STEAM ENGINES IN FRANCE WORLD WAR I -1918

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Mill under construction near Mees, France, April 1918. Using manpower to put the smoke stack base on the boiler.
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Mill after completion August, 1918.
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106 S. Elm Street, Newkirk, Oklahoma 74647

When General Pershing reached France in the early summer of 1917
with the vanguard of the American Army, one of the first requests
was for lumber. First, enormous quantities of heavy plank and
timbers were needed to repair and build docks for the army and
supplies to land on. Railway cross-ties for sidings were needed;
also, ordinary building lumber for building barracks, warehouses,
and the like, was a necessity.

At that time the ‘U-Boats’ were sinking about sixty
ships a week, and our people were having all they could do to keep
the Allied Armies supplied with food and ammunition; so, no ships
were available for carrying lumber. However, it was learned that
timber was available in France. In fact, Canadian Engineers were at
that time cutting timber for the British Army in the French woods;
so, the decision was made to recruit American Engineer troops for
lumber production.

The first regiment formed, was called the Tenth Engineers. It
consisted of six companies of 250 men each. The men were selected
with the idea of taking only men who had experience in logging and
saw-mill work. Of course a few banker’s sons managed to slip
in; but, most of the enlisted personnel were qualified for the job.
The officers were nearly all ‘Ninety Day Wonders’ and
utterly useless, but people of that kind are always with us. The
Tenth took basic training for about two months at Camp American
University near Washington, D.C., and was sent to France in
September, 1917.

As soon as the Tenth Engineers were out of the barracks, another
regiment, the Twentieth Engineers, started forming six companies at
a time, taking basic training for about six weeks before going
overseas. This continued until the Twentieth consisted of 30
companies. Later, the two regiments merged, making 36 companies
altogether.

Many people might be surprised at the amount of lumber that was
cut. The production for the month of October, 1918, was over
fifty-million board feet of sawn lumber. In addition, a
considerable amount of round timber was cut.

Nearly all of the mills were of two sizes. The larger units were
rated to cut twenty-thousand board feet in ten hours. The smaller
size was rated at ten-thousand. At different times, small portable
mills obtained in France, were used. At the time the Armistice was
signed, twenty of the twenty-thousand foot capacity mills were in
operation; most of them running two 10-hour shifts per day. These
mills were erected with the mill floors about 10 feet above ground,
with the engine, line-shafts, belts and saw-dust conveyors below
the floor. The smaller 10 thousand capacity rigs were set up
‘ground hog’ style.

In 1917 the German ‘U- Boats’ were sinking about sixty
ships a week, and our people were having a time keeping the Allied
Armies in food and ammunition. No ships were available to carry
lumber, but timber was accessable in France. The decision was made
to recruit American engineer troops for lumber production…

Of course Steam Engines turned the saws. The standard power
plant for the large mills was a Houston, Stanwood and Gamble
engine, 14 inch by 18 inch, rated to indicate 90 H.P. with 90 lbs.
steam at the throttle. These were plain throttling governor engines
with balanced valves. They were sturdy old workhorses; and, as for
engine trouble, there wasn’t any. The boiler plant consisted
of: Two 48 inch dia. by 18 feet long, fire-box type b filers,
nominal rating 50 H.P. each. Some of the mills, instead of two 50
H.P., had one 60 H.P. and one 40 H.P. boilers of the same type.
These were all well built with ‘butt-strap’ double riveted
seams, good for 150 lbs. working pressure. However, as the war
continued, machinery became harder to get; and, at least two, 20
thousand capacity mills were obtained from the Canadian
Lumber-Jacks. These were similar to ours and the steam engines were
built by Robey & Co., Lincoln, England. They were
twin-cylinder, each cylinder 12 x 16 inches. The boilers were the
horizontal return tubular type, 5 feet in diameter, 18 feet long.
The furnace was a steel box, lined with fire-brick. The Robey
Company called this outfit the ‘Colonial Boiler.’ They
steamed well when fired by hand with sawdust; and, in one set-up,
one of them was built on a ‘Dutch Oven’ and fired by a
sawdust conveyor.

