For many remote communities, the only connection to the rest of the world is via the local airstrip. But before airplanes came into widespread commercial use, these populations had to go to even more extraordinary lengths to get the supplies they needed for survival.
For some communities — particularly those subject to the harsh conditions of the northernmost regions of the globe — maintaining access to crucial supplies is a constant challenge. Today, these areas can typically be reached by small air carriers or bush planes, which deliver modern conveniences to towns where, for example, the nearest pizza place is 65 roadless miles away, according to the Alaska Business Journal.
But airplanes haven’t been on the scene for all that long. In Alaska, the first scheduled airline was established in 1924, in Fairbanks. And yet, out of the 100 or so airfields in the territory by the end of the 1930s, only four were “adequate for most modern aircraft of the time.” In Canada, the use of rugged bush planes to reach heavily wooded and otherwise inaccessible areas began in 1920, as Canadian Icons explains, with flights becoming more common throughout the 1930s, but were still by no means a readily available convenience. For inhabitants of the most remote areas, another means of shipping remained essential to survival.
A common transportation solution for those remote communities was the use of dogsleds. While Europeans and Canadians adopted the practice as they settled the northern wilds, the native population had been using dog teams as both beasts of burden and a means of transport for thousands of years.
Dogsled teams were integral to the development of the fur trade and the European exploration of the north, and were even used by the military during the French and Indian War in the mid-1700s. As the population expanded into previously uninhabited territory, the use of sled dogs expanded in kind, and by 1873, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were using sled dogs for transportation and patrol.
The territory traversed by sled dogs expanded once again during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century, according to PBS, as these teams became essential for travel to and from the otherwise inaccessible mining camps. As these areas became more settled, dog teams remained the only effective mode of transport between remote communities.
The Great Race of Mercy
Perhaps the most famous supply run by a dog sled team took place in January 1925, in a legendary event that became the basis for one of the most well-known races in the world: the Iditarod. Known as the Great Race of Mercy, the relay run involving 20 mushers and more than 150 dogs was set into motion to transport lifesaving diphtheria antitoxin serum from Nenana, Alaska, to the remote settlement of Nome 674 miles away, where many of the village’s children were being ravaged by diphtheria, as History.com explains.
Throughout the fierce Alaskan winter, Nome was completely inaccessible, except with the help of a dog sled team. Governor Scott C. Boone recruited the best mushers and teams, set the route, and sent the 20 pounds of serum onto the trail. With temperatures at 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and bitter winds of up to 80 mph, the precious cargo would only remain viable for approximately six days. But thanks to the heroic efforts of several teams, including the most famous sled dog in history, Balto, the serum reached Nome in five and a half days, cutting the record time in half and saving the community from the ravages of disease.
Keeping Runways Clear
Today, with more dependable planes, snowmobiles, and other forms of transportation, dog sledding can thankfully be relegated to a recreational sport, rather than an essential lifeline for remote communities.
Still, it’s crucial that the condition of the runways these communities depend on are up to par so that no miracle run is ever needed again. That’s where Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc. can help. Midwest’s Gravel Runway Fines Preservation® Program does more than just control dust — it extends a runway’s lifespan by at least seven years, and it’s Boeing tested and approved for aircraft surface and parts safety.
There’s a reason that Midwest has treated dozens of gravel runways in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Quebec — it offers the most effective and long-lasting solutions for the communities that need them the most.
(Main image credit: Ralf Κλενγελ/flickr)