AN INTERVIEW WITH NEW HAMPSHIRE’S KEITH F. BRYAR II

When you grow up in the shadow of New England mushing legends and personalities like MacDonald, Moulton, Molburg and Lombard not to mention parents Jean and Keith Sr. it leaves an impression.GS: Your parents were very accomplished mushers. When did they become involved with sled dogs. ?KB: …They met in the ‘50s. Mom started with malamutes. Dad, I think, had Siberians. His team was noted for bringing food to the snowed-in town of Sandwich back when he was a minister. He was a minister in Sandwich before he met my mother. He started there. I went to a two-room schoolhouse in Center Harbor with two teachers. One for first grade through third and another for fourth through sixth. GS: When you were born, your parents already had sleddogs.Your introduction to sled dogs must have been from day one. Were you out there playing with puppies and socializing dogs?KB: I’d go home after school and go training with our family friend Alan Wiggin when I was 14. He had a 7-dog team of Dobermans. Also, we used to have a tour business and we sold puppies. I was giving tours when I was 7 or 8 years old at our kennel off Center Harbor Neck. We had training grounds out behind the house that Dick and my mother would use for early training-dirt training. When I got older, I’d train my mother’s leftovers on the lake. I was about 14 then.GS: What was the mushing scene like when you were growing up? Were you going to races with your mom and dad?KB: I wasn’t really into the races. We trained two winters in a row and me and Alan went to one race. We went to Pittsfield. He scared the sh*t out of everybody. He let all seven Dobermans—actually he had six Dobermans and a husky he got from Mohlburg—loose. So in that two years training with Wiggin I think we only raced one race. He just annihilated them with the Dobermans. That Doberman team could run like hell. A hellacious team. He intimidated all. Me? I was kind of shy. I had problems getting by a girl, had problems passing, they wouldn’t let me pass. But back then, in the three or four surrounding towns there were teams everywhere. Before the snow machines dog teams were the snowmobiles. There used to be thirty teams, just in the immediate area. Allan was also a protégé of Molburg’s. He was good friends with the Mohlburgs. He was younger than my parents. He was quite a character—that’s what I miss—we don’t have characters like we used to have back then. GS: You mentioned there were a bunch of teams in the general area. In every mushing community, there is usually one team providing the best dogs to everyone or providing most dogs to people. The one that does better in the races. It’s like the “alpha” kennel. Nowadays you’d have your Streepers. KB: Well, that would have been us, to a degree. There was the Molburgs. I would say back in the day, mom was one of the leaders and shipped a lot of dogs off to different kennels and families. My mother traveled a lot of years to Alaska and always brought back new dogs. We bought a lot of dogs. We also raised and gave kennel tours. We sold Alaskan ivory pieces and stuff like that. I used to sell puppies. That was one of the ways we kept the kennel going. GS: Was that your family’s main source of income? Or did your mom have another job?KB: My mother was a realtor and she ran an art gallery. My mother’s been pretty versatile over the years. She did what she had to do to survive. Dick Moulton, my step dad, was just a logger. He never particularly did much on his own. My mother was the drive behind getting him his five world championship titles in the 60’s. I think Laconia was ’68 maybe. GS: And your father he ran dogs also?KB: My father and my mother were both very competitive people. They are both hard driven people. Like Molburg said, “If those two had stayed together, kid, you’d be a multi-millionaire now.” For example, my mother wanted to win the Women’s Rondy race and my father didn’t want to give up the team for the North American the following weekend. So right from there you could see she wanted the best too. My dad didn’t want to see the best go out because he wanted to make sure they had a week’s rest.GS: When was the first time your mother and father came to Alaska?KB: I would say around 1960 or ’59? I was born in ’58. For years I lived with different people during the winter. I was always shipped over in the middle of the winter somewhere. Then they got divorced. My dad went on to win Laconia three times. He finished out his last year—he was second in Anchorage—he won it the first two days over Lombard and then he lost a dog. By the time he retrieved the dog back and get it in the team, he ended up second. Then he went to Fairbanks and won it. He won the North American. GS: So you had stars on both sides of your family.KB: Yeah, I got a lot I try to live up to. My dad also helped keep the Laconia club (Lakes Region Sled Dog Club) together. For a short period there was some time where something happened and my dad stepped in to be president. Between him and my step-dad, Moulton, I remember