SEPPALA AND TOGO COME TO MAINE
The Poland Spring Dog Derbies
Seventeen years ago, I decided to spend a few days at the Maine State Library pouring over microfilm.
Online, Id read that Seppala brought his team to the lower 48 states after the famous "Race for Life" that saved the children of Nome.
I knew that he'd been challenged by Arthur Walden to race his Siberians against Walden's Chinooks at the 1927 Poland Spring Sled Dog Derby in Maine.
But I wanted more. I wanted details.
What follows is "the rest of the story" I discovered over those afternoons of research.
I know it reads rough, but I will share it hear as I wrote it 17 years ago, and will produce a polished article from it for the blog section of this website soon.
Poland Spring Sled Dog Race (1926)
The first Poland Spring Carnival Race was held January 15-16, 1926. The race was called by many names in the Maine papers; Poland Spring Sleddog Derby, New England Dogsled Race, and the Maine Carnival Race. The race was judged and refereed by Dr. H. A. Souther from Brookville Massachusetts with the assistance of the race host, Mr. G. A. Ricker.
The race was a two day, forty mile event. Each musher was allowed a maximum of seven dogs on their team. The top three finishers would receive silver cups, provided by the Ricker family, owners and operators of Poland Spring House, a large local hotel and resort. The race was to begin at 9AM with the first team leaving the starting line with another crossing every 10 minutes thereafter. The race route was 18.5 miles on Friday the 15th followed by a 21.5 mile course on Saturday, the 16th. The second day's starting line-up would be in the order of the first day’s fastest teams. The winning team would be the one with the fastest combined time between both days.
The first day’s 18.5 mile course was as follows:
From the Riccar Mansion House to Poland, to Mechanic Falls, to Minot Corner, to East Poland, and back up the hill to the Mansion House.
The Second day’s 21.5 mile course was as follows:
From the Riccar Mansion House to the Danville Electric Station following US Route 122, to The Hotel Road by way of Mansion’s Corner, to Littlefields in Auburn, to Mechanic Falls, to Minot Corner, to East Poland and back to the Mansion House.
Walter Channing (with his lead dog Smithy) joined Arthur Walden (with his lead dog Chinook) in Wonalancet, New Hampshire, and from there both men mushed their teams the three day trip to Poland Spring. Each man’s traveling team consisted of 9 dogs.
All the dogs traveling on Walden’s team were sons of Chinook, who was the only surviving progeny of the great Polaris, the lead dog that took his team to the North Pole in the Peary Expedition. Both Channing and Walden would be representing the United States later that season in the International Sled Dog Derby in Quebec. Each intended to run 7 dogs in this Poland Spring Race but Walden had to drop two of his dogs due to a “little free for all” that broke out within his team before they arrived at Poland Spring.
Edward Clark, another contestant in the race had only lived in New England a couple years but had much experience with mushing. He had recently moved from Northern Canada with his “Pure Eskimo Dogs” where he had run a trap line for years by dog sled. His team of ten dogs, led by “Sitty,” carried him the 80 miles from his home in New Hamphsire to Poland Spring.
Originally there were supposed to be two women from Cambridge Massachusetts to compete in this race, Caryl Peabody and Clara Enebuske. The week prior to the race, however, Mrs. Peabody (who factors greatly into the story of the second running of this race in 1927, though she was again not a contestant) strained a ligament in her knee, causing her to drop out of the race in the hope that she might recover enough to compete in the New England Point to Point race that was soon approaching.
Mrs. Enebruske’s team of 6 dogs, led by the beautiful long-coated Scamp, consisted entirely of sons of the lead dog of her competitor, Walden’s Chinook.
The above named contestants were thought to be the only contestants in the race, but as dusk set on the eve of the race, a team of dogs came up the hill toward the mansion house and a man stepped off the back of the sled and in a thick French Canadian accent exclaimed, “Vuila!” Phillip Malloy of Berlin New Hampshire explained his late entrance this way; “I see Msieu Clark go pas y house dis morning with a dog team and I say to my wife ‘by gar I think I go to this race too!’ She say A right an so I go.” Malloy used to carry mail by sled between Moissle and Eskimo Point in Labrador and so was not a contestant to be taken lightly. His team of 6 Labrador Huskies was led by “Spring,” who resembled a slightly smaller version of Chinook.
