at the Conference website, https://mushinghistory.wordpress.com or call the Conference Coordinator, Helen Hegener, at 907-354-3510 for information.

Conference Director Tim White, 881 County Road 14, Grand Marais, MN; email: twhite@boreal.org; or Conference Coordinator: Helen Hegener, Northern Light Media, P.O. Box 759, Palmer, Alaska 99645; (907) 354-3510; email: helen@northernlightmedia.com

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