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Dakota Datebook

Prairie Bilt Sleds

Jim Miller grew up south of Casselton and was giving dog sled rides one day at the Red Willow Bible Camp, near Binford. It was there that he met his future wife, Mary Ann.

“That’s where I got my first dogsled ride,” says Mary Ann.  “I finally had the courage to ask this guy if I could trade spots with him and drive the sled. I remember telling myself to just go ahead and ask, because the worst thing that could happen was that he would say no, and besides, if I embarrass myself, I probably won’t see him again anyway.” Of course they ended up getting married, with Mary Ann joining Jim in a handsome log house he built from scratch.

Jim had been experimenting on ways to improve dog sleds, and soon the Millers formed Prairie Bilt Sleds, selling custom-built models. In 2000, two of the sleds were used in the Iditarod, the Alaskan sled dog race. It’s a grueling 1,500-miles long event that’s underway right now. It typically takes 8 to 15 days.

Mary Ann says attending the race in 2000 was a great learning experience, allowing them to see the various equipment used by the racers. Their next Alaska trip was for a symposium in Fairbanks where they displayed their sleds. “We were so swamped at our booth you couldn’t hardly move,” said Mary Ann. “We were so excited to go home with so many orders.”

They’ve returned for the Iditarod several times. They’ve helped teams at the starting line and they’ve also attended the finish, where they were surprised to see the number of their sleds being used. Being at the finish was also educational, since observing the wear and tear on sleds gave them ideas for improvement.

When asked about special experiences, Mary Ann says, “We had two sleds in the Disney movie ‘Snow Dogs,’ of course that was very exciting. Who expects a phone call from Hollywood! It seemed unreal, and we decided not to tell anyone about the order until the check came, ha!”

Today, Prairie Bilt Sleds is located near Luverne, North Dakota, and they do business with mushers everywhere the sport exists. In addition to North America, they’ve sold a lot in Scandinavia, some in Australia, and they even sent a sled to Russia.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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