January 15 starting order:
9:00 Philip Malloy (team 4)
9:10 Walter Channing (team 2)
9:20 E.P. Clark (team 5)
9:30 Clara Enebuske (team 3)
9:40 Arthur Walden (team 1)
The First Day
The roads were bad. On the first day Mrs. Clara Enebuske was the big story although she finished last with 4 hours 13 minutes and 50 seconds. She started the race with just 5 of her dogs for reasons unknown. Half way around one of her wheel dogs, “Michael,” went lame. “By all dictates of common sense Mrs. Enebuske ought to have quit right there,” exclaimed one reporter. She persevered to finish with 4 dogs and Michael on a leash. She got a big round of applause for not quitting and “even the dining room guests crowded windows to watch her come in,” said the report.
“Well I’m here.” She sighed.
“Tough luck Mrs. Enebuske… will you be racing tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow? I’ll race tomorrow with two dogs if I have to.”
Walden, on the other hand, finished the 18.5 miles of the first day in 1 hour 49 minutes 30 seconds! It was noted that this was better than the average at the Eastern International derby in Quebec the previous year (which race Walden won in 1921 with a younger Chinook).
Walter Channing finished 2nd with 1 hour 57 minutes, crossing the finish at 11:07. Responding to a request at the finish, Channing turned to pose his dogs for the photographer and a “free for all broke out,” started by his huge black wheel dog Jack (with a lot of Newfoundland in him, it was noted). Jack had to be clubbed from his perch on a teammate’s throat.
Clark finished 3rd with 2 hours 12 minutes. Clark lost 4 minutes at the start when his team wanted to go back to the barn. “Sitty,” his obedient lead dog, swung them right and the sled flipped. Clark’s leg got caught and he was dragged several feet. While others untangled him his team broke into a fight. Reporters said they had each others fur in their mouths as they were pulled apart.
Malloy finished day one 4th with a time of 2 hours 20 minutes 10 sec. Malloy ran a six dog team led by his leader, Prince. Three of his dogs were very young and finished the race “crawling back exhausted.”
Friday night, after the first day’s race, Arthur Walden was awakened by Chinook who “swept Walden’s bedclothes off." Chinook and Walden went out to the stables where the other dogs were kept and found Chinook’s son Koltag (who would be replacing Chinook at the Internationals in Quebec) choking to death on his own lead chain. He had climbed on a bale of hay and gotten wrapped around a post. When he jumped off his struggling tightened the chain. “How Chinook knew, is a mystery.”
The Second Day
Although not much is yet known about the second day, the second day starting order was as follows:
9:00 Arthur Walden
9:10 Walter Channing
9:20 E. P. Clark
9:30 Philip Malloy
9:40 Clara Enebuske
Arthur Walden won the first running of the Poland Spring Sled Dog Race with an unofficial world’s record of 40 miles in 4 hours 1 minute and 55 seconds. That’s about 10 miles per hour.
(Article by Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes)
1927 Poland Spring Dog Sled Derby
The 1927 Poland Spring Dog Sled Derby, Poland Spring, Maine’s second Carnival Race was held Friday, January 27, 1927. It is remembered today as the epic event in which renowned dog drivers Leonhard Seppala and Arthur Walden competed head-to-head, with Seppala the winner despite a series of setbacks on the trail.
The Race Judges were; Dr. Harry A. Souther, Vice President of the New England Sled Dog Club (the Starter and official time keeper of the race), Herbert J Pearson, State Humane Agent, and Edward Payson Ricker, Jr.
East meets West
Prior to this historic race, it was surmised that the "Siberian-type dogs frequently crossbred to wolves" from Alaska would stand little chance against the larger mongrels of the East, bred largely from dogs brought from Labrador and beyond. When this theory was presented to Leohard Seppala before the Poland Spring race, his only response was that he hoped for cold weather on account of his dog’s heavy fur and would have liked more time to prepare his team. Seppala’s dogs had been doing little other than being on exhibit across the country over the past few months.
