Busted Axle Road
Chapter 43

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Unlike Mike and Kirsten, who weren't churchgoers, Mark and Jackie usually went to church on Sunday mornings, although they didn't let going to church get in the way of a nice day for flying or some other good reason, and with this Sunday morning beautiful and things to be done, it was considered a good reason. They were sitting at the kitchen table, nursing cups of coffee, and trying to guess whether the day would get good enough to get the 1-26 out when there came a knocking at the back door.

It was Mike. "Come on in," Jackie called. "Have a cup of coffee."

"Thanks," Mike said, coming in and pouring himself a cup. "I've been putting up with decaf at home for Kirsten's sake, but I hope I don't have to much longer."

"So how'd it go last night?" Mark asked.

"Let's just say that at the moment, Kirsten isn't too thrilled with me," Mark said. "I had to clean up two puddles and two piles of dog poop, but this morning George asked for out, so maybe he's getting the idea already."

"George?"

"Don't ask," Mike said. "In this case, I'm willing to bow to Tiffany's obviously superior opinion."

"She and the dog are getting along all right, huh?"

Mike smiled. "Just before I went to bed, last night, I checked on her. The light in her room isn't too good, but I went in and looked from the door, and here were these two eyes staring back at me, all curled up right next to her. There's no question whose dog George is. How'd you make out with Midnight and Red?"

"They only barked a few times last night," Mark said. "I think they're getting used to the place. It was probably a good idea to give them a chance to settle in before we tried to work with them."

"You still want to give it a swing this morning, before it warms up?"

"Yeah, I think so," Mark said. "It looks like it might pop later today, and it's my turn to take the 1-26 out. I thought maybe we could work the dogs for an hour or two, give them a little one-on-one, and then I could take a tow. Then this evening, we can do it again."

"Good point," Mike said. "I don't think we want to work them too hard, but we need to keep at it until they get the idea."

"Actually, I suspect it's going to be the other way around," Mark said. "Remember what Jim said? About the dogs taking off like a scalded cat? I think they're going to wear us out."

"Maybe we'd just better start out with two dogs," Mike suggested. "Cumulus and one of the others."

"I think so," Mark said. "Just get them used to pulling in harness. I suppose you or I are going to have to be the lead dog."

"How do you want to do it? Gangline and necklines?" Mike had been reading some of the books on dog sledding that Mark had been able to scrounge up, and had learned a lot in the last few days.

"Don't see how we can run with necklines, unless we have a leader, and none of these dogs has proven they can lead," Mark said. "I thought maybe we'd just start out with two harnessed to a gangline, towing a couple of old tires or something. We'll put a leash on each dog as a neckline, and try to give them the general idea."

"I really ought to go for a run," Jackie laughed. "But, I think I'm just going to have another cup of coffee, and sit out on the fence and watch you two."

It took a while to get everything set up on the runway in back of the shop. Mark had already learned that Cumulus barely noticed the aircraft tire, so he'd replaced it with an old car tire, and it still had barely held him down. Now, he laid out two tires, one behind another, and tied them together, while Mike stretched out the gangline. The evening before, Mark had put together two new harnesses, and he and Mike each harnessed one of the new dogs. "Cumulus has already been though this part of the exercise," Mark reasoned. "Might as well wear Red and Midnight down a little before we try anything serious."

With both dogs on leashes, it wasn't any great deal of confusion, although both Mike and Mark could see how just one more dog could cause a lot of it. Mike had a leash to Red, on the right, and Mark had one on Midnight, to the left. "Ready?" Mark asked.

"Let's do it," Mike agreed.

"OK, boys," Mark said, starting forward easily, "Hike!"

The two dogs started off running as Mike and Mark ran alongside. It was easy to see that they weren't used to running on a leash; even dragging the two tires, it was all Mark and Mike could do to hold them down, and getting down to the end of the runway was an adventure.

"Let's turn 'em!" Mark yelled.

"OK."

"OK, boys, Haw!" he called, for a left-hand turn -- not that the dogs would be expected to know the difference, yet, but it was time to start teaching them. The only problem was that the dogs weren't the only ones that didn't know the difference between 'Gee' and 'Haw'; neither did Mike. While Mark turned off to the left, he turned right, taking Red with him.

