Wednesday, August 07, 2013
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Tradition continues with 43rd annual National Railsplitting Contest

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[August 07, 2013]  It used to be a normal routine for pioneers to make their own split wood rails. The rails would be used for fencing livestock. Abraham Lincoln was known as a "Rail Splitter."

So, is it any wonder that in the "Land of Lincoln" there would be railsplitting contests. The territory not only includes Illinois, where Lincoln lived his adult years before heading for Washington, but in Kentucky, where Lincoln was born, and also in Missouri.

Now in the first town named for Abraham Lincoln, you might expect that there just has to be a railsplitting contest. And, that was what Railsplitter Festival founder Daris Knauer thought too.

The annual Abraham Lincoln National Railsplitting Contest is normally in mid-September. This year, a shortage of funds led to the competition being canceled in May.

But due to some quick thinking of several Logan County Fair board members, the 43rd annual Abraham Lincoln National Railsplitting Contest continued with an abbreviated contest during the fair.

How long does it take to split a log into eight rails?

Log splitting definitely depends a lot on muscle, skill and technique; and somewhat on the particular log. Then there's something to be said for fortitude and a lot for experience.

The competitors each had logs that were 12 to 14 inches in diameter and 10 feet in length that were to be split into eight rails.

Though care is taken in choosing the logs for uniformity, not all logs are alike and some will be more work, John Sutton pointed out. Just in the past week he split about 130 rails to be used for decorative fencing.

To help level the playing field, the logs are all numbered and positioned on the field. Then competitors go to the field and draw numbers from a hat. Bob Presswood, a timer, judge and recorder, held the hat this year, while announcer Heidi Mueller recorded the results of the lottery.

The competition is kept friendly, and most of the same competitors come back year and again.

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During the championship round, Sutton kept a running commentary as he simply enjoyed watching each man work. With an experienced eye, he would comment on the finer nuances with the understanding that comes from lots of experience, such as if there is a knot in the wood, if a trunk twists, if there are a few connecting fibers between rails to whack loose, where to start a wedge -- not at the end, as the log will split on its own if you start farther up, then you will need fewer strokes ...

Sutton genuinely appreciated and admired that the youngest and least experienced splitters stuck with it long after the others were finished and had worked harder because of their inexperience.

But, you could also see that each log splitter was learning on this day. They changed what they did as the competition progressed. "Ah, there he goes. See, he figured that out," Sutton commented one time. It was especially clear that the younger fellas will be much better at it the next time out.

Eight competitors entered the championship contest on Sunday afternoon in an effort to claim one of five places.

This year's first place winner was Chris Friedlein.  It was his 12th win. He took the top spot in 1983, '88, '94, '95, 2000, '03, '04, '05, '07, '10 and 2012.

Results of the championship round are in order of five top places, with the time, competitor and the award sponsor:

  1. 16:19.21, Chris Friedlein, Gibson City -- Graue Chevrolet

  2. 18:35.34, Roy Usery, Des Arc, Mo. -- Xamis Ford

  3. 19:05, Tyler Pritchard, Bloomington -- Town and Country Bank

  4. 27:28, Cody Friedlein; Shirley -- Rohlfs Implement

  5. 29:10, Jonathon Norin; Arrowsmith

Also participating were Scott Friedlein, Tolono; Kyle Friedlein, LeRoy; and Evan Coombs,  Bloomington.


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