Valdosta Daily Times

June 15, 2014

Going down the river with the ‘Ax Men’

Desiree Carver
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — With just a bit of flesh hanging on, “Captain” Clint Roberts finds himself wounded while river logging.

Losing a battle with an alligator snapping turtle, his bite needs medical attention. What is the captain of a homemade pull barge to do when stuck on a river in the middle of the deep Southern woods with an injury?

The answer comes from his partner, Dave “The Kraken” Stone, who decides to demonstrate his “redneck” medical skills by stitching the wound with some fishing line from the boat.

It’s a story Roberts tells anyone curious about the strange looking scar on his arm.

Becoming The DreadKnots

Down in Pinetta, Fla., as the Southern sun beats on the waters of the Withlacoochee, you can find these two men making a living performing a task few had ever encountered until it became the subject of a popular reality TV show.

Stone and Roberts’ method of logging is not only unique, it is an occupation that has made this crew famous thanks to History Channel’s show, “Ax Men.” The History Channel summarizes their story as follows: “Timber markets have reached new heights, and logging companies are pushing harder than ever to cash in. Falling trees, bone-crushing equipment, razor sharp lines, lack of attention and sometimes just freak accidents can kill a logger in an instant. Every day, there is a fine line between production and safety. ‘Ax Men’ tells the story of the men who risk their lives to provide America with much-needed timber.”

Known as The DreadKnots, Stone and Roberts are one of the logging teams followed by the show. This upcoming season will mark their third with the show. However, this job is not something they invented just to keep audiences amused. These boys have been at it way before L.A. decided to pick them up.

When Clint Roberts learned about river logging from a customer at his sawmill, he sought a place to get his scuba certification. This landed him in Valdosta’s

Southern Ocean Sports, owned by Dave Stone.

Stone asks all of his students why they are taking the class, and Roberts’ reason piqued his interest. Roberts wanted to mine sunken timber from below the waterways.

“I told him I’d let him learn for free if he taught me more about this whole logging thing,” says Stone.

Thus the DreadKnots were born.

Sunken Treasure

Upon entering the water, the guys navigate the river at about 6 miles per hour. They trek a specific pattern in search of underwater timber that will eventually be used for flooring. Only trees that are precut can be removed. Trees underwater due to an “act of God” must be left alone.

As Roberts explains, the majority of the logs lying at the bottom of the Withlacoochee have a colorful history.

The twelfth governor of Florida, George Franklin Drew, opened the largest sawmill in Florida in 1865. Back then, logs had to be floated down the Withlacoochee to make it to the sawmill and many would be lost along the way.

High quality logs tend to be more dense. If they fell from the raft, they immediately sank and remained fully submerged underwater, preserving the wood.

Thanks to days long past, the DreadKnots are able to pull anywhere from six to 12 logs a day from the depths of the river.

The process of getting the logs is not an easy one. Their barge is equipped with a winch system that pivots differently from most and allows them to be at the top of their occupation. They attach buoys to mark the logs. While Roberts raises the logs, Stone swims underwater with his scuba gear and a flashlight in search for more.

Low visibility in the river makes for a difficult search, but these two are seasoned pros. They make it look easy.

Dangers of the Deep

After the tedious process of unraveling logs from whatever may hold them at the bottom of the river, they are attached to the barge.

One wrong move while underwater with these logs could lead to severe injury or death, making this job not one for the faint of heart. Six to eight logs can be locked onto the barge at one time.

But that is not the end of the day for these devout loggers. They take logs back and make a pile to be carried out once the day is finished. A typical work day can last well into the night.

After all of the logs from the day are gathered, they are loaded on the truck. They are taken to the sawmill where they enter the process of being turned into flooring.

Television hasn’t changed them, though Stone and Roberts in person have far more dimension than their “Ax Men” personas.

Overall, these reality stars are as grounded as ever and are well known for staying at public appearances as long as necessary to make sure every fan gets a chance to meet them.

Both say they always want to be accessible to their fans, but they want to maintain the freedom that allows them to make a living as captains of their futures.