A funny recap of the trials and tribulations of the S & S Aqua Logging crew on The History Channel’s hit reality show Ax Men. Including S & S Aqua Logging owner Jimmy Smith’s recent legal difficulty with Washington State Department of National Resources for illegal timber harvesting.
Ax Men has returned on The History Channel for a second season. While many viewers who
watched Season One avidly were disappointed to say goodbye to Melvin Lardy of the Stump Branch crew and the crew of Gustafson Logging, the new additions of S & S Aqua Logging and R & R Connor Aviation promised to bring variety to the show.
As it turns out, variety turned to hilarity as hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned in to the first episode of Ax Men: Season Two to witness the performance of the “Keystone Cops” of the logging world, S & S Aqua Logging, run by a man named Jimmy Smith.
It is important to note that Smith claims to be a fourth generation logger who at one point during the season actually made the statement that his eighth-grade educated father was smarter than he.
In the season premier, Smith introduced himself as a sort of seasoned logger who had decided he no longer felt a desire to “kill trees.” A flag went up to me with this statement, almost as if he fancied himself some soldier of fortune, now returning to a life of peace and civility. Truth is, if he had ever been a soldier, he would probably not have been able to find his way to the battlefield.
In the opening scene for S & S Aqua Logging, Smith’s homemade plywood barge comes off the trailer on its own while the crew is actually standing on it and not expecting to find themselves in the river. Soon after, they proceed to ram the boat into the nearest pylon. This causes Smith to begin barking nearly incoherent one and two word orders and epithets at his crew, who look like the sort of characters you would see five deep around a broken down pick-up, drinking cheap beer. The humorous part of watching them all is that they are not doing much more on the barge.
Soon after they launched the boat, engine trouble ensued. This is a predictable happenstance as S & S Aqua logging appears to be using retired gear from a World War 2 fire sale. His barge motor must be at least forty years old. The break down then prompts him to go get his twelve or fourteen foot runaround, with a 9.9 HP outboard to haul the thirty foot barge up river in a rising tide under a very low bridge.
Probably my favorite part of the episode is when Jimmy, in his little makeshift tug boat is hauling the barge, with its overblown homemade plywood cabin standing tall above the river, begins to yell back to the poor SOB’s on the barge. “Hey, we gonna make it?” he yells, as the barge crew watches the bridge near, all the while probably thinking they are going in the drink. What does clever Jimmy do? Why, he just keeps plowing on. On the first attempt they smash into the bridge, nearly ripping the cabin off and almost sending crew members spilling into the river. The second attempt finds one of the barge crew pressing a paddle into the underside of the bridge, as if he can actually force the thirty foot barge down or the bridge up by a passable amount.
What ensues is an escapade that involves Jimmy yelling, an attempt at diving that makes even the most inexperienced diver laugh, cry and cringe at the same time. (Hint; no self respecting diver would ever return to the boat yelling “take off my mask” to his crew members.) His diving equipment appears to be a discontinued set from the Korean War era. While his equipment is nearly ancient, his technique is not. As a matter of fact, experienced divers from around the world have been quoted as saying that they have never seen anything quite like that before anywhere, at any time.
There is a fine art, apparently, to pulling mud bound logs from the beds of rivers, as Jimmy explains. Often, as the log is removed from the mud, water rushes in to fill the void, potentially sucking the diver down beneath the log. Another challenging aspect to retrieving these logs is that when you are using a seventy-five year old winch motor attached to a telephone spool and some rope you snuck off your wives clothesline out back, things tend to go badly. At one point during the first retrieval, Jimmy turns to the cameraman directly behind him, and says of the winch no more than a few feet away, “If that rope breaks it’ll come back here like a razor.” Gee, that’d make me feel good if I was that cameraman.
Jimmy Smith claims that these logs can sell for as much as $10,000 per log. Most viewers would make a strong suggestion that before he buys any of his buddies so much as a single beer he should go invest in some new equipment.
Of course, as has recently been reported, Mr. Smith will not be retaining any of the logs from this season’s harvest, as he was seemingly unaware that by Washington state law he spent the entire Ax Men Season Two illegally harvesting underwater timber without a permit. Washington Department of Natural Resources officials happened to be watching the first couple of episodes of Ax Men, and have recently served a search warrant on Mr. Smith’s harvested timber, which was not located at his home.
The reports were that the Washington DNR has confiscated a couple dozen logs, from ten to thirty feet in length, with values ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars a piece. These logs are often desired in industries such as fireplace mantel and interior design manufacturing and fine instruments, both for appearance and density. The Washington Department of Natural Resources Chief Enforcement Officer Larry Raedel is quoted as saying that logs floating in Washington’s rivers are owned by the state and that Smith had not obtained permits either from Washington DNR or Fish and Wildlife.
Unknown to some is that these logs offer a variety of habitat and function in rivers, from providing shelter for resting fish to catching and building sediment to providing habitat for insects which fill a key slot in the food chain.
There is at least one bright spot in Smith’s terrible, embarrassing and hilarious adventure on Ax Men Season Two. At least he got to film an entire season and land a few logs without sinking his “barge”. Most of us out here in television land would have bet against his success.