May 24, 2018
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Unimog rolls on, and a sled appears

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — This is a story about a Unimog, a dog sled, a sled maker, an act of amazing kindness and how seemingly random events can somehow connect.

Let’s start with the Unimog, a four-wheel drive truck with off-road capabilities made by Mercedes-Benz and used in jungles, deserts and mountains. To be more specific, this is about a 1976 Unimog 404 Belgian Troop Carrier that was the mechanical love of my husband during the few years that he owned it before his death.

For those several years it occupied a space — a rather large space, mind you — in the garage, where he could tinker, tweak and trick it out to his heart’s content.

Like all Unimog people — and trust me, they are a breed apart — he could cite the vehicle’s specs, stats, parts and operational procedures at the drop of a wrench.

Fortunate were the few who got to go for a test drive with him over the hills and rock piles on the farm to, as he’d say with a wide grin, “See what she’ll do.”

She could do a lot, as the Unimog’s suspension allowed it to travel up and over obstacles that would topple lesser vehicles.

After his death, I wrestled a long time about keeping the green beast.

I mean, there was no getting around the “gee-whiz” factor of a truck that has a snorkel attachment if you drive into deep water.

But did I really have a need for it? In the end, no. That decision was made somewhat easier the day it took three of us to figure out how to even start the thing.

Then there was the little matter of my complete inability to shift it from second to third. Given the fact you clock a Unimog at top speed using a desk calendar, its speed in second is best described as glacial.

And let’s face it — how many Belgian troops in need of transport can there be in northern Maine?

Enter, an Internet clearinghouse for all things Unimog for sale or wanted.

Many inquiries were received, but the winning bid, as it were, came from a Unimog aficionado from Quebec City.

It took a couple of weeks to get together the paperwork necessary to export the truck from the states into Canada, but eventually the day came when I watched the Unimog head down the driveway a final time.

A bittersweet moment, to be sure.

This is where Ed Moody and his dog sleds come into the picture.

Moody, who passed away in 1994, was arguably the finest dog sled crafter in New England, possibly the country.

Over the years, I’ve collected a few of the sleds, used them with my dog team and have even written about them for Mushing Magazine.

Which is why, just an hour or two after the Unimog went to its new home, my phone rang and on the other end was a Mr. Larry Merrill from Wyoming.

Seems Mr. Merrill knew Ed Moody, and in the early 1990s Ed offered to use his last good piece of white oak to custom build a sled for Merrill.

Merrill’s mushing days, he told me, are now long behind him, and the sled had been sitting for some years in his living room, cushions in the basket, so his grandkids could sit on it.

Now that he and his wife were relocating to a smaller home in which there is no room for the Moody — would I be interested in it?

Apparently the couple had found my name thanks to it cropping up with that Mushing Magazine article in a Google search, and they wanted the sled to go to someone who would appreciate it.

I was floored, stunned and grateful beyond words. The amazing offer could not have come on a better day — when one old friend rolled down the driveway and a new one could come home.

The Merrills have a camp in central Maine, and recently Larry Merrill drove to Fort Kent to hand deliver the sled.

And what a beauty she is — rawhide lashes and a finish that looks every bit as good as the day Ed Moody took it off his workbench.

It may not be able to haul any troops — Belgian or otherwise — but I have a feeling it’s going to take me on some pretty cool adventures.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. She can be reached at

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