Back in Time: As easy as falling off a log

Logrolling on July 4, 1911 in Stillwater. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

BY BRENT PETERSON
GAZETTE COLUMNIST

Over the course of the lumber era in the St. Croix Valley, millions of logs traveled to their final destination using the current of the St. Croix River. The men that had to make sure they arrived at their destination where strong, brave lumberjacks who had to learn to jump from one log to another during those majestic log drives. They would also have to balance and learn to spin the logs. This led to competitions and the sport of “birling,” or logrolling.

Logrolling competitions became so fierce that the first logrolling National Championship was held in Nebraska in 1898. Thomas Fleming won the first championship and later that year competed in the July 4 logrolling contests in Stillwater. He came in second in the first contest and won the second.

The championships were moved several times including to Tipperary Park near St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin for the 1928 championships, then to Escanaba, Michigan and then to Gladstone Michigan. Later the championships were set at Hayward, Wisconsin. Early championships were promoted by William P. [Two Gun Bill] Hart of Eau Claire, WI and by the 1960s Hayward’s Tony Wise.

Some of the notable early logrollers in the Stillwater area were Jasper Mattocks, Emil Guse, and John Rump. By the 1920s and 1930s names such as Ray Kottke, Donny Raduenz, Walter Schell, Syd Sherrard, and Leo Klein were the top rollers in the Valley.

The Harold Fischer and Robert Teske logrolling show. (Photo courtesy of the Washington County Historical Society)

In 1934 Stillwater began a summer festival tradition called Lumberjack Days. The event was to bring back the nostalgia of the lumber era while also celebrating the community at large. Among the many events for the festival, it included logrolling contests on the River. Some new comers to the sport during the 1930s included Harold Fischer and Robert Teske.

Fischer and Teske would practice at the Drop Forge in Dutchtown. This was at the original site of the old Schulenburg-Boeckler Lumber mill. After a week or so of practice, they decided that they could handle some tougher competition. They then went down to Mueller Boat Works with Leo Klein. Klein “Toyed with us for a while” said Fischer. Klein then told the two new logrollers to “Throw the poles,” and in they went. “Leo sent us up to the bay to practice without poles” Fischer remembered.

In 1937, at a new practice area, the two started doing some tricks on the logs. Leap Frog, Hook Arms, Pass, Bobbing Log, and others. They spent the whole summer practicing three to four hours every day. In August, they piled into a Model A Ford and went to Escanaba, Michigan, 350 miles each way, for the Roleo (logrolling championships). Expense money was earned by Leo Klein, Bernie Klein, Syd Sherrard, and Harold Fisher.

Want to keep reading? Grab the July 28, 2017, edition of The Gazette, at newsstands through Aug. 3. Subscribe to The Gazette to read Peterson’s column in its entirety each week. Brent Peterson is the executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. Contact him at [email protected].