On Lumberjack Sports: They Think the World Revolves Around Their Axes

Loggers have perfected skills of a bygone era to turn an occupation into a sport.

By Hank Nuwer

Three months before the 1988 LumberJack World Championships began, I grew a bushy, long, and positively bestial beard because I thought the men I’d interview would sport them. I concluded this because nine years earlier I had visited lumberjacks in western Washington during the winter of 1979, including some at Camp Grisdale, one of the last live-in logging camps in America. Several Washingtonian loggers (they detested the term “lumberjack”) resembled their 19th-century forebears, cultivating beards that made them appear as hairy as yaks. These men favored shirts made of tick, the material that covers army-surplus mattresses. “Gimmee” caps promoted chain-saw manufacturers invariably floated atop their hedges of hair.

Most of the bearded men, come to think of it, were under 45. The veteran loggers were more conservative, favoring flannel shirts and cropped hair. Unlike the young bucks, their faces told hard-luck tales. The vessels in their noses and cheekbones gleamed red and purple because, as they explained, their blood “thinned out” from working long days in frosty temperatures. The old timers’ hands I shook often were gnarled. Some lacked one or more digits. Many had arthritis, rheumatism and chronic lower back pain; every morning their spouses or friends helped stuff their feet into steel-toed boots. Frank Brehmeyer, a fifty-ish superintendent of the camp, understated the occupational hazards when he spoke with me: “The woods take a lot out of a guy.”

Nonetheless, Brehmeyer and his underlings never grumbled about the life they’d chosen. These were tough men who thrived under tough circumstances. These were tough men who thrived under tough circumstances. Working in the Olympic Peninsula’s mountain-goat country with its annual precipitation of 190 inches, loggers accepted the rain that pelted their faces like spray off a whitecap and made their clothes soggier than yesterday’s cornflakes. They also lived with the knowledge that even the strongest and most careful of them weren’t indestructible. A snapped cable can behead an unlucky worker. Limbs and chunks of bark that weigh hundreds of pounds can mash hard hats and pulverize brains.

Frank Brehmeyer maintained that the Good Lord “screwed up” when He made the Olympic Peninsula: “That’s why He covered it with all these trees.” The loggers I met who worked the peninsula’s steep slopes routinely started straight down between their toes for 700 feet. Tenderfeet, therefore, learned to rid themselves of acrophobia, or found employment in lowland states. The crusty Brehmeyer would tell intimidated rookies to shit their mouths before they deprived the birds of flies.

Living in the camp’s incestuous tract housing some 40 minutes from Aberdeen—the nearest town via a pothole-marked road—caused the men of Camp Grisdale to grow clannish. They consigned nonloggers to membership in “The 90-10 Club,” since, in their opinion, 90 percent of the American public never ventured more than 10 feet off a road. Brehmeyer said that if a stranger insulted any one of them in a logger’s bar, the fight wouldn’t commence until everyone drew lots to see who won the first poke. He rolled his eyes when asked how he and his workers felt about the entrance of female loggers into the profession. I had posed the question not knowing that a “lumberjill” had accused a company foreman of making sexual advances the previous year, resulting in a strike that idled Camp Grisdale for months. “A logging camp has always been a place where men are men, and the women are damn glad of it,” said Brehmeyer.


*          *          *


The Lumberjack World Championships traditionally are held on the final Sunday in July. They have been held in Hayward, Wisconsin, since 1960, when a local entrepreneur named Toney Wise bid $2,000 for the then-failing Idaho events. He built what he called the “Lumberjack Bowl” on the site of a Lake Hayward bay that held cut logs during the town’s lawless timber boom. Wise, too, has since gone bankrupt, but the championships were kept alive by a Hayward-based foundation.

Last summer I attended this “Olympics of the Forest,” as locals term the world championships, to watch the lumberjack sports descended from “King of the Forest” competitions of the 19th century. Then and now, the purpose of these events was to determine the best all-around lumberjack in camp. I had looked forward to watching contemporary lumberjacks demonstrate their mastery of axes and crosscut saws, tools that gradually became obsolete in everyday logging after Andreas Stihl invented a crosscutting chain saw in 1926. The throck-throck-throck sounds accompanying the chopping events soothed me. In contrast, back at Camp Grisdale, the power saws emitted eardrum-threatening screams. The loggers operating them were skilled, but nonetheless, I couldn’t see spending three or four days watching them. At the camp, I regretted the fact that million-dollar cable-bearing machines had replaced horse-drawn skidders; although if I owned a lumber company, I have no doubt which method I’d prefer to drag away logs.

