Howard Farley's History of the Nome Kennel Club written in 1985
It is very difficult to compress eighty or ninety years into a small article. The Nome Kennel Club, of course, came about in the fall of the year 1907 and many, many races were held. They were shorter races. Some of the races that were held were the Fort Davis race of three or four miles and races down to Cape Nome. This was all in preparation for the big race.
Nome was a better's paradise in those days. People here bet on all kinds of sporting events and the race to Candle and return was no exception. The race was publicized all over- it went out over the wire services and there were many, many bets. The prize money was not great, but the All Alaska Sweepstakes got its start in 1908. The first race was a very slow race. It was run in about 100 hours, perhaps a little more. The contestants were basically freighting - type teams, which is why the times were slower. In 1909 they decreased the time just a little bit. The record which still stands today, eighty years later, was set in 1910 by teams brought over from the Siberian side. They were Siberian huskies, dogs brought over by Fox Maule Ramsey. He entered three teams in the 1910 All Alaska Sweepstakes and he took the number one position with a man driving for him who was called Iron Man Johnson. That record of 74 hours and some odd minutes stands to this date. Fox Maule also took third place at that race with a team of those Siberians that he was driving himself. Down through the years, until 1918, the All Alaska Sweepstakes continued with great mushers like Scotty Allan and Leonhard Seppala trying, trying and trying to break that record of Iron Man Johnson's. Leonhard Seppala was to win the race three times and Scotty Allan was to win it three times, but in all their trying they could not best the record of Iron Man Johnson.
The Nome Kennel Club carried on its races until after World War One was over in about 1918 and then interest in racing around the Nome area fell off. There were still some races but there was nothing like the All Alaska Sweepstakes.
The next time that the Nome Kennel Club surfaced was as a result of the accomplishments of its most famous member, Leonhard Seppala. In 1925 word went out over the wireless from Nome that Nome had some cases of diphtheria. At that time Nome was locked into winter and there was no transportation available except dog teams. Airplanes were around at that time but the closest ones were in Fairbanks and they had been put away. So the word went out for serum. Of course the press on the Outside picked this up and this became one of the most heroic and famous epics of all time. The serum was found in Anchorage and it was transported on the Alaska Railroad up to Nenana and from there it was picked up by a series of dog mushers, twenty in all, and it was brought to Nome in 129.5 hours. This is a record that I believe has not been broken to this day.
Some of the mushers that were found in this run were Leonhard Seppala and his dog Togo. There was also Balto, the famous lead dog run by Gunnar Klassen, the man who brought the serum into Nome. Other mushers were Charlie Olson, Henry Ivanoff and Charlie Evans, to name a few. For their efforts - remember these were just men trying to help their fellow men- they received a certificate from the Governor of Alaska at that time and received a medal from the company who produced the serum. These medals are still found - some of the mushers still have them. Three of the mushers are still alive - Billy McCarty, Charlie Evens and Edgar Nollner are still living. They are older men in their eighties. The Iditarod honors these mushers every year.
After the serum run was over, Leonhard Seppala went to the South 48 to race and introduced racing into the New Hampshire, Vermont and surrounding area. Gunnar Klassen took Balto and part of his dog team and made the circuit of shows all over the country. In 1927 a man from Cleveland, Ohio found the dogs in a carnival show and through the efforts of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio and the children of Cleveland who all contributed 10 cents apiece, they raised enough money to buy the teams from the promoter and bring them to the Cleveland zoo. These dogs lived out the rest of their lives in the zoo and Balto eventually was stuffed and is now on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Racing continued in Nome. There were minor races held during the time from the serum run up until World War Two. These were shorter races. There were no more All Alaska Sweepstakes races. Racing had moved into the Fairbanks area in those days as well as expanding back East. One of the prime reasons for racing falling off in the Nome area was that gold mining had diminished after World War One and there was not much gold mining until the huge dredges took over in the Nome area. As time went by, there was less and less need for the large teams. Many of the dog teams that Leonhard Seppala and other mushers ran in the old days were owned by the mining companies. They were used for drayage purposes, for hauling freight back and forth to their operations. The mail drivers hauled mail up and down the coast until 1962 when the final dog driver retired for St. Lawrence Island. Over the years, dogs have been a very important part of Nome and its history, both in mining and in dog racing.
