Competitive Spirit and a Good Show

(excerpt from WCISA 75th Anniversary book)

The first Western Chapter Tree Climbing Championship was held during the first conference after affiliation in 1949. The purpose of the contest was to give the tree climber an active part in the conference. The committee arranging the competition was, however, at a loss at how to proceed, having no prior precedent to base their judging. It was finally agreed that the best way to judge this type of competition was on the basis of time with, of course, due regard to the current safety practices. The rules for the competition came soon after, and read as follows:

  1. Open to all persons engaged in any phase of the trimming, care, or maintenance of trees.
  2. Contestants will be required to crotch climbing rope with throw line, on limb approximately 60 feet from the ground.
  3. Contestants will make climb to 60 foot limb and re-crotch climbing rope to a higher designated crotch, make secondary climb, tie safety knots, proceed to a point on a designated lower limb, and return to ground on rope.
  4. Contestants will be limited to five throws with throw line.
  5. Contestants will be disqualified at any time during the contest when, in the opinion of the judges, commonly accepted safety rules are being violated.
  6. Judges will give additional instructions at time of climb.
  7. Contestants are urged to use own throw lines, safety ropes and saddles.
  8. Decision of the judges is final. [i]

Selected specifically for this contest was a Eucalyptus viminalis, standing approximately 100 feet tall.  The first winner of this tree climbing competition was Van White, of the California Tree Service based in Los Angeles, who was the first contestant to successfully crotch his throwline on the designated branch. The success of this competition carried, until the Tree-Climbing Competition became a staple event at the NSTC. It was during that first contest, however, that arborists got to experience the fun in watching men race for the top of a towering tree. Winners received between $5 and $35, along with a silver trophy cup and a complimentary yearlong membership in the conference, “for their efforts and good sportsmanship, and for putting on a good show”[ii].

The Return of Field Days and the Tree Trimmer Jamboree

             The 1970s marked a significant increase in the equipment used for tree care – tools for climbing, trimming, cutting, sawing and studying trees were constantly being introduced into the market. Pesticides were also one of the innovations on the rise, and an increasing number of people were interested in understanding and seeing how these new products worked.

To help the commercial arborists to understand these new technologies, the Western Chapter reinstated a program that it had once hosted two decades prior: Field Days. The field days of the 1950s were examined closely, and reintroduced to the annual conference in 1974. The revival of field days was a huge success, with demonstrations of everything from the newest chainsaw to the latest safety gear for tree climbing.

One of the major focal points for field days was safety, and how one could best use their new equipment without causing harm or damage to anyone or anything. Chainsaw demonstrations heavily emphasized this point. “Because of the popularity of this tool, it becomes vitally necessary to educate all users of the chain saw in the safety precautions recommended by the manufacturers”, says a description of the necessary safety instructions in the 1976 Western Chapter News. “Use proper safety equipment”[iii]. Field days gave the manufacturers of these dangerous equipment pieces the chance to demonstrate the proper ways to handle and use your tools, and to ensure that those watching would know what not to do when wielding a dangerous, though convenient, piece of equipment. One manufacturer stated: “The chain saw has represented one of the greatest steps forward in man’s harvest of forest products and his battle against unwanted vegetation. But, if used improperly, it would become a most dangerous device for self-infliction of pain”[iv]. Demonstrations such as these saved countless men and women from injury, just by explaining the safety precautions.

New insecticides, tree trimming techniques, and procedures were also introduced through field days, giving all those in attendance the same basis of knowledge. This helped to give many members of the Western Chapter the same ideas on the most helpful ways to trim trees while still considering the latest advances in tree health. The shared experience of a field day put the members of the WCISTC on the same level with what was the latest and best way to care for trees, something that became a vital factor in making the tree care industry more professional and unified.

Around the same time as the reinstatement of field days, a ‘new’ concept was introduced to host a Tree Trimmer’s Jamboree. Drawing on the influence of the tree climbing competitions from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, several Western Chapter members got involved in organizing a tree climbing contest, to be hosted at what would soon become an annual event: the Jamboree.

First held in June, 1973, the Jamboree was started by Richard Alvarez and Bailey Hudson. They spoke on how many of the working arborists at the conferences would talk about who was the best or the fastest tree climber, and it was eventually decided that a competition would be the best way to prove it. Arbor Tree Surgery hosted the first official Tree Trimmer’s Jamboree, in Lake Atascadero Park, to much anticipation and excitement from the members of the Western Chapter. The contest was an invitational, and after a long day of grueling competition, Gene Murdock, a 40-year-old working arborist, was announced the first overall champion.

Following the success of this first Jamboree, the popularity started to grow. In 1977, the California Arborist Association hosted the first Northern California Jamboree in Burlingame. Shortly thereafter, an annual Jamboree took root in San Bernardino for several years, and at the height of the Jamboree’s early popularity, there were four separate jamborees in different parts of the state. The Jamboree continued in this manner for a few years, moving around to various locations, before taking up its current position within the Western Chapter in the mid 1980s.

In 1975, the third annual Jamboree was noted as being the largest ever, with over 500 spectators for the event and 37 participants competing in six different events. Two new events had been added to the Jamboree line-up, giving suspense and a high level of anticipation to the three-year-old competition. One of the new contests, the roping accuracy competition, was a new team activity and was designed primarily for groundmen. The second new event was an aerial rescue contest suggested by representatives from Cal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Appeals). Both events were “well received by contestants and spectators”, and were “tried this year to determine contestant interest and to get the bugs out of procedures and judging”[v].

The 1975 Jamboree was a hugely successful event, and closed on an anticipatory note for the following year. According to the Western Chapter News:

“Apparently this annual program is here to stay. The growth in terms of both spectators and participants has been phenomenal the past three years. Spectators have increased 400 % with the contestant increase at 125%. What’s even more satisfying is that the objectives of the Jamboree are being realized. The guy in the tree with calloused hands and stinking boots on his feet is being recognized. The contestants have become much more aware of the need for safe work performance. Competition is keener and personal equipment, namely the climbing rope, is once again becoming as important as it was several years ago.”[vi]

Twenty-five years after its conception, The Tree Climbing Competition was an undeniable success. The Jamboree has become an annual tradition within the Western Chapter that celebrates the working arborist, promotes safety among competitors, and, as they said back in 1949, put on a good show.

  • [i] Arborist’s News, Dec. 1948, p. 128
  • [ii] Arborist’s News, Dec. 1948, p. 129
  • [iii] Western Chapter News, Don’t Chew Flesh with Chain Saws, p. 31
  • [iv] Western Chapter News, Don’t Chew Flesh with Chain Saws, p. 33
  • [v] Western Chapter News, September 1975, p. 32
  • [vi] Western Chapter News, September 1975, p. 38

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