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The Ax Men Revealed

By Darcy Cline

The History Channel’s hit series, “Ax Men,” is well underway, and Mike Pihl is on board for the long haul. The History Channel looks inside this deadly serious line of work as camera crews follow four logging companies through a season of harvesting timber. We talked with Mike Pihl, owner of Pihl Logging Co. Inc., a featured outfit on “Ax Men,” about the show and its effects on his crew.

TW: Did they film the whole season at once?

Mike: [They filmed for] five months, then they left about the 22nd of December. After that, they showed up about once every three weeks to try to get a few fill-ins they needed.

TW: Was it difficult working with a film crew under foot?

Mike: At first, we were kind of worried, like “Oh my God, these guys were going to get in the way all the time.” But actually, they did a real good job staying out of the way, and they were great, great people.

Having a business and a family makes it hard to gain new friends sometimes, but we considered each one of the members of the filming crew our friend. They spent five months with us, every single day, and they were pretty neat people.

TW: While filming, did you implement any additional safety measures?

Mike: Basically, we just treated them like they were a choker dog, always standing behind the rigging slinger… because the rigging slinger is supposedly a safe spot. We made sure they were standing behind us, but one of the film guys got hit by the skyline. Luckily, he was a tough guy and everything was fine. We tried to watch out for them as much as we could.

TW: Did the distraction lower production?

Mike: A little bit. But you know, for me, we do a lot of private timber so it’s probably more or less an even tradeoff, because I’m sure I’ll end up with a few more private jobs so it will offset our loss in production.

TW: How has this affected your families, especially the kids? Do they see you as celebrities?

Mike: I don’t think it’s really affected the kids yet, but I think they are really interested in it. Actually, my kids haven’t aired on it yet, but they will be in future episodes.
There have been a ton of ads, and I heard through the grapevine that The History Channel had more viewers on the first episode of “Ax Men” than any other show that they’ve had.

TW: Did you watch the first episode?

Mike: They held a private screening in Astoria (Oregon) the 8th of March, so our crew got to bring 60 people. We went down there, and they provided the theater, and we got to watch it. They gave us dinner and drinks afterwards, so it was pretty cool.

TW: Since “Ax Men” aired, has anything changed for you?

Mike: I went to Ritchie Bros. Auction on Tuesday, and I could tell this guy was pointing at me. I walked in and got my auction number and came back out, and he said, “Oh my God, I just talked to my wife, and she wants your autograph!”

I said, “You gotta be kidding, right?” He says, “No, she wants to have it.” So I did it. You don’t expect to go to the auction and have so many people pointing at you and saying, “My God, are you the Ax Man?” I try to maintain myself as low key but it is quite unusual having a lot of stuff like that happen.

TW: Do the loggers benefit from telling what it’s like to work in such a dangerous field?

Mike Pihl’s team was featured on the Ax Men show. From left to right are Dwayne Dethlefs, Dustin Dethlefs, Cody Davis and Todd Cutright.

Mike: I don’t know if “benefit” is the right word or not, but it really shows the true life of a logger. You see all the guys screaming “screw this, I quit.”

Unfortunately, it really happens. A lot of guys who work in the brush spend a lot of time in the court system. Our operators are pretty good, responsible people, but boy, you take the guys in the brush, and I have to be careful how I choose my words but…I guess that’s a reason they’re in the woods and not in a concrete jungle. That’s their environment and if you are rough around the edges you fit in better out there.

TW: Are you happy with the final product?

Mike: You know they never let us see what the episodes are going to be like ahead of time. Whether I like it or not, it shows the true view of what really happens.

TW: In Man vs. Mountain, Episode 1 of “Ax Men,” one of the crew hurt his back.

Mike: Yeah, he was on my crew. If he really got hurt, there’d be a little more compassion, but you know guys hurt their backs all the time. They gave him a tough time. (laughs)

TW: What was your favorite part of the experience?

Mike: Being able to show the general public what really takes place in logging.

TW: Would you do it again?

Mike: Actually, I already signed on for the second season.

TW: Will you do anything differently on the next season?

Mike: They don’t tell us a whole lot, but I think it’s going to be along the same lines.
The History Channel is giant. We’re just put in the water out in the middle of nowhere and hopefully it won’t go to the guys’ heads. It’s a big deal. I don’t really think we realize how big it is.

For more information, check out http://www.history.com/ minisites/axmen. This sophisticated website has fun interactive features, logging history, previews for each episode, as well as other interesting links.