Cody Strathe was interviewed on July 11, 2011 by Robert Drozda, Marla Statscewich and Katrin Simon Sakurai at his workshop in Ester, Alaska. Cody owns
Dog Paddle Designs, where he builds custom dog sleds, kayaks and accessories. With a degree in Natural Resources, Cody first came to Alaska as a backcountry guide and later studied archeology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. With a love of the outdoors, he and his wife eventually became interested in dog mushing and going on camping trips by dog team. In 2006, Cody built his first dog sled for his wife, based on information from the Internet. In this interview, Cody talks about building customized modern dog sleds out of durable and strong materials like plastic, aluminum, laminated wood strips, Kevlar, and carbon fibers. He also points out specific features on different sleds and demonstrates some of the steps in the construction process. Cody also mentions how their dog team is spending the summer working with tourists on a glacier in South East Alaska. This recording has been edited from the original.
Click to section:
Coming to Alaska
Getting interested in building kayaks and paddles
Graduate school in Fairbanks
Getting involved in dog mushing
Building his first dog sled
Other sled builders who have inspired him
Building custom and traditional-style dog sleds
Differences in materials used to build traditional and modern sleds
Describes his dog kennel, raising dogs, and how they get ready for a race
Sled design and construction
Personal innovations in sled design
Sled runner construction
Changes in the types of brakes used on dog sleds
Using laminate strips and composite fabrics to make the sled stronger
Dog sleds with seats on the back
Aluminum sled runners
Forming and bending sled runners
Strengthening sled runners with composite materials
Steaming wood for a kayak cockpit
Collapsible dog sled
Prices of sleds
Challenges of being as a sled builder
Unusual dog sled designs
Differences between sprint and distance racing dog sleds
Use of dogs for summer tourism
ROBERT DROZDA: Today is July 11, 2011 and we're here with Cody Strathe in front of his workshop. And we're going to be talking with Cody today about sled building, mostly modern innovations in sled building, have a little bit of show and tell. And let's see, Marla Statscewich is here and Katrin Simon Sakurai and we're ready to go. But before we get into the sled building, Cody, maybe you can just provide a little bit of personal background history. How you came to Alaska, that sort of thing. CODY STRATHE: Ok. Well, I came from Wisconsin and I went to college for Natural Resources down there and came to Alaska to be a guide for the summer right after I graduated from college. And spent a summer on the Kenai Peninsula and just fell in love with Alaska. ROBERT DROZDA: What year was that? CODY STRATHE: That was in 2001. And then I spent a summer there working doing canoe guiding and mountain bike guiding and went back to Wisconsin for the winter and then decided that wasn't going to work. So, I found a job at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward and moved right back up as soon as possible. And then I worked there for four years. And while I was in Seward, that's where I got into kayak building, skin frame kayak building. And spent a lot of time while I was there meeting people in Alaska who'd built kayaks and checking out different museums where there were kayaks. And just reading like crazy and started building them and paddling them while I was there. And even before that it was always a dream that some day I was going to have a shop and I was going to build snowshoes and dog sleds and kayaks, so -- and paddles. So that's kind of how I got that whole thing started. And then after a while in Seward I decided I wanted to go to grad school for archeology. And came to Fairbanks and spent a few years doing fieldwork here in the Arctic and getting my Master's Degree. And then we found sled dogs and everything changed. So got into building dog sleds, because I knew how to build things and it's a lot of the same techniques. And now that's what our life revolves is dog mushing so that's kind of how I ended up in the dog sled building business. ROBERT DROZDA: Where did you do your fieldwork? CODY STRATHE: I did fieldwork out of Kotzebue, Cape Krusenstern National Monument. And I did fieldwork in Gates of the Arctic, up on the Noatak and a bunch of the rivers in Gates of the Arctic. And I've done fieldwork in Kenai Fjords National Park and done a lot of lab work on stuff from Katmai. Kind of big broad -- ROBERT DROZDA: Seen a lot of beautiful country? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, yeah, yeah definitely. ROBERT DROZDA: Well, so that's a little bit of how you got into mushing. How did it really happen? When did you get your first dog and -- CODY STRATHE: Well, we had talked about it for a long time. My wife and I, Paige. And we decided that some day we were going to get sled dogs. And I thought it would be the kind of thing you'd do when you retire. It seems like the kind of -- it seemed because we were into climbing and skiing and all these things that were extreme or whatever. We thought that mushing was more of a relaxed traveling kind of thing that you do when you're old. It's good we didn't wait until we were old though because it's pretty -- it's pretty demanding. But we got into it. I built a sled for my wife. We had two dogs already and we were skijoring. And I built the sled for my wife and I said maybe we could get a couple more dogs, so we could both skijor and then we could hook up a sled. And I went away for Christmas and when I came back we had three more dogs suddenly. My wife had found three more dogs in the couple days I was gone. And we had fun with those dogs and then we quickly realized that three more dogs wasn't enough and we just got more and more and more. We started doing a lot of camping trips throughout Alaska, up in the Arctic and Whites Mountains and stuff and just, just fell in love with it and so that's kind of how that got going. ROBERT DROZDA: Cody, you actually built a dog sled before you had a dog team? CODY STRATHE: Yes. ROBERT DROZDA: That's unusual. CODY STRATHE: It is and I actually I didn't even bother -- I had lots of friends who had dog teams and dog sleds, but I didn't even bother to look at theirs. I just a picture off the Internet and it was a traditional style lashed together, basket sled, the picture I got. And I'd been building kayaks, which was the same technique, so I thought oh, it'll be no problem. But I didn't think about the fact that a sled has to be built to fit the rider. So I built the sled for my wife and when she stood on it for the first time it came up to her chest, the handlebar. It was very tall and not quite properly built. But I learned a lot from that first sled. It's actually a chair on our friend's deck now. It doesn't get pulled behind dogs any more, but yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. That kind of gets to another question that I had thought about beforehand. After that then, were there particular sled builders that you sought out or wanted to model your design after or something like that, mentor? CODY STRATHE: You know, there's never really been anybody I wanted to model my sleds after but you can always learn. You learn amazing things from everybody. So I try to -- anybody who builds sleds or kayaks I try to see what they do, how they do things, check out their shops, check out the jigs. In this type of woodworking there's all kinds of different jigs for bending and doing different tricks to the wood that help you become way more efficient. So I just always like to check those out. I've been in the shops of Dave Klumb here in town. He's a great sled builder. Builds a more traditional style sled -- seeing how he does things. Also, Tim White, who's the guy who in the 70's and 80's did a lot of innovation in dog sled building. I spent a month as a handler for another guy, but his dogs were at Tim White's house. So I got to see how he builds all kinds of different things. He's the guy who invented the quick change runner, plastic, as well as the aluminum Matrix runners. ROBERT DROZDA: He's Outside, right? CODY STRATHE: He's in Minnesota.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. CODY STRATHE: Yeah. So I got to kind of see how that worked. And there was another sled builder while I was there who -- Sawtooth Mountain Sleds. His name is Odin Jorgenson. So I checked out his shop and how he does things. And then also while I was there I visited another guy in Wisconsin. I can't remember his name now, but he was the guy who had all kinds of crazy runner jigs that I kind of learned some interesting things from, as well. And then there's a man up in Eureka, Alaska by Manley Hot Springs named Ed Salter. Who was a big musher in the 80's and used to build all the sleds for Susan Butcher and Rick Swenson and a lot of the -- DeeDee Jonrowe. Folks who were winning 10, 15 years ago on the Iditarod. So I got to see how he built the nice traditional racing sled, so -- ROBERT DROZDA: Is that still up there? CODY STRATHE: Yep, he's still there, yeah. He would be a good contact for you guys. ROBERT DROZDA: So, now, you do a lot of commission work or -- ? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, I do custom sleds mostly. So, people contact me and we get a bunch of measurements from them and try to build a sled that's set to their body size, body weight and what type of mushing they're doing. Mostly, race sleds just from the standpoint that I can charge a lot more for race sleds. People are willing to pay a lot more for a quality race sled than your average Goldstream musher. So, but I build sleds for everybody, it just depends, but I, yes, so they'll contact me. We'll measure them out, find out what they need and then build a sled that fits exactly what they want. So, we do all kinds of weird different things for each musher. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, so, you've had some innovations I guess coming directly from the musher? Like I want this -- CODY STRATHE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- and how can we do this sort of work? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, I mean folks kind of tell me like oh, I've had problems with this in the past with this sled, you know, and so mainly it's -- There aren't a ton of innovations. I had some weird handles that I've built for people so they can do different things, different types of seats that fit on the sled so they can take a break while they're doing these long runs and races like the Iditarod or Yukon Quest. A lot has to do more with size. Like I've got this cooler that has to fit in the sled a certain direction so we have to like build the sled around the cooler. Or when I stand my knees get tired because the stance is too wide. I want my stance to be this wide so we kind of engineer the whole sled around just certain particulars that help them be happy on the trail. ROBERT DROZDA: If somebody came to you and wanted a more traditional kind of sled, you'd go for that too? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, definitely. I built quite a few traditional basket-type sleds and actually I just was contacted by a guy who just wanted one that just looked like a 1900 sled. He just wanted it for show. He wanted me to make it look old and be like kind of a perfect replica. So that's -- yeah, we do that as well. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. So comparing the two kinds of sleds in materials and just, you know, how are they different? CODY STRATHE: Well, from material stance the -- what we're calling the traditional sleds all wood. There are some of the newer basket sleds that we can probably still use some of the plastic parts but the wood is great. And if you use the right type of wood and you got the right type of grain, it can be really strong and last a long period of time. But everything breaks and wood breaks pretty easy when it hits things. So that's why some of the newer sleds have gone to using plastic for the brush bows and handle bows because they're stronger, flex easier and don't crack as easy at really cold temperatures. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So those pieces that are really bent -- CODY STRATHE: Right. ROBERT DROZDA: -- are the ones that are weaker? CODY STRATHE: Yes, I mean that grain -- when you bend it, the wood always still has some tension and some memory of the way it's supposed to be. And so if you hit something hard enough, especially at 20, 30, 40 below Fahrenheit, it's going to crack and break and plastic will at some point as well, but not as easily as the wood. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. I wonder, you know, as a sort of a mental set with training in anthropology and archeology does that come into play in your building kayaks and sleds? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, I mean kind of. It kind of came into -- I kind of had a realization at some point because I used to be all, like when I started I was really into everything had to be wood, everything had to be lashed, everything had to be this, what I thought of as traditional. But as I became an archeologist and was doing fieldwork and I was seeing that over the last hundred years tradition really means that people what the were really -- the tradition really was that people were looking for the best materials possible and the most efficient way to get the job done. And so I kind of changed my mindset and said okay, well, the best materials possible aren't always birch wood that we have here at hand. Sometimes they're white ash or hickory or whatever type of wood that I can order and get. It's available to me now so that I should use that and also more efficient. I used to use all hand tools and knives and things like that and that's not that efficient when you're doing a business. So now I use power tools like crazy. So I think I've kind of -- Saw that and it made me feel better about the way I could be more efficient. