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3/12/14

Brownielocks and The 3 Bears
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Cartoon Fun
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Begins March 2, 2014
(Always on the First Sunday)

We love Frank and Ernest and found this cartoon about the Iditarod....

 

The word "Iditarod" comes from the Indian word haiditarod that means "far distant place."  Traditionally, the Idtiatrod Race begins the first Saturday in March, in downtown Anchorage.  Anchorage isn't even on the official Iditarod Trail (20 miles off) , but is more the race's ceremonial start than actual start since it's Alaska's largest city and so logistically makes good sense.

At dawn, the day before race day, there is a "ceremonial" run of 20 miles through the city of Anchorage. (See below at  Iditariders also)  The run begins at Fourth Avenue  in Anchorage, winding through it's streets and going out of town to  end at Checkpoint No. 2 Eagle River.  The next day, all the teams meet at Wasilla, the Iditarod headquarters to begin the real race to Nome.

Let me begin by clearing up a common misconception about the Iditarod. It was NOT started to honor the  "Great Race of Mercy" (drivers and dogs) to Nome, Alaska that brought the diphtheria serum to those in need! This notion has been perpetuated by the media over the years.  The original name of the race was the "Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race" in honor of mushing legend Leonhard Seppala (who I'll discuss more later on.) The race could have also been named after another famous musher named Scotty Allen (another guy I'll discuss later on).  But, the Iditarod Race was really patterned after the All-Alaska Sweepstakes of 1907-8.  But, without a doubt, the Iditarod Trail peaked during the Alaskan gold rush from the late 1880's to the mid 1920's.

 

I think it's best if I begin with the dogs, since they are just as much a part of the history of the Iditarod Race as the mushers.  So, let's start with the word "mush." It comes from the French word 'march' as in to march (not the month of March). The word has been around for over 150 years. However, the word "dog musher" is fairly new. In the olde days it was "dog driver" or "dog puncher."  And, the phrase of actually traveling by dog sled was called "dog sledding."  Today it's also called "mushing."  Modern dog sled drivers very rarely start their teams off by saying "Mush!"  They now say either "Let's go!" or "Hike!"

No one is really sure when using dogs to pull sleds began.  The practice is believed to begin with the people of northern Eurasia, who crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Alaska.  It is here that the oldest evidence of dog sled use has been discovered (old parts and materials).

The first sled dogs were descendants from the wolf and were very husky weighing up to 80 lbs. or more. They had thick necks and chests, with short but strong legs. A breed  of dog that we know of today called the  Alaskan Mahlemut is believed to have been developed by the Mahlemut Eskimos. These dogs are large, gentle, thick-coated, with wolf-like features that can endure extreme cold weather.

Henry Bannister, a European-American explorer visited Alaska in the 1860's. In his records he noted seeing Eskimo teams (5 to 7 dogs) that could pull loads of up to 1,000 lbs. When Euro-Americans arrived in Alaska, the use of sled dogs expanded. From the 18th to early 20th century, sled dogs were used for transportation, exploration, trapping, hunting, hauling supplies, mining, and mail delivery. Trappers would work together in "dog trains" covering Alaska's interior. They would average 25 to 50 miles per day and would cover thousands of miles in a single winter.

By the end of the 19th century, Alaska's gold miners felt dogs were invaluable. Mushers would haul food, freight, mail and mining equipment to gold claims. Then they'd pack gold on their return trips. As the demand for gold went up, so did the price of dogs.  A big, strong, durable dog could be as high as $1,000.

Sled dogs were very very important to Alaska's mail service in the early 1900's. And, one of the most important mail routes was....the Iditarod Trail! 

Iditarod dogs will burn up to 11,000 calories a day! So, it's important to feed them well. Traditional dry dog food doesn't work for them. These dogs need a specially formulated mix of meats, fats, vitamins and bone meal.

To protect the dogs' feet from cuts and abrasions (mostly from ice) they wear dog booties. Surprisingly, putting on these booties is a task because it must be done with bare hands to work the Velcro straps.  Also, because the booties are made of soft material, they don't last very long. The dogs can chew on them or they wear out after so many miles.  The booties cost about 50 cents each. And, during the Iditarod, a driver may need up to 1,500 booties for his team. So, do the multiplication. That can be $750 just in dog booties!

