Originally published Aug. 31, 2010, in the Indiana Gazette
“Pull, don’t push. Pull, don’t push.”
I’m chanting it in my head, watching the two-handled saw grind through a log that’s the size of a tree. Sawdust and pieces of hard wood and bark fly out of the cut. People standing around me are chanting: “Pull! Pull! Pull! Pull!” The saw blade bites deeper; I pull my handle to my chest, let my 15-year-old partner, Jacob Shank, pull his back.
We’re only halfway through the 9-inch diameter of the log, but my right bicep is burning and my breath is coming short.
The disc falls off the trunk’s end into a pile of sawdust and wood chips, and our saw quivers: “51:27 seconds,” Jan Repik calls into her microphone. The winners of the cross-saw competition at the Indiana County Fair took just 17.15 seconds; Jacob and I didn’t place.
He isn’t fazed. “It’s hard wood,” he tells me, encouragingly.
Every year, Steve and Jan Repik, of Cherry Tree, and their crew of family and friends run the cross saw competition at the fair. Steve Repik has been sawing since he was in high school – going on 50 years, he said.
“It’s a lot of fun. The thing of it is it’s the old-fashioned way to cut the log,” he explained. “I like to see the little kids saw more than the grown-ups.”
They take the competition to other area fairs as well; two logs strapped tight about waist-high to a rusting flatbed trailer, pulled by a minivan. Teams of elementary-age children compete against each other on a slightly smaller log, with an experienced sawer by their sides. High school students, adults, and “Jack and Jill” teams also compete in the other three categories, and trophies are passed out to the top three teams in each group.
“We’ve done it so many years, it’s like a big family reunion,” said Dale Pore, of Ford City.
He’s been practicing with the two-man saw ever since he started dating his wife, Julie Pore, about 10 years ago; together, they took first place in the adult division, needing just over 17 seconds to cut through the log.
“If you’re not in a good rhythm, it’s not any fun,” Pore said.
Jacob Shank, a student at Marion Center High School, has been sawing since he was 8.
“It gets the adrenaline going,” he said. “Finding the right guy (is hard); you’ve got to be equally matched.”
In the high school division, he and Stillwater Devaughn took first place with 15.72 seconds. Stillwater, a West Shamokin High School student, had never used a cross saw before, but said it was easy.
Dessie and Lexie Kernan, United Elementary students, were back to defend their first place trophy from last year. Usually they practice at Brush Valley Day, they said. This year, Indiana was their first competition.
“That (log) was pretty hard, because it was maple,” one of the girls explained.
The sisters put their total effort into it, and took just 32.5 seconds to cut through the log, winning first place for the second year. They saved the round piece of wood, with their time written in black marker.
Repik said the more experienced sawers bring their own saws, and part of their competition is in the sharpening.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It brings the family of sawers together.”
He said he loves the chance to share a piece of the past with new generations.
“If it wasn’t for me doing (the competition) at the fairs, they wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “It’s a family of sawyers that wants to saw the old-fashioned way. It’s all fun for everyone.”
But at home, when he has trees to cut on his own property, does he stick with the old-fashioned way or go for convenience? No way.
“A chainsaw,” he said, laughing.