The Robey engines were fine examples of the engine builder’s
art. Finely finished ‘engine turned’ connecting rods made
for good appearance, and finely balanced valves with eccentrics,
made adjustable so as to use the expansion of the steam, made for
efficiency. The eccentrics on the Robeys were made to work like the
Russell reversing gear. They could not be reversed or the cut-off
point changed by a lever while running; but, with the engine
stopped, the cut-off points could be changed by loosening a couple
of bolts, and sliding the outer part outward for a longer cut-off,
or inward for a shorter. In case the bolts came loose, the
eccentric could slip only to the central position. This would put
the engine in the same position as with a reverse lever in the
center notch. If it was desired to reverse the engine, it was
necessary to remove the bolts. Then the eccentric could be slipped
across the shaft, and the bolts put in other holes in the hub. Most
steam engine men are familiar with the Russell and the old Rumely
gears, and can understand how the slotted eccentric works.

The Robey engines were equipped with PICKERING governors, built
in England under the Pickering Patent. They were exactly like the
governors so well known in this country.

In describing these English engines, the writer does not want
anybody to think that he is making them out to be better than those
that came from the United States. The HOUSTON, STANWOOD &
GAMBLE, the CHANDLER & TAYLOR, NAGLE and FARQUAR might not have
been so finely finished as their English Cousins, but they kept the
saws turning in most of the mills for two ten-hour shifts per day.
Engine breakdowns were just about unheard of. Spare parts, such as
cylinders and crankshafts, were shipped with many of the American
engines, but it is doubtful if any were ever needed.

Most of the larger mills had steam-driven electric generators
for electric lights. These consisted of a TROY vertical, 7′ x
9′ engine, directly-connected to a General Electric D.C.
generator with a capacity of 110-125 volts, 80 Amps. D.C. current.
These TROY engines had ‘automatic’ governors and balanced
valves. The crankcase was enclosed, and an oil pump circulated oil
to all the bearings. It flowed from there through a filter in the
base of the engine to be recirculated. These were sweet-running
little outfits. ‘Automatic’ engines are often seen at the
steam engine shows; but most people think they merely have a
different kind of governor. Actually, the ‘Automatic’
operates in a radically different way from the throttling governor;
and, in most cases, save one-third of the steam that the plain
engine will use. On the ‘Automatic,’ the throttle is wide
open so that there is full boiler pressure in the steam-chest,
while the governor and valve gear are designed to control the speed
by changing the TIMING of the closing of the admission; while, at
the same time, holding the opening of the admission and
‘lead’ at the beginning of the stroke. The Skinner Engine
Company, Erie, Pennsylvania, took over the Troy Steam Engine
Company, and was offering TROY Steam Engines for sale as late as
1961.

Most all of the larger mills used sawdust for boiler fuel; the
slabs being shipped to the troops for firewood, the boilers that
came from the States were all of the fire-box type with open
bottoms. These were set on ‘dutch-oven’ furnaces about six
feet high. A chain conveyor carried the dust from the saws above
the oven so that it fed by gravity into the fire. All the fireman
had to do, was keep the fuel feed regulated and keep water in the
boilers. The firing system worked well; usually plenty of steam;
but, when the saws were all running all of the sawdust was not
needed and part of it had to be hauled away. The Robey boilers that
came from England were of the H-R-T type with steel fire-box
settings. They also worked well on a Dutch Oven.

A large number of steam locomotives of various kinds and sizes
were used for hauling logs and lumber. Most of the larger mills
were located on the standard gauge French Railroads; but, some were
not, and had to haul their output to the standard gauge for
shipment.

The description of steam engines and other equipment is mostly
first hand. The writer belonged to Company A, 1st Battalion, 20th
Engineers. We landed in France, November, 1917; and, after some
delay caused by quarantine, got located on a tract of pine timber
in the Dept. of Landes in Southwestern France. The word
‘Landes’ in French means ‘waste land.’ In the old
days it had been grown up in a kind of bushy shrub and was just
about useless, except as a hide-out for the losers of a revolution.
It was flat and sandy with small lakes and marshes; and the sand
kept blowing and covering the strips of fertile soil along the
small creeks.

This had changed when we were there. They told us that Napoleon
originated the idea of planting it in pine timber, and a strip of
country about twenty miles wide extending from a little south of
Bordeaux almost to the Spanish border, was a nearly unbroken forest
of pine.

Most of the trees had been tapped for sap to make turpentine and
other products; but, only trees that showed signs of dying, and
some older tracts had been cut. The French Government would not
have allowed young, healthy timber to be cut, if it had not been so
badly needed to carry on the war. A considerable number of people
made a living operating the turpentine stills and small saw-mills;
so, they would not allow large tracts to be cut, as that would have
displaced whole neighborhoods.

