Once a Dog Musher, Always a Dog Musher

Jack Beckstrom

Jack Beckstrom loved sled dogs.  It was his life’s passion and his profession.  It was not only what he did, it was who he was.  

Jack Beckstrom of Olney, Montana, passed away quietly on March 5, 2018, from a heart attack, after being active in the sport of mushing his entire adult life.  He was a man full of compassion for animals and humans. 

He understood sled dogs and knew what it took to shape a team, know the dogs and respect them.  He always had time to talk to new mushers about training, feeding and taking good care of their team while teaching them how to praise their dogs, gently correct and never raise your voice with them.  In his early years, he was called the “mellow musher” because of his relaxed attitude around the dogs and at races.

Beckstrom became involved in mushing just out of college, running a small team of Siberians. Early on, he switched to training Alaskan huskies and his kennel grew out of his passion to race distance rather than sprint.

Lee Fishback, a musher and sled maker, and his wife, Mel, a musher, sled dog writer and owner of the ZIMA Harness Company moved to Montana from California in the 1970s.  Lee unexpectedly passed away in 1975 also from a heart attack.  He and Mel were well known in the mushing world at that time. 

Lee built sleds and Mel owned ZIMA Harness Company, hand stitching custom harnesses and using airplane blankets for padding in the early years.  Their catalog was one page, consisting of x-back harnesses, a snow hook design and one sled that customers could order. 

Jack purchased the sled-making business in 1976 and the harness business shortly after.  It was in 1976 that Adanac (Canada backwards) Sleds and Equipment was born.  Adanac Sleds and Equipment quickly grew while Jack learned how to build sleds and then took over the harness making business.  He developed many equipment designs and over 11 standard sleds not including all the custom designs, historical, touring and museum pieces he designed over the years.

He was on the cover of Mushing Magazine in 2000, “Dedicating His Life to the Sport.”   That was what he did.  He spoke at numerous symposiums and dog mushing clinics on everything from training for distance racing to nutrition to teaching rookies and junior mushers the how-to’s of the sport.  He loved sharing information.

Over his years as a dog musher, he received many Best Cared for Team Awards, Sportsmanship Awards and was board chairman for Race to the Sky, treasurer, musher rep and a board member for 33 years.  He was part of a handful of people who met in October 1985 who decided to organize Montana’s first distance race, a 500-mile race in February 1986. 

Beckstrom was a big part of Montana’s mushing scene since 1976 and was active in Montana’s dog mushing club, Montana Mountain Mushers and helped marshal and advise Flathead Sled Dog Days which eventually changed its name to the Flathead Classic.  He loved being part of dog mushing in Montana.

The Race to the Sky Symposium (Rendezvous) was his brainchild to help educate mushers on how to prepare for a distance race. The Race to the Sky brought in Alaskan mushers, innovative speakers on mushing and the leaders in the sport to help teach mushers the how-to’s of dog mushing.  He was instrumental in getting speakers every year and also worked with the International Sled Dog Veterinary Medical Association before it was even formed as a group.

He founded the Root Beer Classic near Polebridge, Montana, which was the longest running sled dog race for many years.  He named the race after his favorite, but somewhat homely lead dog Root Beer.  Prizes always consisted of bottles of root beer, root beer flavored candy for the juniors, cash and Adanac give-aways.  It continued for over 30 years until lack of snow forced the race’s cancellation three years in a row.

He competed many times, including the Race to the Sky when it was a 500-miler (then called the Governor’s Cup Sled Dog race) and then it became a 350-mile race in 1996. He also ran other 300-mile and 200- mile races and weekend races from northern Canada to Montana to Washington to Minnesota’s Beargrease.

Jack also assisted other races besides the Race to the Sky, including the Siskiyou Race near Mount Shasta, California, the Altitude 5000 at Dinner Plain, Australia, the Flathead Classic (formerly Flathead Sled Dog Days) and the Bootleg Run near Kimberley, Canada, by advising and race marshaling.  Jack was a race judge for Iditarod twice and always wanted to run the Yukon Quest, but it was too hard to take off time from Adanac Sleds and Equipment in the busy season.

We designed www.adanacsleds.com, making Adanac Sleds and Equipment an international .com company, servicing mushers all over the world including such places as Iceland, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada, Norway and Russia.  We wrote articles for several online magazines and collaborated writing how-to articles in other published magazines.

Over the years, Adanac’s catalog grew from one page to 40 pages of active products.  Jack came up with many product lines.  He loved figuring out new designs for products and sleds, testing them and sharing them with the world.  The ZIMA x-back harness design is still the most widely copied, never duplicated harness in the world.

Over the last few months, Jack’s family has received letters, notes and cards from all over the world.  These were from friends, customers, competitors, customers who became friends and fellow race organizers who were grateful for his assistance, expertise and advice.

Jack’s size 13 shoes are big ones to fill and it is doubtful there will ever be another musher with his passion, grace, kindness and patience who is willing to share a lifetime of knowledge to mushers with questions.   He loved people and he loved dogs … he will be missed all over the world.