Axe Men: Episode 5

Friday 11th December 8.00pm

The documentary series that explores the treacherous work of loggers in the Pacific Northwest continues. This week, James can take no more of his father’s insults and storms off the job. Falling logs put men’s lives at risk. Brad fights to keep his job. And Dwayne is given a lowly assignment.

Aqua-loggers Jimmy and James have dragged their monster log from the middle of a river to the bank. Now they need to haul the great trunk onto dry land. “That’s my Moby Dick and I’m just dying to get that thing out of the water,” Jimmy says. The boys tie the log to a tractor and begin the effort – only for it to become embedded in deep mud. After his father launches into another furious, expletive-filled rant, James storms off. “You walk off, you might as well find another place to work!” yells Jimmy.

At length James agrees to return – but Moby Dick is less obliging. The stubborn trunk frustrates the boys’ attempts to pull it out of the churned-up earth. After placing another log under Moby Dick to use as a base, Jimmy is finally able to heave it clear. Jimmy and James celebrate their prize of cured wood, which could be worth up to $10,000. Success brings the battling pair back together. “I’m just hard on him ’cos he is my kid,” says Jimmy. “He’s got me to live up to.”

In Montana, the Conner Aviation team has increased its output by using a quicker method of tying the logs together for transport by helicopter. However, when two logs accidentally slip free of the cable and plunge to the ground, work has to shut down. “We can’t keep going on like this,” says pilot Bart Colantuono. “This is just stupid. It’s dangerous.”

The team reverts back to a slower but safer procedure. However, Bart has another problem in the form of back-up pilot Steve Smith. Last year, Steve was the first-choice pilot, until he seriously damaged the chopper in a hard landing. Company boss Ryan has ordered the inexperienced pilot to brush up on his skills by training with Bart. Unfortunately, Steve refuses to sit in the passenger seat. “I don’t really see where I’m learning much,” he says. Is Steve’s pride about to cost him his job?

At the Rygaard site in Washington, Gabe Rygaard accuses his dad, Craig, of ‘babying’ greenhorn Brad. “Maybe I’m not pushing him as hard as I should,” Craig admits. “The day is gonna come when he’s gonna have to f***ing man up.” In the brush, Brad struggles to identify the types of trees they have cut down. “I’m just useless out here,” he says, dejected. The Rygaard crew’s next job is to clear a tangled thicket of trees blown down during a storm. “This is probably one of the worst low-down patches I’ve had to work in a long time,” says Gabe. “It’s hairy and nasty and dangerous and ugly.” Hardy loggers must take care that trees do not spring back at them when they fall in the cramped undergrowth.

At the Pihl site, temperamental tree feller Dwayne Dethlefs is once again at the centre of controversy. Dwayne’s co-workers criticise him for not cutting his logs into smaller chunks. Dwayne brushes off their “whining”, but has little to smile about when supervisor Keith reassigns him to work in the brush as a chaser. This job involves tying the cables to the logs and is usually reserved for the least experienced member of the team. “I can’t do this. This sucks!” Dwayne growls.

The loggers are greatly amused by Dwayne’s grumbling – which only infuriates the tree cutter further. “He thinks he’s a super logger but what he is wouldn’t make a pimple on a good logger’s ass,” says one. When Keith orders the team to work overtime, Dwayne explodes with fury and marches off the site once again. Is this the last straw for the combustible logger?

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