A Stronghold of Steam


| July/August 1971



Twin screw logging lorry

Her twin stacks bark as the ancient 5x6 steam hoist (1878) loads an 8 wheel logging dolly piggey-back on a twin screw logging lorry. This single drum winch will be in service at the new mill. Courtesy of L. T. Starkey, Box 153, Rathdrum, Idaho 83858.

L. T. Starkey

Box 153 Rathdrum, Idaho 83858

The grand old all steam sawmill in its picturesque setting at Nespelem, Washington, is gone. The residents are no longer awakened by the wail of the morning whistle. All that remains is memories and a large concrete gravestone on which the great steam engine once stood.

The mill was built at Conconully, Washington, in the year of 1910, but our story begins in 1934 when Mr. Duncan and the late Mr. Wyett moved the mill, saws, timbers, spikes, belts, nails, planking, shafts, boiler, engines and all from Conconully to Nespelem. During construction Mr. Duncan once called one of the crew, Mr. Davis, over to him. Mr. Davis put down his tools and made his way across the unfinished sawmill to where Mr. Duncan was laying plank. 'Look here,' says Duncan, 'I found a nail that has never been drove before.'

The Wyett-Duncan Mill ran steady for many years until the sad day in 1961 when fireman Roy Richardson (a veteran of 20 years with the company) blew the 5 o'clock whistle and shut down the graceful 14 by 18 Ames side crank steam engine.

For the next six years the old mill was idle. Parts were sold and stole. E. T. Jones of Riverside, Wash., bought the feed engine. Then along came an old stubborn sawmiller and die-hard steam man, L. T. Starkey. He purchased the old mill, renewed the lease on the ground under it, hired fireman Richardson and the two of them rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The 11,000 brick dutch oven under the 72' by 18' H. R. T. had been partly knocked down by the vandals and over 1,000 bricks thrown into the pond. Starkey's mother, up for a visit, retrieved, cleaned and relaid the bricks almost single handed. While the men overhauled and patched up the rest of the mill, the sidewalk superintendents came around every few days. The town buzzed with rumors, the pessimists preached that the mill would never run again. The modernists preached that the mill was obsolete and inefficient and was not practical.

July 1968, two months after Starkey moved on the property, the mill was ready to saw. Lack of logs was the only holdup.