Ax Men is an American reality television series that premiered on March 9, 2008 on History. The program follows the work of several logging crews in the second-growth forests of Northwestern Oregon, Washington and Montana and the rivers of Louisiana and Florida. The show highlights the dangers encountered by the loggers. Following in the footsteps of other shows from Original Productions, like Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers, the series is considered part of a recent "real-men-in-danger" television programming trend.
J.M. Browning Logging:
J.M. Browning Logging is owned by Jay Browning, a 34-year veteran of the logging industry. His left hand was torn off in a logging accident, but he now wears a prosthesis that allows him to operate a chainsaw. Jay runs his company with a "hire the best in the business and use the best equipment" philosophy. His sons Jesse and Jared work for him; Jesse is scheduled to take over the company one day. Jay Browning started his logging company in 1985. His company has been headquartered in Astoria in Clatsop County ever since.
Stump Branch Logging:
This company, owned by Melvin Lardy and based in Buxton, Oregon, eats, sleeps and breathes logging. He's been in the business for more than a decade, but recently landed a monstrous job that could be his big break - if it doesn't break him in the process. Melvin's equipment is the logger's beginner set - a collection of rusted hunks of metal that stop at a moment's notice and shut down production without warning. Melvin has always succeeded where others have failed, though, and he's hoping his luck will hold out on this job. Part of his success depends on greenhorn Michael, who's been on the job only one month. Michael is working alongside his childhood buddies at Stump Branch, but lifelong friendship won't get him anywhere when it comes to learning the logging business. Michael is catching on quickly, but this business doesn't cut anyone a break.
Pihl Logging is owned by Mike Pihl. Comments by employee Dwayne Dethlefs are often featured in promotional spots for the show; his son Dustin also works for the company. Both of them quit at the end of Season 2, with Dustin moving to Alaska in Season 4 to work for Olson Marine (see below). Pihl is based in Vernonia, Oregon.
Gustafson Logging Company is a clearcut logging company based out of Astoria, Oregon.
The company takes contracts to cut timber in Oregon's second growth forests. Gustafson Logging is currently owned by three brothers, Clay, Mark and Wade Gustafson, sons of Duane Gustafson. The company was started in 1974 by Duane Gustafson. Darrell Holthusen is the "side rod," or crew foreman.
The Pihl and Browning crews are featured in this season, along with three other companies.
S&S Aqua Logging:
Founded by Jimmy Smith in South Cle Elum, Washington, S&S recovers sunken old-growth logs from the beds of rivers that were used by earlier generations of loggers to float them downstream. The company motto is "Recovering the forests of yesterday to save the forests of tomorrow," reflecting their commitment to never cut down a live tree. His son James is active in the business, leaving to work for Collins River Logging in Season 3 and returning to S&S in Season 4.
This company, based in Port Angeles, Washington, was founded by Craig Rygaard in 1992. His sons Gabe, Jason and Burt are his business partners. Craig retires at the end of Season 6 and turns the business over to Gabe.
R&R Conner Aviation:
Ryan and Robin Conner founded this company in 2000 in Conner, Montana. They specialize in "heli-logging": using a helicopter to airlift felled trees from terrain too steep or hostile to reach with an access road. The helicopter was restored at The Pitstop Inc..
The same companies from Season 2 (Rygaard, Conner, Browning, S&S and Pihl) are featured in Season 3, which takes place during summer rather than fall/winter. Due to trouble with Washington state permits (see below), S&S relocates to White Springs, Florida and begins working with Collins River Logging. Two new crew appears alongside these five:
Swamp Man Logging:
Shelby Stanga has lived in the swamps north of New Orleans since he was nine years old, and he has been logging in the area for 37 years. He recovers abandoned logs from the nearby waterways with an ever-evolving cast of sidekicks--his dog Willy; his friends Earl, Bob, and DaVi; his cousins Jarvis and Belinda; his nieces Cheyenne and Stephanie; and his wife Donna.
