'Ax Men' shines spotlight on SuperiorMix an urban logging company with nothing to lose, a reality TV crew seeking new blood and a broken crane gear. The result? A star turn for Superior’s Wisconsin Woodchuck crew on the sixth season of the History Channel series “Ax Men.”
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Mix an urban logging company with nothing to lose, a reality TV crew seeking new blood and a broken crane gear. The result? A star turn for Superior’s Wisconsin Woodchuck crew on the sixth season of the History Channel series “Ax Men.”
When the Woodchuck segment aired halfway through the show Sunday, a cheer erupted from team members, their families and friends who filled the bar at Vintage Italian Pizza. The story of the Superior loggers and their determination to reclaim millions of board feet of white pine from the defunct Globe grain elevator in Superior was laid out.
“We’re going to succeed or we’re going to be living under a bridge for the rest of our lives,” Judy Peres, president of Wisconsin Woodchuck LLC, told the nation on camera.
Unlike some of the brawling, drama-laden crews featured on “Ax Men,” the Superior team brought Midwestern calm to the screen. When a crane gear broke, leaving two members of the 12-person crew stranded nearly 100 feet in the air, they waited patiently for yard manager Annette Tracy to collect them with a cherry-picker.
That breakdown wasn’t scripted, said crane operator Al McFarland. It happened the first day the television crew was on site, when they were deciding if the Superior operation had what it took to make the cut. Once that scene played out, McFarland said, “How could you not be interested?”
Peres and her partner, David Hozza, are hoping the nearly 3 million “Ax Men” viewers show an interest in the project, too. Due to the nation’s economic downturn, Wisconsin Woodchuck is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and in need of some financial angels. As it was being featured on national TV, the business launched an internet-based campaign to raise $56,000 over the next 45 days through the crowdfunding engine Indiegogo. That amount would keep Wisconsin Woodchuck out of foreclosure for the next six months as Peres and Hozza search for a new owner. Even if they can’t save the company, Peres said, they want to save the wood. The grain elevator buildings, completed in 1887, contain enough old-growth pine to build about 250 single-family homes, she said, or save about 550 acres of forest. Losing it would be a blow both to the economy and the environment, Hozza said.
Peres said the “Ax Men” discovered the Superior company by searching the internet.
“They were looking for good TV, we were looking for publicity,” she said. “We had nothing left to lose.”
There are no blueprints for taking down grain elevators, a task Peres likened to deconstructing the pyramids. And there is no way to re-enact this crew’s work. When a roof caves in, for example, there is no second shot.
The Superior loggers gave their story to the “Ax Men” cameras, trusting the reality show would tell it well. Did they?
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Peres, a retired journalist. A couple weeks were condensed into 10 minutes, she said, but nothing was taken out of context and there weren’t any “Frankenbites,” where unrelated clips and sound bites are mashed together.
“That’s pretty much the way it was,” McFarland said. The camera angles did lead him to a decision, however.
“I need to go on a diet,” he said. The crane operator looked down at the piece of cake in front of him. “I’m starting tomorrow.”
Superior’s moment in the national spotlight isn’t over yet. When he saw the teaser for the next show, featuring a portion of an upper building being lowered by the crane, McFarland smiled.
“I definitely want to see next week,” he said. “It’s going to be good.”
New episodes of “Ax Men” air at 8 p.m. Central Standard Time Sundays on the History Channel. Older episodes of the show, including Sunday’s Woodchuck debut, are available on the website, www.history.com/shows/ax-men/.
More information on Wisconsin Woodchuck, work at the Globe site and how people can help is available online at www.oldglobewood.com/ and www.indiegogo.com/Save-the-Globe.