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The Story of the Lumberjack World Championships

Lew Freedman

Publication Year: 2011

Each summer, men and women travel from all over the globe to the Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wisconsin, to compete before thousands of spectators and prove who is the best at chopping and sawing wood, log rolling, and boom running. The event, with its impressive international fan base, has become the most prestigious timber sport gathering in the world. Timber! chronicles the history of the championships since its inception in 1960 and highlights such popular athletes as J.R. Salzman, Ron Hartill, and Peggy Halvorson, all of whom are stalwarts in a variety of events from the hot saw to the springboard chop. These glory-seeking competitors symbolize a connection to the old days of logging in Wisconsin and throughout the United States, when timber-felling helped build the country. Lively and informative, Timber! shows how these timber sports keep alive the spirit of the logging world and the image of the logger as a pioneer.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Acknowledgements

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvii

Feats of strength have fascinated mankind since caveman days. It is not difficult to imagine hairy guys with neither cell phone nor Internet capability sitting around the fire they invented wondering what to do with their free time after they’ve finished hunting and gathering for their families. In the 2000s, such idle time usually results in either the commission of crimes or the creation...

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pp. 3-8

“Yo ho!” The words echoed at the Lumberjack Bowl, repeated and chanted by a crowd of thousands on cue following dramatic developments at the Lumberjack World Championships. The simple exclamation bridged the space between the world of lumberjacks and lumberjills and that of the fans who roared at their accomplishments. “Yo ho!” It was almost like a children’s game, with a nattily...

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JR’s Miracle

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pp. 9-14

...been weaned on the Lumberjack World Championships, and when he was a teenager, when he felt invincible, JR Salzman was the king of the world, champion again and again in the men’s logrolling competition. Salzman was a tightrope walker on wood, a Flying Wallenda on a round log floating in water rather than on a high-wire over open space. He had the balance of a figure skater and the savvy of a street fighter,...

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A Land of Big Trees

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pp. 15-22

falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Yes, if it can be turned into lumber and converted into planks of wood to build homes. At least from the days of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, Americans were fascinated with expansion westward, with exploration of the great continent they felt they owned and had won through hard work and the fight for freedom with the...

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Big Timber

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pp. 23-29

United States was settled from the East Coast to the West, from the original thirteen colonies up and down the Eastern Seaboard from New England to Virginia and on to Georgia, and when Europeans took their arduous seafaring journeys to the New World they were confronted by basically two things—Native American Indians and a stunning, incalculable number of trees...

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A Man with a Plan

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pp. 30-36

...Wise was a visionary, as well as a wise man. Born and raised in northern Wisconsin, Wise returned to Hayward after a distinguished army career during World War II brimming with ideas on how to make the community a hotbed of skiing. His plan to turn Hayward into a mecca for tourism was kindled by his wartime experiences with the Fourteenth Armored Division in Bavaria, where he served as a captain. Watching soldiers ski in the mountains made him wonder if his home...

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The Biggest Fish Around

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pp. 37-46

...Tony Wise was mulling over his grandiose plans to make Hayward a center of north woods tourism with the Telemark Ski Resort, Historyland, the Lumberjack World Championships, and the American Birkebeiner, he was aided by one simple fact in the community’s background. The Hayward area was already a fishing mecca. It is located in the heart of prime northern Wisconsin muskellunge territory. Since the late 1930s, the lakes and rivers around...

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Muscles and Sawdust

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pp. 47-54

...Wisconsin was logging country, and Tony Wise knew that very well. In his mind, linking an industry that was one of the most important economic cornerstones of the region with entertainment was an easy leap. Men in plaid were common in the north country. Locals identified with men swinging axes and pulling saws. The Lumberjack Bowl, best known today as a stage for lumberjack shows and competitions, was...

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Hercules Bares His Chest

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pp. 55-62

...Ron Hartill peeled off his shirt, the Lumberjack World Championships entered uncharted territory—the lumberjack as sex symbol. The massively powerful Hartill had the type of torso that made women swoon and men gasp in admiration. If a Hollywood casting director was at the Lumberjack Bowl, Hartill might have been signed to play Superman in a movie. Some compared Hartill...

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Stay on Your Feet, Stay Dry

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pp. 63-79

...Scheer Hoeschler was born in 1956 and grew up in Hayward with Tony Wise’s six children as her playmates. From the time she was in elementary school, Hoeschler was fascinated with logrolling. She entered the Lumberjack World Championships’ companion amateur competition at thirteen, and the lady was a champ. “Now I’m really hooked,” she said. “I’m getting a trophy.” A year later, in 1970, Hoeschler...

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How Yo-ho! Became a Household Word

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pp. 80-87

...wore red plaid and khaki pants that stopped short of his ankles and were held up by suspenders, and every other phrase out of his mouth included the word Yo-ho! It served as a wake-up call to patrons, an audience participation rallying cry, and even punctuation and an endof- chapter marker. Whenever Will could fit in a “Yo-ho!” he did so, as if reporting that the only word a real lumberjack or logger needed to survive in the forest was that short comment that started...

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Family Affair

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pp. 88-94

...Jack & Jill Saw event turned into a pain for Dennis Daun. Literally. As he strained his upper body pushing a gigantic saw back and forth on a log he also planted his feet wide and pushed with his haunches. Boing! And that was not the saw whipsawing out of his hands. That was his ample gluteus maximus twanging. Nothing like a pulled muscle that leaves you hurting when you sit down. Injuries are part of the landscape in every sport, and getting hurt is just one of the hazards of the trade...

