Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Joe Redington, Jr., Interview 2
Joe Redington Jr. was interviewed on June 3, 2011 by Robert Drozda and William Schneider at Joe's home in Manley Hot Springs, Alaska. In this interview, he talks about his family history with dog mushing and dog racing, raising and training sled dogs, knowing which positions to put the dogs into a team, and the love of dog mushing.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2011-19-05

Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 3, 2011
Narrator(s): Joe Redington, Jr.
Interviewer(s): Robert Drozda, Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Carol McCue
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

Introduction and his brothers' involvement with sled dogs

Ramie Redington leading dog sled rides at Iditarod Headquarters in Knik

Ray Redington Jr. running his own dog team

Ryan Redington doing dog sled tours in Skagway

Trying to keep up interest in the Fur Rendezvous Dog Sled Races in Anchorage

His children's involvement with sled dogs

Mushers staying connected with each other and breeding their dogs

Why he loves training and racing dogs

Knowing which positions to put dogs into in the team

Attributes of a wheel dog

Good lead dogs he's seen during his career

The cost of running a kennel

For the love of dog mushing

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

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

Transcript

ROBERT DROZDA: Today is June 3rd, 2011, and here again with Joee Redington doing a little bit of a follow up. And Bill Schneider's here, and I'm Robert Drozda.

So Joe, we kinda wanted to ask you a little bit more about your family and, you know, like maybe when you boys got old enough and you -- you went your separate ways, you know, who went into mushing. And I know we see the Redington name a lot these days still, so --

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, my brother Ramie and Timmy, Ramie has a -- Ramie still has a kennel. Timmy has -- I don't think he any longer has a kennel. ROBERT DROZDA: Where are those guys located?

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, Ramie is down in Knik, and Timmy is over in Copper Center area, Kenny Lake. And Ramie continued with the -- with his kennel, and he works at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla giving rides to the people that come to the Iditarod Headquarters.

And I think he's been doing that for, like, maybe the last 15 or 16 years, and it's a seven -- seven days a week, he goes there from nine o'clock in the morning until 5:00.

ROBERT DROZDA: Summertime rides? JOE REDINGTON, JR.: In the summertime, rides with a cart. This is small -- this is a little -- or actually, a short trail.

And it was designed, I think, to show the people when the Iditarod first started how mushers treat their dogs and -- and it gives the people from the Lower 48 or from different countries a little idea of what dog mushing's all about.

And I think at one time he was -- one year there I think he did up to, like, 15,000 people, so he gets to meet a lot of different -- different folks.

And I think that as far as I know, he's gave every ride. He hasn't had a substitute driver or anything, he's gave every ride that's been given there, you know.

So he really works hard at it and I think he enjoys it. It's something that he likes to do. He might get a little burnt out and want to run dogs a little less in the winter than some of us, but his wife helps him, sometimes his boys, but his boys now have got their own kennels.

Ray Junior and Ryan each have a kennel of their own. Ray's been running in the -- Ray Junior's been running in the Iditarod, and last year he came in, I think, tenth or something like that in the Iditarod. And --

ROBERT DROZDA: Is he out in Two Rivers?

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, he was, but then he moved back down to my -- he was living on the land at my mother's -- my mother's place on Knik Lake and he has a kennel there, him and his wife Julian.

And then Ryan is working in -- with him and his wife is working in Skagway. They've been off and on for quite a few years working in different tourist places giving rides also to tourists.

ROBERT DROZDA: Do they do the glacier stuff or --

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, Ryan was doing some glacier stuff, and now they're doing in town in Skagway there with the dogs, also with the cart.

But Ryan also was running in the Iditarod, and last year he ventured out and went to -- down to run in Wyoming in the stage stop race. And then -- he was kind of interested in the Rendezvous, so I leased him some dogs and -- and he ran in the Fur Rendezvous last year and had a really good time.

I'm trying to get him interested in Fur Rendezvous. I'd like to see the Fur Rendezvous continue to -- to go, so we need new mushers coming on because some of us are getting a little older and we're -- we're losing -- losing mushers.

But the Rendezvous's really been working hard at it here to get the money up and so there's getting to be a little more interest in that.

Hopefully, some of these distance mushers and stuff will start putting their younger dogs in the Fur Rendezvous and training them there, and we'll get the number of teams back up to where there's 30 teams or something like that.

And Timmy, I think he sold his dogs a few years ago, and I think he's into trapping, so he doesn't have any dogs anymore.

And my -- my kids, Joee Ray, he ran in the Fur Rendezvous and in the North American, and my daughter did some racing also, but it's just kind of hard. There's not a lot of money in it, and when you have a family, it's pretty tough to -- to make a living doing it, you know. So --

ROBERT DROZDA: You bet.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: -- they've kind of went in different ways and doing their own thing now.

