Dogsleds: Driverless cars, ‘all that and a bag of chips’

We’ve had driverless transport in the North for a long time

I was listening to the radio this morning as I was repairing my snowshoes. The host was trying to convince his listeners of the benefits of driverless cars. He was saying people will have more time to make use of, rather than driving. He gave examples, such as flip down a bed and catch up on your sleep on the way to work, lay out a mat and do yoga, pump weights, run on a treadmill or get a head start on your work. He said you can even cook breakfast on the way to work. Now I’ve known some lazy SOBs in my time, but this takes the cake.

But what people don’t know is that we’ve had driverless transport here in the North for eons. It’s called a dogsled.

Ask any old-timer and he’ll tell you a story about how he fell asleep in his dogsled and his team brought him home, in the moon light. Or how he can roll a smoke while sitting in his toboggan. Try that on Highway 2, between Edmonton and Calgary. You’d be wrapped around a power pole before you could say, “Come gee!”

There’s a famous story of how a woman named Ernestine suspected her husband, Henry, of “tipi creepin’.” Whenever their neighbour, Alphonse, would go on extended trips to check his traplines, Henry would make some lame excuse to take the dogs out for a run. This guy couldn’t ‘trap his thumb’ and was as useless as a three-legged wheel dog. If it weren’t for his wife’s dad, who kept them in rabbits and fish, he’d of starved years ago. His dogs were just as useless because all they did was lay around and get fat off the father-in-law’s fish. But they knew where to go when they got hitched up.

So one night, when Henry had a little too much home brew, Ernestine hitched up the dogs and got them out on the trail to see where they would go. And, sure enough, they went around the bend, like they were trained to do, then cut across a dry lake and around the back slough toward Alphonse’s place. The few dogs that Alphonse left behind starting barking when they sensed another dog team was coming. When Alphonse’s wife, Lucy, heard her dogs barking, she took the curlers out of her hair and put on lipstick. When Ernestine knocked on the door, Lucy opened it. Expecting Henry, she stood there with closed eyes and her lips protruding for an expected kiss. But instead of Henry’s lips, she got a face full of tallow in a pie plate. So they start calling her Lucy “Tallow” after that.

Not only that, but a sled dog can sense danger out on the trail. If a leader can smell water, he’ll stop dead in his tracks, warning the driver of impending danger ahead (usually overflow). If you don’t know what overflow is, go to The Pit in Dawson and ask the bartender … she’ll tell you.

A dog can also sense if you’ve got something caught in your trap. They’ll get all excited and start pulling and yanking on their harness toward whatever critter is in your trap. Try that with a smart car. I got a dollar fifty says they wouldn’t know a mink from a weasel.

Sometimes, too, when you’re out on the trapline, your dogs can get away from you if your snow hook is not dug in. But if they do run away, chances are they will find their way home. They say if a smart car’s accelerator gets stuck, then you’re as good as worm food.

Yeah, people think the future is “all that and a bag of chips,” without ever realizing that we had things figured out pretty good before TV, cars, microwaves and the internet. The only reason you don’t hear about the past is because people are too embarrassed to say they used to have to make coffee in a lard pail, as they are standing in line for a 10-dollar cup of coffee at Starbucks. So the next time someone tries to sell you on the future, remember the story of Lucy “Tallow.”

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