Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Busted Axle Road
a novel by
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2013

Chapter 11

For weeks, when work hadn’t called in the evenings, Mike had faced an endless sea of dealing with boxes: finding empty boxes, packing boxes, moving boxes, unpacking boxes, finding more empty boxes, finding boxes that had been filled and misplaced. It was getting to the point where the only joy he found with boxes was the bonfires he made of the ones that he was done with. With any kind of luck, he and Kirsten would never have to move again, and maybe boxes could quit ruling his life.

Even now, there were boxes waiting for attention, but Mike was getting almighty tired of dealing with the never-ending supply of them. It was time for a night off, and a ride to Warsaw with Mark seemed like a pretty good way of dealing with the problem.

Kirsten was getting pretty tired of dealing with boxes, too; but it seemed as if the worst was over. It had been a shame that the move had come so late in her pregnancy, and she realized a lot of the work had fallen on Mike. That made her sympathetic to his going with Mark, even though Mike had seemed purposely a little fuzzy about the reason for the trip.

It was close to fifty miles to Warsaw. Spearfish County is a big county, with Spearfish Lake in one corner and Warsaw nearly in the other, so it took a while for the ride over in Mark’s pickup. It didn’t matter much; it was a fine late spring or early summer evening, and the sun wouldn’t set for hours yet, so it made for a nice drive.

Cumulus went with them, of course; after a few miles of standing on the seat, looking out the windshield, he curled up on the seat between Mike and Mark as best as he could, and went to sleep.

"You know, he’s really not a very large dog," Mike observed. "Is he going to be big enough to be a sled dog?"

"I think so," Mark replied. "Everything I’ve been able to find, at least the more recent stuff, says that you don’t want a real big dog, because they aren’t as fast, and they eat more. They pull hard, but don’t tend to have as much endurance."

"Makes sense," Mike observed. "After all, the idea is to just run around on the trails, not haul freight up to the mine. I take it you’ve found a fair amount to read?"

"Quite a bit," Mark said. "I found several real good books down at the library in Albany River, and the library in Spearfish Lake was able to get me some more through inter-library loan. Funny thing, though; there are better stories in the adult books, but I learned more about training and running the dogs in the kid’s books. I felt a little silly getting down on my knees to dig stuff off the shelves in the kid’s section, but it was worth it."

"Information is information," Mike said. "Where ever you find it."

"Yeah, well, everything I read says that you want to talk about a dog in the forty- to fifty-pound range, and Cumulus here is right around that. He might have the makings of a lead dog, but there’s no way of telling without other dogs."

"I’d like to leaf through some of those books," Mike said. "Tiffany keeps bugging me about a dog, and she wants a sled dog. I don’t suppose there’d be any harm if she had a dog that could drag her around the yard on a sled, but I haven’t got the first idea of how to go about training one to do it."

"Didn’t you have dogs as a kid?"

Mike thought back. Patches had been a heck of a good dog. He was a pure mutt, Irish Setter mixed with Beagle or something, but he’d been a good dog to grow up with. He’d been getting old by the time Mike was in high school, and didn’t last until Mike graduated. It had been a sad day when he died, and Mike hadn’t had a dog since. There was no way to keep one in college, or afterward, living in small apartments. Kirsten had come from a family that had never been into pets, and while she wasn’t opposed, she just didn’t have any interest, either.

But Patches had been fun to have around; Mike remembered training the dog to do a few simple things, like sitting, heeling, rolling over, a couple of tricks. "I had a dog," Mike said. "A good dog, too. But, it seems like training a dog team would be a lot different."

They found Jim Horton and his wife sitting on their porch in Warsaw. "Well, Mike McMahon," Jim called as soon as the two had gotten out of the truck. "Long time, no see."

"It’s been a while," Mike admitted.

"Haven’t seen much of you since you quit coming to the council meetings," Jim said. "Anything ever happen with that book you were writing?"

"Not much," Mike said, "But now, it looks like the County Historical Society might be interested in printing it."

"That’s good," Horton agreed. "Have a seat. What brings you over here?"

