Busted Axle Road
Chapter 40

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

The two new sleds, sitting side by side in Mark's shop, were starting to take shape by the middle of the week. There was going to be a lot of work to do, but it was going fast. While Mike may not have been much of a help with a hammer, there wasn't a lot of hammer work to be done, and his fingers, nimble from years of pounding on a keyboard, proved to be nimble at threading, lashing and tying the wet rawhide. Both of them knew that when the rawhide dried out, it would shrink, making for very tight lashings on the sleds, still smelling sweetly of ash.

Working out a way to make the stanchions fasten to the runners had been the tough part, even with the example of Horton's sled to follow. When that had been worked out, everything came together more quickly than Mike would have imagined. There were only another few pieces that had to be steam bent for the sled, like the brush bows at the front, and the upper railings. These went more quickly than the runners; Mark heated each one, one at a time, in a pipe filled with water, standing more or less upright in a bench vise, with a welding torch supplying the heat. Pretty soon, though far from done, the dog sleds were beginning to look like dog sleds. Once everything dried out, there was clearly going to be a lot of varnishing to be done, but the sleds were coming out very pretty, like works of art.

"We're going to have to get some dogs," Mike commented one evening as the two men worked on the dog sleds. "It'd be a shame to have sleds as nice as these, and not get to use them."

"Well, maybe the pound will have something in by this weekend," Mark said. "If not, I suppose we can head down to the pound at Coldwater, or something. But, we don't have to be in any real big rush."

"I suppose not," Mike said. "But I'm getting kind of anxious to give this a whirl."

"Me, too," Mark admitted.

Jackie had seen the two sleds sitting side by side, of course, and she knew very well what they meant. The guys were definitely going to go through with this, and two sleds meant two teams. Of course, she told Kirsten about the two sleds, one evening while she was down at Kirsten's soaking in the hot tub while the guys messed with wet rawhide. Kirsten pretty well understood what it meant, too, but her main comment was, "Boys will be boys."

"It's keeping them out of trouble, this week," Jackie said. "But what happens after that?"

When Saturday morning rolled around, Mike, Mark, and Cumulus were again heading down to the Humane Society. Cumulus seemed a little more confident, this morning, but his tail was still between his legs when they pulled into the parking lot. He seemed relieved to be left in the truck while the men went inside, but watched out the window, anxiously.

"I figured you guys would be in this morning," the manager said. "Got a couple dogs I been saving for you." He led Mark and Mike out into the back, where a number of dogs were in cages. It was hard for Mike, especially; there were a number of good-looking dogs there, if not the sort of thing for a dog team. "This dog was brought in a couple days ago," the manager said. "Seems like a friendly dog, pretty low-key. He's a stray the dog truck brought in, no collar or anything."

The dog was a little larger than they had been looking for, taller and heavier than Cumulus, but not out of line. He wagged his tail at them. The two looked the dog over carefully; he obviously had some shepherd in him, but was almost coal black. "Maybe some lab in there," Mike commented.

"He might do," Mark agreed. "What about the other dog?"

"This one was left with us," the manager said. "Guy and his wife split up, and there was no room for the dog."

This dog seemed happy to see Mark and Mike, too. He was a smaller dog, closer to Cumulus' size. He had a fairly heavy coat, reddish and dark, and looked to have possibilities as a sled dog. "The guy that brought him in said there was some shepherd in him, and some Irish setter," the pound manager said.

"They both look good to me," Mark agreed. "We'll have to see what Cumulus thinks. What do you think, Mike?"

Mike hadn't been looking at the reddish dog, for a lone, forlorn puppy in a cage had caught his attention. "Hey, you look like a good dog," he said.

The puppy perked up, and came over to the edge of the cage, his tail wagging. Mike looked into the dog's eyes, and the dog sort of smiled back. He couldn't help himself; he unlatched the cage, reached in, and gave the dog a little pet. The gray and white puppy, still in the fuzzball stage, licked his hand, and rolled over to have his belly scratched.

"That dog grows up, he'd be about what you're looking for. He's the runt of a litter, and he'd half malemute and half shepherd. Something kind of went bump in the night, and the family managed to get rid of the rest of the dogs. Their kids did not want to give this little fellow up, though. Unfortunately, he's been here a while," the kennel manager said, not finishing the thought, leaving the conclusion up to Mike.

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