MILLINOCKET, Maine — When his father started him in the family logging business about 37 years ago, Rudy Pelletier never imagined that his daily grind would become the centerpiece of a television show.
And when film and television producer Sean Gallagher approached him almost a year ago with the idea of turning his logging family’s travails into reality TV, Pelletier still couldn’t imagine it.
“I didn’t think it was for real,” Pelletier, 51, said Tuesday, “and then your mind just wanders. You think, is this going to be the right thing or not?”
In the end, Pelletier agreed to do the show. He will see if he was right at 10 p.m. Friday, when the Discovery Channel debuts “American Loggers,” a weekly hour-long show focused on Pelletier Bros. Inc., one of Maine’s most enduring and successful logging businesses.
Discovery has ordered 10 episodes so far, Gallagher said.
A Bangor native and owner of Half Yard Productions, a Maryland-based television and film production company, the 42-year-old Gallagher hit upon the idea of a show on Maine loggers after seeing the History Channel’s “Ax Men” and “Ice Road Truckers.”
“They do those shows really well, but when I saw [Ice Road Truckers], I thought, ‘I know a road that’s more dangerous than that.’ It was the Golden Road,” Gallagher said. “I figured if we could figure out a family-driven show based around that, it would be great.”
Gallagher and his associates investigated the Golden Road, so called because it is one of the forest products industries’ main arteries into North America’s largest contiguous forest. They soon found the Pelletiers, seven brothers and numerous grandchildren descended from Gerald Pelletier, who began hauling wood out of the Katahdin region woods in the 1950s. The company incorporated under his name in 1976 and formed Pelletier Bros. Inc. in 1994, eight years before the family patriarch died in 2002.
The show, which represents about a month of taping during the spring and fall, will illustrate the grueling nature and sometimes harrowing dangers of the logging business and how the family copes with it and one another, Gallagher said.
“You could just tell that this was going to be spectacular. You have a family and all its lineage. It’s their livelihood. And then you have the Golden Road and what it represents to Maine,” Gallagher said. “The thing about it is, it’s dangerous. It’s like this road without rules, and there’s an overlying danger factor either they don’t see or they absolutely downplay.”
“Certain things they see they think are really interesting if not unbelievable,” Pelletier said. “We don’t see it that way because we do it every day. The show will be good for the industry and the community and all that stuff.”
Jen Olsen, business coordinator for the Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes the show is a hit.
“Isn’t it exciting? I think it’s really good. It certainly brings to light the rich heritage we have for working in the woods,” Olsen said. “It is going to bring national attention to this region, which can only serve to help.
“A lot of the local population are tuning in, and I think it’s a source of pride. You hear a lot of buzz about it. I think it gives people a lot of hope,” Olsen said.
Pelletier said he was surprised at how easy it was to adapt to having cameras hovering nearby.
“You got to keep a straight mind all the time. They can’t do a good show if you don’t cooperate,” he said.
Viewers who stick with the show will find themselves getting hooked on the Pelletiers, Gallagher said.
“The family is the reason we are really glad we did this show. They are a family that everybody can relate to,” he said. “The drama of the everyday struggle to keep that business going, support the family — especially that big a family — is really great.”
THE FIRST THREE EPISODES
American Loggers — Fridays, 10 p.m. on The Discovery Channel
Feb. 27: Timber in their blood — Rudy Pelletier and his crews race to make up for lost time but just wind up falling further behind. Rudy assigns his son Jason the dangerous, critical job of replacing a crippled bridge that was washed out in floods. Then two drivers crash their monster log hauling trucks sending shock waves through the Pelletier family that is fighting to keep their timber business alive.
March 6: A week from hell — The rain has finally stopped so it’s time to get the wood to the mill. Pelletier Inc. is falling behind on its weekly quota so Eldon takes a big risk. Doubling the danger, Eldon hitches a second trailer to his truck and heads out onto the Golden Road — an experiment the other drivers think is nuts. Eldon is determined and looks to prove it can be done.
March 13: Hurricane on the horizon — A hurricane hits, creating nearly impossible logging conditions all week. First, the Pelletiers have to deal with an overloaded trailer spilling its contents and cutting off logging traffic from Telos to Canada. Then, the worsening rain and mud force the family to shut down operations for a day — a huge financial blow.
Consult dsc.discovery.com/tv/american-loggers/american-loggers.html for more details