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Welcome to the STIHL USA Blog

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The STIHL Story behind the “Big Miracle”

by Wayne Sutton, Territory Manager, STIHL Northwest

Copyright © 2012 Universal Pictures

By now you probably have heard about the recent blockbuster hit “Big Miracle.” What you may not know is the role that STIHL played in the real life events on which the movie is based.

It all started back in October 1988. Several news stories aired describing a small pod of gray whales caught in the Beaufort Sea near Point Borrow, Alaska.  An early winter freeze had closed off the waterway leading out to sea. If something wasn’t done soon, the whales would die when the ice closed off available breathing areas.
An Alaskan native noticed the trapped whales and, with the help of local villagers, sliced holes in the ice using chain saws to create a series of breathing holes that led to open water.  But with only a few saws and volunteers they weren’t able to keep the holes from freezing over in the 20-degree temperatures. 
Alaska Daily News photo.
The plight of the whales quickly became a national media event, and companies around  the country started looking for ways to help. One such company was Omark Corporation out of Portland, Ore. They put together a team of expert chain saw handlers and planned on sending them north to help the Point Borrow villagers’ in their efforts.

Back then, I owned Wayne’s Saw Shop in Amboy, Wash.  I remember getting a call from Dudley Hollis, one of the Omark specialists.  He and the team were headed to Alaska that night and wanted to know if I could get him at least 10 professional saws.  I didn’t hesitate. I called my employees and told them to meet me at my store where we assembled every 084 and 038 chain saw we had.   Dudley met us at the store and picked up the equipment on his way to the airport.

The next several days were tough as we waited for any news of what had happened with the whales. Then a special media announcement aired on television about two surviving whales that made it through to open sea – all thanks to the efforts of the teams of volunteers. Soon after we got a visit from the Omark team, and they shared the pictures they’d taken while cutting mile long stretches of holes in the ice using STIHL chain saws.  I can tell you that it felt great to have had even a small part in this amazing operation. 

Little did I know that 24 years later I would get to re-live the event.  I am now a territory manager for STIHL Northwest, and early last year I received an email from Roger Phelps, promotional communications manager for STIHL Inc.  A production company in Hollywood was filming a story about a whale rescue and, in the interest of being accurate, was trying to identify the brand of saws that had been used.  Roger knew they were STIHL and sent me a series of photos and information to get model numbers. When I clicked on the attachments, I was shocked – these were the photos from the monumental 1988 Alaska event. I immediately responded to Roger and told him, “Not only can I tell you the models of those saws, I can tell you how many there were and their serial numbers too – I sold them!”
Wayne with saws used in the movie
Roger passed along the information, and the production company was thrilled.  As it turned out in addition to modern saws they wanted to use actual vintage saws in the movie to stay as authentic as possible. Roger knew I was an avid chain saw collector and asked me if I could find some of the vintage saws. I was able to pull several together from my own collection and additional help from Dan Hull of Pacific STIHL and Dave Bulger of STIHL Northwest.
So, in the end I got to be part of this great event twice.  I encourage everyone to see the movie. It is a tribute to the good we can achieve when we all work together.  And if you want to see the actual chain saws used in the movie they are now a part of the Wayne’s Chain Saw Museum collection. Stop by if you are in town.

For more information or to view movie trailers visit http://www.everybodyloveswhales.com And check out this local review of the movie, Virginia Beach, take note, STIHL chain saws figure prominently in saving the whales!!”