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Escalante Days sees good turnout in Dolores

Debbie Valerio won the women’s chain saw competition Saturday during Escalante Days in Dolores. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Huge crowd cheered on traditional chain saw and arm-wrestling contests

Strong men and women tested their chain saw and arm-wrestling skills Saturday at Escalante Days and Nights in Dolores.

A large crowd turned out at Flander’s Park under sunny skies to watch and cheer on the friendly competitions. Play-by-play commentary was provided by DJ Ray McDonnell of Dolores radio station KKDC D’Crow.

“It looks like about 1,000 people in the park,” said Dolores Chamber Director Susan Lisak, event organizer.

In the women’s chain saw competition, Debbie Valerio took first place with a time of 25.2 seconds. Carmelita Payte was second with 1:04, and Kristine Ettma was third with 2 minutes.

Valerio has been running the chain saw and arm-wrestling competition for the past 37 years, and has won it more than a dozen times.

“I’ve worked with chain saws my whole life, I’m not scared of them,” she said. “The trick is to let the chain saw do the work, don’t try and force it too much. On the upper cut, get your center of gravity low to counter the buck.”

In the men’s small saw 72 cc and under, the Ragland family dominated, with Bill Ragland taking first with a time of 16.78 seconds. Doug Ragland Sr. was second with 21.98, and Doug Ragland Jr. was third with 23.62.

“I’m proud to be here with my family, it’s a real thrill. The key is knowing how to sharpen your saw,” said Bill Ragland, age 91. He still holds the record of 8.1 seconds.

The chain saw competition winner post for photos from the crowd. From left are Debbie Valerio and the Raglands, including record holder Bill Ragland, far right. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Cole Veach and Jordan Johnson compete in the arm-wrestling competition. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Local kids get ready to chow down in the watermelon eating contest. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Genevieve Sparks and Maggie Rodriguez took first and second place in the women's arm wrestling contest. Note that Sparks' dress is made out of men's ties. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
There were lots of events for kids at Escalante Days. Mason Ragland and Noah Hobbs took first and second in the watermelon-eating contest. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Grace Shellhammer won a free bike during Escalante Days. The Dolores Rotary Club gave away 12 bikes during an event Friday that included a kid bike parade and obstacle course. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

Bill took the big saw honors as well, winning with a time of 14.4 seconds. Harold Ragland was second with 22.37, and Doug Ragland was a close third with 22.69.

Competitor Terry Rose enjoys the camaraderie among local loggers who come out for the event that honors Dolores history.

“It’s fun to get together. We’re the last loggers left in the area. In the ’60s and ’70s, there were 45 logging crews around here; now there are just a handful. The reason is not enough mills. Don’t know why, there is plenty of thinning that needs to be done in the forests around here.”

The arm wrestling saw some lively competition, fueled by an enthusiastic crowd and cups of beer from the Snaggletooth Bar.

Just two women competed, friends Genevieve Sparks and Maggie Rodriguez, with Sparks taking the win in two rounds.

“It feels great. I’d never done it before,” Sparks said.

She credits her strength to working in construction and driving a semitrailer.

In the men’s lightweight bracket, Mark Kibel of Cortez took the win. He used to compete a lot in Silverton back in the day, he said.

“It is more technique than all strength. I get the jump, wait for the other guy to breath, then go for the win.”

In the heavyweight bracket, Jordan Johnson defended his title again. He has won the event the past four years. Robert Freeman was second, and Cole Veach was third.

Johnson’s strategy is “sheer strength, go hard the whole time.”

Other events included a parade, watermelon-eating contest, water balloon fight, kid bike giveaway, vendors, softball tournament, 5K run and street dance with Bentley Monk.

The night session of the festival took place on the Dolores River Brewery patio and included a comedy show by Andy Mathews, and two bands. YLC played folk jazz, and Super Group performed a self-applied “nitro twang” style.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com