Fortunately, I am a nut on traditional sleds and their design, and have been since I was introduced to dog mushing in 1968. Having constructed ten hickory sleds for freighting and long distance racing, I am considered an artisan at the disappearing craft.
Doubly fortunately, an elderly and dear family friend as I was growing up, Alma Preston, had worked for Col. Harry Revell of Seward, Alaska, who held the contract to deliver U. S. Mail over the Iditarod Trail. Alma took many snapshots of the sled dog operation and gathered them into a priceless photo album. Included were numerous shots of the sleds. To one intimate with sled construction, Alma’s pictures detailed enough design features for me to replicate the distinctive Revell sleds.
The Iditarod Race provides an important reminder of an era in Alaska and early-day Anchorage when overland trails bore travel, transport, and communication over this vast northwest subcontinent. However, although the modern event serves as a valuable reminder of the old trails, it can throw observer’s perceptions off, crimping modern fans’ capacity to conceptualize old time realities, warping ideas about historical trail use, equipment, and dogs.
Bob Griffis of Nome, rides a Ouija board (short toboggan hitched to the towline) steering his tandem-hitched, double-ended sleds with a gee pole, a long lever attached to the gee side (right hand) front of the sled. Over the Iditarod Trail, Griffis is mushing millions of dollars worth of gold from Iditarod to Seward for ocean shipment south.
As soon as railroad construction crews blasted past cliffs and through rocky headlands and filled the way over mud flats along Turnagain Arm to rough in their pioneer rail bed as far as Potter, much of the Iditarod Trail traffic shifted from running through the mountains behind the new town, to running right through it. Telling testimony to the importance of dog team transport is that the main hotel in Anchorage was built with a dog barn next to it. And today on the “Anchorage Area Time Line” featured along the wall of the 4th Avenue Marketplace, a picture of the original post office with dog teams and laden mail sleds on the street in front is captioned, “The post office was social center of the town.”
In 1914 Anchorage was born. For projects contributing to our city’s yearlong centennial celebration, $500,000 in grant money is available We are applying for a grant to replicate two historic dog sleds used a century ago to carry mail, passengers, and freight in and out of Anchorage over the Iditarod Trail.