Fine Old Sawmill

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The partially completed mill showing the first log being run through.
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Left: English-built Austin 7s in restoration process.
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Below: The original mill building in Swormsville, N.Y.

It has taken me sometime to submit another
article about our restoration projects. We have been busy though.
Our old sawmill was completed just in time for winter and currently I
am restoring two early 1920s Austin 7 cars from England.

The sawmill is a Geiser, no. 6671, with a 54-inch blade, a
20-foot carriage and a 50-foot track. The mill was originally
located in Swormsville, N.Y. We were able to acquire the mill
because the property owner was very concerned about the building
falling down due to woodworm damage and rot. The mill had sat
untouched since the original owner’s passing in the late 1960s. It
looked like with a little tinkering the mill may have run.
Unfortunately, woodworm and some leaks in the roof had done a lot
of damage to the mill itself, and quite a bit of the track and the
husk had to be replaced.

We had a very wet summer, but the fall turned out to be rather
good. So in the summer we replaced the rotted wood and gave the
entire mill a good going through to get it back into top shape. By
the end of summer, as the rain kept falling about every couple of
days, we were beginning to think the mill would not be installed
until next year.

One of our steam tractors kept watch over the mill’s rebuild in
the shop, optimistically hoping it would get a chance to power the
mill. Then the latter part of the season started to dry up. The
foundation of the mill went in, and we built up and leveled the
track. The days were getting shorter and shorter. The husk was
positioned and the base of the carriage was put on.

Now it was getting late in the year. All the steam engines had
to be winterized. We looked at the Sawyer-Massey, which had watched
over the work in the shop, and we pondered. Optimism kicked in
again and we said, “Well if we get lucky and have a mild, late
fall, maybe we’ll get it done.”

November came and the carriage head blocks, set works and husk
were coming together. Next, we had a crew come in to build a
pavilion over the mill. It had been one of the worst summers and
one of the best falls we could remember. The weekend before
Thanksgiving was cold but sunny. There were just a few odds and
ends left to finish up. Saturday we hurried around and completed
the mill. Sunday morning we pulled the “Little Engine that Could,”
our trusty 1917 17-51 HP Sawyer-Massey, out of the shop. We got her
fired and oiled, and with a final once-over oiled up everything on
the mill.

Once there was steam up we belted up to the mill, took a big
breath, looked up, down and all around. I shouted up to my son
Steve on the engine, and with a pull of the throttle everything
slowly started to turn. A push on the sawyer’s handle, the slack on
the winding drum cable takes up and … nothing! Everything was stiff
from where it had been just put together. So with the engine
running slow, Steve helped push the carriage as it was being fed.
After two or three times the power assist from Steve was no longer

Now with the carriage rolling smoothly and everything else
looking good we grabbed a heavy board and sawed it into some fine
firewood! “That worked pretty good.” Next, it was time for a log.
We grabbed a twisted log out of the pile (one we didn’t mind
turning into firewood instead of good boards). We put it through
its paces and actually ended with what would almost have been some
good boards, except the blade was starting to bind in the log.
After a few cuts we could see all the years of retirement had not
been good to the blade. It had a kink in it, so we shut down and
let the engine’s fire go out so we could get everything back into
the shop before dark. We were very pleased; the mill came out nice
and square and runs perfectly, and the blade just needs to be
hammered. This year, we’ll run the mill during our Harvest Festival
in July.

The Austin 7s do not really fit the format of Steam
magazine, so I’ll be short. My father had one when I
was a boy and I am restoring one exactly like he had. This is an
English car, and for the most part it is like a 2/3-scale Model A.
It is a 1929 salon and has a 4-cylinder engine that makes 10 HP. I
remember my father, mother and the four of us kids packed into this
little car, and just barely being able to make it up the hills on a
weekend trip. The second one is a 1927 convertible, which I found
while looking for parts on the Internet. My wife has claimed the
convertible as hers.

As a Christmas stocking stuffer, Steve put up a website about
the Harris Steam Farm covering our steam engines, projects, shows
etc. There is a page on there with a map for all of our fellow
steam engine owners to place a pin with their location.

Contact steam enthusiasts Brian and Steve Harris at

Find more information on the Harris’ equipment and shows

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