Digital Asset Information
Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska
Date of Interview: Jun 2, 2011
Narrator(s): Joe Redington, Jr.
Interviewer(s): Robert Drozda, Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Carol McCue
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Introduction and family involvement with dog mushing
Living in Knik, at Flat Horn Lake, and using dogs to haul things
Listening to dog races on the radio and getting interested in racing
Feeding and caring for the dogs
Using a fish trap to catch fish for the dogs
Running dogs for the Army
Running the first Iditarod Sled Dog Race in 1974
Switching dogs from sprint to long distance racing
Things learned in those early years of distance racing
Moving to Manley and putting up fish to feed his dogs
How his father, Joe Redington, Sr., got the idea for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
His father's dog sled trip up Mount Mckinley
His father's influence on the mushing community
Marriage and children
Living in Unalakleet
Development of his dog line and breeding dogs
Special dogs that stand out in his memory
Raising his own dogs
Changes in dog racing, like the trails, size of the teams, dog training
Training and teaching Michi Kono, a Japanese musher
More changes in racing and technology
Running sled dog races in the Lower 48 and Canada
Future of his dog racing career
Importance of having a supportive wife
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.
ROBERT DROZDA: This is June the 2nd, 2011, and we're visiting -- myself, Robert Drozda, and Bill Schneider, with Joee Redington, Junior, up in Manley, Alaska.
And going to have a chat with Joe today about dog mushing and his experiences and history of his family.
So I think you can start, Joe, by maybe just telling us, you know, from the beginning, your -- your experiences as a lad and with your family and father.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, my dad came to Alaska in 1948, and we moved -- and he homesteaded in Knik.
And he got a dog in Canada, and then he bred up -- bred up some dogs and got some -- got a bunch of pups.
And then I think he watched the Fur Rendezvous or something like that, and was interested in some dogs that a guy named Jake Butler had.
And he told -- he told Jake if he'd ever get any extras of those dogs, "I would like to have some."
So my dad was contacted by a guy named Jack Tyone who said that Jake had sent down some dogs. And my dad went over there and -- to get the dogs, and he says, "How much does Jake want for those dogs?"
And the guy said, "$35." And my dad said, "Gee, that's a lot of money for a dog." He said, "No, that's for all of them."
And I think there was five of them, and my dad got those dogs and they were really a good breed of dog.
And we used to put up a lot of fish and stuff in Knik there. A lot of red salmon. And we had a, you know, a fish camp there and racks of fish and all that kind of stuff.
And then my dad -- those days you could run right on Knik Road. There wasn't hardly any traffic at all, so you could run right on Knik Road and run dogs.
And I think I was, like, only five, six years old when I first started learning how to run dogs.
I guess you'd say that my dad was mainly interested in -- or he got a job working for Air Force for reclamation, going out and -- with downed airplanes and stuff like that.
Back those days before helicopters and stuff came in, if somebody crashed a small plane somewhere and needed a wing or something like that, my dad would haul it in to them by dogs.
And also if the Air Force -- if there was planes down or something.
I know at one time he went to Mt. Susitna and recovered 11 bodies from a Navy Neptune by using his dogs because there wasn't, like I said, helicopters and stuff at that time.
Just small ones was the only thing there was.
But I don't know. As kids growing up, we stayed around Knik quite awhile.
And we was fishing there, and then Fish and Game started frowning on us fishing there, so then we moved to Flat Horn Lake.
And I think the first time that I ever went to a race, though, was, like, in 1956 or something like that, I went to the Fur Rendezvous Juniors, and it was held right down on the street like the Fur Rendezvous is today.
ROBERT DROZDA: Whereabouts is Flat Horn Lake?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Flat Horn Lake's over Mt. Susitna. It's off of the Big Susitna.
And I don't know, my dad always had lots of dogs, and he had us boys always taking care of them, as far as feeding them and that kind of stuff.
He brought the feed in and he kind of expected us boys to cook the dog food and take care of dogs, you know.
And we used them for everything at that time because, I mean, if we wanted to haul water, we used the dogs; if we wanted to haul wood, we used the dogs;
or if we wanted to go visit somebody, like make a trip to Knik or something from Flat Horn, we always used dogs, too.
So as boys growing up, we learned a lot from how dogs act and how to take care of dogs and all that kind of stuff because you depended on them. You know.
And my dad was -- my dad was always interested in -- he wasn't so interested in racing it, but he used to -- it used to be a big deal for us living out in the woods, you know, we didn't have television and stuff at that time, mostly just the radio, you know,
and when these races came about, like the Fur Rendezvous or the North American, we'd all get around the radio and listen to it.
And then after the race was over, we'd tell our mom to get the stop watch out and us boys would hook up dogs and kind of more or less pretend that we was some of them guys.
You know, they were guys like George Attla and Lombard and those kind of guys that were racing. It was like sports heros to us. You know, we didn't have all this live stuff like we have today, you know.
So to us boys, you know, Lombard and George Attla and stuff was sports figures, you know, we wanted to be like them as we was growing up, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: You were teenage boys at that time?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, at that time we were, like, teenage boys, you know, running in the Juniors, and -- but my dad was doing a lot of freighting and stuff, hauling out airplanes from different -- different parts of Alaska and things like that.
He wasn't so much interested in racing at that time, but I think he was raising dogs or we always raised dogs with the idea of the Fur Rendezvous and the North American, you know.
