TUOLUMNE CITY -- You can take the mill out of Tuolumne County, but you can't take logging out of the people.
Thousands flocked Saturday to celebrate the 60th Lumber Jubilee, fully expecting there to be a 61st next year despite next month's scheduled closing of the Sierra Pacific Industries sawmill in nearby Standard.
"We'll always celebrate our logging heritage," said David Domser, 49, at the festival, whose signature lumberjack events take center stage this afternoon. "I was raised on logging dollars. My sons were raised on logging dollars."
Not many logging dollars are flowing these days, thanks to weak demand for lumber and government limits on logging. The jubilee, which started in 1935 but took off various years in between, had been lagging as well in recent years until a new committee resurrected the event last year.
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Many in Saturday's crowd said the event never has been bigger or better. And next year will be no different, they said, mill or no mill. After all, other towns cling to chocolate and cheese-and-wine festivals long after losing the industries that spawned them.
"Old-time loggers will still be here," said Joe Turner, a champion of the jubilee's rebirth celebrating his 66th birthday Saturday.
Fifty years ago, Turner walked into the Standard mill office -- where a restaurant and brewery now stand -- and lied about his age to take a logging job meant for 18-year-olds. Sixteen years later, he started his own logging company near Truckee, which survived until 1988.
"I tell people I started with a million bucks and went till I was broke. It's in your blood," said Turner, who turned to firefighting before retiring to the 100-year- old-plus family homestead three years ago.
His son, John Turner, 41, was world ranked as a lumberjack athlete 20 years ago. He is among 20 employees of a logging company near Susanville still with jobs out of a work force of 114 before the recession hit.
"It's the smell," John Turner said. "The smell of fresh cut trees. It's indescribable."
That smell should be evident today, the last of the four-day jubilee, when circuit-traveling lumberjacks whiz through huge logs in seconds and toss double-bladed axes. Crowd thrillers like the team tug-o-war and Bull of the Woods also are scheduled for this afternoon.
"It's the toughest sport in the world, bar none," said Bob Walker, coach of the Tuolumne County tug of war team.
"I've lost feeling in this hand for three weeks," said Domser, who pulled for 18 years before "retiring" in 1992. One contest lasted 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Barbara Persson compiled several decades of photographs, programs and news stories about the famed jubilee into a scrapbook on display at the outdoor "Company Store." She was born into a logging family in Tuolumne City 74 years ago, her brothers logged, she married a logger and one of her sons still logs.
That kind of culture dies harder than companies watching bottom lines. So logging families will carry on the tradition, many said.
"I just love the jubilee, and I can hardly wait each year for it to come," Persson said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.