Busted Axle Road
Chapter 32

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

For weeks, when work hadn't called in the evenings, Mike had faced an endless sea of boxes: packing boxes, moving boxes, unpacking boxes, finding more empty boxes, finding boxes that had been filled and misplaced. It was getting to the point where the only joy he found with boxes was the bonfires he made of the ones that he was done with. With any kind of luck, he and Kirsten would never have to move again, and maybe boxes could quit ruling his life.

Even now, there were boxes waiting for attention, but Mike was getting almighty tired of dealing with the never-ending supply of boxes. It was time for a night off, and a ride to Warsaw with Mark seemed like a pretty good way of dealing with the problem.

Kirsten was getting pretty tired of dealing with boxes, too; but it seemed as if the worst was over. It had been a shame that the move had come so late in her pregnancy, and she realized that a lot of the work had fallen on Mike, so she was sympathetic to his going with Mark, even if Mike hadn't thoughtfully been a little fuzzy about the purpose of the trip.

It was close to fifty miles to Warsaw. Spearfish County was a big county, with Spearfish Lake in one corner and Warsaw nearly in the other, so it took a while to ride over there in Mark's pickup. It didn't matter that much; it was a fine late spring, early summer evening, and the sun wouldn't set for hours, yet, so it made for a nice drive.

Cumulus went with them, of course; after a few miles of standing on the seat, looking out the windshield, he curled up on the seat between Mike and Mark as best as he could, and went to sleep.

"You know, he's really not that big a dog," Mike observed. "Is he going to be big enough to be a sled dog?"

"I think so," Mark replied. "Everything I've been able to find, at least the more recent stuff, says that you don't want a real big dog. Real big dogs aren't as fast, and they eat more. They pull hard, but don't tend to have as much endurance."

"Makes sense," Mike observed. "After all, the idea is to just run around on the trails, not haul freight up to the mine. I take it you've found a fair amount to read?"

"Quite a bit," Mark said. "I found several real good books down at the library in Albany River, and the library in Spearfish Lake was able to get me some more through inter library loan. Funny thing, though; there are better stories in the adult books, but I learned more about training and running the dogs in the kid's books. I felt a little silly getting down on my knees to dig stuff of off the shelves in the kid's section, but it was worth it."

"Information is information," Mike said. "Whatever it takes."

"Yeah, well, everything I read says that you want to talk about a dog in the forty to fifty pound range, and Cumulus here is right around that. He might have the makings of a lead dog, but there's no way of telling without other dogs."

"I'd like to leaf through some of those books," Mike said. "Tiffany keeps bugging me about a dog, and she wants a sled dog. I don't suppose there'd be any harm if she had a dog that could drag her around the yard on a sled, but I haven't got the first idea of how to go about training a sled dog."

"Didn't you have dogs as a kid?"

Mike thought back. Patches had been a heck of a good dog. He was a pure mutt, Irish Setter mixed with beagle or something, but he'd been a good dog to grow up with. He'd been getting old by the time Mike was in high school, and didn't last until Mike graduated. It had been a sad day when he died, and Mike just hadn't had a dog since. There was no way to have one in college, and then living in small apartments. Kirsten had come from a family that had never been into pets, and while she wasn't opposed, she just didn't have any interest, either.

But Patches had been fun to have around; Mike remembered training the dog to do a few simple things, like sitting, heeling, rolling over, a couple of tricks. "I had a dog," Mike said. "A good dog, too. But, it seems like training a dog team would be a lot different."

They found Jim Horton and his wife sitting on their porch in Warsaw. "Well, Mike McMahon," Jim called as soon as the two had gotten out of the truck. "Long time, no see."

"It's been a while," Mike admitted.

"Haven't seen much of you since you quit coming to the council meetings," Jim said. "Anything ever happen with that book you were writing?"

"Not much," Mike said, "But now, it looks like the County Historical Society might be getting interested in printing it."

"That's good," Horton agreed. "Have a seat. What brings you over here?"

Mike introduced Mark, and explained that George Lindquist had told them about Horton's dog team. "Mark is kind of thinking about putting together a dog team," Mike explained, "And we wanted to talk to someone that knew something about it."

"Haven't had dogs since back in the sixties, sometime," Horton said. "I was down to three dogs when I quit, and they was getting old. I was still on seconds, then, so I could run a trap line in the days, so I got me a snow machine. Didn't like it much. Damn thing was hard to get started, and noisy when you did, and was always breaking something. I thought about getting more dogs, but then they wanted to put me on days over at the plant, so I just quit trapping."

"How'd you get started?" Mark asked.

Horton leaned back in his chair, and began his story: "Got home from the war in '45. Went all through Italy with Battery D, you know. Well, times was tight then, and we was just married, and we didn't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, and no money 'cept the 52-20 club, so I figured to run me a trap line out in the swamp. Old boy I knew outside town had a few dogs, and he showed me the ropes, loaned me a few dogs to get going. Over the winter of '45 and '46, I got a three or four more dogs here and there, and added 'em to the team, and after that, just kind of kept at it."

"There were huskies around here then?" Mike asked. Over the years, he'd gotten into the habit of carrying a reporter's notebook with him wherever he went, since he never knew when a story would jump out at him. Now, out of habit, he pulled it out and started taking notes.

"'Twern't none of 'em huskies," Horton replied. "Oh, some of 'em may have had some husky in 'em, I suppose, but most of 'em was just dogs. One of the best dogs I had later on was a French poodle, no foolin'. For years, people get a stray dog show up around the house, I'd get a call. See, I wasn't tryin' to race the dogs, or anything, just get around in the woods, and while it gets cold up here, it hardly ever gets so cold that it's not safe for the dogs to be out. Keep a dog outside in the winters we get around here, and they build up a pretty good coat, so long's you started with a dog with a pretty good coat. See, huskies are a dog that's for a lot colder than it gets around here, most of the time, and the summer heat is really hard on them. They'll get overheated real easy if you push them any time it's much above zero, and you have to watch out for that. I wouldn't take my team out for a long trip if it was real, real cold, but hell, I didn't want to take myself out in it, either."

"That's kind of what I'm thinking about," Mark said. "Just a team to mess around with, out in the woods, maybe make a winter camping trip or two, but mostly just to get out when it's not too cold."

"Then you don't need no high priced dogs for that," Horton said. "My team was never real fast, but they always got me there, and they was just mutts. Only purebreds I ever had was that poodle, Seagull, and Pat. Pat, he was an old Irish Setter that showed up at the door one day. Made a pretty good sled dog, even if he was on the old side, and I only run him two or three winters. Seagull, well, she didn't have the endurance of the other dogs, you couldn't run her all day hard, but she learnt commands better than the other dogs, but I tried to have her in the lead when I needed a gee-haw leader."

"How'd you train them to run as a team?" Mark asked, looking at the glow in Jim's face. He realized that Jim must have really enjoyed running his dogs.

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