Mike Morrow will be competing in his 40th consecutive North Fork Mid-Sierra Loggers Jamboree July 6 and 7. The winner of the All-Around Logger title in 1998, Morrow retired from logging 17 years ago, after a 22-year career. He has not missed competing in a Jamboree since 1974.
"It's what you do in North Fork," said the 62 year-old who has lived in the town for more than 50 years. "Even those who did not work in the logging industry, compete in this event."
This year marks the 54th edition of the event.
Morrow said many people like the ax throw because participants can do it at home year-round and is relatively inexpensive. Participants stand 20 feet from a log target, and throw their ax, twirling end-over-end in an attempt to split open a can of beer in the bulls-eye. The double-bit axes are 24-inches long and weigh 2 1/2 pounds.
He says he practices about a half-hour a day for three weeks prior to the contest.
In contrast to the experienced Morrow, 25 year-old Jeff Shamblin, a mason by trade, will be competing in his third Jamboree.
"I got started two years ago with the help of Craig Pinkerton, owner of Precision Axes," Shamblin said.
Last year he was too busy with work and his only practice throwing the ax was during warm-ups, moments before the contest. This year he hopes to squeeze in about 10 hours of practice before the Jamboree.
Although he will participate in three other events, ax throwing is his favorite.
"I like the feel of throwing the ax," Shamblin said.
Shamblin and his wife Ashley have two sons, Lucas, 5, and Landon, 4.
Morrow specializes in the ax throw, double-bucking and the crowd favorite hot saw competition.
The hot saw contest features modified chain saws that run on a mix of methanol and nitro. The operator who cuts through a 30-inch log the fastest is declared the winner and it doesn't take long about 10 seconds on a good day.
"The hot saw contest is always the highlight of the day and the last event on Sunday," Morrow said.
Morrow will bring his 40 year-old, 20 horsepower McCulloch 101 chain saw to the event.
Morrow and his wife Sue, have four children Aaron, 39, Chad, 38, Brian, 37, and Jennifer, 36 and they have all competed at least once in the Jamboree. Aaron, who now lives in Oregon with his wife Bev and 12 year-old twin daughters, Madison and McKenzie, was All-Around Logger in 2003 and 2010.
This year's professional prize purse totals more than $5,000.
Morrow encourages the community to come out and see the competition.
"You'll see something you won't see in too many places we have a tree falling contest that is unique to our Jamboree where competitors use a chain saw to cut down 30-foot pole in an attempt to have it land on a beer can closest to the can wins."
Morrow said another fun event to watch is the log birling, where one logger attempts to stay on a floating log longer than his contestant.
The Pro-Am contests are made up of an amateur and pro, teaming-up to compete in four events ax throw, choker setting, stock power saw and double hand bucking. Morrow and his partners have won the Pro-Am three times.
Jim Taylor, 66, of Redding, has won the All-Around Logger title 13 times the first time in 1971, and the last one in 2004. He still makes double hand-bucking saws that are used on the Stihl Timber Sports Series seen annually on ESPN.
Other North Fork logging legends who have won multiple titles include Dyke Fink (six), current Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, Gary Azevedo and Nathan Hodges (five), and Herb Punkin (four) and Alvin McDonald (three). McDonald won the first three titles 1960 - 1962.
The logging industry in North Fork is well documented, dating back to April 1, 1943, when the first log was sawed into lumber at the new Associated Lumber and Box Co., situated on 135 acres just west of town. More than nine million board feet of lumber was cut at the mill the first year by the company with about 135 employees at the mill and loggers in the forest .
In 1968, the mill had an annual payroll of $1.2 million.
In 1992, about 84 million board feet of lumber was processed at the mill and dropped to 64 million board feet the following year under new governmental regulations for forest management.
The new restrictions and the rising costs of operating the mill began to make the mill less and less profitable. Layoffs began in 1991 and at noon on Feb. 25, 1994, the last log went through the mill.
The Loggers Jamboree started when the North Fork Boosters leased three acres of land on the South Fork of Willow Creek from PG&E for a play area for the town's children.
In 1959, PG&E decided to sell 11 acres along Willow Creek, including the community swimming hole, and the Boosters purchased the land for $2,800.
The idea of a Loggers Jamboree came from the need to pay back a loan for the purchase of the land and to make improvements to the property including a softball field and playground equipment.
The event is produced by the North Fork Boosters as a fundraiser for upkeep and operation of the North Fork Recreation Center.
This year's Jamboree Grand Marshals are Ken and Marcia Goodwin, owners of North Fork's Goodwin Lumber. The Jamboree's program is dedicated to Vince Goodwin, Ken's father, who first opened Goodwin Lumber, milling operation and retail lumber store, in May 1941, and is oldest family-owned business in North Fork. Vince passed away on Feb. 10 at the age of 99.
This year's theme for the July 6 and 7 logging event held at the North Fork Recreation Center is "From Tree to You," which was Vince Goodwin's slogan when he first opened the lumber store.
Pro-Am logging competition starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Fork Rec Center on Road 225. Following the pro-am events, the Loggers Jamboree parade down Main Street will be at 5 p.m., a 6 p.m. tri-tip dinner at Town Hall with the crowning of the Little Logger and Little Princess and dancing to the sounds of "Wheelhouse" at the 8:30 p.m. Woodchopper's Ball, along with the crowning of the jamboree queen, which goes to the girl who sells the most tickets to the Jamboree.
This year's queen contestants are Natori Hatfield, Kaylynne Moglia, Summer Bulmer and Rebecca Moisa. Running unopposed for Lil' Princess and Lil' Logger are Sundance Parra, 5, and Jonathan Bebout, 2. Hatfield, 17, will compete in the ladies Ax Throw contest Sunday.
Jamboree pre-sale tickets are $2 or $5 at the gate. Children 11 and under are free.
Major sponsors are Oakhurst's Wood Choppers Supply and Donaghy Sales (Budweiser).
Details: Cathey Thornburg, northforkboosters.com, (559) 676-7766.
54th Loggers Jamboree schedule:
Saturday, July 6:
10 a.m. North Fork Rec Center Pro-Am competition begins
Noon: Horseshoe Pitching Contest.
5 p.m. Main Street Loggers Jamboree Parade.
6 p.m. North Fork Town Hall tri-tip dinner ($10 adult, $5 children) and announcement of Little Princess and Little Logger
8:30 p.m. Woodchoppers Ball and Jamboree Queen Coronation.
Sunday, July 7
7-10 a.m. Town Hall Lions Club Pancake Breakfast
10 a.m. Rec Center gates open
Noon Rec Center Pro competition begins