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Story published: 03-31-2010 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Scouts learn leadership and life skills while building a Klondike derby sled


By Paula Walter
Freelance writer

Boy Scouts from local Troop 6 recently had the opportunity to participate in the renowned Klondike Derby this winter. This yearly event is an opportunity for Scouts to demonstrate leadership skills and their ability to work together as a team.

Each year, Scouts throughout the country participate in a local Klondike Derby. While Cub Scouts may watch, the Klondike Derby event is for the Boys Scouts, along with Varsity, Explorer and Venture Scouts. This event is based on the gold-rush days where prospectors came to the bitterly cold regions of Alaska with their dogs and sleds in search of gold. The miners lived in the harsh winter weather of Alaska, learning necessary survival skills from the Eskimos.

At the Klondike Derby, Scout teams race against other teams as they pull their own sleds loaded with Scouting gear and equipment. They pull with ropes or harnasses, just like the Huskies that once moved the miners’ sleds across the snowy terrain. This is just one of the events set up to challenge the Scouts. They participate in a series of events and courses that test their knowledge, problem-solving skills, their ability to work together and Scouting spirit. The event is held in the winter months when there is a good chance of snow on the ground. Equipped with warm, winter clothing, the Scouts attend the event regardless of the weather, be it rain, snow or mud.

At the Klondike Derby, Scouts follow a course with various stations. The goal is for one team, or patrol, to be the first to finish the challenges of the course that has been laid out. This year, Scouts from local Troop 6 competed in fire building. At this station, the boys were able to build a fire in less than one minute. They found they could boil water in eight minutes. They also discovered that they could burn a string held two feet off the ground in two minutes. These local Scouts also participated in knot-tying, compass challenges, along with erecting a shelter with their sled. There are a variety of events that the Scouts can participate in at the Klondike Derby. Team members can compete against other teams by demonstrating skills such as survival rope throw, ravine crossing, signaling, orienteering, rope making, search and rescue and slingshot shoot.

Every team is required to build a Klondike Derby sled. Typically built at the Derby, the goal is to have the sled appear similar to the old Alaskan dog sleds used by the gold miners. A variety of material can be used, such as pine board, plywood and even old skis. This year, the local troop worked many long hours building their sled in advance.

One of the many badges the Scouts can earn is their engineering merit badge. One of the requirements is to make an original design. Under the guidance of Skip Holtkamp, a civil engineer, the Scouts decided to build their own sled for the Klondike Derby in advance. Holtkamp recently moved to Johnson County and is the owner of Swift Hollow Orchard.

With donations of red oak lumber from Shoun’s Lumber and leather lashings from Allegiance Footwear, the Scouts, along with Holtkamp, began to build their own sled for the Klondike Derby event. “I wanted to teach the boys you could build something without nuts and screws,” said Holtkamp. Finding a picture of an original Klondike sled, they began to work. With the exception of cutting the wood, all of the work was completed using hand tools.

The boys began working on their project before Christmas. They spent weekends sanding, staining, gluing and clamping. The boys learned how to steam and bend the wood to make the runners for the sled. They worked with the wood, learning how to manipulate the wood to get the necessary curves for the handrails. “They are a bunch of good boys,” said Holtkamp.

The sled was put together with dowels and leather lashings. No nails or screws were used in the construction of the sled. According to Holtkamp, square holes were cut to hold the square pegs, giving the sled stability. Unfortunately, the Scouts lost points for not constructing the sled on site at the Klondike Derby. Regardless, Holtkamp was happy with the results. “It came out really nice,” Holtkamp said, “It’s absolutely gorgeous.” According to Holtkamp, the sled received a Blue Ribbon for its design.

Local Scout Troop 6 falls under the Pellissippi District, part of the Sequoyah Council Service Center that encompasses part of southwestern VA and northeastern TN. Terry Potter is the Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 6. The Klondike Derby was on display at both the Sequoyah Council Center in Johnson City, Tennessee, as well as the Butler Volunteer Fire Station in Butler, Tennessee.