FRYEBURG — David Clement and Don Winslow leaned forward slightly in their chairs from the announcers’ box in the grandstand, overlooking the woodsmen about to burst into action upon their countdown. 

It’s a view they shared together at the annual Saco Valley Woodsmen’s Field Day — a host of chopping, sawing and ax-throwing competitions, showcasing the region’s historic connection to the woods. The events has been held at the Fryeburg Fair for over four decades.  

“We’ve seen it change over the years, but it’s always been fun,” Clement said. 

Now in its 47th year, the event attracted thousands of spectators, “oohing” and “aahing” as the chips flew. An estimated 5,000 people packed into the grandstands to watch the day’s signature event, with almost as many lining the fence, stretching 100 yards.

Appreciative competitors said the crowd size makes Fryeburg special. Between the traditional events featuring historic hand tools and large modern logging equipment, over 170 registrants from New England and Canada vied for the $33,000 in overall prize money. 

As competitions go, Fryeburg is immense, said New Gloucester resident and veteran woodsman Laurette Russell.  

“This is crazy — these people are crazy,” Russell said. “Some of them have been lined up since 5 a.m. this morning. This is the largest crowd event we’ll see anywhere.”

Organizers take those expectations to heart: an estimated $7,000 was spent on 155 huge square pine logs and lumber used in the show. More than 100 volunteers make the day possible, according to Chairman Toby Hammond.   

Wood quality can make or break a chop. Poised for the resounding ‘go!’ from the public address system was veteran woodsman Donald Lambert of Saint-Gilles, Quebec, two-handed saw in hand, shoulders squared and feet braced to burst into action. 

“You have to be ready, have to have the aptitude and you have to have the right wood,” Lambert said moments later. 

Youth and strength, however, only go so far.

According to Lambert, in a competition where one-tenth of a second separates athletes — whether rolling a 1,500-pound tree down a short track or hitting a bull’s-eye with an ax thrown overhand — skill is as important as brute force.

Like many of the day’s competitors, Lambert grew up around logging as a trade before making his way into the sport. 

The advice sounds like sage wisdom. Just before the Fryeburg Fair, he set a new world record in New Hampshire. 

Representing a newer generation, 25-year-old Trevor Beaudry of Walpole, N.H., started not in the backwoods, but on a college campus. 

“In the U.S., you don’t find a bigger crowd,” Beaudry said. “It’s always amazing to compete here.” 

The fair continues through to Sunday, with horse pulling and harness racing on Tuesday. 


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