 

The Iditarod Trail was primarily a winter pathway because in the summer it was nothing but swamps, bogs and lowland tundra making crossing it literally impossible! The trail was mainly for transportation and communication to connect mining camps and trading posts (and other settlements that sprang up during the gold rush era). The Iditarod wasn't just one trail. It was a network of trails that started in Seward, Alaska and ended up in the big gold boom town of Nome, Alaska on the Bering Sea Coast.  Included it's side trails, the entire transportation system was more than 2,200 miles long.

The first gold strike in Alaska was made at Resurrection Creek in 1891. Within 5 years, 3,000 people had poured into the area. Then a second gold rush happened in 1898, causing thousands to stampede and settle in Cook Inlet and towns like Hope, Sunrise, Knik and Susitna. Later on that year, gold was found on the shores near Cape Nome, triggering the biggest gold rush stampede in US history. Within two years, 30,000 people moved to Alaska to seek their fortune.  More than $2 million was extracted from Nome's "golden sands" and the city got a reputation of being one of the wildest towns in the area (corrupt officials, claim jumping, violence).

But, many failed to find gold. So, by 1905 Nome's population fell to 5,000. And, the town was basically isolated in the winter (October to June) when the Bering Sea was frozen and contact with the outside world was cut off.  So, the US Army's Alaska Road Commission ordered a route be surveyed from Seward to Nome.

Walter Goodwin, plus a 4-man team started to survey the area in January 1908. In 3 months these men blazed a path miles long. But, Goodwin said that this trail would only make sense economically if more gold was discovered along it to increase traffic. Low and behold, on Christmas Day in 1908 W.A. Dikeman and John Beaton, two prospectors, found gold on a tributary of the Haiditarod River, approximately 60 miles southwest of the route Goodwin had blazed. This gold discovery created Alaska's last major gold rush.  By 1912 more than 10,000 gold hunters were lured to the Inland Empire, mostly setting in either Ruby or Iditarod.

This gold strike prompted the completion of the Seward to Nome US Army project. So, a work crew of 9 men and 6 dog teams (lead by Goodwin) cleared, marked, and improved nearly 1,000 miles of trail during the winter of 1910-11.

Through the 1920's thousands traveled the Iditarod's network of trails in the winter. Most traveled by dog teams. A few rode horse-drawn sleds. Others walked, snowshoed or bicycled (because they couldn't afford a dog team).

 

How you used the Iditarod trail depended a lot on the distance between the rest areas known as roadhouses. Dozens of these sprouted up along the trail, usually a day's journey apart (approximately 14 to 20 miles).  These inns were crucial to travelers because they meant food, shelter, warm fires and a place to sleep protected from the weather. It was also mandatory that all roadhouse owners keep a list of their guests. This was to help if anyone got lost.

 

Of all the people that traveled along the Iditarod, the "Kings of the Trail" were the mail carriers (until airplanes replaced them).  U.S. laws required that mail teams be given the right-of-way. And, mail carriers be given special treatment at all the roadhouses.  The mail mushers were given the best seats at the table, the first servings of food and the best bunks for sleeping in.

The mail mushers fought blinding blizzards, extreme cold and 70 mph winds to deliver the mail on schedule.

Pete Curran, Jr. delivered mail (1924 to 1938)  from Solomon to Golovin on the Bering Sea with a team of 21 to 23 dogs, sufficient to haul 500-600 lbs. of mail. He was expected to maintain a weekly route from November to early May. [3 days to Golovin, 3 days back to Solomon, 1 day rest] You were required to be on time regardless of the weather. If you lost a day, you'd have to double up the next day.

Bill McCarty, carried mail from the Yukon River to Ruby and Nine Mile Point said, "There were days the poor dogs, they just hated to go."

For their services, mail carriers made $150 per month. This was a lot of money back in those days when things were cheaper. It would be like making $100,000 today."

 

As I said above, the Iditarod Race was based on the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, not the diphtheria run the press has led people to believe. So what is this  sweepstakes?