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Putting the World in World Championships

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pp. 95-100

...Wise’s first step in making the Lumberjack World Championships into a first-class event was to round up the best lumberjacks in the United States and lure them to Hayward each July. The second step was figuring out how to add legitimacy to the event by making it live up to its title. Wise was not content to call the event a world championship without meaning it. He did not want the “world” part of his event’s name to be all talk and no action. He wanted to see competitors from around the globe...

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Real Life Paul Bunyans

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pp. 101-108

...they were conscious of it or not, the kings of timber sports were real-life manifestations of Paul Bunyan. The Paul Bunyan legend is pervasive in American society when the average Joe thinks of logging. Baseball players of more than a century ago, pitcher Cy Young and hitter Ty Cobb, for example, are well known to acolytes of the sport. Football players of the 1920s like Red Grange and Bronko Nagurski are well known to their sport’s fans..

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And the Wood Chips Fly

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pp. 109-115

...chopping dock was filled with men and their muscles. Lumberjacks stood in a row, poised to fire up their “hot saws” that could carve a turkey in seconds. Both the men and the saws were bulky, and they could slice three neat, round circles of wood from white pine logs in under seven seconds. The hot saw, or chainsaw, is potentially the most dangerous event in timber sports. The contestants wear goggles to protect their eyes from the sawdust erupting in the air...

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His and Her Saws

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pp. 116-121

...Halvorson’s hair and beard are turning white, and in his early sixties he cannot wield a saw or ax with quite the same speed as he did in 1992 when he was the all-around titleholder at the Lumberjack World Championships. But he is still a regular in Hayward, and his wife Penny is, too. The trip from Alma Center, Wisconsin, is an easy one, just a couple of hours’ drive, but it is the lure of the sawdust more than driving the asphalt that brings them back to Hayward every year. It should have surprised no one...

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Very Tall Trees

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pp. 122-128

...at the base of the 90-foot climbing pole in the loony bin inside the Lumberjack Bowl, looking straight up to the top can give one a stiff neck. Speed climbing the 90- and 60-foot poles is the object of the game, which in a general way imitates forestry efforts. Loggers did not have to ascend to the treetops because they could trim branches after the tree was felled. In some areas where trees were arrayed on hillsides, however, lumbermen climbed trees and attached...

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A Festival of Sawdust

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pp. 129-144

...guy with sawdust in his blood and showing his years through the white in his hair and beard, Rick Halvorson was feeling pretty good. His muscles weren’t quite as hardened as they once were, but his competitive attitude was just as fierce. So when Halvorson teamed up with Alastair Taylor in a masters event in 2009 he was happy they placed well as he was closing in on the opportunity...

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Lumberjack in a Desert

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pp. 145-150

...terrorists commandeered airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and, after a struggle with passengers, an empty field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, JR Salzman was a student at the University of Minnesota. Inspired by patriotism and the call to arms, he joined the Minnesota National Guard in 2003, but mostly divided his time between study at the school, lumberjack sports, and the...

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The Idea Is Not to Go Boom

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pp. 151-158

...way, the boom run is tightrope running. Just as the circus performers do their stuff on the high-wire with the number-one objective being not to fall down and go boom, lumberjacks and lumberjills in the boom run must maintain their balance at all times. The difference between the boom run and tightrope walking is that boom runners are running full out while leaping from log to log. Competition in the boom run is head-to-head against another runner on a nearby length of logs. The...

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Trying to Carve Out a Living

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pp. 159-164

...he loved woodchopping from the time he first saw it as a kid at the Riverton Fair in Connecticut, Mike Sullivan had other athletic talents and he pursued another professional sports path. There may have been sawdust in his bloodstream, but he didn’t quite recognize that yet. His first dream was to become a Major League baseball player. Sullivan had the tools to become a very fine catcher and the top level of baseball is always trying to replenish its supply of catchers, the hardest position to play. Hailing from Winstead, Connecticut...

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Powerful Women

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pp. 165-175

...sociologists discuss the evolution of American society since the 1950s one issue sure to be on the agenda is the empowerment of women. The typical married woman of the post–World War II period was a stay-at-home mom and homemaker whose job was to take care of the kids and make hubby happy. Career options for women were limited, the most popular being secretary, nurse, or teacher. As Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and other prominent women’s rights activists...

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The Axman from Down Under

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pp. 176-186

...surprise that someone named Scheer played a critical role in bringing perhaps the world’s greatest timber sports champion to Hayward. Jason Wynyard, born in a small town in New Zealand called TeAwamutu, grew up in a farming region, although his dad, Pae, was a logger, as was his father, Te Hurihanga, before him. Wynyard’s grandfather was more commonly called Paddy. Wynyard is descended from an English colonel who sailed across the ocean and ended up in New Zealand...

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Tony Wise Lives On

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pp. 187-192

...were still alive, a smile would have crossed Tony Wise’s face every time the words “Yo-ho!” were announced at the Lumberjack Bowl during the Lumberjack World Championships in 2009. Each pronouncement of “Yo-ho!” would be a reminder that he got it right, that his idea to bring the championships to Hayward, Wisconsin, was a smart move, a bold move, and that fifty years...

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JR Salzman on a Roll

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pp. 193-198

...JR Salzman wanted to have the feel of the logs under his feet as he fought through his recovery after being wounded in Iraq. He had been a six-time logrolling titleholder at the Lumberjack World Championships and the 2005 ESPN outdoor sportsman of the year. But the Lumberjack in a Desert, as he dubbed himself after being sent to Iraq, fared poorly and he...

Appendix: Lumberjack World Championships Winners

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pp. 199-210

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pp. 211-214


E-ISBN-13: 9780299284534
E-ISBN-10: 0299284530
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299284541
Print-ISBN-10: 0299284549

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 22 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2011