The Junkyard Team

by Blu de Golyer

"The Junkyard Team"


"A true underdog story"

My family's story starts not at the beginning like most stories, but

rather the middle, like a donut, with the center empty, but

surrounded by life's sweetness. Our donut middle was an auction.

The contents of a storage unit were being sold. Sold, because the

renter of the storage unit was three months behind on the rent and

had no chance of paying it off. I remember that day with vivid


The renter, the de Golyers, a family of five with the noble French

surname, watch helplessly as their belongings are bid on by

complete strangers. Mother sobs silently as family heirlooms

become part of new family histories, simply by someone raising a

hand. Father watches, thinking deep down, could this have been

avoided? He knows in his heart the answer is yes, but the children,

two boys and a girl don't know how a man's pride can be destroyed

by failing as the provider.

Item number 318, a worn down, battered dog sled, with seven

harnesses, starting bid" One hundred dollars. Not a single hand

shoots up, or even rises above the waist. What would anyone want

with second hand dog sled? I remember to this day the answer to

that question as it will forever be imprinted in my head. My father

raised his hand. He looked at my mother like a super hero silently

coming to the rescue. That rickety old sled changed all our lives and

my parents scraped up one hundred dollars, to the penny to win

that well used contraption back. That sled was part of our family

and needed to be forever with us even if that meant spending the

last of our gas money to make it so. The sled was coming back

home, wherever home might be. We strapped the sled to the roof of

our rusty old suburban and drove on to another state where my

father would find work. The dogs that took that sled to victory were

long gone, but they will always be in my heart. They never quit,

even when they should have never bothered starting. They were the

junkyard team.


My parents are of strong stock, almost too strong in their will,

which caused a lot of friction growing up. Mother came from a strict

Irish Catholic background and father, well he came from a long line

of blue bloods, but wanted to work with his hands, so he went into

construction. The money was usually good, but required us to move

every six months. This put a strain on the family, but mother kept

busy by raising three kids. Billy, Cody and Crystal. The boys were

four years apart, Billy being the eldest and Crystal was the youngest

at a year younger than Cody. We continued to move from state to

state. Wherever a highway was to be built, that's where you'd find

us. This went on for years until mother had a breakdown. I recall

her hair turned gray overnight. My mother couldn't bare to move

anymore. She wanted a place to call her own, so we loaded up the

truck with all our belongings and moved to Oregon. Father had the

notion of becoming a rancher. It was a huge risk, but at least we

wouldn't have to keep moving.

We found a four hundred acre homestead, tucked away in the

furthest reaches of the rugged Eastern Oregon mountains. No

man's land, but when you're a kid space to play is like having

Heaven within reach. We didn't own the land, but the kids didn't

know any better. Renting was okay until we made decent ranchers

of ourselves. The house was an old farmhouse, from the 1880's.

The water came from an old hand pump and the toilet was an


The electricity came from a gas generator in an old shed. To most

people this would be an interesting weekend getaway. To us it was

home and we were determined to make it work. The barn was the

best of all. Big, rusty red and empty. Well, not exactly empty. Deep

in the shadows, hidden in a dark corner of the barn's loft was an

old dog sled. It looked quite out of place, but so did we.

The sled was made with such care and craftsmanship. Whoever

made this sled put a lot of love into it and expected it to last as

long as there would be men to ride it. My mother was not an

outwardly social person and was often very quiet, a stark contrast

to my father. To the outsider she came across as mean, but she was

very much the opposite, she was just quiet.

The day her and I pulled out that sled, though I was only twelve

years old, I understood a twinkle a person can have in their eye

when something magical has fallen into their hearts. My mother had

that twinkle. Words weren't necessary.

My mother spent so much time being a wife and a mother, she

never made time to do something for herself. This was her moment.

At the time, I didn't realize the magic, but my mother was going to

share this magic with me.