The tract to which Company A was assigned consisted of about
1700 acres near the village of Mees, Landes. Company C was given a
similar tract near Candale, Landes. The timber was very much the
same; but Company C was close enough that the mill could be located
on the standard gauge railroad; so, their production could be
loaded directly into the standard gauge cars; while the Company A
mill was located two miles farther back, which made it necessary
for us to build a narrow gauge line to haul our lumber for
shipment.

We set up camp in late December, 1917, but equipment was slow in
arriving. We carried timber and built a barn for seventy head of
horsers. The horses arrived, but no harness. The officers got out
and bought a couple of little portable band sawmills and we got
started cutting lumber. These mills were driven by English portable
steam engines; one a Clayton and Shuttleworth and one Davey and
Paxman. These engines were old but they ran well. Finally, about
the middle of February, part of the machinery and blueprints
arrived for an American mill, rated to cut twenty thousand feet per
ten hours. The writer was given six men and assigned to the job of
building. It was to be 90 feet long, 22 feet wide; built on posts
six feet high, ten inches square, with street sill and over-lays of
10′ x 10′ timbers, which would make the mill floor nearly
eight feet above ground. We went to work with a will, glad to be
getting started. We bedded logs in the ground; cut perfect seats
with foot-adzes for the footings of our posts, 36 of them, and were
bragging about how level the tops were when some of the officers
woke up and came out on the job. Bad news! The other parts of the
mill had been lostmaybe sunk by submarines, or shipped to the wrong
place; but, could not be found. So we were going to get a mill from
the Canadian Lumber-Jacks.

You can well imagine the unprintable words that flew; but there
was nothing to do except unroll the new blueprint and get started.
The Canadian mill was to be 90 feet long, the same as the
foundation we had built, but it was to be 26 feet wide insteadof 22
feet; and the posts were to be spaced at different intervals; so
every pair of mud sills had to be moved, excepting those at the
ends. As luck would have it, our mud sills were 26 feet long; so,
by moving out to the end with our posts, they could be used. Of
course our adze work all had to be done over; and, by this time,
the logs were thoroughly covered with sand. Our adzes were all
dull, and had to be ground with foot power. Electric motors
didn’t grow on bushes 59 years ago in Gascony. (The Department
of Landes was part of the old province, called Gascony, before the
French Revolution.)

We reset our mud-sills; cut the posts so the tops were level;
got started with street sills and over-lay jointsa little farther
along than we had been before; and now, you are not going to
believe this, but it is true! The ‘Brass’ decided to move
the mill to another location, about three-quarters of a mile
farther back in the woods. I believe I said earlier: Most of our
working force had a low opinion of the ‘Brass.’

We had cussed when we had to tear our work down before; but this
time we wept. However, since there was nothing else to do, we
salvaged all the material we could, hauled it to the new location,
and went to work again.

This time it seemed our luck had changed. The Canadian Mill
arrived about the time we were ready for it. The saw-rig had been
designed by a Canadian officer, and built in England, but was very
much the same as we had been accustomed to. The edger was of
English design, but was not much different from the American
edgers. It carried three saws and would handle lumber five inches
thick. The live-roll case was gear-driven with ten steel rolls made
from ten inch pipe, about thirty inches apart, making it 24 feet
long. There were 30 eight inch steel idle rolls. This would extend
nearly 100 feet if they were placed three feet apart. The cut-off
saw swung from below, carried a thirty inch diameter saw that would
cut a timber 8 x 10 inches. The power plant was the Twin Cylinder,
12 x 16′ Robey Engine with Colonial Boiler that I described
earlier.

By this time the operation had organized itself. All the
commissioned officers but one had found other jobs. 1st Lieutenant
Duncan P. Shaw from North Carolina knew something about saw-mills
so he stayed on as Company Commander. Sergeant 1st Class J. W.
(Bill) Puckett, an experienced construction man, was in charge of
all camp and mill building. The writer, also a Sergeant 1st Class,
was foreman in charge of installing the machinery in the mill.

The little portable band-mills were in operation cutting railway
cross-ties and had rendered valuable service cutting the 8 x 8′
timbers and lumber that we were using to build the large mill.
Logging was getting started with Sergeant Frank J. Fitzgerald, an
experienced logger from Port Angeles, Washington as woods foreman.
The logs were being hauled on eight-wheeled wagons at this time,
but they were expecting a gasoline-driven, 60 centimeter gauge
locomotive to be used to haul logs from the woods.