There wasn't no Iditarod and stuff at that time when -- when we were growing up.
ROBERT DROZDA: Distance racing hadn't really come out? JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No, not really -- really caught on. Just some early races that we used to hear about in Nome and stuff when they had them early sweepstakes races.
ROBERT DROZDA: Were you able to listen to the Open North American from Fairbanks down south and --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, we could -- ROBERT DROZDA: -- on the radio?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: -- we could get it. But that used to be a big thing. Everybody huddled around -- everybody everywhere.
There wasn't a lot of live -- there was no live sports, and any -- whenever we used to go to the races, there used to be a lot of people there because in Alaska there was a lot of outdoor people.
And there wasn't snow machines and there wasn't any live things for -- you know, I mean, so if there were a dog race going on, almost everybody went there to watch the dog races.
That was a big exciting thing back in the '50s, early '60s, you know.
But then when live sports and stuff come along, then a lot of people stayed home, and snow machines came along and a lot of people are out doing their own thing that way, you know, so we got less -- I think we got less spectators.
But, I don't know, we did a lot of things with dogs, you know.
Trapping, did a lot of trapping with dogs. Some hunting, hauling in game and different things with the dogs. You know, the dogs was a big thing.
And my dad always had lots of dogs. I don't know why he had so many, but he always had lots of dogs.
And then we used to -- the big thing, though, when he had lots of dogs there, we had to hustle like heck in order to get food to them.
So we were constantly trying all kinds of different things, so we -- we thought at one time that the hooligans would really be great for dogs, but then we found out after we put them up, my dad started going and getting them with the boat, and he had my mom and us kids putting them up on -- we had chicken wire, and my dad went to Tealands (phonetic) and asked them if they had any toothpicks there.
And they said, "Yeah, we have some toothpicks." He said, "I'll take every one you got," and he bought, like, 25,000 toothpicks.
And what we used to do was stick these fish up through a chicken wire and put the toothpick through their eyes, and we just had rows and rows and rows because we thought this was going to be a great way.
And then we come to found out as we fed them to the dogs, it was too much Vitamin A, and it started killing the dogs.
They'd start urinating blood or -- and they would either get over it in a short time or they would die. So then we had to burn all the hooligans that we were using.
Some people thought they could do it, but after awhile, you'd see them burning theirs, too. It just didn't work. But we were very lucky that there was a couple -- at that time, there was a couple of seal hunters,
a guy named Cliff Forsberg and a guy named Howard Ross that was seal hunting at the mouth of the Big Su. Back those days they had a bounty on seals, and those guys would save the carcasses for us.
And we would go down and get them and we'd get about 500 every spring.
And then all of the big ones, my dad would have us take the -- the fat off of them big seals and cut it in square chunks, like a 2-inch square chunk.
And we were putting it in what they called baker drums, a 55 gallon drum with a lid that -- a snap lid on it. And as long as you didn't have any meat at all on the fat, it would render out and be perfect for the following winter; but if you left some meat on it, it would blow the top of the barrels.
So you had to be pretty careful when you were putting it up. And my dad had us boys doing that all the time, and we were feeding our dogs a lot of seal meat.
So -- but when you live out like that and you have a bunch of dogs, you've got to constantly be on the move looking for things to fish and putting up fish and all kinds of stuff in order to take care of them.
And then my dad would, by boat or by dog team, he would bring in oats or cornmeal or rice or something like that that we would put it in with the fish and stuff, and...
ROBERT DROZDA: Kind of developed your own formula?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, that's how you had to do it back. And when I first started racing a lot of people were still doing that, cooking fish and rice, and probably some of them today, they still do it.
Sometimes you're lucky to live in some place where you can get that kind of stuff, you know.
It's not cheap either because, you know, you've got to put in a lot of hours and you've got to -- you know, price of gas and all that kind of stuff, but it's one way of taking care of your -- your dogs, you know.
And then another thing that my dad used to have us do was we'd go to all these big meadows, build a big wire --like a big wire rack, and we would cut the grass and put it on them wire racks, and cover them up later on, and that's what we'd have for bedding for the dogs.
It wasn't like we could just go to the store and get a bale of straw, you know, so he'd have us boys going out and in the meadows and cutting grass for them.
He always had plenty of things for us boys to do, and we had -- you know, in the wintertime in the Flat Horn there, we used to have a fish trap in there.
And it's kind of interesting because when I was a kid growing up on that lake, we knew just about everything that was going on in that area, with game or fish or whatever, you know.
And there was a lot of whitefish and suckers and burbot. And we had a fish trap there, and that's how we were getting our dog food. But now I understand that that lake has got nothing but pike in it.
And there wasn't one pike in there when I was a kid growing up.
ROBERT DROZDA: Interesting.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: And we used to go down, you know, before 1972, we used to go beluga hunting. And I used to stay down in the mouth of the Big Su for a month and hunt belugas.
And take them to town and sell them to Pop Carr at 13th and Gamble, and that's how we made money, you know.
That's a big thing, too, when you live out in the boonies like we did, hustling to make a living, you know; commercial fishing and hunting seals and whales and whatever, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: When you were fishing at Flat Horn Lake, what kind of fish trap did you have?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, we just had a square box with a -- you know, with a funnel in it, and had wings on it -- out of chicken wire and it had wings on it.
