Remembering the Iron Man

Percy deWolfe, known as the Iron Man Mail Carrier, faced many unpredictable moments during his 38 years (1910-1949) on the trail between Dawson and Eagle.

He did it all year round, so there were different factors every season.

But sticking to the so-called “spring” when the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race is run, Percy would have had to break trail, watch for overflow and be prepared for every sort of weather from spring melt to bitter wind and snow.

None of this would necessarily have been part of the upbringing of a young man from just outside Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

There, the DeWolfe name is still fading on an old warehouse by the railway tracks, and the former family home is a block or so from the converted stable we lived in while finishing our education degrees at Acadia University.

Like many a Maritimer, including some in my family, DeWolfe hopped the rails west to join in the harvest on the prairies. Unlike my relatives, he never went home again. He headed north instead, arriving here in 1898, according to John Gould’s research.

DeWolfe was known as the Iron Man long before Tony Stark donned his armor.

In 1935 DeWolfe was presented with a silver medal from King George in “appreciation of your service to the Yukon Territory”, as the official letter put it.

The annual March race began as a tribute but quickly evolved into an official mid-distance race, now in its 35th year.

The original race is a 210-mile round trip to Eagle and back.

The Percy Junior Race, added later, is a 100-mile round trip to Forty Mile, which is the halfway point of the main race.

The latest addition is the Percy Skijor Race, which has been changed for this year. Competitors will run to Forty Mile, overnight there and then return to Dawson.

One of the annual surprises for “the Percy”, as it is generally called, is how many entries there will be.

Race society president Anna Claxton confirms that, once again, they won’t know the numbers until the mushers’ meeting the night before the race begins.

So far there are five mushers signed up and another five who have expressed an interest.

Of course, some of the men, women and dogs who run this race regularly are currently running Alaska’s Iditarod and may not decide to end their year with this race until they see how tired they are after that one.

Claxton has heard that things are well organized down in Eagle, in spite of the hard time that town has had from floods and highway destruction over the last two summers.

The main race starts outside the Old Post Office on King Street at 10 am on March 24.

Usually classes from the Robert Service School come along to cheer the teams, but this year the race falls during an extended March break, so the organizers are hoping others will take the half-hour off to greet the mushers and their dogs. They leave at three-minute intervals until all have departed.

The Junior Percy Race is a mass start from the ice bridge. Mushers leave at noon, and the skijor races start half an hour later.

It takes about a day to run the races, with winning times typically in the 20 to 24-hour range.

You can participate in the Percy by buying one of the special envelopes that are carried on the No. 2 sled each year. For $5 a specially cancelled envelope with a commemorative card can be sent anywhere in the world.

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