Lumberjack show brings alive state’s logging past

By Jared Gendron 

One Sunday in early June, a Massachusetts family of eight arrived at the Great Maine Lumberjack Show. Family members had on matching red-and-black checkered shirts and shoes for their upcoming wood-cutting lesson.

“Timber” Tina Scheer was astonished at the sight of the Weltons all clad in lumberjack attire. Plus, the fact they had traveled more than five hours from Tewksbury, Mass., to spend the day learning how to cut wood at her show about 10 minutes east of Ellsworth on Route 3. 

“They looked like lumberjacks,” the Great Maine Lumberjack Show founder recalled. “They told me they came the year before during the pandemic … I said, ‘What else are you guys doing while you’re on vacation here?’ They said, ‘We just came to do this.’ … I was really touched.”

Since 1996, Scheer has taught thousands of visitors about the nation’s logging industry and its rich history. As the nightly show’s emcee, Scheer explains what logging methods her lumberjacks and jills are demonstrating. For an hour and 15 minutes, the athletes compete against each other chopping wood, climbing poles and log rolling.

Scheer grew up chopping, log-rolling and cross-cut sawing in her hometown of Hayward, Wis. Like the Weltons, Scheer is one of seven children. At age 8, she would wake early summer mornings and walk 3 miles on the town highway to log roll at the Lumberjack Bowl. The horseshoe-shaped waterbody is used for the log-rolling competition in the Lumberjack World Championships held annually in Hayward. The international timber sports competition debuted there in 1960 (the year Scheer was born). The event is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious timber sports tournaments.

American lumberjack sports date back to the 1950s. They began as small backyard woodchopping competitions. Over the years, these grassroots contests found greater global attention, eventually attracting world-class athletes.

Scheer was in her early teens when she started competing. She remembers being invited to log roll at an apple harvest festival.

“As a young teenage girl, I just thought, ‘This is the greatest thing in the world! I get to travel to stand on floating wood in water and meet friends and travel the world.’”

Starting in 1979, Scheer began co-hosting, with her brother, the Scheer family’s Lumberjack Show. Over a decade later, she struck out on her own. In 1996, she moved to New England, settling in the Pine Tree State to plant the seeds for her own show. Maine is at the heart of the nation’s logging history. By the 1830s, the state’s city of Bangor had become the world’s premier lumber shipping port — thanks to its location on the Penobscot River. In only four years, the river city’s modest population of 2,800 nearly tripled to 8,000 because of the booming trade business. 

“I felt it only appropriate that if I was going to go off on my own, I would pick my own area to go to,” Scheer said, citing her favorite lumberjack, Paul Bunyan, as inspiration for her decision. “If Maine’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.” 

The woodswoman asserts that Bunyan was born in Maine and traveled to Wisconsin, settling the argument of the folkloric figure’s much debated origins.

Scheer has devoted her life to timber sports and entertainment. During her career spanning 50 years, she has traveled to competitions as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Alaska. She has also appeared as a contestant or guest on television programs on National Geographic, The Weather Channel and Travel Channel. She also has participated in shows including the 12th season of “Survivor” and a recent episode from the third season of “Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted.”

As an entertainer, Scheer advocates tirelessly for women’s representation in timber sports. As a mentor, she also encourages female athletes to compete in the sport. In 1997, she founded the first all-women’s traveling show, the World Champion Lumberjills.

On a recent June morning, the lumberjill welcomed roughly 60 people for a pre-season show exhibition. The crowd cheered for 23-year-old lumberjack Dylan Kelley and Jordan Camber, 28, as they competed against each other, displaying strength, precision and dexterity.

In the wood-chopping contest, both men stood atop large logs, gripping 6-pound axes and wearing steel-toed boots. Each flung his ax high up in the air and then down, cracking and splitting in half the log. Next, the duo each took an end of a long, sharp-toothed saw to cut a piece of timber in half; Scheer yelled “TIMBER” every time chunks fell to the ground.

As the two lumberjacks performed in sweltering heat, Timber Tina’s voice boomed out across the stands, telling jokes and tidbits from logging lore. She recounted how the Penobscot River was used as a roadway to transport timber to the coast. There, it was transferred to coastal schooners bound for Boston and beyond. She told how log drivers would nimbly move between the floating timber, using iron peaveys to guide the timber, and prevent it from jamming, as it moved downstream. In the woods, way back when, it was punishable by death to cut down trees that been reserved and branded for Great Britain’s queen.

In a later event, the two men competed in something akin to a woodsmen’s version of Jenga; the two used a chainsaw to slice disks (“cookies”) from an upright timber, trying to cut as many as possible without letting the top pieces fall. Next, the two then grasped a rope, hooked belts to their waists and raced to the top of 50-foot trees. Finally, the lumberjacks duked it out in log rolling. Lasting from 10 seconds to one minute, they teetered on a Western red cedar log — the most buoyant timber available — in a big water tank. They used their feet to kick water at each other in hopes of causing the other to fall. 

Following the exhibition, visitors walked on stage to take a stab at two-person sawing — with professional supervision, of course. The rule is to pull, never push.

After the show, one of the Lumberjack Show’s former performers, Ethan Blake, caught up with Scheer. The 30-year-old U.S. Army recruiter recalled how his mother suggested contacting the lumberjill for a summer job in 2016. Over the phone, he told Scheer how much he had loved her show as a kid and asked if she needed more lumberjacks. A moment later, he was on his way over to Trenton.

“I get out of the car, she looks me up and down and says to me, ‘You’re a climber,’” Blake said. “Next thing you know, I was here 10 minutes, and I already had the climbing gaffs on my feet. I was half-way up this tree.” For four summers, Blake performed as a lumberjack. In addition to enjoying the sport, he also became part of Scheer’s extended family.

“I would say this [show] is the hidden gem, in a way,” Blake said. “It’s not something you come to Maine and traditionally think about. But there’s so much history that this is more like a live history lesson … People come here, they learn something and get some laughs out of it.”

The Great Maine Lumberjack Show runs from June 19 to Aug. 29, but the season may be extended. Shows are at 7 p.m. daily. Individual and group lessons are available too. Tickets are available at mainelumberjack.com. For more info, call 266-5486 or email info@mainelumberjack.