Story by Kristin Schaeffer, photos by Tyrell and Claire Marlow
As Confucius once said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Considering this simple example it is also true that a snow storm that covers the land with a thick blanket of snow must begin with a single snow flake. In our community Pam and Floyd Dunn are the first snowflakes in the ‘perfect storm’ of the Casper Sled Dog Races.
Twenty-one years ago, in 1995, the Casper Sled Dog Races began with an idea the Dunns came up with because they wanted to race.
We needed to start the race, said Floyd. “We joined Casper Mountain Mushers and, oddly enough, they were never going to race.” With that realization the first snowflake dropped.
What began as an idea has turned into a race that brings mushers from all over the country, raises large amounts of money for local Wyoming charities, and brings the community together to pull it all off, according to the Dunns.
“We have racers come from Colorado, Idaho, South Dakota, Alaska, Montana, Utah and Arizona,” said Pam.
The race weekend starts with the Ice Cream Social and a program, said Floyd. One year we presented a program on Susan Butcher from the Iditarod – we had one of Susan Butcher’s relatives here to do that.
We have a musher’s auction too where we collect items like gang lines, booties, harnesses, and then we auction those off and the money goes to the charity, said Pam. The Dunns have a relationship in which conversation easily flows back and forth. One starts a sentence and the other finishes.
“Saturday morning we start with the races and early registration in case some of them didn’t get here the night before,” began Pam. “And a musher’s meeting at 8 am,” finished Floyd.
“The races start at 9 am. We have the distribution of radios and the info sheets and first mushers are called to the staring line at 9,” he said. “There’s two minute intervals between each musher. I go ahead of the first musher on every race – because sometimes through the course a snowmobiler might take a fence down and not put it back up. You have to be ahead of the first musher to make sure the course is in tact. And the other thing is people will come up here in the morning and they’ll have cross country skis and three loose dogs with them. That doesn’t mix well with sled teams.”
Not only do teams come from all over, but they come in large numbers.
“We had 9 [teams] the first year, then 18 the next year, then 36 the third year, then went to 42, then from there it jumped all the way up into the sixties,” said Floyd. “The most we’ve ever had was 85,” finished Pam. “That was a zoo, but it was fun.”
The Casper Mountain Sled Dog Races wouldn’t be possible without the generous donations of time and resources the Dunns receive from the Casper Community.
“Most of the races in Wyoming have over the years just dwindles and eliminated,” said Floyd. “Either lack of interest or funding. The only thing that controls our race is snow.”
Casper’s warm second half of Winter this year, made things a bit difficult at Beartrap Meadow. One of the Dunns’ neighbors, Raleigh Marler stepped in to help out while Floyd took care of things at the Banquet on Friday night. “He took his tractor and filled that parking lot with probably 200 buckets of snow and when I got up here after that I spread it around with my fence apparatus that I pull behind the snowmobile and smoothed it all up and gave everybody about two inches of snow to walk on.”
Because the Dunns are so busy with managing the operations of the race, they don’t have the time to care for their own dogs during the weekend. Their friend Bob Crider steps in to help them out, said Pam.
A number of people, groups and organizations step in to help with the races each year, making it all possible.
We have two or three EMTs that are here all the time, we have at least one doctor, said Pam. It’s always David Erk, of Wyoming Health Medical Group. He comes up every year as our chief timer. We have at least two Veterinarians and this year we had two Vet techs from Ft. Collins come and volunteer their time. The Natrona County Sheriff’s Department does all of our parking and monitors everything that goes on.
“The state grooms some of our courses and (the long one always),” said Floyd. The county does a lot of the grooming for us. Joe Gillingham drives the groomer for the County and he’s done it for so many years now, I don’t even have to go with him anymore.
Natrona County Road and Bridge allow us the use of the Beartrap area and don’t charge us for that, said Pam.
Amongst the many who donate resources are the Natrona County School District, who donates the radios for use at the event, Kistler Tent and Awning, Sonny’s RV, who donates the use of a trailer to house computer equipment, and Wyoming Rents, who donates generators to keep the power on for computers and heating for the volunteer crew shelters.