And we'd just dip them out with a dip net or with a -- you'd gaff them with a gaff hook or something to get them out of there.
But we used to -- we didn't get a lot, but we'd get, you know, enough to take care of the dogs.
ROBERT DROZDA: And you'd dry those? JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No, we didn't dry them. We fed all them -- we had that mainly only in the wintertime, the fish trap.
ROBERT DROZDA: Oh, okay. Through the ice and --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, through the ice. I don't know if it was illegal or not, but Fish and Game never said nothing about it, so...
You know, a lot of times back those days like if you were out -- lived out in the woods and you were --
Fish and Game wasn't really after you because they knew you weren't wasting things, and they'd more or less kind of turn their head at that kind of stuff, you know, as long as they knew you weren't wasting it.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. Maybe there was less pressure on the resources then. JOE REDINGTON, JR.: I'm sure. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. A lot less people.
ROBERT DROZDA: So then, when did you move north of the range?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, after I was at Flat Horn, I went to the Army and I served two years in the Army.
The Army -- a guy came to me and said, "Hey, we're getting ready to draft you. Are you interested in coming to the Army and run dogs for us?"
So I said, "Sure, I'm interested in that." So I went to the Army and I went to basic training and then I came back to Fort Rich and I spent two years in the Army.
And the main thing that I was doing was racing dogs for the Army. It was like a public relation type deal.
We used to go on some maneuvers and stuff up Fort Yukon and Venetie, Chalkyitsik, different places.
But I spent two years there at Fort Rich in a place called Camp Denali, which was a -- it was a great thing for me because I was interested in racing dogs.
And I thought when I went to basic training that when we got our MOS's, I kept telling all the guys there that I'm going back to Alaska and drive dogs.
It was the time when Vietnam was going on, and all my friends or all the guys that was in the Army were saying, you know, yeah, right.
But anyway, when I got my MOS, it said that I was going to be a Howitzer operator and going to school in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
And I thought they'd tricked me, so I got a hold of a few different guys, and it wasn't long and I was back in Alaska and we were training dogs for -- for the Army.
ROBERT DROZDA: And the Army didn't use them for work at all?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, we used them on some maneuvers and some different things, you know,
reconnaissance stuff and things like that, but mainly they were a public relation type deal with the Army.
And brought a lot of people to the races and that kind of stuff.
And I was lucky, the first year that I was there we worked with the dogs really hard, and I came in --
I came in third the first year in '65, and in '66 I won the Fur Rendezvous with the Army. I always say that I had one of the biggest sponsors that anybody ever had, you know.
Took me and the U.S. Government to win. So it was a good duty for me.
I enjoyed it a lot, and they seemed to be plenty satisfied. I don't know. I had a lot of -- the dogs have done a lot of good things for me. Sure beat going to Vietnam anyway.
ROBERT DROZDA: What about after you got out, then?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Oh, then after -- after I got out of the Army, I went back to Flat Horn for a short time. And then I think in about 1970 I moved to Unalakleet for a year and a half. I went to Unalakleet. And then I came back to Knik for a little while, and then after that I -- in seventy -- in '74 I entered the Iditarod and started running in the Iditarod, which was kind of a new -- well, it was a new thing for everybody, but it was really new for me.
It started in '73, so in '74 I went, and my brother and my dad; and my brother came in seventh and I came in ninth, and my dad came in eleventh. And then in '75, I went again and I came in third in '75.
And then Rick Swenson called me up and wanted to know about how to train for Iditarod; and then in '76, he came and stayed with me in Knik.
And he was a rookie of the year, and then in '77, he won; and then he helped me move my stuff here to Manley. So in '77, we moved here to Manley. So I've been here in Manley since '77.
ROBERT DROZDA: When you and your brother and dad ran the Iditarod race, were -- were you all running your dad's dogs, or did you --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No, I had my own dogs, and my brother had his own dogs, and maybe some of his friends had some dogs in there, and then my dad had his own dogs.
A lot of the -- in the later years, a lot of my dad's dogs that he had came from dogs that I'd bought from different sprint racers and different things like -- you know, and different mushers. And my dad bred them up and --
because he kind of got out of the hauling and freighting and working that kind of stuff, and he started getting interested in -- he raced a little bit in some sprint races, but when the Iditarod -- when he got the Iditarod going, then he started getting interested in the Iditarod.
And he got some -- he got some dogs from my brother and raised them up, so they were all -- all the dogs that he had were out of -- I mean, raised -- they were raised for the North American and the Fur Rendezvous is what they were used for, you know.
And then they -- the guys that were running long distance races at the time started breeding them to suit what they wanted, like trying to get better feet and longer hair and all the things that they needed to do the type of racing that they were doing, but the blood line came from guys that's been racing dogs for years and years and years and trapping and different villages,
and that's what the -- they didn't go to anyplace that I know of, Greenland or anywhere, and get a special breed just for the Iditarod.
They were all dogs that came down through the line from dogs for North American and Fur Rendezvous.
You know. And they just tried to make them to suit what they -- the eating better, the drinking better, the going longer hours of running, and that kind of stuff, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah, that's what I was going to ask, what were some of the main things you learned in switching to distance like that?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, what I was doing was I was trying -- at the time I was training a team for Fur Rendezvous and North American and a different team for Iditarod and that kind of stuff, you know, and it just --
back those days we didn't know very much about things like booties.