The owner of the property didn't know anything about the sled and

wasn't even aware of its existence. I guess one could argue, it sort

of appeared one day, kind of like my family on this patch of God's

country. The months passed and we became ranchers. My dad

spent nearly all our savings on ten head of cattle. Come spring,

they'd fetch a top dollar at market.


Fall was upon us and mother and I had learned all that can be

learned about sled dog racing" From books of course. She and I

studied every aspect of the sport. Could even tell you the history of

it if you asked me. This was our bonding. My siblings thought it was

silly. Father thought it consumed too much time and took away

from chores, but to Mother and I, well it was our thing. We fixed up

the sled and made it shine like it did in its prime. Yet, we were still

missing one key ingredient in the cake of success" Dogs.

All the books had pictures of purebred huskies. Dogs of natural

beauty and stature. We needed a team to pull the sled. My mother

put the proposal on the table to my father. Money was tight. We

grew what we ate and hunted the occasional elk at the back end of

the property. Our money was tide up in the cattle and there wasn't

extra money to by dogs for what my father considered an expensive


You have to understand, my father was a good man and only

wanted us to be happy, therefore, he was always the one who had a

solution that worked for everyone". Chickens"What we did have

was plenty of chickens. We had so many hens that if we each had

eggs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we'd still have plenty to bake

a cake for dessert.

We would sell the farm fresh eggs to people in town. This like most

things in my childhood, looked good on paper, but in practice

proved to be a bit more of a challenge. Finding the customers

wasn't hard, getting the eggs to them was. Picture a twelve year old

kid delivering eggs by bicycle down the bumpy back roads of

Oregon. I don't think there was one customer that ever received a

complete dozen intact.

A month later we had put together $300, of course half of it came

from selling a dozen of our prize hens along with their eggs. Now

all we needed was a team of five dogs. The family loaded up and

drove a few hundred miles to Portland. There was an ad in the

paper for sled dogs for sale. We pulled up in our rusted out

suburban. The place looked more like an estate than a kennel. I

remember my father saying how he'd do the talking". Well, no

matter how well he talked, three hundred dollars wouldn't buy five

sled dogs. That amount of money wasn't enough for a three legged

Huskie, let alone a four legged one.

The breeder even commented there was no way we'd find runners

for less than a hundred a piece. It was clear to him we were novices.

It was clear to us to.

Mother and I were heart-broken. I even believed it was my father's

fault for not having the money. I silently blamed him, but mother

didn't, she never did. Why couldn't we sell one of those stupid

cows? We started back home. The drive was silent. My brother and

sister were young and didn't understand the disappointment

mother and I felt. Good thing too, because it hurt.

Just as our hearts were beginning to settle at the bottom of our

hopeless abyss, my father came through the way only he could. He

spots a sign that reads: "Dogs For Sale". The sign didn't say "Sled

Dogs", so our hopes didn't exactly jump up and down, but we

figured it was worth a try. Father turned down a muddy road, which

we nearly got stuck in a few times.

The property was nothing like the last place we had been, in fact it

was a junkyard. We passed through the front gates to find the road

lined with hundreds of old rusted out cars and trucks. What the hell

were we doing? I was certain some crazy guy with a chainsaw would

coming running out and cut us all up.

We rounded a corner and abruptly came to a stop. There in front of

us was the most heart-breaking scene of pathetic suffering a

human can imagine. A patch of muddy ground, no less than three

acres in size housed hundreds of starving, barking, howling and in

some cases dying dogs. Each dog had a make shift shelter which

consisted of a turned over, 55 gallon oil drum, half buried in the

muddy earth. There was no one breed, but many breeds. There

were greyhounds, which were once champions, but lost one too

many races and were retired, if you could call this dump retirement.

There were Dalmatians, Basset hounds, Labs, you name the dog, it

was there, though most were mixes of this, that and the other,

mostly the other. Every single dog was coated with mud.