Collin's River Logging:
Florida river logger Joe Collins specializes in finding preserved logs lost in mill waterways during the 1880s logging boom. He oversees a team of southern-style aqua loggers, including boat captain Steve "Uncle Buck" Livingston, young diver Patrick "Pond Bear" Swilley, deckhand Geoff "G-Dog" Dunnam and U.S. Air Force veteran diver Jess Horstman. Joining Joe's team this season are the father/son duo Jimmy and James Smith from the Washington-based S&S Aqua Logging. The company's search for treasure in the fast-flowing, pitch black waters of the Suwannee River is made even more dangerous by the venomous water snakes and huge alligators that inhabit the area.
Pihl, Browning, Rygaard, Collins, S&S, and Swamp Man appear in this season, again working the summer logging season, along with two new crews.
Papac Alaska Logging:
Headquartered in Craig, Alaska, this company was founded by Mike Papac as an offshoot of his father's Washington-based logging business. For job sites on islands, the Ketchikan, Alaska-based tugboat company Olson Marine hauls Papac's logs over the water to reach a collection point.
Lemare Lake Logging:
This company, based in British Columbia, was founded by Dave Dutcyvich in the mid-1980s and is now owned by his son Eric. They concentrate on harvesting timber from the remote islands off Canada's west coast, hauling in equipment and supplies by barge to allow them to live on the job site when necessary.
In Alaska, almost everything is on an island. And when logs need to get from the island on which they're harvested to the island on which they'll be processed, it's Olson Marine to the rescue. One of the last remaining logging tug boat companies in America, Olson is a family-run business whose playground is some of the roughest water in southeast Alaska. Owner Rick Olson has an impressive fleet of nine barges and tugboats that can each haul thousands of tons of timber as big as three football fields. But the real challenge is navigating the massive haul through a maze of jagged islands, hidden deadheads, strong currents and unpredictable weather that often springs up on a moment's notice-and making it to the mill all without losing a single log along the way.
That's the job for Olson's top crew and its tug, the Avery O. Led by captain Rodney Wills, this three-man crew spends their entire summer on the Pacific Ocean transporting million of dollars of logs day in, day out, for stints as long as long as three months at a time. Rodney, mate Dale Willis and deckhand Robert Lucero live, work, eat, sleep and breathe Olson Marine-and they have all the harrowing stories to prove it. And this year, they're adding a new guy to the crew. To succeed, this greenhorn-an old face in a new place-will need to check his ego, prove he can keep up and win over the toughest critic of all... Captain Rodney. Papac Alaska Logging is one of their clients.
Papac, Rygaard, S&S, and Swamp Man appear in this season, along with six new crews.
Big Gun Logging:
Based in Vernonia, Oregon, Big Gun is a new company started by former Pihl cutter Levi Brown. Mike Pihl, his former boss, helps the crew start out by contracting a job to them and leasing an old yarder. Later in the season, Levi leases a more powerful yarder and calls in Pihl operator Leland Bontrager to run it.
Uncle Buck Logging:
This Florida-based outfit is run by "Uncle" Buck Livingston, a Suwannee River logger who helped both S&S and Collins by killing an alligator that menaced the crews in an earlier season. He has recruited Patrick Swilley from Collins to work as his diver.
This company was started by Dan Siderius in 2009 and is based in Kalispell, Montana. His crew is younger than most others and focuses on jobs on/around rugged mountain terrain.
H.H. Horse Logging:
This company, founded by Jason Rutledge and based in Floyd County, Virginia, has been in operation for 10 years. The crew uses teams of horses to pull felled trees off job sites without the need for heavy machinery or access roads. Jason's son Jagger is the crew leader.
Wheeler Logging and Willett Logging:
These two companies operate in rural New Hampshire, using teams of oxen to pull logs off job sites. Wheeler Logging was founded by Barry Wheeler, who now runs the crew with his son Marshall; Devin and Justin Willett, Barry's nephews, formed Willett Logging to compete with them.
