With most current Iditarod mushers focused on the finish line in Nome, one former musher is still thinking about the start. At this year’s ceremonial start in Anchorage, Rod Perry drove a sled that weighed more than twice as much as the other mushers. The Iditarod pioneer hopes it was the first of many historic sled runs to come.
Rod Perry has dedicated much of his life to preserving Iditarod history — from storytelling to keeping tabs on up and coming mushers and technology – he could be considered an expert in all things Iditarod related.
But he says most people’s understanding of the race’s origin is practically nil. He imagines a ceremonial start to the race where people wearing period costumes and driving old style sleds will kick-off the Iditarod.
The sled he rode in front of this year’s racers is the first creation from his idea, and almost an exact replica of one of the large mail carrying sleds of the early 1900s that transported mail to and from Iditarod and Nome.
“That sled, where the modern sleds weigh probably 35 pounds or 40, at the most, carrying very little. That sled weighs 240 pounds. It’s about 17-feet long build of Indiana bending oak,” Perry said. “It’s representative of a lot of the sleds that were used in the old days.”
The process of making the sled using traditional techniques was not an easy one, though. But with funding from Wells Fargo bank, Perry was able to set to work earlier this year building the first piece from his vision. It took him nearly five months.
“This sled it has a toboggan bottom underneath the cross pieces of the sled. The sled is not nailed. There certainly are places where there are nails and bolts but not in the working joints. The working joints are mortis and tenon. You have to have a kind of an engineered sloppiness built in,” Perry said. “This sled had to flex like crazy or it would break up.”
Perry’s sled is on display at the Alaska Heritage Museum inside the Wells Fargo bank on Northern Lights and C Street throughout March. Perry says it’s a rare opportunity to see a lost art.
“This is old time craftsmanship. There are very few people left who know this dying art,” Perry said. “It would be like trying to find somebody who knows how to build a stage coach.”