106 South Elm Street, Newkirk, Oklahoma 74647
Immediately after the United States entered World War II my brother, Dewey and I secured orders for walnut gun-stock blanks for our Army. What we call a 'blank' is a piece of wood, hand sawn to a rough outline of the gun-stock for which it is intended. The machines used have 36' to 40' wheels, with saws 1/2''to 1' in width. We had been operating our mill at Harrison, Arkansas for several years, cutting hardwood timber into various sizes and shapes; so we had part of the machinery needed.
At that time the U.S. Army engineers were busy destroying fine 'Bottom Land' with dams. They were telling us great stories about the stupendous amounts of power they were going to produce; but, the real reason was to furnish jobs for half-educated engineers. At this time only about 15% of the electric power used in this country is generated by water power.
A view of the mill and yard. Carl Erwin is at the back of the truck measuring the logs. Elmer Stuart, the truck driver, is at the left. A load of logs like those, brought about $180.00 in 1942. They would bring at least ten times that much now in the paper money we are using. Two J. I. Case steam traction engines were turning the saws.
However, this is getting off the subject. On the Bottom Land they were destroying in Arkansas, there was a lot of good walnut timber, and the rifles for our men were to have walnut stocks. A rich doctor, who was quite a bird hunter, and had a fine walnut stock on his shot gun, asked me: 'Why do they have to have walnut for an army rifle?' I replied a bit sharply: 'Because, we don't have anything better.' Actually this is true. Walnut will hold its shape and size better than most any other wood under all conditions of temperature and humidity. They had also tested plastic stocks. These were ready to fall off the gun after one trip to the firing range. They couldn't stand the heat and the heavy recoil. Also, nothing feels better than a piece of wood; if you have to handle it, either hot or cold.
During the time that I was operating our mill at Harrison, Dewey, the other member of the firm, was running our mill at Cotter, Arkansas, getting walnut timber from the River Bottom Land that the U. S. engineers were making into a fishing lake.
Of late years, the people in charge in Washington have never been known to save anything, if there was any way to waste it; and, any time that the loggers failed to get the walnut off fast enough, the engineers burned it. Good logs of other kinds went the same way. All this, at the time our men were dying on the beaches of Normandy and on the beach heads in the Pacific.
View from the other direction. Elmer Stuart is unloading another log. The reason Carl has that pained look on his face is that he is going to have to pay about $30.00 for the log.
Please excuse me for getting political! And, back to the sawmill--I am better there. We had another 'go' at making gun stocks for the Korean War. About that time, Dewey sold me his interest in the sawmill, and put in a handle factory in Harrison. I continued making gun stocks for a new army rifle, called the 'M14,' and also stocks for sporting rifles and shotguns. There was a demand for fancy wood in the sporting guns; and I made improvements in the mill for special work.
The mill had become much too big for the old J. I. Case traction engines. A good boiler, 5' in diameter, 23' feet long had been installed. A Skinner steam engine, with 14 x 15-inch cylinder turned the wheels. This was a much more 'sophisticated' engine than those shown at the thresher reunions. The crank case was enclosed with oil forced through holes in the crankshaft to oil the principal bearings. The oil was carried back from the bottom of the crankcase to a filter and back to the oil pump. The engine was, what is called, 'Automatic.' The governing mechanism was in one of the flywheels. An automatic engine operates in a radically different manner from a plain fly-ball governor and will use 30% less steam.
Help was scarce. The young men were in the Army. The Regular sawyer was off that day, and Carl had to run and take the lever to run the mill. The boy on the carriage is Glenn Mc Murtry. Glen was a little young for the service. Glenn comes to our steam engine show, near Springfield, Missouri occasionally, and helps me run my old Case engine. A close look will show a blue spot near the bottom edge of the 'Cant' we were sawing. The saw had hit a wire fence staple. I'm calling attention to this to make an excuse for the rough saw marks.
Gun-stocks must be 'clear as a hound's tooth.' Zack Langford is using a forked device to mark the defects in a 'Flitch.' This is an old English word that is seldom heard anymore, except in the lumber industry. It is a slice of wood with rough edges. A log that is partly sawn is called a 'Cant.'
A belt, 14' wide, drove the head rig. Another 12' wide on the other flywheel, drove a General Electric 3 phase, alternating current generator, sometimes called an alternator, that generated 440 volts, 125 amps. This ran motors that were belted to band saws, rip saws and a planer.
I never did get the mill completely motorized. There were two saw dust blowers, three swing cut-off saws, and a wood conveyor that were driven by belts. An 8' belt on a 48' diameter wheel pulled the belted load. Steam engine 'buffs' would sometimes come to see the mill. Their eyes would open wide to see the old Skinner rolling along easily at 227 revolutions per minute, under 34' of belt. They were disappointed, though, because they could not use the connecting rod.
George Washman is laving patterns and making our blanks for the gun that we called the Garand. John C. Garand, a man who worked for the Springfield Armory, invented it; but, the Army called it, 'The M 1.'
Quite a few of our men became acquainted with it on the battlefield. General George Patton called it: 'The finest battlefield instrument that was ever devised.' General Douglas MacArthur and General Dwight D. Eisenhower also praised it and said: 'It contributed greatly to victory in both Europe and Asia.'
We made stocks for several different rifles. The first order we had was for the British Mark IV Enfield. The stock for this rifle was made in two pieces. Many of our men, who served in Europe, saw them. At the beginning of the war, the Army found it was impossible to get the 'Garand' or the 'M 1' into production fast enough; so they had the Remington Company make two or three million 'Model 1903 Spring-fields.' We also made some for the Model 1917; but, we made more stocks for a new gun, called the 'M 1 Carbine', than any other.
Blanks for the Garand and the British Mark IV Enfield are ready to be shipped to the Midwest Walnut Company. Dry-kiln Willow Springs, Missouri for Drying. Note: that the ends are coated with pitch to prevent cracks in drying. Great care is necessary. The slightest crack will ruin them.
Folks used to call me 'an old fogey' for using an old steam engine. My smokestack was 75' high. It came down in 1966. Just eleven years later, one of the largest wood-working plants in town put in a modern steam boiler. The local newspaper carried a picture of them, hoisting a 100' stack, and made a big splurge about them going to make power out of waste wood. They seemed to think they had made a great discovery.
Another piece of steam equipment I had was a steam feed. (For readers who may not be familiar with the language used by wood-workers, 'feed' means the mechanism that propels the carriage.) This machine was made by the Soule Company, Meridian, Mississippi. It is called: 'The Speed-D-Twin.' It has two 5' x 6' cylinders. It will handle the carriage very fast and is easily controlled.
I was proud of my mill and steam-electric power plant, but I was lazy and getting old; logs were scarce, so I let it go.