Sunday, August 30, 2009

Happy's Heritage

Note: This is an excerpt from my contributions to the SP Kennel Dog Log

Some of you might have noticed a very special dog who is absent from the SP Kennel family tree: Happy The Sled Dog.

As most of you know, Happy came to us with a lineage all of her own. Her mother was a sled dog that I met for just a few short moments as I walked around a village dog yard. Her father was a dog that Happy's mother must have "met" for just a few short moments as well. No one knew his lineage, breed or even his name. Mystery man!

The first summer that Happy lived at SP Kennel she was certainly an anomaly. I wasn't sure that she was even a husky. I had her spayed and she had another minor surgery in order to keep her healthy. My original reason for taking her was pure compassion - it didn't cross my mind that she might be one of our Iditarod Dogs.

I realize that Happy has many fans, so I hope to do something for them this season. We will have a spot on the website devoted to a "Happy Corner". And, maybe even come out with a Happy T-shirt.

So, even though we will not have any Happy genes added to our dog yard, I do hope that we'll have all together happy dogs.

This is a photo that Jeanne Schnackenberg took of Happy resting during our Mushing Adventure Trips on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in April 2008.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Darth's Got New Shoes!

My "Road Rig" performed flawlessly throughout our first cross-country drive together on US2. Darth was just amazing, a real "beast" who is also easy and comfortable to drive. The camper has exceeded my expectations for comfort, roominess, features and ease of use. I'm very happy with the whole set-up and look forward to many, many more drives together.

The only thing just a little less than perfect was that on poor roads -- for example with lots of ruts and/or sloping shoulders -- the ride sometimes felt a little wobbly, roly-poly or even squishy. I didn't think it was a problem with Darth's suspension, so I did some checking around.

It turns out that most truck/camper drivers complain of the same feeling, and the problem is with the tires! The soft-sided radial tires the factory mounts to help make the ride smoother aren't ideal for hauling heavy loads. They flex and roll too much, which causes the feeling I got.

The solution is to switch to heavy-duty, commercial truck tires. The problem there, however, is that all those tires are made for 19.5" wheels, not the 20" factory wheels! What to do?

The solution to that problem is provided by a company near Baltimore called Rickson. They custom make 19.5" wheels for pick-ups, and then match balance new truck tires to them... Perfect!

Since I was in the area, I drove down to the factory and checked them out. Dan Richter, the owner, is totally cool and explained everything to me. Plus, he had a set of wheels ready to go for Darth and could make it happen that day!

So, Darth's got new shoes! Super heavy-duty truck tires with very solid side walls on fancy new Rickson wheels. Not only has the load rating has gone from 3500 to 5000 pounds per wheel -- a huge increase in capacity -- but the sidewall flex is virtually eliminated and the tires will wear for twice the usual mileage of normal pick-up tires. Darth's being even more handsome than before is just a side benefit!

We're now "new and improved" and ready for our next long drive... Stay tuned for details!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Darth Goes To The Rodeo!

My good friend Marty has two daughter -- Samantha and Kelsey -- who are both avid horsewomen and barrel racers. While I was having dinner with them all last night, the girls told me about a race they had scheduled for today. They were very excited, all except for driving their father's "little" pickup to haul their horse trailer. To hear them tell it, the poor truck could barely do the job.

You can probably guess that I offered them Darth's services for the event, which they enthusiastically accepted. They were practically beside themselves at the prospect of, as they put it, having an easy drive and showing up at the race in a "real, big, tough, fancy truck!"

When I showed up this morning and we hooked up the trailer, however, they were quite surprised -- and a little intimidated, I think -- when I said that one of them would have to drive. I wasn't worried about Darth, but there was absolutely no way I was going to take responsibility for driving their horses around!

So, Marty gave Sam a quick rundown on all the driver controls that she's not accustomed to -- especially the foot pedal adjustments which meant that she could sit up really high and still reach them! -- and off they went.

I enjoyed seeing Darth hooked up to the horse trailer and realizing he's just a natural at this kind of stuff. One look at the happy couples and you can see they were all enjoying themselves, too!