Rygaard, Papac, S&S, Swamp Man, Lemare Lake, and Big Gun appear in this season, which was filmed before the death of Jimmy Smith. S&S relocates to North Florida's Withlacoochee River. Jimmy and James return to Washington partway through the season, leaving Patrick Swilley and diver Brad Taylor in charge of the S&S boat. Two new crews appear in this season: Dreadknots Logging and Wisconsin Woodchuck.
This crew, headed by Clint Roberts, has been working to recover logs from the Withlacoochee for over four years. Clint's crew consists of diver Dave Stone ("The Kraken") and deckhand Chris Miller ("River Guide").Chris Miller was replaced in season 7 by Katelyn ( "cuz" ) Sims.They find logs by firing a revolver into the water and listening for difference in the echoing reports.
Based in Superior, Wisconsin, this company was formed in 2005 to salvage old-growth lumber structures so the material can be reused. Their main project is to dismantle the Globe Elevator, the largest grain storage facility in the world when it was built in the 1880s. Judy Peres and David Hozza are the co-owners.
Rygaard, Papac, Swamp Man, and the Dreadknots appear in this season, with three new crews, Kelly Oakes & Sons Logging, Chapman Logging, and Ax Cut Lumber. When Cracken was logging on the old S&S logging boat they had a lot of wood hooked. The boat was deep in the water and started sinking. The S&S aqua logging boat is now sunken.
This company, owned by Greg Chapman, has been recovering logs from Florida's rivers for 15 years and currently works the St. Johns River. Greg's crew consists of deckhand Leslie Jeter, master diver Roger Gunter, and newly hired diver Patrick Swilley (previously worked for Uncle buck logging in season 5, Collins river Logging/ S&S Logging in seasons 3 and 4, and just S&S Logging in season 6). He trained Clint Roberts when Clint was starting in the river logging business.
Kelly Oakes & Sons Logging:
This company, based in Port Angeles, Washington and owned by Kelly Oakes, has been a longtime rival of Rygaard. Kelly's sons Josh and Jacob are part of his crew.
Ax Cut Lumber:
This company, based in Pearl River, Louisiana, is owned by twin brothers Ronald and Donald Jones. They focus on recovering sunken cypress logs from remote swampland, often calling in family members (including their brother Tommy and sister Brandie) to round out the crew.
Rygaard, Papac, Dreadknots, Chapman, and Swamp Man return for this season, along with two new crews.
Owned by Dave McRae, this company has been active in British Columbia for over 30 years, logging on difficult sites that other companies either cannot or will not attempt. His sons Alec and Kellie are part of the crew.
Zitterkopf & Sons Logging:
This company, owned by David Zitterkopf, harvests timber from remote areas in the western United States. The crew, which includes his sons Zane, Ethan, and Levi, camps on the job sites.
Current and Former Cast:
Rygaard (Season 2-),
Swamp Man (Season 3-),
Papac (Season 4-),
Dreadknots (Season 6-),
Chapman (Season 7-),
Triack (Season 8-),
Zitterkopf (Season 8-)
Browning (Seasons 1-4),
Gustafson (Season 1),
Pihl (Seasons 1-4),
Stump Branch (Season 1),
Conner (Seasons 2-3),
S&S (Seasons 2-6),
Collins (Seasons 3-4),
Lemare (Seasons 4, 6),
Big Gun (Seasons 5-6),
H.H. Horse (Season 5),
Olson Marine (Season 4),
Siderius (Season 5),
Uncle Buck (Season 5),
Wheeler (Season 5),
Willett (Season 5),
Wisconsin Woodchuck (Season 6),
Ax Cut Lumber (Season 7),
Oakes (Season 7)
Back cut - A saw cut in a tree trunk, on the side away from the direction that the cutter wants it to fall. Usually done after a face cut has been made (see below); wedges can then be driven in to unbalance the tree and break it loose from the stump.
Barber chair - A situation in which a tree splits along its length/height while being cut and pivots higher than intended as it falls, the split end swinging out like a barber chair footrest. This poses a safety hazard due to the fact that this end can snap up and inflict serious injury.
