The Life of "Old Chinook" - Foundation Sire of the Breed
On January 17, 1917, a litter of seven puppies was born on Wonalancet Farm to Walden's Greenland Husky, Ningo (a granddaughter of Polaris, Admiral Robert Peary's lead dog from his 1909 Arctic expedition); and sired by Kim, a large mixed breed dog of unknown origin that had been picked up as a stray. In this litter were three large, tawny colored pups that Kate Walden first named Rikki, Tikki, and Tavi; taken from Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book". Walden soon realized the intelligence of these pups, and finding the names Rikki and Tikki unworkable when calling them, renamed them Chinook and Hootchinoo after two outstanding lead dogs he had owned in Alaska. Hootchinoo was the first to prove his competence as a lead dog, and Chinook and Tavi were perfectly happy running in the team behind their brother. It was a full year later before Walden tried Chinook in lead position, and the unassuming Chinook astounded everyone with his intelligence, understanding, and trail sense. Walden was so taken with this dog that Chinook became Walden's most trusted leader, foundation sire of his continued kennel lines, and Walden's constant companion.
With Chinook's children, Walden was finally getting the quality of dogs that he was accustomed to; and in 1920 his new line of "Husky half-breds" (as he called them), made their debut at the Gorham, NH winter carnival, and he started seriously promoting dog sledding for draft, recreation, and sport. Racing in New England began a year later, at the 1921 Gorham carnival; it was a modest race (two teams of three dogs each, over a six mile course) and Walden lost, but interest built rapidly from there. Walden had also been promoting freighting by dogsled to the woodsmen as a faster, more economical way to move supplies to their logging camps, and convinced the Brown Paper Company of Berlin, NH to sponsor the first Eastern International Dog Derby in 1922 in part to encourage more people to breed quality sled dogs in the region. Four teams competed in this 123 mile race; and Walden, with Chinook in lead, won hands down. Competition was keen, however; and Walden realized that Chinook, weighing just over 100 pounds in fit working condition, was too massive an animal to continue leading winning race teams. He started breeding Chinook with an eye for lighter boned, faster offspring, who still carried Chinook's intelligence and trademark coloration.
In 1923, a distemper outbreak in Chinook Kennel took its toll, and Walden lost his entire winning team, except for Chinook himself. Walden took two years off from serious competition to concentrate on breeding another competitive team, but never stopped supporting the sport. In 1924, the New England Sled Dog Club (NESDC) held its organizational meeting in the Waldens' home and elected Arthur Walden its first president. The NESDC is still actively promoting sled dog racing today.
In 1925, Walden returned to racing with a young but promising team of Chinook's sons, and proclaiming his Chinook/shepherd crosses as his ideal for strength and stamina. The popularity of Walden's "Chinook dogs" was growing; and, boosted by his January 1926 win at the Poland Spring, Maine, race, interest was such that Walden was beginning to sell a few matched teams of his dogs to other racers as well. In March of 1926, Walden and his team set out on an adventure that he had been considering for years, but which most people considered impossible: the first ascent of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the eastern United States, by dog team. While turned back by a blizzard on the first attempt, Walden and his team, with old Chinook in lead again, successfully made the 8 miles to the
summit in 8 hours time!