Dolly Chapman


SCA 1978 Yosemite National Park

Crosscut Saw Instructor and Sharpener | Calpine, CA

Thirty-six years after her initial SCA experience, Dolly remains a familiar face at SCA.  During spring training sessions, she helps SCA crew leaders sharpen their crosscut skills as well as their saws, sharing her craft and her passion.  Initially, however, she was rebuffed in her bid to rejoin SCA – a lesson that has guided much of her life since.

On first joining SCA:

I had just graduated from high school and, at that age, the adult world didn’t look like a lot of fun. I wanted adventure and to do something meaningful.  Scott and Kathy seemed to really enjoy what they did and made fixing trails at Yosemite seem like the most important thing in the world, but I probably didn’t fit in with the crew as well as I should have. 

Every time we took a break, I’d run up a hill to take in the view or jump in a lake. The experience for me was about me.  I asked Scott and Kathy if I could continue as their assistant crew leader and they said “No, you spent too much time on our own interests we need someone who is more crew oriented.”  They weren’t mean about it, though.  They had such a wonderful way with people, and I thought maybe I should be more oriented to the people around me. 

On what happened next:

I got a job with the concessionary at Yosemite Valley.  I called my parents and said “I’m gonna stay and be a maid in Curry Village.”  I wasn’t a runaway or anything.  I had very supportive parents, and that stability at home made me very adventurous.

I had the crazy idea that I could work minimum wage over the winter and backpack over the summer.  The next year, I’d visit Scott and Kathy’s crews while hiking and then they said “why don’t we just sign you up as a volunteer so you don’t have to backpack back all the time.  You can just stay.”

This was a time when the Park Service didn’t hire women on park crews.  It was also a time when people didn’t question that policy.  It was pretty much a given that I wouldn’t get a crew job because I was a female, so I signed on with SCA.  It was a dream summer, ’79.

On convincing the Forest Service to give her a job:

In 1980, I called and called and bugged and bugged, and finally Inyo National Forest hired me a seasonal employee.  For the next 30 years, I worked on and off with the US Forest Service. Inyo, Sierra, Humbolt-Toyiabe.  I left in 2010 with no complaints or regrets, but because I was getting so many opportunities to teach or lead workshops on crosscut saws.  I asked my boss if I could leave to do a workshop and he said “No, you have a job here.”  So I decided to become self-employed and still work with all the people I worked with at the Forest Service.

Throughout my career with the Forest Service, all I wanted to do was work outside with people on trails.  There weren’t many opportunities for promotion and I didn’t want to work winters when you were snowed into the office, so once I got permanent seasonal status, I taught cross-country skiing in winter and never climbed the ladder.  Years later, I’d meet district rangers who started their careers with me, and say “I’m a trail crew foreman,” and they’d looked embarrassed.  But I always thought I had the best job in Forest Service.

On crosscut saws:

Most people who use one really love the teamwork, the physicality of pulling a saw back and forth, the accomplishment.  I discovered it’s the sharpness of the teeth and I’ve been sharpening ever since.  Good ones haven’t been made since the 1950s as chain saws made them obsolete, so I’m dealing with antiques that have been in families for generations.

Just having sharp teeth doesn’t make a saw cut well, it must be tuned with the teeth correctly angled, set within thousands of an inch.  It’s sort of cliché to say something is like an art, but there is that love of what you’re doing and tool’s familiarity in your hand day after day.

As much as I love the tools and the work, it’s really about the people.  My first few years, I needed to prove I could do the work but then it began to seem a little boring before I realized the fun and the challenge was working with people.  And I tie that back to my earlier discoveries with SCA.

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