Mike introduced Mark and explained that George Lindquist had told them about Horton’s dog team. "Mark is kind of thinking about putting together a dog team," Mike explained, "and we wanted to talk to someone who knew something about it."

"Haven’t had dogs since back in the sixties, sometime," Horton said. "I was down to three dogs when I quit, and they was gettin’ old. I was still on second shift, then, so I could run a trap line during the days, then I got me a snow machine. Didn’t like it much. Damn thing was hard to get started, and noisy when it finally did, and something on it was always breaking. I thought about getting more dogs, but then they wanted to put me on days over at the plant, so I just quit trapping."

"How’d you get started?" Mark asked.

Horton leaned back in his chair, and began his story: "Got home from the war in ’45. Went all through Italy with Battery D, you know. Well, times was tight then, and we was just married, and we didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, and no money ’cept the 52-20 club, so I figured to run me a trap line out in the swamp. An old boy I knew outside town had a few dogs, and he showed me the ropes, loaned me a few dogs to get going. Over the winter of ’45 and ’46, I got three or four more dogs here and there, and added ’em to the team, and after that, just kind of kept at it."

"There were huskies around here then?" Mike asked. Over the years, he’d gotten into the habit of carrying a reporter’s notebook with him wherever he went, since he never knew when a story would jump out at him. Now, out of habit, he pulled it out and started taking notes.

"’Twern’t none of ’em huskies," Horton replied. "Oh, some of ’em may have had some husky in ’em, I suppose, but most of ’em was just dogs. One of the best dogs I had later on was a French poodle, no foolin’. For years, people get a stray dog show up around their house, I’d get a call. See, I wasn’t tryin’ to race the dogs, or anything, just get around in the woods, and while it gets cold up here, it hardly ever gets so cold that it’s not safe for the dogs to be out. Keep a dog outside in the winters we get around here, and they build up a pretty good coat, so long’s you started with a dog that can get a pretty good coat. See, huskies are a dog that’s for a lot colder than it gets around here, most of the time, and the summer heat is really hard on them. They’ll get overheated real easy if you push them any time it’s much above zero, and you have to watch out for that. I wouldn’t take my team out for a long trip if it was real, real cold, but hell, I didn’t want to take myself out in it, either."

"That’s kind of what I’m thinking about," Mark said. "Just a team to mess around with, out in the woods, maybe make a winter camping trip or two, but mostly just to get out when it’s not too cold."

"Then you don’t need no high-priced dogs for that," Horton said. "My team was never real fast, but they always got me there, and they was just mutts. Only purebreds I ever had was that poodle – Seagull – and Pat. Pat, he was an old Irish Setter that showed up at the door one day. Made a pretty good sled dog, even if he was on the old side, and I only run him two or three winters. Seagull, well, she didn’t have the endurance of the other dogs, you couldn’t run her all day hard, but she learnt commands better than the other dogs, but I tried to have her in the lead when I needed a gee-haw leader."

"How’d you train them to run as a team?" Mark asked, looking at the glow on Jim’s face. He realized that Jim must have really enjoyed running his dogs.

"Weren’t a whole lot of training to it," Jim explained. "See, I built my team up out of a working team, and usually only added one dog to it at a time. Run the new dog in the team for a while, and pretty soon, they start to get the idea. I’d watch the team, and ever now and then, I’d see me a dog that worked harder, or that took commands better, and I’d know I had me the makings of a leader. Found me one the first winter, a little old dog, Silver, that must have had some shepherd in him, but the Lord only knows what else. Well, by the time the winter was over with, I had me four dogs of my own, and was running the team without any of the dogs Bob Linder had loaned me."

"Bob Linder. Would that be any relation to Fred?" Mike asked.

"Yeah, he was Fred’s great-granddaddy," Horton went on, trying to continue his thought. "Well, I just basically staked the dogs out the next summer, and didn’t do much with ’em. I knew I ought to go out and run them a little, but I was a-cuttin’ pulp, and was just too dead bushed when I got home to do much more than feed ’em. Figured that come winter, I’m going to have me a hell of a time gettin’ ’em workin’ again, but the first snow come, and I knew I had to be gettin’ on with it, so I harnessed up the four, and they took off hell a-tootin’, and I could just barely hang on. Took four-five miles for ’em to slow down to where they’d listen to commands, but I hung on, to show ’em who’s boss. Well, once Silver got that out of his system, he settled down, and so did the other dogs, and ever’thin’ went fine after that."

