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Woodsmen’s weekend a soggy affair

Dan McClelland

When the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce resurrected the old Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Field Days about 1978 and held the event at the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club for the first time it was called Mountain Men’s Days.  We remember vividly presiding over the activities with then chamber president Dick Azar. Our small chamber committee came up with things like rock throwing, tug of war, sledge hammer toss- all things you could do with a tiny budget and no heavy equipment.
The next year wemoved the event to the Tupper Lake Municipal Park with the arrival of loggers like Raymond North, Jeannel Lizotte and John Courtney whobrought their knowledge of the industry, their manpower and their machinery to the park to transform it into the woodsmen’s event we see today.  The second year it was renamed the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Days and in 1983 the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Associationformalized to host the event from there forward.
In those early days we talked at length about the best date to have this annual event.  We remember the woodsmen’s committee meeting when we came to the conclusion that the second weekend of July had to be the best pick for the greatest likelihood of good weather.
That was a great decision and it worked well for many years.  There were many years when the participants cut, chopped, rolled and skidded logs in the hottest of summer days. The horses that pulled on Sunday pulled in the driest of summer days and were wringing wet with lather when they finished.
There were a few years during the 1990s and 2000s when rain came on Sunday, but Saturday, which is always the biggest day of the weekend, was spared.
But never has there been two days of Woodsmen’s that both saw rain and storms.
This year represents the worst year, weather wise, that Woodsmen’s Days organizers ever faced.  Saturday was almost a washout although some activities in late afternoon were spared.
The Friday evening Woodsmen’s dinner hosted this year for the first time by the officers and volunteers of the VFW Post 3120 outdoors at the park was spared.  The veterans and their friends served about 160 chicken dinners and plenty of cold beer.  Rain arrived shortly after 9p.m. forcing Tupper Lake’s Morning Band people (Emily Mitchell, Mark Pratico, Cody Reandeau, et al) to pack up their equipment.  The crowd also quickly headed for cover.
The introduction by the post of a roaming beverage card was a wonderful idea, and had the weather cooperated it would have seen some business.
Organizers of the event hoped the storms that were headed our way would somehow avoid our community but they didn’t.  A heavy rainfall overnight had everyone on edge early Saturday morning.
The municipal park grounds were soaked, butthe event was okay if that was the end of the rain.
The organizers of Tupper Lake’s biggest event weren’t that lucky.
About 9:45a.m.- 45 minutes before the start of the Woodsmen’s Parade- the thunderstorms rolled from the west into the park and down it came.
The marchers and float riders who were in line at the town hall for the procession- if they couldn’t find cover- were soaked.
Parade Chairwoman Amanda Lizotte held her cool amazingly.  She and her colleague-  Laurie Mitchell- made several trips to the judges’ stand to announce that several of the organizations were pulling their floats out and the two bands hired by the committee probably weren’t going to be able to march.
At 10a.m. there was hardly a soul on Demars Blvd.  A couple of little girls with umbrellas in hand stood out near ATS Auto Parts.
Amanda and Laurie were waiting for the village patrol car to lead the parade, but all the available officers were at posts on and around the Park Street hill, trying to move traffic around the washed out and flooded sections.
With the patrol car’s arrival the parade began about 10:20a.m.  It was amazing the number of parade participants who stayed and paraded. There were only a couple of floats that were ruined by the rainpulled out, but by and large everyone who came to join the parade navigated the soggy parade route riding or walking or whatever.  The Norwood Fire Department Brass Band and the Elgin Pipe Band marched and played as they were hired to do. Some of the people who would have ordinarily marched took shelter in vehicles.  Their participation in the wettest parade on record speaks volumes of the determined people we are in Tupper Lake and the North Country.
There was a hiatus in the rain after the parade and into the afternoon but a couple of heavy rains midway through afternoon temporarily closed things down.  By late afternoon things had resumed to a great extent.
Organizers told us Saturday how pleased they were by the number of people who came that day, despite the nasty.
Mother Nature smiled on the evening games which went off as planned.  The crowd was about half the normal one- but very good considering the day’s weather. Participants and teams were lighter than usual.
Team Dozer, which was founded by the Skiff brothers,  didn’t get to ring the bell this year, as it has done on the grease pole for many years. Apparently the pole was too tall this year for the five climbers to reach the bell.
The crowd loved the action created by the climber and the teams of tuggers anyway.
Sunday’s crowd was light, given the on and off drizzle throughout he day.  Some folks did come out.
Many of those who did get to witness the destruction of a huge pile of limbs and timbers that were loaded into Paul Mitchell Logging’s big grinder and ground into dark chips which were conveyor-lifted into an awaiting chip truck were impressed, as we were.  It was a great demonstration of the kind of technology availableto modern loggers today.
The demonstration was an excellent addition to this year’s show.
The monster trucks were back, roaring and spinning around the performing area and occasionally leaping up and over a pile of wrecked cars.  No matter how many times you’ve seen the trucks perform, their sheer size and power is always amazing.
The heavy equipment contests that traditionally are held on both days were cut from three to one because of the poor field conditions.  The loader contest was held and Scott Lizotte claimed the best time and first place by moving the blocks of wood in three minutes, 20.71 seconds.  Second place went to Woodsmen’s Days President Buck North with a loading time of three minutes, 56.78 seconds.  Association Treasurer Neilson Snye was the third best loader man with his time of 4:43.81.
Scott won the operator of the year award for his best loader time.
Although the team event was held Saturday, the skidding and truck driving contests slated for Sunday were nixed because of the soggy field conditions. Organizers worried the skidders would dig deep ruts in the park’s terrain, given the wet conditions.  They were going to try to run the truck contest on the firemen’s strip until they realized planting the course markers would damage the asphalt.
The only group that didn’t seem interrupted by the weather were the dozen or so chainsaw carvers, who continued their work under tents, creating some impressive pieces.  Auctioneer Jon Kopp was able to squeeze in the auctioning of carvingsboth days.
The 2016 Woodsmen’s Days had to have been a very disappointing one for the Association executive (President Buck North, Vice President Amanda Lizotte, Treasurer Neilson Snye and Director Ben North) and their volunteers who work hard every year staging the big show.  Financially, the association must be hurting. To have two bad days in the middle of July is rare here, but it happened.
Fingers are already being crossed for better weather next July when Tupper Lake will again showcase its lumbering heritage through the work of the Tupper Lake Woodsmen’s Association.  The association leaders already have a couple of good plans for next year to return some of the traditional lumberjack activities to the event.  There’ll be more about that in the months to come.
Kudos to all who slogged through two very soggy days here to present another Woodsmen’s Days for residents and visitors here to enjoy.
-Dan McClelland