Where Burly is the New “Hot”

A modern-day Paul Bunyan

A modern-day Paul Bunyan

Monday September 30 was Woodsmen’s Day at the Fryeburg Fair and I was not about to miss it!  Besides the usual midway, agricultural exhibits, farm animals, crafts, harness racing, hucksters, and fried food (the amount of oil used during the week of the Fryeburg Fair is enough to fuel a small country), Woodsmen’s Day is a full day of lumberjack contests and events.

This vendor was selling custom-made wood signs.

This vendor was selling custom-made wood signs.

I guess some customers request all sorts of inappropriate sayings.  I give the vendor a lot of credit for posting this sign, despite a potential loss of business.

I guess some customers request all sorts of inappropriate sayings. I give the vendor a lot of credit for posting this sign, despite a potential loss of business.

Participants come from all over New England, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Minnesota and Wisconsin to participate in crosscutting, bucksawing, underhand chopping, axe throwing, log rolling, springboarding, chainsawing and tree felling through thousands of pounds and lengths of logs, boards, blocks and trees as they work against the clock.  There are identical contests for lumber “jills” as well as “jacks,”  and their muscle mass is pretty intimidating!   The event is held at the infield of a racetrack, and the huge grandstand is completely packed with 8,000 – 10,000 onlookers.  Who knew that sawing a piece of wood or rolling a log could be so exciting?  And yet I found myself cheering the victors and groaning when contestants failed along with the rest of the pumped-up crowd.

Both tiers of the grandstand are completely full, along with spectators watching on the ground.  The woodsmen's contests attract thousands of spectators.

Both tiers of the grandstand are completely full, along with spectators watching on the ground. The woodsmen’s contests attract thousands of spectators.

This event, called the Under Hand Chop, requires enormous hand-eye coordination!  The contestant stands on a solid wood block, and using his axe, must chop through the block between his feet with some very powerful swings without falling off the block or, G-d forbid, injuring himself in the process.  The winner chopped through the wood in less than 15 seconds.

This event  requires enormous hand-eye coordination! The contestant stands on a solid wood block, and using his axe, must chop through the block between his feet with some very powerful swings without falling off the block or, G-d forbid, injuring himself in the process. The winner chopped through the wood in less than 15 seconds.

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This pictures was taken moments before the final cut, when he chopped all the way through the wood beneath him and was left standing on what was now two pieces of block wood.

This picture was taken moments before the final cut, when he chopped all the way through the wood beneath him and was left standing on what was now two pieces of block wood.

Working against the clock, in this event logs must be unloaded as quickly as possible into a neat pile beneath the truck.  Then they must be reloaded back onto the truck.

Working against the clock, in this event logs must be unloaded as quickly as possible into a neat pile beneath the truck. Then they must be reloaded back onto the truck.

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First, the contestant must chop a gash into the tree trunk that will be large enough to accommodate a slab of wood.

First, the contestant must chop a gash into the tree trunk that will be large enough to accommodate a slab of wood.

Then he climbs atop the slab, and hacks away at another gash higher up on the tree.  He then makes his way up to the top of the tree, chopping gashes, inserting the slab, and climbing, again and again.

After inserting the slab of wood into the gash he’s created, he climbs atop the slab, and hacks away at another gash higher up on the tree. He then makes his way up to the top of the tree, chopping gashes, inserting the slab, and climbing, again and again.

Once he gets to the top, a new challenge awaits:  he must chop a thick block of wood that is nailed to the top of the trunk in half.  This is much harder than it sounds:  he is now balanced precariously on the narrow plank of wood that he inserted into the gash on the trunk, while 12' - 14' above the ground!

Once he gets to the top, a new challenge awaits: he must chop a thick block of wood that is nailed to the top of the trunk in half. This is much harder than it sounds: he is now balanced precariously on the narrow plank of wood that he inserted into the gash on the trunk, while 12′ – 14′ above the ground!

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At the final stage, chopping the attached solid block of wood at the very top.

This woman (known as a "lumberjill") won every one of the women's events.  She was STRONG!

This woman (known as a “lumberjill”) won every one of the women’s events. She is STRONG!

Women also compete!  The winning time for chopping through this solid block of wood was just over 6 seconds!

