The crowd at the Hoquiam Loggers Playday was on the edge of its seats for the annual logging competition and show at Olympic Stadium on Saturday night. Tradition, community and good, old-fashioned fun combined to make a memorable evening for all in attendance.
In its 52nd year, the show started off with a bang when Playday clown Paul McKenzie and straight-man John Henson blew up a tree — with some pyrotechnical assistance. The show also ended with a bang that came from a fireworks display that lit up the stadium. In between, of course, was the logging competition that kept the crowd cheering for more.
The evening of festivities kicked off with Luke Niemi, of Aberdeen, playing the Star-Spangled Banner on his guitar accompanied by Playday Queen Madisen Davis signing the words in American Sign Language.
During a tree-topping demonstration, a 12-foot section of log fell to the ground with a thud, and missed its intended target of a hapless watermelon waiting 70-feet below. Instead of being smashed to a juicy pulp, the melon was nudged off to the side. The crowd loved it anyway.
The watermelon tree-topping was performed by Eddie “Mooch” Smith, of Eatonville, a logger who competed professionally for 22 years. Smith scaled a 70-foot spruce and cut it precisely so the topped log would land on the watermelon. When Smith missed the mark, the audience of about 5,000 cheered loudly, and some kids at the show said it was the best part of the evening.
Another crowd favorite was Gordon Mauhl, of Carnation, who participated in the springboard chop. In this event, loggers cut notches into a tree to insert two springboards which they use to step higher up the tree, and finally chop a log at the top. Mauhl, a 74-year-old veteran logger, had to re-cut a notch when one of his springboards slipped.
The springboard was set in place again and with swing after swing of his axe, Mauhl hacked into the log, with the crowd chanting, “Gordy! Gordy!”
Emcee Don Bell III, said men like Mauhl were what made the show and America great.
“Guys like that don’t give up,” Bell said as the crowd sounded its approval. “That’s who built America.”
The Hoquiam audience also favored Erin Lavoie, of Spokane, who very nearly won all-around logger, Bell said.
“We never had a female compete and she just about waxed all the guys. She is incredibly talented,” Bell said. “The crowd just loved her.”
Local and professional loggers competed in skills events like the springboard chop, obstacle log, double bucking (two-person saw), speed climbing up a 70-foot pole, log chopping, axe throwing and choker setting. Log-rolling and hot saw demonstrations rounded out the entertainment. (A hot saw is chainsaw modified with another type of engine such as a motorcycle or snowmobile.)
Competing for the first time was Hoquiam resident Kris Cain, who participated in the double buck with his friend Devon Tickamp, also of Hoquiam. Cain said he grew up watching the competition and Tickamp convinced him to compete this year.
A drywaller by trade, Cain said he hadn’t practiced and had never used a misery whip (two-person saw) but planned to do his best. Tickamp, who logs for R.L. Smith said he wasn’t worried and only wanted his friend to have fun. After they competed, Tickamp said it was a tough event.
“We couldn’t find our center. But we’ll be back next year and give her hell,” Tickamp said.
Professional logger David Moses, Sr. said he worked as a logger and competed in events like the Loggers Playday mostly because it was enjoyable.
“And I’m good at it,” Moses said smiling.
His son, David Moses, Jr., also competes professionally. The two participated as a team in the open double buck, in which they placed third. They also competed individually in several other events.
Local competitor Lee Pickett said he competed for fun but added there was more to the show than a good time.
“This is the heritage and tradition in Grays Harbor County. Times change and the logging industry has changed. So to hold true to some of the old skills, that’s important,” Pickett said. “The Playday has strong support from the volunteers, and it’s giving back to the community. That’s what it’s about.”
Playday committee member Bill Foster said he volunteered for the logger show because it was a way to repay a community that had given him so much.
“All the funds raised go toward scholarships like the Dave Rabey Memorial Scholarship and school activities,” Foster said.
Special scholarship buttons going for $5 apiece were sold out this year. Other $3 buttons, required for admission into the stadium, helped to pay for the Playday itself. The Playday committee does fundraising throughout the year with firewood sales, the money also supporting local schools and kids’ activities.
Foster said the committee wouldn’t know how much money was raised until later on.
The Lions Club sold concessions at the Playday and did so well that they ran out of hot dogs. Near the end of the evening, only a few candy bars and bottles of water remained. Funds raised by the Lions Club are used to support the community of Hoquiam, said Pete Hegg, a Lions Club board member. The Lions have donated funds to the 7th Street Theatre, the Hoquiam Timberland Library as well as supporting sight, hearing and diabetes causes.
Some people in the audience, like Jim and Lois Wells, said they attended the Playday almost every year. The Wells, with their grandsons Tucker and Nathan Thureson, said the show was exceptional this time around.
“We loved it,” Lois Wells said. Her grandson Tucker said the tree topping was the best, and that maybe he’d be a logger when he grew up.
“I’m kind of logger now,” he added.
At the end of the night, the lights in the stadium dimmed and as music played, the fireworks show illuminated the sky for about 15 minutes. Kids ran onto the field to dance and pick up end cuts, chips and hunks of wood — leftover from the competition — as souvenir trophies.
Alik Svardh, 12, of Hansville, said he collected a prized wedge of spruce from the watermelon tree. He was attending the Playday show with his dad, Michael Svardh.
“I can’t believe no one else got it,” Svardh said as he patted the wedge. “This is remembrance.”
The younger Svardh’s enthusiasm for the logging competition comes from attending every Loggers’ Playday since he was a baby said his father.
“He was wheeled to his first show in a stroller,” Michael Svardh said. “It’s tradition.”
Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.