Yak Racing in Yakima!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is not a serious attempt at anything. It is just something I fired off very quickly in response to a question from my mother. There are photos that go with the story, but they did not paste from Word. The photos help the story along very well. A friend of mine, Yakima native, took the story seriously when I emailed it to him, and said he never realised this was all going on in his town. Anyway, just something to throw up here very quickly. My other writing tends to be much more serious and polished.

Submitted: June 25, 2012

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Submitted: June 25, 2012



Yak Racing in Yakima!

A few weeks ago Nancy and I were on the phone with Mom, and on our way into Yakima, Washington. Mom asked, “What’s in Yakima?”

It was then I realized that many people don’t know the storied history of the “Palm Springs” of Washington. Yakima is a fabulous place with an exciting yet sad history.

This is our third trip to Yakima. On our first trip we discovered that Yakima has a very sizable population of Russians. It turns out that the west coast has had a heavy Russian influence dating back more than 150 years. I just read the other day that the state of California is thinking of closing a state park along the coast of Northern California that actually used to be a Russian Fort.

Yakima was founded by Yakima Smirnoff in the early 1800’s. Yakima had come to the continent to make his fortune as a fur trapper. After several years he came to miss one of his nation’s most beloved sports, and a sport that his family actually gave as a name to all first born sons. The sport? Yak racing! In fact, literally translated, Yakima means “One who races Yaks”.

Yakima was the founder of the Western Yak Racing Circuit in 1837 on the site that is now known as Yakima, Washington. This is also the first known sport in the United States to incorporate pari mutuel betting. Yak racing flourished in Yakima for several years with teams coming from all over the world to race at the state of the art (for the 1830s) Yakima Yak Racing Track. Yakima Yak Jockey’s were known throughout the world for their skill and cunning while atop their noble Yaks.

Unfortunately, when statehood for Washington was being considered the Federal Government didn’t like the idea of gambling in the great northwest and made shutting down the Western Yak Racing Circuit a condition of statehood. Yakima Smirnoff’s dreams were shattered and he spent the rest of his life a broken and disillusioned man.

What to do with all the Yaks? The Yak population in western Washington was huge! Something having to do with certain minerals in the soil captured in the lush grasses the Yaks ate made them grow faster, stronger, and more quickly than Yaks raised on the Russian Step. Nearly all of eastern Washington was covered with Yak ranches. While Yakima Smirnoff was too depressed to think about what to do, his enterprising children realized they could still earn a living by manufacturing Yak yarn.

After several years of trial and error, the Yakima Yak Yarn industry was born! The industry flourished for only a few years before it went bust. There happened to be a whole lot of people in the northwest that were out of work or otherwise had too much time on their hands. These people resented the profits of, and those working in the Yakima Yak Yarn industry. All these unemployed people (mostly former Yak Jockeys) got together to form the Society Against Cruelty to Yaks (SACY) and forced the Yakima Yak Yarn industry to close through a lawsuit. Today, there are only three small family farms in the United States that spin Yak Yarn. One is located in Vermont. Not sure where the others are. None are located in Yakima.

In commemoration of Yakima Smirnoff, every year Yakima hosts an annual Yak race in his honor. Nancy and I were fortunate to attend the races this year. People come from all over the world to honor the memory of Yakima Smirnoff and what he accomplished in Washington those many years ago. One man came all the way from Hackensack, New Jersey for an exhibition race. He’s been trying for years to rekindle the racing spirit of Yakima’s Russian population by starting the first ever Sack Racing Circuit. This makes sense to me as right next door is Idaho, which already has its own Potato Sack Racing Circuit.

While the day is exciting, the races are done at sundown. As the sun slips slowly below the horizon everyone lights a candle made from Yak tallow to honor the memory of Yakima Smirnoff.

Yakima seems never to have recovered from the closing of the Yakima Yak Yarn mills. People are still bitterly divided over what happened so many years ago. Back in the 1950s, Vladimir and Svetlana Smirnoff lost the last appeal of the Yakima Yak Yarn Factories against SACY in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It took nearly 140 years for the suit to be settled.

Vladimir and Svetlana were devastated. It just didn’t seem right that generations of unemployed descendents of unemployed Yak Jockeys should have any control of what they could do with their own property, on their own property. The suit didn’t make the Yak Yarn Industry illegal. Instead it placed upon the industry special environmental taxes and regulations that would have made it impossible to make a profit. Only farms with 5 or less Yaks are exempt.

The day after the lawsuit was final, Svetlana gave birth to a son. The Smirnoffs were so proud. To let the world know that the Yakima Smirnoffs would never give up, would persevere no matter what roadblocks were thrown down before them, would forever pursue their liberty and happiness they appropriately named their new son Yakov Smirnoff. I guess I don’t have to tell anybody what the literal translation of “Yakov” is!

© Copyright 2018 Charles Alfred. All rights reserved.

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