Red had the advantage of being the bigger dog, and Mark wasn't paying a lot of attention. Besides, it happened awfully quickly. One instant, he was starting a broad turn to the left, and the next thing he knew, he was being drug backward by the leash. His feet came out from under him, and he landed hard on the runway, letting go of the leash. "Sonofabitch," he moaned, the breath knocked out of him. He rolled over, wondering what the hell had happened, and saw Mike trying to bring the dogs to a stop by himself.

Mike was doing a pretty good job with Red, what with a choker chain on the neckline, but Midnight had other ideas, and was going hard. Mike dove for the free leash that Mark had dropped, all the while trying to hold Red down -- but missed. The gangline tripping him didn't help, and Mike wound up taking a belly flop onto the leading tire. "Whoa, you sonofabitch, whoa!" Mike yelled, still trying to grab for the leash dangling from Midnight.

In the fracas, the dogs had managed to get turned around, and were heading back down the runway toward Jackie, with Mike trying to stop them. Finally, as they neared the house, Jackie saw what was happening, and ran out toward the runaway dogs. She curled around, and grabbed the free leash, and between them, she and Mike were able to bring the team to a stop. Far down the runway, they could see Mark pick himself up. Jackie and Mark were able to get Midnight onto a chain, and while Mike chained up Red, she got in the truck and went down the runway for Mark.

"I don't know that we've got a team," Mike said when the two got back, "But these damn dogs can pull!"

"Uh, Mike," Mark said. "One thing. 'Haw' is left, not right."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."

"I think I can remember that. You O.K.?"

"I think so," Mark said. "But I think I'm going to want a soak in your hot tub tonight."

"No problem," Mike said. "But somehow, we've got to teach these damn dogs what 'whoa' means."

"I've got an idea about that," Mark said. "It's going to take me a while to work it out. Why don't you take those dogs, one at a time, and go up and down the runway a little. Work on 'Gee' and 'Haw' and 'Whoa', while I get it set up."

"All right," Mike said.

"Just remember. Haw, left, Gee, right."

"Haw left, gee right. I think I've got it."

Mike wasn't a runner, but he was in pretty good shape. Still, one dog, then the other, tired him out, and Jackie volunteered to give him a break for a while. While Mike tried to catch his breath, he wandered into the shop, to see what Mark was up to. He found Mark at the workbench, putting a tube back into a small, fat tire; a four-wheel ATV sat in the middle of the shop floor. "All the tires were down," Mark said, "But this is the only one that had a hole in it."

"Where did you get that?"

"Traded it out of a guy for an old Apple II and a couple of disk drives," Mark said. "It doesn't run; the engine's blown. I thought maybe I could fix it, but I've never bothered. I don't really like the damn things, anyway. The brakes work, so that's the important part."

"Might work," Mike said. "I'd better get back out there."

Not long after, Mark and Jackie rolled the ATV out of the shop. Mike was running Red, and it seemed as if the dog were getting the idea. Mike let him have a stop at the water bowl, while Mark hooked the gangline to the ATV.

"Let's try it again," Mark said. "Like we did the first time. Jackie, you ride the ATV, and try to keep them held down."

They got the dogs back onto the gangline, one on either side, and each took a leash. With the ATV on tow, they took off down the runway, and halfway down, Mark yelled, "Let's try a turn again."

"OK"

"All right, HAW!" he yelled.

This time the dogs turned hard to the left, despite Mike's effort to keep things going easy. He was the one jerked flat this time; Jackie swerved to the right, to keep from running over him, the gangline going over the top of him. She managed to keep the machine upright on the turn back to the left, squeezing hard on the brakes, while Mark yelled "Whoa!" Some distance away, they managed to bring the two dogs to a stop. Mark turned back toward Mike, who picked himself up slowly. "You O.K., Mike?" he yelled.

"I think so," Mike yelled. "But if I said that was about enough of that leash shit, would you believe me?"

"I think so," Mark agreed. "But you're right, those dogs can pull."

They walked slowly back to the ATV, where Jackie sat with a death grip on the brake; not really needed, since Red was taking a crap, and Midnight was busy scratching himself. "What are you going to try now?" she asked.

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