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Mayor, tribal police sergeant is competitive logger to beat

Tami Holdahl  talks about Paul Bunyan Days while holding her grandmother’s crosscut saw.  (Kathy Plonka)
Tami Holdahl talks about Paul Bunyan Days while holding her grandmother’s crosscut saw. (Kathy Plonka)

Tami Holdahl is the mayor of St. Maries – population 2,600 – and a police sergeant for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. She’s also the town’s top female logger. Last month, she earned her 12th title during St. Maries’ Paul Bunyan Days festival. Holdahl, 51, recently described her enthusiasm for logging competitions.

Q. You’re not a logger by profession. How did you get started?

A. I’ve lived in St. Maries all my life. I’d seen these competitions since I was a child. One year, I thought, “I can try that. …” It was 1983. I was completely up against all the men. There were no other women – just me. The next year, they started a women’s division.

Q. What logging events do the women compete in?

A. Women do the power chain saw; the crosscut saw; the Jack-and-Jill crosscut, which is with a guy – I usually do that with my oldest son – the ax throw; and the choker set.

Q. Describe some of the events.

A. For the chain saw, you have to make two cuts, one up, one down, and you’re timed. For the ax throw, everyone stands at the same spot, and you throw the ax at a bull’s-eye target. The choker is the cables that loggers use around a bunch of logs; they hook together. You run over a bunch of logs, you have to set two chokers, and then you’ve got to run back. You’re timed.

Q. You say you don’t practice. You just show up.

A. I don’t practice for these events. Seriously, I don’t … but I do use the chain saw quite a bit. I love to cut firewood – it’s therapy for me. And I enjoy lifting weights.

Q. How much can you bench press?

A. About 120 pounds. It’s not what I’d like, but at my age, that’s OK. Women tend not to have good upper body strength. We have to work a lot harder than the guys to get that.

Q. What’s your best event?

A. Probably the chain saw, but the event I love the most is the crosscut. There’s a lot of finesse to it, but it’s also sheer muscle. It’s hard pulling that saw through those logs.

Q. You showed me pictures of your grandmother competing in logging contests in the 1950s.

A. As a young woman – she was 18 – my grandmother worked as a camp cook for loggers up at Marble Creek. I don’t know when she started sawing. She would go down to Orofino for the state logging fairs.

Q. She’s wearing a yellow gingham dress and pearls in this picture.

A. She always sawed in a dress, which just cracks me up.

Q. What do you like about small-town living?

A. Family is still very important, and people take care of their neighbors. St. Maries is a great place to live. The people there are good people, hard workers and incredibly giving.

Q. Are there more titles in your future?

A. (Laughs) There are some young female loggers who are just knocking at my door. I know they’re going to beat me one of these days. It’s OK. I don’t do it to win; I do it because it’s fun. Paul Bunyan Days is a celebration of St. Maries and of its history of logging – how tough that industry was. It keeps the pride of being a lumberjack alive.

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