The Nome Kennel club faded out of the picture for many years and another club, The Arctic Club, took over. It had a brief history of about five or six races. These were twenty mile, two heat races, after the Anchorage and Fairbanks-type races. The Arctic Club was a social club and put on races and raised money every year. Their last race was in 1962. Names of participating mushers that almost everybody in this area will recognize were Chester Topkok, Wayne Topkok, Isaac Okeaskik, Doc Harris from the Kotzebue area, and Wilbur Sampson from Noorvik. Participants were mostly local mushers, mushers from around here. The races were quite successful. It was the granddaddy race of all-the Iditarod in 1973 -that brought about a resurgence of dog mushing in the Nome area, as well as all over the United States and the world. In Alaska, particularly, it got people back into dogs. In 1974, Leo Rasmussen, Howard Farley, Ethan Windahl and Carl Glavinovich, (a former manager of the mining company here in Nome and a member of the Nome Kennel club in his early days who remembers the serum run when he was a boy), incorporated and brought back the Nome Kennel club. We incorporated it as a non-profit corporation and brought back racing in Nome.
Our main purpose was to help the Iditarod get its feet solidly planted in Nome so that there would never be any dispute about where the finish of the Iditarod race would be. We provided the finances and arranged all the festivities at this end of the race. We put together and financed the finish of the race every year and we helped finance the Iditarod a little bit. We provided the personnel through the Nome Kennel Club. One of our aims was to bring about a re-enactment of the serum run and we did this in 1975 on the 50th anniversary of the original serum run to Nome. We started the racers in Nenana hauling a cachet, or a cover, stamped in Nenana and then stamped again in Nome. This is how we financed the race. We utilized some of the grandsons, nephews, and other relatives of the original mushers that ran the race in 1925. Lowell Thomas, Sr. was at that time celebrating his fiftieth year in radio, and he announced it to the world over live radio on NBC on February 1, 1975. It went out just like it did when he announced it to the world in the original run in 1915. We were pleased about it; it was low budget but we were getting our feet on the ground in preparation for the 75th anniversary of the Nome Kennel Club which was in 1983.
We had planned the All Alaska Sweepstakes for some nine or ten years. In 1983, we had it. It was one of the grandest celebrations of all time in Nome. We had about a $40,000 budget and a $25.000 winner-take-all prize with some minor prizes for other finishers. We had a belt buckle made especially for the winners and a beautiful patch. We had twenty-three mushers sign up for this 75th anniversary celebration. The entry lee was $1,000.00 in gold. We have a lot of this gold in the bank today and we will utilize it over the years to raise money, auctioning off the gold from a certain musher.
Rick Swenson was to win this race in 1983, just ten hours short of Iron Man Johnson's record. He took home one of the largest checks that has ever been given in Nome. It was a $25,000 check five feet long and two feet high, especially engraved for that occasion. He also took home a beautiful silver trophy, a replica of the one that was given to Leonhard Seppala.
So the Nome Kennel Club has been very, very busy over the years. We have not neglected our local mushers. Every year we have three or four thousand dollars in prize money and we have a regular racing schedule that starts In January and continues right on until our big race at the end of he season, the Nome Sweepstakes. The Nome Sweepstakes is an abbreviated All Alaska Sweepstakes. It goes up into the same area. We utilize a few of the same checkpoints and it is about three hundred miles. Last year we had a prize of $20,000 and this year I believe the prize is $15,000. The Nome Kennel Club has been very busy and I am sure that you will be hearing and seeing more about it in the future.
Definitions: (back to text)
Outside: In this case, the term is used to refer to the contiguous 48 states of the U.S.A. If someone were to leave Alaska, he/she would be 'going outside'.
South 48: Again, this is the contiguous 48 states of the U.S.A.
Back East: This is used to describe the eastern region of the USA.