Woodsmen's Day At Fryeburg Fair

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tommclaughlin
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Joined: 10/26/2007 - 5:27am
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.

Read the rest here.

Snowalker
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Joined: 01/13/2000 - 1:01am
Used to be that when one was

Used to be that when one was out of work he could grab his chainsaw and go right to work in the woods for someone.usually hired on the spot!! Show up in the woods with a chainsaw these days and you'll be arrested on the spot!!

Cantdog
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Joined: 11/13/1999 - 1:01am
As Samuel L. Clemens might

As Samuel L. Clemens might say, "Reports of the chainsaw's untimely demise are greatly exaggerated." A good man with a chainsaw and a cable skidder can still find work in the hills of Western Maine on slopes where a feller buncher would go end over end. Furthermore, trying to cut big pine and big hardwood logs with a buncher can end up spoiling the most valuable part of the log.

johnw
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Joined: 03/11/2009 - 10:06am
There are still some good

There are still some good cable operators around......Oh anyone can eventually knock down a tree with a saw and blunder around with a skidder and knock down half the forest in the process...but it takes some real finesse,to understand how to lay out a hitch.... and get trees onto the landing in an economical manner and leave a good looking stand of growing wood behind you. Not something everyone can/could do..... with todays equipment it's hard to call it logging ....... it's more like another factory job......If you ask them waht a birch hook is or talk about bunching four foot wood ..... or cutting fifty inch bolt wood they look at you like a deer in the head lights.........

Bob MacGregor
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Joined: 12/13/2003 - 1:01am
And the reason few of them

And the reason few of them know about boltwood is there are only a few mills left in Maine buying it that way.

johnw
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Joined: 03/11/2009 - 10:06am
Bob I see truck load after

Bob I see truck load after truck load of wood that a big percent of the trees that would have been sorted out for 50 inch bolts for local mils are now is just chipped up for paper.....We used to sort white &rock maple , white & yellow birch ,ash, beech , popple and even some basswood for the local mills....not unusual to send the truck in with three or four different kinds of wood . A friend of mine told me recently you can't even sell a white birch log unless it ten inches on the top end......

Editor
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Joined: 04/18/2009 - 3:43pm
Thank you for a great column,

Thank you for a great column, Tom. Northwest Connecticut is where I first "discovered" Lumberjack Contests." They were - probably still are - just as you described.

Best,
skf

Bob MacGregor
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Joined: 12/13/2003 - 1:01am
My point is, there just isn't

My point is, there just isn't the demand for bolt wood that there used to be, most of that went to veneer and turning mills and they are few and far between any more.

Thrasybulus
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Joined: 03/16/2008 - 9:59pm
Anybody got a handle on how

Anybody got a handle on how high gasoline has to go to make the old ways more economically feasible?

johnw
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Joined: 03/11/2009 - 10:06am
Bob I don't disagree.... but

Bob I don't disagree.... but things like Penely clothes pins are now made in China and the wood pieces for Monopoly that were made at the Newton Tebbets mill are made in China I realize some things like glue pins may have been replaced by plastics or composites .Wooden handles that and other big turnings that were made at places like the Stowell mill in Bryant Pond replaced by plasics or off shored, It's all pretty sad.

Doug Thomas
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Joined: 08/29/1999 - 12:01am
Maine is winning back some of

Maine is winning back some of the business from China because Maine products are of such high quality. The demand for "bolt wood" is very strong in some parts of the state down to a 6 inch top. If you have some for sale let me know I know 3 mills looking for it. You can also cut in into logs of 48" multiples with trim if it's easier.

Bullseye
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Joined: 03/20/2000 - 1:01am
I bet you would have a hard

I bet you would have a hard job finding an Obama bumper sticker
in the parking lot.

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