September 26, 2013

Woodsmen show their might at Fryeburg Fair

Competitors chop, saw and notch their way to bragging rights.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It's no small task chopping down a 20-foot-tall tree with an ax.

click image to enlarge

These days the Woodsmen’s Field Day at Fryeburg Fair draws some 6,000 to 8,000 spectators.

Rachel Andrews Damon photo

Now try felling that same tree in such a way that it falls directly on one specific pumpkin placed some distance away.

Felling a tree on target is just one of the many forest-centric skills that will be on display Monday when the 46th annual Woodsmen's Field Day is held at the Fryeburg Fair. Maine's largest agricultural fair, and the last of the season, opens Sunday on Main Street in Fryeburg and runs through Oct. 6.

The fair dates from 1851 and attracts about 300,000 people each year to Maine's western hills. The fair is known for its 4H and animal barns, contests like sheep herding (by dogs), pig scrambles, and a firemen's muster, as well as a huge midway of rides and food, historic exhibits and entertainment. Two of the big-name performers this year are nationally known country band Diamond Rio on Tuesday night and actress and up-and-coming country singer Jana Kramer on Wednesday night.

But if you want a really unique, Maine fair experience, go to the Woodsmen's Field Day.

Many people have never seen it, because it's held during the week. The event was first held 46 years ago on Monday, as a way to attract folks on the fair's slowest day. But now the event draws some 6,000 to 8,000 spectators.

It also draws more than 150 competitors, many who also compete on the woodsmen's sports circuit, as seen on ESPN, with major events sponsored by power tool companies like Stihl or John Deere. In some of these bigger competitions, the ax throwing and chopping and sawing come under the fancier headings "timber sports" or "lumberjack" contests.

But at Fryeburg Fair, where the event celebrates the area's logging history and includes local competitors who work in the woods today, the name Woodsmen's Field Day remains intact.

"We get people from all over the country for this and we're told we have bigger crowds than other places that do this," said Toby Hammond, the field day superintendent, who has been involved with the event since 1970. "It can be pretty amazing to watch."

The field day features about 30 events divided into two general categories. First are the events requiring traditional lumberjack skills like bucksawing, crosscut sawing, underhand chopping, ax throwing, log rolling and tree felling. These are the ones that many professional timber sports folks from around the country compete in.

Among the most amazing feats to watch in this category are the tree felling and the springboard. In tree felling, 20-foot-high tree trunks with no branches are planted into the ground. Then the choppers pick a spot nearby and place a pumpkin there. Then they chop in such a way that the tree falls smack dab on the pumpkin, hopefully.

In springboard, the woodsmen (or woodswomen) chop a notch into a tree, stick a board in the notch, then hop up on the board and chop a higher notch. They do that all the way up the tree and back down again, racing against the clock and each other.

But today there's not a lot of call for people who work cutting down trees using the springboard method. So the second, and smaller category of competition is among people using modern logging equipment like skidders and hydraulic loaders.

This portion of the competition draws mostly local folks who work with trees, and tests their skill at handling their equipment.

In cable skidding, for instance, woodsmen are timed at hooking logs and loading them onto a skidder. People will also compete in hydraulic loading, log scaling and pulp loading.

The Woodsmen's Field Day has grown so much over the years that several categories of competition have been added, including a master's category (age 55 and over), a women's category, and recently, a collegiate category. Bucksawing, crosscutting and ax throwing are becoming popular college sports, Hammond says.

Winners in various categories can get around $300 to $500 in prize money, depending on whether they set a record or not, Hammond said.

If someone wielding an ax can hit a pumpkin with a 20-foot tree, they probably deserve more than cash.

They deserve admiration for mastering the kind of skill that literally built our country and our state, and for being able do it with some pumpkin-smashing flair.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

 

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