A miner, named Scotty Allen (born in Scotland and moved to Nome, Alaska in 1893 to find gold) had a 6 yr. old son named George.  George and his pals argued a lot concerning which family in town had the fastest dogs. So, to settle the argument, they arranged to have a 7 mile race for boys ages 9 or younger.  George Allen, with his lead dog named Baldy, won the race! Nearly everyone in town attended this race.  Local merchants offered prizes to the top finishers. Soon, mushing races replaced skating and skiing contests as favorite sports for boys and girls.

Well, the big boys also argued in the bars and stuff on who had the best dog team. They would often make bets. And to settle the bets they'd occasionally also have a race in the camp or village. But, there really was no "official" race with "official rules, judges, trails and prizes" until 1908 when George's dad, Scotty Allen and his pals decided to put on the All-Alaska Sweepstakes.  Even before this race, Scotty Allen had a reputation for being one of the best dog drivers in Alaska.

A lawyer (and dog lover) named Albert Fink made a speech to the top mushers in Nome. "As I see it, such races will become a permanent thing in Nome.....I propose that we establish a Kennel Club, the purpose of which will be to improve the strains of Alaskan dogs, and to better their conditions. The Annual All-Alaska Sweepstakes races...will serve to prove which dogs are best. I predict that dog racing in Alaska will prove as popular a sport as horse racing is in Kentucky."

With the help of Scotty Allen, this club approved a 408-mile course from Nome to Candle and back, along a trail that crossed all sorts of terrain: sea ice, rivers, mountains, tundra and forests.

To make sure that contestants followed a code of fair play a set and to take good care of their dogs, a set of rules was set up.  These original rules still serve as the basis of the modern day race.  Most notably: "The racers are obliged to return with every dog, dead or alive."

To prevent illegal dog substitutions, the Kennel Club would photograph every dog and record it's name, color and special markings.

To help stir up interest, during the Fall and Winter of 1907 the club had smaller race competitions.  Albert Fink (the lawyer) raised $10,000 in prize money to be split among the top finishers.

One day in April, 1908 the All-Alaska Sweepstakes started. The event started and finished on Front Street in Nome.  The route followed a telegraph line to Candle, so that messages could be relayed back to headquarters.  Bulletins on the race leaders and the condition of the men and dogs were periodically posted throughout Nome. So where was headquarters? It was at the Board of Trade Saloon!  They also had a Sweepstakes queen and her court (elected). And Nome's schools and courthouses were closed the day of the race. Most businesses in town also shut down.  But, hundreds of thousands of dollars exchanged hands via betting that day in the saloon headquarters.

Ten teams entered the original race. The first driver who left was Paul Kiegstad (owner and driver).

Teams left the starting line at 2 hour intervals. Later on, this proved a bad idea. Why? Because the wait was too long between teams and so the final team ended up leaving 18 hours after the first team.  This cause issues because some mushers then drove into storms that other mushers got to miss. So in the years following they had the teams start 15 to 10 minutes apart. Then it go to 5 minutes apart. And, in 1912 they made it one minute apart.

 But the winner of the first All-Alaska Sweepstakes (and some say the first Iditarod) was John Hegness who drove a team owned by Albert Fink (the lawyer who created the Kennel Club remember?).  His winning time was 408 miles in 119 hours and 15 minutes.

Scotty Allen (drove a team owned by J.Berger) came in second!

But Allen won the next year in 1909, even though he got caught in a horrible blizzard. He used the same lead dog his son George did, Baldy.  Scotty Allen thought this dog was a mongrel, but Baldy proved his worth when he found his way through a whiteout and led Allen's team to winning.  Soon afterwards, the papers called Scotty Allen, "King of the Arctic Trail."

