<
>

The old days

Tommy Sanders (left) announces a STIHL TIMBERSPORTS event alongside John Hughes. STIHL TIMBERSPORTS

Tommy Sanders, who has been hosting the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS television on ESPN2 since 1990, takes a look back as a part of ST.com's coverage of the 25th Anniversary of STIHL TIMBERSPORTS.

I started working on the STIHL TIMBERSPORTS Series the same year I began working on the ESPN Outdoors Saturday morning programming block, in 1990.

The Series in those days was a bit like a traveling circus, or a gypsy caravan. We would hit sometimes six or seven different locations to tape shows in the summer.

What we were doing was following the world's best lumberjacks to these county fairs and lumberjack days celebrations that had been going on in these localities for decades. Sometimes we'd be in small towns, sometimes in really small towns.

Each place had its own set of traditions and ways of doing things that were hard to catch on to for outsiders like us. And when we would set up cameras to record the proceedings, we would often be reminded that we were, indeed, the outsiders -- and that we were messing things up.

The first show I went to was in Mt. Shasta, Calif. The arena was small, on a hillside overlooking a brilliant vista of Northern California mountains. The chopping and sawing stands were set up inside a circle of logs laid on the ground.

The spectators would come and sit on the logs and watch the show. When the first tripod and camera was set up inside the circle, the hollering began. "Hey, Bud -- we can't see back here. Down in front!" There was, of course, no place for us to move and still get the shots we needed. Painful, but it made us a more resourceful bunch in the end. We learned where to rent scaffolding everywhere we went.

Each of these local shows would have a unique specialty event, as well. One place would throw in a round of "Businessman's Axe Throw" in between professional heats. This helped us to improve our awareness of random, razor sharp projectiles while doing our jobs.

But, mostly, these bits of local color only added to the shows and the overall charm of this unique sport. We remember them fondly, from the season championships held in the infield of the stock car racing track at the New Hampshire State Fair (during races) to dusty rodeo arenas in California to actually sitting and calling the action from a card table and two folding chairs on top of a hamburger stand at another west coast stop.

Towns like Webster Springs, W.Va., Nelsonville, Ohio, Boonville, N.Y., Cherry Springs, Penn., McCloud, Calif., London, Ky., and dozens of others were special places where working folks who usually had at least one family member working in the woods would show up in droves to cheer the local favorites and the big guns from out of town.

Later on, in the late 1990s, the TV show got more popular and the demand to see the stars in action started to spread. We found ourselves in places like the middle of downtown Reno, Nev., right under the "Biggest Little City" arch, with the street blocked off and the sidewalks jammed with cheering fans at 10 p.m. on a desert night.

To stand near the stage in the amphitheater at Silver Dollar City in Missouri and listen to thousands stand and holler for the likes of Jason Wynyard or Harry Burnsworth certainly made the whole deal seem a lot bigger.

Today the stars come from all over the world to compete in the series. And we see the huge crowds not only here, but in places like Ireland, Switzerland and Germany. But we'll never forget the folks at the county fairs and "Loggers Jamborees" in the little towns in timber country. That was fun stuff.