Beanbagging - Throwing a weighted rope over the upper branches of a tree, then pulling on it during cutting in order to guide the tree to fall in a specific direction. The hazard is that the crew members pulling on the rope have only a few seconds to run to safety before the tree falls.
Blowdown site - An area in which large amounts of timber have been damaged by storms or high winds. Some trees may have fallen completely over, while others may lean at dangerous angles due to being uprooted.
Booger wood - A piece of worthless wood, originally said by Joe Collins of Collins River Logging.
Bucking--Cutting a fallen tree into logs of required lengths. May also refer to limbing (see below).
Bug--A transmitter used by the rigging slinger to sound horn/whistle signals on the landing as instructions for the yarder operator.
Butt rigging--Use of a heavy chain, connected to the skyline, with cables and chokers attached. Logs can be secured directly to this and hauled up to the landing along the ground.
Chaser eraser--A tangle of logs and branches hauled up by the yarder in a single turn. So named because the branches can spring out in unpredictable directions on the landing and injure a waiting chaser.
Choker--A cinching device used to secure cables onto logs so they can be hauled away from where they were cut.
Dead head--The end of a sunken log that protrudes above the surface of a river. S&S targets these logs, which have been preserved and stained by the water and find use in specialty decorative construction.
Dead man--A skyline anchor point created by digging a trench, placing several heavy logs in it, cinching a cable around them, and filling in the excavated dirt.
Downhill logging--A practice in which the landing is at the downhill end of a sloping site. Presents special challenges due to the force of gravity constantly pulling logs down the skyline once they are off the ground.
Face cut notch--A notch sawed out of a tree trunk, on the side toward which the cutter wants it to fall.
Feller buncher - A machine that can take hold of a standing tree, cut through it, and place it in a pile for later pickup. Most easily used when the site is on level ground.
Fog fan--A fan used to remove fog from an area no greater than one acre of land.
Grapple - A set of remote-controlled tongs that can be used to clamp onto a log and move it around.
Grapple logging - A practice in which a grapple is attached to the skyline and reeled down to pick up logs so they can be hauled in. Safety hazards include the unpredictable swinging of the grapple and the fact that the yarder operator typically has no direct line of sight to the logs on the ground.
Grapple skidder--A machine that picks up piles of fallen trees and carries them to the landing. Most easily used when the site is on level ground.
Greenhorn--A newly hired member of a logging crew who has little or no experience in the industry.
Hanger/Hangup--A dangerous situation in which a cut tree gets caught in a standing one and cannot fall to the ground.
Hook tender--A person who supervises the movement of logs up to the landing.
Jammer logging--A technique in which the yarder/yoader (see below) swings cables and chokers at high speed, throwing them downhill toward the rigging crew. This method was used a number of times by Stump-Branch in an effort to increase production, but the risk of injury to the crew also increased.
Knee--A portion of a cypress tree's root structure that protrudes above the surface of the swamp in which it is growing. Frequently encountered by the Ax Cut crew, they pose safety and navigation hazards.
Knife--A pivoting steel bar attached to an intermediate support tree for the skyline. Used when a single area of the job site has slopes of varying steepness; the knife is mounted near the transition point to help the carriage follow the skyline through the slope change.
Landing--Area where logs are piled up to be loaded onto trucks. Usually at the uphill end of a sloping site.
Leaner--An uprooted tree that topples against a standing one and gets caught, unable to fall to the ground; presents risks similar to those of a hanger/hangup.
Limbing/Chasing--Cutting limbs off fallen trees. Both bucking and limbing/chasing may be done before or after the logs are brought to the landing.
Loader--A machine that can pick up logs once they are on the landing and place them in piles or on trucks as needed.
Processor--A machine that can pick up logs on the landing and cut them or strip off loose bark/debris.
Prow log--Two or more logs driven vertically into the ground, so that other logs can be piled up behind them. This arrangement is sometimes used on a small landing to create more storage capacity.