Third place went to  Louis Thorstrup, a Norwegian immigrant. He drove a team owned by Russian fur trader, William Goosak.  He gained a lot of notoriety because his team of dogs were Siberian Huskies (not Alaskan Malamutes).  A man named Fox Maule Ramsay was so impressed, he purchased several of these Siberian Huskies. So, the next year, in 1910, he entered 3 dog teams (all made up of Huskies) in the All-Alaskan Sweepstakes. One team was driven by John "Iron Man" Johnson, who finished the 408-mile race in 74 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds. This is a record that has NEVER been broken until this year!  On March 28, Mitch Seavey of Sterling, Alaska, finished the 2008 Centennial  All Alaska Sweepstakes Race in 61 hours, 29 minutes and 45 seconds, shattering the 1910 "Iron Man" Johnson Sweepstakes record of 74 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds. In fact, not only did Mitch Seavey beat "Iron Man" Johnson's record, but 5 other Sweepstakes mushers  did too. Jeff King came in  9 minutes behind Seavey. Then , Lance Mackey after another 1.5 hour, then Sonny Lindner in a few more. Then, faster than the old record by "only" 1-1.5 hr, is Fifth,  Ed Iten and to be Sixth is Jim Lanier. All these mushers beat "Iron Man" Johnson's record!  

 

Fox Maule Ramsey, driving his own team of Huskies came in second!

What happened to Scotty Allen and his lead dog, Baldy?  They won in 1911 and 1912, regaining their titles of Kings of the North. 

Fay Delzene won in 1913.
John "Iron Man" Johnson won again in 1914. (Scotty Allen was 2nd again)

The All-Alaskan Sweepstakes of 1914 also marked the appearance of a musher named Leonhard Seppala, who was destined to become an even greater legend in mushing than Scotty Allen.  I said above that the Iditarod Race as we know it today was named after Leonhard Seppala. Why?

 

The All-Alaskan Sweepstakes race of 1915 of course favored Scotty Allen. But, Seppala won! He entered in 1914 at the age of 37. This was his first competition. So, winning it the next year, in 1915, was only his second mushing contest in his life. But this set a pattern.

Seppala won many other races in Nome and all over Alaska. He also won the All-Alaskan Sweepstakes in 1916 and 1917. (The race was discontinued in 1918) But, Seppala's racing career would span 45 years, winning countless titles and traveling an estimated 250,000 miles by dog team. He is most famous for his part in the diphtheria run of 1925  carrying the serum the most miles of any musher. (see below).

The All-Alaska Sweepstakes was never revived after World War I. But it takes it's place in history to be sure.  Note: This contest is being restarted in 2008.  See this link.

 

Now we get to the diphtheria run of 1925 called "The Great Race of Mercy." 

First of all, by the 1920's airplanes were getting to be very popular and replacing sled dogs teams as the primary source for transportation, hauling and delivering the mail.

Two young Eskimo children in Nome died in mid-January, 1925 of diphtheria. Their doctor, Dr. Curtis Welch, was the only doctor in Nome.  He diagnosed this as the disease called "The Black Death." Dr. Welch met with the mayor of Nome, George Maynard and the City Council.  He wanted to request the town be quarantined and try to figure out a way to get more serum as quickly as possible before an epidemic broke out. 

Mayor Maynard suggest that an airplane deliver this serum. This wasn't a good idea. Bush flying wasn't very safe in 1925. Also the planes had open cockpits back then and so flying would be extremely cold or impossible. And, no one knew if a plane could even operate at freezing temps.

Solution: The serum would be transported by train to Nenana, where the Alaskan rail line ended. From here it would be put on dog sled to Nome.

Pleas for serum was telegraphed all over the state. The nearest supply was in Anchorage. Dr. J. B. Beeson had 300,000 units. If this got sent to Nome fast, it might be enough to hold back the spread of diphtheria until the main supply (1 million unites) from Seattle could arrive. 

Alaska's Governor, Scott Bone, ordered that this dog team be done by a relay method. Mushers would travel to a designated mail-shelter and wait their turn to transport the serum. Dr. Beesom packaged this serum for shipment, placing it in a cylindrical container and wrapping it in insulating material.

Twenty drivers and  more than 100 dogs were recruited for this diphtheria relay run.
But, when it was certain that dog sled teams would be used to transport this antitoxin, Nome's Board of Health specifically requested the services of that legendary musher from the All-Alaskan Sweepstakes, Leohnard Seppala and his famous Siberian Huskies!

On January 26, 1925 the 20 lb. bundle of serum began it's 298-mile trip.

Below is a listing of the serum mushers of 1925.

