From Kyle Hopkins in Willow --
If a few sleds on the Iditarod Trail look oddly longer than usual this year, it’s because mushers plan to travel with a kind of caboose for much of the race.
Four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Jeff King of Denali Park, long the MacGyver of dog-racing apparatus, test-drove a prototype of the new sled design last year. The idea: Attach a removable trailer to the back of the sled that could be used to rest two or three dogs even as the others charge toward Nome.
"Just like having a bench when you’re playing basketball. You always have fresh players to stick on the team," said Willow sled maker Dan Schlosser.
A journeyman machinist who once made parts for Boeing, Schlosser built the first sled at King’s request. This year at least two other racers are using similar designs, with not only a tail dragger but a detachable trailer, he said.
Schlosser uses lightweight aircraft aluminum to keep the sleds from weighing more than traditional designs.
The trailer, or caboose, can be unbolted at a checkpoint later in the race for faster travel. King’s trailer is about five feet long, Schlosser said.
Parked next to other sleds, it’s the difference between a sedan and a limousine. Other cabooses carried by Travis Beals of Seward and Nicolas Petite of Girdwood appear slightly smaller.
Petite’s trailer looks like a dog kennel on runners, complete with a wire-frame door the huskies can peer through while traveling. Petite said he may let some of the more powerful dogs rest in the caboose early on, when mushers are trying to pace themselves and avoid injuries, in hopes of saving their strength for later in the race.
Plus, he said, some of the dogs like to eat in private. He’ll place them in the kennel at mealtime.
Anchorage Daily News