Woodsmen's Day At Fryeburg Fair
After thirty-four years of wanting to, I finally went to Woodsmen’s Day at the Fryeburg Fair. It’s always been on a Monday and I always had to teach at my old school about half-a-mile away. If I skipped and went to the fair I’d see dozens of people who knew me, knew where I was supposed to be, and who could see I wasn’t sick, so I put it off until after retirement. Weather wasn’t the greatest though. Rain was forecast. It didn’t come, but the day was mostly cloudy, damp, and raw, and that added to a certain sadness I felt.
Why sadness? There was a kind of “John Henry” feeling about it. Older readers may remember hearing someone like Johnny Cash sing a version of the old “Steel-Driving Man” ballad. As the legend goes, John Henry was a big, strong man who drove steel spikes into wooden ties to hold down the rails. His job was threatened by a steam-driven machine that would replace human labor and he challenged that machine to a contest. John Henry won, but it wore him down so much that he died of exhaustion in the way a horse will run itself to death.
Woodsmen’s Day had lots of ax-wielding events - though axes are a tool you’re not likely to see at a logging site anymore. There were buck-saw and two-person crosscut saw events too. All these old tools were replaced by chainsaws, of course, and there there were also competitions for those. Guys with whining souped-up saws cut through a 10X10 pine beam three times - down, up, and down again - in less than four seconds. If you blinked, you missed it.
Lately, even chainsaws are being replaced in the woods. Giant machines called feller-bunchers with big steel arms grapple onto trees while a huge steel circular saw cuts them off at the stump, then lays down a bunch of them for newer grapple skidders to muckle onto and drag to the landing where another giant machine grabs them and feeds them into a chipper. They’re getting more common than chain saws and old-style steel-cable skidders. Feller-bunchers were on display for sale in an area adjacent to the Woodsmen’s Day events. You’ll probably still see a chainsaw on a logging site today but it’s seldom used. Somebody may pick one up to cut a little tree out of the way or, ironically, to drop a tree too big for the huge machines to handle. As far as I know, there are no competitions planned at Fryeburg Fair for feller-bunchers, and Paul Bunyan isn’t around to challenge one of those machines the way John Henry did in the twilight of his profession back in the 19th century.
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