As it turned out, my experiences of a decade ago didn’t prepare me at all for what I was to see in Hayward. The males among the 102 competitors on hand for the four-day competition resembled health spa employees, not working loggers. These few with deflated whitewalls under their tank tops looked sloppy compared to the trim majority. The only man under 45 who resembled a fairy-tale woodchopper was 300-poung Bill Miller from Myrtle Creek, Oregon. “Little Bill”—a mastodon you wouldn’t dare kill in a fight, because it might make him mad—looked capable of gnawing the tops off redwood trees.

The others, judging by their chiseled torsos and powerful glutes, had patronized weight rooms as well as woodpiles in preparation for the chopping and sawing events. They might have been Green Bay Packer linebackers gone AWOL from training camp. Moreover, except for some Done Johnson-style stubble on the face of Rolin Eslinger, winner of the 1987 All-Around Lumberjack award, few had chin hair. In short, unless an Amish buggy rode into town, I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t in town four hours before I skedaddled back to my hotel to clog the sink with beard hairs.

Perhaps your vision of the old-time lumberjack is like the romantic cover that N.C. Wyeth painted for a turn-of-the-century issue of The Country Gentleman magazine. In it a strapping, handsome man – sans beard, of course – poses with one booted foot resting atop a freshly cut stump, much as hunters on safari celebrate lion kills. Wyeth’s ‘jack rests an ax between his thighs while he gazes dreamily eastward, presumably at the once-timbered land he has subdued. Behind him to the north and west are thick woods soon to fall; his unflinching gaze implies that his destiny is to replace this galaxy of pine with city centers.

Curiously, despite some isolated illustrations such as Wyeth’s, the 19th-century lumberjack became a creature of myth and popular literature to the degree that the Western cowboy did. Novelists of quality generally stayed away from the forest as a setting, partially because their knowledge of the lumber industry was nil, and partially because Eastern publishers believed readers rejected books with lumberjacks as heroes. Norman Maclean, a writer who set his fictive stories amid mountain pines, failed to sell his thin but wonderful book, “A River Runs Through It”, until he was 70, and had retired from his University of Chicago professorship. “These stories have trees in them,” one publisher complained to Maclean.

To be sure, lumberjacks weren’t completely ignored in popular culture, merely underrepresented. Carl Sandburg romantically described Abraham Lincoln’s log-splitting activities in “The Prairie Years”, but the author implied that ax-work was merely something that Lincoln performed as a youth – like taking 34-mile hikes and digging wells – to build strength for his real work to come. Then, of course, there was the legend of Paul Bunyan and Babe, his Blue Ox, but those stories told around the campfire hardly masqueraded as literature. Even the most gullible North Woods greenhorn never really swallowed those extravagant tall tales. The fun thing of telling Bunyan yarns came from exaggerating them for comic effect. Thus was it said that you could fit 42 ax handles and a plug of tobacco between the Blue Ox’s horns, and that Bunyan’s exploits included digging a ditch that turned into the Columbia River, and catching a tornado in a mason jar. All those dime-store Westerns, on the other hand, were written to be believed – or, at least, they were believed – by the public. Readers readily swallowed whoppers from “out West,” be they tales of hidden treasure in the Sierra Madre, or rubbish about “heroic” lawman Wild Bill Hickock or “Robin Hood” gunman Jesse James.

The life of a shanty boy (as lumberjacks were called before the 1870’s), like that of a cowboy, was romantic, but only to a degree. On the one hand, these unwashed forest serfs provided the lumber for building roads, railroad ties, and the industrial needs of a bustling nation. These forebears of today’s professional lumberjacks possessed strength, bravery, endurance and self-reliance. They were a society unto themselves, possessing their own lingo, ethics, and values. What they had in common were the dwindling, monarchial forests, which they both loved and hated. The forests broke their axes, destroyed their saws, and killed their comrades, but also challenged them and imprinted a sense of meaning onto their souls. Photographs surviving in state historical museums show men standing proudly alongside downed trees whose breadth exceeds their height. The pines were so tall men fell over backward when they looked at the tops. A 10-foot log commonly contained more than 2,000 board feet.

Occasionally, just as an everyday cowboy went on to found a cattle empire, shanty boys occasionally overcame their circumstances. Robert Dollar saved his 30-dollars-a-month pay as a woodsman and invested in vast acres of timber. He became a lumber baron and shipping magnate, the founder of the Dollar Line.

