Balto and the Great Race

Balto and the Great Race by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Book: Balto and the Great Race by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
Nome, Alaska
    Nome began as a frontier town in 1899 when gold was discovered nearby. Once the gold ran out; most of the people left too. Even today there are no roads linking Nome to the rest of the state.
    Alaska became a state in 1959. It is one of the largest states, but it has fewer people in it than almost any other state in the country. Outside the big towns and cities, houses may be hundreds of miles away from each other.
    The year 1925 was a good one to be a dog in Nome, Alaska. There were many opportunities for a strong canine with powerful legs and a healthy set of lungs.
    Racing dogs could pull their sleds clear across the state, through some of the most beautiful—and deadly—landscape in the world. Every Alaskan dog with a breath of life in him dreamed of running the great northern sled races.
    Purebred malamutes and Siberian huskies, like Balto, were the sled drivers’ breeds of choice. But even a dog who was a mutt mix of eight breeds could be a sled dog. Sled drivers, known as
, could look at a dog and know in an instant if he was a natural for a team. And a dog with the right personality and skills could be chosen to lead a team.
    The world of dog racing is one ofrivalry and competition. Even today it is a favorite sport in Alaska.
    In addition to running in the dog races, which were held in the winters, many dog teams worked with local mining companies. They carried men and supplies where they were needed. The Northern Commercial Company even had a system of dog teams to carry and deliver mail throughout Alaska.
    Balto’s owner was Leonhard Seppala. He trained sled dogs and worked with his dog teams for the Hammon Consolidated Gold Fields Company. For men like Seppala, working for the company was simply something to do between dog races.
    Seppala and his dogs had run almost every dog race organized in Alaska. They won again and again. Seppala’s team held the record for the fastest time runningfrom the town of Nenana to the city of Nome.
    In putting together his racing team, Seppala used his favored breed—the Siberian husky. Seppala always tried to convince the mushers at the Nome Kennel Club that the Siberian was a superior breed and a faster racer. The breed could be traced back over two thousand years to Siberia, which lies across the Bering Sea from Alaska.
    After hundreds of generations working with people as guard and work dogs, Siberian huskies have become a gentle breed. They are known for their great devotion to their owners.
    One of Seppala’s favorite dogs—a Siberian husky, of course—was named Togo. When Togo was just a puppy, he had broken free from his pen and followedSeppala as he set off on a trip one night. The team was thirty miles into the wilderness before Seppala realized that the puppy had followed him. Unable to turn back, Seppala harnessed the eager pup to the rest of his dog team.
    As young as he was, Togo showed himself to be a talented lead dog. From that day forward, he was a highly prized member of Seppala’s team.
    Balto and Togo were both trained by Seppala, but Balto often ran with another team of dogs that was owned by a man in Nome named Gunnar Kaasen. Kaasen was a very good friend of Seppala’s. The two men had an agreement that Kaasen could borrow Balto whenever he needed him.
    This agreement was about to make a difference to a lot of people.

Nome: Crisis!
    In January 1925, winter settled over Alaska like an iron blanket. There were snowdrifts, high winds, and blizzards. Temperatures often dropped as low as thirty or forty degrees below zero.
    Once winter came, the people of Nome were totally cut off from the outside world. But that January of 1925, a crisis came to the small, isolated city, and even the toughest citizens knew they needed help—winter or not.

    The crisis was a diphtheria epidemic. An
is the very quick spread of a disease to a large number of people. Epidemics can be very difficult to stop, even under

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