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Gold Rush Days start with a roar

Men, women vie in feast of 12B overshot mucking, jack-leg drills, awesome saws

Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2002

On the field of his favorite sport, Kirk "Ziggy" Ziegenfuss smokes Dominican cigars and wears a uniform composed of a T-shirt, ball cap and snug, drill-oil-smeared Levis with a wallet rectangle bleached on the back pocket.

His equipment is anything you can plug an air hose into, including a a 12B overshot mucker, or what looks like a miniature steam shovel attached to a miner's cart. Ziegenfuss, 45, of Juneau can load a ton of pea gravel in 52 seconds. That's fast, but not fast enough to place in Saturday's Gold Rush Days 12B overshot mucking competition.

"Looks like I can run my mouth faster than I run that thing," he joked.

Twelve-B overshot-mucking, jack-leg drilling, women's hand-mucking and spike-driving were just a few of the uniquely-named events held at Gold Rush Field behind Dimond Park during the first day of the two-day Gold Rush Days competition. Timber and mining enthusiasts compete for the titles of "Bull" and "Babe" of the woods, or best-skilled male or female lumberjack and miner.

On Saturday competitors tested their skills with mining equipment. The 13th-annual event, free to the public, continues today from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the logging competition.

On Saturday morning, earplugs were the hottest item with the small audience. The event was jack-leg drilling, which involves wrestling a 120-pound, vibrating drill into position against a block of concrete that is about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. The objective is to drill two holes inside a small square on the block in the fastest time.

Ziegenfuss won the event last year. This year he choked on the most difficult part, "collaring the hole," which refers to controlling the jack-hammering bit deftly enough to make a first, tidy indentation in the block.

"Once you have the hole collared, you just sort of hold it and let it go in," he said, posing like a man driving a Cadillac with one hand on the steering wheel.

On Ziegenfuss' second hole, the oil-spewing drill bounced out of position, dimpling the concrete. This being his ninth or 10th year in the competition, he was still optimistic.

"Usually I place in one or two events that involve things that don't have a wooden handle," he said.

Unfortunately, the jack-drill broke soon afterward and had to be repaired. By midday Saturday, there still was no winner for the drilling contest.

By lunchtime, the stands were filling up, and the main entertainment was Terry Selby, a lumberjack clown who climbed to the top of a 90-foot log, juggled, danced and pretended to wet his pants from fear. Audience members covered their eyes when wind, whipping a dust tornado from the neighboring ballfields, buffeted him from the side. He teetered, then plummeted, saved from the ground by a rope harness.

Selby, like many of the Gold Rush Days participants, is from Outside. A logger since 1974, he teaches forestry at a high school in Philomath, Ore. In his summers, he works the timber-sports-show circuit across the United States. Aside from clowning, he likes to axe-throw and log-roll.

Just as Selby finished his gig, the announcer bellowed, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, we got some hot saws!" A flatbed tuck rolled up and four burly men in suspenders jumped out and unloaded enormous chain-saws with gleaming exhaust pipes.

"Yeah, those are big and temperamental," Selby said, gesturing at the saws. "More temperamental than any woman I've ever met."

It took about four men to make one of the saws, a chrome monster with a 32-inch blade, lop off the tip of a log. Shortly after, the saw got temperamental, with an electrical problem sending it for repairs.

Sonie Blackwell, 40, surveyed the scene from the stands, wearing a cap printed with an American flag and her competitor number pinned to her sweats. The Juneau woman has been "Babe of the Woods" the last six out of nine years.

She was supposed to start her first event, spike-driving, in which she hammers spikes into logs with a 3-pound maul, but things were running behind. She didn't mind, though, because her reason for participating in Gold Rush Days is mostly social.

"Winning's the gravy, but the meat and the potatoes are the people that are here," she said. "Nobody's better. These are down-to-earth, hard-working, hard-playing people."

Official results of the competitions are expected to be posted Tuesday on the event's Web site at www.juneaugoldrush.com.



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