I was too young to really understand the Holocaust, but remember

in the school library, there was a book with old photos. Old photos

of the camps, when they were liberated. I feel I can compare the

two, because these were mans' best friends and they were treated

like enemies in a concentration camp. My father's eyes were

watering, my brother and sister were excited to see so many dogs

and didn't understand suffering. My mother and I" Our eyes were

on one dog. He captivated us, because he didn't bark, or howl, he

simply watched us. He was a Golden Retriever mix. He looked so

wise. My father was about to put the truck in reverse when my

mother opened the door and got out. When a dog makes contact

with his master, that dog is forever bound to that person. I followed

my mother to the dog. He seemed so out of place, like he didn't

belong here, like some child somewhere missed him, but as we got

closer to the hundreds of dogs, more faces stood out of the crowd.

There was a smallish Dalmatian, with his ribs sticking out, then

there were the two Greyhounds that looked like brothers. The fluffy

Malamute who looked fat but we later found it was just the mass of

hair that covered him. The faces began to become our team. My

mother and I exchanged glances as we knew that Golden boy would

lead our team.

We wished we could take all of them, but we managed six. I could

understand Shindler's sorrow. Six out of nearly three hundred. I

remember hating the old, frail woman who cared for the dogs,

though I use the words "cared for" loosely. Could she not see the

suffering? The answer was no, she was literally blind and alone. She

had explained how she took in unwanted dogs and used her social

security to feed and house the dogs. S

he'd sell a dog or two a month to help pay for their needs. Father

said what they "needed" was to all be put down. Perhaps he was


The ride home was long. Vomiting, diarrhea and more diarrhea. The

total cost of six nearly dead dogs, $250" The magic that was about

to come" Priceless.

Eight terrible hours later we made it home with three Greyhounds,

one Dalmatian, one Malamute and one Golden Retriever mix. The

trip was hard and one of the Greyhounds caught a fever. Mother

and I made the barn into a kennel, with fresh straw and a roof. It

wasn't the best of lodging, but it was ten fold better than the hell

we found them in. After three sleepless nights of nursing the sick

Greyhound, he died. I woke up that morning to find my mother

cradling him in her arms. It was hard because even the best of

intentions can't always save what has been abandoned and

mistreated. It took us nearly a month to nurse the remaining five

dogs back to their former glory and there were some close calls,

but by the middle of November, they were ready to begin training.

Winter was on the horizon and being our first, it was going to be

hard one. The first time we hooked up the team was a disaster. It

was a mess, with dogs getting tangled up in knots. I named the

Golden Retriever Riley, as in Sir Walter Riley. He was patient with us

and seemed to know we had no clue what we were doing. I swear,

there times when he snapped the other boys into shape. Our first

ride was not quite a success and I was dragged a good eighth of a

mile before falling off due to the ten pounds of snow in my pants.

Riley stopped the team and they waited for me to catch up. The

weeks passed and they started becoming a team" We started

becoming a team.


I remember it was on a Thursday in the beginning of December

when we had a near disaster. I can home from school to find

chicken feathers all over the place. My father came out of the house

with his rifle. Pickle, the Dalmatian got loose and killed half a dozen

of our best hens. My father was determined to shoot him. Only

problem was he couldn't find him.

After an hour of frantic looking, I found him under the house,

hiding. He knew he did wrong. I was twelve, but my father felt it

was time to become man. It was my job to shoot him. With tears in

my eyes, I managed to coax him out from under the porch. My

mother was due back from town and I knew if I could just prolong

things until she got home, she could convince my father to spare

the dog. Where the Hell was she when I needed her? Time was

running out and father wasn't going to back down. I leashed up the

dog and cursed him for being so stupid and putting me in this


I cried like crazy with the rifle ready to do the deed. That dumb dog

just looked up the barrel into my soul. This was the end. Wait! My

father yelled from across the way. I saw the compassion in his eyes.

