Arts and Entertainment

Party Like a Lumberjack: Old Mill Days Return

A spate of lumberjacks compete in last year
A spate of lumberjacks compete in last year's springboard chop.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo/OMD

Port Gamble's annual old to all things lumberjack, and jill, Sept. 25-27.

Local party-thrower, festival-organizer extraordinaire Jonathon Miller knows that any good festival has to have that one extraordinary year to get the ball rolling. For Miller’s Old Mill Days — Port Gamble’s annual ode to all things lumberjack (and jill) — that year was last year.

“It takes that one successful year to build it all on,” Miller said. “Last year, we had great weather all three days, we brought in 15,000 people over the weekend, and we actually had a couple exciting moments that were all caught on film.”

Among last year’s highlights were: an exploding hot saw — a chainsaw souped up with an auto engine which spontaneously combusted midway through the massive trunk it was attempting to slice — and a precarious moment for one contestant in the ‘springboard chop’ — in which competitors chop their way up a log using 12-15-inch-wide boards to brace themselves at each height.

“These guys were seven feet in the air with razor sharp axes,” Miller remembered last year’s springboard. “And just when (the announcer) was saying that, this guy’s board broke and he fell... Of course, he sprung back up and he was fine, but it was exciting to watch.”

Both moments were broadcast on media outlets across the internet and cable TV and are now available in the gallery section of www.oldmilldays.com.

This year’s event promises brand new slate of excitement including a new log rolling event and a nighttime spectacle in which a log will be set aflame and carved into a bear. Free admission and Rockstar energy drinks for a kids under 17, a karaoke/open mic and a VIP lumberjack party are set for the first night alone. For a full list of fesitivites see the OMD Web site.

“One of the elements that really makes a lumberjack competition succesful,” Old Mill Days lumberjack coordinator Branden Sirguy said, “is when a spectator, and the crowd, sees something impressive... It takes somebody special to make the show a success.”

Among the special somebodies who will make theis year’s event notable are Chainsaw Jack, the legendary carver from “Extreme Makeover Home Edition”; Steve Backus, the Pemco Insurance Northwest Profile Roadside Carver; and Dave Tremko, famous for having carved Jay Leno’s face into a block of wood on late night television.

In the Old Mill Days lumberjack competition specifically, a handful of competitors of the Stihl Timbersports Series (annually shown on ESPN and ESPN 2) and “one of the top female competitors in the United States (is) coming out from Wisconsin (homestate of the Lumberjack World Championships) to pay us a visit,” Sirguy said.

Having grown up amongst the sport and the industry in Deming, Wa. (a tiny town north of Bellingham, site of the state’s biggest lumberjack competition), Sirguy, a forrester by trade, has been organizing and professionally competing in lumberjack competitions since college.

Back in those days, he helped start the Oregon Bay Area Lumberjack Competition in Coos Bay, Ore.

“Now that I’m back in Western Washington, I see Port Gamble as a great location and a great venue that represents a great opportunity to host a quality lumberjack show,” Sirguy said. “We’re close enough that we can attract the spectators and the sponsorship and the crowd that’ll make the event a success, but you just can’t beat having that historic mill town.”

The games themselves, Sirguy said, go all the way back to those old logging camps, like Port Gamble circa 1860.

“You can imagine a couple of guys back in a logging camp might be getting into a heavy discussion with each other about ‘I can cut that faster than you’ and ‘well, let’s go out back and prove it,’” Sirguy said. “You’re looking at easily 100, 150 years of history in these logging camps. That’s how it all got started: one guy wanting to show up another.”

OLD MILL DAYS Bring lumberjacks and jills, chainsaw carvers, a straw-bale maze, carnival, fireworks, mainstage entertainment and more to the historic old mill town Port Gamble Sept. 25-27. Admission is $5 with discounts for military ID, kids under 17 free on Friday night. Info: www.oldmilldays.com.

ALSO CHECK OUT: Olympic Resource Management’s third Annual Forest Festival, featuring guided tours of the Port Gamble trails along with some 40 arbor-centric vendors also Sept. 26 in Port Gamble. Info: www.orm.com/Forest_Festival.aspx.

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