Logging memories at Amboy

Territorial Days draws a crowd to appreciate skill of timber workers

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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AMBOY -- Ben Clark stood to the side of the obstacle course at Amboy Territorial Days Park, an enthusiastic observer cheering his fellow competitors as they raced three across with 40-foot-long cables in their hands.

The voices of Clark and a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, on the hill overlooking the course soared with delight as the "choker set" contestants jumped three logs, looped the cable around a fourth log raised on wooden platforms and sprinted back toward the starting line.

"This is just like being in the woods," said Clark, a 27-year-old from Sheridan, Ore., who started logging when he was 17. "It's part of what you do."

The Saturday edition of the annual Amboy Territorial Days, which has existed more than 50 years, offered locals and out-of-towners an opportunity to celebrate the area's logging roots -- an industry in which human labor, in many cases, has been replaced by machines. Territorial Days lasts from Friday until today, with souped-up lawnmower races starting at noon at Amboy Territorial Park, 2140 N.E. 399th St.

Attendance for the 52nd annual Amboy Log Show on Saturday was the highest in the past 15 years, estimated Michael Brown, who has organized the show since 1998. The event also featured a live music stage, food and drink and abundant sunshine.

"It's part of the heritage of what founded this part of the county," Brown said of Saturday's contests, noting they meant a great deal to him because he came from a logging family and worked in the woods for seven years himself.

Besides endorsing community and regional pride, the event raises the vast majority of the up to $20,000 needed to run the park each year, Brown added.

Saturday's events included power sawing, pole climbing and an ax throw, among others. The choker set required the skills necessary to use the choker cable to hold logs securely while pulling them through the woods.

Whereas around three decades ago, 80 to 90 percent of the area's men worked in the woods, that number has dropped to between 10 and 20 percent, Brown said. The advent of machines that do the work more safely has pushed out human workers.

Men who once would have worked in Amboy now go to Vancouver to work in other professions.

The benefits were not good, days off and retirement savings were non-existent, and it was not a question of if he would get hurt logging but when and how, said Stan Sawyer, 52, a lifelong Amboy resident, explaining why he left his family trade.

Sawyer watched intently as four of his grandchildren participated in the choker set races. Speed, youth and fitness were the keys to the event, he said.

In addition to watching his grandkids, Sawyer encountered old friends he had not seen since last year.

"It's also kind of like a class reunion," he said. "Some of the people I know I only see them one day each year -- Territorial Days."

Tasha Bundy, 28, of Molalla, Ore., also came for the camaraderie -- her father, husband, brother and son attended.

She competed in a log-sawing competition for her first Territorial Days experience. The crowd surprised her.

"I thought there would just be a few people and the family members of the people (competing) but there's a lot of people here," she observed.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend;http://twitter.com/col_smallcities;ray.legendre@columbian.com.