 

Musher

Relay Sequence

Miles Went

"Wild Bill" Shannon Nenana to Tolovana 52
Edgar Kalland Tolovana to Manley Hot Springs 31
Dan Green Manley Hot Springs to Fish Lake 28
Johnny Folger Fish Lake to Tanana 26
Sam Joseph Tanana to Kallands 34
Titus Nikolai Kallands to Nine-Mile Cabin 24
Dave Corning Nine-Mile Cabin to Kokrines 30
Harry Pitka Kokrines to Ruby 30
Bill McCarty Ruby to Whiskey Creek 28
Edgar Nollner Whiskey Creek to Galena 24
George Nollner Galena to Bishop Mountain 18
Charlie Evans Bishop Mountain to Nulato 30
Tommy Patsy Nulato to Kaltag 36
Jackscrew Kaltag to Old Woman Shelter 40
Victor Anagick Old Woman Shelter to Unalakleet 34
Myles Gonangnan Unalakleet to Shaktoolik 40
Henry Ivanoff Starts from Shaktoolik. Hands to Seppala ----
Leonhard Seppala Shaktoolik to Golovin 91
Charlie Olson Golovin to Bluff 25
Gunnar Kaasen Bluff to Nome 53
TOTAL MILES: 674

 

Leohnard Seppala chose 20 dogs for the 640-mile round trip. His plan was to drop 12 dogs of at stops along the way and then on the return trip he could substitute the tired or injured dogs with fresh dogs. This way, he figured he could run his teams both day and night.

The relay began shortly before midnight on January 27, 1925.  A train conductor named Frank Knight, gave the serum to "Wild Bill" Shannon ( a former Army blacksmith, turned mail driver). Shannon drove a team of 9 Alaskan Malamutes in -50F weather. He took his team to Tolovana.  There he was greeted by Edgar Kalland, an Athabascan who worked as a steamboat operator in summer and part-time mail carrier in the winter. The two guys took the package of serum into the roadhouse and warmed it by the fire per Dr. Beesom's instructions. Then Kalland and his 7 dogs took off for Manley Hot Springs, 31 miles away.

And so it went from one outpost to another  through freezing temps, whiteouts, horrible winds, man to man as the chart up above says.  If I told each man's story this would be a really long page. So, now we get to Gunnar Kaasen, a Norwegian who had driven dog teams for 21 years in Alaska.  He lived in Nome.  Kaasen had a 13-dog team for his part in the relay.  His lead dog was a Siberian Husky named, "Balto" a dog that Leohnard Seppala had rejected earlier.

Gunnar Kaasen fought poor visibility and got lost. A strong, sudden gust of wind ended up flipping his sled and knocked over several dogs. After getting the sled and dogs upright, he noticed that the package with the serum was gone! Oh Lord!

Taking off his mittens, he fell to his knees and frantically searched in the snow. What if he had lost the serum farther back in the trail? Panic started to set in. But, low and behold, with bare hands he suddenly touched the familiar package and carefully retied it on to his sled. Whew!

Kaasen and his dogs reached his drop off at Point Safety at 2:00 a.m. on February 2. The musher that was suppose to go next on the relay and take the serum to Nome was Ed Rohn.  But Kaasen found Ed sleeping.  Actually, Kaasen was early. He wasn't really expected until morning. 

Here is where the controversy happens!

Gunnar Kaasen decides NOT to wake up Ed Rohn.  He felt that the worst was over in this long trip and there was only 25 miles to go. His dogs had suffered but they were still running well. So, Gunnar Kaasen continued on to Nome with the serum, arriving in town at 5:30 am on Front Street. Kaasen quickly ran to Dr. Welch's home and gave him the package with the serum. No further deaths from diphtheria were reported and the epidemic was halted. In less than 3 weeks the quarantine in Nome was lifted.

The entire "Great Race of Mercy" had taken less than 5 1/2 days through horrible weather. It was truly an accomplishment!

After the serum run, all the mushers were given a donation from a public fund, plus a per diem paid by the Territory of $30 to $40. Governor Bone also presented each driver with a citation praising their heroism.  The H.K. Mulford Company (that made the serum) sent inscribed medals to members of the first relay and award Gunnar Kaasen $1,000 for his part in the race.