I mean, when we started using booties, we were putting them -- the booties on after the dogs got sore feet, instead of like they do today when they boot them ahead of time so that you don't get sore feet.
We didn't know that kind of stuff because everybody -- it was a learning -- a learning thing. They've been at it now for 35 years; I mean, they know what to do now, you know.
We didn't know anything. Guys were cooking in washtubs or cooking in five gallon cans, or building campfires.
I mean, when we went on the Iditarod, we didn't know anything about -- amazed how far we were even going then, and it's really amazing today how far these dogs can go. I don't think there's a tougher animal around than these dogs. And I don't think there's anything around that's taken care of better than these dogs, you know.
Guys -- I think guys really take care of their dogs good. There is exceptions to the rule and like in anything, you know, but I think these guys really feed and take care of their dogs extremely good.
ROBERT DROZDA: What do you think about these dogs now they run a thousand mile race and turn around two weeks later and run --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: It's amazing. I think my dad would really be impressed to see how, like, what Lance Mackey did with -- with his team and stuff, I think he would really be impressed with -- with that kind of stuff. It amazes me how tough and durable they really are.
ROBERT DROZDA: So getting back North now, it was Swenson who got you to --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, not really. I had a friend -- I had a friend, Bill Taylor, that was running a fish plant here in Manley, and I don't know, where I was living at was on one of my -- my grandfather's homestead, and right above me there was a guy unloaded a dozer and they started dozing.
I was the only one on that road, and next thing you know there's 350 lots for sale there, and I just said, I don't know, it's getting to be too many people for me.
So I told Pam that I wanted to move somewhere else. And it was a little school here, I thought it would be good for my kids, so we came here.
The kids, we'd take -- we used to take the kids to school with the dogs and pick them up with the dogs and all that kind of stuff. And I don't know, I thought it was really good.
And some of the teachers and stuff that came here were -- I think they were really, really good teachers that we had. And I don't know, I just thought it was a great place to live, you know.
And it hasn't really grown a lot since I moved here; if anything, maybe it's even gotten smaller, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: You like to be off the beaten path?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I've always lived in the woods or kind of in the woods.
You know, I mean, this is probably as big a town as I've lived in, you know, for -- so I like being out in the country where I can go down and get in my boat and go fish or go do what I like to do, you know, and I've been lucky to be able to do that.
I think it was in '97 or '98 I had a four-way bypass and wasn't able to go commercial fishing. I used to go commercial fishing from here to the mouth of the Yukon.
Drive my boat down, stay down there a month or so and fish and take my son with me, and -- and go back and forth.
That used to be a lot of fun to go do that, you know, but fishing's not like it used to be, so you can't do that.
But I don't know, I just like to be a little bit free, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Nowadays you can go down to the Tanana here and get the majority of your dog food?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, I go down here and fish in the falltime, and put fish up for my dogs.
And that's just -- you know, people think that we're taking a lot of fish, but that's just a small part of what we feed them.
I mean, we feed them a lot of meat and commercial dog food. And I don't know, we do go down here and get some of these dog salmon, what we call them, dog salmon.
I mean, they've been -- people have been getting them for a lot of years, a lot of years around here. I guess that's why they call them dog salmon.
ROBERT DROZDA: Okay. Do you want to take a little break?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. (Recording paused.)
ROBERT DROZDA: Joe, before we continue, I wanted to go back and ask you about your dad and where the idea came from to start the Iditarod and how that all came about.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I think my dad had been travelling around different -- different parts of Alaska, and he didn't see that -- didn't see very many dogs anymore. And I think he was getting kind of worried about maybe that the snow machines had came in, and guys were getting rid of their dogs, and that that's where the main good dogs would come from, from the guys that trapped and all that kind of stuff, and worked with their dogs every day.
Even in the summer a lot of them worked with their dogs using them for different things. And I think he was concerned about that. And I think that between him and Dorothy Page and probably a few other people,
they started talking about possibly putting on a race.
And, you know, first they had a small one that was just a -- just like a 28 miler or something like that in '67. And then had another one again in '69, and then actually in '73.
But the big thing for me, as I was growing up, my brother and I was fairly well known in sprint racing, you know what I mean.
And then my dad comes up with this idea about having this distance type racing that -- to Nome, you know.
So he started trying to raise money, and he even went as far as putting our homestead up -- a acre of our homestead land and all that kind of stuff, you know. And then a lot of people were making fun of him.
Like here I was a boy growing up and a lot of people are making fun of my dad, calling him Don Quixote, a guy that chases windmills, and all that kind of stuff, you know. And then my dad was constantly wanting us boys to help him work on this or work on that,
or go out on the trail and then somebody will come along and we'll do some photos.
And in my mind, I'm trying to train for Fur Rendezvous and North American and that kind of stuff because I've been doing well in it and all that, you know.
And, I mean, I remember the time that I even told my dad, I said, "Dad, if this thing doesn't work, I'm going to change my name to John Paul Jones."
And a lot of people took it the wrong way as far as I feel because they acted like I was against my dad. It wasn't that I was against my dad, it was just that I felt sorry for him in ways that people were making so much fun of him.
And putting our homestead up and, I mean, he was really going out on a limb. I mean, my dad was going to meetings and not coming home until 2:30, and different things like that, you know, so...
