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Lumberjacks to loggers

Lions volunteer Jim Perish manned the admission table for the flapjack breakfast in the Blacksmith shop during Logging Days at Buena Vista on Saturday. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 5
Lions volunteer Leroy Hill led the line flipping flapjacks in the Blacksmith shop at Buena Vista on Saturday during Logging Days. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 5
Present day logger Chuck Thomas of Bemidji shared his view of logging past, present and future during Logging Days at Buena Vista on Saturday. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 5
Mike Hanson, formerly of Shevlin, demonstrated the art of chainsaw carving during Logging Days at Buena Vista on Saturday. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 5
A small parade of horse-drawn sleighs and carriages circled Buena Vista's logging village at noontime Saturday. (Crystal Dey/Bemidji Pioneer)5 / 5

BEMIDJI -- They were wearing flannel before flannel was fashionable and yelling "Timber!" centuries before Ke$ha was born. They are loggers and they are celebrated every year at Logging Days.

The event serves as an annual reminder of the challenges ancestral loggers overcame and as a recognition for the loggers who continue the trade today. Tried and true lumberjack skills including blacksmith demonstrations, crosscut sawing and horse-powered logging are interwoven with live music, a treasure hunt and Paul Bunyan costume contest to provide an edutainment venue for anyone interested in the history of logging.

"We want to recognize the lumberjacks of the past and present," said Suzanne Thomas of Buena Vista. Thomas serves on the organization committee for Logging Days and manages the chalet at Buena Vista.

Thomas' father, Earle Dickinson, founded Logging Days in 1983, which is now held on just one day. Dickinson created the Buena Vista Logging Village where the event takes place.

Horses trotted along on snow-packed paths through the village pulling visitors on sleighs and carriages. Hooves making sounds our forefathers would recognize. In the center of the settlement sawdust was flying and a buzz was heard. A sight that would have bewildered lumberjacks of the past -- chainsaw carving.

"It's really an art, that chainsaw carving," Thomas said.

Mike Hanson brought his craft to Buena Vista from Cook, Minn. Hanson grew up in nearby Shevlin. The retired forester picked up the artform after a slew of trees were downed in his yard following a storm. Hanson can complete a sculpture in three hours. He said white pine is the best wood for carving because it's softer and doesn't crack as much.

When people were too chilled to continue watching Hanson transform a stump into a bear, they popped into the Blacksmith shop to enjoy a lumberjack favorite, flapjacks.

Bemidji Lions Club members staffed the flapjack meal in the warm and smoky Blacksmith shop. The shop served as a refuge from the single digit temperatures under a deceiving sunny sky outside.

"This year we have to specify 'above zero'. Last year it was 20 below." said Jim Perish, a Lions Club volunteer. Perish greeted people as they entered the shop.

As red and black flannel-clad folks swarmed the shop, it was apparent what inspired the legendary Paul Bunyan's attire: Lumberjacks.

"It's traditionally been red flannel. We're not too fashion conscious," Perish said.

Perish added that Logging Days is a way for all people, not only loggers, to pay tribute to those who have logged before.

"The industry has changed immensely over the years," Perish said.

Chuck Thomas, of Bemidji, has been a logger for 40 years. Thomas elaborated on some of the changes in the logging industry.

Thomas started working as a contract logger because he saw it as something that was good for the environment, wildlife and timber management. He said these days, there are standards to abide by and everything is done environmentally correct.

"I don't think we've been looked at real highly, because of what we do," Thomas said. "It's seen as killing the forest, but my family plants trees on our property, too. We try to promote our livelihood."

Thomas's sons, who are in their 30's, are also loggers. But, he doesn't foresee his grandchildren continuing the tradition.

"It's something that's getting forgotten about," Thomas said. "I'd like to see logging go on forever, but the cost doesn't support it."

Thomas explained that over time the cost to acquire and maintain machinery has increased. This change has an impact on the modern day logger, as does the cost of insurance. Also, the time and dedication it takes to be successful doesn't appeal to young people, Thomas said..

"The younger generation doesn't get it. They don't want to put in the hours," Thomas said. "There's an easier route now." Thomas said he once sat in a truck for 44 hours straight, because that's what it took to get the job done. He said that children today see Paul Bunyan as a character in our history and not as someone they could be when they grow up.

"In the overall picture of it, it's getting to be a dying breed," Thomas said.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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