THE CONTROVERSY!!

There was a lot of jealousy and arguments because Gunnar Kaasen by-passed Ed Rohn and took the serum to Nome himself.  This feud lasted several decades!  Ed Rohn and Leohnard Seppala felt that Gunnar Kaasen did it on purpose to reap publicity and other rewards. Kaasen and his supporters said that his explanation of the final night's events were justified and it would have been a mistake to give the serum to Ed Rohn, who had no experience mushing in stormy weather.  The $1,000 that Gunnar Kaasen got added to this feud.  And, guess what else Gunnar Kaasen got?  An acting offer made to him by a motion picture company!!

Leohnard Seppala was further upset because the media picked "Balto" as the serum run's canine hero. He was really annoyed when "Togo's" race record was incorrectly attributed to the "Balto."  But the big blow came when "Balto" (not "Togo) was immortalized in cast-bronze.  A statue of the canine hero "Balto" was placed in New York City's Central Park.

Some say that this statue of "Balto" seems appropriate as a tribute or an ordinary Husky who came through against all odds and represented all the canine participants in the great serum race as really "man's best friend in 1925."

 

It's now 1966.  Many years have now passed since the diphtheria run of 1925. Times have now changed. Airplanes have edged out sled dogs as far as carrying the mail. Sled dogging seemed headed for extinction due to snowmobiles (aka snow machines). 

"Sled dogs were disappearing fast in the  mid-1960's," Joe Redington, Sr. recalled. Redington was a long time devoted musher and didn't like this.  Then in 1966 he met Dorothy Page at the Willow Winter Carnival.  The two are now called "The Father and Mother of the Iditarod." How?

In 1966, Dorothy Page was named president of the Wasilla-Knik Centennial Committee. Her assignment was to organize some event that would commemorate the purchase of Alaska from Russia by the U.S.  Dorothy's idea was to stage a spectacular dog race to wake Alaskans up to mushers and dogs had done for the history of Alaska. She wanted to pay mushers a tribute.

The old Iditarod Trail (once used for Gold, then for mail and telegraph) seemed just right. It was historical, especially during the Gold Rush era of Alaska. But, Dorothy had one problem. A really big problem. No dog mushers would back her idea. Well, no one but Joe Redington, Sr. that is.

Previously, in 1948, Joe had met an Alaskan sourdough musher named Lee Ellexson. He was an old mail musher along the Iditarod Trail in the early 1900's. This was the man that sold Joe Redington, Sr. on mushing! 

During all these years, the Iditarod Trail had overgrown from lack of use. In the 1950's Joe and his wife, Vi, started to clear portions of it and also lobbied to have it added to the National Historical Trail System. In 1978 Congress designated the Iditarod a national historical trail!

But, let's digress back to 1966 shall we?  When Dorothy Page proposed her centennial dog race, Joe said, "That would be great." But he would only agree to go along with Dorothy's idea if there was a $25,000 in total prize money. This was an awesome amount in those days. Joe's feelings were that he wanted the biggest dog race in Alaska. And, in order to accomplish that, he needed to offer the biggest prize money.

The race was set for mid-February 1967.  It met with a lot of opposition. Many mushers felt it would fail. Instead, it met with a lot of success  and attracted 58 racers. The race was 25-miles long, run in two heats.

The first winner of the Iditarod in 1967 was Isaac Ikleasik, who lived in Teller, AK.  He won $7,000 (out of the original $25,000 purse) which was the biggest prize of that era.

The next year, 1968, the race was cancelled due to lack of snow and interest. It was reinstated in 1969, but the prize was only $1,000 (that's all that could be raised). And, it had only 12 racers enter.

Not disillusioned by the lack of interest in 1969, Redington said that by 1973 there would be a long-distance race to Nome.He also said the purse would be $50,000. Despite obstacles, Redington made good on his word. There were 34 drivers signed up for the first-ever Iditarod that was now 1,049 miles long (which is still the official distance today).  The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was now at least 1,000 miles long; and, the extra 49 miles represented Alaska's entry to the Union as the 49th state.  However, the distance traveled by the teams is really over 1,100 miles.  Oh and the prize was $51,000 by the way, which was $1,000 more than Redington had promised.

