The Stolen Sawmill

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P.O. Box 3128 Deer Park, Maryland 21550-1028

Whenever I have the opportunity and can find them, I like to read old area newspapers of decades ago. Usually I always find at least one news article, or advertisement, of special interest to me. THE REPUBLICAN newspaper, printed in Oakland, Maryland, on a weekly schedule, is a local paper that I enjoy reading old past issues of. This paper's August 6, 1908, issue carried an article on a stolen sawmill and hopefully, it was an accurate accounting of the incident, as it is the source of information of this newer article, 90 years after it occurred.

In July, 1908, the partnership of Sterling and Dillinger were engaged in the saw milling business, using a portable-type circular sawmill that they moved about, location to location, doing contract saw milling for area farmers and other small acreage timber owners in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

These partners had recently completed a sawing operation somewhere, and at this time, they were in the process of moving their mill machinery to the Emmett Lyons Farm, where they were next to operate their sawmill. In the moving of their mill equipment over public roads, they were overtaken by the arrival of darkness, near the village of Gans, Pennsylvania, located east of Point Marion, Pennsylvania, and just north of the Mason-Dixon line. With some distance yet to travel to the Lyons Farm, the men pulled their traveling equipment off to the side of the road in a suitable spot and left it there for the night, unattended.

Unfortunately, the newspaper's article did not give details of the mill's machinery, nor, how exactly it was being moved. In that era the mill machinery would be loaded onto wagons, then the wagons pulled by either use of animal team or a steam traction engine (steam tractor). From what I've determined, the Sterling & Dillinger sawmill was being moved by use of an animal team.

Portable-type sawmills of this time period, once setup for their operation, were chiefly powered by use of a steam traction engine, being belted to the sawmill's machinery. A portable steam engine was a steam boiler, which had a steam engine mounted on top of it, all of which was mounted on wheels for any required transportation, or movement of it. It was pulled by an animal team, but later in time, gasoline powered farm-type tractors also were used. A portable steam engine was not self-propelling like a steam traction engine.

Some operators of these portable-type sawmills had special mill conveyance wagons custom built that eased and speeded their tear-down, transportation, and set up again of this type mills, since they so frequently relocated to different mill 'sets' in a year's time. A few of these same mill operators also had enclosed wagons fitted up as portable tool sheds. The wagons held saw-sharpening tools, other needed hand-tools required to setup, operate, and teardown a sawmill's set, operation, location, and repair items for their mill engine. These wagons could also be used as temporary living quarters for the owners if suitable lodging could not otherwise be obtained at a particular sawmill location. These portable tool sheds were sometimes referred to as 'gypsy wagons,' for they so resembled the wagons of those traveling people.

For some unexplained reason, Sterling & Diller did not return for their sawmill until 'a few days later.' The newspaper stated that the two 'were not ready to work yet' and allowed their mill to remain unattended, parked where they had left it. When the two partners did later return for it, they discovered it missing.

Apparently they contacted the local police, then began their own inquiry into the mill's disappearance. In doing this they learned from the local population that both a stranger and a known local man had been seen about the sawmill as it sat along the road to Gans. With the identity of the of this local man, the partners sought him out and questioned him about the sawmill's theft and its present whereabouts. This individual claimed no knowledge of any theft or crime. He had merely been hired by the stranger to wagon the sawmill to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, not too distant from Gans. At Cheat Haven, Pennsylvania, on the B & O Railroad, he had been paid for his work and then had returned home.

With this information, the partners quickly traveled to Cheat Haven, hoping to locate their sawmill. They interviewed the railroad's station agent who reported that the sawmill had been loaded aboard a railroad car, which had already departed for Cumberland, Maryland. At Cumberland it would be switched onto another route of the railroad and would then be moved to Rowlesburg, Preston County, West Virgina. This agent also provided the owners with the name of 'McMin' as the individual in Rowlesburg, who was to receive the sawmill.

From Cheat Haven, the partners then followed their sawmill to Rowlesburg, chiefly a railroad town, but with a lot of timberland about its area. At the Rowlesburg train station they learned the man McMin had already taken possession of it, and the railroad employee gave the partners a description of the man. Shortly after their arrival in Rowlesburg, the partners located their sawmill, which they could identify, as well as McMin, who was soon arrested for the mill's theft.

Later in court, McMin supposedly claimed he had been in Pennsylvania and had come across the sawmill as it sat along the side of the road. After remaining about the mill, apparently for a couple days' time, he devised a plan to steal the unattended mill and transport it to West Virginia, where he figured neither the sawmill, nor himself, would ever be located. At Rowlesburg, McMin had plans of setting up his own sawmill business with this stolen mill.

As a result of his trial, McMin was ordered to pay the involved transportation costs and to return the sawmill to the Lyons Farm in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This expense was set at the figure of $70.00. However, McMin did not have the money and an arrangement was made whereby McMin would work off this amount of money by laboring for Sterling & Dillinger, in the future operations of their sawmill.

The sawmill was returned to Pennsylvania and placed in operation on the Lyons Farm after a lengthy trip through two other states to reach that location. By the time it did finally arrive on the farm, the two partners were very ready to work it. Supposedly, McMin did work on the sawmill for a few days, but then quietly disappeared one night, well before he had worked off his seventy dollars restitution to the owners.

It is reported that Sterling & Dillinger did not seek any further to find McMin again. They were happy enough just to be sawmilling again. As a result of this incident, and the disappearance of McMin, the two partners had to endure quite a lot of people's joking about it, not only from the area population of Gans, but also from other business associates and other sawmill owners. It is unknown how long these two men continued in their sawmill business, or whatever became of McMin.