One of the “Flying Anderson” brothers from the days when every Iditarod dog musher of note bore a nickname has reached the end of the trail.
Allan “Eep” Anderson of McGrath – a tiny, riverside community north of the Alaska Range in the heart of the 49th state – never won The Last Great Race, but he came close. He was the runner-up in 1983.
His family posted on the McGrath community message board and Facebook that he died peacefully in his sleep Thursday at his home. He was 83 years old. Services are planned for Tuesday in McGrath.
“I am sitting in the airport crying like a baby,” old friend Raine Hall, a former executive director of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, messaged Sunday. “I’ve known Eep since I was 16. Way before the first Iditarod.”
A hard-working gold miner from Interior Alaska with seemingly little ego, “Eep” ran his first Iditarod in 1975, a year after his brother – Ralph “Babe” Anderson – ran the second Iditarod.
On the trail in that period, Eep stood out in contrast to some of the brash and cocky dog drivers of the day:
Men like Rick Swenson from Manley who in the late 1970s and early 1980s strutted the trail like he owned it, and Larry “Cowboy” Smith from Whitehorse, Canada who People magazine writer Susan Reed in 1984 fairly described as “41, a moody fur trapper and burned-out rodeo rider from the Yukon Territory.”
Smith also happened to be a favorite of Iditarod groupies; Eep was a faithful family man. Smith made the news often during the early Iditarods. Eep didn’t, though as with most of the leading mushers of the period his name well known across Alaska.
And he almost won the race in ’83.
After the Iditarod moved onto the Bering Sea coast that year, the quiet miner and Bush pilot – along with Smith and the late and legendary Herbie Naykokpuk, the “Shishmaref Cannonball – helped coach 29-year-old Rick Mackey from Wasilla to Iditarod victory.
The group had been at the front of the race for hundreds of miles and by the coast they were united in the common goal of beating Swenson, the two-time defending champ and already a four-time winner who some thought should have owned five victories.
Swenson beat Mackey’s dad, Dick, across the race’s Nome finish line in 1978 in the Iditarod’s only photo finish, but Mackey – whose sled hung up on the burled arch – was judged the victor because his lead dog crossed the line first. Swenson graciously accepted the judge’s decision, which set a precedent for all Iditarod’s to come.
By ’83, though, Swenson’s Iditarod dominance was growing old and everyone was gunning for him.
Eep had a chance at victory that year, but it was collectively decided, though never directly stated, that Rick Mackey’s team had the best chance and for several hundred miles from Unalakleet to Nome the others offered Rick advice at almost every checkpoint on when to rest and when to run to get to the finish line first.
Rick beat Swenson to Nome to win the 1,000-mile race by about 12 hours. Eep finished only an hour and 40 minutes back. It was his fourth, top-10 finish since his rookie race in ’75, and it marked the end of a good, long run at the front of the Iditarod pack.
He finished outside the top-20 the next year and then gave up on Iditarod.
Mackey never won another race. Smith retired in ’84 after only five races with three top-10 finishes and a rabbit reputation as an Iditarod pace setter that earned him a larger-than-life reputation. Nayokpuk ran three more Iditarods before giving up in 1988.
The Iditarod was in ’83 on the cusp of radical change, though no one knew it at the time. Only two years later, Libby Riddles from Teller pushed through a Bering Sea blizzard to become the first woman to win the race, and what had been a largely Alaska event went global.
A year after that, the late Susan Butcher from Manley cemented the Iditarod’s position on the international stage by winning in a record time and from 1985 on the records just kept falling.
By the time Eep revisited the competition for the last time in 1992, it was a wholly different race. He mushed his team only as far as his home in McGrath, stepped off the runners, and never ran another Iditarod.
He returned to mining gold with brother Babe. They’d reactivated Yankee Creek placer mining operations in the Innoko District of Central Alaska in 1986 and worked there through 1994.
“From 1986-1994, Anderson and Sons, Inc. mined in open cuts with bulldozers on Yankee Creek, and Yankee Creek has produced gold nuggets up to 32 ounces in weight,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Anderson and Sons later moved on to the Seward Peninsula outside of Nome where Babe still mines.
In his later years, Eep ran McGuire’s Tavern, one of Alaska’s famous watering holes. He took over after the death of his wife, Dorothy “Pudden” Ann Anderson in 2009. The Andersons had three sons – Goomy Anderson II, Kenny Rehburger, and Freddie Rehburger – and a daughter, Squeeky Anderson.
Anderson brother number three – Goog – was long the anchorman at McGuire’s and a major Iditarod supporter.