This small snowflake of an idea has become a community event that provides for many of our community’s charities. The race has helped ARC of Natrona County, Jason’s Friends, the Youth Crisis Center and the Humane Society amongst others, raising up to $82k in one weekend with every penny of that going to charity.
“We’re not rich people,” said Pam. “This is our way of giving back to our community.”
Pam Dunn wears her passion for her dogs like a badge. She takes pride in providing a home for 30 Huskies at Timbermist Kennels, which the Dunns also call home, training and providing them with tender loving care and a job to do.
In 1988 Pam got started in sledding with a three dog team.
“The first team was a Golden Retriever, a Samoyed and a Husky,” she said. “Then I started a Siberian Husky rescue because so many people don’t understand about them. They don’t understand the dog and what it takes to own one. They’re super energetic and adventuresome. If you don’t have that kind of stamina you don’t need a husky, because they crawl out, they chew out, and they dig out. Whatever it takes to dig out and find some fun. They’re bred to do something and if you don’t let them do what they’re meant to do then they’re going to find their own fun. ”
The Husky breed has some nuances that make them unique in the dog world, according to Pam.
“They don’t bark usually,” said Pam. “Most of it is howling and that’s a way of communication between them. When we’re going to eat, there’s all this commotion and noise and running around and you feed them, and sometimes they talk to each other to say good night or good morning, or whichever feeding it is. And if you’re going to go sledding then they go crazy. They know when I get out the harnesses and they hear the sleds and all that sort of thing. They know what’s going to happen.”
The standard for Siberian Huskies doesn’t make it the ideal dog for racing, but they’re tough dogs that get the work done regardless of conditions.
“In the Siberian Husky Standard it says that they’re a medium sized dog, that can carry a medium sized load, at a medium speed over a long distance,” Pam explained. “They’re working dogs, just not necessarily racing dogs. There are some pure bred teams that race in the Iditarod, but they don’t win, but boy I’ll tell you if there’s a big storm comes in it’s the Husky that gets through. That kind of shows you their endurance.”
Pam enjoys the connection she has to her smart Husky friends and the adventures they have together.
“Siberian Huskies are very intelligent. They know what you’re saying and you can communicate with them,” said Pam and smiled. “There’s all kinds of different dog sledding. Most of what i do is recreational. I’m not a big racer. We put on the races because we love to do it and I always compete, but I never win.”
Life on the Mountain
If you’re ever presented with an opportunity to listen to Floyd Dunn tell a story about his life with wife Pam on Casper Mountain, you should listen carefully. In story telling mode, he’s quiet, but masterfully crafts his stories to leave the listener on the edge of their seat, then in fits of laughter at the climax.
“I almost got abducted one night snow blowing,” he announced matter-of-factly. I searched his face for the joke, but he continued on unwavering. On a Winter Wednesday night a storm blew in and started dumping snow. Around 2 a.m. he took his walk behind-snow blower and began the snow removal on their road before it got too deep.
“Storm hit on a Wednesday night and by about two in the morning there was eight inches,” he said. “I had to get it blown off the road between here and the tower. So I started blowing about 2 a.m. and get half way between here and the K2 Tower and it’s snowing really hard, and I have a little mushers head light on and all of a sudden everything lit up!” His face still, with no sign of mischief, he continued. “Every snow flake had a light on it. It was so bright. Then I’m thinking: ‘Oh yeah, aliens spotted me’,” his voice dipped lower and he paused.
“So then I was waiting for the real bright beam that actually sucks you up into the ship to hit, and it never came, but this snowmobiler went by me . . . on a Wednesday night at 2 in the morning,” he didn’t miss a beat. “But here’s the deal: he went by and it was still bright, so then it’s like: ‘well they’re gonna get him too’. So then I turned around and there were five more snowmobiles. Now when they went by everything got dark,” he said and finally a smile spread across his face.