"Was four dogs all you ran, or did you get more?"

"Run with as few as three, if I weren’t goin’ a long way, or gonna be stoppin’ often," Horton explained. "’Specially back in the swamp, three’s easier to control. But usually five, sometimes seven or eight. Depends on the dogs some, too."

"That’s a lot of dogs," Mike observed. "That’d mean a lot of dog food."

"It did, sometimes," Horton agreed. "Tried to feed ’em good dog food when I could, not just the cheap dry food. The dry food is OK in the summer, but it’s hard on the dog’s guts if you try to work ’em on it. Had to use that some, when times was tight, but I tried to eke it out a little. ’Spose I shouldn’t say this, but I guess I poached me a few deer to keep the dogs fed, but I sort of figured that it was better my dogs, rather than the hunters from down Camden way."

"What’d you use for a sled?"

"Borrowed one from Bob that first winter, but it was a freight sled with a gee pole, and it was too darn big for running around in the woods. So, I built me a little sled, and it weren’t too good. I thought it would work to bolt it together, and it didn’t. A sled’s got to have some flex to it, or it’ll bust itself up. So, I built another sled, and lashed it together with wet rawhide, not a nail or a bolt in it, more like a racer’s basket sled, and used it from then till I gave up running dogs. Still got it, in fact. Thought about busting it up for kindling a couple of times, but it’s kind of nice to go out and look at, just to remember those days, if you know what I mean. They was some good days, back then. You fellas like to go and take a look at it?"

Mark and Mike didn’t need any prodding. Horton led them around beside the house, to a tall one-car garage full of accumulated stuff. "It’s up there in the rafters," he said. "Maybe one of you boys would like to climb up there on that stepladder and work it down."

Mike got on the stepladder and slid the sled forward to where he could rock it up and let it slide back. It was light, a lot lighter than he’d figured it would be. He let it slip backward to where Mark could grab one end, and the two let it down and carried it outside. The basket of the sled wasn’t large, only four feet, or so. With the brush bow at the front and the runners behind, it probably was closer to seven feet long, and could not have weighed any more than forty pounds.

"Somethin’ like that probably is about what you’re lookin’ for," Horton explained. "It’s small enough that it don’t take a lot of dogs to pull it, and you can maneuver it around easy, but it’s still big enough that you can take camping gear, or maybe take someone for a ride if you wanted to. This thing is kind of old and worn out, and the wood is all dried out, but it’s about what you want. It’s made out of hickory and ash, wood that I cut out in the back, here."

Mike stood back and looked at it, and Cumulus gave it a sniff, apparently detecting the scent of dogs long gone by. The sled was old, and there were cracks and loose stanchions, and places where something had chewed up the rawhide. Still, there was a beauty to the sled, and Mike could imagine it hooked to a team of dogs, running through the forest on a crisp winter’s day.

Apparently Mark had been thinking the same thing, for he was silent for a long time, then asked Horton, "Jim, do you suppose I could borrow that for a month or so, to make a copy of it?"

"Don’t see no reason why not," Jim agreed. "I’d just like to have it back when you’re done with it. It ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s got some sentimental value, I suppose. You plannin’ on goin’ ahead with a team?"

"I still haven’t made up my mind," Mark said. "But I kind of suspect that looking at this thing is going to help me decide to."

Mike suspected that Mark was already sold and didn’t want to admit it to himself, but Mike was as fascinated as Mark. "Jim," he said. "How would you like to come over to Spearfish Lake and help out some time, try to pass on a little of what you know?"

"I’d like to do that," Jim said. "I was the last person runnin’ dogs around here, and ain’t nobody ever asked me that before. I’d like to think that I’d passed on some of what I learned, back then."