them both telling me: Never ever try to be president of the Laconia race! It’s one of those things I’ll never forget. As long as Jimmy Lyman stays healthy…Jimmy keep it going as long as you can. GS: Your dad was competitive, your mom was competitive. It sounds like Dick Moulton was competitive. What was the relationship like between your dad and Dick Moulton?KB: They hated each other. Not a good relationship. They never spoke. There was a fight at one point. Moulton was a big man and my father was a big man. I don’t know and don’t need to know how that history went.GS: When did you start going to sleddog races and trying to develop your own team?KB: Eighty through ’85 I worked in Alaska. I worked two years in Valdez and three in Anchorage doing construction for a big paving outfit. GS: Did you come up here just for that work? KB: Yeah, I remember around ’79 or ’80, I was starving to death working for Moulton. During the winter I was working for a local paving company and I worked for my father. I remember the last winter I stayed here before I went to Alaska, I was making $99.00 a week. Couldn’t get the wood moved off the mountain. About starved ourselves. That’s when I was married to Joan, my first wife. We just had our first child, Julie. Meanwhile, I was never going to get anywhere staying here. There wasn’t the work. My dad leant me a camper he had, a Mercedes mini bus, shuttle bus he turned into a camper. Off to Alaska we went in 1980. I stayed with the Lozonskis for a short time. Great people. Steve and Rosie. There was a guy that was working at my mother’s placed that lived in Valdez. I couldn’t find any work in Fairbanks and heard I should go down and see him. We went to Valdez and he helped me get in the union. I bought a trailer and ended up working for him in Valdez. I was 22.GS: You came here to work. Did you start to get re-interested in sleddogs? KB: While I was up there, every winter I’d come back and take over Moulton’s logging operation. Moulton would go up to Alaska. In 1983 and 1984, I helped Dick a lot with training. In ’84 after he left, I hooked up with Molburg. I drove Molburg’s second team for awhile. In ’85, Joan wanted to call it quits. You know, the moving every six months. My father had his first battle with cancer then. I ended up coming back. The last year I was up there I told Joan if I was going to go back and stay, I wanted to start a dog team. The first dog I bought was off Susan Butcher. Boy the construction guys ripped me hard about that. The year I bought the dog she had just gotten run over by the moose, if you remember. It was ’85, Libby Riddles won that year. The guys were teasing me. “Why did you buy a dog from her? She ain’t smart enough to carry a gun with her in moose country.” But I met Susan and spoke to her about buying a dog. She had three other people interested but I kind of pushed it. I was cocky back then, I was a young guy. I pissed her off when she told me this dog was Poochy and his sire was George’s Tuffy. I said, “No, that was Keith Bryar’s Tuffy.” She didn’t know what to say. Nor did she say anything. We got the dog and never had any communication with Susan after that. The first dog actually went back to my dad’s great leader Tuffy winner of the North American.GS: That’s funny because I was going to ask you if you got your starting team from your parent’s bloodlines and pedigrees.KB: My mother had a great love for money first of all. Didn’t want to see me get into this sport. She knew what the sport represents: some great accomplishments but some great sacrifices. The dogs take a lot from the family and I don’t think… So in ’85 we got the dog from Susan. I got a couple of dogs from Timmy Reddington. Steve and Rosie kept telling me about a guy named Charlie Champaine. I heard of all the dog people and I didn’t know much about this Charlie Champaine. I wish I had gone to see Charlie now! I screwed up. Terry Streeper owed Moulton a dog and I got one or two outta there. I moved into my dad’s place and he moved down to Mexico. I think I had 12 dogs on Union Ave, right in downtown Laconia. They were surrounding the house: six on one side and six on the other. Kids used to cut through the property to get to school faster instead of using the sidewalks but that sure stopped when the kids started running into the dogs. Not until the early spring when we got a noise complaint did the cops ever realize there were 12 dogs living in the city limits. So that’s how I started. Very small. Back then I used to work for Moulton. We’d get a big parcel to log and we’d work until 3:30, I’d have the dogs with me and I’d train dogs and get home around 7:00, in the house by 8:00 and then I’d do it all over again. It was fun back then because you didn’t have the big numbers. You had a lot of teams but you had a few great teams back then: Jimmy Tilton? here in New England. Kurt Brody was good. Neither one of them could do a Laconia win. They were always better in the shorter races. It’s changed a lot over the history of the sport. GS: What really amazes me is the number