Oliver looks back, ahead to 2013 logging event


Sentinel file photo

Randy Oliver takes his turn during the 2012 competition. This year could be his last as the chair for the logging event.

There was a time when the front page of the Wrangell Sentinel was bracketed by the phrase “Founded in 1902 – Lumber capital of Alaska.”

Those days ended in the 2000s, when Silver Bay’s operation at 6 Mile Zimovia Highway shuttered its doors for good, and with the demise of the mill site came a downturn in the industry that built Wrangell – timber.

Even though the industrial side of logging is long gone in the Borough, the memory of what came from our forests still lives on in the Chuck Oliver logging show held each Fourth of July in downtown.

One local logger, Randy Oliver, has been doing it for 36 years in Wrangell and around Southeast Alaska – and has chaired the show multiple times over the past two decades, most recently last year.

The show is named for Oliver’s father who was a masterful competitor in many events from the mid-1970s forward.

“The first logging show that I remember watching with my dad was in 1975,” Oliver said. “In 1977, I competed for the first time and helped put that show on. My dad and I did this for the next 20 years or so, and I remember no matter how hard I tried, I could never beat him. I’d put up my best time and he would still beat me by a half-second or a second.”

In past decades, the show ranged over three days and 18 different events. The size and complexity of the show has lessened over the past few years to become a four-hour event at the cul-de-sac near City Dock.

Oliver added that he is thinking of slowing down a little bit because of knee injuries that require him to use medication and undergo treatment. He added that he wants to see the logging show continue and will work with the Chamber of Commerce to see that the tradition established by the show continues.

“The thing about our show in Wrangell is that, given a few more generations, none of the kids out there are even going to know what we do in this industry,” Oliver said. “I grew up in this and my dad grew up in this, but there is no forest industry left in the Tongass anymore, at all. So, I want to keep this going for the younger generation to know what we did and hope to continue to do.”

Wrangell resident Clay Hammer said he grew up doing a similar event in Washington State, before moving to Wrangell in the 1990s.

“For all practical purposes, it’s a logger’s rodeo competition where the cowboys come in and ride the broncs and get the glory while the horse does the work,” Hammer said. “With loggers it’s a different story. They’re on the ground doing the work, setting the chokers, and cutting the trees up, so this is an opportunity for the local loggers to get together and try their hand at it. I grew up in Forks, Wash. and we considered ourselves to be the logging capital of the world, so we used to have one of these every Fourth of July as well.”

In terms of Fourth of July events, already gone from the schedule are the boat races that had been scheduled to make a comeback this year – and with Oliver waiting to see about taking a step back from chairing the event, the Chamber is seeking interested volunteers to step up to help make it happen.

John Waddington, the vice president of the Chamber and co-chair of the Fourth of July events, said Oliver’s show, which was passed down from his father Chuck Oliver, has been around as long as he can remember and that the current site is probably the best the event has ever seen.

“Randy Oliver’s event, the logging show, has probably been the backbone of the Fourth and has been going on since I was a very young child,” he said. “Around the 70s they used to hold the logging events on the City Hall lawn and we used to have a pole climb right in the middle and everything went on around the pole. It’s moved around town a few times, but I believe we found a really good home for it at the cul-de-sac near City Dock.”

Waddington also added that 2012 was a banner year for the event – and that the Chamber is hoping someone will step up to the plate and take over once Oliver hangs up his chainsaw.

“Last year was an amazing success as far as participation goes,” he said. “The involvement that has come along with Randy taking over the reigns of logging event from his father, so we’re hoping that by this year we’ll have somebody who will shadow him and start learning the ropes about how it is run and what we can look forward to in order to keep it alive.”

Waddington’s wife, Cyni, is the manager of the Chamber and also a co-chair of the Fourth of July. She reiterated what John said and said that the town appreciates the effort the father-and-son duo have put in over the past decades, all while hoping that someone would step forward to fill their shoes.

“It’s been a traditional event for Wrangell that has been so important to our Fourth of July,” she added. “It’s one we want to see keep going because Randy and his dad have created quite a legacy. We want to show our appreciation and thanks for everything they have done putting it together and make sure that in the future we can have this event. We need someone to step up and chair the event.”

Oliver added that even if the show continues on for years to come, getting a good source of wood for the competition is getting harder and harder in Southeast.

“The problem we have had in the past is we can’t use buckskin logs,” he added. “It needs to be green wood and it has to be clean, which is part of the whole thing of a logging show.”

Buckskin logs are pieces of timber that have lost their outer bark.

“I’ve left a list with the US Forest Service, but it’s hard to get wood out of the Tongass,” he added. “They used to let us go get our own and pick out whatever we wanted. I need four trees or so, and one needs to be pretty big for the choker setting. Plus, we’ll keep it and use it for the next 10 years, until it rots up. The one we used last year had been around for 20 years. The wood that we need is almost like old growth and we’re not seeing that anymore.”

Anyone interested in stepping forward to work with Oliver for the logging show can contact the Chamber office at 874-3309 or Randy Oliver at 470-4888.


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