Company A was loaded with skilled men. At least four: A
saw-filer, two steam engine operators, and a mill foreman, were
transferred and promoted to sergeants in other battalions that came
later and were short of men who knew how to produce lumber.

The crew working on the mill had expanded by this time to about
thirty men, and it was going up fast. Early in April we had the
under-frame completed, the head rig set, the live rolls and cut-off
saw belted up. Also, we had the haul-up rig working. The engine and
boiler were set up and the smokestack was hoisted. The roofing had
not arrived, but carpenters were cutting out the timbers for the
shed.

The smoke stack goes up. There are three men on the boiler.

The writer is the man in the middle. We were trying to get the
first bolt in the flange. Sergeant Bill Buckett is standing on the
corner of the mill building directing the operation.

Quite naturally, we were anxious to see the saws turn so we got
up steam and started the Robey Engine to rolling. The belts all ran
straight on the center of the pulleys and all the bearings ran
cool.

They had shipped four new inserted tooth saws: Two, 52′
diameter, and two, 56′. All were 7 gauge at the center and 8
gauge at rim. The 52′ had 50 teeth, and the 56′ had 54.
Both of the 56′ saws were made by R. Hoe Co., whose saws are so
well known, but one of the 52′ saws was made in Canada. While
we didn’t know anything about the Canadian saw at the time, we
found it to be equal to the Hoe in performance. The saws all seemed
to be in perfect condition and were marked for 650 Rpm. I selected
the 52′ Hoe for the first run and, since I had been in charge
of lining the track and mandrel, I appointed myself to saw the
first log. Now, as everybody who has set up a saw-mill knows, this
is a kind of tense moment. My mouth felt a bit dry, but as we
brought the speed up to 650, the Hoe saw stood steady and true. I
ran the carriage up and back on the track to see how the feed rig
was going to work, then loaded a log and cut the first slab. The
line was straight and we sawed the log into timber to build the
shed. Ora W. Adkins of Columbia, Missouri, who was to be one of the
regular sawyers, took the lever and sawed about a dozen logs.
Everything ran well. We were especially well pleased with the way
the Robey Engine performed. It carried the load so easily and the
Pickering governor held the speed so regularly that you would have
to have a good speed indicator to have detected any variation.

The first slab falls. Erwin is the man at the sawyer’s
lever. He squints down the line to see if it is true. It is good
and the log is sawn without any adjustment of the saw and everybody
was happy.

Nearly ten million board-feet of lumber passed over those
rollers by the time the Armistice was signed in November.

Readers familiar with saw mills will notice that the mill is
left-hand. The Canadian mills that came from England were all
left-hand. You know that the English drive on the left side of the
road, so maybe they want their log carriage to be on the left. You
know you can always tell an Englishman, but you can’t tell him
much.

After the trial run, we all got to work as fast as we could to
get the mill completed. The carpenters finished the shed and we got
the sawdust conveyors built and the edgers set up. In two or three
days we had the belts all on and a full crew organized. The first
day we cut over 200 logs and tallied thirteen thousand board feet
of lumber.

The second day we cut nearly 400 logs, and tallied over
twenty-two thousand feet of lumber. A crew was then organized for
the night-shift and the mill went into operation for 120 hours per
week. In a short time production was up to three-hundred-thousand
feet per week. This required about 5,000 logs, so the loggers had
to get busy. Fitzgerald and his men met the challenge quickly, and
supplied the round stuff.

Company A had plenty of men who knew how to get out saw-logs;
men who could pull a cross-cut and make it look easy. A man from
Arkansas, named Davis, was an artist at filing a cross-cut saw. I
would be anxious to bet that one of his saws, with a good man at
each end, could ‘log-off’ a chain saw. (Incidentally, I
read in a reliable magazine, a few weeks ago, that some students at
a Forestry School in Kentucky had beaten a chain-saw with a
cross-cut in a ‘Log-Sawing’ contest. It made me feel good
to learn that we had some young men who could do something besides
grow hair.)

When it came to getting logs to the mill, our loggers knew their
stuff!

Folks who have never seen loading crews loading logs on the
narrow gauge railway cars have missed something. Andy Anderson,
born in Sweden, came to Montana as a boy, was the best logger and
one of the most likeable men I ever knew. He was what they called a
‘top-loader,’ A loading crew consisted of five men and a
team, or for small logs, one good horse. (When Andy was not busy
loading logs, he was a semi-professional wrestler.) About 180 lbs.
bone and muscle in ‘calked-boots’, he was sure-footed as a
tomcat, and no cat could catch a mouse quicker than Andy could snap
his cant-hook into a log and bed it into place on the load; all
this on top of a high load where one misstep would have meant at
least a broken leg.

