Tamworth Outing Club and Sled Dog Racing: Breeds of their own, rich in history


January 27, 2011
Coville has been heading up the sled dog races for about 55 years and Steele has been with the TOC since 1960 involved with the sponsorship of the baseball league, contra dances, junior ski program and is now the membership chair person.

Coville, who Steele says is the heart of the sled dog races, tells the story of the sled dog races (which will be held this Jan. 29 and 30) and the outing club.

"It is quite a story," he says. Coville explains that Arthur Walden of Wonalancet went to Alaska and found that running teams along the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush was exciting and profitable. When he returned to New Hampshire in 1902, he married Kathryn (Kate) Sleeper and settled on her farm in Wonalancet. Walden ran his kennels on the farm.

In 1917 Walden's love of sled dogs led him to put together a team with the well known, loveable sled dog Chinook, a St. Bernard cross, whose birth name was Rikki. Walden renamed him Chinook.

"Chinook was smooth, tawny and a genius among dogs," says Coville. Chinook led Walden's sled dog team to New England victories in the 1920s. Walden (56 at the time) and Chinook caught the eye of Rear Admiral Richard Byrd and they accompanied him on his expedition to the South Pole in 1928.

Unfortunately Chinook never came back from the expedition. Legend has it, while on the expedition, Chinook disappeared on his 12th birthday. Walden did return in 1930 and sold his interests in his Wonalancet kennel to Milton Seeley and his wife, whom everyone knew as Short, says Coville. The sled dogs kept running- have been running ever since. "It all began here," says Coville.

"The formation of the outing club was a natural, like osmosis," says Coville. Clara Read, Coville's wife Nancy's mother, was the first female sled dog racer back then. Read was also the mother of Helen Steele. So you see it's becoming a family affair.

"My mother Clara and my father, Richard, everyone called him Buzz, came up in the late 1800's and began racing, around 1935, Tamworth sponsored the first races," says Steele. Some reports say the races began as early as 1919. Around that time residents of Tamworth were thinking what can we do for winter activity," explains Steele. There was skiing at Page Hill, where the rope tow was powered by a Ford's Model A engine, there were contra dances, with Ned Behr calling, there was the baseball league and of course sled dog races.

All programs remain today. The ski program has morphed into a children's junior ski program, which is now held at King Pine Ski Area. Steele ran the ski program for 20 years and now Joanne Floyd has taken over.

"It (TOC) does seem like a family. The idea of the TOC is to get people outside," says Steele. Coville agrees. "We want to do something nice for the community, that they would enjoy, get outside, that would attract other nice people, that maybe they might like to retire here," says Coville.

Steele and Coville say that any money they make goes back into the baseball program, junior ski program and helps support the club.

From the looks of the crowd who attends the sled dog races, lots of people come to support the races, the club and to be outside. About 400 people, including children, come to watch the races, says Steele. The races will be held Jan. 29 and 30. The races are sponsored by the TOC, along with the New England Sled Dog Club. Coville says this is the 61st running.

"People come from all over to race. "It is a pretty dedicated crowd, competitive, but nice," says Steele. "It is amazing to watch the dogs. These dogs are so well cared for; they are even fed organic eggs. The dogs are so excited to race. It is really a team effort between the dogs and driver," she adds.

On race day the dogs begin on Chocorua Lake and run the surrounding trails from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. About sixty sled dogs teams will compete with the largest teams competing in the Pinetree Power Classic, an 11-mile run. The race is free to spectators. The cook shacks will offer chili, hot dogs, hamburgers, hot chocolate. Pins and buttons will be sold. Proceeds help benefit the Tamworth Outing Club and its programs.

"I love the dogs, the energy, the excitement. You stand outside, it is a little cold, but you have hot chocolate, you can smell the wood fires, feel the cold air. When the first dog comes over the line, it is emotional, just like watching a horse race," Steele says. "This is the fabric of New Hampshire," she adds.

For more information about the Tamworth Outing Club and the upcoming sled dog races, contact Helen Steele at: helenwodc@msn.com

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