On the other hand, the logging life has always been dangerous, and lumber barons too often regarded shanty boys as expendable. During the 19th century, many camp foremen ordered workmen to break up logjams, a risky maneuver that nearly always resulted in death or serious injury. The alternative was to use dynamite to blow up the lead logs, and that meant a loss of valuable timber.

Of course, even routine tasks could be dangerous. A lumberjack named Jim Noble told me a horror story about his experiences as a high rigger in Washington state. He and a buddy named Louis were cutting treetops about a quarter-mile apart from each other. While they had worked above the canopy of pines, Noble happened to glance over as the other man made his undercut and moved around the dark backside of a tall tree for the final cut. Louis had worked his axe only an inch or so into the wood when a crosswind caught the top of his tree. Before he could undo his safety line, the tree began to split from the top down, catching him with his waist strapped around the tree. “As the tree continued to split, the pressure just mashed everything out of him,” said Noble. “Finally, the strap and the top both snapped, and Louis fell to the ground over 90 feet below, while I watched as if it was in slow motion.”

Since no high rigger can leave a half-sawn top lest he sign some passing logger’s death warrant, Noble had to finish “topping out” before sliding to earth and locating Louis’ remains.

The remoteness of the camp and scarcity of marriage-minded women made drinking and fighting the recreation of choice. “We weren’t alcoholics,” one old logger assured me, “we was just common drunks.” Pants rabbits (lice), vicious blackflies (the Maine state bird, joked loggers), and inclement weather also came with the profession. Jim Noble professed that he never knew cold weather in his native Missouri to be like Washington state’s. It was so cold, he said, that one early winter when geese flew overhead, “they just froze right in the air, they hung there ‘til next June when the sun thawed them out, and they just continued on their way. Their wings never missed a beat.”

Perhaps the most disagreeable thing about being a lumberjack was the end result of doing the best work he knew how. At the end of every job, the once-spectacular scenery he had invaded was reduced to a clear-cut vision of the apocalypse. The lumber outfits classified timber as a renewable resource, but once a forest was harvested, the land remained blighted for years, even with the best-run reforestation programs.

The day after I cut my beard, I jogged along a dirt road at dawn in the high country north of Hayward. Just when I’d managed to attain that nice rhythm where everyday problems no longer clouded my mind, I came around a bend in the pine-lined road, and pulled up short. Dead ahead, several hundred clear-cut acres blighted the land, looking like a preview of Armageddon. While I watched a woodpecker tattoo a lone dead pine with its beak, the irony tattooed me: These athletes loved forests so much that they had perfected sawing and chopping skills which everyday loggers couldn’t match. But in competitions such as this one in Hayward, lumberjacks reduced healthy trees to sawdust and pulpwood. The desecrated mountain reminded me that the lumberjacks and I were involved in a paradoxical situation. Our strong love for the environment conflicted with our passion for sport. I love the unspoiled wilderness of northeastern Montana; yet I dream of building a log cabin along the Flathead River. Similarly, the shattered wood lining the dock after lumberjack events disturbs that part of me that despises spoilage. Nonetheless, the historian in me applauds the preservation of skills that otherwise would go the way of vanished specialties such as harpooning. Rolin Eslinger said that the lumberjack events have an important secondary purpose. “We’re preserving our American heritage,” he assured me.

In comparison to well-paid professional football players, lumberjacks are the paupers of the sports world. Only the top U.S. competitors such as Oregonian Mel Lentz and his pal Eslinger made $30,000 in a good year. In addition, they incur the expense of traveling to as many as 50 events a year in such far-flung outposts as New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, and Hayward, Wisconsin. Because they’re eager to beef up purses, most professional lumberjacks don’t display an allergic reaction to reporters’ notebooks, tape recorders, or cameras. In addition, because lumberjacks just support their families through some sort of day job – tree climbing, scrap dealing, carpentry, teaching, driving a bakery truck, and working for the telephone company – they don’t develop prima donna tendencies. Or, if they do, they conceal them. “Nobody is out to get anybody else in this sport,” said a lumberjack Don Barrett, who is so laid back he wears surfing jams in his events. “I never liked that kind of killer attitude, and I guess that’s why I never went out for football.”