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. Adaptation is traditional? CODY STRATHE: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. You have to use the best materials possible to get the best product, so -- Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Describe your kennel. CODY STRATHE: Ok. Well, my wife and I we've got a kennel here that we -- We started out with, like I said before, a handful of dogs and as we got more, we got some dogs from the shelter, from the Second Chance League, and from hand-me-downs from other mushers. And we started doing camping trips and that was a lot of fun. We had a few puppies and as we had the puppies and raised them and trained them, we saw a huge difference between the dogs that we had raised and the dogs that we had gotten from others. The dogs that we had raised respect us a whole lot more and would do amazing things for us where the other dogs were definitely project dogs and they were fun, but more difficult to deal with. So we've gotten more dogs, but we have gone into more raising our own dogs. We still have some of the originals here and some of the originals we actually found homes for with my parents and other friends so they can skijor and just kind of be pets. But now we have 45 dogs. Twenty-five of them this summer are actually on the glacier in Skagway with a friend of ours doing tours, so they get to run all summer and burn off energy. A lot of the young dogs are up there and we are -- we've started racing the last couple of years. So we still do our camping trips and expeditions, but we've started doing races such as the Gin Gin 200, Copper Basin 300, Yukon Quest 300. And have really fallen in love with the racing aspect of it and probably not as much of the racing it's just the everyday training and really just in order to do a race like that you have to spend 10 hours a day with your dogs and that's -- that's pretty awesome. So we've embraced the whole lifestyle now and my wife Paige is actually going to run the Yukon Quest 1000 mile race this year. So that's kind of the trajectory we're on at the moment is trying that for a while. And yeah, we'll be doing this for at least the next 15 to 20 years because of the amount of dogs we have and they're going to be with us until the end, so -- So we're in it for a while, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: What do you do in July to prepare for the Yukon Quest? CODY STRATHE: Right now, on July 4th it was rainy and cool so we ran a team with the four-wheeler, but it's usually too warm here in Fairbanks to do that throughout the summer. So most of the things we're doing now is just trying to get as much work done around the kennel and the business so that when winter comes we don't have to do as much work, but we can spend more time running and training the dogs. So, it's really about getting ready for winter so we can let everything else go. ROBERT DROZDA: Before we start talking about your sled and your building work here I just wanted to follow-up with outside we were talking about, you know, getting ready for races and what you're doing. So here at your kennel you're able to run your dogs right from your house? CODY STRATHE: Yes, yeah, we have trails right out our kennel and we're able to hook up a team of 12, 14 dogs if you want to and run basically as far as you want to go. We're right on one of the old mail trails that went from Fairbanks to Manley Hot Springs. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. CODY STRATHE: It's about a mile behind our house. We can link into that trail and we can go out to Minto Flats, which we usually set up a training camp out there, a wall tent, so we can take breaks with our dogs and rest and stay warm. And then we can continue on to Nenana or down the Tanana to Manley Hot Springs. We can go to Minto, old Minto. Once you get on the river though you can go anywhere, so that's kind of nice. ROBERT DROZDA: Sounds like paradise. Ok, well let's turn our attention to the actual sleds and so we have an example of a sled here. And why don't you just talk about your sled. CODY STRATHE: Ok. ROBERT DROZDA: Cody and -- CODY STRATHE: Well, like I was saying before I started to use a little bit different materials as my ideas of tradition have changed over time. What I'm trying to do with sleds now is I'm trying to make sleds that are super strong, as light as possible while still being super strong. And my main clientele, like I said, is people who are doing either major expeditions or a thousand mile races. So these people don't want to have to worry about their sled breaking. If it breaks on the trail it's going to be a major headache and, you know, where if you're around home and you break your sleds, it's only five miles to get home. It's not a big deal, but when you're a hundred miles from the next place and they might not have the materials you need to fix it when you get there anyway, you don't want your sled to break. So what I've gone to doing, while still using some of the traditional elements, is I still like to use wood. I don't want to get away from wood completely like a lot of the sled builders have. There's a lot of aluminum sleds on a fully plastic aluminum type sleds, out there. And they just -- they kind of -- they're not -- they're ugly. I don't know how to say it, but I don't like them. ROBERT DROZDA: Performance wise you don't see a big difference? CODY STRATHE: Performance wise they're okay, but aluminum tends not to flex as well as wood. Aluminum tends to break when it flexes really badly. So there's one good reason. Aluminum is pretty strong so it doesn't break very easily, but when it breaks, it blows out and it causes lots of problems when aluminum does break. Wood is kind of nice because when if it does break usually you can -- you can rig it back together, hold it back together, screw it back together. It's easier to deal with when it breaks. So that's why I've gone to using some of the traditional wood methods and then just putting some new composite fabrics over them. And then epoxy coating to then strengthen them up. So on this sled what you see is I've got runners, which are actually bent wood inside and I'll show you how I do that in a little bit, but they're actually laminates -- laminate strips of white ash wood glued together on a form so that they become the runner shape. And then they are wrapped by a carbon fiber and Kevlar composite fabric and then coated with epoxy. And then that gives this like sock that goes all the way around it and if that wood was to fail, which at some point it could, this sock -- this fabric that's super strong will hold that altogether still like a splint so that the musher could then limp in to wherever they're headed without having to deal with a broken runner on the trail is the idea. ROBERT DROZDA: Is that your innovation? CODY STRATHE: No, there are other folks who have done this. Right now there's at least one other commercial manufacturer who's making sleds but he's new as well. So we're both kind of starting out. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. CODY STRATHE: Doing that, but no, I didn't invent it, but I'm definitely embracing it and going on with it. One of the other things with these new sleds is that like the old sleds -- the old sleds were lashed. And what lashing allows is lots of movement. So when you hit something, the shock -- if the sled hits something and is allowed to move, then it won't break. If it is something that is stiff and hits something really hard, it is more likely to break. So the old sleds are lashed and they hit a tree, pieces would move, sometimes they'd pop out of place, but you were able to come back in and that kept things from breaking as easy. Well, with the new sleds we have used bolts and bolts aren't as good in that way, because they're through a piece of wood. And if you hit it hard enough, it could pop out, break, which is why I've double reinforced this with fiberglass and carbon fiber here at this piece. But the main thing in order to keep things from breaking and keep your sled moving smoothly is to make it attached in as few as places as possible so that things slide, flex, and in that way if you hit a tree, this bed moves and flexes, the runner bounces and won't break as easy. Also, like I just said a second ago, it makes things move more efficiently if there's less connection points. So if you think about like a boat in the water if you're going over waves -- you all have ridden a boat and as you go over waves, you slam down the other side. Well, the skin frame kayaks they're all lashed together, because as they go over waves they actually flex with those waves and it was more efficient movement and they weren't losing that energy when they were slapping. They just kind of move through the waves. Well, the same thing with the dog sled if you're on a super stiff sled and you are on a trail with lots of bumps you go bang, bang, boom, bang, but if it flexes, you got all these different points on the sled where it can flex and move and it just rides real smoothly over the bumps. And so that's what I'm trying to do with these sleds. Is make them kind of flexible enough that they can of just kind of smooth -- smoothly ride right along, but strong enough that they're not going to break when they hit things. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. So some similarities there between kayak manufacturing and sled manufacturing? CODY STRATHE: Definitely, yeah, I mean, especially in the old traditional sleds where everything was mortise and tenon together and lashed. So by mortise and tenon I mean they actually would have like on the runner there would be a hole and then the stanchions -- these are stanchions -- it would fit down into that and then that all would be lashed together to hold it together. That's the way the entire skin frame kayaks are built. ROBERT DROZDA: We saw a good example of that with Bill -- Bill Demoski's sled. CODY STRATHE: Okay. Okay. Yep, so that's one of the major similarities between the boats and -- or the sleds and the boats. Another one is just, like I was talking about with that -- you want that efficiency during movement, that flexibility to allow it to move smoothly, which is nice for the rider because they are not getting banged around. It's nice for the dogs because all that energy that's coming from the sled also goes up the gang line and goes to each one of the dogs' harnesses so they're feeling that as well. And the more banging around on the dogs the more you are going to wear your dogs out -- tire them and possibly injure them. So, you don't want those things to happen. ROBERT DROZDA: Ok. Some other things about the design on the sled here? I mean, one thing that strikes me is on sleds I'm used to seeing you've got your integrated handlebar and there's -- there's a stanchion here and this really sleek going back like that. CODY STRATHE: Yes, so this -- this is a design that's been kind of altered from a design called the Easy Rider sled design. Which was supposedly invented by Charlie Boulding, who was a local guy that lives out in Minto Flats on the Tanana River. He has run the Quest a bunch. And the story was that he was running his traditional sled. Had his stanchions straight down like this, usually there's several stanchions. A lot of times there's a driving bow that would go all the way up to the front of the runner. And then there'd be several vertical stanchions along the side. Well, what happened was he broke one of the back stanchions. One of the straight up and down vertical stanchion and then his sled was tracking funny. So supposedly he broke the other one is the way I've heard the story. And then suddenly he realized that he had more steering control. Because of what happens when you've got your stanchions running up to the front of the runner right here right where it curves is you like to get control of the front of the sled. But then you can actually then steer the front of the sled. So you as you go around trees and stuff you just move your handlebar and makes the steering easier, way easier than some of the other sleds where the stanchions are vertical you had to use your feet, and your body a lot and it's a way different style of driving. They're all steerable but very differently. So that's what this is all about. And then another thing with that Easy Rider style is that this back stanchion doesn't hold this stiff. It actually is allowed to pivot so that as you go over things, it allows more flexibility in the runners and sled so that it can be more efficient. ROBERT DROZDA: So Charlie being a real bush man probably went wow, that's great. CODY STRATHE: Yeah. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And who coined the name for the sled, the Easy Rider? CODY STRATHE: You know I don't know if he named that or someone else or what. That's for that design -- came from originally. There's been a lot of changes over time so -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Okay. And earlier you referred to this as a raised toboggan. CODY STRATHE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Talk about that a little bit. CODY STRATHE: Well, in the -- you know I'm not a huge sled historian, but I know that in the fur trade a lot of the dog teams that they used they actually would pull like old wooden toboggans where actually the -- the wood -- The bottom of the sled was actually just wood, bent wood slats like toboggans kids ride. And then in the 70's a guy named Tim White, big sled innovator, decided that for Iditarod -- and the trails in bad condition a lot of the time so they actually took plastic sheet is one of the first sleds that uses the plastic sheet like this. And they put it on top of the runners so that it was just barely off the snow and they called that a toboggan sled. And so then for the last 20 years people have been using toboggan sleds. They're great for camping trips. They're great for going off where there's no -- no trail. They're great for early season when the trails are really rough, 'cause they can bang around and they're good -- good all around sled for carrying a lot of weight. But that was the toboggan sled. And then people realized that that plastic's kind of nice. People started putting plastic on the bottom of their basket sleds to protect their basket. It will allow snow and sticks and stuff to just slide under there. And then people realized that it's getting kind of bulky. Why don't we get rid of the slats. Get rid of the basket on the sled and just put plastic as a basket. And so that over time was called the raised toboggan, because it was raised up. And there are no longer slats in this style sled like you'd find in the more traditional basket sleds. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So how much weight can this sled carry? CODY STRATHE: Oh, this sled can easily carry three to four hundred pounds. It's better to have less. I wouldn't go over that in this sled. The toboggan sleds are the ones where they're actually down on the ground and they're stiffer. They can haul a lot more weight. What happens when you have a super flexible sled and you put a lot of weight in it is you lose a lot of that control then because the weight suddenly is doing its own thing to the sled and making the runners go different directions than you want them to. And then also the flexibility in the runners you want them to be stiffer. So, out on the porch I've got two large toboggan sleds. One's a freight sled that we use for caribou hunting that it can put easily a thousand pounds in that sled. And it's stiff enough that even with all that weight in there you can still -- on a side hill you can kind of lift on the stanchion and it will keep the sled from sliding down the hill. So there are times that you want stiff sleds and there are times that you want super flexible sleds. And for just cruising around or racing you want a flexible sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Can you describe the runner, how you put the runners together -- CODY STRATHE: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: -- on this? CODY STRATHE: So up until I think the 80's -- 1980's people were using steel on their runners for the actual base here that you would slide on the snow. Steel was great because it lasted a long time, but it didn't glide as nice as some plastics. So, once UHMW - Ultra High Molecular Weight - plastic kind of started being used, they realized that it slides really nicely on snow. So at first what people started doing was just screwing the plastic onto the runners. And then over time like Tim White, like I mentioned, came up with what's called Quick Change Runner plastic (QCR), they call it. And he actually made a little metal rail that this UHMW plastic that he routed a little groove in -- it would like slide over that. So, then on a race or anywhere if your plastic broke or wore out, you could slide off the old plastic and slide on new plastic. Over time the Quick Change Runner plastic isn't that quick any more. And so there've been other innovations where they've come up with different types of runner plastic that slide on and off easily. Tim White also came up with aluminum runners, which are actually aluminum channel which is bent and there are some behind you there. And they made this plastic that slides right into that aluminum channel. So, now all the racers have been using aluminum runners for the last 10 years at least. And they all are used to this plastic design. So, on my runners what I've done is made a plastic rail. So this is UHMW plastic and this screws onto the bottom of the runner. And then it has a groove routed in it. I got a special router bit made that's the same shape as the runner plastic that racers can buy. Then that just slides right in. So, that plastic can just slide right on and off as it wears out and works pretty good. There's different colors of plastic and the different colors are much like ski wax. The different colors are for different conditions, different temperatures. Some of them have different abrasion resistance. So, if -- and they also make thicker plastics. This one here is an inch and three-quarters wide and this one here is an inch and a quarter. So, if you were in -- you got a big heavy snowfall, these inch and a quarter runners you're gonna sink down in that snow. So, then you can put on inch and three quarter and then you've got wider runners. You got more floatation like a powder ski for downhill skiing. So that's kind of the -- ROBERT DROZDA: So, the yellow would overlap a little bit? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, stick out the sides a little bit. And then kind of the idea is it will hold your sled up in snow a little more. But, if you're on a good packed groomed trail, then you want the narrower runner because it's going to have less resistance on snow and glide faster. ROBERT DROZDA: Let's talk a little bit about the brake and if, you know, can talk about changes in the brake, we can do that as well. CODY STRATHE: Over time? ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. CODY STRATHE: Yeah, a lot of the traditional basket sleds had a single brake that came off of the bottom of the basket. It would come back and then it would have just a claw in the middle so there'd be this metal claw that would go down. On the original sleds, I believe, they didn't even have brakes. People just used their heels and their feet and dogs that actually listened. And over time the way the brake has kind of evolved on most sleds is it has a aluminum brake bar. It attaches off the runners, off of the rear stanchion area, goes around. It's on a bungee. So when you step on it, it goes down and comes back up off the snow. And then they usually have carbide tips now, similar to what's on the Yukon, a snowmachine track to get grip. And so when you press that down, especially on ice, it'll -- it will pretty much stop you instantly. And then along with the brakes what people use, especially since they've started running really big teams. And a lot of the race dogs are not trained like bush dogs used to be where they knew commands to stop and stay and stay there as long as the musher wanted. Now dogs are harness baying and crazy and excited most of the time, not everybody's, but we need to slow them down. And especially distance dogs, they're not sprint dogs. They're not trained to run that fast and when they run that fast, what happens is they get injuries. So, what a lot of the sleds have now is what is called a drag mat or stomp pad. And this allows you to control your speed and keep things slower, a lot more resistance. So, this is actually just a piece of snowmachine track that's been put on here and I actually heard that Bill Cotter supposedly came up with that idea of using snowmachine track to drag behind the sled to slow things down. And so that's what that is and then if you want to speed up, you flip it up, get it out of the way, you don't have that resistance. And you can let it drag and it has a certain amount of resistance. And if you want to really slow them down, you stand on it with one foot and if you want to really, really slow them down, you stand on it with both feet and pull up on your handlebars and then there's the brake. So, that's kind of how you slow them down. And then of course, when you want to stop, there's the snow hook that you just put in the ground. There are still some dog teams out there that actual listen. We've got a few of those dogs. What else would you like to know about? ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe you can talk a little bit about the process of -- CODY STRATHE: Sure. ROBERT DROZDA: Was it a plastic or a resin? CODY STRATHE: Yeah. So these stanchions here -- the way I do it to make them as strong as possible -- when I first started building sleds and a lot of the old traditional sleds the wood is just a single piece of wood, carved down, usually either white ash, hickory or here in Alaska there are a lot of birch sleds, because birch is the hardest wood that we have available here. But just a single piece of wood can fail pretty easily if the grain's not perfect and even if the grain is perfect. But when it hits, breaks, it breaks along a grain pattern. So what I typically do is to make it stronger right off the bat is I make laminate strips. So I will glue three strips of wood together with alternating grains so that the grains are different patterns. And they're glued together and then already that's stronger than just a normal piece of wood. Because if one of those grain patterns fails, it's got two other grain patterns that are different to help hold that together. And then on top of that with these stanchions what I've done is add a layer of fiberglass, which is a tube that goes around the entire stanchion. And then that's coated with epoxy. Same thing they use on boats to make boat holds and all kinds of different fiberglass type materials. And then what I've done at the lower portion because this -- with these two connection points with bolts, like I said before bolts are kind of a bad idea for sled building, because when they hit things that's a failure point. So what I've done here is over this triple laminated piece of stanchion here with fiberglass over it then I've put a piece of carbon fiber cloth over that as well which is then also epoxied. So then that's even another layer of protection here to make that super strong. Now these different composite fabrics all have different flexibility levels. On the runners the fabric is actually a carbon fiber and Kevlar composite where they're weaved together. And the reason I do that is because carbon fiber is super strong, but it's also super stiff. And when things are super stiff, they break. So you want that flexibility. Kevlar is more flexible and it's also got more abrasion resistance. And the runners are going to be getting abraded quite a bit on rocks and trees and whatever, so that's why I use those. I also built a lot of stanchions. If you want them to be smaller and lighter, I've built some sleds for some folks from the Iditarod this year that wanted -- they were more worried about weight than anything else. And so on that sled -- this is actually a piece of stanchion from one of those sleds where I used three layers. And he wanted birch, because birch is a lighter wood than ash. So there are three layers of ash glued together there. Then there's a sleeve of carbon fiber over it, which was epoxied and then there's another sleeve of carbon fiber over it. So it's got two layers of carbon fiber over three. You can't even bend that thing. So it's super strong, super stiff and stiff is fine for stanchions. Because when you move the handle bow you want it to move your runners and help steer. If your stanchions are flexible, then you're just going to have this big noodle you can't control. So that's why -- ROBERT DROZDA: So your runners become an extension of your arms. CODY STRATHE: Right, yes, exactly. ROBERT DROZDA: Seeing lots of sleds like with seats or things you can sit on and then you drag behind you, you build those as well? CODY STRATHE: I do. I don't have it on this sled, but I've got one on the sled outside. And so it's just a little pole that -- on my sleds I attach it right back here and it comes off. It's got like a little platform, a little rope comes off and you can just sit back down on your sled and just relax. It kind of changes the way the sled rides. One of the neat things about the way it changes the way the sled rides is it lifts -- because it's back here and the whole sled's kind of attached, it lifts the front of the runners up. So if you're on a flat surface like a lake or just a super straight flat trail, it actually speeds up the sled. So, and like I was saying before, you want to keep your dogs slow most of the time, but towards the end of a really long run your dogs are moving really slow anyway and if you can sit down and lift that up, it can actually help your dogs out. ROBERT DROZDA: So explain this sled to us, Cody. CODY STRATHE: This is a pretty similar sled. This is one of the first ones I built. It's not built as beefy with the composites. It's not as protected to make sure things don't break. So this one's actually hickory stanchions. It's single piece. You can do that with hickory. It's a lot stronger wood. It doesn't seem to break as easy as some of the others, so -- But this was actually a sled that I built for my wife a few years ago, and it has seen a lot of abuse and probably seen four or five thousand miles of trail. What I brought it in here for was to show you a seat. I put these on a lot of sleds now, because in long races people need to rest. And of course, you want your dogs to rest, but our dogs do get to rest when they get to a checkpoint, but the musher doesn't usually. The musher has to then take care of the dogs. So the musher needs to rest while the dogs are running, so that when they get to the checkpoint then the musher can do his job and take good care of the dogs and get them fed. Take care of all the aches and pains and things. So these sleds allow a musher to sit down, take a load off, let their back relax as you're going down the trail. One of the interesting things about some of these seats like this one is that it allows the front of the sled to lift up. And I don't know if you can see that with the camera, but it allows the front to lift up off the ground and then there's less resistance. So later on when the dogs have been running a long time and their speed has slowed down, this allows you to actually pick up a mile or two per hour of speed. And take a little resistance off the dogs. Another thing you can do when you're sitting like this -- because you're sitting here pretty good is a lot of folks using ski poles now to help the dogs as well. You can actually get more force out of ski poles than you can out of just kicking with one leg. So you can sit down and use two ski poles, and you can really increase the speed and take the resistance off the dogs. There's a lot of sleds out there now called