The Sky Pilot and Lumberjacks of the Adirondacks
The 76th Annual NYS Woodsmen’s Field Days featuring lumberjack/lumberjill competitions is held this year August 18-20. The very first NYS Woodsmen’s Field Days was organized by Rev. Frank Reed in 1948. This event was held in Old Forge NY and was a tremendous success. With over 1,300 visitors, spectators and participants, along with $600 in profit, Frank quickly realized he was on to something. Over the many years, the NYS Woodsmen’s Field Days has grown, and changed locations. Since the early 1960’s the Field Days have been held in Boonville on the Boonville-Oneida County fairgrounds.
Who was Rev. Frank Reed?
Rev. Frank Reed was a local minister who lived in Old Forge during the early 1900’s. His ministry was to the hardworking lumberjacks of the logging camps in the western Adirondacks. Over the course of his many years serving the men of the logging camps, Frank would trek along the worn trails that were impassable by cars. There were many times that Frank would hike over 20-miles through open forest to reach a nearby camp. Rev. Reed, along with several other itinerant ministers, served the community of lumberjacks in the Adirondacks. They were called as “Sky Pilots. “
Sky Pilots were a group of itinerant ministers who traveled throughout the Adirondacks and other locations ministering to the lumberjacks in the great logging camps of the day. These pastors never actually arrived by plane, but rather very often had to travel many miles on foot over rough terrain and heavily rutted roads.
Rev. Frank Reed describes how the term was coined when a preacher named Frank Higgins visited his first logging camp in in Barnum, MN.
“Higgins gave an impromptu sermon about ‘the consequences of sin and the way to escape.’ One of the loggers asked him what his life goal was and he responded, ‘To pilot men to the skies!’ As word spread and ministry in logging camps grew, visiting preachers became known as ‘sky pilots.’”
The Sky Pilots traveled from camp to camp visiting and conducting impromptu services for these men. Their mission was to guide, or pilot, the hard working lumberjack toward heaven.
The PBS documentary below features Rev. Frank Reed sharing video footage of lumberjacks doing their work in the Adirondacks.
Throughout his many years as Sky Pilot, Frank grew to appreciate the hard work and difficult working conditions these men endured to ensure wood and timber were made available across the country.
The Woodmen’s Field Days was created to recognize and honor the hardworking of true lumberjacks of the Adirondacks. It was just one Sky Pilot’s way of saying thank you
History of Woodmen’s Field Days, NYS Woodmen’s Field Days, Aug 11, 2019, https://woodsmensfielddays.com/history-of-the-woodsmens-field-days/
Sky Pilots of the North Woods, Kathy Smith Greenwood, Ranger School Alumni Association Newsletter, Fall 2018 / 2019, https://www.esf.edu/rangerschool/alumni/documents/winter2018-2019.pdf
Woodmen’s Sky Pilot Pastors, Adirondack Books Online Article appeared as reprint
Photo caption / credit.