When the chainsaw roared Tuesday and the chips began to fly off the base of the 79-foot Engelmann spruce destined to light up the U.S. Capitol’s lawn this Christmas, a lot of pride radiated from the direction of Pete Tallmadge’s family.
“We’re not really too much for hoopla,” said Tallmadge’s mother, Chris. “But we really embraced this. It was an honor that our family was able to be part of all of this.”
Pete Tallmadge was the sawyer selected to cut down this year’s Capitol Christmas Tree from the Three Rivers Ranger District of the Kootenai National Forest near Yaak.
The plan had been to cut down the tree Wednesday following a public viewing and celebration Tuesday. But when Kootenai Forest officials found that navigating the ice-covered roads to the tree’s location took nearly an hour and a half — one way — from Troy on Tuesday, they decided that two trips to the site was one too many.
“It was located way up the Yaak, about 47 miles from Troy,” said Sandi Mason, the Kootenai Forest’s Capitol Christmas Tree project leader. “By the time we all got up there, we just decided we needed to get it done. It couldn’t have turned out better.”
After the Yaak schoolchildren sang a rousing round of “This Land is Your Land” and the nearly 100 people who had gathered there had finished taking photographs and visiting with the sawyer and others, Tallmadge fired up his saw and made quick work of freeing the tree from its spot in the forest.
For five generations now, the Tallmadge family has worked in the wood in this part of the world.
“It was kind of funny how it all came together,” Chris Tallmadge said. “We didn’t really know anything about the Capitol Christmas Tree, but we’ve owned this business for a long time. We apparently were recommended to the district ranger. She called my husband, but he thought he was maybe a little old to do that.”
So the ranger asked if they knew a really good sawyer.
They gave her Pete’s number.
“Our son has been a sawyer for 25 years,” Chris Tallmadge said.
Pete’s wife, Pam, said she’s certain Tuesday will become a part of the family’s lore.
“It was an amazing event to be a part of,” she said. “It’s still kind of surreal. When we were walking around and interacting with all the people who had gathered there, you could see the pride and honor on people’s faces to have this tree taken from the forest that we all love and care about.”
Beyond that, Pam Tallmadge said her family couldn’t have been more proud of their role in providing their nation’s Capitol with its Christmas tree for the holiday season.
“It was one of the reasons that Pete said yes,” Pam Tallmadge said. “It will be a wonderful thing to be able to pass this story down through the family. … The timber industry has changed so much, but our family has stayed with it. There aren’t many sawyers left who can still manage to hand-fall a tree like that. It’s such a privilege that Pete could honor his country that way.”
Currently, three generations of Tallmadges work together in the woods. All of them were there to watch Pete in action.
Five generations of the Tallmadges have lived and worked in the Troy area. Pete’s great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the area and built the bar and restaurant at Bull Lake called the Halfway House.
“A lot of people know about our family history,” Pam Tallmadge said. “They showed their support for Pete after he was chosen to cut it.”
While the family would love to go back to Washington, D.C., to watch the tree- lighting ceremony, Pam Tallmadge said this summer’s fire season cut into the time they could work.
“I’m not really sure our finances will allow for it," she said. “It would be nice, but with all the fires and stuff and the guys being off work, it would be tough.”
For now, the tree will be stored in a warehouse for the next few days while it’s carefully wrapped and placed in the box that will be its home as it travels across the country. The end of the box is made of Plexiglas to allow viewing by the thousands who will come to take a gander when the truck stops in their town over the next couple of weeks.
The tree leaves on its journey to Washington on Monday via stops in Eureka, Whitefish, Libby, Troy, Trout Creek, Thompson Falls, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Harlem, Glasgow and Glendive.
For a complete schedule of events, visit capitolchristmastree.com/.
“It was a very pretty tree,” said Chris Tallmadge. “But you know, it does have a double top. My husband and I noticed that right away when we came walking up to it. I looked at Stan and he just shook his head. ‘By the time they put 3 million lights on it, who’s going to notice?’ ”