*   *   *

Danny Evachevski and Josh Archer had been pals for years. Though Josh was younger and a couple grades behind Danny, they shared many interests and desires normal for teenage boys, and certainly, some of those involved the opposite gender – especially those of the opposite gender, wearing as little as possible, preferable out at Turtle Hill, the local spot where the kids all went to get close. So far, it had been mostly academic for Josh, but this year, he had his driver’s license and that might make a difference in finding the appropriate feminine companionship.

The problem was that no such feminine companionship was on the horizon, for either Josh or Danny, and as they sat in Josh’s "new" old Chevette at the Frosty Freeze, none seemed likely to turn up.

They’d long since finished their ice cream, and were sucking on Cokes, just to kill time. At one point, it looked as if both of them had had jobs lined up for the summer, but both had fallen through. Then, the business with the snake led them to think that Pam might be able to hire them to look for more Gibson’s water snakes, but that had fallen through, when Pam told them that she’d only gotten half the funding she’d hoped for, not even enough to do half the job. Even so, they’d been out a couple of times, helping Pam look for snakes, but without much success, and both of them agreed that slopping around in the swamps, looking for snakes – for free – while the mosquitoes carried them away, was not their idea of spending the summer. About all they’d been able to work out was a few hours a week delivering appliances for Danny’s father, and it kept them in cola and gas money.

So, having exhausted the subject of girls, the only topic left was football, and with practice starting in only six weeks, it was something to talk about.

Josh didn’t much want to discuss football; he’d be hearing it enough before long, sweating in August, with coaches yelling at him. This fall, now with a car and an active spot on the varsity rather than as just a walk-on, he might be able to garner some attention from females that he’d missed out on as a sophomore. What they say about football players getting all the girls is not always right, he thought. Football players have it as rough as anyone else.

Just then, a vision of loveliness got out of the back seat of a car, and walked into the Frosty Freeze. She was only in view for a few seconds, but in those seconds, Josh was able to note that she was wearing very short shorts, a bikini top, had a hell of a tan, and long blonde hair down to her cute little butt. "My God," he moaned. "Did you see that?"


"That blonde who just went inside," he said. "Must be some summer kid. I’ve never seen her before, but she was absolutely gorgeous."

"Didn’t see her," Danny said. "You want to go inside and hit on her?"

"No, man," Josh replied. "She was with her family. We wouldn’t get off dead center."

They were talking about how they were going to kick butt on the Coldwater Icebergs in the season opener when the door opened again. This time, both of them were looking. "There she is again," Josh said. "Man!"

Danny stuck his head out the window. "Hey, Amy!" he yelled, "Over here!"

"You know her?" Josh asked.

"Sure," Danny said. "That’s Amy Ashtenfelter. Known her for years. They’ve got a cottage out by my folks’ place." He didn’t have time to explain more before the vision of loveliness walked over to his side of the car. "How you doing, Danny?" she said, in a sweet voice that Josh thought had to be the sexiest he’d heard, except maybe for Danny’s sister, Jennifer.

"Pretty good," Danny replied. "This is my buddy, Josh Archer."

Amy bent down to look in the window, across the car at Josh. He looked back, and hardly saw her face, his eyes more on the deep, deep cleavage the bikini top revealed. "Hi, Josh," she said.

"Hi there," Josh somehow managed to say. "How long you up for?"

"Oh, we’ll be here all summer," Amy said, squatting down. The cleavage went away, but Josh still sat, enthralled, as she and Danny gossiped a bit, until a yell of "Amy" came drifting across the parking lot.

"Be right there, Daddy," she yelled back. "See you around," she said to Danny and Josh. She stood up and hurried across the parking lot to her parents’ car, the tight shorts emphasizing the wiggle of her cute bottom. Josh was ready to bite nails at the sight.

"My God," he said. "You mean . . . "

Danny was reading his friend 20-20. "Ever since I was in day care."

"But how . . . "

"I can’t explain it. She’s just a friend."

"Is there any way . . . "

"I dunno. ’Course, she’s older now. Maybe I can work something out. Maybe a double date, if we keep it real, real cool."

"We could . . . "

"Naw, they’re strict vegetarians. Be ready to eat your spinach, Josh. I’ll see what I can do."

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