Sawyer and Antique Sawmill Reunited

A century-old Aultman and Taylor sawmill once owned by the Ross family is still going strong at an Illinois show.

| April 2007

  • JohnRosswasWorking.jpg
    Left: John Ross (in the foreground) and a helper turn a log so the flat side is down, allowing sawmill workers to make future cuts square. Massive logs are a chore to maneuver. “I refer to those as ‘test logs,’” John says with a smile. “They don’t test the mill; they test us.” Center: The sawmill blade works its way through the log in a matter of seconds, leaving a large slab of lumber that can be cut into smaller boards. Right: John takes time to oil the sawmill’s moving parts and remove sawdust while tractors or steamers are being changed.
  • CutLumber.jpg
    A stack of freshly cut lumber waits to be loaded onto a wagon for delivery. Most of the lumber processed at the Sycamore sawmill goes to the owners of the land where the trees were grown.
  • JohnRossCuttingWood.jpg
    John Ross aligns a log so it can be locked into place for the first cut, which will remove bark from one side while making a square cut. Once the log is in place and secured, the load is lighter. “Playing with the stick ain’t much work,” John says, referring to the large lever that puts the log into place before it moves into the blade and back.
  • WoodBlade.jpg
    This giant blade cuts through logs and full tree trunks like they were toothpicks, turning them into lumber of various sizes ready for use.

  • JohnRosswasWorking.jpg
  • CutLumber.jpg
  • JohnRossCuttingWood.jpg
  • WoodBlade.jpg

Visitors to the annual August show put on by the Northern Illinois Steam Power Club in Sycamore, Ill., enjoy watching the Aultman & Taylor sawmill hard at work. But the person who gets the most enjoyment out of the mill is John Ross, rural Hebron, Ind.

For 27 years, John's made an annual trip to this small northern Illinois town, arriving on Wednesday before the show begins and leaving the Monday after. While there, he works as a sawyer on the vintage machine.

His experience with this particular mill, however, goes back much further than 27 years. John's father, Harry Ross, and two uncles owned the mill for more than 40 years. "They bought it used in 1917," he says. "I have no idea when it was built or who had it before."

John's father and uncles, who farmed 164 acres near Hebron, put the sawmill to good use. "We sawed lumber with it through the early 1950s," John recalls. "It was in use nearly 200 days a year." In addition to personal use, the mill was used to cut wood for neighbors. "The farmers needed fence boards and wood to keep their barns up and that's what we sawed."

Until the mid-1940s, the Rosses used a Rumely OilPull tractor to power the mill. "Then we sawed with a Baker tractor from about 1948 until 1958," John adds

In the early 1960s, John went into the military. On his return home, he discovered that the sawmill and the Baker were gone. "They sold them to a man in Momence, Ill.," he says. "About six months after I got home, I found out where the Baker was and went over and bought it."


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