SLED RX: FIXING YOUR SLED ON THE TRAIL

I remember sitting on stage with Hans Gatt a few years back at a sled building seminar at the annual Sled Dog Symposium in Fairbanks when someone from the audience asked what we carried in our sleds for on-the-trail sled repair. We both looked kind of sheepish when we admitted that we usually did not carry any repair kits at all. That is certainly not the answer we should have given to a hall full of mushers looking for information. I will be the first to acknowledge that Joanne (my wife) has bailed me out on more than one occasion because she is smart enough to be prepared. She has carried a small kit in her sled for years and has used it every season. Showing that I can be taught, I have gotten better at carrying one myself.In this article I will be talking about the type of materials you should have for the style of sled you drive. Again this depends on whether you are driving a sled that is bolted or is tied together. For toboggan sleds you should carry one bolt of each size used along with a few washers and nuts. Make sure you have a wrench or small ratchet and sockets to work on the sled. With basket sleds, having a couple of pre –made stanchion/crosspiece ties are really handy, especially when it’s really cold outside. An extra brake bushing and pin are recommended for all sled types. One of the questions you have to ask yourself when dealing with a broken sled on the trail is whether your situation warrants major trailside repairs. There is a big difference between being out behind your house with the dogs and being somewhere between Allakaket and Tanana with a broken sled. Another question is how much longer is the mushing season going to last? If the break occurs near the end of the season, a quick fix to keep you on the trail is warranted until you can address the repair properly during the off-season. It brings to mind my suggestion to have more than one sled on hand so that if one sled is broken beyond driving, you always have a backup. With feed and transportation costs rising you want to be running your dogs as much as possible and you do not want to be hampered by not having a sled that works. Broken runners and stanchions are most often the sled piece that needs to be repaired on the trail because they both determine how the sled drives. Basket slats, toprails and even some crosspieces can be broken but do not hamper your sled handling. Some duct tape or a lashed piece of wood are quick fixes for these kinds of breaks.For stanchions, one of the handiest and quickest fixes are hose clamps which can be wrapped around a broken stanchion or crosspiece with a chunk of wood or plastic splinting the break. If you break a stanchion the repair is usually the same whether it is a bolted together or a tied sled. An old chunk of hockey stick or a short strip of UHMW plastic work well for this job but a branch will do the job in a pinch. Sometimes these splints are so effective that I have seen sleds run for years before replacing the stanchion. If you do not have any hose clamps you should be carrying several short pieces of line (#18 to #24) with a small loop on the end pre-tied to wrap your splint with. Along with these ties a short spool of heavier nylon line (#24 to #35) makes a great addition to a repair kit especially if you are going to be far away from civilization. I have seen people rebuild some very broken sleds using nothing but willow branches and twine to get themselves back to place where better repairs can be madeDo no harmOne point to keep in mind as you are repairing a sled on the trail is not to do any more damage to unbroken parts than necessary. Often I see sleds come into the shop that have had as much damage done to them from repairs as the original breakage. If you happen to access a screw gun remember that sheet-rock screws are very brittle and do not work real well in screwed repairs. Try using a steel screw instead.Broken runners can be a bit more tricky, for good and bad. On thicker wooden runners with QCR or screw-on plastic you can often run for quite a while before you have to replace a runner because the plastic will help hold it together. On training and back-country toboggans I often see ½” runner plastic which really strengthens the runner if it breaks. Remember though that I am talking about a runner that is not separating. Where a runner breaks is important because it determines how much attention you have to pay to it. Cracking or breaking the front or middle of the runner may not require any or very little attention whereas a broken runner behind the rear stanchion (the usual spot) can be very difficult to fix on the trail, especially if you have full separation. With QCR the whole rear chunk of runner slides out of the plastic. A quick fix here is just driving a screw or two though the plastic into the runner, turning QCR plastic into a quasi screw on plastic. A ¾” or 1″ #10 screw works well for this repair. For most standard toboggan sleds, a break on the front curve or along the bed usually does not require much work because the runner is sandwiched between two layers of plastic. On a basket sled you may need to address these breaks, especially those on the front curve. Lash a thin piece of wood or plastic at the tip and then at the end of the false runner. Sometimes by backing off a runner or rail screw you can lash around the broken area without having a tie abrading on the trail. This is another spot where a hose clamp can come in handy for a quick repair.Metal stanchions and runners pose their own problems in trailside repairs. Usually a broken metal stanchion can be fixed with the same splinting system as a wooden one. But if it is an integral piece that affects the steering or integrity of the sled you may find yourself trying to bend some thin-walled back into place with limited success. Often there are cables that connect these stanchions to the front of the runners and a certain tension is required. You may have to disconnect the cable and use a piece of twine to get the sled back into the approximate tension.Repairing metal runnersPeople often ask me about repairing metal runners. I have seen them welded, bolted with plastic, tied and riveted with no real success. A hard hit on a metal runner can bend it in a way that makes the sled so contorted that it can be almost impossible to drive. Trying to bend back a metal runner on the trail is futile. Even in the shop with use of a hydraulic press we have been unable to bend runners back into place. If you break a metal runner you can try what Lance Mackey did in the Iditarod a couple of years ago, just screw an old ski (or any board) onto the runner plastic and drive the sled real carefully.Just remember that if you do break your sled, don’t panic, don’t get upset. Take your time and just wire, screw, duct tape, lash or clamp it back into position and head back down the trail. By having these few simple items and some tools the job will be a lot easier.One final note. Often breaks won’t be noticeable until you get back to the dog yard. After any tumble or crashing through the trees you should examine your sled for any damage. David Klumb has been making dog sleds in Fairbanks, Alaska since 1980. David and his wife Joanne ran the 2006 Serum Run. For more information on Laughing Husky dog sleds, visit laughinghusky.com.

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