ROBERT DROZDA: It was a pretty grand idea.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. And you know, my dad, they call him the Father of the Iditarod, and he did do a lot to get it going and all that kind of stuff, but I've always felt like my dad was the lead dog and he had a good team behind him. He had a lot of good people, a lot of good people helping him do things, but he was the one that was in the lead.
And he was the one that was going forward. You know what I mean? And that's the kind of a guy he was. He was one of them kind of guys, whenever he set his mind to do something, he did it.
He wasn't a quitter on anything, you know, but he did have what I thought was a good team behind him, a lot of good people helping him with that Iditarod.
But I don't think it would have happened if it wasn't for a guy like him that was pushing all the time. And he got along well with people; governors, lots of different people that he got along well with.
He was one of them kind of guys that could talk to them kind of people and he had people behind him, you know, but I give a lot of credit to a lot of other people that helped him along, you know.
But he put in lots of hours. And I think when he went in the Iditarod himself, he more or less trained his dogs as he went.
And he did quite well for a guy that was -- I don't think he even started until he was probably 55 or even older when he first started, and I think he went 19 times and he went when he was 80 and finished in the middle of the pack, so -- and he was always -- he was always one of them kind of guys that when we were growing up, he always --
I mean, he told me things that, like, before transistor radios for, like, racing, you know, he used to tell me about if you just had a radio that you could listen to, and like these wheels and stuff, he was always one of them kind of guys that was thinking of something ahead before it ever happened. You know what I mean?
He was a very interesting guy to -- to grow up with. I mean, he was the type of a guy that he would help you do anything to get going; like if we wanted to go commercial fishing, he would get us set up, but then you're on your own. It's like he had his own things to do, and you're on your own, you know.
But he did work a lot on getting the Iditarod going, and I give him a lot of credit for that. Then he decided that -- in '79 that he wanted to climb -- he decided this a long time ago, before that, that he wanted to climb Mount McKinley with dogs.
And somebody asked me, "Do you think your dad can make it?" I said, "I know he'll make it. I don't know how long he'll be there, but he'll make it." I mean, he wasn't a quitter.
He was the type of a guy that when he went to do something, he did it.
ROBERT DROZDA: That was in '79?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: I think in '79 him and Susan and Rob Stapleton, Ray Genet, climbed McKinley with dogs.
ROBERT DROZDA: How many dogs did they get up there?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well -- ROBERT DROZDA: One team? JOE REDINGTON, JR.: -- he started with seven, and they got to the top with four, but I think what they realized, you know, people used to always say about going to the top, they never said anything about coming down.
And coming down was the hard part. I mean, them dogs have a lot of power especially when you're coming down, you know.
So I think they realized that they didn't need -- they didn't want to have seven to come down with, so they left some at different camps as they went to the top.
ROBERT DROZDA: That seems like almost an unbelievable accomplishment.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, he -- he did a lot of different -- a lot of different things. And I don't know, he's way ahead of us boys.
We don't seem to have the desire to do some of the things that he did, I don't know. We still got dogs, though; my brothers and I still have dogs, anyway, after all these years. ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Maybe one more question on that. He had a big influence on a lot of people in the mushing community. Could you talk about some of the people he influenced? Your dad.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, he -- he did a lot with people from other countries, you know, as far as coming over.
You know, like, he had Jacques Philipe that come over from France, he had two -- two teams from Russia that came over. He had some from Norway. We had a lot of different -- a lot of people come over from different places.
And I don't know, I think he's -- he's made -- made a lot of people fairly well off from the things that he did as far as the Iditarod goes. There's a lot of people in the tour business.
Yeah, I don't know, he -- I think he brought a lot of people into -- to the dog mushing world, you know, and a lot of people got interested in it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What about Susan Butcher? What was --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Susan was one of his ones that came there. I think she'd already ran some dogs. I think he said that she came to his place with a Volkswagon Beetle with, I don't know, 8 or 10 dogs in a Volkswagon beetle or something like that, and then she stayed around -- she stayed around there helping him with the dogs and learning about the Iditarod, and that kind of stuff.
So she's one of the ones that he worked with. He worked with quite a few different ones, really.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, how about your family? We got you moved up here to Manley, but what --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, let's see. In 1966, I think, I got married. And in 1969 my -- I had a son born, Joee Ray.
And then I got a divorce, and then I married a farm gal named Pam. And then her and I had a -- had a daughter named Heather.
And then we went -- moved to Unalakleet when they were quite young and stayed there for a year and a half, and then moved back to Knik, and then in '77, we moved here to Manley.
So I have a boy, Joee Ray, and a little girl, Heather. And Heather now lives in Canada. And my son now lives down in Wasilla.
ROBERT DROZDA: What took you to Unalakleet?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: My dad was buying fish -- my dad was buying fish for a guy named Lloyd -- Lloyd Kline (phonetic), and wanted -- he wanted to know if I was interested in going up there to help him with buying fish and fishing myself.
So we loaded -- we took two fishing dories. Loaded about 40 dogs in those dories, and put them on a flying boxcar that Northern Air Cargo had at the time.
And my dad said -- I said, how we -- "What are we going to do with these dogs when we get them there?" He said, "Oh, we'll just tie them up to some trees."
Well, when we got to Unalakleet, there wasn't no trees. So we had the dogs tied to driftwood and scattered up and down the beach for a quarter of a mile until we finally got that taken care of.