This crew could load 600 logs in 10 hours. If I could see Andy
and his crew with their rhythm, grace and precision of movement,
the best ballet dance that was ever staged could wait.

After the war, Andy returned to Idaho, where he became a
successful as a contract logger. He and I used to call each other
on the phone at Christmas time and talk about old times, but No
More! He passed on to where good loggers go about one year ago.
Truly his kind is an endangered species.

Fitzgerald had another top-loading crew with a top-loader named
Topel who could load almost as many logs as Andy’s crew. These
crews supplied the mill for the first month or two, but we made
improvements in the mill and increased production; so, since they
had plenty of good cant-hook men, two more loading crews were
organized.

The mill was not cutting about 65,000 feet per day of two
10-hour shifts, and another problem arose. They had eight 4-wheel
drive trucks to haul the lumber to the railroad about two miles
away. They were having plenty of trouble. As they were designed for
carrying ammunition they were needed at the front. This trouble
ended when a steam locomotive built in Germany weighing about 7
tons, with four wheels, all drivers, arrived, it was not much for
looks, but it could move 20,000 feet of lumber in five cars. We had
to shut the saw-mill down for a few days, and take the crew to
build a 60 centimeter gauge railroad to the French standard gauge
line. The line we built was made with secondhand, 20 lbs. to the
yard, steel. It was not a pretty track, but it carried the little
train.

Sergeant John C. Henslee, Pineville, Louisiana, and Pfc. William
P. Hillery, Akron, Ohio, with the little German locomotive. It
wasn’t much for looks, but it could move the lumber.

During the first month or more of operation, we had to use
acetylene flare lights for the night-shift to work by. Servicing
these was a messy job, and there was danger of burning the mill
besides. This trouble ended when a fine, steam-driven electric
generator arriveda Troy 7 x 9′ steam engine, directly connected
to a General Electric D.C. generator with an output of 125 volts,
80 amps. When we got this in operation and lights flashed on all
over the camp and mill, we were as proud of it as Edison was of the
Eighth Street Plant that ushered in the Age of Electricity. When
you have passed a long, dark winter with no light excepting tallow
candles, happiness consists of being able to turn on a light with
the flip of a switch.

By this time we had acquirerd enough log cars to enable the log
crews to leave enough loaded cars on the track leading into the
mill to supply the night shift. The lumber hauling crew got hold of
enough cars to take care of the full production from our lumber
ramp to the railroad siding where it could be loaded directly onto
the standard gauge. Yet this lumber haul continued to be a hard
job. Sixteen men, eight for each shift, were required to transfer
the lumber, and four men to operate the train, but it seemed to be
the only way it could be done.

All along we were making improvements in the mill which
increased the output. In the month of October, the last full month
the mill ran, we cut 1,900,000 feet. Altogether, our little mill
produced ten million feet of sawn lumber before closing down in
November, immediately after the Armistice.

About the first of September, the writer was supposed to be
promoted to a rank that is now called Warrant Officer, but the
promotion got tangled up in red tape, and I only got to be
‘acting’ Warrant Officer. This means I got the job but did
not get the pay. A Warrant Officer is supposed to be an expert in
some line in which the Army is engaged. The work in which I claimed
expertise was the straightening and tensioning, and other work on
circular saws. My job was ‘trouble shooting’ for any of the
five mills in the Dax District that had saw trouble or any kind of
difficulty which their own men could not handle. The First
Battalion had plenty of men who could recondition circular saws,
but those that came later, although being composed of intelligent
men, skilled in other lines, lacked the special skills needed for
lumber production.

When the War ended in November, we all thought we would be
packing our knapsacks and catching a boat for Hoboken in a few
days, but how wrong we were! There were two million men in France
and it had taken a year and a half to get us over there, so of
course it was impossible to get back home very much faster. Any one
would know it is not good for men to lie around in idleness, so
various kinds of work, such as repairing roads and the like, were
started, but for us there was something else.

Late in the summer a tract of pine consisting of about 30,000
acres, situated about 40 miles north of Mees where we were working,
was burned. Every tree was killed, the bark charred; but the wood
was not damaged. This timber was acquired jointly by the Americans
and Canadian lumber regiments at a fraction of the cost of green
timber.

