Thanks for Asking | June 9, 2011

our local jack-of-all-facts tells you how it is

Frank Smoot |

I found this tidbit in a reference book, Famous First Facts – “[First] Log-rolling national championship tournament – was held on Sept. 9, 1898, on the lagoon at the Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha, NE, on Lumbermen’s Day, by the Lumbermen’s Association of America. … The winner was Tommy Fleming of Eau Claire, WI.” Who was this guy and was he ever famous for log-rolling?

Thanks for asking. Indeed he was. If you bend your ear down to the newsprint, you can almost hear the inimitable style of ESPN’s Classic Wide World of Sports voice-over (April 28, 2011 edition): “Tough, strong men with energy to burn – sometimes not much to do with it, except sit around with an old hound dog in the evenings and brag about who was the greatest lumberjack of them all. It was inevitable that one man would dare another to prove his boast, and in 1898 they held the first world log rolling championships. It was official, then, that Tom Fleming was the. greatest. of. them. all.”

Now that’s sports talk. Not only was he the first, he was the first to repeat (in 1902). The first four champions were all Eau Claire men – Fleming, twice, as well as Al Stewart and Tom McElhone. Perhaps in honor, they held the next three championship contests in Eau Claire.

Our hometown boys have done extraordinarily well over the years. In the late 20s and early 30s, Wilbur Marx won the championship six times, and in the 40s and 50s, Jim Running won it seven times, making him the mid-century Lance Armstrong of lumber jacking.

For a half-century now, world championships have been held in Hayward. The Canadian Wickheim brothers (Jubiel and Ardiel) dominated in the 60s, and fellow countryman Phil Scott followed suit in the early 70s. But since then, fellows from Wisconsin, Michigan, or Minnesota have won 30 of the past 33 years, including Hayward’s own Fred Scheer (a four-time winner in the 70s and 80s) and J.R. Salzman (an eight-time winner and the 2010 champion).

But back to Fleming. After his 1898 win, Tom (then 18 or 19 years old) had a five-day engagement in Minneapolis, followed by an East Coast tour demonstrating his skills. In later years – the 40s, when Fleming would have been more than 60 – he teamed up with Wilbur Marx and Marietta Terrill, a former women’s champion log roller and Abbotsford native (who died in Menomonie just three years ago in 2008). As I understand it, the three gave demonstrations all over, at what they used to call “Sportsmen’s Shows” – a kind of combination trade-show, Chautauqua, and county fair of outdoors recreation. These were hugely popular events, sometimes lasting a week or more and drawing tens of thousands, including chartered bus tours, at each venue. (Those venues included Madison Square Garden when it was at 50th Street and Eighth Avenue in NYC.)

As for Fleming’s “other life,” I don’t know this for dead-certain myself (maybe someone out there knows), but some folks have asserted this was the same Tom Fleming who was an undertaker in Eau Claire – I guess during the off-season.

Incidentally, there’s a great 1948 video of Marietta Terrill not only jumping rope, but next stripping out of her lumberjack duds into a fetching swim dress – all the while rolling a log, of course – at a Chicago Coliseum Sportsmen’s Show. Go to and do a search for Marietta Terrill. And if you don’t think it’s astonishing, well then, you try it.

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.