"Make sure that dog stays locked up" he said. I could have kissed

the man. From that day on I locked that dog up as he was a Wiley


December dropped lots of snow, which made training a fun break

from school. My mother and I became consumed by the sport and

even though not one of our dogs was remotely close to being even

mistaken for a sled dog, my mother decided to put her social

inabilities to the side and promote the first Annual Elkhorn Crest

sled dog race. The date was set for February. She managed to get

together a purse of ten thousand, a lot of money in those parts. We

had top racers from around the world sign up. This was big. I

thought it was ironic the family with the makeshift sled team was

putting together a race. People got excited. Businesses, both big

and small wanted to take part. Heck, Kris Kristofferson's

doppelganger was the grand marshal. What an event. I have to say, I

still to this day can't picture in my head my shy, quiet mother

getting people excited about a bunch of dogs running across the

snow, but maybe that's what made it special.


One afternoon I was training the dogs as I had done most

afternoons, when I got to the back end of the property. Ten of our

cattle lie dead in the snow. Within a week we lost nearly half of the

herd to Anthrax. Father took it hard and started drinking. He

seemed to give up on things. He stopped caring.

Mother became more determined to make something out of our

team and she passed the torch to me. I was to race this mixed nuts

in the biggest race this part of the country has ever seen. Money

was tighter than usual and usually it was really tight. My mother

and I went without to put back into the team. My brother and sister

did their part too. Father tried, but he buried himself in the bottle. I

remember my mother and him fighting late at night. Why did those

cattle have to die?

Ten thousand dollars" I used to lie up at night and see if I could

count that high. I would always fall asleep before I reached a

thousand. That much money would save us. I was only twelve, but I

knew I could save my family.

When I thought things couldn't get any worse, things did just the

opposite. I remember a black truck driving up our half a mile

driveway. This was a brand new truck, the kind many a country kid

dreamt of having. The truck parked and a middle-aged man

stepped out wearing what looked like a costume one would buy at a

dude ranch. His much younger wife dressed even gaudier. The

young woman loved the scenery of this four hundred acre plot, as

did the man. My dad came out to see who these people were.

He was a film producer from Hollywood and she was his third wife I

found out later. They loved what we did with the place, but you

could tell they would change a few things, like all the animals

roaming free. You see that couple bought the property for a

vacation home. Our year round home was now their four weekends

a year playground. We had sixty days to pack up and leave. They

were at least polite about having us out. My mother always wanted

a place to call her own and now with the passing of a pen, the place

was gone.

That night, I couldn't sleep. My mother's sobbing haunted me. I

snuck out and slept with the dogs in the barn. The dogs were awake

when I came into that barn. They all looked at me for answers. I had

none. Riley, he looked at me differently. I believe he knew what

needed to be done. I fell asleep amongst friends on a bed of straw,

under a rusty barn's roof, under a clear, cold sky.

January was colder than an Eskimo kiss, with temperatures dipping

well below freezing. It was a bittersweet month. We as a family were

packing up to move, but as racers were getting ready for the big

race. We sold the remaining cattle at market. We lost money on the

deal, but my father had stopped drinking away his bitterness and

started helping with the race. Win or fail, we were going to do this

as a family.


The course was five miles long and zig zagged in and out of the

trees. An oblong, intricate mess of frozen hell. My mother designed

the track. When I first saw the course, I thought she was trying to

kill me. Did she really expect me to survive this treacherous trail?

Yes". And with a little luck, win it.

Lucky for us, we lived ten minutes from course and I was able to

practice. My team was ready and had become pretty darn good even

by sled dog standards. They were surprisingly fast. Riley led these

boys like Napoleon. He was small and older than the rest. He had a

sweetness about him, in fact he would lie on the porch and let

kittens sleep on his back, without so much as a sniff. But this was

not a time for him to be sweet. He needed to lead and I needed to

push him to push them.

Our first time out on the course, nearly two weeks before the race,

was slow and I was heavy on the break around those tight corners.

Mother watched from the field with binoculars. With stopwatch in

hand, she marked my times". Again, do it again" Again, do it

again" You break too heavy on the corners. You need to slide into

the round she would say. That day, we did the course five times.

Twenty-five miles they ran, but our last time was our fastest. We

finished our first course run in a record time. How the hell did we

do it? To this day I can only guess it be one of two things, not

knowing any better, or just having the heart. I like to believe those

dogs pulled off the latter.

