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The Walden vs. Seppala Challenge Race at Poland Spring


Arthur Treadwell Walden, founder of the New England Sled Dog Club, Klondike Gold Rush participant, and well-known New England dog driver, was enjoying a successful run of publicity in New England in the late 1920s. His team of big, yellow mixed-breed sons of his famous leader The Great Chinook had done well on the local sleddog racing circuit, winning the Poland Spring race in 1926, and attracting great local interest in his dogs. The tour of the U. S. A. that Leonhard Seppala had embarked on in 1926 was timed to end in New England during the racing season. Walden had offered to host Seppala at his farm and inn in New Hampshire, and a challenge match was agreed to take place at the January 1927 race that would start from the well-known hotel at Poland Spring, Maine. Seppala was offered room and board at the hotel if he would bring two teams. Walden and Seppala travelled together with their respective dog teams to get from Wonalancet Farm to Poland Spring, and Seppala's teams were consistently outpaced by Walden's dogs on the three-day, 90-mile trip. Walden felt he had a sure win in hand.

Seppala was hardly a betting favourite on Walden's home turf. The perception that he could never win the race was strengthened when he could not get his team started and it left the trail immediately. His team also had an encounter with a skunk on the trail. It left the trail again when the dogs scented frying pork chops in a house near the trail and stormed into the kitchen. And finally, Seppala stopped to catch and detain a loose team of Chinooks driven by a female competitor in the race, Elizabeth M. Ricker. In spite of this series of setbacks, though, Seppala's team won the race by several minutes on the first day. The second day's competition was cancelled due to poor trail conditions, leaving Seppala the winner. Shortly thereafter Mrs. Ricker became Seppala's kennel partner and his dogs were permanently housed on the grounds of the famous Poland Spring House, the fantastic Victorian resort hotel in the town. The reputation of Walden and his Chinooks declined from that point and the enthusiasm of New England winter sports fans for Siberian dogs grew like wildfire.


For a fuller account of the 1927 Poland Spring Dog Sled Derby, compiled from newspaper stories of the day, go to 1927 Poland Spring Dog Sled Derby.


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