Although the Blagen Mill in White Pines has long been closed, chain saws roared and axes flew at the 24th annual Sierra Nevada Logging Jamboree on Aug. 31.
The annual event is put on by the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum to raise funds for the museum and bring the community together to honor the region’s logging heritage.
Ax-throwing and log-bucking competitions were held for amateurs and professionals. While the amateur events were free and open to all competitors, the professional events included entrance fees and cash prizes.
At 9 a.m., a crowd gathered on the wooden benches that rose up from the competition area in front of the museum. The temperature was a comfortable 67 degrees, and large cedar and pine trees provided shade for the gathering.
Many contestants wore bright orange T-shirts emblazoned with “Make Logging Great Again” from the 60th annual North Fork Loggers Jamboree, which took place at the beginning of July.
Seven large logs, donated by Steve Kafka of Sierra Pacific Industries, were laid out for the bucking competitions. At the ends of the rows of logs were placed two red and white bulls-eyes, three feet in diameter and elevated on five-foot stands, for the ax-throwing events.
The ax-throwing competition seemed to be the crowd favorite. Contestants took turns approaching the targets, pausing to take aim, and raising double-headed axes above their heads before hurling them at targets roughly 25 feet away.
Cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were placed in the bulls-eyes, creating an explosion of suds when an axe found its target. The crowd applauded well-aimed throws and collectively shouted “Whoa!” when axes missed their marks and flew down the hill.
During the professional event, the contestants were so accurate in their aim that the beer supply quickly dwindled.
After George Harrison, of Grass Valley, hit yet another beer can, someone from the crowd shouted, “You hit one more and you’re buying the beer!”
“I’ll buy two of them,” Harrison said, grinning. He went on to win the event.
Harrison’s wife, Tina, also competed in various events, receiving first in a bucking event and third in a two-person saw event. “I didn’t place in the axe throw because I got nervous … It’s pretty easy – at home,” she said, laughing.
The Harrisons’ grandson, Aidan, also competed, winning first place in the men’s amateur axe-throwing competition.
“I’ve been coming to this about five or six years,” said Renee Henault, of Pioneer, Tina Harrison’s teammate in the two-person saw event. “I do it for maybe a competition or two a year, and it’s a lot of fun.”
During the log-bucking events, the crowd was drowned out by the roar of chainsaws. But when the engines were killed following a successful cut, the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
One event featured four-foot long hand saws operated by teams of two. The competition seemed to be especially challenging.
“Another name for these saws is the ‘misery whip,’” event organizer and announcer Aaron Rasmussen said. “Imagine that.”
Rasmussen explained that the older saws tend to be higher quality. One used in the competition was built in 1896.
Rasmussen was the main organizer of the Jamboree this year. While he enjoys competing in logging events himself, he agreed to forego the competition to help organize and run the event.
“I’ve come here the last two years to compete, but this year we were short on volunteers here in White Pines … I was reluctant because I like to compete … But it’s not just about competing, it’s about keeping it going,” he said. “Logging events in this area run deep in a lot of families. I’m fifth generation in the logging industry. Anybody who’s been here long enough is in one way or another affected by the logging industry.”
While logging in the area is about as old as the state itself, production peaked during the 1940s, when the Blagen Mill in White Pines surpassed all previous production records in the county.
A highlight of the bucking competitions was the limber pole event, which was open only to professionals. Contestants took turns running up a narrow log, which was elevated about six feet at one end, before starting their saws, cutting off a small portion of the log, killing their engines, and racing back to their starting places.
Nate Hodges, of North Fork, a well-known competitor in professional timbersports events, took first place.
As the day wore on, the crowd continued to grow. Groups walking on the Arnold Rim Trail or spending the day at White Pines Lake decided to join the festivities, drawn by the sound of chainsaws and applause.
All ages attended, from children to seniors. Kids stood on their tippy-toes to get a better view of the competition, often covering their ears when chainsaws were started.
Long-time museum volunteer Ted Shannon said that he enjoyed all of the day’s activities, but said, smiling, of the axe-throwing, “I was a logger for quite a few years, and I can tell you we never did that.”
Shannon began working on the project to build the museum about 10 years before it was established in 2005.
“It took a long time to get to this point,” he said. “A museum doesn’t make money; we’re just happy to pay the bills.”
Bill Nelson said he has been volunteering at the museum for about 12 years.
“Not one person was paid to put it together,” he said. “Everything is strictly volunteer, like White Pines Park. We have 10 or 15 docents, and we could always use more help.”
The Ebbetts Pass Moose Lodge served food and beverages from one of several booths, and museum docents guided tours throughout the day for curious visitors.
The Arnold Lions Club pitched in to set up the event, and returned afterwards to help clean up.
“A lot goes on behind the scenes to make this all happen,” said long-time volunteer, Sharon Ash.
Another long-time volunteer, Bob Ash, agreed.
“We’re always looking for volunteers to help run it,” he said. “It brings people together to learn the history of this area; the history of the Sierra Nevada. We hope to educate and carry on the traditions of our forefathers.”
This year, the organizers were worried that they would be unable to hold the event due to lack of volunteers. Fortunately, several people stepped up just in time, and the event was a huge success.
“It’s one jewel of Calaveras County that we can’t let go,” Nelson said. “Our pay is seeing people smile; making the kids happy.”
At the end of the competition, small segments of cut logs were passed out to children. They walked with their families back to their cars happily clutching their treasures.