Fairbanksan makes rugged worksled for hauling gear
This article originally appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, Tuesday, August 19, 2003.
Tough Toboggans: Fairbanksan makes rugged worksled for hauling gear
By TIM MOWRY, Staff Writer
With a wife and five kids between 2 and 13 years old, packing for a winter camping trip is no easy task for David
"That's a lot of sleeping bags, pads and gear," he said.
It was back when the family began to grow that Doudna, a former hiking, paddling and dog mushing guide in the Brooks
Range, went shopping for a sled to tow behind his snowmachine for hauling all his gear.
Fortunately, at least for trappers, miners, homesteaders, cabin owners, cross-country travelers and anyone else who
desires a top-of-the-line work sled to haul gear in, Doudna didn't find anything to his liking.
As a result, Doudna decided to build his own sled and Northern Sled Works was born in 1995. Doudna has refined his
sled design somewhat over the past eight years and today offers one of the toughest toboggan work sleds in Alaska.
Fairbanks snowmachiner Greg Wyman used one of Doudna's sleds when he and some friends rode from Fairbanks to
Nome four years ago. Wyman also towed it 1,000 miles from Fairbanks to Whitehorse while serving as a trailbreaker for
the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race three years ago.
"I had it loaded up and it pulled real easy," said Wyman. "I could go at any speed and not even know it was there. I'm
really happy with it."
Wyman said he rigged some tarps on his sled to cover his load and he could even use it as a shelter if he had to in a
"If you had some bad weather, you could roll that thing over and use it as protection," he said.
Doudna expanded his business last summer when he bought Siglin Sleds, another one-man, Fairbanks-based,
sled-building company that was created by arctic adventurer Roger Siglin, the former superintendent for Gates of the
Arctic National Park who began building a similar sled more than a decade ago.
Both Doudna's and Siglin's sleds are made with red, one-quarter-inch-thick, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene
plastic--more commonly known in Alaska parlance as UHMW. It's the same plastic that is used for the beds of dog sleds
and is used by pilots for the bottoms of skis on planes.
"It's a material that's proven up here," Doudna said. "It's good to 60 below, it just slides on the snow and overflow
doesn't stick to it."
Doudna's sleds have more of a tub design than Siglin's. They have higher sides, a V front and a square, wooden stern,
making the sled resemble a shortened, square-stern canoe.
"People look at this and say, 'It looks like a boat,'" admitted Doudna.
It was a desire for higher sides to keep overflow and snow out that drove Doudna to design his own sled rather than
purchase a Siglin sled. The sides on Doudna's sleds are 12-15 inches high while the sides on Siglin sleds are only 6
"His design is simpler, it's easier to field repair and it's more flexible," Doudna said. "Mine turn out more of a rigid
"They're both work sleds," he said.
Doudna makes his toboggan sleds in two different lengths--7 and 9 feet--and two different widths--32 and 42 inches.
The Siglin sleds are all 10 feet long and come in 32- and 42-inch widths.
Doudna's toboggan sleds, which weigh about 75 pounds, are beefier than Siglin's, which weigh about 55 pounds and
are basically a 10-foot plastic, rectangular tray with 6-inch sides and the front and back upturned.
Doudna's toboggans are reinforced with solid hardwood ash rails along the top and UMHW ribs in the body of the sled.
Galvanized cable fastened to the tow bars is threaded through both sides of the toboggan and is connected at the
back so that the load is pulled from the back of the toboggan.
Doudna puts two 18-inch steel, angle-iron tracking skegs on the bottom back of the sled for tracking and control going
over ice or on sidehills.
His sleds feature several tie-down tabs along the top rails on each side and rope, bungee cords or ratchet straps can
be used to secure loads.
Doudna's sleds are also equipped with a spring-loaded hitch that can mate with either of two
standard snowmachine hitches--a flap hitch or a j-hook hitch. The Siglin sleds are equipped with only a flap hitch setup.
The Siglin Sleds sell for $545 and $645, depending on the width, while Doudna's 7-foot toboggans are priced at $650
and his 9-footers go for $775.
Doudna also makes Siglin pulks for skiing or skijoring that come in 4-, 5- and 6-foot lengths. The pulks are made of
one-eighth inch UHMW and sell for $160-$180, depending on length.
Doudna, who has a degree in wildlife and fisheries, was working as a seasonal fisheries biologist for the Wyoming
Game and Fish Department when he came north in 1984 "to get Alaska out of my system," as he put it. Almost 20
years later, he's still trying.
When he first arrived in Alaska, Doudna landed in Bettles and worked as a guide leading backpacking and float trips in
the Brooks Range in the summer while guiding dog sled trips in the winter. He also worked as a seasonal technician for
the Alaska Department of Fish and Game before landing his current position as an operations manager for a federally
funded undersea research program (i.e. West Coast Polar Regions Undersea Research Center) that promotes
undersea research along the West Coast of the U.S. and the two polar regions.
A former woodworker who was born and raised in Iowa, Doudna operates Northern Sled Works out of a shop at his
home on top of Ballaine Hill. He started building and selling sleds as a way to pick up new tools for his woodworking
shop. Nowadays, he spends more time working with plastic than wood.
Sled building is still more of a hobby than it is a business to Doudna. He still doesn't have a Web site, though he is
working on developing one.
It takes Doudna 25 to 30 hours to build one of his sleds. While he contracts with a local machine shop to bend the
plastic for Siglin's sleds, Doudna didn't want to get into specifics about how he bends the UHMW to shape his sleds,
which he said he came up with while lying awake at night years ago.
"Just say I use heat and pressure," said Doudna with a trade-secret grin.
Doudna and Siglin had been collaborating on UHMW orders for the last few years and last summer Siglin asked
Doudna if he would be interested in taking over his sled-making business. Doudna figured making Siglin's sleds would
break up the monotony of making his while at the same time boosting business, which it has. While Doudna sells 10 to
20 of his sleds a year, the demand for Siglin sleds is two or three times that, he said.
"Each serve a little bit different market," Doudna said of the two sleds. "Both do the same thing--haul gear in the
winter--but both do it differently."
News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached at 459-7587 / email@example.com
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