Monday, July 7, 2008

Everything But the Dogs: Mushing Equipment

Anyone who dog sleds or dryland dog sleds with their dogs knows that mushing is a gear intensive sport. There are lines, sleds, harnesses, dog bowls, sled bags, shock absorbers, assorted hardware, rigs, dog sled carriers, rig carriers and trailers, electronic devices, dog trucks, ATVs, snowmobiles, etc. It takes a lot of work to keep all of the equipment used for mushing in good repair and good working order.

Our Fritz Dyck (TOM) Rig

Side shot of our Fritz Dyck TOM

Our custom designed hitch mounted rig carrier

Hitch mounted carrier shown loaded with our Fritz Dyck TOM

Our Fritz Dyck SAM rig

The rack for our dog sled which makes loading the sled a breeze

Four dog picket line

Once on the trail, dog sledding is an adventure shared by the musher and the dogs. In large part, the equipment used once you get out on the trail is the same equipment that has been used by mushers for the past hundred years. Getting to the trail is a different story...

To that end, we are frequently asked, "how do you transport your dogs?" Most mushers use a dog truck to transport their dogs. Dog trucks can range quite a bit. Some are pick up trucks with dog boxes built into the bed. Others are pick up trucks with the beds removed and boxes built where the bed used to be. Yet other mushers use a flat bed truck, with boxes built on the flat bed. Generally speaking, dog trucks can carry anywhere from 2-3 dogs to 20-30+ dogs depending on the truck's configuration and the musher's needs. To see photos of various types of dog trucks, visit the dog truck pages on Sled Dog Central. Dog boxes can be constructed from a variety of materials including fiberglass, wood, and metal. Dog trucks don't even have to be trucks. Some mushers like to use a van with built in boxes.

A full size van with dog boxes and gear

A mini van being used as a dog "truck" with standard dog crates in lieu of boxes

Dog Truck at Mushing Boot Camp

Another musher's dog truck

A small set of four dog boxes on the back of a diesel dually pick up
Double decker dog boxes for carrying 20 plus dogs

A van being used to transport sled dogs

Fiberglass dog boxes on the back of a pick up truck

Close up of wooden dog box door (with nose)

Yet another style of dog box door

Close up of wooden dog box (with dog)

Our dog truck is a Ford Expedition SUV and when our dog boxes are finished, we will have five separate dog boxes (two large and three small) with the option of adding a third box to the lower level. Even with these boxes in place, we will be able to raise and lower our back seat and thus carry (albeit snugly) up to five people.

Our dog truck parked in Corinth, Maine at Mushing Boot Camp

As some of you know, Eric handles most of our dog sledding gear and is our resident Dog Truck Engineer and Dog Truck Mechanic. In addition to his regular full time job as an Associate Professor of Bioresources Engineering at the University of Delaware, Eric enjoys making, fixing and sometimes breaking our dog sledding gear. His current project is designing and building dog boxes for our dog truck. Past projects have included refinishing our wooden dog sled, building a hitch mounted carrier to carry our three and four wheel rigs, installing a new exhaust manifold on the dog truck, installing two new starters on the dog truck within six months of each other (don't purchase starters from Autozone), making gang lines, and making drop lines.

Building the dog boxes within the snug confines of the back of our Expedition has been a tall order. First, the dog boxes need to be modular so they can be removed easily as we do occasionally use the truck to carry other items besides the dogs. Second, the dog boxes need to be relatively light as we do not want to add any more weight than necessary to the back of the truck as it decreases fuel economy and with the hitch carrier in place there is already extra weight on the rear of the truck. Third, the dogs boxes need to be large enough to hold our four dogs but still fit within the confines of our truck. Fourth, there are virtually no straight lines within the back of our truck and that poses a challenge when trying to construct dog boxes to maximize the size of the boxes. Fifth, we would like to maintain some rear window visibility. Sixth, the dog boxes need to be well ventilated yet they need to have floors that are easily cleaned should a pup get sick or have an accident. Sixth, the boxes must be secure. And last but definitely not least, we need to be able to load the dogs into the dog boxes even when the hitch carrier and rig are in place (i.e., the dog boxes need be fully accessible through both the rear doors and the lift gate).

Framing up the dog boxes

To determine what size our boxes should be, we consulted and followed Mush with Pride guidelines for the sizing of dog boxes. After weighing our options, we elected to construct two large boxes on the bottom level that will exceed the Mush with Pride width and depth dimensions and will meet the height requirements. Our upper level of boxes consist of two larger boxes and one smaller center box where our smallest, 35 lb sled dog, T-Bone, will ride. This box will give T-Bone a bird's eye view of the passing scenery including horses, cows, dogs, children in strollers, bicyclists, joggers, etc. all of which T-Bone seems to vastly enjoy barking at. Our top level of boxes are deeper than the guidelines suggest, and, with the exception of the center box, as wide as suggested by the guidelines. The center box is approximately one inch narrower than suggested by the guidelines. The height of all of the boxes meets or exceeds the height suggested in the guidelines.

After drawing up plans and pricing out materials, Eric came up with a design that satisfied the majority of our design requirements, purchased approximately $200 in materials, and has begun work on the construction of the boxes.

Framing for one of the two larger lower boxes

The center box (aka T-Bone's House)

The other dog "truck"