15 December 2013

History Lesson: Gee Pole

gee pole

Definition from Wiktionary,
gee pole
  1. a sturdy pole, lashed to the side of a sled, and used for steering and support.

As Buck watched them, Thornton knelt beside him and with rough, kindly hands searched for broken bones. By the time his search had disclosed nothing more than many bruises and a state of terrible starvation, the sled was a quarter of a mile away. Dog and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenly, they saw its back end drop down, as into a rut, and the gee-pole, with Hal clinging to it, jerk into the air. Mercedes's scream came to their ears. They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to be seen. The bottom had dropped out of the trail.

The Call of the Wild- Jack London

Reading Jack London' stories, for nearly 20 years, I never really knew what a Gee Pole was at all!  I had some idea they were dangerous, and I had some idea they attached to a sled. Let me give you a short history lesson!

Gee Poles, attach to the front of the sled, on the right hand side.  Gee.   That makes sense.   Its a long pole lashed to the sled, in which the musher holds on, and steers with while on skis, on foot or snowshoes.  Sometimes mushers even stood on a single board called the "Ouija Board", more like a snowboard than skis!  

The skis were attached to the gangline, and had no bindings.  The musher stood on the skis, and leaned their weight into the pole to control the sled.  As the skis were attached to the gangline, there was no slowplowing to slow down!

There were no bindings, so when the musher needed to jump off they could.   Mushers would jump off to push harder on the Gee Pole for tight turns.   But as the skis were attached to the gangline, they would have to jump off, being mindful not to trip over the gangline itself! 

There are stories of Gee Poles snapping under the pressure, and them impaling a while the sled runs out of control down a hill.   Keeping in mind, that Gee Poles were used when teams were pulling very heavy loads.   Not a fun run! 

Gee poles were employed by single mushers, as well as mushers working in a team.   With one musher working the brakes on the sled.  

Gee Poles were, and in a few cases, still are used, to help manoeuvre heavy loads around turns on the trail.  As most modern time mushers are focused on races or recreation, the need to move heavy freight by dog sled has diminished.   Hence, so has the Gee Pole.  

Here is a video clip from Husky Homestead.

Watch Jeff King as he navigates the trails using a Gee Pole.