Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
Jim Horton lived right on the edge of Warsaw, not far from a two-rut that would take Mark and Mike to the North Country Trail. When Mike called a couple of days before, he'd said he'd be glad to let them park Mark's truck there overnight. "Been a long time since they's been a dog team in this yard," Jim told him. "Be good to see one again."
"We'll be there about noon," Mike said, "Unless something comes up."
Nothing came up, and right at noon, Mark drove the pickup into the yard. It was pretty well packed, with eight dogs in the dog box in the bed of the pickup, and what spare space available in the bed filled with camping gear. The two sleds rode tied to the top of the dog box. By the time Cumulus and Ringo piled into the front seat with Mark and Mike, there hadn't been a lot of space left over.
No sooner than they had stopped, the front door of Horton's house opened, and Jim and Fred Linder came out. "Good to see you again, Mike," Fred said. "Jim told me you guys were coming over. He's been telling me about your dogs, and I remember my grandfather and his team, so I thought I'd stop by."
"Well, these teams are sort of your grandfather's grandchildren," Mike said, "Passed down from Jim. We probably wouldn't have them without him."
"It'll be good to see them again," Fred said. "God, some of the stories my grandfather used to tell about his dogs."
"I'd like to hear them sometime," Mike said, genuinely interested. He'd gotten interested in the old-time Spearfish County dog mushers, and not a lot of information was left.
"I remember some of them," Fred said. "We'll have to get together some time. Anything I can do to help?"
"I don't know," Mark said. "I suppose we ought to get the sled loaded, then hook up the dogs. That could take a while."
They took the sleds off of the top of the pickup, and began to pile gear into them.
"Hey, boys," Jim said. "Don't mean to be telling you what to do, but the sleds will ride a whole lot better if you pack them right. You want to put the heavy stuff to the back, and down as low as you can get it. You don't want to take a lot of stuff for you; you've got too much stuff that you've got to take for the dogs."
"Seemed like a lot of stuff," Mike agreed. "But, we couldn't see how to get by on much less."
"Look, unload all that stuff," Jim said. "Then, take yourself a tarp, and set it down into the basket, spread out, and pile your stuff on the tarp. Then, when you get loaded, you can tie it up into one big bundle."
"That's why we came here," Mark said. "We knew you'd set us on the right track."
"Used to sleep out on the trap line, sometimes," Jim said. "Didn't have two sleds to haul all the stuff, either. Didn't even take me a tent. Just curled up in the sleeping bag in the sled basket, and threw the tarp over me. Dug me a snow cave, sometimes when they'd been a lot of snow."
"Doesn't seem that comfortable," Mike commented.
"I went though a hell of a lot worse when I was in Italy with Battery D," Jim said. "Did get a mite wet and cold at times, there."
Eventually, they got the sleds loaded. Mark tied his to the back of the pickup, and Mike to a nearby tree, and they began to break out the dogs.
After being cooped up in the boxes, even for the short distance, the dogs were happy to be out in the open, being harnessed up and hooked to the ganglines.
"Eager bunch of dogs," Jim observed. "They want to run."
"We'll give them a chance," Mark said, hooking Cumulus to the gangline, the last dog to be hooked up. "I think we'd better get on the move," he commented. "They're not going to be happy to just stand around."
"Sounds about right," Jim said. "When you guys get back tomorrow, I'll have the coffeepot on. I'll want to hear how it went. I just wish I was young enough to go with you."
"I may drop by, too," Linder said. "Damn, that looks like fun."
"Don't know when it'll be," Mark said. "Could be any time between, say, nine and two. We'll be looking forward to the coffee. You ready, Mike?"
"Lead on, McDuff," Mike told him.
"You've been hanging around Varner too long," Mark replied, slipping the tieline. "Gravediggers, UP!" he yelled. "HIKE!"
"Gravediggers?" Horton asked.
"We realized that with two teams running together, with each of us running the teams, they could listen to the wrong command," Mike said. "So, we've been working on that."
"But, why 'Gravediggers'?" Linder asked.
"It's a long story," Mike said. "I'll tell you tomorrow. I'd better not let him get too far ahead." He turned to the dogs. "Beatle Hounds, UP!" he yelled. "Hike-Hike-Hike!"
The first mile or so out of Warsaw was a little rough; the road had been plowed, and they had to run along the snow-filled birm, where the going wasn't good. On top of that, the dogs were busy with their first-mile mad rush, and Mike was glad to see Mark and his team turn off onto an unplowed two-rut through scrub pine trees. The two-rut didn't last long before they turned again, onto the North Country Trail.
The first couple of miles of the trail weren't easy going, either; it was narrow and crooked, and even with only five dogs, there were times that Mike couldn't see Ringo ahead of him as they snaked through the small pines. After a while, the trail opened up into mixed aspen and hardwood, and occasionally they got to a point where they could see the tamaracks of the Spearfish River swamps below them.