The Hayward championships twice have been televised by ESPN, but that isn’t enough fame to earn lumberjacks a fortune. Even the winner of the All-Around Lumberjack award can expect to leave Wisconsin with a paltry $2,000 purse. “Believe me, there’s times when I say to myself, ‘nothing is ever going to come of this,’” a competitor named Mike Sullivan told me. Mosquitoes, drawn by his keg-of-nails scent after a pre-competition cutting session, assailed his neck, while he talked lumberjack sports until long past dark.

Like many professional lumberjacks whose main income is a workingman’s paycheck, Sullivan’s lifestyle is closer to that of a struggling artist than it is to that of New England’s best hope of winning the coveted All-Around Lumberjack award in ’88. Mike and his wife, Darlene, a telephone paging-service employee, rent a one-bedroom apartment in Winsted, Connecticut. Their place barely has enough room for a bed, sofa, and kitchen table. Mike’s arsenal of saws and axes – enough to give a burglar a myocardial infraction – makes it seem claustrophobic. When Sullivan’s neighbors first spotted Mike practicing ax throwing – an Australian event – “they were sure he was an ax murderer,” said Darlene.

To save airfare, the Sullivans drove 18 hours to Hayward in their soup-can-sized car, a long saw wedged between its bucket seats. The couple nixed staying at the ritzy Telemark Lodge where several other competitors booked rooms. Instead, they accepted the hospitality of Paddy Steavenson, a veteran lumberjack who abandoned his native England after wooing a local woman at the Hayward world championships. Instead of joining his competitors for a 10-cent java, home-style baked ham, and corn fritters at the Cook Shanty restaurant, Mike prefers that Darlene cook the low-cal, low-cholesterol, carbohydrate-rich noodles that her husband believes give him strength and improved wind.

Sullivan admitted that his addiction to noodles is calculated to give him a slight edge on the competition. He knows more about nutrition, bodybuilding, and aerobic fitness techniques than do many wellness instructors. Although he’s normally reserved with strangers, Sullivan seeks out experts in performance enhancement. From picking the brains of one Ph.D., he learned exactly how far to push himself in practice sessions before a meet in order to reach his peak during competitions. Similarly, at the world championships, Mike’s stern face served as an anti-magnetic field while he psyched himself up for his events, but he himself looked for opportunities to talk to veteran lumberjacks such as Gilles Levesque, a garrulous Canadian champion. Sullivan drained advice from the old pro’s head the way a hummingbird draws nectar from flowers. In fact, during the Hayward world championships, I marveled as he cut and sawed with raw blisters on his hands, incurred because he persuaded Levesque to teach him the art of bow sawing, an event held only in Canada and our Eastern Coast. Old-time lumberjacks used bow saws to cut pulp and small logs.

At six-feet-one, and 215 pounds, possessing black eyes that look capable of performing laser surgery, Sullivan’s intensity contrasts sharply with that of most of his competitors. It doesn’t take a Constantin Stanslavsky to find the reason for the fire in Sullivan’s insides. He has the motivation of a once-humbled competitor who has been given a second chance.

When he was 17, the Cincinnati Reds drafted him as a catcher. Because he was a lowly 12th-round draft pick whose job was never secure, Sullivan refused to ride the bench when he was hurt. Eventually he destroyed his throwing arm, killing his career in four years. He had once played in spring training with George Foster and even catching Tom Seaver in a game. But those memories insufficiently compensated him for denied glory.

In 1982, when his supervisor on a road maintenance job introduced him to lumberjack sports, Sullivan vowed that nothing would defeat this second athletic career. Ever since, he outworked and out-studied his competition, hoping dedication could overcome his late start. The best Americans in the sport, including Mel Lentz, practically teethed on ax handles. Mel’s father, Merv Lentz, had been named Hayward’s all-around lumberjack (awarded for total points) four times from 1967 to 1971. Sullivan’s success in so few years is unprecedented, and other competitors either admire or mistrust his ambition.

Mike Sullivan’s quest for greatness in an unfamiliar sport reminds me of Jack London’s monomaniacal pursuit of a writing career. My favorite Jack London quotation about how the great writers struggled for recognition certainly applies to this New England lumberjack. Both they and he “did such blazing, glorious work as to burn to ashes those that opposed them. They arrived by course of miracle, by winning a thousand-to-one wager against them. They arrived because they were Carlyle’s battle-scarred giants who will not be kept down.”

