• Reality TV took an unexpected turn in the last decade with shows such as "Ax Men"
• The show's sudden cancellation in 2016 left its fans wondering why
• Many of the original cast members have since passed away
• The series was revived with a tenth season in 2019
• The possibility of the show returning for a long-run series is uncertain
Reality TV surely took an unexpected turn during the last decade with shows such as “Ax Men”. Though it’s not easy to explain why people loved seeing series with that common-men-in-danger concept so much, since “Ax Men” premiered in 2008 on the History channel, it’s kept a privileged place on the network’s programming schedule, due to its impressive ratings.
It’s an acknowledged fact that audiences like to see average people going through outrageous situations on TV, but the success of “Ax Men” could also be faulted, in how thrilling it is to see an activity such as logging, which is often regarded as clunky and not interesting at all, taking a big media spotlight.
Nonetheless, the show’s sudden cancellation in 2016 left its fans wondering what caused it, and if it’ll ever return. So whatever happened to “Ax Men” and what’s its cast up to today? Stay with us to know all!
- 1 What Happened To The Show?
- 2 Where Are The Crews Today?
- 2.1 J.M. Browning Logging
- 2.2 Gustafson Logging
- 2.3 Pihl Logging
- 2.4 Rygaard Logging
- 2.5 S&S Aqua Logging
- 2.6 Swamp Man Logging
- 2.7 Lemare Lake Logging
- 2.8 Papac Alaska Logging
- 2.9 Big Gun Logging
- 2.10 Dreadknots Logging
- 2.11 Ax Cut Lumber
- 2.12 Chapman Logging
- 2.13 Kelly Oakes & Sons Logging
- 2.14 Will The Show Come Back?
What Happened To The Show?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear explanation as for why “Ax Men” was cancelled after nine seasons on air. However, while many people theorize it was due to low ratings, which admittedly dropped during the last two seasons, another part of the audience guesses that the reason is far more sad and terrible.
It’s important to know that prior to the cancellation of “Ax Men”, the series was hit with the unfortunate death of some of its cast members. The first logger from the show to die was Jimmy Smith in 2012, followed by William Bart Colantuono the following year, probably making the situation too sad to continue.
Tragically enough, the one in charge of delivering the news of the definitive end of “Ax Men” was Gabe Rygaard in May 2016, just a couple of months prior to his own death in a car accident in Washington.
“Ax Men” was revived with a tenth season later in 2019, meant to explore the lives of some of the crews showcased in the original show’s airing. The season contained 10 episodes and finished airing in September that year. Since then, no further news of a renewal has been released, leading many people to think that the series’ reboot was probably a one-time thing.
Where Are The Crews Today?
J.M. Browning Logging
Based in Astoria, Oregon, the company J.M. Browning Logging debuted in the first season “Ax Men” and stayed in it until the fourth. The business was owned by Jay Browning, who had been in the logging industry since the early 1970s, eventually funding the company in 1985 to offer services of tree transportation, trucking and construction.
Although the company has no presence on social media, and their website has very scarce information, it’s assumed they’re still active in the business. In 2018, Jay was awarded the Operator of the Year for the Northwest Oregon Area, a recognition for his company’s efforts while harvesting timber, ‘to protect natural resources at a level that goes above and beyond requirements of the Oregon Forest Practices Act’.
Although they debuted in the series premiere of “Ax Men”, Gustafson Logging only stayed in the show for one season.
Nonetheless, Clay, Mark and Wade are surely well remembered by dedicated viewers, though the experience of appearing on TV wasn’t very positive for the family.
As Mark admitted in a 2019 interview, the Gustafson’s motivation to join the series was to show the world what their job was about, though in his words: ‘it became obvious that Hollywood’s intent was a little different than what we were hoping’, sealing their short-lived career in the entertainment world in a bittersweet tone.