of really good drivers and dog people that came out of that small area of New England that you are talking about. They were able to win all over the place, all the way to Alaska and beat a lot of the Alaskan drivers.KB: Yes – Lombard, Belford, Moulton, Molburg, Bryar, and more.GS: What’s in the water there?KB: There’s a lot of dog teams back here. All the New England rules are 95% still in place as the basic ISDRA rules. There were some brilliant people. People that had dog teams back then owned the Boston Herald back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. There was a lot of influential people at the time. Dick Moulton used to drive for Jim Briggs, who owned Briggs and Stratton engines. Somebody asked Dick why he was tied to the tree so long and he said, “Well, I can’t beat the boss.” Back in ’76 or ’77 I used to drive Jerry Steingard’s team. I trained his second team. He was a dog driver and doctor out of New Jersey. He could never beat me. I always gave him the first team and I always took the second team. He had the best team. But why did we have so many great teams…. We had a lot of dedicated mushers. Roland Lombard was probably the greatest. Back then he was a veterinarian. A great wonderful man. A gentleman. Shut his practice down and raced sled dogs. Back in the ‘50s there used to be forty-something teams at the Laconia race. Forty-two teams lined up on Main Street. There were a lot of good dog people. There wasn’t snow machines back then. The Laconia race was run for years on the streets. They didn’t have dog trails. One of our long-time residents, Bob Lamprey told a story that when he was a young man he watched Seppala and Emile St. Godard and those guys during the Laconia race come through town. He said that was the biggest thrill of the winter. Seppala and Emile St. Godard! People lined the streets in each town waiting for these dog teams to come through. Laconia back then was three, thirty-mile runs. I’ve seen footage from the 20s and 30s before World War II. These guys were gentlemen. They were dressed up in suits and ties. When they raced a dog team, they had suits and ties on! There would be Canadian drivers coming down on the trains. They’d put them up at the stables everywhere. It was a big to-do. The town of Merideth owned their own dog team. The town actually owned their own dog team back in the early 1900s. I’ve seen a picture of it. GS: There is such a long history and heritage there in New England, probably as long as anywhere else in racing.KB: Alaska came in around the same time but they didn’t have the rules. It all pretty much got copied from the great brains of the people that started the New England Sled Dog Club. GS: I like the format in Laconia now where it is just 6-dog and open-class. KB: The Quebec racing is 6 and open also. Get there at 10:00, get there at 11:00, 11:15…drivers’ meeting in French. I don’t speak French. For years it took me a long time to get accepted there and now I’m part of the group even though I can’t speak a word of French. But I’ve met a lot of great people. GS: You’ve raced all over New England, Quebec—you’ve come to Alaska with your own team. Tell me a little bit about the differences you see in racing between New England and Quebec and then we’ll compare it to Alaska. KB: Back when I started going to Quebec, they’d have a lot of money. Stayed at some raunchy motels but the people on the streets…New England people, United States people have lost a lot of what they were 40 years ago. They’re not animal people anymore. They have no understanding or conception of animals. I’m sorry to say. But in Quebec, they always were and still are animal savvy. So if you had a problem going into a street crossing in Quebec or if you had a tangle and they could see it, you didn’t have to get off your sled or hardly stop. You’d be going through an intersection and they’d be straightening you out or getting a dog untangled. Great animal people. The best. I love them. Competition. Oh my God! You know they got a little shorter segments but nothing different than New England. New England didn’t have many long races. Over the years they’ve shortened up. New England never had long races typically. Up in Canada, you’d be in 5th place and thirty seconds out of the lead. Thirty seconds behind you would be the next five or ten. There would be ten or twelve teams in the same minute. When you go to Quebec it’s racing. Head-on passing, chaos, some corners that every time you went by them, you’d wipe the sweat off your eyebrows! I made it again! I’d stuff 16, 18 dogs around a 90 degree turn with a barbed-wire fence. And just turn the team, hard, “Gee.” Butler, I remember him asking me, “How the hell did you make it through that corner?” I said I just stuff them all in there. I don’t even slow down! I’d stuff them in there and hope they’d untangle and typically they would. That’s how I made some of those corners. The French trails aren’t typically as groomed or maintained as we’d like to see them. Nor can they be. The drivers didn’t have a lot of money. Now it’s a