He let us off on the end of the airfield with them boats and dogs, and no transportation; and it was kind of interesting for a while, but everything worked out pretty good.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh hum. And you ran dogs out of Unalakleet? JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, ran dogs around Unalakleet there.
ROBERT DROZDA: Uh hum.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Which was a lot different for me, too. I wasn't used to -- used to that type of where you could go anywhere you wanted to go, you know, from the wind.
But I enjoyed Unalakleet, it was a great place.
There was so many things to do around Unalakleet, that fishing and hunting and all that kind of stuff. It was a great -- really a great place. I enjoyed -- a lot of the old timers were telling you stories about different things that they -- they did.
The only thing would have been better if I would have knew how to speak their language because they could probably tell their stories better in their languages -- language than in ours.
And my wife went to all the -- every time we'd get a chance for her to go to some type of skin sewing thing that the ladies had, my wife would go and learned how to cut wolf for ruffs and how to sew all kinds of different things from the older ladies and stuff there.
And I was constantly on the go hunting and fishing, and it was a really a great place, one of the greatest places for hunting that I've ever been.
ROBERT DROZDA: And fishing primarily in the Bering Sea, then, or were you going up the Yukon River, too?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No. This was mainly there right off of the -- off of Unalakleet. I mean, we were fishing for herring and salmon and tomcods.
Whitefish and char, and all kinds of stuff like that, you know. Yeah, it didn't take me long to start putting up fish for my dogs when I got there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We should take a minute and have you talk about the development of your dog line. And what you're looking for in developing the dogs that you are using for racing.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, you know, I've tried a lot of different -- I've tried a lot of different lines of dogs. You know, most of the dogs that -- that I had came from, like, villages like Huslia.
And then I -- you know, I bred those kind of dogs up. And then I got dogs, like, from Gareth and crossed those dogs in.
I remember one time Gareth had came down to Flat Horn and brought down -- I was just about maybe 18 years old or somewhere, I don't remember how old I was at the time, but anyway, Gareth brought some dogs down. Him and Al Wright brought some dogs to Flat Horn and I trained those dogs for Gareth. And then I ]had them for a year or so and then I gave them back to Gareth, and so I had some of that line.
And I got a -- I stayed with Westcott in 1961 when I was in the Juniors in Fairbanks, and he gave me a Belgian Sheepdog cross that Warren Brewer had. And we bred that in, and we got a lot of good -- a lot of good dogs.
My dad bred it in, and he got a lot of good dogs from that Belgian Sheepdog cross that -- that we had. And I had that for -- for quite awhile. And then, you know, I kept -- I kept breeding the best that I could get of -- of the Huskies.
And Egil Ellis come along with Pointers and started beating us, so everybody had to start trying that.
So I -- I tried some Pointer crosses, but here in Manley, it's -- it's -- you know, you have to have a dog barn, for one thing, and I had a dog barn, but still, it's -- for them kind of dogs with a short coat and stuff, it's pretty hard -- hard for them, harder for them than a Husky, you know.
And Huskies have been -- mentally been used to this kind of weather and stuff for years and years and years. So I kind of phased out -- I kind of phased out the Pointer line.
And some of these dogs that I have here go back to -- to a dog called Burner, and then one of his pups called Sailor, and that's mainly what I have now is -- and I went back to where I had mostly all -- all Husky or very little Pointer in there.
If it is, it's only a 16th or something like that. But I think at the time it was a pretty good deal to get a new line of dogs to -- to breed in there, you know, because a lot of these dogs are really related.
If you check with a lot of different people, they are really closely related, you know, so once in awhile it's good to get something new in there and breed something in there.
ROBERT DROZDA: So was that Sailor an Ellis dog, you said, or --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No, Sailor was -- actually how that came about was, was my brother raised some dogs with Gareth.
And then Gareth got one of those pups, or Roxy did. Got one of those pups and a dog called Burner, and that's where that line, Burner and Sailor.
Sondersons got in there where they would cross one of their dogs and got into that line of dogs. But a lot of the dogs are related, distance dogs, you know, a lot of people have distance dogs that go back to Sailor.
ROBERT DROZDA: Are there some -- some really special dogs that stand out in your mind over the years and that -- ?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, you know, like when I was a kid growing up, my dad had got a dog called Lady that -- and I never realized this at the time, I just found this out a few years ago, that when I was a kid in the first grade going to school, we had a cook, her name was Ila Zinsky (phonetic).
And she had gave my dad this dog named Lady because she had got into the chicken coop and killed a whole bunch of her chickens, so she gave him this leader.
And I just found out here that -- that Ila Zinsky was a mail carrier, one of the only female mail -- mail carriers in the Independence Mine area.
And that's why that she -- because I never could figure out, why would she have a leader, you know, as a cook in the school.
But I found out a few years ago that she was one of the only -- the only woman mail carrier, and that's why she had this leader.
And that was a really nice leader. And my dad had a dog called Lobo that he used for lots of his reclamation work.
And he was a really good leader. And then we had one that --a dog named Wolf, and I think he got it from one of our neighbors, but that dog was an exceptionally good leader; and he not only knew gee and haw and come up -- come gee and come haw and all that, but if you were going through the woods and a tree was leaning, you could holler "over," and he'd jump over it; or if you hollered "under," and he'd go under it.