a Tail Dragger sled, where it's actually the seat is built up off the runners and it's always there. And it allows more storage as well. I don't have one here now, but I do build those as well. And so that's a completely different style of sled where there's this whole seat thing back here the musher sits down on. It doesn't lift the front of the sled off, because it's built on its own separate thing. But those are pretty popular for a lot of the folks who are winning the Quest and Iditarod all have those. And they swear that because they're able to rest while the dogs are running they have more energy when they get to the checkpoint to take care of the dogs. It's not just that they're lazy. ROBERT DROZDA: Although I've heard them called old man sleds. CODY STRATHE: Yeah. Lance Mackey swears he won't drive one. Another thing that's different about the sled is that these are aluminum runners. These are called Rex Runners. They're very similar to the Matrax Runners that Tim White created. And so they are actually a channel on the top and the bottom. And they're real easy for amateur sled builders to use. And they're really easy for me to sell, because people can fix and replace them themselves. They know how to deal with these runners. There's brackets. There's a little t-nut that slides back and forth in this channel. And then the runner plastic's made to slide in the other channel. The only problem with these is that when they break, and they always do at some point, they're really hard to deal with on the trail. You can't really splice them back together. So that's one of the problems. And they tend to break right back here at this major stress point or right up here at this stress point. ROBERT DROZDA: Are there one or two companies manufacturing these? CODY STRATHE: Yes, yes. So Rex Runners are manufactured by a company called Prairie Built Sleds in North Dakota. And they're a company -- they make nice sleds as well, but everything is aluminum. And they're quite expensive. And then the Matrax Runners, Tim White still sells those as well. So those are the two -- I think maybe there's one other company called SnapFit Runners, but nobody really uses those that I know of. But yeah aluminum's popular. ROBERT DROZDA: Okay, we've moved upstairs in Cody's shop and going from the completed sleds and looking at some of the components. So what you got there, Cody? CODY STRATHE: Well, right here I'm in the process of just finishing a runner that was glued. So like I was saying before I glue my wood -- ash together in strips onto a form and it gets clamped on the form with wood glue and waterproof wood glue in between. It sits for 24 hours on this bend on the form and then when it pops off, which you'll see here in a second, is a completed runner. This runner here is really short. It's actually for some little sleds that I've build that are for two to three dogs, which I can show you here in a minute. What I do -- as I was talking about with the stanchions before, the wood -- We glue several pieces of wood together alternating grain patterns. It makes them stronger and also it -- when you glue it, it stays uniform with the shape of this jig that I've glued it to. A lot of people have steam bent jigs, which steam bending is a good way to bend wood as well where you put it in a steam box and the steam actually loosens the cellulose fibers and allows them to kind of morph and change and bend. But what happens when you release stuff off of a jig thats been steam bent is they tend to have more memory of the way the grain originally was and it bounces back. So a lot of times when you steam bend runners, they don't match. They both have just a little bit different bend. And on old sleds it wasn't that big a deal. I mean it works, but when you have runners that don't exactly match, the sled doesn't track properly. And tracking is where it goes straight, is what I mean when I say tracking. So you want your sled to move efficiently straight down the trail, not taking you into trees and causing more resistance for the dogs. So I'll pop all these off the jig. And I use wax paper on a jig, because the wood glue won't stick to that. Clean it off and you have a glued dog sled runner. Now it's almost ready to use, but what has to happen is it has to be cleaned up. I run it through a planer to get it nice and smooth and get rid of the glue and sand it up and make it nice. On some sleds I'll use a runner just straight wood, if it's a traditional sled or just a little bit cheaper sled. Wooden runners hold up for a long time, but just like everything else they break at some point as well. If you want to reinforce them, like we do on the race sleds, then what happens is we add these composite materials. So here are some runners that were actually finished. And cleaned up. And this is what the carbon Kevlar material looks like. It comes in a big roll. It's kind of like a tube sock. So what we would do is actually slide that over the runner. And this is just an example so its small piece. And it would go over the entire runner. And then it would get stretched tight. And then it gets epoxied with an epoxy resin. And then what we do is we put a heat shrink tube over it. It's this rubber tube and -- you can just grab the end and pull it up here. It looks like this. And this heat shrink tube slides up over the entire runner. Over this after it's been epoxied. Then we run a heat gun over this and it shrinks down tight. So that puts constant pressure over the entire length of the runner. And then that way it keeps it all nice and tight as that epoxy cures. And then we go back and cut this off the runner. And then we have the nice smooth finished runner like we saw on the sled downstairs. And we also have the different other types of materials such as the fiberglass, which we saw in the stanchions and the carbon fiber. It all comes in rolls and all slides over that same way, uses the same technique. And the fiberglass is kind of neat. What I like about the fiberglass is it turns clear when it's epoxied so you can still see the wood in there, which I like. Yeah, adds a nice touch. And so that's kind of the basic step of runner building. If you were to build say like a freight sled, we would put more plies of ash together. So that it would be thicker and also built wider runners up to two to three inch wide runners on these jigs. So it just depends what kind of sled we're building. And then we go from there, the amount of wood. Also, on a lot of these runners I've gone to using more laminates, thinner laminates, but more of them to get the same thickness of runner. That creates even more strength. There's more different grain patterns and more glue lines and that makes it stronger in the end doing it that way. ROBERT DROZDA: This Kevlar wrap -- the tubes and sled runners is a pretty specialized use of that stuff. What -- what's it used for otherwise? Where do you get it? CODY STRATHE: I get it from a company out on the East Coast. It's used for a number of things. It's really quite popular in paddle building. A lot of model rocket people use it now for their shafts. You can build bicycles out of this stuff. Basically, all you need is either like a form to put it in or some what people use is like -- they use like a foam core. They'll make like a model of something out of foam so it's super light and then they wrap it. You can either get it in sleeves or you can just get it in like a tape or a cloth and then you can just wrap that cloth around and epoxy it. And then as that epoxy strengthens that all these little fibers are then now stiff and strong as can be, and then that kind of holds that form. So, yeah, it's used for all kinds of crazy stuff. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, it's super light and strong. CODY STRATHE: Yeah, super light and super strong. ROBERT DROZDA: Ok, what else we got up here? CODY STRATHE: Well, we've got a variance of different forms. This form here was actually built for making -- bending a brush bow for a big freight sled. And so a lot of the newer sleds have a plastic brush bow. That's the piece on the front of the sled that hits trees and bumps things and tries to protect the rest of the sled. On the older sleds they were actually made from wood. So, that's what this form was and it's the same concept. I put several strips of wood together -- glued together and that makes the shape of the brush bow. This form -- up here, I'll grab it and back up for you. This is actually for kayaks, but it's the same idea. This is how I made the cockpit combing, the part where you sit in the cockpit of the kayak -- thin strips. And these, because the bend is so tight, I have to steam bend them as well as making them really thin, because otherwise they'll crack. So you bend those all around and when you steam bend stuff you can't glue it right away. You have to steam bend it, and then let that steam kind of dry out of the wood. So you clamp it to your foam, let the wood dry, and then you go back and then put glue in and clamp it. And let it cure. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So, do you have a steamer? CODY STRATHE: I do. It's just a piece of metal pipe with a cap on the end. And then I hook it to an MSR stove. With a little cook pot underneath it so -- ROBERT DROZDA: Boiling water? CODY STRATHE: Yeah, it just boils the water. It's got a little funnel so that the steam goes up into that pipe, and you just set the wood in there for a period of time, usually 10 to 15 minutes. I let it soak in water first, so it's got water in it. And then as it sits in there that steam just makes the wood kind of turn into a noodle. For kayaks, all the ribs are steam bent. ROBERT DROZDA: Nice. So you also have this little collapsible sled behind us. Am I jumping ahead or let's talk about that? CODY STRATHE: Sure. So, this is kind of a sled design that I came up that -- I was saying before I -- We started out with just a few dogs, and found that it was really hard to do the kind of camping trips we wanted to do with skijoring, because we'd have all our box of line and our bacon and whatever in our backpack. And so our backpack was quite large and we'd be going on camping trips with two dogs and it was a lot of work for the dogs and a lot of work for us. And I couldn't figure out why we needed to have a big pack on our back. So I came up with a little sled that you can put your pack in. Just throw your backpack on there and strap it on and then it's easy enough that just a couple dogs can pull it. And so then you can actually help push it and you have more control on hills. And so the idea of these sleds is that people with just two or three dogs can use it. And it's kind of a mix of some of the older style construction, simpler construction to help make it cheaper, more affordable for people. So it's got just straight wooden runners on there that I bent, and just showed you a second ago. It's the -- kind of the toboggan style I was talking about earlier that Tim White came up with. But much much smaller and then I made it flexible. The other toboggans I was talking about are stiff so you can haul a big load, but if you're not hauling a load you can keep more flexible and then it allows some steering for the rider, which is kind of nice. And then I made this sled as well, so that you can just pull out a couple pins and then the whole sled -- fold down relatively flat. There's another pin here on both sides of this -- folds down. And then someone can slide this in the back of their car for transport or storage. So, yeah, these have become pretty popular with folks. There's a musher around here who's doing expeditions in the Brooks Range with clients. And so, he's started to use them and so, yeah, they're working out pretty good so far. ROBERT DROZDA: That's a good idea. Using them with clients like that, because it can control that two or three dogs. CODY STRATHE: Yeah, and actually he had done trips before. It was like a Norwegian school and he had done trips where part of the group was on a -- had a whole team and the other part was just skijoring with a couple dogs. And up there they ran into some really crazy conditions with overflow and all kinds of stuff. And so the musher -- the skijorers and them were getting soaked. And so they decided it was better to have something like this, because then they could wear normal boots, and they could have their gear in a dry bag. And so it worked out really good this past year for them. They ran up to Iniakuk Lodge out in the Brooks Range. ROBERT DROZDA: So what does one of these sleds run? CODY STRATHE: One of these sleds -- I've tried to make them more affordable for folks. But still all the materials -- the plastic has really gone up in price with the prices of oil. So a sheet of UHMW plastic, a 4 x 8 sheet of plastic, ends up costing about two hundred some dollars when I buy twelve at a time. And the thicker plastics for handlebars and stuff are even more -- three to four hundred dollars a sheet for this plastic. So the price of the sleds adds up pretty quick and then with my time adds up as well. So a sled like this is about $700 complete ready to go. Some of the more fancier sleds, the custom sleds, I kind of set pricing up so that they pay for certain options. A certain option costs so much, but the sleds --certain sled size and design has a certain base price. And so as they add more and more options, the price jumps up and up and I think about the average sled price for race style sleds I build is about $2,000. But some of the fancier sleds, the one down there on the table we were just looking at. That's about a $3,000 sled. Ánd then built some as much as about thirty-five hundred. That's about the max at the moment. ROBERT DROZDA: The Ferrari? CODY STRATHE: The Ferrari, yeah. So yeah, that's kind of how I do the pricing on sleds. ROBERT DROZDA: Great. Marla, any questions? Katrin? Maybe I'll finish up -- I just generally if you can talk about, you know, what's your biggest challenge as a sled builder? CODY STRATHE: The biggest challenge is making -- because I like to make sleds custom for people the biggest challenge is finding what makes everyone happy. Everyone's got a completely different idea of what's right and what they like in the size and all these things. And so, what I think is a great sled isn't necessarily what my customer's gonna think is a great sled. And so that's always the challenge is just trying to make a sled that fits everybody. Fits their body right, fits what they're doing right and they like. So far I haven't had too many unhappy customers, so hopefully we can keep it that way. But -- ROBERT DROZDA: Have you had any wacky ideas that you just decided no, you really can't do that? CODY STRATHE: Yeah I mean, yeah, I've had some really weird ones. There was a woman and I still haven't figured out if she was serious or not. But she wanted a sled that had like this big protective thing. She had been in an accident. She wanted this big like cab like built around so that she was protected. And I said that sounds kind of complicated, maybe you could find someone else to do that one. But, yeah, there're some wacky ideas and I definitely, you know, I'll tell people that I'll build them whatever they want, but I will let them know if I don't think it's going to work. But, you know, some people still -- still have this certain thing they want and I'll still -- still do it but I'll definitely let them know that I don't think this is going to work and this is why. And I don't want you coming back to me afterwards if you don't like that. I've told you, but I will definitely still build it for you if that's what you really want, so -- MARLA STATSCEWICH: So I guess I have a question about -- so you were saying these are mid and long distance race sleds? CODY STRATHE: Not this one, but the other ones. MARLA STATSCEWICH: But the other ones. And then so what's the difference between these sleds and like, a sprint race sled? CODY STRATHE: The sprint race sleds are not made to carry anything really. Sprint sled -- the basket is really short and basically the only thing they ever put in there is a dog during the race. So, a lot of the sprint sleds barely even have any slats. They have a bag that the dog will fit in that has enough support to hold the dog, but otherwise there's no support. Those sleds are made to go fast and the modern sprint sled the runners on most modern sprint sleds aren't even wood any more. They're usually some kind of composite ski. It's very similar to a skate ski and they're waxed. They don't even have -- most of them don't even have interchangeable plastic any more. They just have wax coating and they do that. And then the runners are really long, while they still have a short bed they still have really long runners so that they have good speed and control. So, they're made to go really fast and steer, where these sleds are made to go -- where the distance sleds are made to go a long distance. It's nice that they can steer on funky trails, but at the same time they really just need to be able to go straight, smooth, efficiently for the long haul. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Ok. And there are -- you don't make sprint sleds because of -- CODY STRATHE: I do once in a while, but I don't ride sprint sleds. I'm not a sprint musher, so if someone came to me and said this is the design I want I can build that for them, but I'm not designing sprint sleds, because I don't know enough about it. MARLA STATSCEWICH: I see. Ok. CODY STRATHE: But yeah, it's a lot of the same technology, same materials, so I can definitely build them. I'm just -- I'm not going to design one and market it, so -- MARLA STATSCEWICH: Not your passion? CODY STRATHE: Yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Great. That was it for my questions. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, this may be one last one. I want to shift gear a little bit and talk about -- you said you had roughly half your dogs are up on the glacier out of Skagway. CODY STRATHE: Uh-huh. ROBERT DROZDA: Is this the first time you've done that with your dogs and -- CODY STRATHE: Yes. ROBERT DROZDA: -- what's your impression -- oh, so you don't really know? CODY STRATHE: Well, we actually -- Paige just went up -- my wife just went up to the glacier last week. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. CODY STRATHE: And visited the dogs and ran them all. And what she saw was that they -- well, first of all our friend -- a friend of ours who helped us all winter, you know, their dogs is the one -- the musher who's taking care of them and running them up there. So that was -- ROBERT DROZDA: This is someone you trust? CODY STRATHE: Yes, someone we trust. She's actually going to be our handler this coming winter, so we trusted her and knew that they would be taken good care of. And they're with a company who has a really good reputation. They feed Momentum dog food, which is really a high class expensive dog food, so we know they're getting good nutrition. And when Paige went up there and saw the dogs run, they're all happy, excited. Another cool thing is we've been -- because Paige is going to be running the Yukon Quest she already made some little postcards and we gave to the musher to hand out to all the tourists who rode with our dogs. That says how they can go to our website and they can go to our Facebook page and whatever. And so now we're getting all these people who went on a ride with our dogs, and they have all these great memories, all these great pictures, and it was the best day of their life. And so they send us these pictures of our dogs all cuddled up with them, and the dogs are all happy. And so it's great because here we're busy, and summertime sucks. It's hot. The dogs can't do anything and there they have a job. They have a purpose, at least. And it sounds like they're having a good time. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. CODY STRATHE: So, so far it has been great as long as you can trust the people who are taking care of them. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. CODY STRATHE: So. ROBERT DROZDA: Cool. CODY STRATHE: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: All right, great I think that's it, Cody. CODY STRATHE: Thank you. ROBERT DROZDA: Thanks very much. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Yeah, thanks a lot Cody.
William (Bill) Demoski was interviewed on June 15, 2011 by Robert Drozda, Karen Brewster, and Marla Statscewich at the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska. Angela Linn, Ethnology Collection Manager, and Briana Brenner, her student intern, were also present at the interview. Bill Demoski grew up in Koyukuk, Alaska and along the rivers, living a traditional hunting and fishing- based lifestyle. His father, Aloysius Demoski, was a dog team mail carrier in the 1920s and 1930s. In 2007, Bill Demoski built a traditional style wood freight sled for the Museum. In this interview, he talks about how he learned sled building and how he built this particular sled. He identifies parts of the sled, compares modern and traditional sleds and materials, and compares models of different sled styles. This recording has been edited from the original.
Click to section:
Learning how to build sleds
Father's mail carrying route
Father's dog team
Life in camp
Bill demonstrates how he bends pieces for the sled
Bill shows how he connects the pieces of the sled together
Purpose of the brush bow and parts of the sled
Bill explains more parts of the sled
Brakes on sleds
Voice commands to control the team
Differnt styles of dog sleds
Using a Gee-pole and the dangers associated with it
Amount of weight a sled can haul
Finding materials for the sled
Bending the wood for the sled
Steam bending method
Runners changed over time
First dog team and his father's mail carrying job
Looking at sled models from the museum
Sled without a place for the musher to stand
Small sled without a handlebar
Toboggan style sled
Grandfather's trading business
Eskimo style sled - no brush bow
Lining out dogs in pairs or single file
Sled building process from start to finish
ROBERT DROZDA: [Today is June 15,] 2011, and I am Robert Drozda and I am here with Bill Demoski and also in the room are Karen Brewster and Marla Statscewich from the library -- UAF Library and Angie Linn and Brianna Brenner from the UA Museum of the North. And today we are going to be talking with Bill about sled building and his experience as a sled builder. We have a nice sled here that Bill built and is part of the museum's collection. So, Bill, I thought maybe to start with we could get a little bit of your personal history and -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. ROBERT DROZDA: -- with both dog mushing and sled building and we can start from there. BILL DEMOSKI: Ok. You know, my dad was a mail carrier back in the 30's and 20's, you know, and he had a sled about maybe 14 foot, you know, long. Haul about 500 pounds of mail, you know. And he built his own sleds and by the time I got old enough to start working, about twelve years old, I started on one about that big one -- kid's sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I completed it by myself. And it was a rule where my older brother couldn't help while we watched my dad to work, you know, how he does it. He would never tell us what to do. You do it yourself. If it is your project, it is yours, you know. And so I started my sled. I got the birch and I bend it, I planed it, all handwork and a handsaw. And a hand drill, you know. No electric. Chiseling you know. Knife and a little hand plane, sandpaper, you know. Did all that by hand and when I got going and I was putting together this piece here, you know, and you have to cut a slot here and then cut that with a knife, you know. When I was doing this, you know, and I got that knife and I poked my leg right there. That is why I got a scar there, blade about that long, went all the way down in there. Opened up my -- man I couldn't walk for about a week, but I still finished it, you know. And then the next one was a racing sled, bigger than this one, about half size of this, you know, for racing. I finished that and my older brother used it for dog racing and then all that I picked up, you know, from the old man, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Were you using his tools when -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: He let you use his tools? BILL DEMOSKI: My own tools. Because first thing you had to do, he always had to check his tools because he kept his tools sharp, you know. Taught us not to cut our hand, you know, and stuff. All that -- we had to split the birch, you know, and steam it. Split the birch and plane it, you know. Then steam it -- put it on the bender. I got a bender about 50 years old that is made out of -- it is made out of stump, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Big stump and I hewed it out and formed it. It's down in Galena. I still got it. It's about fifty years old. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that made out of driftwood stump? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, I think I showed it to you.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, remember that?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, when you were in Galena.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. It is still down there. And other than that I picked up a lot of new -- new style from my uncles and watched people at work, you know. Sidney Huntington was a good mentor of mine, you know. My uncle Sidney, he's married to my auntie. I'll watch him work and he did good work like this, you know, on big boats, you know. I picked up building boats and all that stuff, you know. And when I got old enough to do it by myself, you know, my dad didn't need to build. He just went out to cut the birch and bent the -- bent the runners and I put it together. And he rather had me put it together. He says, you are quite a craftsman, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Where my other brothers, you know, they make short cut and the lazy way, he said, you know, but me everything was even, you know, and that's the way I learned from him, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So he appreciated your work? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. It is not any old way job, you know. He said if you do half -- half decent work that the sled wouldn't last, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So, you were down in Galena around that time? Is that where he was running his -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, Koyukuk and Koyukuk and I went to school in Galena. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Did he run the same mail route or -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, he went to Kaltag from Koyukuk to Kaltag, Nulato. Then from Galena he went up far as Galena and back down. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Ninety mile run, you know, every week. KAREN BREWSTER: What was your father's name? BILL DEMOSKI: Aloyluis Demoski and my -- my great grandfather, my dad's grandfather, he was originally from Ottawa, Canada or some place but he was a French Canadian, Russian, you know. And his name was Demoski Mollsea (phonetic) so when he came up to the Hudson Bay Traders long ago, you know, he started a trading post in Nulato. They had a big fort there, Russian fort or something. And then he had a trading post there and they built a mission and he got baptized. So they put his name Mollsea Demoski. So our name was supposed to have been Mollsea instead of they put it backwards. How we wind up with Demoski, yeah, yeah. And other than that, as far as working, we had a big family. We had about ten in our family, you know. There was all boys in our family, one girl and the last two -- two kids was girls. There were seven boys and my dad used to say, we need two more to have a baseball team. Anyway, we all had to do our own laundry or like if we make a hole in our boot, we mend with the threads. Mom taught us how to use needle thread and knit, you know, sew, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And then we all have chores to do, you know, but I was the one that, out of the seven, I was only the one that ever got to get to do the job, you know. My mom called Morris or Val or Junior, do this. Now they wouldn't move. They only tell me one time and I get the job done, you know. So I was kind of backbone of the family and my dad used to say, I would be the best worker that I wasn't lazy, you know, because I had to do it, you know and -- KAREN BREWSTER: So that was growing up in Koyukuk? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, Koyukuk in that fish camp, spring camp, where we winter camp, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: How many dogs did your dad keep? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, he drove 21 dogs. He had -- he was -- carrying mail for contractor and this contractor he had about over 150 dogs, you know and he leased them out to the government. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And they hired these, like my dad to carry the mail, you know. And they had a roadhouse and then, he had part wolf dogs, you know, probably one-third or a quarter breed wolves, you know, bred to Malamute, you know, big dogs. My dad used to say, those dogs you couldn't get nothing out of them in daytime but the nighttime boy they could move. They -- he said you know, you go out, fix that tangle he said you got to watch the dog behind him otherwise they are going to grab his leg or something, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: That's the kind of aggressive dog they were. ROBERT DROZDA: They liked to scrap.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. And they were really strong at nighttime you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So the dogs were kept at the roadhouse in the dog barn? BILL DEMOSKI: No, my dad kept them at home. He picked them up in the fall time, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: On the boat, and they furnished the dog food and there used to be a lot of fish in the river those days. Dog dried food, you know, and then rice. And then, people never run short of dog food or food in them days, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Was caring for the dogs one of your jobs, too? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And then, we -- we were up river above Galena, in winter camp, because my dad used to go out trapping way out the Yuki River across the -- from the camp called Beaver Creek about six miles above Galena. That's where our winter camp was. We'd go there in the fall and stay there the fall and trap all winter. In the springtime, they go muskrat hunting behind the lakes. And then after breakup, we cut all the fishwheel logs, poles, load up the dogs and all the poles and make a raft and put the tent on there. We float down the river about 60 miles, 70 miles down river between Nulato and Kaltag to fish. We fished there all summer and come back up in September. We go to school for maybe a month or so, you know, two weeks. Then the teachers give us our books and back to camp we go. ROBERT DROZDA: That sounds like quite a good life. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. That's where I pick up all the stuff how to work, you know, but most of this new idea here that, like this plywood. There were no plywood them days or planks, you know. I just made benders out of my own idea, you know, bent those runners and stuff, you know. Here you can see I laminated, you know, like I did over there. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I glued it and this is the -- turn it over -- this is the side rails see. See how I designed this thing to bend it. That's my own design to build the side rail, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: That would be this piece here? BILL DEMOSKI: No, the middle --
MARLA STATSCEWICH: This one.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this -- that's the -- ROBERT DROZDA: On the bed, yeah. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, and then this is plywood and I just took a plank and instead of using clamp, I make my own clamp, you know. This bolts, you know, I used --
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Instead of using a -- ROBERT DROZDA: So you don't have to have a ton of clamps. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah and this is about the same for the little sled, you know, the kid's sled.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: I put the -- I put the front piece underneath here and bend it and I put this underneath there, clamp it down, you know, so it is straight, you know. If I can't get that thing through there, I just go like this, you know, and you can put that right through there, you know. And -- up here when I put this together I clamp this one together like this, you know, and then drill this holes. I like to use this kind of bolts because you don't need the washer. All you need the washer is on this side. And this piece here I bolt it down in here, that way the sled wouldn't bend back this way and it will stay that way all the time. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: So, and this is called a brush bow. Nowadays, you know, snowmobile they don't use this anymore because they use that hitch, you know, to goes to the Snowgo. ROBERT DROZDA: Right. BILL DEMOSKI: And it goes over this, like this, you got to fold it back. So all the sleds I built, they always take this off so they can fold that. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And what's that called? BILL DEMOSKI: Brush bow. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you talk about what it is used -- why it is there? Why do you put that brush -- BILL DEMOSKI: Well, when they used to go to portage and driving dogs, if you hit a tree or something, this thing would hit it and it will bounce off the tree. It wouldn't smash against -- direct, you know. And then this is the cross piece. This they call slats, you know. This is the slats, side rail, and top rail. They call this top rail. This is the stanchions. The stanchions are all these you know, and this is a handlebar, the crossbar for --and this lashing here, you know, is for, you know, like you put stuff in there and it wouldn't fall out, you know, with canvas. I just put a little star in there to make it fancy, you know. And -- MARLA STATSCEWICH: And traditionally what was this made out of? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, this is nylon. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Nylon. BILL DEMOSKI: Nylon. You can buy it from any dog mushing store. I get a bundle of it, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But before they had nylon what would you use? BILL DEMOSKI: Here. ROBERT DROZDA: Babiche. KAREN BREWSTER: The babiche.
BILL DEMOSKI: Babiche, yeah. I make this out of moose skin. This is -- are the cross piece and then I do this fitting in with the 3/8ths drill, you know. Make a tenon and down here the same way, you know. And then I use these screw eyes, you know, to tie this down. And I start from here, you know, and then you go around and you go around like this and then you turn, put it through there and you go all the way down until you get to this tie, you know, And that's not going to come apart. And right here where I tie the side rail is about even I do same zigzag, you know, around and I tighten this up tight so it wouldn't -- see how strong it is, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you want these to be, the mortise and tenon, to be a loose or so that -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, so it don't crack, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, so it doesn't crack and these here I used sheetrock screws, you know, worked pretty good. We used to use nail years ago when they had no screws, but when you bounce off that, nails start coming apart, you know, start ripping up stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Used to bend them underneath? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this worked pretty good. Only thing this does is, if you hit too hard, you know, it will snap or the jar or break. Never had trouble with it since I got this on here, you know, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Did the old sleds used to have a brake or is that a more recent development? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, no. They -- all the sleds have brakes. Some of them have bigger brakes than this. This is just one I did for temporarily, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Well, before they had rubber what would you put there? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, spring, spring, you know, coil spring. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And what about before coil springs? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, when they had -- before they had the spring, I show you. This goes all the way up to the front like this, you know, like a long one, you know. And they tie it in the middle and they make it so it can bend, you know, from there and then it just come back up itself, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: The natural bend of the wood? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. They never had iron brakes, you know. They had -- I know my great grandpa he made brakes out of fork wood, you know. Yeah. Because they used to go so slow they don't need no brakes. They can say "whoa", the dogs would stop. They were trained for that. If they go down the hill, they would tell them "whoa, whoa". They stop easy and they can hold sled back. They don't, so the dogs don't run over. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And the famous word the dogs like to hear is "whoa". They stop and rest, you know. And when they get ready to go they say "hike", you know. Mush. ROBERT DROZDA: Mush or hike?
BILL DEMOSKI: Hike, yeah. And Bob Hope was demonstrating dog mushing. Old musher, Earl Norris was -- he was on the stage and he asked Earl Norris, what you make these critters to go? Earl Norris said, he was the owner of the dogs, he says, all you got to say is Mush, crack the whip and say Mush. And Bob Hope he crack the whip he says oatmeal. He said oatmeal. And this is here is for, you know, when you got --to not to slip off the, you know, it sometimes, it get icy. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: This keep all the ice off this --protect you from slipping off the sled, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. And you found some plastic that had some -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: -- texture to it? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, what did you use before plastic? BILL DEMOSKI: Caribou skin or moose skin, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: With the fur on or the fur off? BILL DEMOSKI: Fur on.
KAREN BREWSTER: Fur on. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the fur, the skin is on this side and the fur -- and that keep your foot warm, too, they say. You know, when you have -- it doesn't -- this would make your mukluks wet because it is rubber, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you think this particular sled, the design, same from the Hudson Bay style or? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, there's a -- there's all kinds of style that -- see like this one here. You could make this -- this, this one like that one, you know, like one bow all the way down to the, but I prefer that one. This one bow all the way down. There is another style. This -- this used to be higher, you know, to haul freight. It used to -- this used to come up all the way to here and then it sticks out about that far. And then you get another one like this and you bend that bow and tie this down. And you get another one that bows in like this and so you got -- and you got another -- another one that goes in like this and you tie them together, you know. And you could push that with the snowshoes, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: I think we might have a model that looks like that. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: You want to bring it out? ANGELA LINN: Sure, I think I can. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, that will be good for a visual aid. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. ANGELA LINN: Is this the kind your -- like that? BILL DEMOSKI: No.
ROBERT DROZDA: Not quite. BILL DEMOSKI: This -- this is different. See look here. Look here. See this one here. This one here that goes sticks out like this, you know, this far. This is the right idea, but they don't use the bow. That's the one right there, yeah. Yeah, that's the one. But see they -- this is the one that -- yeah, this sticks out. They don't even use the bow, you know. They use this handle but they got another one that goes this way. This one don't have it. This only got this one, you know. And they make it long, you know, so they could walk behind it with snowshoes and push on the sled same time, you know. And then -- KAREN BREWSTER: And where is it that they do that? In Canada, did you say? BILL DEMOSKI: All over.
KAREN BREWSTER: All over.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yukon.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yukon. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. And then they used to call what you call a Gee-pole. They get -- you can cut down any -- any dry -- dry pole, you know. You tie it onto this and you tie it on to down here, you know, the pole sticks up like this and you got a little -- little sled like this, you know. And little lighter sled, racing sled, you put that Gee-pole, you hang onto to this and you steer the -- or you use skis, you know. Some use -- some used to use skis for a Gee-pole, you know. Stand on skis to steer the sled, you know, so it don't go off the trail like this. ROBERT DROZDA: So you're using that when you're on rough terrain or -- BILL DEMOSKI: No, no.