little different. They would put in a course. Why did they do head-on passing? So they’d only have to build half a trail! It made it more chaotic, exciting. New England typically would try to do loop trails. Mostly when I first started. Now I think we’ve learned from Canada you just head-on pass. So you develop teams that over the years get used to it. The dogs I think are more hyped up when you pass twenty or thirty teams head on.GS: It’s different there in Quebec. Back about 10 years ago, I had a team that head-on passed great in training. We’d be training in the Adirondacks with John Samburgh and Doug Butler and some other good teams. We’re all relatively quiet people on the sled and we’d do head-on passing all the time. The drivers were quiet and the dogs would go by. But I got to my first head-on pass in Quebec and they’re yelling and screaming. At the first one, my dogs kind of stopped and their heads looked up and thought, “What’s coming at us?” KB: Once they knew that was a weakness, they’d be sure to scare you more! GS: I guess it worked because my guys would stop at every pass. KB: So how you take it is how you’re going to react. We don’t back down. Racing there helped me make some good teams over the years. The dogs get competitive from someone passing every two minutes. But even if we couldn’t communicate, I had some of my best racing up in Quebec. The people are great. They are more animal savvy than we are down here. GS: Although you had been in Alaska when you were working in the 80s and early 90s, When was your first time racing here, and what did you think of it?KB: Yeah, 2000. The IFSS Worlds…all the European teams were there. My impression was……the winter prior we bought Turmel’s team. He was getting a divorce so…we bought the team…I was having a hard time getting accepted by the team. I don’t speak French. This is a winning team. We went early. We went early out to the Midwest to race in Frazee. We stayed there for a couple of weeks to hit Kalkaska. So I had the chance to train with Eddie and Neal. It took me a few weeks. We ran Frazee but we didn’t do particularly well and the Frenchmen were all crushed. I think Eddie made the comment I heard later, “Oh that Turmel team, they ain’t that fast.” It really hurt the French people, but I made stupid mistakes. I didn’t realize Charlie had to be on the left and this one on the right. I didn’t have the team that long. So I was training with Neal. Neal Johnson’s got farmland, big flat farmland. I’d never seen a guy get more miles out of a square acre of land in my life. You just go down and you do this tight hard 180 and go parallel with the trail, which was kind of neat for Neal and stuff because if you did lose the team, he could just run across the field and catch them coming up the next loop. I remember training with him. The first day I got there, we blew every corner he had. So I called Neal and I say, “Neal, can you kind of just go in front of me because there’s not a lot of snow berms and it’s white and they’re not seeing the trail.” So I train with Eddy and I train with Neal a few times and then Neal says to me, “You know Keith, you got a fast dog team and they’re just jealous.” I trained one more time with Eddie and Amy and got things right. And like I said, the French were hurt. I was devastated by what was said too. We went across the country. We went to every big race we could. I think we had 5 wins before we headed up. We got snookered out of Whitehorse because Terry had some sleeper team that didn’t have a particularly good run the first day. And I followed, it was an inverted start. I caught 2nd and 3rd place. I was leading the first day in the 10-dog race and it cost me $50.00 a second. And I’ll never forget it because I lost by 9 seconds.But by the time we hit Alaska, The team was pretty worn out and tired, and had a hard racing season, they weren’t prepared. The dogs were too heavy. My parents always said that you gotta race Alaska at least once to understand and get the feel of the trails because it’s so much faster. I think a third of my team was junk by the third run in Alaska. I think a third of the hounds, some of the Quebec hounds couldn’t sustain that speed for long. GS: Getting back to Laconia. You grew up, for lack of a better way of saying it, in the shadow of that race. Your parents both won it. It was the biggest open class race outside of Alaska and still is probably. You finally won that race in 2002. KB: It brought a lot of pressure off me. I had a lot of seconds and thirds at that race also. In 2000 and 2001 I think Turmel and Neal beat us. Neal I know in 2001 I think he won it. I finally won it in 2002. We had a 56-minute run in 18 miles and then 57 and 58 three consecutive days. I tried to beat Neal the year prior and leased a few dogs from Turmel. I had a leader that couldn’t get run up on (by the point dogs) because if he did, he felt pressured. He’d turn around and get in a dog fight so of course the first day I didn’t get 2 miles out of the starting line and I got a rip roaring dog fight going. But he had