The Sport, Challenge & Danger of the Lumberjack
~ ZZ Troutski
‘Ax Men’ – the American reality television series – offers an inside look of how logging crews work and strategize in forests located in Northwestern America. Not only do people love the information and become true fans, but they also sit on the edge of their seats at times, watching obsessively as lumberjacks go about their daily business.
Lumberjacks work hard; the location, dangers and weight alone, make this job one of the most difficult – right up there with ice truckers (which also, oddly enough, brings danger to the TV viewer.) This is a career for ones who truly love the outdoors; they love the forest and what Mother Nature has provided, and their work at harvesting and transporting trees for processing into much-needed forest products is a huge necessity for the United States.
The term ‘lumberjack’ is certainly from long ago – but it stuck simply because there really is no other term to encompass tough, hard work out there in the forest. Before the 1950’s, hand tools had to be used in harvesting trees, causing even more of a headache – and aches everywhere else – for the lumberjacks who put in far more than just a ‘day’s’ work. It’s also a career that spawned many stories, cultures and amazing characters in folklore that children still learn about today. And although the work is still dangerous, low-paying, and somewhat primitive when it comes to living conditions, the lumberjack is that signature character that encompasses strength, masculinity, and a dare-devil attitude of sorts.
And, no, it is not just the male persuasion that’s a part of this market anymore – the ‘lumberjill’ should also be recognized.
Taking a walk back in history, people will learn that lumberjacks worked in camps, moving from place to place in order to always have a harvesting job when they opened up. The female may have entered the industry, but historically the men were the runners of it all, utilizing the axe and crosscut saw – two tools that play a huge part in sporting events.
Scandinavia is where the majority of lumberjacks in the United States came from, and when America first began this tradition, it was the Northeast not the Northwest where their camps and bunkhouses could be found.
A westward migration happened for the lumberjacks, just as it did for the pioneers who wished to explore the rest of the U.S.. And as time went forward, even more specific lumberjack duties came about with ‘titles’ that you would never forget. A whistle punk’s job was to signal the operator controlling the movement of logs. They were the true safety net for one and all, thinking fast and remaining alert so that all the crew were pre-warned if danger was coming close.
Another was the high climber, who did exactly what the title says he did. This is the real dare-devil of the pack, using iron hooks and a rope to climb a tall tree that led into the clouds. Chopping off limbs as he went, he was the leader who attached all the pulleys so that when it was time to fall, the men below would be ready. These particular ‘colorful’ jobs disappeared as technology expanded, but the bravery and courage of these men has never been forgotten.
Sporting events in this industry have grown bigger and bigger with each passing year. Perhaps it is the show of courage and bravery that brings men to the ultimate events, working hard with the old hand tools in order to show the strength of the real lumberjack.
Loggersports are very competitive, dating back to a time when competitions were held in the forests to test the will of the lumberjacks in camps. The biggest event is the Lumberjack World Championship, a difficult competition that began in 1960 and is now responsible for drawing thousands of spectators to Wisconsin every single year.
There are many more, however, held in Canada, as well as colleges that create woodsmen teams and forestry clubs that do battle to keep the lumberjack history alive. Some of the coolest events are part of the loggersports community, including; log rolling, axe chopping, power saw and bucksaw cutting, and pole climbing.
Whether it be a career, a sports challenge, or choosing a spectator sport that is a whole lot of fun – the world of the lumberjack is hard to beat!