Women also compete! 

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The winning time in the men's division was just over 5 seconds

The winning time in the men’s division was just over 5 seconds

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The logrolling contest was much more difficult than it appeared, and many lumberjacks were flummoxed.

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This extremely big strong guy was the champion chopper…

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. . . but perhaps in his next life he’ll join the plumber’s union 😉

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Here are the winners of the crosscut competition.  These women sawed off two pieces from this solid block of wood in about 6 seconds.

Here are the winners of the crosscut competition. These women sawed off two pieces from this solid block of wood in about 6 seconds.

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This woman is all smiles - - she won 4th place in the young women/collegiate division.  She comes from a logging family.  "Once wood gets into your blood, it stays," she said.

This woman is all smiles – – she shows off her 4th place ribbon in the young women/collegiate division.  She came to the competition from the University of Minnesota. She comes from a logging family. “Once wood gets into your blood, it stays,” she said.

The lumberjacks and jills who entered the paired crosscut competition were all tough and strong, but they babied their saw blades with a gentle touch.

The lumberjacks and lumberjills who entered the paired crosscut competition were all tough and strong, but they babied their saw blades with a gentle touch.

Making sure the handle is tight before the competition.

Making sure the handle is tight before the competition.

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Both immediately before and after the event, the saw blade is oiled lightly with a brush, and any dirt or dust is removed.

Both immediately before and after the event, the saw blade is oiled lightly with a brush, and any dirt or dust is removed.

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Both men and women entered the axe-throwing contest.  Here a man takes aim and is about to throw the axe toward the target.

Both men and women entered the axe-throwing contest. Here a man takes aim and is about to throw the axe toward the target.

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And now he lets it fly!

Excellent shot, but just short of a perfect bullseye.

This woman executed an excellent throw, but it was just short of a perfect bullseye.

Lest you think it can’t get any more exciting than this, you haven’t been to the skillet-throwing contest.  This is a women-only event, in which a heavy cast iron skillet is tossed as far as the tosser can throw it.  It is measured for both distance and accuracy.  Sadly, the fair’s oldest regular contestant, Mildred Heath of Conway, NH passed away this past February at age 103.  In recent years she threw the opening toss from her wheelchair, but she always won in her age category!  This year’s winner in the “under 45” category tossed the skillet 61 feet.  You won’t want to mess with her!

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Before I left the fairgrounds I went to the Expo Center which held two different displays (one from Maine and one from New Hampshire) of dueling moose taxidermy.  A pair of bull moose in rut (mating season) were dueling by charging against one another and head-butting.  Their antlers became entangled and tragically, neither could break free.  They died from a combination of exhaustion and starvation.  Their decomposed bodies were found and reconstructed with great skill by expert taxidermists.  Here is the result:

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Reuven Buckberg on October 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Love the Fryeburg Fair! I used to go every year until we moved away.
    Now we go to The Big E in West Springfield which is a fun fair but not
    nearly as gnarly earthy farmy as Freyburg.

    My favorite fair event is sheepdog trials. I think of sheepdog trials
    as the most exciting public sporting event I ever watch. About 6 sheep
    enter one end of a large arena. A sheepdog and its handler enter the
    other end. The dog must herd the sheep from that end through several
    gates and eventually into a pen. The handler must stand in one
    specified spot until the action moves to the other end of the arena. S/
    he may then move to a second specified spot.

    The dog gets his commands from the handler by voice commands,
    whistles, and hand signals. The dog must never bite or harm the sheep.
    They are judged on style and on time. It is so beautiful to see the
    synergy and connection between a well-trained dog and its handler.
    After all, herding is really an attenuated hunting instinct, toned
    down out of deference (and dare I say love?) between dog and handler.
    It is beautful and poetic and exciting.

    I used to travel around California going to sheepdog trials just for
    fun. I must say they run them slightly differently there (isn’t
    everything in CA different?) and I found them more interesting and
    exciting than New England sheepdog trials. However I cannot give you
    specifics about what is so different.

    Regardless, sheepdog trials are not to be missed. Don’t confuse them
    with sheepdog demonstrations which, while impressive, are no where
    near as exciting.

    Reply

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