To Build Historic Dog Sleds, Part II

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.”

Winter mail to and from the thousands who came to the booming new port on Cook Inlet was carried by dog team, as was sled-borne mail that flowed through Anchorage going in and coming out of the gold country beyond the Alaska Range. Coinciding with Anchorage’s founding, “Colonel” Harry Revell of Seward won the bid for carrying Iditarod and Nome mail. He held that contract four winters, 1914-1918. All but the final winter his route passed through Anchorage. (By 1918 his trailhead had moved north along with progression of the rail line.) The last loads of dog team mail out of Anchorage left the downtown post office aboard two huge fifteen-foot-long sleds March 28, 1917.

Iditarod Gold, too, coursed over the trail. In the winter of 1910-11 Nome mail carrier Bob Griffis, former Black Hills stagecoach driver, took up a contract with Miner’s and Merchant’s Bank of Iditarod to bring ingots out to Seward, bound for Wells-Fargo vaults in San Francisco. Griffis’ “Gold Train” became an institution. His greatest haul during the eight winters he performed was when his caravan of several sleds behind 46 big huskies came through here towing 3,400 pounds of gold (over $60 million in today’s dollars). And Miners and Merchants Bank shipments were not the only gold shipments. Individuals, too, often mushed production of their own mines through Anchorage.

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