The latest update on Gustafson Logging’s activities was in November 2020, when Chad Gustafson was featured in the magazine Timber West, affirming that the business was co-owned by him and his father Mark. However, the company’s status online is marked as ‘permanently closed’ nowadays, making it unclear if they’re still active.
Owned by Mike Pihl, the Pihl Logging business became one of the most remembered crews in “Ax Men”, but not necessarily for positive reasons. While Dustin Pihl and Dwayne Dethlefs’ brief presence in the show might not be well remembered by the audience, in 2009 Mike gave people a lot to talk about when he was charged with third degree assault after flipping his Jeep and injuring his children. Though it was an accident, Mike was driving while under the influence.
Now with that incident left a long way behind, Mike actually made his comeback to TV after several years of absence, during the “Ax Men” revival in 2019. Meanwhile, Pihl Logging is still up and running, as seen on their social media.
Although Rygaard Logging wasn’t in “Ax Men” from the start, the company’s presence in the show is well remembered by the audience for being the longest of all the crews.
As seen in the show, the business’ founder Craig Rygaard kept their operations controlled until he stepped down in 2013, leaving it in the hands of his son Gabe, whose time as the company’s head was unfortunately short-lived. In 2016, Gabe was killed in a car accident involving two other automobiles, though he was the only one fatally injured. At the time of his passing, Gabe was only 45 years old, and the father of three kids.
As seen in the 2019’s “Ax Men” revival, nowadays Rygaard Logging is still active, headed by Gabe’s brother Jason.
S&S Aqua Logging
Present in “Ax Men” from the second to sixth seasons, S&S Aqua Logging was managed by Jimmy Smith and his son James, but unfortunate events marked their journey in the show on a negative note.
In 2009 the Department of Natural Resources of Washington seized dozens of logs valued at $10,000 from S&S Aqua Logging.
The materials were apparently obtained from the Hoquiam River, an activity for which the company lacked permits, in addition to the potential ecosystem damage that salvaging those logs entailed.
It’s unclear how the case ended up, but seeing that prosecutors were looking to charge the Smiths with first-degree theft, and wanted monetary compensation for the logs in question, things weren’t looking good for S&S Aqua back then.
Unfortunately, Jimmy Smith died in 2012 of Cancer; as of 2021, the business is apparently inactive.
Swamp Man Logging
After their debut in the third season of “Ax Men”, Swamp Man Logging stayed in the series until its cancellation in 2016. The company’s name is a direct recall to the New Orleans’ swamps, where Shelby Stanga’s home is.
The company’s usual activities included the recovery of logs from water conduits and similar, though what usually made it special was Shelby’s varied companionships while doing so.
However, Shelby’s appearances in the show were somewhat shadowed by strong death rumors which arose following an injury he suffered in the show. Fortunately, he got out of it safely and alive, but “Ax Men” received a huge backlash from viewers for apparently staging scenes that made it look as if Shelby had passed away during the incident.
Despite the fact that their social media accounts are not very active, Swamp Man Logging is apparently still active nowadays. However, they weren’t included in the “Ax Men” revival in 2019.
Lemare Lake Logging
Although they only appeared in the fourth and sixth “Ax Men” seasons, Lemare Lake Logging is well remembered for its owner Eric Dutcyvich’s straight to the point personality.
While Lemare Lake Logging hasn’t been on TV since 2013, the company is still doing well in 2021.
According to a 2019 interview related to a forestry strike in Canada, Eric’s business was ‘the largest forestry-services provider on the North Island’ at the time. However, according to local papers, in recent years Lemare has often failed to provide local government authorities with clear reports on their operations, something which obviously arose suspicions towards the company.
Today, Lemare Lake Logging has been active for 35 years and has over 400 employees.
Papac Alaska Logging
This company fronted by Mike Papac is evidently one of the most well-remembered of “Ax Men”, appearing in it for six seasons. Besides the fact that Mike founded his own company to maintain the tradition of his logger father in Washington, his easy-going personality and enviable experience made him one of the most unforgettable cast members in the show.
