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The Chinooks of Tamworth: Sled dog races celebrate rich local lore

By Tom Eastman
The State Dog of New Hampshire has something to woof about these dog days of frigid January.
On Jan. 1, the American Kennel Club (AKC) welcomed two new breeds into its doghouse, the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno (which is joining the hound group) and the renowned sled dogs known as the Chinook (becoming part of the working group). They were named the breed of the week recently as well, notes Patty Richards of the AKC, who added that there are “less than 1,000 registered Chinooks in the United States, two in the United Kingdom, and one in Australia.”
1-25-chinook-dogs cottrell-1Bob Cottrell, of Tamworth, with Tug. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)Among those welcoming the designation was local historian, frequent New Hampshire Humanities Council Chinook history lecturer and Chinook dog owner Bob Cottrell of Tamworth.
“I think it's great for the breed. It's a recognition of their proud history, and of their future,” said Cottrell, who is director of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room, and a past director of the Remick Country Doctor Museum in Tamworth.
An expert on the colorful story of the Chinook, Cottrell and his wife Debra annually look forward to the Tamworth Outing Club's hosting of the New England Sled Dog races on Lake Chocorua.
The races have been a tradition in Tamworth since late famed Chinook sled dog racer and breeder Arthur Walden started them in 1924.
Due to previously poor lake ice conditions, this year's races have been rescheduled from this weekend to Feb. 16 and 17.
The Cottrells own a noble and gentle Chinook, officially registered as Mountain Laurel Tamworth Tugger, but known around the house as Tug.
They'll also be part of the Remick Museum's annual Ice Harvest and Winter Carnival, set for Saturday, Feb. 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
As part of that event, visitors may meet and greet mushers and their Chinook dogs in the morning. In the afternoon, a sled dog team event is scheduled to be held in the fields in Wonalancet, all being presented by the Chinook Owners Association of New England.
“We get together twice a year,” said Cottrell this week. “We'll have probably 30 Chinooks there in February. The summer event is about showing and conformation, while the winter event gives an opportunity for younger dogs to hook up with older, experienced dogs and team up in sled running.”
Both the Feb. 9 get-together by the Chinook Owners Association at the Remick Museum Winter Carnival and the New England Sled Dog Races now set for Feb. 15 and 16 are great social outings for the dogs, dog owners and dog lovers alike, notes Cottrell.
The Cottrells have loved it ever since moving to Tamworth in 1996.
“It's always great to be down there at the lake for the races for the New England Sled Dog weekend. We like to walk past the parked trucks, and see all the Huskies and other breeds looking out the windows, just howling because they want to race. There's always good food with burgers and hot dogs, and it's just a beautiful setting, there with Mount Chocorua in the background,” said Cottrell.

Frequent lecturer
It all ties in with Tamworth's legendary and rich sled dog history, about which Cottrell frequently lectures.
He's scheduled to give a talk Feb. 19 at the Meredith Public Library, and again Feb. 21 at the Lincoln Public Library, both beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The talks are entitled, “Harnessing History: On the Trail of New Hampshire's State Dog, the Chinook.”
The program looks at how dog sledding developed in New Hampshire and how the Chinook played a major role in this story, according to the New Hampshire Humanities Council website.
“[This program explains] how man and his relationship with dogs won out over machines on several famous polar expeditions,” notes the website, with Cottrell covering the history of Tamworth's Arthur Walden and his Chinooks.
For a historian and Tamworth resident, the idea of obtaining a Chinook seemed a logical thing to do to Cottrell.
“We were reading the history about Arthur Walden and the dogs in Tamworth, and we felt that a Chinook would be great for the kids,” said Cottrell. “They are great family dogs — strong but docile, and very calm. They love kids.”
They obtained Tug through a coordinated breeding program that insures the pedigree of Chinook's progeny by spreading it out among good lines throughout the country. Tug was born at Mountain Laurel Kennel in Connecticut with the help of Rick Skoglund of Perry Greene Kennel of Waldoboro, Maine.
“We got him through the Perry Greene Kennel, which is the direct purebred line of the original DNA [from Chinook],” said  Cottrell in a recent interview, prior to his and Debra's taking Tug out for a sled dog jaunt.
They got him when he was a puppy in August 2005. Tug has turned out to be totally predictable as a house pet, calm in the house, and energetic on the trails.
“You know how some dogs rip up your house? Well, inside, he's not like that. But out on the trails to go dog skijoring and hook him up to a harness, you just have to say the words — sled, or snow — and it's amazing. We could not have him pull until he was three months old. We asked Rick Skoglund, who  owns the kennel in Maine, how we were to train him, and he said well, let's see how he likes the harness? He just put his head right in, he knew instinctively. He felt the resistance, and he just started running!”
In the woods, he was a born runner.
“Unlike our black Labrador retriever, Fenway, who is very nice but not very smart, Tug is very intelligent and graceful out there. Fenway would lead you to a tree and stop, asking how we got there, you know? He would be one of the dogs that you would keep closest to you in the team. Tug, on the other hand, is a lead dog, and very intelligent out there. He will follow a trail,” said Cottrell.
He, Debra and their children, Ryan, 18, a freshman at Northeastern, and Miranda, 15 a freshman at Kennett High, love to go skijoring and dog sledding on an old rail line near their Chocorua home when they can. Carrying on the family tradition, Ryan received a N.H. Folk Life fellowship grant from the State Council on the Arts in 2011 to study under dogsled maker Karen Jones in Tamworth.
Like all Chinooks, Tug has a tawny, double-fur coat.
“They all have a soft inner fur and a longer outer fur that keeps them warm and dry. It's sort of like a GORE-TEX® parka,” said Cottrell, adding, “The really cool thing is they have an apron or shawl-like feature [below their shoulders].”
“He has webbed feet, which helps him in the snow,” said Debra. Added Bob, “Chinooks are not sprinters; they are bigger dogs at 55 to 70 pounds, unlike Huskies, which are lighter and faster. They're kind of like Mack trucks, strong and dependable — that's why they named the Chinook helicopters after them.”