When Mike Sullivan swings an ax you can picture fastballs rocketing off his bat. He makes the most of forearms and wrists that have the strength of twice-hardened steel. He says his ability to hit a pitched ball now enables him to plunge his ac into the wood “in the right spot each time,” giving him an edge over stronger opponents. As a hitter, he learned to hit through the ball to make it carry farther, and this technique applies to chopping, too. “You want to drive the ax and cut farther in the wood to make it split,” Sullivan advised me. “You don’t want little pieces – little fibers – hanging together.”

Sullivan despises losing as much as he loves winning. Hence, until lumberjacking becomes more lucrative for him, he puts up with a grueling schedule that would fell most men. “If you get blanked you go home with your tail between your legs,” he told me. “Then you go back to work all that week and work hard to make some money. I’d love to quit work, man. Right now I leave work at three o’clock on a Friday afternoon and drive all that night to get to the next show on Saturday. I work five days a week [as a tree trimmer]. I have responsibilities; I still got rent.”

Unlike the bulk of his competitors, who regard lumberjack sports as a hobby, Sullivan treats it as a business, saving his receipts for tax write-offs. Because he’s serious about his work, he travels to Australia and New Zealand in the winter to study under great choppers and sawyers. There, without Darlene along, he cooks his own noodles. Working overseas builds endurance because competitors in Australia chop 20 blocks in a single day, compared to only two or three in America. Because lumberjack sports have been taken seriously Down Under for about 120 years, Australian and New Zealand athletes are generally more advanced than those from the United States. They have monsters such as six-foot-five-inch, 300-pound David Foster of Tasmania who is both quick and powerful, making the dock tremble 20 feet away when his ax collides with a block. Sullivan says that American lumberjacks go to New Zealand to apprentice much as young skiers gravitate towards Austria.

If Mike Sullivan is representative of the highly conditioned athlete for whom winning purses is essential, his fellow New Englander Don Quigley illustrates another important persona in contemporary lumberjack sports: men who compete on an occasional basis for the love of competition. For Quigley, a meat eater (unlike Sullivan), a victory has always been a bonus, not the sole goal. “I’m always happy to make it to Sunday,” he said, meaning that he survived the eliminating rounds.

The 40-year-old husband and father of two is Professor Quigley by profession, a faculty member in the University of New Hampshire’s technical division. He publishes articles on lumberjacks for specialty magazines such as The American Axeman, and he has a historian’s perspective on his beloved sport.

A 260-pound giant, Quigley’s topknot is red, but he’s slow to anger. His warped sense of humor could crack up a condemned man at a hanging. Both fans and other competitors adore him.

At the 1987 world championships, after Quigley won the stock chain saw competition, he drove a van home from Wisconsin, waving all the way to strangers on the street. He cracked up his two fellow travelers—especially when they grew giddy from lack of sleep—by pretending he was king, the passersby his minions. “Hmm, population 700,” he mused. “That’s 700 more of my loyal subjects who bow down to their world champion.”

Although he’s both a serious scholar and a teacher, Quigley loves to pull his students’ chains. Kidded once too often about the poor quality of his blackboard artwork, he retaliated. Now, whenever he shows the national distribution of trees, he mystifies his class by drawing a perfect map of the United States freehand. Only he knows that he’s tracing a faint impression that he had etched on the board with a key.

In lumberjack competitions, other competitors envy Quigley’s strength and size, much as he covets Mike Sullivan’s raw athletic ability. He has some weaknesses in his chopping technique, relying too much on his upper-body strength. In the underhand block event, he pushes the ax only a little way over his head instead of extending his arms the way a Lentz or a Sullivan does. The result is that he looks less like a chopper and more like a man hacking a porcupine to death. A friend of Quigley’s confided to me, “We hope Don doesn’t learn to chop real well, because if he does, he’s going to beat us every time.”

The professor also relies too much on his upper body in the two-man crosscut event. Once both sawyers are three-quarters through the log, and the saw is down around their knees, strength is secondary to technique. The good sawyers such as Sullivan and Colbert sink down as they saw. Quigley’s job is to learn to drop his haunches as the saw moves through the wood, enabling him to get the most out of his back, shoulder, and leg muscles. “He’s always neck and neck with competitors for the first three quarters, but invariably he lets up near the bottom,” said Dick Slingerland, the craftsman who makes Quigley’s saws by hand.