I mean, he was really a -- really -- you know, a lot of them dogs are really good, but they didn't have the speed that it -- that it takes, you know. And then I had a dog when I was in the Juniors called Snag that I used in both Anchorage in '61, I won Anchorage Junior North American -- or Junior Fur Rendezvous there with Snag for a leader.
And then I went to Fairbanks and raced in the Junior North American and won there with that dog in the lead.
And then my brother had got -- actually, my mother had bought 'em from my brother, some half Labrador, half Setter dogs that I -- that he had, and he sold them to my dad.
And then I -- the Army bought them off my dad, and that's the ones that I won the Fur Rendezvous with was Happy and Windy. And they were -- had no Husky in them at all; they were half Setter and half Lab.
And I used them in the lead in the Fur Rendezvous and won that. And I've had some other really good dogs.
Like I had a leader named Trainer that was exceptionally good that I bought from a guy in Fairbanks. I had a dog, a good leader that we raised here called Carlo that my wife trained as a pup.
I don't know, I just have had lots of good ones. I have some even now that I -- I consider pretty good, you know.
I've been pretty lucky with dogs. I've loaned dogs out to guys, like I loaned them to Michi Kono, a Japanese guy, and he won the North American.
I had a dog called Banjo, I think she ran six North Americans, and he had her as a leader.
And then I've been letting Jason Dunlap use mine in the Fur Rendezvous and North American, and I got a couple -- I got about three or four leaders here now, Raisin and Ruger and Toast, dogs that we raised. Most of the dogs that I have here now we've raised.
A lot of these guys that are racing are racing their own. You can't hardly buy -- people that are racing can't really afford to sell one to somebody that's really a competitor,
because you need it to race against him, you know, so it's pretty hard to go buy a good one, so you almost got to raise them. And I've been lucky with some of these dogs that I've bred up, the whole litter is good.
And I don't know, people -- I think people nowadays and dogs, they probably work with them more like letting puppies chase them when they're small with chasing four wheelers and chasing snow machines.
And, you know, it's just a lot different now, because I can remember years ago when all it was was just a snow machine -- I mean, a snowshoe track. I mean, you didn't have snow machines and stuff to put the trail in.
You'd go out there and snowshoe a trail, and when somebody got ready to go past you, you would turn your sled either on its side or turn it upside down and stick the brush bow in the snow, and try to help the guy get by you, you know.
It wasn't these wide trails like we've got today, you know. There was a lot of single leaders back when I was younger, a lot of guys were using single leads instead of double.
A lot of bigger teams now. When I was -- when I was young the teams were small, you know, like 9 dogs, 10 dogs for going in some of these races.
And I think in about 1962 or something like that, George Attla came to the Fur Rendezvous and had 16. And he had a leader named Nellie and Tuffy, and then he won with 16, and I think that started the -- the bigger team.
Then Gareth went to the Fur Ren -- to the North American, I think, with 20, and I don't know, it's just a lot different today. You know, you got good feed. Guys specialize in that now, I mean, guys are training dogs and specializing in that, you know.
And you get snow machines and drags. A lot of things now that I don't know if the dogs are trained any better today than they were years ago. I have my doubts. I think years ago they might have even been trained better than they are today, you know.
People used them a lot more for a lot of different things. You know, they had good leaders because they used them for a lot of different -- a lot of different things, you know, especially in the villages.
But, you know, like, in the villages, it used to be a big thing, a pride thing where people had dogs, and they'd like to loan their dogs to somebody and send somebody in from the village to race, you know. There was a lot of that type of -- a lot of that type of pride.
And, you know, a lot of people used to come to the North American from the villages and watch, they still do today, but a lot more years ago.
You know, some guys just running them might not even own a dog in the team, or maybe just one, and the rest of the village would -- people in the village would own them, you know. There used to be a lot of that.
ROBERT DROZDA: When you were working with some of these other mushers, like Michi Kono, you're -- you're providing him with the dogs, and he'd work with you throughout the season with those dogs or -- ?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: No, he came here for, like, two months or something like that.
ROBERT DROZDA: Did the dogs respond to him?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Oh, yeah, he was -- you know, everybody's different. You know, there's -- some dogs really take to some people real quick. And, I mean, it didn't take him but just a little awhile and the dogs knew him and he knew their names.
I mean, he was focused -- he was really focused on at that time coming over here and racing, you know. He was a bus driver over in Japan, came over here, stayed with us for a couple months.
And when I first met him, I didn't know what to think when I -- when I first met him, because I thought all Japanese people ate fish and rice,
and so I asked him about going to McDonalds or Burger King or someplace like that, he said, "Oh, that's okay, we have those."
But he brought a dictionary, one from Japanese to English, one from English to Japanese. It was a little hard to -- hard to work with him.
I had an interpreter, a girl in -- in Fairbanks that was -- that had taken Japanese, and I would call her once in awhile because he couldn't -- you know, it would be hard sometimes for us to -- to communicate, you know.
But he wrote everything down. And that year I had him -- the first year I had him, he was a rookie in the North American, and then he wanted to come back the next year, and he came back the next year, and then that's the year that he won.
And very good with dogs. Very good. I mean, he was dedicated and he was very interested in dogs, but -- and then he moved over here. Well, it's harder for him to come over here.
I never sold him any of my dogs, but I helped him buy dogs. But now he's got to make a living and he's got to put it all together himself. You know. Sometimes that's not as easy to do as a person might think, you know.
