Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
William Demoski
William Demoski
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. In this interview, Bill talks about how he learned sled building and how he built a 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.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-19-07

Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 15, 2011
Narrator(s): William Demoski
Interviewer(s): Robert Drozda, Karen Brewster, Marla Statscewich
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.

Sections

Bill's background

Learning how to build sleds

Father's mail carrying route

Family history

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

Encountering overflow

Sled building process from start to finish

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Transcript

ROBERT DROZDA: 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 a lot, Bill.