The Thursday prior to the race, it was reported, five teams were registered and ready for the race. "Sippala," as it was misspelled in the article, "has two teams entered in the race." Friday, the morning of the race, seven teams readied themselves for the first day’s 25-mile leg.
The famed adventurer and New Hampshire resident, Arthur Walden, had entered the race accompanied by his famed lead dog "Chinook." Author Walden had "Chinook" registered in the Mansion House with him. The other dogs, of course, stayed in the barns. Walden was the favorite of the race, as he was last year’s winner and had developed a knack for handily winning the New England Sled Dog Club races. Many of the region’s mushers ran dogs sired by Walden’s "Chinook."
Walter Channing, a serious musher and second place finisher of the previous year’s race, was also entered. E. P. Clark, the third place finisher in the 1926 running, did not enter the race, because he and the Minot, Maine Post Master, Alden Pulsifer, were delivering mail gifts from the Governor of Maine to Albany, New York by dogsled team to New York’s Governor Smith and Albany’s Mayor Thatcher.
The race was to begin at 9:30 AM, and teams would leave in 10-minute intervals.
The original race route was planned thus: from Poland they would mush to Dry Mills; from Dry Mills they would travel to West Poland; leaving West Poland, the teams would follow the shoreline of Lake Tripp to Poland Corner and then back to Poland Spring.
However, after the course was inspected, there was a last-minute change of course due to a lot of broken ice on the roads. Therefore the actual running of the race was on the following route:
Mushers started at the Mansion House in Poland Spring; traveled through the Shaker village and past Sabbath Day Lake to Dry Mills; turning right onto North Raymond, passing Churchill’s Store to West Poland; following the shore of Lake Tripp, the teams would turn onto the state highway above Poland Corner to their finish in front of the Riccar Inn, 200 yards below the Mansion House.
As the race commenced, the temperature rose from the single digits to well over freezing. Strong gusts of wind, however, would help keep the dogs from overheating. Before the race, while the temperatures were still very cold by Maine standards, "Not enough sting in it," Seppala told a shivering reporter, "Want it good and cold."
Walden’s team, however, was locally bred and they were, in every way, fully acclimated. This was their weather. Leonhard Seppala would later comment to reporters that it was too warm for his heavy-coated Siberians.
Seppala left the starting chute at 10:20 and had two major delays during the race.
At the starting chute, Seppala’s team twice broke for the barn where they had been quartered, and he had to wrestle them back to the course. This delay cost him at least two or three minutes according to reporters.
The other delay was not reported by Seppala after he crossed the finish line; it remained unknown until after Elizabeth Ricker crossed the finish line at 2PM. She told everyone present that Seppala had caught up to her and that she had given her lead dog, Sport, the command to lead her four-dog Chinook team off the trail and give way for Seppala’s Siberian team. Her dog team got tangled and began to fight. Seppala, seeing her distress, left his team loose and unattended to aid Mrs. Ricker with her unruly team. After the Race on Friday, the headlines read; "Alaska Dog Driver, Hero of Race at Poland Spring."
Surely Seppala’s time would have been 4-5 minutes faster had he not encountered these two delays and displayed such good sportsmanship on the trail.
Elizabeth Ricker, herself, had yet another incident while racing. She was taking a break to eat a sandwich when her four large Chinooks caught sight of a skunk and ran off the trail after the smelly beast.
Seppala’s time started at 10:20 and he crossed the finish line 25 miles later at 12:31 PM. "Experts figured Seppala traveled 11 miles an hour."
Arthur Walden left the Mansion House starting line at exactly 10:30 AM and finished at 12:48 PM. Although Walden had him in his sights twice during the race (due to Seppala’s hold ups), Seppala kept pulling further and further away. Walden never caught the Alaskan musher.
