Reprinted, by permission, from The Messenger (Newspaper), Madisonville, Kentucky
Sent to us by Billy M. Byrd 369 S. Harrig Street Madisonville, Kentucky 42431
Billy Byrd has a new toy to play with. Actually he'll probably just use it to 'cut up' with. Byrd's new toy is a sawmill, which is powered by a belt turned by one of his steam engines, a Case half-scale built in 1984.
Powering this handmade sawmill is the steam engine of Billy Byrd (left) while sawyer Danny Baldwin (back to camera) operates the mill and Tom VanCleve observes the two men at 'play.'
Byrd is a man with a love for steam power, and anything connected with the days 'When Steam Was King.' It says so on the side of the other steam engine sitting in his driveway on Harrig Street. That one is a full-sized Nichols & Shepard. The sawmill Byrd is using actually belongs to Gene Myles; but, it was put in the care of Tom VanCleve, because Myles didn't have anywhere to store it. It had been sitting in storage for about 10 years when someone in Calhoun told Byrd about it. The retired engineer knew immediately that he had to have it. Byrd said he called Myles and offered to buy it, but the owner wouldn't sell it. Myles did the next best thing he let Byrd borrow it.
'We'll loan it to him on a long term basis,' VanCleve said this week.
The sawmill was originally built by Raymond Bennett as a showpiece, but it was given to Myles after Bennett died.
'He was an old sawmill person,' VanCleve said of Bennett.
'He set out to make one he could pack up and take to the shows.'
What makes the sawmill so special is that it is made almost entirely out of wood, except for the blade and a few other parts. The pine and oak sawmill has wooden pulleys, wooden gears, wooden handles, and a wooden frame.
'When we take something like this to a steam show, they leave the big mill and come watch this,' Byrd said.
The small mill looks proportional to the half scale Case that supplies the power, which Byrd says is more than enough to turn the blade. In case of trouble, however, they have a 1936 John Deere tractor standing by to take over. Byrd, who has considerable faith in steam, doesn't see that happening.
Byrd and Danny Baldwin, the sawyer, are the first ones to run the mill in nearly ten years. After a little lubricating, it runs like new. The only problem, initially, was that there was 'some assembly required' and they didn't have any instructions.
'It took a day or two to assemble it, because I didn't know anything about it,' Baldwin said.
Now that he has done it, he believes he could assemble it again in short order.
The King of Steam and the sawyer are already planning to take the sawmill to a few shows. Plans include celebration in Hopkins County, and running it with Byrd's half scale Case, showing off the sawmill's original design and craftsmanship.
'For a man to sit down and build one of these in his shop is mind boggling,' Baldwin said.
When Bennett built the sawmill, he thought to include things such as a rule with a pointer that tells how thick of a cut the blade will make, a handle that will reverse the blade, and a design that allows the mill to be folded up so it can be hauled around on a trailer or in a truck.
Right now Byrd and Baldwin are just 'playing' with the mill, but they do have at least one thing they want to do with it.
'What we're planning on doing is gettin' some cedar and cuttin' it for a cedar chest,' Byrd said.
The mill definitely won't be used for any heavy-duty work, however.
'The day this becomes work, I quit,' Baldwin said. 'It's just a big toy to me.'