Axe Men: Episode 4

Friday 4th December 8.00pm

The documentary series that explores the treacherous work of loggers in the Pacific Northwest continues. This week, Dustin urges his father, Dwayne, to come back to work. Conner Aviation’s battered helicopter takes to the air to begin a new season of heli-logging. Craig battles a fire in his machine. And Jimmy mounts another attempt to drag a huge log out of a riverbed.

Last week, tree feller Dwayne Dethlefs stormed off the Pihl site after a bust-up with company owner Mike. Now his son Dustin, who is working under his dad, has to convince the stubborn logger to return. “This sucks, dammit,” he says. “I’m just trying to learn how to cut some trees. Now I gotta babysit.” Dwayne and Mike have a row seemingly once a year – but this time Dwayne is refusing even to leave his house. “Let’s take the rest of the day off, get drunk and go deer hunting,” his son suggests.

Mike is none too keen to rehire his errant worker. “Dwayne has his issues… It’s embarrassing,” he says. With his team a man short, Mike rolls up his sleeves and gets to work in the brush alongside Dustin, tying the yarder cable to the felled logs. “I haven’t been in the brush for some time, but I needed the exercise,” he says. Mike hires experienced hand Levi Brown to fell trees in Dwayne’s absence – only for the missing man to show up at work as if nothing had happened. “He really should have talked to me before he came back,” says Mike. Will the boss bury the hatchet with Dwayne?

In Montana, Conner Aviation is about to start its heli-logging season. The company’s sole chopper has been out of action for nine months after it had to make a hard landing in the forest. Boss Ryan Conner has spent that time fixing up the $850,000 machine. This time around, it will be flown by exmilitary man Bart Colantuomo. “Heli-logging is probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on,” enthuses Bart.

Heli-logging involves lifting felled trees from the hillside using a 150ft-long cable attached to the bottom of the chopper. It can lift up to 1.4 tonnes. An overweight load can drag the chopper back to the ground or send it into a ‘collective bounce’, when an uncontrollable vibration takes hold of the aircraft. “I look at heli-logging as a big live-action video game,” says Bart. He must take special care not to hit the loggers on the ground with the trunks as he lifts them into the sky. But when one of those loggers accidentally attaches too much weight to the cable, Bart struggles to control the chopper. Is he about to come crashing down to earth?

At the Rygaard concession in Washington, rookie Brad Hewitt is tasked with climbing 80ft up a tree to tie the end of a skyline. Equipped with spiked boots and a rope, Brad scales the tree and ties a steel cable around the trunk. The skyline is working well when, further up the hill, Craig Rygaard’s yarder machine catches fire. The shocked boss calls up his son on the radio. “I got a fire in here, Gabe! I’m gonna need some help pretty bad!” he cries.

Gabe comes running up the hill with a fire extinguisher and finds his dad struggling to remove his own extinguisher from the machine. The pair quickly douse the flames before they reach the fuel tank. A shocked Gabe reflects on a near miss for his father and rues the cost to the $250,000 yarder.

Also this week, father-and-son Jimmy and James Smith make a second attempt to drag a 100-yearold log worth $10,000 out of a riverbed. Having fixed the hydraulic winch on his barge, Jimmy turns the air blue in his efforts to pull ‘Moby Dick’ from its watery grave. “I’ve never been a quitter my entire life and I’m not gonna quit now,” he says. Jimmy’s hard work and swearing pays off when the log is finally dislodged and dragged to the riverbank, where it will be pulled ashore at low tide.

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