The winner in March of 1973 was Dick Wilmarth, who finished in 20 days. Out of the 34 who entered, 22 actually made it to Nome.  

The race exceeded everyone's expectations. But, there was another serious problem the race faced - dogs dying.  Depending on which publication you read, the number was between 16 to 30.  The animal rights groups caused a major uproar.

The next year, the Iditarod continued having financial woes. The prize money was down to $34,000. In spite of this, 44 musher signed up to race.  

The winner in 1974 was Carl Huntington, an Athabascan from Galena. He did it in 20 days, 15 hours.

After the race, Redington asked the mushers if they wanted another race. All said yes. Many said they'd race even if there were no prize money. From that point on, the Iditarod was established!

The 1975 Iditarod was a landmark race because for the first time it had an actual sponsor that pledged $50,000 in prize money. Also, several rules were added to ensure proper care and health of the dogs.  The dog death rate dropped dramatically in 1975, with only two dogs reportedly dying.

Dorothy Page, and her husband, Von along with Joe Redington, Sr. kept the race going.  Each year the race has grown. For over a decade, the Iditarod has earned national and international celebrity and fame as "The Last Great Race."

The race purse now has increased to over half a million dollars ($550,000) with more than $60,000 going to the champion alone. Journalists and television reporters from all over the United States and overseas cover the event.

And, the Iditarod no longer has contestants just from Alaska.  They come from all over the United States as well as foreign countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britian, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland.

The Iditarod can now be said to be a success thanks to the dream, spirit and determination of a man who loved mushing named Joe Redington, Sr.

The end of the race has a  5,000 lb. Burled Arch. Each racer will pass under this arch. During the years, it's been deteriorating and broke when there was an attempt to store it for the summer. The arch was built by the local Lion's Club Organization as a permanent marker of the finish line. 

The last musher who finishes the race gets the Red Lantern.  This lantern is lit when the race begins and burns until the race ends. (This is similar to the Olympic Torch.)  The lantern is blown out and handed to the last place musher. Originally started as a joke, it's now become a tradition.
 

 

We've talked about the prize money going up and down during the years. For most of the contestants, sled dog racing is either a part-time business or an expensive hobby.
Very few do it as a profession.

 Costs to compete can range from $10,000 to $25,000, including the $1,750 entry fee.  All mushers who finish the race, however, may get up to $1,049 of that back.
(Note: There's that magical 1049 number again!)  Other expenses include dog food, kennel maintenance, dog care costs, transportation, and training.  The financial rewards are lean, except for the highest finishers.

The 2001 Iditarod had a purse of $550,000. The winner got $62,857. But only the top 19 racers got paid more than $10,000. 

 

 

Since 1995, another tradition has been that of the "Iditarider." Who is that? To help raise money for the race,  the racers give rides on their sleds during the Anchorage "ceremonial" run that's held the day before. To get a ride you must bid (auction-style) on mushers and pay approximately $500 to $7,500 to ride on the musher's sled in this ceremonial race.  The winning bidders are  called "Iditariders" and are whisked for 11 miles through Anchorage on sled teams of 12 dogs. But, during the actual race, a musher can use up to 16 dogs. 

 

 

Every racer has one of these. It is a small packet (up to 5 lbs.) filled with envelopes. These envelopes are to be postmarked in Nome. This is symbolic of the Mail Mushers of the early 1900's who delivered mail along the Iditarod Trail.  Envelopes delivered by the top two finishers are auctioned off at the post-race banquet to raise money for the race. The others are sold throughout the year. This has been a race tradition since 1974.

 

Here is a listing of all the Iditarod Winners when it was a shorter race.

1967

Isaac Okleasik

1968

Cancelled due to lack of snow and funds.

1969

Dick Wilmarth

1970

Carl Huntington

1971

?

1972

?

