Mullen – Putting heads in beds during slack tourist season was what prompted Mitch Glidden, along with his wife Patty, to organize a winter race in stock tanks on the Middle Loup River by Mullen. Mitch was the originator of tanking years before the 12th annual Polar Bear Tank Race even started.
The Gliddens own Sandhills Motel and Glidden Canoe rentals, so this event has both sides of their business involved. Thedford, east of Mullen, also benefits from the race as the Roadside Inn is able to accommodate the extra people that the Sandhills Motel is unable to house which in-turn also benefits the local service stations, stores and other businesses in both communities.
This race could not happen without sponsors and besides the Glidden’s own business’ sponsoring the event, the visitor’s committees from Hooker and Thomas counties, Custer Public Power, and Consolidated Telephone contribute as well.
The festivities begin on the first Friday of March with a soup cook-off followed by the actual race on Saturday.
This was only the third or fourth time that the racers had to don full winter gear. “If I fall over, I will need help getting up with all the layers I have on, “explained Shirley Axline, who gone to the race with her husband Harold, every year from Dorchester, Nebraska. The couple has been married for over 50 years and usually brings others from their community, but they were the only two to brave the cold.
The tanks used are the actual steel tanks with bottoms that can usually be found in pastures watering livestock. “It is easier to pound out dents when tanks hit trees than to try to plug holes,” explained Mitch.
Glidden has his tanks available to use year-round as the Middle Loup River is spring fed and, in the stretch of river he uses for tanking, it never freezes. He attributes his success to the land owners along the river that he works with to provide this unique tourism venue.
Racers come from as far away as Omaha, Lincoln, Iowa, Colorado, and Missouri. Teams of four to six are needed for the racing teams, while floaters can bring as many as can fit into the nine-foot stock tank. Sandbars do stop a tank, especially when it is loaded with a half-a-ton of men (8 or 9).
The Gliddens have also made the PBTR it a fundraiser for the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway (SJSB), which, over the years, had totaled over $50,000.
The racing teams or floaters (they prefer not to work up a sweat) come with props and decorations not only for themselves, but to adorn their tanks the next day. Race day begins with a good, hot breakfast of biscuits and gravy provided by the 4-H marksman of Hooker County.
Dawn Mallory, co-owner of Chuckwagon N Jug restaurant with her husband, Gregg judged the tanks the morning of the race. The couple also provides the cash bar both nights and a great prime rib supper for the awards banquet. Dawn stated, “I had a tough time, several were worthy in the originality of costume.”
11 tanks were launched on race day, with only five racing, and the other six floating along.
Best decorated table and best named: Luau on the Loup. Six friends from Randolph High School meet at Mullen to renew memories and make new ones. Homes of the ladies are now in Colorado, Missouri as well as Nebraska communities, including Randolph. They were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and leis and bought a soup to enter the cook-off. Two wine bottles had their own ‘Luau on the Loup’ labels on them.
Best Soup: Mimi and Harold Axline who brought chili, along with some pineapple and coconut deer sausage.
Polar Bear Tank Race-
Winning tank: Could Be Team 1:15:09. Taking the victory for the second straight year, tank members included Dennis Whitfield, sons, Colby, Kyle and Tracy. Last year their name was ‘Maybe’, maybe they would race, maybe they would float. This year’s name idea was ‘could be’ they would race, could be they would float.
Best costume: Shivering Sisters. This was a racing team, and two of the four members were ‘tanking virgins’ (name for those that have never tanked or have never been in the PBTR). They decorated themselves with large black trash bags, white collars and the edge of their tank they hung a very large rosary. When interviewed after the race,the first timers will be coming again next year, despite the cold.
Best decorated tank: Red Ants on the Loup. They were dressed all in red, with caps depicting antennae. They had decorated their tank with red/white plastic table cover that had ants crawling on it, and they also bought a picnic basket with a very large ant on top.