Featured in the Sept/Oct 2007 Issue of Mushing Magazine:About seven years ago, standing at the start line of the Sandwich Notch 60 sled dog race in New Hampshire with a broken stanchion and a disconnected handlebar, Alex Murphy thought there had to be a better way. Or better yet, a better sled. It was while a volunteer was leading him through a maze of dog trucks on the way to the chute, that he smashed into a parked truck and destroyed his race sled, leaving him with “half a sled” and a riled up dog team.He went on to finish that race, but later, while at home repairing the damaged sled, he had an epiphany. If he wasn’t happy with his current racing vessel, he’d simply build his own.And that’s how MaineMade Dogsleds was born.Now, many years and hundreds of sleds later, Murphy’s carefully crafted sleds are used across the Lower 48, Alaska and overseas.“I have a background in woodworking, so that part was easy,” Murphy said from his home in Vassalboro, Maine. (To be more exact, Murphy has a bachelor of science in wood technology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.)“With his degree and a lifetime in wood manufacturing as well as building, there isn’t much about wood he doesn’t know,” said his wife Lucille.The hard part was teaching himself the more intricate points of sled making. His goal was to make a sturdy, durable sled while adding flexibility to make steering easier.“I think I’ve been successful at doing that and now we have many different sleds for many different purposes,” said Murphy.He laminates his runners instead of steam-bending them. He also sandwiches carbon fiber and/or fiberglass between the wood.“The fiberglass adds strength to the runner, making it more flexible and thinner,” he said.The frames are made of white ash, and epoxy is used for laminating. Murphy dresses those runners with UHMW plastic exclusively and then uses all stainless connectors and aluminum to hold the runners and stanchions together, which are reinforced with UHMW gussets.“But it’s the design of the sled that gives it the ability to get the runner up on its edge and cut into the snow. That’s what makes them so maneuverable,” Murphy said. “I’ve got a way of putting the front end together so it can slide back and forth. It’s the way I make the front end that makes them unique. I’ve never seen anybody do that.”Mushing since 1994, Murphy knows (along with the rest of us) wipeouts and has hit his fair share of trees, so he wanted his sleds to allow for the musher to pilot more effectively and safely around tight, tree-laden corners.MaineMade, run solely by Murphy and his wife Lucille, makes a variety of sleds from “The Rookie,” a small vehicle made for kids and a one- or two-dog team, to sprint, stage, distance and large, toboggan-type touring sleds.“I developed a toboggan sled that can carry three adults and one child but is still maneuverable because of the way I designed it,” Murphy said.New for MaineMade sleds is a tour sled made to hold two drivers. It has two sets of stanchions, handle bars and brakes.But this new creation is not just for guides and tourists, it makes a great training sled that eliminates the need for double-sledding.“If you’re running a big team in marginal conditions, then you’ve got two people on one sled, so someone is always on the brake if the other person has to get off to fix a problem,” he said. “We’ve had very good reports back this winter from mushers who have used the sled, as well as tour companies, and from my own experience it was wonderful in marginal snow and running 12 dogs. Just having somebody with me, I knew someone was there with their foot on the brake.”Murphy estimates that he’s made between 400 and 500 sleds in the past seven years. He ships then all over the continental U.S. with some going to Alaska. Recently, he sent a custom sled to Australia.“We’re getting to be international and we have many requests for sleds to go to Europe, but primarily because of shipping and taxes it’s hard to ship there,” said Murphy.They have, however, sent sled bags and brakes to Europe.Lucille handles making the perfectly-fitted sled bags, while Alex designs and builds the sleds and parts.When he’s really pressed with orders, Murphy will hire a part-time helper in the shop.Through advertising in local and international publications, mushing websites, and through his own website: business is booming for this former racer who simply wanted a better sled.Jillian Rogers is a freelance writer and photographer living in Fairbanks. She covered sled dog races for seven years before venturing into mushing herself and now owns nine huskies.


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