Final days of fair bring out South Whidbey tradition

Once the thrill of rides and the smell of fried food wears off following the first two days of the Whidbey Island Fair, many event regulars swing back for a taste of tradition: the parade and log show.

Kacie Hanson

Once the thrill of rides and the smell of fried food wears off following the first two days of the Whidbey Island Fair, many event regulars swing back for a taste of tradition: the parade and log show.

Timeless vintage rides and vibrant colors lit up Camano Avenue during the 2016 parade on Saturday morning. Younger South Enders and old timers alike paraded the street in a colorful way that only Whidbey knows. Parade participants walked alongside a selection of 4-H animals, motorcycles, locally crafted floats and all sorts of rural equipment from four wheelers to loaders.

Randy Bradley, the parade’s grand marshal, played his accordion perched on the back of his family truck as people waved and cheered from the sidewalk. Bradley had a stroke eight years ago, and although losing some of his speech and usage of the right side of his body, his accordion-playing abilities never left him. Fellow grand marshal and Bradley’s wife, Myrna Bradley, was enthusiastically engaging with the crowd of bystanders by waving, smiling and laughing during the nearly mile-long stretch. According to those The Record spoke to on the ground, the Bradleys contributed a great amount to South Whidbey.

“I know Randy and I knew his younger brother John, who worked for me back in the day,” said Clinton resident Roy Simmons. “The Bradleys go back a long way. They’re a neat family who have done a lot for the community.”

Candidates for county commissioner and state senate also made appearances with their posses of supporters. Everybody was in good spirits despite the rivalries; candy was constantly launched from the vehicles and the candidates’ supporters, drawing smiles from bystanders.

This year’s parade managed to avoid any controversy; last year’s event was marked by controversy over the appearance of a confederate flag.

As Myrna Bradley pointed out prior to the fair, the parade is a tradition that tends to bring long-time Whidbey Islanders “out of the woods” so to speak after hiding away all year, and that was definitely the case once again. Old-timers could be seen waving to the grand marshals, shouting congratulations to the Bradleys as they passed by on the back of their white pick up truck. Others agreed that part of what makes the parade a fun community event is that it’s a tradition that brings South Whidbey together after many spend a year out of plain view.

“Everybody seems to come out for the parade and you see all the regulars,” Freeland resident Michael Hastings said. “We (my family) call it the family reunion — you live on the same island but you often don’t see people all year.”

While most aspects of the fair stick with fair traditions, one event, the Bunyon Busters Log Show held on Sunday afternoon, is steeped in the logging traditions of the Pacific Northwest. The grand marshals have their finger prints all over the log show as well, as Myrna Bradley’s son, J.T. Madsen, brought the first log show to the fair alongside Albert Gabelein more than 30 years ago. The event has been a hit ever since, and regularly draws out large crowds who are eager to see lumberjacks and lumberjills climb 50-foot poles and hack away at logs as quickly as possible.

“This is a tradition for logging communities,” Jim Fox, a log show organizer said. “It originally started out in the Northwest when loggers started competing in someone’s pasture, then prize money started to get involved.”

Nearly 20 contestants, some from longtime South Whidbey families such as the Hansons and Madsens, stepped up to the plate this year to take on numerous logging tasks. Contests beside those previously mentioned span a number of skills: log rolling, speed sawing, underhand chopping and even overhead axe throwing. Organizers said the results for overall standings would be announced in September.

Not every aspect of the log show was a competition, rather for show. Contestant and Sultan native Natalie Amber brought heavy duty toys from her vintage chainsaw business to show off to the crowd, including a two-man chainsaw from the 1940s and a rarity in the V8 chainsaw she built. Dubbed the “monster truck” of chainsaws, it uses a 1987 Land Rover V8 engine to power it at high speeds. The saw cuts through 2-foot thick logs in less than 10 seconds. Amber says the monster of a machine weighs 560 pounds, and needs two bulky people to lift it.

“There used to be rules for the V8 chainsaw that said it requires two men to lift it, but now the rules say that two people are needed to lift it,” Amber said in reference to her proving lumberjacks wrong about being able to lift it.

While Amber brings a nontraditional edge to an iconic contest steeped in culture, going to the fair is all about tradition for Bradley. That’s the case for many Whidbey families that make an annual pit stop at the fair, she says, and it’s part of the reason why fair organizers stick to their guns every year.

“Going to the fair is generational,” Bradley said. “Parents volunteer and carry it on and teach their kids to keep that tradition going. It was the same when we helped build Community Park — I learned from my parents, Randy learned from his, and I’ve handed that down to my children and I think that’s really important.”


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