MISSOULA — The “Ax Men” reality television show had an especially fiery episode this week, so the opinionated viewers of the History Channel program spouted off their reactions – to the Axmen store in Missoula.
The past couple of years, the Axmen store on Highway 10 West has been the involuntary recipient of feedback about the “Ax Men” show, which follows the daily lives of actual loggers in all their grueling glory. In the most recent episode, “tempers ... reached a fever pitch in logging country,” according to an online blurb, and the dangerous and volatile story prompted a flurry of comments to the Axmen store.
Amanda Shoemaker does marketing for the alternative energy business and “ultimate everything store,” and a year and a half ago, she made it easier for people to submit comments to the Axmen on its website. There’s a “click here to submit your review” button and a Facebook link – along with a giant picture and description of the store itself, which many people apparently miss.
Last Sunday night, Shoemaker wondered why her phone kept buzzing, and then she saw that the roughly half a dozen alerts had come in the first 20 minutes of the show. Loyal viewers were giving the Axmen their two cents — maybe more — on the “Ax Men’s” content.
“Apparently, it was right in the middle of the show, and people were just ticked off because there was a lot of violence and cursing,” Shoemaker said.
The back talk isn’t all negative, though. The past couple of years, other “Ax Men” fans have contacted the Axmen about being on the show, and this week, a man who lists his profession on Facebook as a Wisconsin arborist engaged in a little one-upmanship on the Axmen store’s fan page.
“I would love to sit in a forest all day cutting softwood trees with a saw twice the size of the tree,” wrote Neil Foti. “Come do my job, where I climb hardwoods like 150-year-old oak two feet from your house and patio (and) rope (and) rig that to the ground. I’m the real ax man.”
Well, he has the confidence, no doubt. The store celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, and few of its 50 employees probably want to trade jobs with “the real ax man,” although they could supply him with axes and chain saws of all kinds.
In a response to the “real ax man,” the Axmen shared this comment, complete with a smiley face at the end: “The real Axmen is a heating, alternative energy, farm and ranch, recycling business/museum in Western Montana. We gladly admit we have nice and easy jobs at our retail store.”
And on the “Ax Men” show, the loggers have difficult jobs, said Heather Dirubba, a History Channel spokeswoman. They’re actual professionals putting in sometimes 80 hours a week to feed their families, and they’re the real enchilada, not paid actors.
“The loggers, they’re gruff, they’re tough, they work hard,” said Dirubba, based in the New York City area. “A lot of people are like, ‘He’s mean.’ We just don’t comment on that. These are real people doing their jobs.”
These days, they use a lot of new technology in their work, but Dirubba said they do use actual axes when they’re about to, “what do they call it? Fall a tree? Fell a tree?” From the sounds of it, they call it something quite a lot more colorful at times.
Dirubba didn’t believe this week’s episode had prompted a lot more feedback to the History Channel than usual, although she knows the comments are typically evenly split between people who love the show and viewers who want to register a complaint. As for the actual Axmen in Montana, she’d never heard of it.
“It kind of sucks for them because they have the same name, but we own the trademark,” Dirubba said.
The actual Axmen, a store and, yes, federally certified museum, is so unique, it has attracted interest from other people who work in television. In the past six months, a representative from a Los Angeles company has been talking with them about a reality show and sent a producer to do some filming, Shoemaker said.
“We’re not terribly dramatic, but there’s a lot going on, I guess,” Shoemaker said.
The museum has old axes and saws, propeller motors, stagecoaches and even a giant chain saw from 1946 that takes two strong people to hoist. The store itself sells solar panels and pellet stoves and hot tubs and propane refrigerators and welcome signs saying “Howdy” and duct tape and, well, “the ultimate everything” else.
Oh, and axes, too. When Shoemaker first started, the inventory of axes had dropped to a big fat goose egg, so for a time, the folks at the Axmen had to tell customers they were out of axes. Now, though, there’s a stand full of all different sizes, and meat hooks along with them.
A wide variety of customers come through the door, although most are looking for something other than an ax, Shoemaker said. Many folks are using green energy, and others are living off the grid and away from the tentacles of government.
Earlier, another television producer had talked with the Axmen about a show, but then backed off, and Shoemaker figures some urban outsiders don’t quite know what to make of the ambiance and grand compilation of goods. Of course, a show about the Axmen comes with an inherent challenge.
“What the heck would anyone call it now?” Shoemaker said.