The first unofficial world log rolling contest was held Sept 9, 1898 at the Trans Missisippi Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska. The first champion was Tom Fleming of Eau Claire Wisconsin, a skilled log driver on the Chippewa River, home of the greatest virgin white pine forests on earth.
The following account of the contest appeared in the September 17, 1898 issue of the Northwestern Lumbermen under the title "The Logrolling Contest".
"It even made the crowd feel chilled to look on, but the six sturdy river drivers from Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers didn't seem to care much about the low temperature.
"Is the water cold? Not a bit….not nearly as cold as the air and it ain't a marker to the water in the old Chip or in the early spring, when the river is filled with blocks of ice."
That is the way Thomas Fleming of Eau Claire Wisconsin, the skilled river driver who came away with the first place and championship prize, expressed himself to the Northwestern Lumbermen representative, out on the lagoon, in the midst of the contest. But then, Fleming was only ducked once out of the five "rolls" in which he engaged, a record which was only equaled by his old chum and partner on the Chippewa, Allen Stewart, who graciously yielded first prize to Fleming, as the hour was late and there was no opportunity to "roll" off the tie that evening.
The logrolling contest was without any doubt the feature of the day. In fact, regular attendants at the fair who have seen anything in the way of sports and novel features since the big show opened last June were loud in there praise of the log rolling, proclaiming it novel, original, and interesting.
Although the day was dark and the sky cloudy and threatening, the drizzling rain that had continued to fall throughout the forenoon let up shortly before 3 o’clock, as if in honor of the visiting lumbermen, and by that our several thousand people had gathered around the Mirror, as the end of the lagoon adjacent to the government building is called. They knew they were going to see something that they had never seen before and they were not disappointed.
Eugene Shaw, the “Chauncey-Depew-like" lumber manufacturer of Eau Claire was on the grounds early making arrangements for the log rolling in which he was the prime mover and rolling spirit. He had loaded 10 prime cork logs on a Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha railway car the previous Saturday afternoon, September 3, at Eau Claire, and F. D. Sullivan, that railway’s accommodating agent at Eau Claire had seen that the car containing the logs was coupled onto the fast freight that left Eau Claire at 11 o'clock that evening. On the evening of Monday, September 5, the logs had a ride to Omaha having been less than 48 hours on the way.
Everything was in readiness for the contest that afternoon. The logs were in the water and the following contestants were on hand:
- John Murray, Eau Claire Wisconsin.
- A. Dugas, Pine Tree Lumber Company, Little Falls Minnesota.
- Thomas Fleming, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
- Gus Miller, Laird, Norton Company., Winona Minnesota
- Allan Stewart, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
- Laird Cyr, Mississippi and Rum River Boom Company, Minneapolis Minnesota.
After dressing or rather undressing, for the contest in the quarters of the United States life-saving service crew, in their building on the west side of the lagoon, the logs for towed across to the other side, and in one of the big life-saving boats the contestants were taken across, accompanied by the officials of the contest who were:
- Referee, C.O. Goss, Winona Lumber Company., Winona Minnesota.
- Starter, Eugene Shaw, Daniel Shaw Lumber Company., Eau Claire Wisconsin.
- Timekeeper, W. I. Carpenter, Carpenter and Flourney, Minneapolis.
- Recorder, Fred H. Gilman, Northwestern Lumbermen, Minneapolis.
The log rollers were dressed as best suited their work, wearing no superfluous clothing. A single shirt and trousers coming to the knees was the prevailing costume. One or two wore no stockings but all had on the heavy river driver’s shoes with caulks in the soles that helped him to stick like flies to molasses barrell on the treacherous logs spinning round and round in the water.
There were thirteen rolls in all to decide the contest; they were all watched with the greatest of interest, and the enthusiasm was at times so great that cheer after cheer encouraged the men on the logs to still greater effort. The logs were 11 feet long and 17 inches in diameter. The bark had been taken off and they had been turned so that they were perfectly round. Two men stood on a log at a time, one on each end and the judges boat was always only a few feet away, to see that neither of the contestants stepped over the girdle marking the center of the log.
Following is a description of the different bouts:
Bout 1- Gus Miller was pitted against John Murray. The contestants were cold and it took three minutes of rapid twirling for Miller to dislodge Murray.
Bout 2- The second was shorter and it took just 50 seconds for Al Stewart to throw Dugas off into the water.
Bout 3 -Thomas Fleming showed his agility in this bout, and after some final work by both contestants, Fleming wet Larry Cyr but it took him 4 minutes and five seconds to do it.
Bout 4- Stewart came on again pitted against Miller and in 1 minute and 30 seconds, Miller was “wet” good and plenty but both showed skill and endurance.
Bout 5 - Stewart and Fleming who had begun to show their security by this time, had this bout between them. Their work was fine and was loudly applauded by the crowd. Fleming stayed on the log the longest having won in one minute and 55 seconds.
Bout 6 - A mistake on the part of the contestants in this bout, Murry and Dugas, resulted in their going ahead before time was called and Dugas being dislodged. It was not an official roll, in the two were started properly, and Dugas won in 45 seconds but both of the contestants were pretty well chilled.
Bout 7 - Fleming and Miller with pitted against one another and Fleming suffered his only defeat. This time was the quickest of all the rolls, being only 6 seconds.
Bout 8 - A. Dugas and L. Cyr rolled and see Cyr won in 15 seconds.
Bout 9 - Gus Miller rolled with Larry Cyr, and in 50 seconds Cry was in the water.
Bout 10 - Dugas and Fleming rolled this time in in just 30 seconds Fleming had added another victory to his list, that was already growing long.
Bout 11-Stewart and Cyr were contestants, and although Cyr stood on the logs well, he was obliged to duck at the end of 25 seconds, and Stewart received another victory.
Bout 12 - Fleming and Miller rolled against one another and in 21 seconds Miller was wet. This made the fourth victory for Fleming out of five rolls.
Bout 13 - Stewart tried Larry Cyr and 23 seconds at another victory to his list, making four out of five rolls.
When the thirteenth bout was finished, it was found that Fleming and Stewart were tied, each having won four out of five. As they were comrades on the log drive, Stewart gracefully yielded the championship to Fleming and took second place for himself.
Thomas Miller, of Winona, had won three out of five and to him was awarded the 3rd money while Cyr and Dugas, who had each won one bout, divided the fourth money between them. The purse was $250, divided as follows; First, $100; second, $75; third, $50; fourth, $25.
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