One of the lessons this sport teaches is humility. Many muscle-bound men come to Hayward, thinking they’ll give the spectators a thrill. Under the tent on registration day, their bunched muscles took better in tank tops than do those of the geezers in their 40s. But invariably a veteran’s poise and savvy help him qualify on the dock, while the youngsters must either head back home or pay to see the rest of the world championships from the bleachers. In this sport, technique, timing, and a lifetime of practicing pay off in wins. An axiom often voiced here is that a chopper reaches his prime at 35.


During the qualifying rounds in Hayward, I watched amazed as many a rookie axman—some of them the most powerful men on the dock—continued to chop a full 60 or 70 seconds after the last veteran had set down his ax. Even more humiliating, while the greenhorn was wishing he could massage his aching lungs, old-timers wandered up to assess his block. With not more than a second’s studied glare at the wood carcass, these veterans analyzed the performance.

The veterans study their own blocks, too, anxious to gain even a hundredth of a second. The smart novice pays attention. The difference between first place and second is often measured in fractions of seconds. The difference between qualifying and elimination is usually a second or two. The best compliment one chopper can give another is to tell him the block of wood he’s cut now looks and feels like a baby’s bottom.

The novice chopper is easily spotted at lumberjack events. He’s the angry young man who takes out his frustration on a block of wood. Invariably, the results are misplaced hits and sorry times. Every would-be chopper needs to learn how to pull through the wood the same way a golfer pulls through a ball. The comparison between chopping and golf doesn’t end there. Both the ax and the club need to be pulled back so that the leg muscles—the strongest muscles in the body—are into each swing. In the standing block, for example, the lumberjacks who have a good rhythm and fluid motion to their swing invariably manage to qualify because their placement is perfect. Those who try to overpower the wood have a herky-jerky rhythm when their axes collide with the wood. The premise behind all chopping events is simple: A chopper needs to hit in exactly the same spot each time to make a smooth cut. The smoother the cut, the faster the ax goes through the block.

Rookies generally try to win the chopping event the way they’d try to win a 100-yard dash. Going full throttle, they try to take an ax and hit as hard as they can for as fast as they can. Worse, these men sometimes get hurt when they’ve drawn a knot-ridden piece of wood that a veteran would shrug off as unhittable. Because they end to go beyond their capabilities—“over-revving” Sullivan calls it—and try to race the men on either side of them, novices sometimes skip the ax off a knot, ruining their axes and taking divots out of their legs. In time, the neophyte learns that he’s not capable of making 30 hits in 25 seconds, and for the time accepts his limitations, making, say, a respectable 35 hits in 40 seconds. Rather than hit blindly, experienced axmen make a decision with every swing of the ax.

Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and here in Hayward, He apparently wasn’t going to share much glory with Mike Sullivan and Don Quigley.

Only one event went right for Sullivan on Sunday at the world championships. As expected, he and Colbert beat all opponents in the two-man crosscut event—including the Quigley-Dolliver duo and their blue-chalked log—with a sizzling 7.6 cut. Sullivan’s win ruined Quigley’s day. Although the professor had joked that his chances of winning were nil, he hoped that he and Dolliver could win if they drew the best log. After the event, he smiled and joked with his always the same, win or lose,” said Barrett. Unconvinced, I asked Quigley if his perpetual grin might only serve as a protective mask. “My family has a history of ulcers,” he admitted. “I have one.”

Mike Sullivan’s countenance became grimmer as the day rolled on, and it became evident that he had lost the coveted all-around trophy. He refused to consider my premise that blistering his hands with the bow saw might have hurt him. He blamed the wood instead, and credited his opponents’ skills for his loses. Melvin Lentz, swinging his ax like a pileated woodpecker on a rampage, set anew world record in the standing chop, easily whipping Sullivan. The one-man crosscut event went no better for Sullivan. Bill Miller’s saw shot through a pane of ice, leaving the field behind. When the final tallies ended, Sullivan found himself in a disappointing tie for third with young Matt Bush in overall points, behind Mark Etcheberry of Nevada and the champion, Lentz, who surpassed his father by winning a fifth all-around title.

The handshakes Sullivan and Quigley gave their betters were genuine, but defeat made the long trip back to New England even longer. Six months after the world championships, when I phoned Don Quigley to wish him a happy new year, his wife told me he wasn’t home. She said her weekend warrior lumberjack had decided to compete in New Zealand over the winter. “Mike Sullivan was already over there,” said Gloria Quigley, “and Don hoped he might run into him.”

I thanked her and hung up, hoping I’d hidden my shock. Next thing you know, I though, old Quigley will give up steamship rounds of beef and ask Mike Sullivan for his cooked noodles recipe.