The next morning we started early. We later found out it was too

early to be out, as there was still ice on the course. The third corner

was my fear from the day before. It was sharp and just after a

straightaway so you build up some speed to it. I remember the

straightaway and I remember the corner, then breaking, then black.

I woke up a few minutes later on my back. When I managed to

figure out where I was, I realized I wasn't on the course anymore

and worse than that, my team was gone. I ended up, down the side

of the mountain. My jacket was ripped up and my head hurt, but I

was alive. I guess I hit the corner to fast and went flying.

I started back up the hill and there they were. My team was waiting.

They all looked back at me as though to say come on, let's go.

People seldom show such loyalty. The handle to the sled was

shattered. The handle was a rounded piece of wood, wrapped with

leather that arches from one side to the other. Now it was two

pointy splintered pieces of wood. A sled's handle helps steer the

sled, so needless to say, this wasn't going to make things any


We managed out of the woods, but the sled was hard to steer and

needed to be fixed if I wanted to win. Father didn't eat supper with

us that night. He always ate with us. I excused myself from the table

and went to the barn. Under candlelight my father was repairing the

sled's handle. I stood back in the shadows and simply watched. He

didn't know I was there and didn't even look up from his work. His

hands worked more like an artist than a burly construction worker. I

decided to leave him be and go to bed. Morning comes early with

only two days until the race.


The whole town was excited. All the world had come. There were

press people from as far as Japan there. What did my mother do?

The race itself was to last three days. The first two days were

qualifying rounds and the third was for all the apples. Boy, did we

seem out of place. Every racer other than me had big trucks with

little doors poking out purebred Huskie heads. The sleds were

professionally made, the dogs matched, the harnesses matched"

Everything matched. Most racers had sponsors like dog food

companies and the like. My sponsor was a Folgers can filled with

change. Every penny was used. It was clear I was out of my league,

my dogs weren't even sled dogs, sure they were attached to a sled,

but that's as far as the similarity went.

I wanted to run far and fast away from here, but my mother's eyes

were happy at the grand event she put together from nothing.

Besides, though no one said it, my family needed me to win.

I put aside my embarrassment from the looks and snickers of my

competition. My father said they were just scared of a young kid

like me with a ratty team like mine winning. At the time it made

sense. Heck, I'd be embarrassed to be beat by my motley crew. I

was the youngest racer there. When the press got hold of that fact, I

became somewhat of a pseudo celebrity. I was even interviewed by

a reporter from Iceland. At the time, I didn't even know there was

an Iceland. Wow.

It was show time. My nerves were on fire. I felt sick to my stomach.

They lined up the teams. We were eight teams back. Luck of the

draw I guess, but we had to deal with it. I looked back and there

was my family lined up, watching me. Not word was said, but I knew

they were excited. The official fired the pistol. BANG!!! Lightning

was let out of the bag. I could here somewhere behind me the

crowd cheering and for a moment, I forgot where I was. I was

quickly reminded I was in a race when the ninth team passed me..

HIKE!!! I yelled and my boys ran. It was a tug of war, neck to neck

for eighth place. The Swede wasn't going to let me get my place

back. Every time I tried to pass him, he would swerve. Corner after

corner we fought and each time he kept me behind. I had to get

past him, as there were only eight places for the next day. Ninth

would be the end of us. HIKE!!! HIKE!!! I remembered there was a

wide corner a ways up and if I could just get alongside him, I could

squeeze through. The corner was coming up fast. HIKE HIKE!!! My

boys seemed to now my plan closed the gap. The Swede caught on

to my plan, but it was too late. We burst through the hole just

before the trail narrowed again. The Swede wasn't happy and I think

he may have said some unsavory things in his native tongue. We

pushed on taking eighth place.

