Saturday was one of those almost but not quite days for the Campbell County boys soccer team. Top-ranked and consensus favorite to win the Class 4A state soccer tournament, the Camels fell just …
OROFINO, Idaho — The "thunk" of an ax striking wood, a raspy saw blade slicing off a "cookie," the occasional deep-throated whine of a chain saw tuned to cut faster, hotter than anything an old-time logger ever used on the job — all were parts of Sunday's 65th annual Orofino Lumberjack Days.
The theme was "Logging Boots - Our Country's Roots," but many of the competitors were wearing tennis shoes, the better to leap a thigh-high log, set a choker on the next log and hustle back over the top of the starting line, an even taller log peeled of bark and branches down to the creamy yellow heart of the tree.
One young man, readying himself for a chopping contest, added chain mail that fitted something like spats over his feet and shins.
All around the arena at Orofino's signature event, it was apparent that traditional woodswork has changed. Instead of grizzled men of the woods, there were young men and women, some still in their teens, showing off the skills that earned family livings a couple of generations ago.
Printed T-shirts replaced flannel, and women were holding their own.
Tessa Pinkney, in a baseball cap, tank top and braids, said it was the University of Idaho's logger sports club that first got her interested in lumberjack competition.
Like most beginners, she said, she started with ax-throwing because that's the easiest, then teamed up with Luke Hendricks, 24, of St. Maries, a civil engineering major, for Jack and Jill sawing.
Now they're doing well enough to talk about going professional, but probably not until she graduates, she said.
She joined in February 2011, and she was one of two women in the college club. Now, women make up half the 20-person team, she said. "Having women on and them doing well gives others the confidence that they can do it, too," Pinkney said.
Some come from outdoor-oriented majors like hers in resources, recreation and tourism. But everyone is different, she said. One is a wildlife major and another will be a physician's assistant. Others are majoring in accounting, agriculture and fire ecology. Among the men, some are civil, mechanical or forest engineering majors.
Several of her teammates, both men and women, have worked in the past for the U.S. Forest Service, some on fire crews, one on a helitac base.
They compete against similar clubs from the University of Montana, Flathead Community College, Colorado State University and Oregon State University.
Her goal, however, is to turn professional after she graduates in about a year and a half. She shows off a chopping ax, a single-bladed steel blade that weighs 5 to 8 pounds, and her personal throwing ax, a 2-pound lightweight double-edged ax with a wooden handle shaved to fit her hands.
From the back of one of the trucks that brought 13 UI club members to Orofino, she pulls out an old cross-cut saw, a peg-and-raker, she said. The clustered four blades are the pegs and the single blade that alternates between them is the raker, designed to clean out the cut.
She and Hendricks are using a borrowed saw for Sunday's competition, she said, a modified saw borrowed from Eric Hoberg, a UM alumnus who helps beginners.
They pay for the loan of the equipment, $5 for a one-time use and half their winnings if there are any. It's to help offset the high cost of sharpening fees, Pinkney said. "Fewer and fewer people know how to do it properly, so they can charge what they want." The average seems to be about $15 a foot, or $100 for an entire saw, she said.
She's talked to some people about learning, "but it's a really specific skill set. The younger generation is going to have to learn sooner or later if we're going to maintain our saws."
Equipment can be expensive, $400 to $600 to buy an ax head plus $20 or $30 for a handle. The modified crosscut saws can be $2,000 to $5,000.
It helps to start at the college level because the school already has equipment, she said.
Between events, the 13 UI students who came down for the show packed slab-like shavings from where the practice blocks were prepared into the back of a dump truck. They stick around afterward to help clean up and in return the organizers give them leftover blocks to use in practice.
On cue, the announcer comes on to tell the audience those are college kids over on one side cleaning up the place. "You don't know how much we appreciate them," he said.
But it's not over yet. New events are called, and the students gear up to compete and to help, especially as the five-person relay approaches.
It's a speed event, Pinkney said, that starts with the ax throw, then the choker race, then the obstacle pole where the sawyer with a chain saw runs up a log to the end and cuts of a cookie, then runs back down. The fourth person takes a stock saw and cuts cookies up and down, and the event ends with an underhand chop, where the person stands on the block and cuts a "V," first on one side, then turns and cuts on the opposite side.
And may the best women and men win.
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com