Frick Sawmill Proven Workhorse
An 80-year-old Frick sawmill teamed with a James Leffel steam engine earns its keep at Florida show
Chuck Koehler at the helm of a vintage Frick sawmill at the Florida Flywheelers show.
The more things change, the more they don't. And so it is that a nearly 80-year-old Frick sawmill – powered by an equally elderly steam engine – continues to peel planks of lumber from logs at the turn of a new century.
"A lot of mills of this vintage are still being used commercially," said Chuck Koehler, Williston, Fla. Chuck, a member of the Florida Flywheelers Antique Engine Club, directs operations at the mill, one of the big draws at Flywheeler Park. "There's even some made before the Civil War that are still in use."
The sawmill was donated to the club by Ron Weagraff, Kissimmee. It was purchased at an Ocala auction, and was moved to the showgrounds over a year ago. A small army of club members has worked ever since to get it in good running order.
"It's an old, worn-out mill," said Alan Rudd, a member of the sawmill crew. "We've rebuilt a lot of it."
The "to do" list included replacing wood, cleaning up rust, reworking belts, adding steel plates to reinforce the mill, rebuilding the blade and installing new shanks.
The renovation work also required work on the pulley sizes to accomodate both the James Leffel steam engine, and a 1952 8800 Caterpillar diesel used as an alternate power unit.
"Last year, we didn't get it going real good," Chuck said. "There were a lot of little bugs. It's running real well now. It cuts true, but we still need to rebuild the carriage."
The mill has a 16-foot carriage (and a 60-foot track), a standard size used to cut lumber 16 to 20 feet. The blade is run at 600 rpm, requiring about 100 hp in diesel, or at least 35 to 40 hp in a steam engine.
The different power units give the mill a different feel, Chuck said.
"When you start feeding in a log with steam," he said, "it comes on slow, until you get the governor to kick in. You've got to let the steam engine come up in power. And you use a sawyer's governor on a steam engine that's running a sawmill. When you're threshing, you'd use a straight governor."
A crew of at least three workers is needed to operate the mill, Chuck said, "but it's better if we have four or five."
The sawyer works the stick, with off-bearers on one end, and log rollers on the other. There's no shortage of volunteers.
"When I saw the mill laying in pieces under the trees," Alan Rudd recalled, "I said 'Hey, I want to be a sawmill guy.'"
But those who work with the mill know it's serious business.
"It's a really dangerous thing to play with," Alan said. "If a blade breaks, or if it hits a piece of steel – like a horseshoe or a railroad spike that a tree's grown around – and you don't know it's there ... well, pieces of that metal fly everywhere."