Growing Up Around a Steam Powered Sawmill

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18311 Tonkle Rd. Auburn, Indiana 46706

As I remember, my Dad always had a steam engine and sawmill to support our family of five kids, and most of the neighbor kids, too. Dad sawed all year, in the spring or fall was the best time to saw; in the winter it was always cold and Dad knew he had to keep us busy to stay warm. Dad never said too much to us boys about how to saw, but I know in his later years he would make comments hoping that one or all three of us would someday be a sawyer. Dad passed away three years ago; he had a rough time with cancer the last two years of his life.

He was really sharp with repairing steam engines or tuning up a sawmill something always drove Dad to trading engines or sell his and buy another one. I remember he was trading his Advance Rumely, 22 HP to a guy who lived about four miles from our place. There was an old iron bridge he had to cross, because in those days you didn't haul an engine, you fired it up and ran it to its new home.

When Dad got to the bridge which was about two miles from home, there was quite a crowd ready to watch the big Advance Rumely go through the bridge instead of across it. My twin brother and I were riding in the wood boxes. Now I guess Mom wasn't too sure of Dad getting across either, because she made us get off the engine, and it didn't matter how much we cried, we just couldn't ride. Well, when we saw Dad take off the governor belt, I guess we knew why. I can't remember how old we were, but I can still see Dad opening that throttle and going across that bridge so fast that half the people on the other side almost jumped in the lake just to get out of the way. I don't believe they ever saw a steam engine move that fast. Mom and Dad used to laugh about it, because Dad said, 'Heck, I wasn't going half as fast as those dummies who thought I was going to fall through the bridge.'

I always thought Dad was disappointed when he returned with the other engine because there were only a few people there to watch him cross.

The other engine was a 20 HP Baker. I don't know how long Dad used it on the sawmill. I think after that he got a 20 HP Minneapolis, he said that was the only engine he sawed with for five years and never had to adjust the crosshead. He liked the Minnie because it had the double fire door, and sometimes Dad wanted to get rid of some old tires so he would bend them in half, wire them together, and put them in the old engine. By the time he gave Mom orders on keeping the water level right, and then walking to the head sawer stick to adjust the carriage, the tire was burning good, and boy, I tell ya, that carriage did not sit still!

I don't suggest that other people try this, because the engines are another forty or so years older now. Plus, Dad was well versed on the condition and operation of the engines and you can't realize the heat, smoke and fire that a tire can put out.

Dad had a 1939 1 ton G.M.C. truck he bought to haul logs. One time a guy wanted some 24 foot logs sawed. Dad said yes, he would saw them if the guy would haul them. But Mom knew if she and Dad hauled them, they would make more money. Dad said, 'you can't haul a 24 foot log on a 12 foot bed.' Mom said, 'we'll put the 8 and 10 footers on top of the long ones to keep them from tipping off the bed.' So, they put the butt end on first and that kept them in place until they put the other shorter ones on top. The '39 G.M.C. was pretty light on the front driving home, but they made it.

Now that they were home, there was still the question of getting up the hill to the sawmill. Dad said he would get the F-20 Farmall and help hold the front end down with a chain, while Mom drove up the hill. But, if you know Mom like I know Mom, when Dad got back with the tractor, there was no truck, just log tracks in the sand and Mom was long gone. Well, they got the job done, got the lumber home and all was well.

Maybe I can write about a few more good times I remember at a later date. I know we had several, and I hope all of you young and old don't mind my sharing my memories of life on a sawmill and steam engine with you.