Family fun is the goal of the revived Payson Loggers Sawdust Festival. It was also the goal when it was first held in the Rim Country 33 years ago.
It can trace some of its strongest roots to a very civic-minded family — the Floyds. Jerry Floyd said his parents, the late J.W. and Vertilee Floyd, started the Sawdust Festival because of their work in the pulp lumber industry and because they thought it was important to have events to bring visitors to Payson in the summer.
Working in the lumber business they knew the loggers in the area and surrounding communities.
The Floyds came to the Rim Country in 1966 with sons Lanny and Jerry. They owned and operated Aztec Butane and the Sunset gas station and Floyd’s Logging. Later, the family acquired the land where the Payson Campground & RV Resort is now located and built a KOA Campground there.
Vertilee was active in the chamber of commerce and with the campground, the family was interested in bringing visitors to the area. Preceding the Loggers Sawdust Festival by several years, the Floyds played a big role in getting the Fiddlers Festival going strong.
Jerry Floyd said his parents started the Loggers Sawdust Festival in 1976. (Some records say it started in 1975, but according to publications in the archives of the Payson Roundup, the first contest was in 1976.)
The first year only about 300 people came out for the event. The popularity of the program soared in its second year with 2,000 tickets sold.
Floyd and his brother, Lanny, both competed in the first couple of years of the contest. They were not too heavily involved in getting the event organized.
“Mom was real good at getting people to help. She’d come up with the idea and get all the people she needed to help,” Floyd said.
“Everybody knew everybody and it was easy to get hold of people to help and take part,” he said.
He remembers the early Sawdust Festivals as friends getting together and having fun.
The first year Floyd recalls about 50 people participated in the contests.
The prize money was $1,000 and the top honor was the Reid Smith Memorial All-Around Trophy.
The Floyd family has a strong connection to the All-Around trophy — it is named for Jerry Floyd’s late father-in-law.
Reid Smith was in the logging business for 20 years, working throughout Arizona. He was killed April 1, 1976 working in the woods near Williams. His daughter, Chris, is married to Jerry. She is a graduate of Payson High School and a longtime employee with the Town of Payson Community Development Department.
The logger to win the Reid Smith All-Around Trophy the most times was Ken Despain, he took home the award four times in 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1986. The last winner was Terry Gilmore in 1993. By 1993, the prize money had grown to a pot of $6,700.
Several men won the trophy multiple times: Dan Drorbaugh won in 1978, 1980 and 1981. George Harrison won it in 1988 and 1989. Relatives kept the trophy in the family a couple of times — Gary Crandell won in 1978 (tying with Drorbaugh) and Jody Crandell won in 1979; Andrew Hurd won in 1991 and Daniel Hurd in 1992. The first winner was Ron Smith (no relation to Reid Smith). Other winners were Bob Lowery, 1977; Bill Neal, 1983; Jerry Lanny, 1987; and Johnny Spears, 1990.
Women have competed in the Loggers Sawdust Festival all along, but didn’t get their own Lady Logger of the Year award until 1980. That first award was kept in the Drorbaugh family; Logger of the Year Dan Drorbaugh’s sister, Alice Drorbaugh Lay, took home the trophy and did a repeat performance in 1981.
Bill Neal’s wife, Irene won the award in 1982 and again in 1983, the same year Bill won Logger of the Year honors. In an interview last week, Irene said the year she and Bill shared the top spots was the most memorable of all the years the two of them have been involved in the Loggers Sawdust Festival.
Leslie Land was a powerhouse in the Lady Logger of the Year annals, she won the title five times: 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990 and 1992. Tina Harrison took home the award twice, in 1987 and 1988. Also winning the title were Timarea Crandell in 1984 and Monty Spears in 1991.
Over the years the Loggers Sawdust Festival has featured both skilled and fun events for both the professional lumberman and area residents and visitors who want to make a bid for prize money.