a better team. He beat us. GS: So what was it like winning that race?KB: Just a relief off my shoulders. Finally relief. I hated getting insulted by guys like J. Malcom McDougall. “You’ll never be as good a dog driver as your dad or your mom!” I said, “Yeah, you might be right.” But you know when I first started, I started with a bunch of bums, well not bums. If I had only started with Moulton’s team. Maybe it would have changed the course of history as it stands now. Because he had a great team. It took me 10, 15 years to get a team as good as what Moulton and my mother had when they finished. So it was a lot of pressure to get my first win. We got a lot of top threes at Laconia and just one win. I hope this year we can…you know. We screwed up last year. We ran real close to Rudi Ropertz and I loaded a dog and was 40 seconds behind in the first day after loading and carrying a dog 4 miles. The second day I had a point dog that needed to be on the left and she was on the right and this dog would not run on the right. She crowded the dog so much they started to fight each other. We lost a terrible amount of time to Neal. We slowly gained it all back through the race and probably put in the fastest time at the last third of the race because we lost so much. We screwed up. We could have ran within seconds of Rudi and might have been able to beat him but loading a dog and having a major shutdown the second day took us out of it. We were close to Rudi. He was a great gentleman, a great guy. He represented his country and the sport very well. Laconia is an amazing race, you got dogs loose, you got cars on Main Street. They have to keep one lane open so you’re running out on the right hand side yet you’re coming home on the left and you got cars trying to pull into businesses, cars on the trail, cars getting stuck. You got dogs barking at you. You’re parallel with cars going the same speed as you are with a little snow bank in between you and dogs barking at you, dogs in the back seat. It’s a wild-ass thing. It’s unbelievable. GS: The Laconia area is getting really built up. It’s a bona fide city now. KB: We’re having a terrible time trying to keep the course. We always prided ourselves on having a 16 or 18 mile course. Couldn’t get the French teams here because it was too long. They would balk because of the length. Me, Jimmy, the Lyman family wanted the World’s Championship to still be the World’s Championship. It’s hard to have a Main Street start now with them changing the dam all the time. We can’t seem to get out of Laconia because the lake is always open. Now we have to start on the outskirts of town because we just can’t get across this small little lake. We would love to go back off Main Street. Don’t know if we’ll ever be able to. It brings 20 times the crowd, maybe 50 times the crowd. When you have a Main Street start in Laconia, you pack the streets. I remember one year I was on Main Street the spectators were packed four to five people deep all the way down. We’re hoping to have another Main Street start. We’ll have to see. We had our annual auction and only half the people were attending but we still raised over $10,000 to have the race because it’s just good local support. The community is still behind us. GS: Tell me a little bit about Jimmy Lyman’s involvement. I know he’s president of the club and I know his construction company puts in the trail. KB: Yes, him and his crew. Some of them volunteer their time. It’s a great effort on all their parts. They never get half out of it as what they put into it. It’s probably one of the best trail crews in the world. I’ve seen them spend days with dump trucks hauling snow in. Jimmy’s aunt, Mary Walsh, was very instrumental in the club. His dad was president and trail boss for years. The first time I met Jimmy was at a LRSDC meeting. I heard him say, “I’m going to build you a trail and if you guys don’t use it, I’ll NEVER build you another trail again.” There were 6 or 8 trucks hauling snow, dozers going, loaders going, for days. After that I never said too much to Jim Lyman about what he could and couldn’t do. GS: You mentioned that you have one of yourbest teams ever, what are your plans for future racing? KB: Yeah, I’m probably 90% still. I’ve been a heavy drinker. I’ve always been a hyper person. They’ve thrown a couple of stents in me. I still can’t kick the smoking habit. I really don’t know. I’m probably going on the end of my career. I don’t see myself racing dogs like Moulton, until I’m 65 or whatever age, like Lombard. I see myself a little slower under those crunch situations: getting dogs re-hooked up. I’m not as fast as I used to be. I feel like I’m 90% there. I’d like to be 15 years younger again. The plans are just to take it day-by-day. I’m looking and thinking about North but it’s a long time-frame from Anchorage until the rest of the races. I’d love to do village races The big race I haven’t raced yet now is Anchorage. I’d love to do it once in my career. GS: Thanks KB.KB: No problem.

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