Peg Engasser of Cortland NY rips through timber with a crosscut saw during the NYS Lumberjack Association competition Aug. 3 at Mountain Days Festival in Stony Creek. In the mid-2000s, Engasser was the reigning World Champion in underhand wood chopping, and she remains one of the top competitors internationally in several timber-sports events. Manning the other end of Engasser’s crosscut saw is Tracie Henning.
During a break in a timber-sports competition at the Mountain Days Festival Aug. 3, lumberjack Jerry Gingras of Errol, N. H. leaned against the tailgate of his pickup truck. He wiped the blade of his bowsaw with WD40, removing pine-pitch residue so the blade would glide through timber with a minimum of friction during a lumberjack competition.
This is phenomenal wood today,” he remarked to his fellow lumberjack Mike Eash of Coatesville, Pa. “It has just the right amount of moisture, and it’s uniform.”
Earlier, Gingras had scored the shortest time in the first round of a “hot saw” competition, in which souped-up chainsaws rip through 10”x10” pulp wood several times.
Sunday’s five-hour timber-sports showdown at Mountain Days was a sanctioned competition of the New York State Lumberjacks Association — a popular annual feature of Mountain Days. This year, lumberjacks from as far away as Switzerland competed.
It’s not as if Gingras had to prove anything at Mountain Days. He holds a few world records with his chainsaw, as well as setting a record this year at the Boonville NY Woodsmen’s Field Days. At 43 years old, he’s been competing for 31 years.
Unlike some of the other competitors, his chainsaw wasn’t powered by a motorcycle engine — it’s a Husqvarna with its stock 9.2 horsepower engine with its cylinder bored out and otherwise modified to yield 36 horsepower. Like dragsters, the modified saw is powered by nitromethane.
Gingras has competed in a dozen northeastern U.S. states as well as in Canada, sometimes competing in several lumberjack competitions in a weekend — occasionally sleeping in his truck cab between shows. Saturday, he had driven six hours from Cherry Springs, Pa. to compete in Stony Creek.
Nearby, Chris Henning of Walworth, N.Y. watched other timber-sports athletes on the field rip through timber with crosscut saws, the kind lumberjacks used 140 years ago to fell giant trees in the Adirondacks. He’s a competitor across the northeast U.S. In the 2014 Lumberjack World Championships held recently in Hayward Wisc., he placed fourth in underhand chop and sixth in the crosscut saw event.
Gazing at the horizon, Henning offered his thoughts.
“I love the Adirondacks,” he said, commenting that in his younger days he spent summers climbing the high peaks and backpacking in the Thirteen Ponds Wilderness. “It’s awesome here.”
About 30 feet away, Peg Engasser of Cortland NY was preparing her crosscut saw for a round of competition. She came in fifth in the women’s bucksaw in the 2014 Lumberjack World Championships. In the mid-2000s, she was the reigning world champion in women’s underhand wood chopping. Also, a decade ago she was a member of the U.S. National Lumberjack team, competing in New Zealand and Australia as well as in the U.S. and Canada. Engasser now competes all over the northeast U.S. with her husband Dave Engasser, who she met many years ago in timber-sports competition.
She said that traveling many miles jointly to one competition to another, their love blossomed, leading to their marriage.
“We travelled all over together — it was close quarters in his truck cab,” she recalled with a grin. “It was truly ‘lumberjack love.’”
Engasser, Henning and Gingras were three of several dozen professional and semi-pro timber-sports athletes who put their world-class skills to the test in the timber-sports events at Mountain Days. The lead judge and local organizer for the competition — which provided suspenseful moments and plenty of action, was Jake Bederian of Warrensburg.
Also featured at Mountain Days was an encampment of re-enactors portraying the 35th Regiment of Foot, demonstrating the customs of cooking, crafts and weaponry of soldiers centuries ago.
Luisa Sherman and her husband Kevin were among a dozen or so of the history enthusiasts in 1750s garb camping out for three days, using weapons and implements similar to those colonial soldiers and their family members used 250 years ago in encampments at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War.
“Over the weekend, people have been very interested in what we’re doing because it’s local history,” Luisa Sherman said as she brushed hot coals off her iron-pot oven in a smoldering fire, uncovering savory molasses cake she had baked.
Not far away on the town field, Sue Hunter helped hundreds of people find various volumes in a book sale conducted by the Stony Creek Library.
“Our sale is as hot as those lumberjacks’ chain saws,” she quipped. “There’s no question, books are still in style!”
Nearby, dozens of crafters and vendors displayed and sold their goods. Featured was Ken Raisner of Stony Creek, who hand carves and paints songbirds of the northeastern New York in intricate authentic detail.
Also under the tent was Laura Moore with an interactive river simulator, demonstrating the causes and effects of erosion. The erosion simulator was supplied by the Warren County Soil & Water Conservation District.
“Kids here are learning why road culverts need to be adequately sized,” she said as rushing water in the simulator swept away sand supporting a miniature roadway. Her husband Dean Moore was nearby in the creek bordering the town park, showing children the wildlife in the waterway.
Not far away, Mountain Days organizer Rhonda Thomas surveyed the crowd as two woodsmen threw axes repeatedly at a target’s bulls-eye in a suspenseful, lengthy showdown.
“This weekend has been phenomenal,” she said. “The lumberjacks’ competition particularly has attracted quite a crowd.”