The story of the Chinooks
Cottrell shared many stories about Arthur Waldren, who started the breed.
“He was part of the first White Mountains Winter Carnival in North Conway in January 1922. An article in The Reporter says he gave exhibitions with Chinook, and that while at Russell Cottages' toboggan run, there almost was an accident when they almost ran into a sledder, but that tragedy was averted. I'm still hoping,” said Cottrell, “to find some old footage of the carnival, because the article said that there was a film crew from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on hand, so we'll see.”
Cottrell said Walden used to give dog sled rides at the Eastern Slope Inn and Cranmore, appeared at winter carnivals in Berlin and Gorham and elsewhere around New England, and also used to annually attend winter sports shows at the Boston Garden.
“He was quite the showman,” said Cottrell.
Cottrell wrote a story on the history of Walden and Chinook for “The Heart of New England” online magazine, part of which is reprinted with Cottrell's permission here:
“Chinooks,” writes Cottrell, “are one of only a few breeds created in America. They were established in the early 20th century and their blood line can be traced to a single individual.".
“The Chinook breed,” Cottrell notes, “was developed by a rough and ready adventurer named Arthur Walden. After spending time as a 'dog puncher' in the Alaskan Yukon during the Gold Rush days, Walden returned to Wonalancet ... His goal was to create a new sled dog breed with power, endurance, speed and a friendly nature.”
Cottrell wrote that Walden started with a mastiff-type dog named Kim. Kim was bred to Ningo, a direct descendant of Admiral Peary's famous Greenland Husky lead dog Polaris. Three pups were born on Jan. 17, 1917 and named Rikki, Tikki, and Tavi (after Rudyard Kipling’s characters in The Jungle Books.)  
“Rikki in particular demonstrated the traits Walden desired and was later renamed Chinook in honor of a favorite lead dog Walden had owned in Alaska. Chinook means 'warm west wind,' ” said Cottrell.
Chinook was a “sport,” notes Cottrell, a phenomenon of nature, not resembling either of his parents — yet all of his offspring look like him.
Chinook was also an athlete. He led the winning team in the First International Dog Derby in Berlin in 1922 and over the next few years set records for distance covered, loads carried and running time.
Walden founded the New England Sled Dog Club in 1924. In 1926, Chinook and Walden led the first dog sled team to the summit of Mount Washington.
Chinook sired many pups who inherited his coloring, size and general characteristics. The Chinook breed has been maintained through the years by a small number of dedicated fanciers.

Byrd Antarctic Expedition
By 1927, writes Cottrell, both Chinook and Walden were not going to let age keep them from perhaps their greatest adventure.
Walden applied for the Byrd Antarctic Expedition even though at age 56, he was over the maximum age. He was given the duties of lead driver and trainer of all the dogs to be used on the expedition.  
During the winter months of late 1927 and early 1928, dogs and drivers were assembled at Walden’s Wonalancet Farm, and training began. Winter survival gear was also evaluated there, in the harsh conditions of the White Mountains.
Together the drivers worked for a full year training dogs and testing tents and supplies. Of the 100 dogs trained for the expedition, half of them were sired by Chinook, according to Cottrell.

The Great Chinook is lost
Cottrell related the sad tale of Chinook's end.
“During the expedition in Antarctica, Chinook disappeared on his 12th birthday, Jan. 17, 1929,” wrote Cottrell.
“Some say that he recognized he was losing his command over the other dogs and went off to die,” he added. “Others speculated that he had an accident and was lost in the snow. Walden had wanted to bury his friend in his harness, but Chinook’s body was never found. Chinook’s death was written up in newspapers around the world.”  
Upon Walden’s return home, Cottrell writes that the people of the area wanted to rename the road that connected the town of Tamworth with Wonalancet to “Waldens” Road in his honor.
“He asked that instead they honor Chinook, and today it still bears the name Chinook Trail,” said Cottrell.
After returning from the Byrd expedition, the AKC notes that Walden sold the Chinook Kennels to Milton and Short Seeley and the dogs were moved to a new location about a mile down the road from the Walden homestead.
From what historic pedigrees remain, the AKC says, it appears that the modern Chinook breed may be descended from Walden's breeding through just three dogs — Jock, Hootchinoo, and Zembla — who were sold by Walden to kennel partner Julia Lombard prior to embarking on his Antarctic expedition.

Display planned
Courtesy of the Tamworth Historical Society and Perry Greene Kennel Historic Collection of Waldoboro Maine, the Remick Museum has an extensive collection on Tamworth's rich dog sledding history.
That exhibit will be on display at the Cook Memorial Library as part of the Remick Museum's Winter Carnival, notes Skoglund of the Perry Greene Kennel.
“Tamworth's sled dogging history is huge,” said Skoglund in an interview this week.
For more information on the Feb. 9 Ice Festival and Winter Carnival, call the Remick Museum at (323-7591). For information about the New England Sled Dog races set for Feb. 16 and 17, call Tamworth Outing Club's Sheldon Perry at 323-7001 or visit www.nesdc.org/Events.htm. For information on the exhibit, call the Cook Memorial Library at 323-8510.
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