As I write this it is a blazing 80 degrees (above zero) outside and mushing season seems so far off now. But by the time you read this we should be past summer solstice and the days will be getting shorter as we head into winter once again. Now that I have caught up a little bit here I would like to offer some tips on making your next used sled purchase.With this time of year we get a lot of requests to look at or fix up sleds that are in the process of being bought or sold. There isn’t any ‘Blue Book’ on used sled prices. In a lot of cases the initial price of the sled was high enough that the original owner is trying to recoup as much as they can when selling it. Since this may mean a still sizeable sum for the next purchaser it is important to know what to be aware of when looking at used sleds. George Attla was once asked what he looked for when buying a dog and his reply was “to look at the person selling the dog.” This is always a good spot to start. Is this sled being sold because the person is getting out of mushing or is it just one of many sleds the musher owns. If the person is getting out of mushing very often the equipment can be in great shape and a new musher can find lots of useful things to buy. Where you have a musher selling a single sled out of many you might want to examine the sled closely and ask more questions about it. Pay attention to how the sled has been stored. Sleds should always be stored off the ground and covered well. You might find that a number of mushers are storing metal and plastic sleds outside with no covering because they think the lack of wood and weatherproofness of the materials means the elements won’t bother them. This is false and metal and plastic sleds are subject to corrosion on the metal and sun damage on the plastic.Obviously the first thing is overall appearance. Like any other used item you should be able to tell whether the sled has been run normally or unduly abused. Again it is important to match the sled with the kind of use it will be getting. A sled that has a marginal piece of bed plastic may be fine for a training sled but you wouldn’t want to go on a trek with it. Here is a list of some specific areas to look closely at when buying different types of sleds.Toboggan sleds are usually pretty uncomplicated so there are not a whole lot of things to focus on. First, always examine the runners closely especially in the area between the end of the bed and the front of your footboards. Look for any sign of de-lamination or cracks. If the builder used separate pieces of angle to attach the stanchions and struts to the sled make sure to pay attention to the runners in between these attachment points. Next look at the plastic for any ‘spiderweb’ type cracking on the bed around the bolt holes and along any bends in the handle or brushbow. Plastic does age and break, even the thick stuff. Check the rear bolts or screws that attach any angle onto the bed and runners. There is a lot of strain on these points and can also be another potential break area for the runners. If the plastic and runners are good it is usually not an involved job to replace any bent or broken struts or stanchions. All the wooden parts should be looked at for any small cracks starting around the bolt holes. Any tied areas on the sled should be checked for tightness.Of all the used sleds we see up here the toboggans are usually the ones that have been beat up the most. They are built to haul weight and end up being used in a lot of tough situations. If the sled has a lot of duct tape on it, peel it off and take a look underneath. Generally here in Alaska a several year old used toboggan in the 5 – 6 foot bed range, with no excessive damage and often including a bag, has been selling for around $500 – $800.This type of sled can be all over the map in regards to condition and price. But no matter what the first thing to look at is the overall condition of the wood. Wood that has been well oiled or varnished before being stored properly every spring develops a deep, rich patina that lets you know the wood has not dried out. If the wood is grey or black it needs close examination to see if it has decayed or gotten brittle. When the upper wood is marginal special attention is required when examining the runners. Turn the sled upside down and sight down the runners to see whether there is any warping. The runners, whether cambered, flat or rocked should be straight. A little tow in can be expected at the front of the sled. Look for any cracks or de-lamination on the runners. While you have the sled upside down take a look at the runner plastic. The amount of wear can let you know some of the terrain that the sled has gone across, especially gravel. Look for excessive wear underneath the footboard area and at the start of the upward arc on the runner. If the sled is equipped with QCR or an equivalent replaceable rail, pull the runner plastic off and look at the condition of the rails. Worn rails means the plastic wasn’t changed when it should have been and the sled ran on the rails for a ways. Check for any breaks at the screw holes, especially underneath the rear stanchions and footboards.Set the sled on its side and examine the condition of the eye bolts/screws that attach into the runners. Look for any eyes that are misshapen or bent open. Examine all the stanchion ties to make sure none are overly worn or too loose. If the crosspieces are tied to the stanchions make sure to flex the joint a bit to check the condition of the tie and to see if there are any cracks at the joint. Often a break can occur in this area and be partially concealed by the tie. A basket sled, depending on its size and purpose, can range from very flexible to pretty tight. Stand on the sled as you would when mushing and see how much flex the sled has as you pull back on each side of the handle. Movement should be the same on both sides. As you look down the length of the sled make sure that nothing is canted in the wrong way. Sleds have trail ‘memory’ and can take on the shape of the general way they have been used. I have seen a number of sprint sleds that have hardly ever taken a left turn and have developed a permanent twist to the right.If the sled has plastic used in any areas it needs to be examined for wear and sun damage. Also if the sled has a drag pad attached you need to look closely at the attachment points for any excessive wear. Make sure your bridle isn’t over-worn and that all its connections are secure. Another thing to look at is the amount and quality of any repairs that may have been done in the past. The main problem that occurs in some metal-runnered sleds has to do with the high price paid initially for the sled. Now that some of these models run into several thousand dollars it is usually the desire of the seller to recoup as much of that investment as possible. That is why of all types of sled these often require the greatest scrutiny when purchased used.The first item that needs initial examination is, of course, the runners. Set the sled up on a flat surface and make sure the runners are not twisted or bent and that the front arcs are the same. Pull the runner plastic off and make sure that the metal runners have not been ground down by running on gravel. Make sure that all your attachments to the runners are tight and free of any excess corrosion. Take a small piece of steel wool and clean the runner around the area between the rear stanchion and front of the footboard. Using a magnifying glass, examine this area closely for any excessive wear or hair-line cracks. The reason you want to focus on the runners is that replacement ones will cost you from $350 – $450. Next look at the plastic on the sled, especially the thin (1/8″/3mm) UHMW that is often used for beds. A lot of racing sleds use pop rivets, twine or small bolts for attachment purposes and it is important to look for any cracks around these points. Make sure to examine the brushbow material because you often have just a bent piece of ¼”(5mm) UHMW with maybe a little reinforcement. Look closely at the bend line for any signs of failure or stress.If the sled has wooden stanchions and crosspieces use the information already provided for inspection purpose. Check to see if the wood is laminated and if it is make sure there isn’t any separation between the laminates. In the case where you have metal stanchions or crosspieces that are damaged check with the seller to see if material or pieces are available. Some of these materials are hard to find and can be real expensive to replace.The final aspect to look at on these sleds is the interconnectivity of the parts using cables and bungees. Many of these sleds use these for steering or control and they often stretch out and become less effective. If they need to be replaced look to make sure that it’s not going to be impossible to do it. One of the problems I often see in sleds, especially ‘high-tech’ ones, is the difficulty in making repairs because you sometimes have to disassemble the sled farther than needed just to access the broken parts.I hope this has helped to give you some pointers on what to look for when buying a used sled. Remember if you have any questions or comments to please feel free to contact me. Enjoy the rest of your summer and have pleasant dreams of mushing again soon.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 www.laughinghusky.com.
I am a lover of all seasons, except for spring breakup in Alaska. This year