ROBERT DROZDA: Uh hum. One thing that I think is interesting is how the whole mushing community is kind of connected and networked, like you had mentioned this morning that, you know, having somebody come over that wants to breed one of their dogs with one of your dogs, can you talk a little bit about that, and how you guys keep in touch and --

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I think a lot of it is done with, you know, how -- how you -- how well you do in races. People -- people look at the results of the races.

And then Jeff Conn puts out a pedigree of the North American, a pedigree book, and I think people look at that. A lot of guys have their stuff on the Internet, and there's a lot of people even in the villages and stuff that do a lot of looking on the Internet. And -- and people are trying to -- to -- people that are winning are up there close to the top,

always have people interested in maybe breeding to their dogs trying to better their kennels, you know. And the thing that's been working out for me is that I have more of a Husky line of dogs, so some people are looking for a line of dogs that is doing well that have the old -- older Husky type blood lines, you know.

ROBERT DROZDA: A little less Houndy.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: A little less Hounds, you know. So there's some that -- some of that going on as people are wanting to get a little more Husky in their dogs.

ROBERT DROZDA: Well, Bill kind of touched on this yesterday, but maybe we can finish up with this question about, you know, if you could boil it down, what is -- what's the thing that keeps you most interested in -- in working with dogs and dog mushing, and what's -- what's that special thing for you about dogs today and over all these years?

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I don't know. To me, what I really enjoy, and I think it's kind of like all this kind of stuff relates to other sports.

You know what I mean? Like you wonder sometimes why some of these managers and ball teams and stuff, why are they still there, you know.

I mean, I like taking a bunch of yahoos and trying to make something out of them, develop them, try to put them in the right positions.

And to me, in dog racing, there's a lot of -- you've got to know -- if you're going to be good at it, you've got to know which one does the best in certain positions and stuff, you know.

And the lead dog is like a pitcher of a ball game, if you don't have a good pitcher, you don't win many games, you know.

And it's the same way with that lead dog, you know, it's like a quarterback or it's a very important thing, you know, but you've got to have the rest of the team to go with it, and you've got to know how to place them, you know.

And that's the part that I really enjoy. I enjoy training dogs. I enjoy raising them and working with them.

And -- and I don't know, they're just like a family -- they're like, to me, my kids are gone and stuff, and these dogs have always been like family to me.

My wife and I work at it together. She does a lot of the training, like I said, of the pups. It's a family -- it's a family thing, and I think you -- in order to be successful, you've got to be driven.

You've got to really enjoy what you're doing, and you've got to work hard, you know.

And it's getting harder all the time to go to these races because you've got more guys that are really working hard at it now, and it's a lot of full time, guys are doing it full time, you know. But --

ROBERT DROZDA: Do you have an example, maybe, of, you know, of -- of a particular instance or a dog that you put in a position with another dog maybe in lead, and you didn't really know what would happen, and it turned out to be like a crackerjack at that position, or --

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I don't know. Sometimes, you know, I ask my wife when these pups are growing up -- growing up about which -- how good are they and all that, and she'll say something like, "Oh, wait until you try this one," you know.

And a lot of times they turn out to be good. We try to give all the pups an opportunity to be leaders. And just certain ones, it's like people or anything else, there's just certain ones that don't want to -- don't want to be leaders.

I mean, they'll do it for a few times, and then they don't want to do it anymore. And then you get some that are just naturally, they want to be up there, and they can handle the --

the speed and they are not scared about the rest of the team running over them and they're focused. You know, you can train about any of them to -- to run up there, but whether they'll stay ahead of a race team and take the pressure of every day race training, you know.

I don't know, I've never had any that just really surprised me that much. I guess -- I guess I shouldn't say that. I have taken some that I've ran in the team, for a long time back in the team, and put them up in the front, and all of a sudden realized that maybe I should have been using that one for a leader that, I mean, does well up there.

But I don't know, it's -- and I think the other thing with the dogs is they all got different personalties and you've got to learn the personalties.

They're just -- they're like people and they -- you can really -- I mean, I can tell a lot about how they bark whether what kind of animal's around, whether it's people or whether it's bears or different things, you know.

By -- and a lot of -- you can learn a lot just from their body language, how they act, how they move around, what's going on with them.

It's just a thing that I think experience and being around dogs for a long time, you -- you see that kind of thing, you know.

BILL SCHNEIDER: It's probably pretty hard to put that into words. You just --

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, it is, but when you're around them a lot, you can just see how -- I can tell a lot of times when they're not feeling good, or -- or yeah, I can definitely see a lot of times if there's a little something, like if they have a cut on their foot or something by the way they walk, or if they're a little lame, or -- I mean, after you're around them a lot, you learn a lot of things about them, you know.