He's raised a lot of good dogs, but to get enough of them to be able to go do it is kind of hard. And, you know, I've been doing it, I've been racing, you know, since '56, so.
I may not always win, but I'm usually right in there, and I still know a few tricks of the trade, you know. Even these young guys, they know, too. They do it a lot different now. Nowadays they race with a GPS watch.
They do it a lot different. I race with the moon and the stars, you know, and the sun. And these guys use a watch, you know.
It's a lot different racing nowadays. They use mats, and it's just a lot different than when I -- when I first started racing.
ROBERT DROZDA: Lots of changes in technology. JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Oh, yeah, lots -- lots of things, you know.
ROBERT DROZDA: Sled technology.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. And -- and I think -- I mean, I hear different people have -- you know, they're anti Iditarod; they're -- you know, I think we've learned a lot from the Iditarod. Myself.
I mean, those guys have experimented with a lot of different things, and I think we've helped them with some of the breed that they have, and they've helped us with a lot of technology and stuff, you know.
I think it goes hand in hand, you know. I'm always interested in all kinds of dog mushing, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Hang on a sec here. (Recording stopped momentarily.)
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
ROBERT DROZDA: Have you done much travelling for dog mushing, racing?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I don't remember exactly what year it was now, but I did go out to that Midwest circuit out to Bemidji and Ely and Grand Rapids and that area there racing.
And then we went over as far as in Saranac, New York.
That was a lot different for me. We -- well, actually, we raced, I think, in, like,down through Canada, we would race in Ft. Nelson, and then went on down into Minnesota and raced there for --for a while, and then we were gone for quite awhile, but did that Midwest -- Midwest circuit and then...
ROBERT DROZDA: Were there a lot of the same characters as --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, like, George Attla was there, and some of the ones that came -- who would come here for the North American and stuff.
Like, Gary Hettinger and Harris Dunlap and some of them guys were travelling that circuit.
ROBERT DROZDA: Streepers, or --
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah, Streepers, too. They were there. Yeah. So we did -- did that. I only went out to the Lower 48 just one time.
I went to Canada a couple times and Ft. Nelson and raced down there.
ROBERT DROZDA: You said it was different for you?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, the travelling, and finding places to train and stuff I thought was hard.
And it was kind of a -- it was one of those kind of things where, you know, a lot of the JC's and stuff put the trails in and stuff,
and these guys really worked hard at it, but when you go to put them trails in, it's not like trails where dogs have used it and punched it with their feet and hardened it up and all that kind of stuff. So,
like, the first few teams that go out, have a crust that they run on, and then the rest of it starts breaking up, you know.
And some of the mushers come back and raising heck, and you feel kind of bad for these guys that's really worked their tails off trying to put the trails in, and then they're getting their butts chewed out for the trails not being very good, you know, so I don't know.
Sometimes you just got to grin and bear it, and that's how it is, you know. It happens even here sometimes, you know.
I've had things happen in the North American where the gate's locked, you know, at the golf course, and different things have happened. You know, things happen sometimes, you know, that you don't expect.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So where -- where are you now in your career? What are you looking forward to?
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Well, I don't know. I'm getting up there.
Like today's my birthday, I'm 68 years old, you know, and when I start thinking about raising pups, by the time I get them ready to race I'll be 70.
And I'm getting to the point where I have a hard time handling. These dogs that I have here now are pretty wild, and I have to get some young driver to drive them in some of these races because I don't feel that I can handle them as well as I used to be able to, you know, so I don't really know.
It depends on, you know, I -- I'm sure I'll have dogs as long as I possibly can, you know, but it just depends on how my health and that kind of stuff goes, you know.
I feel that I have some really good -- good dogs right at this time, you know, but I don't know. It's just everything seems to be getting a little harder for me than it used to be, you know.
Stiff and sore. And I still like it, but it's harder to do it, you know, compared to what it was when I was younger.
And when you're not racing them yourself, it takes a little bit away from it, you know.
It's hard to find some -- I'm fortunate to have a guy, Jason, that's been running mine that's really good with the dogs, and he does a great job for me, and -- but he's got a family and probably wants to do his own thing, and takes a lot of time.
I mean, it's not something that you just do a few hours a day, you know.
I mean, it's -- when you're training, you're training from daylight until dark, and then that's not enough in Alaska in the wintertime, you know, you need more hours.
More hours of daylight anyway. But I don't know. We'll see what happens here. I guess George Attla, he's 70 some years old, and he just got a team again, so I guess there's hope for all of us.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I'm sure there is. You're doing a great job.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: I'm lucky to have a wife that's into it. And she trains all these dogs that I have here, she's trained from when they were pups.
And she's not that interested in racing, but she likes to train the pups, so we have a pretty good team effort, her and I work together taking care of them and all that kind of stuff, so fortunate that way.
ROBERT DROZDA: Yeah. It sounds like a good balance there.
JOE REDINGTON, JR.: Yeah. I remember years ago, somebody asked me about buying dogs and stuff and I said, "Well, you've got to have a family that's behind you, you know."
If you come home with a dog and your wife's standing there with her foot sticking out the side of her tennis shoe, and she wants to know why you didn't get two, that's the kind of wife you've got to have, you know. They're hard to find.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Thanks so much. This has been good.