As far as is known, everything is going well for both Papac Alaska and Mike, who hasn’t retired from the business yet, even after decades: ‘I’m getting older, but I don’t figure I’ll be quitting any time soon’, he said in an interview with the Equipment Journal in 2020.
Big Gun Logging
Unlike other crews in the show, Big Gun Logging was still relatively new by the time they debuted in “Ax Men” during its fifth season. However, Big Gun’s owner, Levi Brown wasn’t new to the industry, given that he was a former employee of Mile Pihl, who actually helped him out during the company’s early days by contracting their services.
Although not a lot is known about Levi Brown and whatever he’s doing nowadays, Big Gun Logging is still in business.
The Dreadknots Logging crew appeared in the series for only three seasons, but they arguably had some of the best-known faces in the show. Headed by Clint Roberts, the team formed by Dave Stone and Chris Miller usually searched for logs on the water.
In later seasons, new member Katelyn Sims took Miller’s place in the crew, soon becoming a fan favorite. However, the fact that she was introduced in “Ax Men” as Stone’s cousin was strongly criticized, given that they were totally unrelated.
It’s unclear what happened to Dreadknots Logging, though. After the end of “Ax Men”, the company’s social media hinted that they’d joined the gold digging business, but seeing that they haven’t updated their Facebook page in years, and their website is unresponsive, it’s not far-fetched to think they’re not active anymore.
Ax Cut Lumber
As with any other family company, the Ax Cut Lumber company was quite passionate about becoming big. Headed by Donald and Ronald Jones, these twins brothers’ dreams of dominating the Louisiana’s Pearl River’s waters was indeed admirable, even if they only appeared in one season of the show.
It’s assumed that Ax Cut Lumber is still active, though their presence on social media is scarce.
Though they appeared in “Ax Men” for three seasons, Greg Chapman and his logging company’s several years in the industry was deserving of praise. By the time they debuted in the show’s seventh season, Chapman Logging already had 15 years of experience and counting, in recovering logs from Florida’s waterways.
With Greg heading the team, the Chapman Logging crew was quite consistent with members such as Leslie Jeter, Roger Gunter and Patrick Swilley.
Though Chapman Logging’s social media accounts are not very active, the company’s data on online directories report they make on average $98,307 on sales per year, meaning it’s going well for them in that regard.
It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. #AxMen
On the other hand, Greg’s Facebook lets us see that he’s still working in logging, but the company’s LinkedIn’s profile lists Chip Chapman as the current owner. For their part, Jeter and Gunter maintain a low profile online.
Kelly Oakes & Sons Logging
Kelly Oakes’ logging company was everything one would expect from a young family business. Although Kelly was definitely easy-going aside of his apparent rivalry with the Rygaards, his young sons Josh and Jacob were quite a handful on their own.
Though Kelly and sons were only in “Ax Men” for the seventh season, the experience turned out bittersweet. As Kelly asserted during an interview with Forks Forum in 2016, his disagreements with Rygaard Logging were troublesome for him, even causing people to send him death threats at one point, something he considered unnecessary given the show’s nature: ‘people think that stuff was real’.
Despite the hate he received for it, Kelly admitted having enjoyed being in the show, an opinion his sons don’t agree with. Nowadays, it’s not clear what happened to Kelly Oakes & Sons Logging, as they don’t have any active page or social media.
Will The Show Come Back?
Though “Ax Men” maintained undeniable success for years, the truth is that the possibilities of it coming back are low. As it happens, “Ax Men” and other History channel reality shows such as “Ice Road Truckers”, were meant to attract a certain audience who were interested in seeing ‘real-men-in-real-danger’, as the Los Angeles Times defined them.
While this trend had its peak in the last decade, the fact that most shows with this format have been cancelled is the strongest proof that their time has definitely passed. Nonetheless, a lot of people would be more than happy if “Ax Men” ever returns as a long-run series, but only time will tell if that’ll ever happen.