A Steam Engine and a Sawmill: Memories of Yesterday

| November/December 1992

1382 Kentucky 798 Calhoun, Kentucky 42327

Weeds, briars, honeysuckles, and second growth stuff choked the rusted skeleton of the old sawmill. There in front of me lay the sawdust hole, now filled with dirt and rotten timbers that had collected the sawdust as the large circular saw cut a quarter inch swath through a seemingly unending procession of oaks, poplars, sycamores and countless other varieties of Kentucky timber. The aged carriage still rested on its tracks, part of which bent and twisted in directions no self respecting carriage would travel.

The heart and soul of the old sawmill, the big, black, grimy, noisy steam engine, no longer graced the field wherein the mill rested. Only the ghost of the powerful Advance Rumely remained to complete the picture.

The history of this sawmill, owned by my dad, Elza Lee 'Dodge' Taylor, of Calhoun, Kentucky began many, many years ago. Dad started sawing during the dark days of the Depression, about 1932 or '33, when he bought the Keck Gonnerman Pony mill from Mr. Thornton Coke for $50.00.

He first used a 12 HP Case, then a 15 HP Case to power the mill. Then, in 1939, he bought a 20 HP Advance Rumely, serial number 15308, from the old Keck Gonnerman factory in Mount Vernon, Indiana, to power the mill and to use, as he had the others, in steaming plant beds.

World War II brought a temporary halt to Dad's sawmill and plant bed steaming business, while he served a hitch in the army. After returning from the service in 1943, he set up the Advance Rumely engine and Keck Gonnerman mill on a neighboring farm owned by Mr. Tommy Ayer. He operated the mill there until 1946 when he moved it to its permanent site, a section of land in the Buel community which the Taylor family has owned for over 200 years. Buel is located near Calhoun, the county seat of McLean County, in western Kentucky.