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Lumberjack act a fair favorite, year after year

  • Author: Beth Bragg
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 29, 2014

PALMER -- Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Two lumberjacks walk into the SBS Wood Lot at the Alaska State Fair, where one beats the other at a contest involving a chain saw. The defeated man protests that his opponent is a cheater.

"These things run on alcohol, right?"


"Well, Bobby drank all my fuel last night."

Cut to another contest, something involving chopping, sawing, ax throwing, log rolling or tree climbing. Again, Bobby is the winner and again, the loser protests loudly.

"Bobby is a no-good, dirty, rotten, snake-in-the-grass, moose-turd-eating thief."

Bobby waits half a beat. "I am not a thief!" he says with perfect timing.

Spectators at Fred Scheer's Lumberjack Show could probably shout out the punch lines before they hear them, so often has the show played in Alaska and so loyal are its fans. But instead they wait for the familiar jokes and applaud them insanely.

No hecklers in this crowd -- maybe because the entertainers are flannel-wearing, blue-collar types whose props are sharp, dangerous objects handled with extraordinary expertise.

The lumberjack show is as much a part of the fair as giant cabbages and decadent cream puffs. It runs three times a day, rain or shine, all 12 days of the fair. Three sets of bleachers hold 300 people each, and they're always at least half full, if not jam-packed.

Estimating conservatively, about 10,000 people see the show each year. Tina Scheer, this year's master of ceremonies, says the show has been coming to Alaska for more than 20 years, maybe as many as 25.

That's a lot of yo hos.

"Highlight of the fair," a spectator said as he shook the hand of lumberjack Marvin Weeks after an afternoon show earlier this week.

The show is ideal fair fare. The jokes aren't blue enough to make anyone blush, the action is plentiful and the breaks between demonstrations of lumberjack skills are educational and entertaining -- Scheer engages the audience by dropping lumberjack knowledge and exchanging one-liners with the guys.

Best of all, it's interactive, beginning with the welcoming cry of "Yo ho!" -- the signature yell of the lumberyard, hollered throughout the show by lumberjacks and spectators alike. Each of three lumberjacks represents a set of bleachers -- Camp Palmer, Camp Wasilla, Camp Anchorage -- providing fans with someone to cheer or boo when the men compete in things like speed climbing, ax throwing and log rolling.

Weeks, 38, has spent 15 years with the show and gets why so many Alaskans make it part of their fair experience.

"Everyone can relate to cutting a piece of wood," he said, "and everyone has seen or used a chain saw. The older generation has maybe used these skills, and the kids love the non-stop excitement, the loud noises, the racing up 50-foot trees, the sharp axes. And they like the competition of us going head to head."

Weeks is working the Alaska show for the first time in 11 years. He said it's a coveted assignment.

"Everyone wants to come up to Alaska," he said. "These are the most passionate crowds we see."

Weeks grew up playing hockey in Canada and didn't start lumberjacking until he joined a college club in Nova Scotia. The other two men working this year's fair grew up around the sport. Sam Fenton, 26, of Waupaca, Wisconsin, won the novice men's underhand chopping championship at the 2013 world lumberjack championships (and his mom Linda was the Iditarod's 2013 Teacher on the Trail), and Bobby Berg, 31, of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, placed seventh in the 60-foot speed climbing competition at the 2011 world championships.

Scheer, 53, has the most impressive resume of them all. She grew up in Hayward, Wisconsin, the sixth and last child in a famous lumberjacking family. She lives in Maine now and is successful businesswoman in a male-dominated world -- she's the owner of the Great Maine Lumberjack Show and Timber Tina's World Champion Lumberjills. She's a veteran of several reality TV shows, including "Survivor: Panama" and last year's "Ultimate Survival Alaska."

Scheer took a break from her own shows to work the Alaska show. Her brother, Fred Scheer, runs a couple of shows that are permanently based in Wisconsin, but he recently sold most of his road-show business.

"He sold his road show but kept the Alaska State Fair," she said.

Asked why, she responded with a nice, loud "Duh!"

"We love it here," she added. "I cannot tell you how many people have come up after each show to say 'We wouldn't miss this.'"

One of those people was a young woman with a baby in her arms who told Scheer she grew up watching the lumberjacks at the fair. That's three generations of fans, Scheer noted.

She said it's unusual for the same show to come to the same fair or festival year after year after year. "A two-year gig is good," she said. "Three years in a row is amazing, because people coming to a fair want to see new things."

But something about the lumberjack show clicks with Alaskans. The display of talent is part of it, Scheer thinks, and so is "our bawdy humor" -- the familiar jokes are mandatory, Scheer said, because "you can only chop a log one way." And so they tell jokes that everyone knows the punch lines to.

"We don't change the show," Scheer said, "and people tell us they don't want it to change."

Contact Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.

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