Walter Channing, with his lead dog Tom, came in 3rd, averaging 10 miles per hour. It was "usually taken for granted this speed would win any dog race under similar circumstances."
George Constable also had a great run time despite the fact that he crossed the finish line with two dogs on traces rather than in harness.
Seppala's old leader Togo did not run on Seppala’s main team due to his age, but instead led the team of the "Mina Laklut," Alaskan Eskimo "Kingkeah." Kingkeak (reporters stabbed at his name repeatedly with Kingeah, Kingea, Kingkea, Kingkeak) and Togo would finish the day in sixth place.
Despite the multiple setbacks, the warm temperatures, and the lack of conditioning, Seppala’s team of small Siberians still won the day!
1st Place - 2hrs. 11 min. Leonhard Seppala
2nd Place - 2hrs. 18 min. Arthur Walden
3rd Place - 2hrs. 27 min. Walter Channing
4th Place - 2hrs. 28 min. George Constable/Canadian (for owner Mosely Taylor)
5th Place - 3hrs. 3 min Bradgon MacGregor (for Walter Channing puppy team)
6th Place - 3hrs. 8 min. "Leonhard Kingkeah" (for Seppala)
7th Place - 4hrs. Mrs. Edward P. Ricker Jr.
To give one an idea of how fast these teams raced on this first day, the previous 25-mile record, or "World Mark" as it was called by the reporters, was held by the Canadian musher Emile St. Goddard who ran 25 miles in 2:22:30 (equivalent, at best, to running 40 miles in 3:35). In other words, two teams in this race beat the world record for 25 miles (Leonhard Seppala and Arthur Walden), and two other mushers (Walter Channing and George Constable) came within six minutes of it!
After the race!
After the first day of the race the fancy of those who preferred the eastern dogs swung completely the other way. Mushers and would-be mushers lined up to speak with Seppala about acquiring dogs from him.
Despite the fact that Seppala’s team had overcome some great obstacles, one reporter (not willing to concede the superiority of the Siberians) added this addendum to his comparisons of dogs’ performance:
"However, due allowance had to be made for the skillful handling of Leonhard Seppala, …His knack of giving a push with his foot from time to time in perfect rhythm on the level was a contributing factor. …also aided by pushing the sled with his wiry strength on the upgrades. He would paddle with alternating feet, this was one of the little tricks he used. There were others."
Mrs. Carlyl Peabody negotiated for the purchase of a team of Seppala’s "thorough bred Alaskan Huskies." This was the same Mrs. Peabody that dropped out of the 1926 running of the race with her sons of Chinook due to a leg injury. "Friday it was pretty well understood that Mrs. Peabody would have the team, part of which would be made up of dogs used in the race here, with two puppies which would be shipped her from Alaska." noted one reporter. She also negotiated the purchase of Seppala’s wonderful fur Parka.
At the finish line Friday, Seppala was asked "How old are you?"
"Me?" he replied, "I’m 55. But I’m 20 in spirits!" And to prove it, he did three handsprings in succession.
"And I’ve got a wife and three children!" he added, walking over to give Togo a pat on the head.
"Seppala would sell her other dogs, but not Togo." one reporter noted.
Later that evening, Seppala took Togo into the Mansion House parlor to "tell the kiddies and grown ups, too, the story of the dog from his birth to the present."
All washed up!
Friday night and Saturday morning, it rained. When the rain froze, it turned the trail to glare ice.
The second leg of the race was postponed Saturday morning for the weekend (there would be no racing on Sunday) in the hopes that conditions would be better Monday. The big news for the reporters Saturday was that Seppala announced that the 11-year-old Togo would be staying with Mrs. Edward P. Ricker Jr. This was a complete reversal from his statement the previous day, when "The day prior he (Seppala) said to Mrs. Peabody that he would not sell him (Togo) for the world."
Seppala and "the Seppalas" win the day!
Monday, the 30th of January, it was decided by the Judges that the remainder of the race would have to be canceled due to poor conditions. The Silver Cup was awarded to Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog Billiken in front of the Riccar Inn in Poland Spring.
(Article by Jonathan Hayews)