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Finding the 'old' in the Old Time Fair

Drones, lumberjacks and water skiers connect past, present and future at the annual event

TIDINGS PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - Members of the Portland Water Spectacular ski team perform a daring stunt jump Saturday, July 18, during the West Linn Old Time Fair at Willamette Park. The 59th annual Old Time Fair started off just like the 58 before it with the queen’s coronation — arguably the most timeless of the fair’s events. Princesses Caitlin Rose McCabe, Isabella “Bella” Deeb, Olivia Rees and Avery Sullivan made their way to the main stage, where a drone — instead of a skydiver like in years past — delivered the results to 2014 Queen McKenna Wright.

After a short speech recapping her year as queen, Wright unveiled the 2015 winner, naming Deeb as West Linn’s newest queen.

“I’m so happy to receive this honor,” Deeb said after many pictures and hugs with family members and friends. “All the other princesses are amazing and were just as deserving. I’m so excited to be this year’s queen.”

Deeb’s first duties were to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at this year’s Olde Time Baseball game, which pitted the visiting Portland Pioneer Baseball Club against the home team, Willamette Centennials.

The game honored old-time baseball tradition as players played without gloves or helmets, wore vintage uniforms and used a replica 19th century baseball. The game was played with rules and announced with terminology used in the 1800s, which is largely different than what’s used today.

Batters were instead called “strikers,” outs were referred to as “hands” and runners who had to ring a bell behind home plate before their run, or “ace,” was counted.

“It’s so much fun because both teams are reinactments of real teams from the 1800s, with the exact same uniforms they wore all the way back then,” said Portland’s captain, Blaise Lamphier.

While the game was mostly about fun, the two teams took the competition seriously as well. Just because they were the visitors, it didn’t mean the Pioneers were going to go easy on the hometown Centennials.

“We have a lot of hitters, but not a lot of home run hitters,” said Portland pitcher, or “hurler,” Greg Moore before the game. “We’re going to win with small ball.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jamey McDonald of the Willamette team throws a pitch from the mound.

After a close first inning, the Pioneers jumped out to a commanding 12-2 lead in the top half of the second inning. Willamette — led by West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod — made things interesting, pulling to within three aces by the end of the third inning. The Centennials weren’t able to close the gap in fourth and final inning, however, falling by a score of 16-14.

“I think that was the closest game we’ve ever had here,” Lamphier said. “Congratulations to both teams for a fun time.”

The two teams ended the celebration with a group picture and a singing of baseball classic “Take me out to the ballgame.”

If there is anything that one would expect to be “old time” about the Old Time Fair, it would be the lumberjack competition. It helps that the event is sponsored by the West Linn Paper Company, which has been a cornerstone of the community for over 125 years.

At the competition, men and women work with saws and axes to cleave apart wood in much the same way that it was cut 100 years ago. There are the single and double buck events, where sawyers with six-foot blades work together or alone to cut segments off logs with 20-inch diameters. There is the standing block chop event, where competitors atop cottonwood logs swing their axes overhead and down to halve the block beneath their feet. And there is the springboard event, where competitors alternately chop slots and jam boards into a 10-foot tall logs, hewing and climbing their way to the top.

But there are more modern events, too. Mike Forester, a competitor, said that the hot saw is his favorite event. This contest sees competitors with huge, custom-built chainsaws try to cut three segments off a 20-inch diameter log as quickly as possible.

Forester said that the hot saw “grows on you, with the power, the adrenaline rush of it.” His saw is built out of a modified motorcycle engine that he helped to assemble.

“They call the hot saw guys ‘motorheads,’” said Shannon McBride, the event’s emcee, as Forester prepared for his turn at the event. “They spend a lot of time out in their garages, fussing around with these things.”

When McBride shouts “Go!” Forester hefts the saw off the ground, yanks the pull cord to start the engine and shears three huge discs of wood off the log before him in 6.28 seconds, accomplishing in moments what would take several minutes of hard labor with a cross-cut saw. The crowd cheers wildly as the saw’s roar dies out and Forester’s time is announced.