The home stretch was one of the best days of my life. A twelve year

old, unpopular boy and his mangy mutts were showered with cheers

and applause. We qualified. Before the congratulations, the dogs

had to jog a cool down. All the teams I just ran with cooled their

dogs down. A racer from Montana came up beside me. "Good run",

he said. He shook his head with a grin and moved on. Good run"

Did you hear that boys? We finally got recognized as a sled team.

That night I couldn't sleep. I was too excited. I looked out the

window to the barn. The Eskimo's on the coldest nights, let the

dogs sleep inside. My parents never allowed dogs inside the house

and tonight, even if it meant getting my backside tanned, they were

going to sleep inside. I snuck them in as quiet as I could. Even

though I believe not one of those dogs ever slept in a house, they

respectfully went straight to sleep on the floor without a single


The second race day my team brought me to fifth place and we had

qualified to be in the final race. Riley cut his foot on the ice and it

bled a lot. The cut was a nasty one. The on sight vet wrapped the

foot, but suggested he call it a day. Those were his exact words,

"Call it a day". Didn't he understand my family's existence depend

on this race? I couldn't except it. Mother explained to me that it was

okay and a hurt dog can't be pushed. I was too young to

understand this and only wanted to win. I couldn't except that we

had come this far only to quit now. Boots". I turned to see the

woman who came in sixth place standing nearby. "Here". She tossed

me a bag of dozen red little boots. "They'll help.". That's all that

she said and she packed up her dogs and left. The same woman I

had beaten, had just given me a dozen dog shoes. That was the

first time in my short life I experienced good sportsmanship. They

looked silly in the boots, but at least they wouldn't cut their feet.

That night was the longest ever. Mother and I sat up with Riley. We

changed the bandage and wrapped it again. I was starting to doubt

he could pull through for us. Mother told me to go to bed, but I

wanted to stay with my team. She convinced me they needed me

fully rested, so I reluctantly went off to bed. She stayed behind.

Morning came and I looked out the window to see Mother on the

sled and the team with their silly little boots on doing a practice

run. He was okay!!! I later found out that my mother had stayed up

all night with Riley. I know in my heart he got better for us and any

pain he felt, he hid. Today was going to be the day. A day that

would forever set my life in a particular path. So I thought. We got

to the course and there seemed to be three times as many people

there. Did the whole world come to this small patch of snow in the

middle of nowhere? It certainly appeared that way. Today was

different for me. I wasn't nervous and just wanted to run our best.

Run we did. The boys dug in and plowed the snow like champions.

They ran like the wind, blowing in and out lanes, moving up and up.

We even made a miracle comeback after crashing. We did all we

could and even though we shot for first place, we got third.

We were tired and I felt like I failed my family. ten thousand would

have changed our lives. For a week I was down and sad until one

day my father pulled out the local newspaper. There printed for the

town to see was the race standings. My name was there in black

print "Third Place". Then the article went to state the standing in the

world, as this race was an association sanctioned race. I was ranked

101st in the whole world. I was the youngest ranked racer, but it

wasn't me that placed, it was my team that carried me and it wasn't

so much the race. The magic was in a group of dogs bringing my

family together. My father was proud of his son and my mother

found her purpose if only briefly.

We went on to win a couple small races, keeping our rank. We

moved to a small rented house on an acre on the other side of the

valley. My grandmother who lived in Nevada became ill and I had to

go and take care of her. It was one of the saddest days of my life

saying goodbye to my team. Ironically, I took a greyhound bus from

Oregon to Nevada. It wasn't as graceful as my boys. I missed them

with all my being.

While I was away, tragedy took Riley in his sleep. My parents were

struck with more bad luck, as Father couldn't find work, another

victim of the recession. They put everything we owned in storage

and struggled on the best they could.

A year later I came home. This is where we started, in the middle.

With sled strapped on the roof, we moved to Nevada and I never

raced again, but that sled was our little victory. I'm grown up now

and often wonder about my team. I often wonder if I could ever

assemble a magical team like those raggedy old, mangy mutts. I

believe the answer is no. Never. Being older I can appreciate

friendship. True friendship is when a friend carries you. My friends

carried me.

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