ROBERT DROZDA: Distance or something? BILL DEMOSKI: When you're --when you're on the trail, you know, you got heavy load. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And your -- your sled is not going to make quick turn like this with a heavy load. It'll just keep right on going and then it will bog in the snow, that Gee-pole will cause that from using the sled, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: And is the Gee-pole long enough that you are out in front of the dogs? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: Or are you next to the dogs? BILL DEMOSKI: No, the Gee-pole is -- the pole is about that long from the -- and the skis is tied to the dog, you know, the dog team. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Or this sled here, you know, you could use the smaller sled. The guy standing on his sled and use the Gee-poling. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So the Gee-pole is only about four feet from the sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
MARLA STATSCEWICH: Ok.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So you're walking next to the dog or skiing next to the dogs -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: As they're pulling? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes you use snowshoes when they go so slow, but skis are pretty dangerous though, going down hill. My grandpa got killed with Gee-pole, you know. He was on a Gee-pole and my grandma was on the back standing on the sled and it had 14 dogs. Had about three or four caribou on the sled. They were going down the hill and going so fast and up there a fox or something and they took off. And that sled veered off and smashed right against the tree. Killed him right there, yeah. It was pretty risky, yeah. My dad got runned over one time with a 500 pound -- he said 500 pound of mail but he left -- that was his fault he told me. When he left Ruby that's about fifty miles to Galena he left Ruby and he had a hangover. I guess they had a big -- he was a fiddler, you know. He played the violin and played for the dance hall and he had hangover and he fell asleep and fell -- fell underneath the sled and he said that sled was so heavy he couldn't move. So with all he got he tipped it up, you know, got out from under there and the dogs wouldn't move. He told the dogs to stop, you know. He had 15, 16 dogs I guess. Yeah, he got runned over -- under the sled. ROBERT DROZDA: Wow! KAREN BREWSTER: So how much weight can a sled like this hold? BILL DEMOSKI: This one here?
KAREN BREWSTER: Yep. BILL DEMOSKI: Three, four hundred pounds, but we used to have this big, big 14 -- I mean the sled was from about here to that end long, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Fourteen feet? BILL DEMOSKI: It would hold 500 pound, yeah. Five hundred pounds. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: How many dogs does it take to pull a sled that long? BILL DEMOSKI: They use 16, 17 dogs. My dad used to use 21 dogs. He was 17 years old when he first carried mail and he had 21 dogs. They were trained. There were good leaders, you know. And then when they used to come to villages, you know. They used to throw a line if the dogs couldn't make it up the bank and all the kids and guys get together and pull the sled up. They get a kick out of that, you know. That was their -- yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Bill, when you have a sled in your mind and you are going out in the woods to look for material, what do you do? What are you looking for? BILL DEMOSKI: First thing I look for a grain, you know, like see here. This is a good grain and I look at a birch. It doesn't have no knots, you know, straight and the bark is smooth, you know and you chop it with your axe and take out little piece and you split it, you know. If it split straight that's the one you want. If it split curved this way, no it is going -- it is going to warp, it is going to work all right. But later on your stuff is going to warp this way or the runners would warp as it dry, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Are you looking for a younger birch usually or? BILL DEMOSKI: No, you could get a big birch. Look for -- you -- mostly I look for birch is in the swamps, you know, where it is moisty, you know, in the lakes, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: But on the hill, like back there in the hills, you know, if you birch there it is kind of crispy dry, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: It breaks easy. KAREN BREWSTER: What time of year do you go look for it? BILL DEMOSKI: I can go any time I want to even now or fall time, you know, before snow, you know, yeah. Before freeze up I look for the birch. But you know this here, I use table saw to cut this out, you know. And then I use a sander, you know. Years ago, you had to use hand block and hand sand -- ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Now you just use electric -- electric stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: And you're bending these bed pieces -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Without steam? I see you have a little kerf in the end here. BILL DEMOSKI: You bend that same way as inside this -- this in here, you know. Sometimes -- sometimes, I put them on green, you know. Like -- I think I did this that -- I didn't build the -- I put them on green. I just dry this one and the runners. MARLA STATSCEWICH: What does - what does that mean to put it on green? BILL DEMOSKI: It -- you don't have to bend it, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: When the wood is fresh -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes I -- I put it on the bender, maybe one or two nights and then it's ready to go and when it has not been enough, you just get a clamp and clamp it down, you know, put this under, you know. This is the bridle this -- not actually the big -- biggest -- use bigger than this for sled, you know. You don't need that for Snowgo. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Are we going to talk about the bending the brush bow and the handlebars? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. The brush bow like this one -- I'll take this one just for this one right here. I take -- I take this part and I form it out, you know, but I steam this one with the, you know -- you see I notice I don't laminate it. I steam it and I clamp it one with the little block in here, you know, and put the clamps here. That is what these clamps -- things are here for clamp, you know. And then I bend it over and clamp it, you know and you do the same thing with this one. You use this part. This -- this first part here, you got to use a different type, you know, it is not -- it is for the bumper, you know. It is not shaped like this. So, you do the same thing with this, you know. You get -- you get the birch, you know, and you just clamp it and -- KAREN BREWSTER: And then do you steam it or do you just let it dry? BILL DEMOSKI: Sometimes I -- this here I don't usually steam. I just put it on green and it forms pretty good. Sometimes I have a little splinter but I fixed it up, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: And how long do you leave it on the form? BILL DEMOSKI: About ten days, ten days or two weeks, yeah. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you make those forms or did somebody -- BILL DEMOSKI: I did. I make all these. You know my brother-in-law is a dog musher and I make all this bow benders for him, you know, but he makes his runners out of steel. It is about four inch wide and then he heat it up and bend it and whittled it and then he used that for his racing sleds, Marvin Kokrine. He's a dog musher, you know. He raced in North American, Anchorage races, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: We hear he is the last one still using a wooden sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: On -- on this one you said you did bend this, steam this though? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah, steamed that, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: What's your steaming method? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, I just get a tub about that long, you know, like a fish tub.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: And I boil the water real -- to a boiling and wrap this up with towel or cloth, you know and pour the water over and then work it -- work it like this, you know. Do that for about ten, fifteen minutes, you know. Boil the water again and go over it. When you put it on this spinner it just go over just like that, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Nice. BILL DEMOSKI: This one you don't have to do that because it is more easier to bend, you know, then this curve here. ROBERT DROZDA: And then on the bigger ones you laminate this? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Do you want talk about -- you have an example here -- BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that what this is? BILL DEMOSKI: this, yeah, that goes to that handle right there, the big sled, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that's for the handlebar. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: But it is the laminating --
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: here? BILL DEMOSKI: I think this is about twenty-two inches. Let's see that. Let's see that tape, measure tape. Twenty -- I think that's 22. MARLA STATSCEWICH: It's at the bottom. Kind of buried at the bottom. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, I think that's 22 inches. Yeah, 22 inches, right on the money and this I -- this was I do, I think that's 15 or 16. Yeah, this is 16. ROBERT DROZDA: And this is a kid's racing sled or playing sled? BILL DEMOSKI: Playing sled, yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Baby sled. Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: You know it is about six inch high. This one will be about seven inch, I think, eight inch, seven and a half. KAREN BREWSTER: You do this laminating but back in the old days when your dad and grandpa were building sleds -- BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did they laminate or did they do that differently? BILL DEMOSKI: No, no.
KAREN BREWSTER: What did they do? BILL DEMOSKI: They just used a -- like the one up there. They just used a birch like this one, you know. They don't laminate, you know. This wasn't laminated. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So they just don't bend it -- BILL DEMOSKI: This came up when the glue come out because after you did this the pitch wouldn't -- they only had pitch for glue but the pitch would come apart, you know. The glue -- glue stays on there, you know, never come apart. KAREN BREWSTER: So would they steam bend them then? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, steam. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: What about the runners? On this sled they're plastic. BILL DEMOSKI: This one here? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, these are plastic runners. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, that's plastic. That's saved the sled from wearing, you know, wearing down and then that is just a new way of easy pulling, you know. And like, if you go over a gravel that it wouldn't tear up your runners, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So before that they were iron? BILL DEMOSKI: Iron, yeah, iron runners, yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And before that? BILL DEMOSKI: Before that they just used -- my dad used to boil oil, you know, like beaver grease, you know, or bear grease, put it to a boil and paint this stuff and dry it. And he said that birch is like hardwood then. It is so easy running in the winter, you know. It don't ice up. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh.
BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Did you guys ever cover your brush bow with something? I've seen that with like caribou or hide. Have you seen that? BILL DEMOSKI: No, just the handlebar.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: They do that because their hands don't get cold from the -- knowing this and sometimes I used to use that twine, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: And make it a little tougher? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Now, I don't do that anymore. But nowadays, you know, they got all these plastic and they can put plastic stuff, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: But this way look better, you know, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: So how old were you when you first took out a dog team? BILL DEMOSKI: I don't know, I was about six or seven maybe. Used to handle two dogs. Of course, those days, you know, you could take out five, six dogs because they weren't fast, you know. They weren't rough or -- they were just trolling, you know, slow, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: How old were you when your dad made his last mail run? BILL DEMOSKI: I was about -- maybe about twelve. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. Did you ever go with him? BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-uh. No. Can't afford it because you got to take all the mail you can and we'll just be in the way, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Extra weight. BILL DEMOSKI: That extra weight, yeah. Yeah. He make more money if he'd haul 50, 60 pound of extra mail, you know, then hauling dead weight. He used to call us dead weight. ROBERT DROZDA: So how did that work him running the mail? Would he -- how many days would take him to get to his destination? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, he goes about -- in one day he can go 30 miles, 20, you know. They don't rush, you know. So he make -- he make a hundred mile trip about four days, yeah. Twenty miles, 30, 40 miles a day, you know. Sometimes he -- sometimes take longer because they have to break trail, you know. All depends on the trails condition, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And then rest up? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: And haul something back or? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Yeah. They rest the dogs a couple days and then they -- until there's more mail come in, you know. They relay, you know. And sometimes they got to wait for the other mail carrier -- it is so tough going then they got to wait for the mail. As soon as the mail come in, they relay another mail carrier turn back, you know. They had roadhouses all along the Yukon River, 20, 30 mile trip, you know, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: So they had comforts where they stopped? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah.
BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: And a dog barn. Did all the roadhouses have dog barns? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. They had -- my dad said they used to use poles for dog teams -- they had good dog barns, good kennel. Yeah, the contractor, the mail contractors, they built their sleds and they took care of about 150 dogs, you know, they owned, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: So they leased them all out to mail carriers. Some of them had their own dogs, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Maybe we can talk about a few of these models here and I notice, you know, some of them are identified as being from different villages on the Yukon. Maybe you could talk about some of the differences from village to village or that kind of thing. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, this -- this one here is most like a racing sled, you know. Because you got longer runner, you know. And this here like you use usual long distance races, you know. They make it light, you know. You notice this stuff is pretty light, you know. This is a freighter -- freighter and that's the one they use to get behind the snowshoes. See, they don't have a -- you don't stand in the back here, you know. They used to push that with snowshoes, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But you still have dogs? ROBERT DROZDA: And these, too. BILL DEMOSKI: Where this one have, you know, you could stand on it, you know. You used to kick your or run behind, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So these two you're really working. They got the handlebars out here and you're pushing. BILL DEMOSKI: This here most like a wood sled, you know, freight, toboggan like, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: But do you have dogs pulling that one with the handlebars or are you just pushing it yourself with snowshoes? BILL DEMOSKI: No, we use this -- KAREN BREWSTER: This one, you have dogs out in front too? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the dogs would, yeah. That's for snowshoes when there is heavy load, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And where is the musher in this small sled? Is there a musher associated with that, no? BILL DEMOSKI: They just sit on the sled. They just sit on the sled I guess. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And go a ride? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Well, they don't go for a ride. They go hunting or trapping or they don't joy ride them days, you know, unless they're racing. They don't go -- you don't go out for nothing. No joy riding or no -- nothing. They have to be going fishing or hunting or trapping or hauling freight, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So this flat one with no sides, would you be carrying something different on that? Like this, you said was for work, what would that be for? BILL DEMOSKI: This one? KAREN BREWSTER: That flat one. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they -- you can use it for hauling wood or you know, it's like a -- they -- it's just like a -- you could use, they used to use this for -- you can haul -- pull it by your neck too, you know. And make it smaller and drag your tent and stove , you know. ANGELA LINN: Would you pull that across your shoulder? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah.
ANGELA LINN: And pull that strap across?
BILL DEMOSKI: Yes, right, yeah. ANGELA LINN: And then would you have something that you use for padding? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. My grandpa, he -- his dad was -- had a trading post in Nulato and he send them out to St. Michael with five dogs. He had a big 14 foot basket sled and he took off, fur down, you know, to trade for dry goods and he made it all the way to St. Michael with five dogs and he came back with 500 pounds. And it took him a month and he said when he came back from St. Michael he bought a two-man saw, you know. That was the first saw that ever come to Nulato and everybody came to see that saw and how it works, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So, he was trading Interior furs for Coastal fur, seal? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, dry goods, yeah, flour, sugar, dry apples and some -- ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, so he made some money and was able to buy that saw? BILL DEMOSKI: Right, yeah. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: Did you guys talk about this curved one? ANGELA LINN: The toboggan? BILL DEMOSKI: The toboggan, yeah. They used that mostly up around Canada area, you know, Fort Yukon. That's -- that's all they use is toboggan. They make them out of -- they make the sides with moose skin, you know, and we used the and -- yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Are there certain styles on these sleds like you would see one and say oh, that came from Fort Yukon area or something like that or? BILL DEMOSKI: This one will and -- ROBERT DROZDA: Or any village, you know, like they have their own style? BILL DEMOSKI: You go up to Stevens Village or some place they got this style, you know. And this here is mostly downriver, like my sled, you know, Koyukuk River and that one there, looks like it is mostly Eskimo. KAREN BREWSTER: This one with the long handlebars? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. Uh-huh. Freighters. ANGELA LINN: That collection a lot of those pieces come from Rampart. BILL DEMOSKI: Rampart? ANGELA LINN: So, I wonder if that's. BILL DEMOSKI: Ok, yeah. Yeah, they used to use it for freighting probably. KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned an Eskimo sled. Do you know how the Eskimo sleds might -- are different from your sleds? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they kind of look like this, you know. They're different, you know. Other than that they used to be longer but they had no -- just like flat, you know, flat sleds. KAREN BREWSTER: They didn't have a brush bar. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-uh. And there they start having dogs, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you remember or do you hear stories about changes in the way that they used to line the dogs out behind the sleds? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they used to -- they used to call it single file, you know. If you are going to use five dogs, they put one dog in single file, you know. That way they follow their track easier, you know, follow their snowshoe track. If you used a big team, they use double, you know. Double lead dogs, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: What do you do with your dogs when you run into overflow? BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, you got to get out of there right away and then first you go to the dry snow and rub their hand in dry snow and dry it out before they get frostbite. You do that same thing with your mukluks, you know. You go before they soak through, you run and jump and get that, you know, this crispy snow. Sink your foot and dry it off, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So do dogs in dog sleds get stuck in overflow and open water like you do on a snowmachine? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Sometimes when it's cold winter they used to lose a lot of dogs by freezing their groin, you know, in overflow. KAREN BREWSTER: So the dogs don't know better to go around it, huh? BILL DEMOSKI: No, if you've got a good leader, they sense water because the dog can -- the leader can just come to a complete stop hear that there is -- they sense the open water, you know, or thin ice. They can feel by their hand and they stop and they ain't going to move until you tell them. They know that, they hear the water running underneath, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that something you can train a dog or they just some know and some don't? BILL DEMOSKI: Right. There are some are natural. They're natural leaders and they sense that, you know. And they can navigate around open places pretty good. Yeah, we had a good leader like that one time -- me and my younger brother. We were coming back from fishing underneath the ice with a fish net, you know. Had a big sled like that and had about forty green fish in there and we were going between two riffles water and I started to go down like this, the dog went right down in the middle just as fast as they can. We got on the beach. We look out there and the whole thing just caved right in, went underneath. Just saved our life. ROBERT DROZDA: Make your heart race, huh. BILL DEMOSKI: We would never have got out of it, yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: Sometimes the overflow you can't avoid it, too. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. ROBERT DROZDA: You have to go through it, right? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And then what? BILL DEMOSKI: The overflow? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. If you have to go through it, what do you do? BILL DEMOSKI: No, you don't go through it. You get out of there. Fast, best way you can. You backtrack or you don't go push on because you'll get in trouble, you know. Where the overflow is you can just -- you can just sink down to the bottom and you got to backtrack or get the dogs out of there right away, you know. You don't keep a going. Well, it's mostly the instinct of the dogs that save your life, you know. They can pull the sled out and sometimes you couldn't pull the sled out. You got to turn the sled loose and they got relay the load, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, if you got to stop and unload your sled your feet are getting awfully wet? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, yeah. You see what I was telling you about the birch that, that you have it dry green. You wouldn't wind up with this, see. See what I mean? ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: That one got warped because it was not a straight grain birch or something. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Or something happened there. Notice how it over like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Right. And then your sled won't go straight down the trail? BILL DEMOSKI: And where this one isn't as straight, its a good grain, you know. That is what I was talking about and the grain of the birch, you know. See you wouldn't wind up with that, you know. Now you got -- you can't straighten any more, you know. And when they get bowed like this, it is hard pulling. And it wouldn't steer good, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: You said you used to use nails? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But before nails did they just use wooden pegs? BILL DEMOSKI: No, yeah, wooden peg and then they lash it, lashed like I show you, lashed the babiche around like that, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: Or I see where the nails are you'd use lashing. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. I guess their screws now. BILL DEMOSKI: Uh-huh. Yeah. I had a whole bunch of this but it is the only one I got left. I hadn't cleaned moose skin for about five years. MARLA STATSCEWICH: I have one question. What's the first thing you do when you are going to build a sled? I mean you get your wood and then do you build the handle and the brush bar. BILL DEMOSKI: Oh, you got to -- the old days you used to -- we split the wood, you know. Get a hammer and the wood is about that round and then you hit the hammer a little bit, you know, crack it. And then you split the birch and you split it in three corners, you know. And then you get one runners out of one corner, you know. And then you -- the next one you get this one, you know, all by splitting it, you know. And then you plane a lot of work, you know. Gotta have a sharp plane. And then after you get all -- get it ready you get the steamer, steam your handlebar and -- your bender, you know, you steam that, you know and you bend them, you know. And then let it dry for two weeks. Then you start cutting out your cross pieces and your stanchions, you know. And then you form it good, you know, like good -- sand them and then you start putting it together. You get knots in them, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: So in your first tree will be your runners. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then -- BILL DEMOSKI: This one. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then -- BILL DEMOSKI: This one, yeah. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then those ones, ok, yeah. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. First tree - first is runners. Then you get this and then you get this, you know. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Ok. BILL DEMOSKI: This comes on green and you put it on green there and the bow -- the bow, this part here, it only dry about a week, five, six days maybe. You just cut your birch you can cut 14, 16 feet, you know, if it is straight and then you can figure you're going to use 10 foot of the -- for the runners and get another four feet for parts like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Do you try to get all your pieces from one tree? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. Uh-huh. And that for the bows, you know, you try to get the younger birch, you know, with more flexible, you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. BILL DEMOSKI: Some, yeah, some days you could go through about 20, 30 trees to get the right kind of -- but some people it look like they don't have the ambition to look for good birch, you know. They just cut down anything and they make it their own, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: In a hurry. BILL DEMOSKI: And like you notice here, you don't see hardly any knots on this one. This one has got one little one, you know, one little here but that don't hurt nothing, you know. Most of them is all good grain, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: What you look for, see this is good grain birch. Maybe some time you get a damp -- you see it picking dust, you know, you can get a damp cloth and wipe it you know. Or else it is going to look like that and get all the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Do you treat the wood? Do you oil the wood or anything? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah. I use -- I boil the -- I boil the linseed oil, you know, boil it and treat the wood with it, you know. And it make -- cure the wood good, you know. It ain't going to rot or get brittle. ROBERT DROZDA: You do it once or you repeat following years? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, you know, you -- like this one here it has been out in the yard and you have to redo -- re-sand it again and do it. But this one here you could just put another coat. All you have to do is wipe this off, this stuff here with wet rag and that's really moist, you know. Gather up dust here and there, you know. KAREN BREWSTER: So in the old days what would people do to maintain their wooden sleds? Would they oil them like that? BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, they use like a beaver grease or bear grease, you know. No, they used to -- you know what they used to get those rocks from the hills, it's -- and then you notice this color you know. KAREN BREWSTER: The red color. BILL DEMOSKI: Yeah, the red color. They use that like this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: So that would help protect the wood too? BILL DEMOSKI: I think I use this -- want to do it for like paint, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh-huh. BILL DEMOSKI: Like you use that for snowshoes too. KAREN BREWSTER: How long, I have one last question. Is all long does one of these wooden sleds last before you have to make a new one? BILL DEMOSKI: Well, according to one like I had this about twenty years. My -- I took care of it because only me use it and my Snowgo, you know, but years ago when -- yeah, about twenty years it could last if you really take care of it. Because you don't try to haul wood or heavy load in it, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: All right. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much
ROBERT DROZDA: Thanks alot, Bill.