Rigging--Securing logs to the skyline carriage using cables and chokers.
Rigging slinger--A person who decides the order in which logs are to be hauled up to the landing.
Shotgun logging--A method in which the yarder operator manually runs the skyline carriage up and down the hill at speeds faster than those used during normal operation. The operator has no direct line of sight to the rigging crew, creating a safety hazard for them.
Side rod--Foreman of a logging crew.
Skyline--A cable strung high above a logging site, with a motorized carriage to which logs can be attached.
Sod stretcher--A tool used to stretch sod around a corner.
Spotter--A crew member who directs the yarder operator to the location of logs when grapple logging is being performed.
Tail hold--A tree or stump that serves as the anchor point for the far end of the skyline.
Timber faller/Timber feller--A person whose primary job is to cut down trees.
Topping--Cutting the topmost section off a standing tree so it can be used as an anchor point for the skyline. Also done if the skyline runs close to the tree and has the potential to become tangled in it.
Turn--A group of logs being moved by the yarder/yoader; also, one round trip of the skyline carriage.
Twister--A pair of cables twisted together and used to anchor a skyline; provides more force than a single cable.
Upender--A situation in which chokers are attached to the downhill end of a log instead of the uphill end. When the log is reeled in, it can pivot 180 degrees with enough speed to inflict serious injury.
Widow maker--Limbs and debris that fall from a standing/leaning tree; so named because it has the potential to kill a man standing underneath it, leaving his wife as a widow.
Yarder--A machine that moves logs to the landing by reeling in the skyline carriage.
Yoader--A yarder that is also equipped with clamps to move logs around as needed once they are on the landing. Eliminates the need for a separate loader (yoader = yarder + loader).
Legal action against S&S Aqua Logging:
On 13 March 2009, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) seized more than two dozen logs that may have been illegally salvaged by S&S Aqua Logging. DNR officers served a search warrant on the company to retrieve timber they had pulled from the Hoquiam River without a permit.
Jimmy Smith, who owned and operated S&S, said on the show that the logs were worth about $10,000, according to search warrant records.
"These are valuable materials that belong to the public and this looks like theft, plain and simple. They are part of the functioning ecosystem, so removing the log would be like removing part of the bed," state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.
Accoording to Greg Hueckel, the DNR's fish and wildlife habitat programs director, "Logs provide a key function for rivers in trapping sediment, harboring insects and other food for fish, and creating pools and riffles where fish can rest." Hueckel said his agency typically grants permits to remove logs in situations where flooding causes log jams and it's unlikely that a permit would be granted for timber harvest.
Death of Jimmy Smith:
On November 1, 2012, Jimmy Smith of S&S Aqua Logging passed away due to his illness with cancer; he was 56 at the time of his death. Details of the continuation of his business are still uncertain. The sixth season's debut episode, All or Nothing, was dedicated in his memory.
Death of Bart Colantuono:
William Bart Colantuono, who appeared on season three of the show, was killed on September 18, 2013 when his helicopter crashed while attempting to lift logs in an Oregon forest. The History Channel described Colantuono's role as "a smart pilot who isn't afraid to take risks. He's been flying for a long time and views helicopter logging as a competitive sport. He competes against himself, against the machine and against the weather." Witnesses told Linn County deputies that the pilot released the logs before crashing, indicating he knew of a problem. Witnesses say they also saw a rotor separate from the copter before it flipped and crashed upside down.
The first six seasons have been released on DVD, both as individual volumes and as a box sets.
Ax Men airs in Canada on History Canada.
Ax Men airs in India on History TV18.
Ax Men aired in the United Kingdom on the local variant of the History channel, then later aired on the terrestrial Channel 5, where the title was changed to Axe Men. The latest season has returned to History.
Ax Men is currently airing in Australia on 7mate and A&E Australia.
Ax Men airs in Germany on History.
Ax Men airs in France on W9 (TV channel) and on RMC Découverte
Ax Men airs in Spain on Xplora.
Ax Men airs in Lithuania on TV6.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license