ROBERT DROZDA: We always hear a lot about leaders, so what about the rest of the dogs in the team? Do you -- there are some special attributes that you really like about, say, a wheel dog or a team dog?

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, like when I'm dealing with wheel dogs, I need something that's fairly durable, one that can take a lot of -- when you go around corners. And it especially used to be that way.

Nowadays with these modern sleds and stuff, you can steer a lot of the corners and stuff with the sled, you don't have the problem of jerking the dogs around as much as you used to.

You know, you used to have to have a pretty skookum dog to be able to handle all of the sliding around of the sled and all that kind of stuff, you know.

ROBERT DROZDA: A good wheel dog can -- can -- like if you're coming on a turn in the trail, he can anticipate that and jump over the line, and pull. That kind of thing?

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. And, yeah, they can -- if they get tangled or something, they can jump over the line fairly easy and all that, but they just -- they get pulled around a little bit more than the rest of the team, you know, so --

ROBERT DROZDA: Uh hum. Physically it's a little tougher on them because they're right there. JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. Yeah.

ROBERT DROZDA: Okay. Bill, any more questions?

BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I think -- I think this has been great. Unless there's any particular dogs you want to point out and talk about that stand out in your career.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, you know, there used to be a lot of Native mushers that used to come in.

And there used to be some of them dogs that were exceptionally good, like Nellie that Lombard had was an exceptionally good leader.

I think she was running when she was, like, 10 years old. That's one that Lombard had bought from George Attla.

There's a number of -- like a dog called Yogi that Isaac Oklaesik had. An Eskimo guy from Teller.

A dog called Yogi was a very good, exceptionally good leader.

I know there's been a lot of good leaders over the years from a lot of these guys. Lingo of George Attla's was really an exceptionally good leader. There've been numbers of really good, outstanding dogs that a guy always wished that he had, you know.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Maybe one final question. We haven't talked about how much it costs to run a kennel like this. And maybe you could just outline some of the costs, not in terms of dollars, but in terms of expenditures of time and energy.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I don't really -- I don't understand what you -- what you mean about expense. I mean, the expense, you're not talking about how much it costs to take care of them, or --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. In terms of feeding 40 dogs and getting commercial dog food and then fishing and straw and vet bills and that sort of thing.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, like -- especially like if you live, like, in the villages, I mean, you've got to figure if you go to town and you buy a bag of commercial dog food, it'd probably cost you almost as much to get it to the village as it does to buy it.

I mean, it's extremely expensive for them people, so naturally, they're going to have to do a lot more with fish in their diet. And they probably have to go cut grass or use spruce bows or something like that for some of their bedding.

Some of them that are really dedicated to it possibly might have straw and stuff shipped in, but it's very, very expensive for them people, you know. They -- the price, the freight of getting it there.

Like a lot of times here, with us, we have the road system so we can truck some of it in to here.

And also the mushers nowadays are all using a lot of frozen meat mixed, maybe, with a little bit of fish, and they're using commercial. And I don't know, a bag of commercial now is probably at least $40 a bag or close to it.

ROBERT DROZDA: A buck a pound.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: So -- and then I think it's 60 cents a pound or more to mail it, to send it. So I think that's why you see a lot of the villages and stuff that just, it's just too expensive.

The price of gas and everything, the price of dog food, to get it there is probably why there's not a lot of kennels there, you know.

So some of us are lucky to have the road system and stuff to do it, but still it's a very expensive deal. You've got to really love this sport, you know.

I get some of these goody good people that, you know, think that we're not taking care of our dogs very well, and all that kind of stuff, but when I think about when you spend $50 a day,

just start laying a $50 bill on the table every night when you feed your dogs and see how long you'll be in the dog business. No, you've got to really love this. It's got to be part of you to continue to do this, you know. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: And some of us, we've -- you know, we've dedicated our whole life to this type of style.

And I'm hoping that people will continue to do it, but I don't know with the price of the thing. You know, every time gas goes up, the fuel, everything goes up, groceries, people are bitching about grocery prices and all that.

And it's the same thing with dog food, you know, prices keep going up. But I don't know how long people will be able to -- I think it already has reduced the size of a lot of kennels.

They're probably not near as many young pups, you know, pups being born, people raising pups as there was years ago, you know, so it's definitely cut down some.

Some people, you know, got sponsors and stuff so they are able to continue to go on, you know. Definitely an expensive hobby.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: And you've got to -- you're not in it -- I'm not in it for the money. If I was in it for the money, I would have been broke a long -- out of it a long time ago.

I mean, I love it. I like doing it, it's something that -- you know, they have places for people to dry out from booze and drugs, but they don't have one for dog mushing. Not yet anyway.

BILL SCHNEIDER: That's a good place for us to quit. Thanks.

ROBERT DROZDA: Thanks a lot, Joe.

JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah.