Harold Woods and Richard Frank were interviewed on February 12, 1987 by William Schneider and Pete Bowers in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Harold and Richard talk about their experiences with the early days of sled dog racing in interior Alaska. They talk about specific races, including the Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race and the race from Fairbanks to Livengood, as well as differences between the early days and current racing. Harold also talks about breeding, raising and training sled dogs, other mushers he raced with, and being a dog team mail carrier between Rampart and Manley Hot Springs. For more information about the history of sled dog racing in Fairbanks, see an article titled "Sled Dog Racing in Fairbanks" written by Pete Bowers for the Alaska Dog Mushers Association which appeared in their 1983-1984 Race Season Program. For more about the history of the race from Fairbanks to Livengood, see an article titled "From Fairbanks to Livengood and Back" on pages 12-14 in the February/March 1988 issue of Mushing magazine.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska
Date of Interview: Feb 12, 1987
Narrator(s): Harold Woods, Richard Frank
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Pete Bowers
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Richard Frank and Harold Woods first meeting each other
Harold's first dog race and raising of puppies
Driving dog teams with Bergman Korkrine to Fairbanks for a race and meeting Johnny Allen
Early days of dog racing and specific dogs
Rough trail during the 1939 race
1940 and 1941Livengood race
Staying in Fairbanks with dogteams before a race
Racing with Leonhard Seppala
Getting to the Livengood race on the Livengood to Minto trail and dealing with icy conditions
Size of dog teams
Sharing of dogs and dog breeding
Looking at historic photographs and identifying people
How Harold Woods got started in dog racing
Carrying mail by dog team
Roadhouses and people along the route
Dealing with tough trail conditions and using a gee pole or chains on the runners to slow down
Payment of dog team mail carriers
Type of freight hauled
Hauling passengers and contact with trading posts
Differences between village races and races in Fairbanks
Family's heritage in dog racing
Difference between racing working dogs and dogs bred for racing
Staying at Jeff Studdert's and Mike Agbaba's kennels in Fairbanks
Race organization and the year that winners did not get paid
Other mushers involved in early days of racing
Importance of dog racing to the Native community
Best dog teams and hero mushers
Role of Doc Lombard
Improving dog care and race strategy
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Today is February 12, 1987. We have the pleasure today of being with Harold Woods and Richard Frank. And I’m Bill Schneider and Pete Bowers is here.
It's a pleasure to be here and to take some time and talk about the old days and some of the dog mushing.
Richard, you've known Harold for a long time, eh?
RICHARD FRANK: We sure have. We were just saying it was well over 50 years that I've known Harold.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: When was the first time you met him?
RICHARD FRANK: Oh, when I was going to school at Rampart, I believe 1934.
HAROLD WOODS: It was just about that time, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: And I remember that. And I remember some things before that, too. Just, you know, just -- it just comes to my mind every once in a --
I remember we was at Hess Creek, I believe. That's when you were -- got married.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that May in the spring. We moved up there in the fall, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh. Yeah, that's --
HAROLD WOODS: That was in ’36.
RICHARD FRANK: ’36. HAROLD WOODS: No, it's what I'm talking about. RICHARD FRANK: Oh.
HAROLD WOODS: That was ’31.
RICHARD FRANK: ’31. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. RICHARD FRANK: Yes.
The reason why I remember that so plainly is that I got burnt on the foot with a hotcake turner.
And from there we moved to -- from Hess Creek to Rogers Creek. And I remember some dog mushers coming up from Rampart, I think.
They would be checking on us because we were just out there in the -- there was nobody around. No radio. No anything. Just us.
Chester Frank, you know, my dad and boys and the rest of the family.
And I believe from there we moved to Stevens Village and then about -- I would say about fifteen miles above Stevens Village. Rogers Creek. Was it about that far?
HAROLD WOODS: You mean Rogers Creek? RICHARD FRANK: Yeah. HAROLD WOODS: It's about thirty. RICHARD FRANK: Oh, 30 miles.
HAROLD WOODS: By the river, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: We moved up there and then my dad and my brothers built a cabin there. And I believe it was 1935 that when you came along with your --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that was the year before I come up here to race.
RICHARD FRANK: They said you had your leaders. I remember those leaders because I’ll never forget them there.
One thing we were -- the whole family was proud of Harold Woods when he came out and visited us. We never seen anyone out there on the trapline -- just my family.
And here comes Harold with his beautiful team and those two leaders.
And they were so -- I think they were so pretty and they were so lively and so well -- well trained. Spot and Snap?
HAROLD WOODS: Snap, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: And you raced those dogs in what year was that, Harold? HAROLD WOODS: It was ’36. I raced them here in ’36.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How did you happen to get those? Did you raise those pups?
HAROLD WOODS: I raised them myself, yes. And I raised --
I got a female from my brother-in-law and he -- she had 13 pups, you know. And I raised the whole bunch of them.
PETE BOWERS: So that team was mostly out of one litter was it?
HAROLD WOODS: One litter. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: But when I came up in ’36 I borrowed three dogs I think of my brother. To have extra ones.
He had two leaders. I had five leaders all told in that team.
RICHARD FRANK: Harold, when you came from Rampart for this race in 1936, you went from Rampart to -- to Manley?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, first I went from Rampart to Tanana to pick up a load of groceries. RICHARD FRANK: I see.
HAROLD WOODS: And haul my cousin. From there to Manley I came around that way, Manley. Next day I went over to Rampart. And I had no time left so I came back to Manley the next day to meet Bergman Kokrine there. I was supposed to meet him there.
And then that next day we went to Minto. And from Minto went to Nenana. Then the dogs were pretty tired then.
RICHARD FRANK: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: Stayed there one week.
RICHARD FRANK: Hm mm. That Manley to Minto, that’s quite a run.
HAROLD WOODS: Then that's where I met Johnny Allen. He came up while we was laying -- our dogs was too tired. So I lay -- I was going to turn around and come back.
RICHARD FRANK: At Nenana?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. Then Johnny came along and I got acquainted with him. And he told me, he said -- I told him I figured on going back. He said, no. Three of us is going to win this race, he said.
PETE BOWERS: Now, was that the first time you met Johnny Allen?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's the first time I met Johnny Allen.
PETE BOWERS: He had won it the year before, didn’t he?
HAROLD WOODS: No, he never raced before.
PETE BOWERS: Oh, that was his first race.
HAROLD WOODS: That was his first race. But he's been racing dogs downriver all the time, you know. They race a lot down there.
RICHARD FRANK: When he said the three, that -- he meant you and Bergman Kokrine?
HAROLD WOODS: I, and him and Bergman, yeah. He said three was going to win this race.
RICHARD FRANK: And he was right.
HAROLD WOODS: He was right. Three of us won. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: Before you met Johnny had you -- had you ever heard much about the Johnny Allen dogs that he was raising?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, we were a little bit, but, I, you know, Bergman knew him before. PETE BOWERS: Oh, I see.
HAROLD WOODS: We got to real friends me and Johnny. Close.
He was pretty smart. He had a good team. He had a nice team.
But that was my first big race, you know, so I held back for two days, you know, just not --
Told him I was going to run them hard the last day. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: And I beat him almost ten minutes the last day. And then when we was leaving I was -- he came over to me and he got on my sled and helped me, you know, take off.
He said, you know, you had this race won, but you didn’t know it, he said.
But, man, he had a picture team. He had a real picture team.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: He had quite a reputation by that point, huh?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. Yeah, that’s his team. That’s his team, yeah.
They do a lot of racing downriver them days.
PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh. And down at Galena and Nulato.
HAROLD WOODS: And he was from Kokrine then. That's 30 miles above Ruby. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: But they race down in Ruby, Galena and all around there, you know.
PETE BOWERS: What do you think was so special about those dogs that he was raising?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, there's nothing special about them. They were just good dogs and well trained, that's all. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: It's all depends on what kind of dogs. You get good dogs and train them right and they're a good team.
This is the one. This is Johnny Allen again, huh? PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: That’s Rip, that one in the front there.
PETE BOWERS: Rip? HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. That stoved up on him. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
RICHARD FRANK: This is a picture of Bergman Kokrine. HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Victor, I remember that.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's Victor, yeah. He borrowed that dog.
RICHARD FRANK: I remember, you know, when he was telling my dad about that dog. The Victor. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: The lead dog.
PETE BOWERS: Well, he was telling me he ran that dog, Victor, in single lead on that Livengood race. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. RICHARD FRANK: That's it right there. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. PETE BOWERS: Oh, there.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes. Uh-huh. I got these pictures.
You won that 1936 the 30-mile race in the last day.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, I beat almost 10 minutes.
RICHARD FRANK: You beat Johnny Allen by 10 minutes. And Bergman Kokrine must have came in third?
HAROLD WOODS: He was third. He was third.
RICHARD FRANK: Overall. And did you race in 1936? I mean 1937?
HAROLD WOODS: No, I didn’t race.
RICHARD FRANK: 1938?
HAROLD WOODS: No, I don’t think so. RICHARD FRANK: In 19 --
HAROLD WOODS: No, Mayo borrowed -- Edward Mayo borrowed my dog -- my leaders -- my swing dogs.
RICHARD FRANK: Oh, yeah, he came in first on that -- HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: -- 1938 first day race.
And you race in 1939? You came in first on the second day.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, that was a 30-mile race around here. Yeah.
The trail -- had to break trail two days out of three. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Huh. RICHARD FRANK: Hm.
HAROLD WOODS: See Phillip, he won the first day, but everybody was breaking trail for him. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: You see, he didn’t have a chance. And the second day, I went out fifth.
And I told my wife I'm going to win today. The trail -- which I did. Next day it blowed again. You never had no plowed out road. Were just going across the flats out here and you couldn’t see the trail.
PETE BOWERS: Huh. And where did that race course go?
HAROLD WOODS: It went out here towards -- I think it went down Goldstream. Went all around down through the flats, you know. It's just a --
PETE BOWERS: All the way out through Goldstream Valley?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. Yeah. It's no trails at all until you hit down here again. Down below the -- below the university, you know. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: We went out this way and came around. All the way around.
PETE BOWERS: And then that ended up down the river --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, the river. Under the bridge, yes. That's where they started all the time, right down there at the bridge. For years.
RICHARD FRANK: I was talking to Phillip Kennedy and he talked about that race in 1939. He said it was a really tough trail. It was --
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, man, you couldn’t see it. The fall off -- Dogs fall off, you know.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes, the dogs just losing the trail.
And actually it seemed like the way he explained it was just a snowshoe track.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's just about --
RICHARD FRANK: It drifted in. And someone trying to, you know, make tracks with snowshoes so the dogs will follow it, but it just didn’t work out. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: And the wind blowed so hard for three days. You see, it just drifted over in the flats.
RICHARD FRANK: Harold, in 1940, Bergman Kokrine won the Livengood race. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Were you in that race?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, I was in that race. I didn’t do any good in that race.
And the next year, I won the first day going over. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: And I flew Al John over there with -- I let the flying service take care of my dogs that night.
RICHARD FRANK: Al John of Nenana?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, and he -- they went and got on a party, you know, down there among the dogs. You were only allowed 10 hours there.
RICHARD FRANK: They allowed you 10 hours layover at --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. At -- And they doped. They doped a couple of teams there.
And mine was one of them.
RICHARD FRANK: I heard of that. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: I figured I had it cinched, you know. Of course, we didn’t get paid that year anyway.
PETE BOWERS: Was it that year you didn’t get paid?
HAROLD WOODS: That’s the year I didn’t get paid, yes.
I still came in fourth. I had all three dogs off and on. They’d be all right for a little while. Hook them up and they’d drop, you know.
They were doped. And Stanley Davis dogs were doped, too. RICHARD FRANK: I see, yeah.
PETE BOWERS: How big a team did you run on that race?
HAROLD WOODS: I run only nine that time.
PETE BOWERS: Is that about the size team that most of the guys were running?
HAROLD WOODS: There was no real big teams them days. No.
And they had an awful lot of up hills, you know. Man, they were --
The last 1940 one we went over this way, you know. We didn’t follow the high -- the first year we followed the highway.
RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I think people who listen to this may not know that you had to drive your dogs into town to race. You didn’t fly in in the early days.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, and then we start flying in, yes. We start flying in. First year, it was all right.
You had a lot of traffic them days by dog team. You had a pretty fair trail.
Everybody was carrying mail by dog teams when I first came up, you know. You had good trails, you know.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: When you came in when you first drove dogs in, where did you stay in town when you were racing?
HAROLD WOODS: We stayed -- we stayed in the hotel, but we had a little cabin up here. They used to call it Rabbit Island up here, you know.
I don’t know what they -- And we rented a little cabin where we could work on our harness and we had a dog corral there where we kept our dogs. They had regular dog corrals there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: On Rabbit Island? HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh. On Rabbit Island.
PETE BOWERS: Now was that Mike Agbaba? HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. PETE BOWERS: And Jeff Studdard’s operation.
HAROLD WOODS: Yes, Jeff Studdard was up there, too. And they used to have a sawmill up there, you know. A mill there at that time. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, Jeff Studdard had these kennels up there every year.
PETE BOWERS: So they'd -- they pretty much let everybody stake their dogs out at their place there when they came into town then?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, well, yeah, different places I guess which we -- I don’t know how we got up there. There was a lot of places.
I had a good corral. Big high fence corral there for my dogs.
And we had -- we were in a little shack that didn’t hardly cost anything to work on our harnesses and stuff, you know.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Were there other mushers there, too? Other racers?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, there was quite a few racers. I forget who all they were.
Seppala was there. He raced against us. And he came in fifth that year.
He was one of the big racers, you know, time racers.
PETE BOWERS: Now, how many years did Seppala race in Fairbanks?
HAROLD WOODS: That’s the only time I know he was racing here.
He got an awful big name, but he didn’t have no competition when he was racing before, because --
Training -- I went up the slough and I met him coming back and I was sitting in the sled, you know, and he was fighting his dogs to get them out of the road, you know. He couldn’t control them. He had a pretty team. Siberians, you know.
And I just sat in the sleigh and went right on by him without any trouble.
That night he come up, brought two, three guys. I didn’t know him, you know.
Want to show you the best trained team I ever seen, he said. And he came up and they looked at my dogs. Of course, I was right there then, of course. Didn’t allow nobody to fool around with the dogs, you know.
But a man driving dogs all his life you’d think he'd have control over them, you know. He was fighting to get them out of the road, you know. We used to go right by on the same road, you know. You meet another team you go right on by, if you got them trained, you know. PETE BOWERS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Getting back to 19 -- I believe it was 1940, the first race of the Livengood race. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: There was a young man from Stevens Village also that --
HAROLD WOODS: Walter John. RICHARD FRANK: Walter John, right. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: He came into Minto. He drove over from Stevens Village to Livengood.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. They had -- they trapped towards Livengood, you know.
RICHARD FRANK: I see. And then from Livengood he went on down to Minto. There was a trail.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. They used to go into Livengood from Minto. They -- 'cause we drove up there that time when we first race for Livengood. We drove from Minto to Livengood and over the highway here. RICHARD FRANK: I see.
HAROLD WOODS: When I made a mistake, it was icy and you couldn’t hold them with a brake going them grades. I stoved up three dogs. Couldn’t hold them back, you know.
Brake wouldn’t do no good. It was all ice, you know, going down the long grade.
RICHARD FRANK: I was just going to mention that. He mentioned that -- also he mentioned that when you start off at Livengood, you just start off right from the start up hill.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, it's steep grade up there.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes, so mushing has changed a lot. It, you know, this -- right now there is trail conditions that's I can almost say it's superb compared to what Harold and those guys went through.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah. When we first raced then, the six go down the slough and came out of the mouth of the slough. And went down three miles down the Tanana River.
Well, let’s make a six mile loop. Well, you couldn’t even run on it. Couldn’t get a Cat or anything out there because it's so, you know -- and go through.
They hadn't hardly no trail there then.
I mean they had just as good a dogs, but they weren’t, you know, they didn’t give them no vitamins and all that stuff they give them now, you know.
And nowadays it's just for racing. We used them for trapping. That'd what we had them for.
Just trapping. Hauling your wood with them and everything else, you know.
PETE BOWERS: Did you -- did you train 'em any different when you brought them into town for -- you know, for running a race? Did you do special -- HAROLD WOODS: No. PETE BOWERS: -- special training for the race?
HAROLD WOODS: I've always trained them like I was racing whether I was racing or not. Just to, you know, if I go out on trapline and coming back I just want to see if I can make a little better time this trip, you know.
It was good training.
PETE BOWERS: How many miles would you be taking them out during your training trips?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, it depends on your race. I used to travel a long time. I mean, I make long runs.
Of course, I used to go from Stevens Village to Rampart all the time without staying overnight and that's 91 miles.
Of course, you don’t drive them hard. PETE BOWERS: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: And they're used to that, you know.
When you are trapping, you know, you got some bum trails, some good trails. But you don’t drive them hard all the time otherwise you just drive them in the ground, you know.
I can always come to town on a dead gallop no matter how far I go. Save enough for inland so they can make a showing coming in, you know.
They see you coming in for a couple of miles -- coming into Rampart. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: Talking about large team. Seven dogs was a pretty round number of dogs. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: And anything above seven dogs, you start calling a large team.
I think in the '50’s or the late '40’s is when you start seeing 10 and 12 dog -- HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: -- races here in -- you know, but in the villages I remember even a nine dog team was really a large team.
So when Kokrine won that race the first year to Livengood, he had seven dogs.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he had seven. He came up with them all, but he had seven.
But he had to run a lot, too. You train for that, too. That first year, I mean too much up hills, you know.
RICHARD FRANK: What year was that? I believe it was 1941 that Jimmy -- George Jimmy came into Minto with 15 dogs. HAROLD WOODS: Fifteen dogs.
RICHARD FRANK: And boy that was the talk of the -- thing up and down the river.
PETE BOWERS: Pretty big team.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, I seen him come in Tanana, I think it was. 15. I think Johnny Allen had 12, but he only raced nine.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes. Yes, I remember he had 12 dogs when he came into Minto one year.
HAROLD WOODS: He's even loaned Bergman one that -- in 1936 to race against him. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
Did you ever pick dogs up on the way?
HAROLD WOODS: No. No. Never did.
RICHARD FRANK: Someone borrowed a dog from Harry Riley, I believe, on the way. I don’t know who it was. If it was Bergman or Johnny Allen.
HAROLD WOODS: Bergman, probably. I don’t think I borrowed any on the way.
RICHARD FRANK: I don’t think you did 'cause -- HAROLD WOODS: I don’t think so.
RICHARD FRANK: One thing of -- you know, I got this information from Charlie Titus.
HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh. Harry always had good dogs.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes. HAROLD WOODS: He always had good dogs. He never had many, but he had good dogs all the time.
RICHARD FRANK: This talking about Johnny Allen’s dogs, he came into Minto once and he had a female that was ready to have puppies. And he left it there at Minto and -- with Riley.
Riley was out trapping and Grace Riley was there taking care of the dogs, you know, what was left there. And this female of Johnny Allen’s had some puppies.
And we got a hold of one. Bootsie. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: And Jimmy Bruce got a hold of one. And Bruce -- I don’t know what they -- I don’t know if he gave that dog to Gareth Wright or not, but that's where Gareth got that Johnny Allen’s breed.
So that’s where -- just that one dog that was left at Minto just spread out all over the country.
PETE BOWERS: Oh, is that where they came from? 'Cause I know it's supposedly what Gareth has been trying to re-create in his breeding is that -- in his Aurora Husky lines is that old Johnny Allen line of dogs.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes, that's where he got his -- his start.
HAROLD WOODS: Even -- They're little -- some kind of shepards. Johnny’s.
RICHARD FRANK: It looks like it. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he got them dogs from his dad Red -- Red Allen. We used to call, Red Allen. He was a white guy.
RICHARD FRANK: Hm mm. This -- did you race after that?
HAROLD WOODS: No, not that I know of. I can’t remember when I raced last.
RICHARD FRANK: But it seemed like you are always involved in --
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, I was -- I had dogs in there or else -- I --
When Horace Smoke won the three race, I gave him one pup that he used in the swing and as a leader, too. And then I was his dog handler for three years that he won.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes, 1951, '52 and '53. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Well, the word at Minto is that you had some dogs in those -- in those races?
HAROLD WOODS: I -- just the dog I gave him -- pup. I had a small pup I gave him.
RICHARD FRANK: Oh, that's where -- that now -- yeah. That's being explained.
But we do -- we did know that you were handling dogs for him.
Horace "Holy" Smoke, he was -- he repeated the three time winner is John Allen. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
PETE BOWERS: It hasn’t been done many times, I guess.
You remember that dog of his named Canyon?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, that's the time. PETE BOWERS: His famous leader.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, it -- that's the time I gave him the puppy. He came to Rampart and I gave him away.
The dog had a bunch of pups, so I gave him one. He wanted one, so I gave it to him.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And what was the name of the pup you gave him?
HAROLD WOODS: I don’t know what he did -- Topsie, I think he called it. Topsie. RICHARD FRANK: Topsie, yes.
HAROLD WOODS: Topsie. It was awful mischief, you know. A little touchy.
See here in ’50, when I gave it to him they were going up to Stevens Village in gas boat. And Harry used to tease that pup, you know, make him mad. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: My god, it hated Harry even after it grew up.
Well, he couldn’t go near him. Just couldn’t go near him.
RICHARD FRANK: That -- In talking to Horace, he said he used Canyon from 1950 to 1957. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: That was his lead dog called Trapline and then races.
PETE BOWERS: Wow, that must've been some lead dog.
RICHARD FRANK: And it wasn’t a really large dog either. It was sort of small. If I remember right, too, Snap and --
HAROLD WOODS: Busby, yeah?
RICHARD FRANK: Yes. That’s Busby.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, I could tell.
RICHARD FRANK: Now this -- that's him here?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We're looking at some of the old pictures here.
HAROLD WOODS: Here's Johnny Allen here.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No identification.
RICHARD FRANK: There was one gentleman there I'm trying to identify here. I couldn't.
Oh, right here. Who was this fellow here? This is Busby here and this one on the right.
HAROLD WOODS: I can’t tell who that is.
RICHARD FRANK: Sherman Noyes was --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he was the president then. Wasn’t he?
RICHARD FRANK: Yes, he was. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh. Yeah
RICHARD FRANK: And then find in this picture is Bob Busby, George Jimmie, Johnny Allen, Jake Butler, Leonard Seppala, Mike Agbaba, Walter John Stevens Village, Harold Woods of Rampart, and Bergman Kokrine of Tanana.
And that's all I can recognize. Also, I recognize the sponsor of Cerosky Charlie was Jim Rathbone. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. Jimmie --
RICHARD FRANK: Yeah, he -- he sponsored Cerosky Charlie of Minto. So --
PETE BOWERS: That's a group of dog mushers there, isn’t it?
RICHARD FRANK: That sure is.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How did you get started in the dog racing business?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, the team just looked good to me and I thought I'd just come up and try them out.
I figured I went the year before, you know. They were good. They were doing good. I had the best team in Rampart so I just thought I'd come up.
Of course, some of them laughed at me because I never raced before, especially my brother-in-law, John Evans. He said you're crazy for going up he says.
And I said maybe I am, but I'm going to try it.
PETE BOWERS: Was there quite a bit of talk down in Rampart about the races in Fairbanks here?
HAROLD WOODS: No, they listened a lot, but that's -- there wasn’t -- there was no -- it was not too many dogs there, you know.
With any amount of dogs -- I mean no big teams, you know. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: There was no -- We used to have little races around there later on, you know, just around town there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What year was that you decided to race?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, 1935 I figured on coming up here the next year. And I did come up here the next year.
That year I went to Stevens Village, you know, I told Kitty, you know, Charlie Mayo stayed up there that year. Stevens Village. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: I told her I'm going to race next year.
She said, yeah. I said, yeah. Just having a dance there and I just told her I was going to go.
RICHARD FRANK: 1935? HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's -- RICHARD FRANK: Well --
HAROLD WOODS: And the next day I came up here.
RICHARD FRANK: As young as I was that team was very impressive. And then I found out that -- talking to my brothers, Alfred and Arthur, they told me that was a very -- one of the real good string of dogs that came through.
Another team that really impressed me was Walter Woods’ team -- I mean Walter --
HAROLD WOODS: John? RICHARD FRANK: Walter John, yes.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he generally had -- Harry Sam had good dogs. He always had fast dogs -- old Harry Sam.
Where he got some of the dogs, I guess he borrowed them, I guess, or something.
RICHARD FRANK: I remember the New Year’s races. Walter John used to win them all it seemed like. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah
RICHARD FRANK: At Stevens Village.
Then getting back to the dogs. The mail that was going into Rampart, they went from Manley to Rampart?
HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh. Rampart to Manley and back.
I carried mail there for about twelve years.
RICHARD FRANK: Boy, that was going over the -- going over those hills, you can imagine just --
PETE BOWERS: I think there's a thing there --
HAROLD WOODS: I didn't carry for myself. I carried for my dad for a while. And my brother-in-laws they had the contract, but I had pretty good dogs so I would try it.
Used to borrow my dogs all the time if they needed any.
PETE BOWERS: They had the contract with the NC Company, then? HAROLD WOODS: No.
PETE BOWERS: Who had that?
HAROLD WOODS: Right from the government.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Tell us a little bit about what it was like to have the mail contract, do you remember?
HAROLD WOODS: It was pretty tough sometimes. You had to haul some of those -- there was a lot of people along the road they wanted you to haul a little freight for them and stuff like that, you know.
Sometimes it was pretty tough if it snowed heavy, you know, 'cause everybody wait for the mailman to break trail, you know.
We had it tough going up that divide, you know, it's so steep.
RICHARD FRANK: Here's a picture of it. That is really steep.
There's one leading the leader up ahead and then the other one -- the other person pushing the sled.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What was the roughest trip you had with the mail?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, just when it snows so heavy, you got to snowshoe ahead, you know.
Sometime they get stuck. If you're alone, you go back and start them off again. Go ahead, you know.
PETE BOWERS: Your runners have -- have two sleds or three sleds?
HAROLD WOODS: No, just one. PETE BOWERS: Just one. HAROLD WOODS: Just one, yeah.
PETE BOWERS: How much -- how much weight do you figure you were carrying?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, that contract reads that you can take 300 pounds and not over if you don’t want to.
That’s mail. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: That’s mail, but we was always loaded because people wanted stuff along the road, you know.
Used to haul gasoline over from there. PETE BOWERS: Wow!
HAROLD WOODS: Gasoline, stuff like that, you know.
Of course, during the holidays we’d take more than 300 pounds, of course. They got a lot of parcel post, you know, people sending to them.
Montgomery Wards, Sears Roebuck for all kinds of Christmas stuff, you know.
We’d pack as much as we can, you know.
But that parcel post stacks up so high, you know. It's pretty hard.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How many trips would you be --
HAROLD WOODS: Well, when I first started carrying mail, once a week. Then the last then was twice a month.
That once a week though when the trail is tough where you just get in and you got to turn right around and go back.
Generally, if the trail is good, it's two days to go over. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: There's no use going over in one day because you got to layover one day because you don’t take the mail out until the next day, you see, because the mail comes from Nenana to Manley, too.
And Manley to Tanana. They had horse teams come down to Nenana -- to Manley when I first started to carry mail.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And did you have a roadhouse along the way?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, there was kind of a roadhouse at Eureka, yeah. But they had mail camps, you see. 21 miles out of Rampart was the mail cabin there.
But me and Walter -- me and my brother we used to go to Eureka most of the time and have a place to stay.
It only cost you $3 a night, you know. That's for your breakfast and everything.
PETE BOWERS: That was pretty much standard -- HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: Standard charge at any of the roadhouses?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, there was an old miner that he had kind of a what we call a roadhouse, you know.
He used to make sourdough hotcakes and he always claimed it was the best in the world. It wasn’t, you know.
Old Frank Stevens, man, he used to tell some awful stories.
RICHARD FRANK: That Mike Sweeney, I remember him. HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: He was above -- between Stevens and Rampart.
HAROLD WOODS: He was at Big Sot . RICHARD FRANK: Big Sot .
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's where he --
RICHARD FRANK: Mike Sweeney. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: And he was carrying mail in that --
RICHARD FRANK: No, he was just an old miner that came --
HAROLD WOODS: Trapper. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah, trapper.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, most of them came to Rampart for -- during the gold rush, you know.
A lot of them turned out to trap and stuff like that.
RICHARD FRANK: Frank Gronosky ?
HAROLD WOODS: Frank Gronosky, yeah. I don’t know where he originally come from or where he started.
RICHARD FRANK: And Red Anderson, I remember --
HAROLD WOODS: They were doing some mining, Red Anderson and them.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But your route on that mail carrying was between --
HAROLD WOODS: Rampart and Manley Hot Springs.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, two days.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, you see -- On a good trail we come back in one because, you see --
If we went over in one day, we’d have to lay over in Manley one day because you got to wait for the mail to come in, you see.
So there was no reason for going over there for one day
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And how many dogs did you run that time?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, from seven to nine. And then later in the years they had about ten sometime I guess. Ten.
RICHARD FRANK: That was one of the roughest parts of -- for mail carrying going up and down those hills, no?
HAROLD WOODS: Just going up them hills, you know. When you got a big load sometime you got to unload and then pack some of it up because they can’t pull all that up.
It's too steep. Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: Also that creek that when it starts filling up with water was -- was that Hunter Creek?
HAROLD WOODS: No. RICHARD FRANK: Minnow Creek. One of the creeks.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, there was -- at Moose Pass used to bleeder quite a bit that was about all, though. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: And then going down into Eureka what they call Nugget Gulch, you know, there was a lot of caribou them days, you know.
It glacier, you know. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: And you can’t hold them dogs when they see caribou, you know. That was a little dangerous, but we managed to get through.
That's the only bad part of it. Coming down this side was good. It was smooth and it didn’t blow on this side, you know. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: But it was steeper on this side, but it was loose snow, you know.
The other side there blowed so hard that they -- the snow would go like -- be like waves and hard as ice, you know.
You can’t -- your brakes won’t hold on it, you know. RICHARD FRANK: Hm mm.
PETE BOWERS: You -- you ride gee pole quite a bit?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah. PETE BOWERS: On some of those trails?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, when you -- the sleigh -- you know, the trail ain’t good you got to go on gee pole on skis, you know,
Guide the sled from falling off, you know. Otherwise, they can’t pull it if you don’t.
Yeah, we had -- we had skis on gee poles quite a bit. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How about going downhill?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, I went down on this side on gee pole one time.
But I had big rough rocks. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: See that one that you can handle right there, you know. Well, there was big chains, you know, tow chains.
You just pull the string and it'd slide under, you know. Because if it didn’t go down there with it, it'd be -- either tip over or one thing and another. All you need is a quick turn down there, you know.
But it held pretty good, you know. The dogs mind you pretty good, too, unless they see game, you know.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Tell us again how those chains work.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, you see you tie the chains. Well, you know, where the bow of the sled comes up.
You got it tied here with -- on ropes that chain, and you see the loop like that so when it slides down it goes under the sled. Right under the runners. It's tied on both sides.
PETE BOWERS: So you got it going under both runners?
HAROLD WOODS: You got to go around both runners if you need them under both runners.
But that's when you got a big load and a bum trail, but otherwise you just use the brake if you’re not too heavy, you know.
Just use the brake and go on down.
RICHARD FRANK: Boy, I don’t know about -- that’s -- you got to be pretty -- pretty good on that gee pole.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, you got to do it a lot them days. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh. Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Are there some more things we should say about mail carrying and -- with dogs?
RICHARD FRANK: Well, I’ve seen Charlie Shade pull into Minto with 16 big heavy dogs.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, I seen -- RICHARD FRANK: Punching out a trail.
HAROLD WOODS: I think it's Charlie Shade that -- Robert Alexander was carrying the mail for. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: Course, they had a double ender. He had 21 dogs on that. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: That’s a long string them days. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: Twenty-one dogs on that, but he had a big sled. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: And they had what they call a Ouija board.
RICHARD FRANK: Yeah, well, there was no hills between --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, no hills. They had a little -- like a little toboggan you stand on.
And you had it fastened to the tow line and you can hang onto the gee pole with that, you see, instead of skis.
PETE BOWERS: Did you like the skis better?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, we didn’t have enough dogs. He had a big team -- 21 dogs.
He had to have them there's so much mail, you know. That's quite a load he had to haul.
I remember that because I met him there when I was carrying mail. He had 21 dogs.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How did the pay work on that?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, you didn’t get much money. Of course, the dollar went a long ways them days.
I think first time I carried mail -- my dad got $49 a trip.
I know it was $49 a trip. That's round trip.
PETE BOWERS: And how about if somebody was sending a package for mailing up to Rampart? How much would they pay you for carrying a package?
HAROLD WOODS: I forget what they paid a pound. But, a lot like if you send for a little something that don’t weigh half a pound or a pound if you know the guy you didn’t charge him for it, you know.
The only one I charged was that Sherman Noyes. He was at Overland.
That's after he wouldn’t do -- he was the president at the time. He didn’t pay us. And he had a box of matches or something. I charged him four bits for that. .
He was going to write a book there at Overland and he spent the winter there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What was he president of?
RICHARD FRANK and HAROLD WOODS: The dog mushers.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, I’ll be darned.
HAROLD WOODS: And that's the year we didn’t get paid. He went Outside and bought himself a nice car.
Yeah, he went down there to write a book at Overland. He stayed there. I remember that. I was carrying mail for Jessie Evans, then, my brother-in-law.
Most of them guys you got a little package you don’t charge them because they're always giving you coffee on the trail or lunch, you know. You never charge them.
The only ones really charge is like the guys that own the trading post in Rampart. We’re hauling freight, you see.
I think it was seven cents a pound that time.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How about perishables?
HAROLD WOODS: No, we didn’t carry that because it'd freeze on us, you know. Too much --
Mostly gasoline, I think it was, mostly. Always some -- yeah, we hauled some whiskey too, you know.
You know they -- it was during prohibition. They bootleg in Manley and guys would send for some liquor, you know.
Not too much of that though. Not too much. Mostly gas I think we hauled. Mostly.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Was that for miners?
HAROLD WOODS: No, we hauled it in for the trading post, you know. They ordered it and we hauled for them. Whether they sold to anybody who -- miners mostly I guess then.
There was quite a little mining going around there. Prospecting and stuff in Rampart, then.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Boy, that's a tough proposition though hauling gas.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. We used to take it out of the -- out of the case -- it used to come in case, you know, five gallon cans.
Take them out of the case to get the weight down. I mean, so they'd fit inside the sled. The case was a little wide. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: But you had a chance of springing a leak in there, you see. That can bouncing on there so. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: It's better to keep it in the case, but it was a little wide, you know.
Then we’d haul passengers once in a while. Hauled a schoolteacher over once from Rampart to Manley.
She had a boyfriend, you know, over there. Archie Pringle that's who it was. RICHARD FRANK: I see.
HAROLD WOODS: He was just a young -- he came in there when he was 18 years old and --
And we had her wrapped up in the blankets and going down on the other side, you know. And like I tell you, it's a rough --
The brake wouldn’t hold. Me and my brother was together then. And the sled tipped over.
I couldn’t hold them. She got a little black eye out of it. She got a big kick out of it, though.
You know she's tied down in blankets, you know. She couldn't .
PETE BOWERS: When you were up there in Rampart, did you ever run into Sam Heeter?
HAROLD WOODS: He was in Tanana.
PETE BOWERS: Oh, was he in Tanana by that time?
HAROLD WOODS: He was in Tanana, yeah. I remember him. Sam was in and out as young kid, yeah. He used -- he lived in Tanana.
I guess he was up around Rampart, before but I wouldn’t -- there for a while, I believe.
But I was -- I was too young then to remember anything. I heard he was around there.
But when I got bigger, we used to go to Tanana. I see him there quite a bit in Tanana. He was a tall -- big tall guy. White fellow.
RICHARD FRANK: When I seen him, he reminded of a farmer.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, that's -- I don’t want know -- What did he do anyway?
RICHARD FRANK: I don’t know. He was just living at Tanana.
HAROLD WOODS: That's what I know.
RICHARD FRANK: That's all -- He probably --
PETE BOWERS: Was he running the store down there or something?
HAROLD WOODS: Not that I know of.
RICHARD FRANK: He probably did, but not that I know of.
HAROLD WOODS: Might have been before my time.
The only one I remember really was the NC and Vashon . That's the first stores. And old Joanisvich had a little store there.
PETE BOWERS: The -- what -- Andy Vashon there?
HAROLD WOODS: Andy Vashon. He owned a big store there. He was quite a man.
RICHARD FRANK: They had a store at Tolovana, also.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, I guess they had it before Harry Martin had it, didn’t he?
RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh. Yes.
HAROLD WOODS: But his brother’s name was -- What was his brother’s name?
RICHARD FRANK: Andy Vashon. PETE BOWERS: The guy at Tolovana was John Vashon, wasn’t it?
HAROLD WOODS: He had a brother. They were in with together, but Andy was the one that was stationed at Tanana all the time.
He was there all the time, but his brother used to come and I forget his name, too.
PETE BOWERS: Well, maybe -- Was it Peter Vashon?
HAROLD WOODS: Peter Vashon, yeah. That Pete -- Pete Vashon, yeah. That's the name, yeah.
PETE BOWERS: What do you -- what do you remember of Harry Martin there at Tolovana?
HAROLD WOODS: No, I couldn’t quite remember. I just went through. And we just had a cup of coffee there and a donut or something.
We just stopped quick there, you know. Was going on into Minto.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: As you think back over the years, what were some of your favorite dogs?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, I had some pretty good ones after that that I never did race.
Well, I loaned them out a lot. Well, the first one would be the two leaders Spot and Snap.
And then I had a leader Queenie that was outstanding.
I raised pups from after that. She never did throw a bum litter and I --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Hang on just a sec. Talking about some of your favorite dogs and you mentioned Spot.
HAROLD WOODS: And then Queenie, of course, she was outstanding. I mean, you know, I raced her once or twice -- I don’t when, but I --
We used to have a little race in Rampart, you know, men’s race, woman’s race, the big girl's and the little girl's race.
Well, I won the men’s race that day with that leader. And my wife won the women’s race with that leader. And my oldest daughter won the big girl's race with that leader. And the youngest girl she won the race with that same leader. She won four races that day.
And Evelyn was so small that she was scared to go around the other teams, you know. Of course, she was -- I think she only had -- she was -- I think it was the one dog class that time.
So this leader just took off and went around 'cause the other one was too scared to go past us.
They just went around that other team by herself.
Yeah, she was smart and I gave it to Heiny Sowers and that was the end of it.
But she never throwed a bum dog. And I raised dogs for years.
Of course, I sold one to Holy Smoke. I forget, I think I called him Snap 2 later on.
I loaned that team to my nephew, Tommy Evans. And he seen them here, you know, so Smoke wanted to buy him so I sold it to him.
Then his dogs -- was after it all the time, you know, and they finally got loose and they killed him.
That was a real good leader, boy. It was right. Do anything you tell it, you know.
PETE BOWERS: What do you think would be some of the differences between racing in the villages and racing in Fairbanks when you came into town here?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, it’s -- Ah, it ain’t too much difference. Only, maybe some people have trouble with them in a crowd.
Of course, I didn’t have no trouble. I thought I would, but they never -- they didn’t pay any attention to the crowd at all.
Didn’t bother them a bit. That's the only difference I could see. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: Of course, your trails are better. PETE BOWERS: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: Up here. Trails are better.
But they have pretty tough competition out in the villages now. PETE BOWERS: Oh, yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: About the same as here.
PETE BOWERS: Best races around, I think.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, that's all they're doing now mostly is racing, you know.
Them days when I was doing it, it's your livelihood, you know. You trap with them. Haul your wood with them.
PETE BOWERS: There probably wasn’t anybody that had teams just for racing then?
HAROLD WOODS: No, no, no. Couldn’t afford it, you know, just for racing. Now most of them get sponsors now. That's the only way they can make it.
It's an awful expensive sport, now.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Let’s talk a little bit about the racing heritage here.
HAROLD WOODS: Well, this family got -- see I got Chuck Erhart now, my grandson. He's been Outside this year and last year.
And now he's racing here. He was second down there in this last race there in Anchorage.
And Curtis Erhart he raced there before, but he ain’t racing this year.
Chuck, his brother, has some of his dogs.
Of course, Chuck is -- all the dogs come from their dad, see.
Lester, he raises them and the kids race them.
They're doing pretty good. They've shown up good there. I look for Chuckie to do pretty good this year.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, looks like he's doing good now
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How about other family members?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, none of my boys raced. None of them has raced. No.
PETE BOWERS: When did Lester get started with dogs?
HAROLD WOODS: Gosh, I don’t know. He's been -- He's won quite a few races in Tanana.
He didn’t do too good. He would come up here once or twice, but he didn’t do too good, you know.
Except he's got a good bunch of -- he's got a good breed.
He's so heavy now, too, that his boys have taken over, now.
RICHARD FRANK: He's been involved in dog racing for --
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, all his life, I guess. RICHARD FRANK: Most of his life.
HAROLD WOODS: He won most all the races in Tanana, you know.
RICHARD FRANK: Right. Him and his wife.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, Gladys, my daughter, used to win all the races down there. Snowshoe races at night.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You were talking earlier about the differences in -- And you don’t see many differences in dogs from the old days?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, the team I had and Smoke had, I don’t see any difference in them. It's just the way you're taking care of them. That's all they use them for now is racing.
You get more speed out of them.
PETE BOWERS: Do you think they're about the same size, now?
HAROLD WOODS: My dogs are just about the same. They're long and lanky, you know. Not too heavy, you know.
I’m sure they're not any better than the dogs I owned at that time. Of course, they got better care took’en out of them of nowadays, you know.
Plus you have all these feed and vitamins and stuff. They take them to the vets and all that, you know, which we never did.
There was no such thing back then.
And they're just bred now just -- I mean they're raised -- they just got them for racing purposes only, you know, for racing, you know.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: How about the racing season? Like in the old days you used to have races at holiday time, huh?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, when they used to race in Tanana that's where they used to race a lot they used to be the 17th of March. St. Patrick’s Day.
That's when they used to have their big races in Tanana. I remember that.
Of course, now they have it -- they generally start around the 1st of January. They have their -- just like they do up here, you know, their races.
PETE BOWERS: Well, that must have been something driving the dogs into town and then turning around a couple days later and racing them?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, no, we generally get up here enough times. If you take it easy, it ain’t going to hurt them, you know. If you got good trails, you don’t have to break trail.
Of course, it's a lot easier now they got sponsors. They can fly them in. That's a lot of wear and tear on them, you know.
The trouble with driving up you got chance of their feet getting sore and stuff like that, you know. That's the main thing I can see.
And if you ain’t got good trails, you'll probably cripple some of them.
PETE BOWERS: What did you used to do for taking care of their feet if they get cuts between the pads and whatnot?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, it's -- ain’t much you can do but put moccasins on them is about all.
RICHARD FRANK: That's one thing, come to think of it, I never really hardly every -- not too much of that seemed like. HAROLD WOODS: No.
RICHARD FRANK: And another thing I noticed, too, is that -- Like Harold was just talking to you, they used to come in with a burst of speed.
In those days, I seen a lot of that. After a good long run they’d come in with about three or four miles with a burst of speed. I used to see a lot of that.
HAROLD WOODS: If you saved enough, you know. You didn’t run them in the ground, you know. You make them long distant runs.
PETE BOWERS: Do you have any special -- special training techniques that you use when you're getting ready for a race other than just running them on the trapline or anything?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yes, take them out once in a while. And run them, maybe 15 to 20 miles. 25.
Depends on the trail you have. PETE BOWERS: Huh.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that must have been fun up there on the island with all the mushers. Up above town where you’d keep the dogs when you came in.
HAROLD WOODS: No. I mean that's -- I mean, where at?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You were mentioning that -- RICHARD FRANK: Rabbit Island? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: -- Rabbit Island HAROLD WOODS: Oh!
PETE BOWERS: With Jeff Studdert and Mike Agbaba kennels there --
HAROLD WOODS: Oh well, it wasn’t too much. Well, there was a lot of guys coming around and talk dogs, you know, which I never did do much of, you know.
But it was that bothered us and pestered us most was Danny Agbaba and Steve Agbaba. They were small, you know.
They’d sell papers and they would hang around us all the time. Buy a paper from downtown and make them walk all the way up to Rabbit Island before we’d pay them, you know.
And they were hanging around us all the time.
Old Steve is -- and Danny they was -- Danny was awful mischief.
He was awful mischief, you know.
And Steve was pretty nice kid though, you know. He liked sports and he was nice to have around, you know.
PETE BOWERS: He was helping his dad out with the dogs quite a bit, was he?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, he was pretty small then. Of course, Steve tried to race one year I remember, but he didn’t do too good at it.
Old Agbaba, you know, had good dogs, but he didn’t have the driver, you know. He had good dogs.
But where he made his money on his dogs, he’d sell as high as the whole team he told me, you know. Raised them and sell them.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, Steve was telling me that during several of the races during the War his dad -- his dad had all the dogs in the entire race leased out.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, he had good dogs.
PETE BOWERS: That every dog in harness belonged to Mike Agbaba.
HAROLD WOODS: He was a little too easy on them and didn’t know how to drive them because he came in flying all the time. But he didn’t win any race, you know.
But he had the dogs all right if he had the driver. I know that. He had good looking dogs, too. Took good care of them, too.
PETE BOWERS: Now were -- was his kennels and Jeff’s kennels just side by side down there?
HAROLD WOODS: No, I don’t think so. I don’t -- I can’t remember where Mike kept his dogs.
RICHARD FRANK: No, I don’t remember, but it could have been over in Graehl.
HAROLD WOODS: Could have been, yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Yeah. 'Cause Jack Mansfield was right across -- right above the hospital -- the old hospital.
And right above there was always did hear dogs and I thought it was Agbaba’s. HAROLD WOODS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: But there used to be a bunch of races that used to go up to Rabbit Island at Jeff Studdert’s kennels.
PETE BOWERS: That was kind of the big hangout for the mushers, huh? RICHARD FRANK: Yes.
PETE BOWERS: Well, who -- who was behind organizing the races back in then when you were racing in town here?
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, I don’t know.
RICHARD FRANK: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. 1949 -- or -- Yeah, ’49 was Stormy Schyler. I guess he was the president of dog mushers or the overall of the carnival.
And I don’t know that -- I think Studdert was involved in a lot of these races.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he was -- he was involved in every one of them, I think.
RICHARD FRANK: Yes. Uh-huh. But they had a president for the winter carnival so --
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, I think you mentioned earlier the 1941 Livengood race that Sherman Noyes --
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he was in charge of that. RICHARD FRANK: Yes.
PETE BOWERS: Huh. He was the one that didn’t pay anybody.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he didn’t pay. No.
He didn’t want to pay. I loaned all my -- they used to have women race there. Of course, there was -- they didn’t do too well them days.
But I gave her five dogs that crippled up, but, you know, and some with -- but she wanted to race with them, you know.
RICHARD FRANK: Who did?
HAROLD WOODS: Addie. RICHARD FRANK: Oh.
HAROLD WOODS: She won the women’s race with them. And he didn’t want to pay her off, you know. Went there --
She told him she got to leave in the morning. That she got to shop. He just threw the money at her, you know.
PETE BOWERS: And what was the reason they gave for not paying all the drivers?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, he got away with the money. There's no two ways about it.
He got away with all the money.
PETE BOWERS: He just left town with it, huh?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, after everything was over they said there was no money, you know. There had to be money in there.
And I always thought there was somebody else in on that, too.
RICHARD FRANK: There were a lot of conflicting stories about that.
HAROLD WOODS: You know, Tommy Wright -- You see, that's the year Jake won. And I don’t know he's -- he didn’t seem to care about it.
That was Tommy Wright’s team. RICHARD FRANK: Right. That’s right. Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: He didn’t seem to care about it. It looked like to me he might have been in on that.
RICHARD FRANK: Jake Butler drove Tommy Wright’s team to the winning circle.
He came down to Minto with 15 dogs. Him and his wife after the race. Jake Butler.
PETE BOWERS: I remember Bob Busby was telling me a little bit about that race. I guess it was in 1941 and nobody got paid.
And didn't sound like many of the drivers were too happy about it.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, no.
PETE BOWERS: Everybody came back to town and there was no purse money.
HAROLD WOODS: And then Jimmy Huntington got $200. He made an awful squawk. And he said he didn’t have enough money to get home with or something. He had $200 coming, I think, and he got it.
He had a hard time to get it, but he got it.
See after they stole my dogs up, I came in fourth anyway after hauling them. I was always going to quit and Jimmy said you don’t do good, you keep going, he said.
I could have -- you see, I passed him going over. Jimmy had a big team that time. He had 14 dogs.
I passed him right out of town here. And I was catching -- I could have passed Jake that time going in, but I had it --
I had the best time I know all the way, so I thought I'd save them tomorrow. And that's when they doped the dogs see that night.
PETE BOWERS: Had Jake Butler raced much before that?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, he raced all the time for Tommy Wright. He raced for Tommy Wright, you see.
RICHARD FRANK: Tommy had a pretty good sized kennels here in Fairbanks and he didn’t race himself. He had some other people driving his dogs.
And there was another one -- Judge Clegg. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: Now who was -- who was driving Clegg’s dogs? HAROLD WOODS: I don’t know.
RICHARD FRANK: This -- Herbert -- Herbert Lawrence.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah. Herbert Lawrence.
RICHARD FRANK: Drove his dogs a lot.
PETE BOWERS: Did Clegg ever drive his own dogs or anything? RICHARD FRANK: No. Not that I know of. Uh-uh.
PETE BOWERS: He was just kind of like a sponsor or -- RICHARD FRANK: Yes.
PETE BOWERS: Had somebody else driving them.
How about Julian Hurley?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, no, he -- I don’t know if he had dogs or not, but boy he was -- he was quite a character, you know. PETE BOWERS: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: He was a lawyer, of course, you know, but I think he was at the bottom most all the time.
He was drunk all the time. RICHARD FRANK: Uh-huh.
HAROLD WOODS: But he was a nice guy.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We're on now.
RICHARD FRANK: Yeah, one of the things that I used to look forward back to 1950’s was listening to the radio of what was broadcast. I think before the TV.
And people -- I believe the whole interior, the northern part and all that where they can get the radio and get race results was glued to the radio all three days.
And after -- later on a lot of people came in and just to see the winter carnival. See the winter queen being crowned.
And some other activities like hockey games. And it was just a big social get together. People looked forward to that.
And it's like the doc explained, that sort of got separated somewhere along the line back in the late '60’s, I believe. Where the dog mushers and the city worked with each other pretty much so --
That was one of the things that I used to really, really enjoy was when they had the first day race, you know, when they start mentioning some of these high powered mushers from outside and outlying areas.
That's the most to come in with the winners all the time.
And the interior Indians was there also. And it was the highlight of the community of Fairbanks to get to see these people in mushing. To see some of these old campaigners back.
I've seen Gareth ran a number of races. And Horace Smoke. I've seen him finish quite a number of times on the Chena River.
And then when they moved in this area here I see Dan Snyder. The 1949 champs and Alfred Wells.
Raymond Paul of Galena and Hugh Bifelt of Huslia. And a lot of these.
There were -- Well, Larry Westlake of Kiana. It was exciting to hear these people’s names because they came into Fairbanks for one reason. To give someone a good hard run -- make someone earn their winnings.
And it was one of the highlights of the winter. So people looked forward to that.
And to see not only that, but to see the teams in action. Everyone had their own way of mushing their dogs and hooking up their dogs and taking care of their gear. It was a little different from every other team, it seemed like.
And their sled style was something to take a good close look at. And also their harnesses and their tow line.
So there was a lot of things that we came in to look at.
And Horace Smoke, you know, we always did talk about this when we start talking about mushing at Minto that we knew that he had a combination that was pretty hard to beat.
Because for one thing, he had the dogs and he had the leader. And then he had a handler that'd been in the mushing in the winning circle for many years before that. That was Harold.
So he had a really good strong combination. These are things that we talk about. And it made us self proud and it made us look forward to some of that -- hopefully that we can do some day.
So -- and again I would -- it was very important to us to see something like this because I would hear about these things because we never did --
It never happened before, to see some of our own people get involved in these big time sports. Little old Minto back in the late '30’s when these big -- big time mushers came through there it was the highlight of the winter.
PETE BOWERS: It really gave everybody something to work toward and -- RICHARD FRANK: Yes. Uh-huh.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And look forward to.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, Old Smoke, he used to take me out for a ride just before the race. Training race.
Take me out and give me a ride. And after we come in, he’d say, "What do you think about it?"
Well, I always told him you got a winning team if nothing goes wrong. He hit three straight years he won.
I know he had the dogs.
PETE BOWERS: It must have been some team, then? HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: Let me ask both of you something. Who -- what do you -- who do you think the best team ever put together has been? If you had to say?
Look at all the teams that you had and that Horace Smoke had and Richard that you drove, what do you --
Is there any one that stands out? Somebody had the best combination, best leader, best team dogs and best trained dogs?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, it's hard to say, but, well, I’ll guess for a couple years there I guess George would have been hard to beat, you know.
Of course, that's all he does, you know.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, it's pretty -- would -- pretty hard to compare them.
HAROLD WOODS: It's pretty hard to compare when you can take the amount of races he won, you see.
Of course, he goes out and pick out -- he gets dogs from all over too, you know.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, and you guys were mostly just racing dogs that you raised yourself. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Back in the '30’s, when Harold drove his team, it was working dogs that we brought to the races.
And it’s -- I would say I think there's a lot of people that really look towards Johnny Allen in the '30’s. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
RICHARD FRANK: Because he had a team that was a trapline and working team, and he brought them in from Ruby.
Drove them overland to come in in the winning circle.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he come there to Nenana when I first met him, you know.
And here he comes, twelve dogs, you know. He stopped right in front of the store, right in the middle of the street.
Told his dogs to lay down and he went in the store and bought something and come back out. And got on the sled and he went out of there like a bullet to the dog. No dogs bark.
Now, those dogs are well behaved when you can do that. And this was the first time his dogs had ever been up here.
Yeah, I watched them. Walked in the store, left them right in those -- no -- no -- they're not even tied up. Right in the middle of the street, you know, where Alec Bower had his store. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
HAROLD WOODS: I know you remember that. He went in there to buy something and come back out.
Them dogs wasn’t tired, you know, they just waited for him.
RICHARD FRANK: In the '40’s, it’s the long distance race. The first one we ever heard of was Fairbanks and Livengood and return. That’s the one that Bergman Kokrine won.
In the early '40’s, he was the hero, I would say, 'cause he took a team -- And it was a small team, too. Seven dogs and he won that race.
I think back in and up in the late '40’s his brother won quite a number of races. Andy Kokrine here in Fairbanks.
And he was highly spoken of. And, of course, in the '50’s Horace Smoke was the one that was the hero. And he won it three years in a row.
In the '60’s, it’s -- I think, that's when you start separating the working dogs to just main dogs that's been raised to race just for the purpose of getting in the sportsmanship with dog racing.
So it's really hard to pin down who's the favorite. It --
You always hear Johnny Allen’s and Horace Smoke, those two, because those people out there that's -- when we start talking about them they were ordinary working dogs.
And they were trained to, you know, out there on the trapline and trained differently than nowadays.
I think nowadays, I think George Attla is the one that's been putting the combinations together.
And each musher had their -- had their day. They'll never -- they'll never -- never forget. I had my good days and I'm pretty sure Harold had his very good days, also.
HAROLD WOODS: Of course, you can’t take nothing away from Lombard. RICHARD FRANK: Yep.
PETE BOWERS: Yeah, he sure put some good teams together.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah. He got some dogs right from here. PETE BOWERS: Did he?
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yes. Bought a leader from George Attla for a thousand dollars and beat George with the same leader.
PETE BOWERS: Was that Nellie?
HAROLD WOODS: Nellie. I think it was Nellie.
RICHARD FRANK: Nellie. 1959. When he first raced here, he had a dog named, oh, boy, I forgot.
He bought that dog from Paul or Ruben Esau from Tolovana.
HAROLD WOODS: Yeah, he bought a few dogs from them.
RICHARD FRANK: And he came back with that lead -- that dog in the lead.
He bought in 1958 and he came back in 1959 with that dog in the lead and he won the championship.
HAROLD WOODS: Of course, he's a veterinary, too, you know. RICHARD FRANK: Yeah.
PETE BOWERS: You think that made a pretty impact on the race -- HAROLD WOODS: Well --
PETE BOWERS: -- the whole race circuit have the Doc Lombard coming up here?
HAROLD WOODS: Well, I don’t -- he took -- he got some dogs that people stove up in and pulled them through and won races with him.
So that veterinarian stuff sure helped him. Which an ordinary racer can’t do, you see.
And he wasn’t a kid, you know, when he came up here. PETE BOWERS: Uh-huh.
RICHARD FRANK: That was the general -- not, you know, when he first start racing here everybody knew that he was a veterinarian.
And this was, I would say, it was generally accepted as that he put a combination 'cause he was a veteran , but we --
I have to admit that Dr. Lombard did a lot for the dog mushing here in the state.
HAROLD WOODS: Oh, yeah, he has.
RICHARD FRANK: The trail conditions and the care of the dogs and the equipment. And the care of the dogs, I have to admit that I didn’t really know that much until I was advised, you know, by even some non-mushers that was -- that seen the mistakes I made.
And I have a good friend here that helped me in my mushing days that gave me a lot of good advices. Doc Fate.
And we used to sit down -- and sit down on a paper and said this is where you're wrong, this is where you're right, and this is the combination that you need.
One of the things that he -- Doc Fate really hounded me is even after I cross a line or we're talking over a cup of coffee or something like that, he said you got to have that even -- even combination.
You don’t run the dogs too fast or too slow. You just got to have consistent running.
The all 20 miles and all the 30 miles. Then you got a combination.
And this is what the winning teams was doing. And we just thought that if you started out fast -- everybody started out fast and if you slow down, you know, some teams slow down, some don’t, but you have to have that really consistent smooth running.
And I proved that one day in Tok when -- couple days -- three days in fact.
So I've been in the winning circle down there in 1967. And I never, never ever thought that I’d win down there. I was down there determined to win, but there was very good mushers there, also.
And what made it a little bit more odds against me was that I'd never been to Tok and I'd never been on that race course.
And I got there the night before the race and I drew the very last position. And the guy I really wanted to beat was there, too. Dr. Lombard.
And lo and behold, I won the first day and broke a record. And the third and final day I dropped some dogs and I broke my own record so that was a sweet, sweet victory.
And there's a reason why I said that Harold had some really good moments and some, you know, that he'll never forget. And I do, too. And all those mushers.
And I think it goes for the people that come in very last, too. They had their sweet moments out there because dog mushing is one good hard appreciative sport.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Any final thought, Harold?
HAROLD WOODS: No, I don’t -- can’t think of anything right --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, thanks for the taking the time. Appreciate it. HAROLD WOODS: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Pete?