McCloud's Modern-Day Paul Bunyan, Rolin Eslinger
● By Gary VanDeWalker
Story by Gary Vandewalker
Photos courtesy of Rolin Eslinger
The Australian’s axe moved like lightning through the air, biting deep into the wood. Chunks of wood flew off until within seconds, the log lay in two pieces. Young Rolin Eslinger watched in awe, determined to master and beat the record in a sport he attempted before.
Timber sports were the hobby of Eslinger’s father. Growing up in McCloud, young Eslinger found his attention turned elsewhere. Boy Scouts, Little League, golf and hiking filled his days as he rode his bike across town and explored the numerous dust-covered logging roads. “I moved to McCloud when I was 8 years old,” Eslinger says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a good small-town atmosphere where the only rule was to be home by dark.”
In high school, Eslinger pursued football, basketball and track with no concern for the lumberjack skills displayed in his hometown. The annual town logging show was something to do for an afternoon. Watching an Australian come and break a world record gave the boy a hunger for a new venture. The competitor invited the teen to come to Tasmania in October of 1976 and learn the sport. The trip became the first of five journeys to becoming a world champion in his own right.
Timber sports began in the 1870s, with competitive chopping. The lumberjacks of Australia and New Zealand chopped more wood in a month in their contests than during the whole season in America. Eslinger was the first American to stay in Australia for a period of time to invest in the sport. Many came for the 10 days of competition and observation while Eslinger invested months.
Returning home, Eslinger took a job with Champion Timber, going to timber sport contests in his free time. The 6-foot-5 man began to dominate. In January of 1980, he became the first person in the northern hemisphere to win a championship event in Australia, in the 12-inch vertical chop. “In 1981, I set a world record and won a championship in West Virginia,” Eslinger says. “I was a young guy, traveling, with little money. It was the perfect life.”
In 1985, the Stihl Timbersports series began. Airing in 62 countries with 20 million viewers, the program is the second-longest running show on ESPN. The extreme lumberjack sports brought together the best of lumberjack athletes. Eslinger joined the series, winning three of the first five titles. His career continued as he won more than 40 championships, excelling in axe throwing, hand sawing and chainsaw work. Sports Illustrated wrote about Esliniger twice, with articles also appearing in the Wall Street Journal. In 1993, he set the world record in single hand sawing. With his mother, he also won championships in Jack and Jill sawing.
“I drove across the states, sometimes taking a week to get where I was going. Something would always go wrong with the vehicle,” Eslinger says. “Every trip was an adventure.”
After being a competitor for 40 years, his hand sawing world record still holds. He was inducted in 2015 into the Stihl Timbersports Hall of Fame. Eslinger competes in fewer events now, two a year. He remains in the top three in world’s axe throwing. “I remember taking hours to perfect axe throwing,” he says. “I use to have a target in my living room and practice indoors.”
This modern Paul Bunyan looks back at his choices in the sport. Reflecting on his living room target practice, he remarks on both his timber sport career and those practices. He says, “I never missed.”