 

Here is a listing of all the Iditarod Winners from 1973 to 2011:

The Year

The Winner

The WinningTime
(Days and Hours/Minutes/Seconds)

1973

Dick Wilmarth

20 days and 00:49:41 hours

1974

Carl Huntington

20 days and 15:01:07 hours

1975

Emmitt Peters

14 days and 14:43:45 hours

1976

Jerry Riley

18 days and 22:58:17 hours

1977

Rick Swenson

16 days and 16:27:13 hours

1978

Dick Mackey
 ( Won by 1 second over Rick Swenson- 2nd)

14 days and 18:52:24 hours

1979

Rick Swenson

15 days and 10:37:47 hours

1980

Joe May

14 days and 07:11:51 hours

1981

Rick Swenson

12 days and 08:45:02 hours

1982

Rick Swenson

16 days and 04:40:10 hours

1983

Dick Mackey

12 days and 14:10:44 hours

1984

Dean Osmar

12 days and 15:07:33 hours

1985

Libby Riddles
 ( First Woman to win )

18 days 00:20:17 hours 

1986

Susan Butcher

11 days and 15:06:00 hours

1987

Susan Butcher

11 days and 02:05:13 hours

1988

Susan Butcher

11 days and 11:41:40 hours

1989

Joe Runyan

11 days and 05:24:34 hours

1990

Susan Butcher

11 days and 01:53:23 hours

1991

Rick Swenson

12 days and 16:34:39 hours

1992

Martin Buser

10 days and 19:17:15 hours

1993

Jeff King

10 days and 15:38:15 hours

1994

Martin Buser 

10 days and 13:02:39 hours

1995

Doug Swingley

9 days and 02:42:19 hours

1996

Jeff King

9 days and 05:43:13 hours

1997

Martin Buser

9 days and 08:30:45 hours

1998

Jeff King

9 days and 05:52:26 hours

1999

Doug Swingley

9 days and 14:31:07 hours

2000

Doug Swingley

9 days and 00:58:06 hours

2001

Doug Swingley

9 days and 19:55:50 hours

2002

Martin Buser

8 days and 22:46:02 hours
(actual record of time)

2003

 Robert Sorlie

9 days and 15:47:36 hours

2004

Mitch Seavey

9 days and 12:20:22 hours

2005

Robert Sorlie

9 days and 18:39:31 hours

2006

Jeff King

9 days and 11:11:36 hours

2007

Lance Mackey

9 days and 05:08:41 hours

2008

Lance Mackey

9 days and 11:45:48 hours

2009

Lance Mackey

9 days and 21:38:46 hours

2010

Lance Mackey

8 days and 23:59:09 hours

2011

John Baker

8 days and 19:46:39 hours

2012

Dallas Seavey
(Age 25. Youngest Winner)

9 days and 04:29:26 hours

2013

Mitch Seavey
(Age 53. Oldest Winner)

9 days and 07:39:56 hours

2014

Dallas Seavey

8 days and 13:04:19 hours

 

Here's a map of the Iditarod Race Trail
(The race begins at the bottom and ends at the top.)

 

 

 

 

Although the mushers and dogs are the main focus of the event, the Iditarod Race couldn't happen without the work of many people. For example:


Snowmachine Crews - fight extreme cold and high winds to break trails.

Airplane Pilots - Fly dog food and supplies to checkpoints, as well as transport
race officials and the veterinarians + any rescue missions if needed.

Veterinarians - Do pre-race exams and check on them at checkpoints during the race as well as report any abuse.

Ham Radio Operators - Provide race updates at checkpoint locations, as well as coordinate search and rescue if necessary.

Checkpoint Residents - Prepare meals for the mushers.

Checkers - Sign mushers in at checkpoints and make sure they are carrying their mandatory gear.

Computer Operations - Make updated race information available to the media and public.

Miscellaneous Volunteers - Dog handlers at start of race, answer phones at headquarters, make dog booties, care for dogs that have been dropped from racing, or just do this and that as needed.

 

 

Return to our  March Holidays Listing Page.

Source of Information:
"Iditarod - The Great Race to Nome"
By Bill Sherwonit and Jeff Schultz
Sasquatch Books, Seattle, WA  2002

Special thanks to Abe Smyth (brother of Cim Smyth)  for providing me with information on  the
Centennial All-Alaska Sweepstakes Run in 2008.

Doggy Running Animation was sent to me. Source Unknown.

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