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Splitting rails, an event that pulls families together

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[August 08, 2013]  The annual National Railsplitting Contest in Lincoln has become a family tradition for many people. But for several families, it is a passion that goes back decades and is even multigenerational.

This year, for the first time, the contest took place during the Logan County Fair.


Daris Knauer, founder of the Railsplitter event, now in its 43rd year, was on hand and continues to help coordinate.

Each year, a re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln christening the city of Lincoln is part of the activities. An important part of the local heritage is that Lincoln was the first city named for Abraham Lincoln before he became president. Knauer, looking dapper in his suit, tie and hat of yesteryear -- about 1860 -- portrays Robert Latham, a founding father of the city of Lincoln.

Daris Knauer's brother Dennis was also present to assist with the activities. Another brother, Darrell, was unable to be in attendance this year, and he was missed.


For the Friedlein family, it is the actual log splitting that runs deep.

On Sunday, the Friedlein family dominated the competition field, with Chris Friedlein taking this year's championship, his 12th title.

Chris comes from good stock, with his father, Oliver Friedlein, taking one of the top three spots many times over the years. Today, the amateur event that precedes the championship is named in Oliver's memory.

In addition to several of his sons competing, Chris has a young grandson who stepped onto the field after the competition on Sunday, just to sink a few wedges into a trunk. He'll need a few years of growing yet, but given his solid striking style, you can bet he's going to be strong competition when he gets there.


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Running the show

On the production side of the event were family members: Heidi Mueller, Bob Rankin and Gwen Tibbs.

Mueller has been attending the Railsplitter since she was 12 years old. She now narrates the splitting competition, keeping fans on top of who is doing what. In her acute understanding of the intricacies of what each competitor might be experiencing as they proceed, she keeps the audience interested. With 21 years under her belt, the competition is in her blood.

By day, Heidi is a special education teacher in O'Fallon.

Heidi's dad, Bob Rankin, could be seen on the field, holding a stopwatch and a scorecard, intently observing as a judge.

Bob's mom, Gwen Tibbs, was keeping records under the tent. Tibbs is also the treasurer of the Logan Railsplitting Association.

Bob and Gwen couldn't be prouder of the great job Heidi does in announcing the contest as it ensues.

The family travels out-of-state to at least two other log splitting competitions each year: Lincoln Days, which takes place in Hodgenville, Ky., Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, and the Ozark Regional Timberfest in Doniphan, Mo.

As a family, they are all enthusiastic about promoting our Abraham Lincoln heritage, community and splitting rails. They enjoy all the camaraderie they have found and have made great friends through the splitting events over the years.

These are just a few of the families for whom the National Railsplitting Contest has become an important part of their lives.


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