Busted Axle Road
Chapter 121

Copyright© 1993, 2001, 2010

Josh and Jackie were totally amazed when they drove the pickup into Warsaw about 1:30 in the morning. They'd expected lights on in the fire station, and maybe Fred Linder to be hanging around, but there were people lining the street, and the fire station was full, with all the trucks sitting out in the snow. In front of the building, stretched across the street, was a banner, reading "WELCOME MUSHERS" handlettered on it, with a fire truck light playing on it to make sure it could be read.

The Warsaw fire department's ladies' auxiliary had set up tables inside the building, and there were long trays of coffee and doughnuts set out. Only then did she and Josh realize that this dog race was a bigger deal than they thought it was going to be.

Jackie only knew Linder slightly, since she'd lettered a couple of the department's trucks, but she sought him out. "What the Sam Hill is going on, here?" she asked.

"Don't get much excitement in this town," Linder said, "But we decided it was time for a party."

"I didn't expect this," she said.

"Neither did I," Linder conceded. "I expected twenty or thirty people, but people have just kept coming and coming. The grocery store manager opened the place up and cleaned it out for the ladies. This has been the biggest thing to happen in this town all winter."

Just then, a radio speaker blared. "Warsaw Base, Warsaw 7," it called. "They're just coming into town!"

A hubbub arose through the crowd, and the building emptied rapidly. "We got the loader out tonight," Linder said, "And laid snow down into the street, so they'd have a snow path to run on."

"You're really going all out, aren't you?" Jackie commented.

"Well, Jim Horton sort of said that he wishes my granddaddy were alive to see this," Fred said. "Too late to get started this winter, but I keep thinking about getting up a team of my own. We better get outside and watch this."

Outside, they looked up the street, to see the flashing lights of the Warsaw Fire Department's grass truck coming up the street. Behind the truck, they could see a pair of dog sleds, one running behind the other, and a cheer arose from the crowd. Josh and Jackie knew that even though the dogs were tired, they'd be excited by the hubbub, and ran out into the street to help corral the dogs.

Mark was leading; as they pulled in front of the fire station, he yelled, "Whoa!", and Jackie reached for Cumulus' collar, while Fred grabbed the necklines of the swing dogs. Behind them, in the light from the station, she could see Josh dive on Ringo, and another man reach for Mike's swing dogs.

"Wow," Mark said. "I didn't expect this."

"We've got picket lines and beds set up outside the station," Fred told them. "Let's just walk them over there."

Beside the station, there were two picket lines strung between trucks in a pool of light from the truck, with huge beds of straw for the dogs. Firemen were already pouring bowls of warm water for the dogs, and Josh ran to the truck for the dog food. "You set this up right," Mike said to Linder. "We didn't expect any of this."

"Jim told us what you'd need," Linder said. "Let's get these dogs picketed."

Mike turned to his team, took the harness off of George, and took him by the neckline to the nearest picket, where George lapped at the water bowl. As he returned to the sled, Mike could see someone leading Paul over to the picket line. "Jim!" he said in surprise. "I didn't expect to see you out here!"

"You think I'd miss this?" he said. "Someone had to know what to do to get ready for you, and I'm the only musher left in this town."

"Not for long," Mike heard Fred say.

With all the help, it was only the work of a few minutes to get the dogs picketed. Inside, on the stove in the station, a huge vat of dog food was warming, and it wouldn't be long before the dogs were fed.

"Let's get out of the cold," Jim suggested. "It's been years since I've been up this late.

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