Last Dog Run for OFDF | K300 Story | Takotna Tavern
Those readers linking from Facebook have already noted that Old Friendly Dog Farm ceased operation recently. That means a dramatic change in lifestyle for the Angstman clan. For more than forty years, care and racing of dogs has required an immense amount of time, effort and responsibility. OFDF kept an average of 20 dogs throughout that time, and every dog needs attention twice a day, 365 days a year. There have been a lot of helpers but the responsibility for keeping every dog fed, watered and trained is not easily minimized.
There have been many high moments, such as this one by long time Alaska journalist Craig Medred in 1986.
That was the year Susan Butcher won her first Iditarod, and started a period of dominance of that race. There were also many low points in those years of racing. Those times rarely made for a news story. But the best times were actually not during the races but instead during the countless hours of training, when the solitude of a distant trail provided moments in nature that can't be described or duplicated. Mushing is a solitary sport, and training is the epitome of that. Long hours of thought and reflection are not common for people living in the internet era, but long distance mushers have a lot of quiet time to think and plan. Rare was the long ride that didn't end with a better frame of mind than it started with. Working with dogs has that tendency.
Some have wondered why the Dog Farm can't continue. It is a complicated situation, but the primary reason is an inability to find helpers with sufficient time and passion for mushing to keep the Farm going. If all that was involved was training and racing, it would be easy to continue, even for a guy near 70 years old. But the day to day task of keeping the dogs is demanding. It is hoped that a bit of racing still might happen. Four of the best young dogs were placed with Jessica Klejka, and she has indicated she will attempt to keep her old friend involved with racing if at all possible, so stay tuned. For those readers not on Facebook, this video is the final run into the Dog Farm on a trail cut through the brush over 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, Jack the office dog will have more attention. He has adapted well to his role at ALO, and is now learning the ropes as a hunting dog at the Elk Farm.
That was the location of a recently completed field trial, and the leftover pheasants from that event have provided him with a lot of entertainment, as he flushes them on his daily outings. Jack is exuberant around new people, and tends to cause a bit of disturbance when customers show up at ALO. The office has a well-established rule about such situations. If Jack is causing the customer too much disturbance, staff members are trained to approach the customer, and politely but firmly ask them to leave.
One case was resolved in March, involving a fire that burned all of the belongings of a client family. In addition to losing all of their household stuff, the family members suffered smoke inhalation and were lucky to escape.
March of course is Iditarod month, and that race generates lots of interest in Alaska. Once again the race start was moved to Fairbanks because of trail conditions in the Alaska range. That eliminated the traditional stop in Takotna, an old mining village of about 50 residents near McGrath, and the site of a favorite memory from earlier dog races. This story involves a former ALO lawyer named Doug Dorland, now retired in Palmer. Doug was at the Mail Trail 202 in 1988 which started in McGrath and passed through Takotna on its return to McGrath. Another ALO attorney was acting as Race Marshall and showed up in Takotna in the latter part of the event.
Doug took the race official aside and said there was an attraction in the local tavern that needed to be checked out. Worried that there might be some rule violation in progress, the Race Marshall hurried to the small establishment, which had a bar long enough for about 6-8 folks. That night it was all men, except for the buxom bartender. After beers were ordered, it became quickly apparent what Doug had found interesting. Every few minutes, a patron would drop a couple bucks on the bar and the hostess would lift her shirt, which was her only garment above the waist. The view was momentary, but good enough to generate many return transactions. Doug was quick to point out that the price was two bucks for a double view, but one dollar for either left or right, and being a frugal man Doug suggested the half price deal, noting that the objects displayed seemed to be identical. The Race Marshall soon determined that no racers were present and thus no violations were involved, so he departed quickly after his fourth beer to enforce the race rules elsewhere. The Takotna tavern has since closed, and when the Iditarod does pass through the entertainment is limited to pies, steaks and good conversation. Some of that conversation surely involves long ago events at one of the most remote taverns in America.
The Bethel area had one of its best winters in recent years with snow and decent temps right up until April. That allowed for many local races, including the final one where Granddaughter Mary won the the last official K300 event entered by a Dog Farm team. They ended a streak dating back to 1980 where the Dog Farm entered a team in every event sponsored by the K300(counting K300 weekend as one event). Think that through for a moment. Every event.
Even with a moderately cold winter, the ice pack continued to disappear in the Arctic. That is a major concern for folks living in the area, because much of their lives are linked to the ocean ice.
Earlier this year a fool with a gun killed the only wood bison to visit the Bethel area in history. Recently a different fool killed a couple of musk ox hanging around just north of Bethel. Lots of people were traveling out to observe the animals, and the reaction around town was not kind to the shooters. Too bad the musk ox didn't try this move.
If you like to follow the Iditarod you might enjoy this classic video of the 1979 race where OFDF made its debut.