Fine Old Sawmill

Promise of winter drives restoration of an old sawmill.

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It has taken me sometime to submit another article about our restoration projects. We have been busy though. Our old sawmill was completed just in time for winter and currently I am restoring two early 1920s Austin 7 cars from England.

The sawmill is a Geiser, no. 6671, with a 54-inch blade, a 20-foot carriage and a 50-foot track. The mill was originally located in Swormsville, N.Y. We were able to acquire the mill because the property owner was very concerned about the building falling down due to woodworm damage and rot. The mill had sat untouched since the original owner's passing in the late 1960s. It looked like with a little tinkering the mill may have run. Unfortunately, woodworm and some leaks in the roof had done a lot of damage to the mill itself, and quite a bit of the track and the husk had to be replaced.

We had a very wet summer, but the fall turned out to be rather good. So in the summer we replaced the rotted wood and gave the entire mill a good going through to get it back into top shape. By the end of summer, as the rain kept falling about every couple of days, we were beginning to think the mill would not be installed until next year.

One of our steam tractors kept watch over the mill's rebuild in the shop, optimistically hoping it would get a chance to power the mill. Then the latter part of the season started to dry up. The foundation of the mill went in, and we built up and leveled the track. The days were getting shorter and shorter. The husk was positioned and the base of the carriage was put on.

Now it was getting late in the year. All the steam engines had to be winterized. We looked at the Sawyer-Massey, which had watched over the work in the shop, and we pondered. Optimism kicked in again and we said, "Well if we get lucky and have a mild, late fall, maybe we'll get it done."

November came and the carriage head blocks, set works and husk were coming together. Next, we had a crew come in to build a pavilion over the mill. It had been one of the worst summers and one of the best falls we could remember. The weekend before Thanksgiving was cold but sunny. There were just a few odds and ends left to finish up. Saturday we hurried around and completed the mill. Sunday morning we pulled the "Little Engine that Could," our trusty 1917 17-51 HP Sawyer-Massey, out of the shop. We got her fired and oiled, and with a final once-over oiled up everything on the mill.

Once there was steam up we belted up to the mill, took a big breath, looked up, down and all around. I shouted up to my son Steve on the engine, and with a pull of the throttle everything slowly started to turn. A push on the sawyer's handle, the slack on the winding drum cable takes up and … nothing! Everything was stiff from where it had been just put together. So with the engine running slow, Steve helped push the carriage as it was being fed. After two or three times the power assist from Steve was no longer necessary.

Now with the carriage rolling smoothly and everything else looking good we grabbed a heavy board and sawed it into some fine firewood! "That worked pretty good." Next, it was time for a log. We grabbed a twisted log out of the pile (one we didn't mind turning into firewood instead of good boards). We put it through its paces and actually ended with what would almost have been some good boards, except the blade was starting to bind in the log. After a few cuts we could see all the years of retirement had not been good to the blade. It had a kink in it, so we shut down and let the engine's fire go out so we could get everything back into the shop before dark. We were very pleased; the mill came out nice and square and runs perfectly, and the blade just needs to be hammered. This year, we'll run the mill during our Harvest Festival in July.

The Austin 7s do not really fit the format of Steam Traction magazine, so I'll be short. My father had one when I was a boy and I am restoring one exactly like he had. This is an English car, and for the most part it is like a 2/3-scale Model A. It is a 1929 salon and has a 4-cylinder engine that makes 10 HP. I remember my father, mother and the four of us kids packed into this little car, and just barely being able to make it up the hills on a weekend trip. The second one is a 1927 convertible, which I found while looking for parts on the Internet. My wife has claimed the convertible as hers.

As a Christmas stocking stuffer, Steve put up a website about the Harris Steam Farm covering our steam engines, projects, shows etc. There is a page on there with a map for all of our fellow steam engine owners to place a pin with their location.

Contact steam enthusiasts Brian and Steve Harris at abharris@localnet.com

Find more information on the Harris' equipment and shows at: www.harrissteamfarm.com