Yet state-of-the-art chainsaws might not be enough to modernize the lumberjack competition. Forester began competing in competitions like these at age 12, and has attended the events for as long as he can remember.

Forester said that he has seen timbersports’ popularity decline significantly in recent years.

“There used to be 100-plus competitors in the state of Oregon. We’re probably down to 10,” said Forester. He said that the decline of the games can be traced, at least in part, to what he calls the “green movement.”

“It costs so much money to put these things on,” he said. “It’s hard to get people involved with a heritage sport who say ‘Let’s donate to this cause,’ when the timber issue is a pretty big issue.”

Shannon McBride has run the West Linn lumberjack show for 10 years with her husband, lumberjack Rob Waibel. McBride thinks that the lumberjack show connects in important ways with the history of West Linn. “It’s part of our heritage,” she said. “This is a community event. The West Linn Paper Company is a big part of what has made the community successful.”

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lee Gamble warms up for the horse shoe competition.

That’s not to say that the show hasn’t changed. “Peoples’ attention spans are not as long as they used to be. The climate nowadays is such that if you don’t have something that’s really quick and really fast and really entertaining, people are going to bail,” McBride said.

Rather than the green movement, McBride sees audiences’ shortening attention span as responsible for the way timber sports have declined in popularity. McBride mentions the Albany Timber Carnival, which was once a three-day event that ran from early in the morning until late at night. “Now we’ve got so many choices about what we want to do, this may not be the most exciting choice for people,” McBride said.

At the same time, McBride said that the novelty of the show is what draws many people to the competition. In a sense, the lumberjack show reveals how heritage can be newfangled.

Audience members also emphasized the show’s unique character. Matthew Eppelsheimer and Catherine Bridge, two West Linn High School graduates and longtime residents, say that they have been coming to the fair off and on for 20 years. But neither had happened to be at the fair in time to catch the lumberjack competition before. “This is pretty cool,” said Eppelsheimer. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Something new — and yet, old again — was also to be found several hundred yards from the lumberjack competition at the Portland Water Spectacular Ski Show. Suzanne Tye and her son Luke said that the ski show was a highlight of the fair for them, especially because Luke hadn’t seen water skiing before.

According to Suzanne Tye, part of the fair’s value is the way it connects members of the West Linn community to the present.

“It’s a way for the whole community to come together and learn about the various things that are available in West Linn, that perhaps they didn’t know before,” Suzanne Tye said. “You see a bunch of people that you know in other aspects of your life, and you learn that they’re really good at throwing horseshoes, or at water skiing.”

Ron and Joanne Stone, who also came to the ski show, affirmed that the fair does connect the community with its past. Ron Stone was born and raised in West Linn, and has come to the fair over the years. “There are a lot of old West Linners that will meet on Friday night (at the Fair). It’s very traditional,” Ron Stone said.

But Ron and Joanne Stone also came to the ski show to look to the future. “We know someone who’s in the ski show,” Ron Stone said. “She’s 10 years old now. She used to be a neighbor.”

Perhaps what is gratifying about the Old Time Fair, then, isn’t that it is focused entirely on the past. It’s an event that draws generations together to experience old and new together. “Even though West Linn has grown tremendously since my day, (the Fair) does connect the community, and makes it feel like a small town,” Ron Stone said. And as long as the Old Time Fair continues to draw the West Linn community together, it seems reasonable to expect that the event is here to stay.

TIDINGS PHOTO: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - Portland Water Spectacular's pyramid team shows off its ski show roots Saturday, July 18, at the West Linn Old Time Fair. Ski shows are as old as the fair itself, which began in the late 1950s.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Dan and Wilson Hopkins of West Linn try their luck at Bingo.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Bella Deeb in crowned the queen of the 2015 Old Time Fair.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Shannon Cook rings the bell as she scores for the Willamette team.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Lisa Sample walks with fellow member of the Willamette living history group.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Marc and Bev De La Bruere show their square dance moves as members of the Country Cutups.