DARBY – Some festivals are deeply rooted in a community and its history. In Stevensville, for example, Western Heritage Days and the Creamery Picnic are authentic celebrations of the town’s past.
Darby Logger Days is all that, and something more. Barbara Liss has been on the organizing committee for 12 of the event’s 13 years, and she said it was started by people who worked in the woods, who wanted to showcase the specialized skills and to highlight the history of the profession.
“As the logging died away,” Liss recalled, “the group felt it was important to keep the skills and history alive, so we don’t forget our heritage.” Thus, it is also a celebration of a particular lifestyle and profession.
It’s also a blast.
The annual event will take place in Darby on Friday and Saturday, July 18-19, and where else can you go to see axes flying through the air to stick in a bullseye; log-rolling, pole-climbing, log-chopping, and crosscut saw competitions, and chainsaws roaring through logs, timed to the hundredth of a second?
It’s not just fun and games, as the Friday night logger relay has a $1,000 purse – but mostly, it’s fun and games.
For instance, the Ma and Pa race starts with a couple in bed, who must then lace on a pair of logging boots, push each other in a wheelbarrow, and saw off the end of a log with a two-man – er, a his ‘n hers – crosscut saw. They then have to unlace their boots, and the timer clicks the stopwatch when they fall back into bed.
There are several other events that almost always end up with someone in the water, but in the July heat, nobody’s complaining, and frequently even the winner gets dunked as well.
That’s the family-fun atmosphere that exemplifies the Friday night events, which culminate with a dance from 8 p.m. until midnight, featuring the Tom Cats.
Saturday starts out with a 9 a.m. parade through town. After the parade, things get a bit more serious. Professionals who follow the logging circuit the same way that cowboys follow the rodeos, will pick up their souped-up chainsaws and make the chips fly, with logging sports running from 11 a.m. through about 6 p.m. Chainsaws, axes, and crosscut saws will all be making chips fly as loggers saw “cookies” from logs, drop poles for accuracy, and set chokers for a cheering crowd.
Competitors arrive from all over the U.S., particularly the west coast, and some have even traveled from Australia to participate, according to Liss. They appreciate that the event is a town-wide celebration, held within walking distance of town, not at a remote site, and they love the big crowds, “a couple thousand” over the weekend, Liss estimated.
Though most contestants are traveling the circuit, some are locals, and the crowd lets them know they’re appreciated. Liss also pointed out that women compete as well, and they are “amazing to watch.”
Kids are a big part of Darby Logger Days, with a whole series of events especially for them. Friday features a choker race, a tug-of-war, and boxing on a log floating in a large tank. Signups start at 6 p.m. Friday, and at 11 a.m. for Saturday’s events. Saturday features everything from firewood stacking to watermelon eating, and a sawdust-pile treasure hunt, with silver dollars and other goodies buried in sawdust.
Kids can also register for a bike drawing, in which eight bicycles are given away in a 4 p.m. drawing.
For details on kids competitions, and a full schedule of events, visit the website at www.darbyloggerdays.com.
Saturday’s events culminate with another dance, again from 8 p.m. until midnight, with Mark Dubois and the Crossroads Band.
Entry is $15 for the works, or just $5 for the dances, after 8 p.m. on Friday or 6 p.m. on Saturday. Kids under 12 are free, when accompanied by an adult.
Liss noted that the competition site includes a large tent for shade, and that vendors are on hand to satisfy basic food and drink needs. Though there’s parking on-site, she also pointed out that many people enjoy parking in town and walking up to the Logger Days site. Food and drink are always available in town as well – including strawberry shortcake at the annual Darby Strawberry Day fundraiser in the park, benefitting the volunteer fire department.
Volunteers are still needed for the event. Liss notes that setup and cleanup are huge tasks, but logging outfits from the valley and Missoula donate the use of some heavy equipment to help with the heavy lifting. A small army of volunteers are required for the competitions; anyone interested in volunteering as a timer or other positions can contact Erin Krueger at 369-0432.
Darby Logger Days is produced as a self-sustaining event, but any profits go into maintaining the grounds, and the Darby Veterans Memorial.