Loggers Playday – Hoquiam, WA
We rolled into the Walmart parking lot near Hoquiam, Washington around 12:30AM on Saturday, September 10. It was dark outside (obviously) and knew nothing of the town around us other than Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic formed Nirvana here in the 80s.
It was our first night as Walmart tenants, we slept well, and explored the nationwide conglomerate in the morning…and we found friendly people. Some folks are “nice,” but these people were outwardly chatty and happy. One Walmart employee even asserted to me “It’s going to be a great day! The sun is shining for the first time in a LONG time for Loggers Playday!”
We headed over to the bussling Hoquiam Elk’s Club to pick up our participation materials for the parade and found a lodge full of people joking, laughing, and more than willing to help us figure out what we were supposed to do. We filed into slot number 17 on the street, behind an antique logging truck.
I noticed how shiny said crimson truck looked, especially in comparison to the bug-soaked Highland Flinger, and felt the owners should know what a great job they’ve done caring for their ruby vessel. I met Christine Clark who grew up in Hoquiam, attending the Playday as a child and teen. Her father helped begin the tradition 46 years ago and she said it hasn’t changed much since that time, but hadn’t been back home for Loggers Playday in 6 years. I learned that many of her friends left Hoquiam to seek employment elsewhere over the last several years.
Logging is an industry that has been hit hard leaving Hoquiam and the nearby cities with high unemployment. Spotted owls, native to Northern Washington are a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation efforts have ceased much of the logging in the area leaving Hoquiam and the surrounding cities with high unemployment rates. Additionally, much of the timber that is still collected is exported to China, who can pay more for the resources than local lumber mills. As result, many of mills have closed.
Christine feels the history of a “dying breed” is kept alive at Logger’s Playday and a bright sunny day made the town thrive. Over 5,000 came to watch over 100 varied float entries. There were log trucks, local businesses, community organizations, school bands. There was even Jesus carrying a cross and of course, Couple of Sports brought The Highland Flinger. The theme for the parade was loud noises, as trucks honked their horns, shriners shot a dummy out of a cannon, and the local high school bands tried to be louder than the other.
After our glorious cruise down K Street, we returned to the director’s box to watch the rest of the parade with the Loggers Playday Court-1 queen and 3 princesses dressed in carpenter jeans, suspenders, with sparkly crowns. All four court members are high school seniors at Hoquiam High School who received scholarships as part of being selected to the court. Additionally, the princesses traditionally compete at the logging competition in the log rolling event regardless of how much or little expereince they have with the skill.
We had several hours to kill between the parade and the Logging Competition so we decided to take in some local flavor by checking out the wooden crafts and tasty treats at the vendor fair, tried a local brew from the 8th Street Ale House, and even let The Snohomish Sauerkraut Band be our pied pipers as we followed them down the street and into the VFW Hall where another live band played and many of the local community gathered to dance and talk with old friends. They even let me try my hand at what I thought was a lyre, but was in fact a glockenspiel.
We entered the Olympic Stadium, the largest all wood stadium in the United States, and found many logs propped haphazardly around the field…and a giant Paul Bunyan statue. Our untrained eyes quickly learned where to stand when chainsaws fired up and wood started flying. We learned the logs weren’t thrown on the field like a pile of pick up sticks, but rather carefully placed to withstand incredible pressure and best viewing.
The loud noise theme carried through from the morning, as the show started with an exploding tree that, although visually stunning, tried its best at shattering our eardrums. That was followed by power saws, a giant “hot saw”, as well as random one off fireworks. Finally, the night ended with a raucous fireworks show where everyone was pretty close to the action.
Event: Power Saw
What it is: Using a chainsaw, lumberjacks made a round cut through the log from top to bottom and then from the bottom up.
What we saw: Several waves of competitors participated in this event, each winner getting a loud and rowdy response from the crowd. The oldest competitor in this event was Tim Spradlin, who’s been participating in Loggers Playday for 47 years. A local and 3rd generation logger, Tim’s father was a founder of Loggers Playday. “Loggers Playday has a great tradition,” he said. “It’s been around since the 60s, and it brings a real community feel because it’s open to everyone. There’s been variations here and there as logging technology has improved, but it’s been able to blend the old with the new very well. It’s the best show in the state.”
Event: Axe Throwing
What it is: Participants throw axes at a target, hoping to land the blade in the bullseye.
What we saw: All axmen seemed very practiced at this sport, most often hitting on or near the bullseye. Couple of Sports likes their necks too much to give this one a try.
Event: Log Rolling
What it is: Two people stand on opposite sides of a large log floating in water. As they try to maintain their balannce, the log rolls in the water creating slippery footing. Competitors try to knock their opponent off the log through a variety of techniques.
What we saw: One very tiny woman face off against a large man. Jenny Owen has learned to log roll from her mom and has been competing since age 13. Her quick feet and agility seemed to work to her advantage in this match up. Later that night, when the inexperienced Loggers Playday Court had their turn, they lasted less than 5 seconds on the log before splashing into the water below.
Event: Tree Topping
What it is: Probably the hardest event of the day. Loggers climb a 50 foot standing log carrying a hand saw, tie themselves off at the top, and saw a piece of the log off at the very top.
What we saw: Armed with only a rope and metal, clawed shoes, these guys took their time climbing up the logs because they knew that when they got to the top, they would have to cut off the top with a hand saw and almost no leverage at all. This event also seemed like something that present day loggers might still have to accomplish whilest on the job. They’d probably get a power saw on the clock nowadays though.
Event: Speed Climb
What it is: Lumberjacks turn Spiderman as they scale and then descend the side of a 50 foot log as quickly as possible.
What we saw: Here we met Ben McColl, who impressed the crowd by smoking the competition. Ben’s been competing for 6 years, and travels much of the Northwest for various competitions. He admitted that he does a lot of the climbing events because there’s usually less participation, but competes in other events as well, including the choke setting and obstacle pole. “That’s probably the fastest I’ve ever gone down!, he said. “I was amped up from the crowd and really wanted to give them a great show.”
Event: Double Bucking / Ma & Pa Bucking
What it is: Grab a partner or your gal and pretend like it’s 1880 with this event. Competitors race to saw through a log with an old fashioned double-handled bucksaw.
What we saw: Teamwork at it’s best, as the timing and strength of each partner working together is key to success. Father and son team David Moses Sr. and David Moses Jr.
exemplified those characteristics. Senior got involved in logging competitions in 1972, when a friend asked him to help with a show. Little did he know that the “help” would require actually competing in events. He won medals in a few events on his first try, and was hooked. Junior took after his father, and has even traveled all over the world for competitions. Local Native Americans from the Puyallup tribe, father and son have gone as far as Australia and New Zealand to showcase they logging sports talents. David Jr. stayed home in 2009 to capture the 2009 US mens single buck national title. “Loggers Playday is a great event,” he said. “We get to compete in a good number of events individually, but then also come together for the double buck. He got me into this, so it’s fun to be able to compete together.”
Event: Obstacle Pole
What it is: Competitors race to carry a power saw up a log at a 30 degree incline, cut the end off of the log, and then race back down. First to touch the front of the log after that wins.
What we saw: Guys seemed to be warming up for this event all night. Like sprinters practicing their take-off, the loggers were continuously practicing their start. Some where practicing their angle of sawing, which seemed like a key component to cutting through the tip effectively. No one seemed to have a problem scampering up the thin log, as no one fell. Definitely a fun event that got the crowd involved and the atmosphere up.
Event: Log Chopping
What it is: As manly as it gets. Chop through a log with an axe. First log to hit the ground wins.
What we saw: This is the event that most people generally associate with a loggers competition. Just a strong guy violently chopping through some wood. The woodchips were flying as these guys were taking some ferocious swings, cutting through the logs in what seemed like no time at all.
Event: Choke Setting
What it is: 2 competitors at a time race across a log over water carrying a metal cable, then tie that cable around a log, and race back across the water to the finish line.
What we saw: Best cheers of the night as each race was down to the wire. There was even a splashdown as the crowd let out a loud “oooooohhhhhhhhhh”.
We left Hoquiam that evening with a perspective on a true blue collar labor community, with friendly and fun people. The show itself seemed to bring together the community because of it’s history and relevance to the logging town, and then awe them with feats of skill and athleticism.
Want to go next year?
Hoquiam’s 47th Annual Loggers Playday will be held September 9, 2012 in Hoquiam, Washington.
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