First off, they don’t have hair on the back of their necks and they aren’t giants.
Those are just two of the misconceptions that Alissa Harper knows some people have before they come to an “Axe Women Loggers of Maine” show.
“(They’re surprised) that we’re women and we’re not 300 pounds and we’re doing this,” Harper said. “Everyone’s like ‘We heard you were coming to town. We thought you would be bigger.’”
The three members of the Axe Women who made the trip to the Campbell County Fair this week are about as far removed of the image of a beard-wearing lumberjack as you can get.
But don’t let their appearance fool you. After seeing them slice up a log in 30 seconds using a super-charged chain saw or play a game of darts with axes, it’s quiet clear you don’t need a y-chromosome to cut wood.
“A lot of mothers are happy to see us out there, women being empowered doing this great sport that you think only big, burly men with hair on their neck do,” said Kat Spencer, who acts as the emcee for the show, along with tossing a few axes.
Harper, who grew up near a lumberjack show in Maine, wanted to mix up the traditional wood-cutting show. That’s why she started Axe Women this year.
“I worked for a lumberjack show for 12 years, and all these girls had come through that show. We all talked about it and we wanted to modernize it a little bit and go out on our own,” Harper said. “There’s a million lumberjacks out there, and there’s not that many lumberjill shows.”
Since forming this year, the group has toured across the United States and Canada. And the reaction to the show has been great, Spencer said.
“We get a wide variety of a crowd,” Spencer said. “It’s a heritage sport. I don’t care who you are, somewhere in your history your family had to clear land to have a farm. This is a heritage sport where everyone can relate to it.”
Spencer said they get a lot of interest from older audience member because “they remember the days when this is how they would clear timber.”
That connection to the past is on full display during the show. Spencer gives a brief lesson about the equipment they’re using, how some axes cost several thousand dollars, and the history behind the different events and how they were used to help cut and ship timber.
Or in the case of axe throwing, how it kept the loggers entertained while being stuck in the woods with nothing except axes and moonshine.
“Axe throwing is one of the easiest events to learn and the hardest to get consistent at,” Spencer said. “You can hit the bull’s-eye every now and then but can you do it every single time?”
“Michelle (Morse) and I have both won world championships in it and we still go out there and have a show where we miss two or three times,” Harper said. “But we’ll have other shows where we’ll throw four bull’s-eyes.”
You don’t have to have a strong connection to the past to appreciate the skill the group displays during their 20-minute show. Seeing an axe thrown across a field or watching someone maintain balance on a spinning log floating in water has a universal appeal.
“It’s very interesting. Very interesting,” said Will Colby, who had stopped to watch the show Thursday afternoon. “Especially the chain saw part. That takes a lot of strength and skill.”
Dave Slattery, a member of the Campbell County Fair Board, was quite pleased with the act. He had seen the Axe Women’s booth at the International Association of Fairs conference in Las Vegas and thought they would make a great addition to this year’s fair.
“I was very impressed. You don’t see this kind of thing in Gillette,” Slattery said,
“It was pretty cool,” said Logan Davis, 11, who enjoyed the axe throwing most of all.
If you go
What: Axe Women Loggers of Maine
When: Noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday
Where: Cam-plex Plaza during the Campbell County Fair
Details: The show features axe throwing, cutting competitions and log rolling. After the show, older children can get a lesson in log rolling for $10.