At that time our High Command thought the War would continue
into the next year, and we were all surprised when the Kaiser’s
Army collapsed in November, leaving the burned timber on our
hands.

The French, with only a few small mills, would not be able to
save much, as it would spoil in the summer, but they agreed to pay
the Americans and Canadians the market price for all that we would
cut. Our people wanted to be fair with the French and, naturally,
everybody hated to see good lumber go to waste when it was needed
badly. Since we had been bragging about how fast we could cut
lumber, it was: ‘Why not get in there and show us?’

Three mills were to be built, twin rigs in each, making a total
of six rigs of the size that we had been operating. Company A, or
by this time the designation had been changed to ‘First
Company,’ was to build one called the ‘East Mill.’ The
‘West Mill’ was to be built by the Eleventh. I don’t
recall what Company was to build the ‘North Mill.’

A Captain of Engineers named W. D. Starbird was in charge of the
whole operation, and I mean He Was in Charge. During the summer of
1918, as new battalions had been arriving, Captain Starbird, with a
detail of about 20 expert millwrights and construction men, had
been building mills and starting them in operation for the new
outfits that were often short of skilled lumbermen.

Later I was to become well acquainted with Captain Starbird and
I found him to be one of the few officers in the regiment who
really knew his job. He had a Master’s degree in mechanical
engineering and was Chief Installation Engineer for the P. B. Yates
Woodworking Machinery Co., at that time the largest builders of
woodworking machinery in the world.

This was the beginning of the operation called ‘The Burned
Area,’ which most of the units of the Twentieth had a turn at
helping clean up.

Fitzgerald, who had been logging foreman when we began work at
Mees, and who had now been promoted to Lieutenant, with myself,
still ‘Acting Warrant Officer,’ and Sergeant 1st Class
George E. McKay from San Francisco, who had a Master’s degree
in engineering, were chosen to lead the advance into the black
forest. We three were very close friends. This helped, but we
wondered just what transgression we were being punished for. We
were given an old FWD ammunition truck, ten men, two 16-foot tents,
a few tools, a supply of hardtack and bacon, and told to get in
there and build a new camp. This we proceeded to do, and as soon as
we got tent floors with three foot walls ready more men were
sent.

EAST MILL, Burned Area, near Pontenx Les Forges, Landes, France.
This mill was built by First Company, 20th. Engrs. (formerly called
Co. A First Battalion.) It began operation about the first of
February, 1919, and cut four and one half million feet of lumber by
the middle of June. The two other mills cut about the same making
13 million all together for the American mills and the Canadians
about the same. This salvaged the burn and completed the work of
the ‘Lumber Jack’ Regiment.

A few days after we got started building our camp, Capt.
Starbird sent a Warrant Officer, or as they were generally called,
‘Master Engineer,’ to commence building the mill. Master
Engineer (I’ll not give his name since he didn’t turn out
well and some of his descendants might read this) called on me for
12 good men. I responded by giving him the worst 12 I had. We
needed every man who could drive a nail to work on the camp. I
forgot to mention, it started raining the day we arrived in the
black woods and continued to rain all winter, so we were much more
interested in our camp than in the Master Engineer’s mill.
(Blank) was a fine construction man and he managed to get work done
with the dozen useless guys. He seemed to be a fine fellow, and
took it in good humor, but when he called for more men he asked if
I couldn’t send him some millwrights and carpenters. I
responded by giving him the most worthless men I had, but this was
as far as this shennanigan worked. He questioned these guys as to
who were good men and they told him, so he came up with an order
signed by Capt. Starbird calling for certain sergeants and
corporals by name so I had to comply.

Master Engineer (Blank) knew how to build a mill. He soon had
the main erected, and was getting started with the boilers and
ovens. Possibly because of the frustrations and discomforts of the
situationit rained almost continuouslywe were all black with soot
from the charred timber, with plenty of cold water to use for
washing and bathing. Altogether you couldn’t say we were
comfortable. All this was too much for Master Engineer (Blank). He
got drunk, shot up the camp with a Springfield rifle, ran off, and
they caught up with him in Paris.

Capt. Starbird chose a corporal named Goulasch to replace him as
Superintendent. Starbird never paid any attention to rank or
ratings. Another dictator was said to have preached the doctrine:
‘The tools to him who can use them.’ Starbird seemed to
believe in that. Also, the powers in Washington had decreed that
all ranks be ‘frozen,’ and no promotions were possible.

Cpl. Goulasch was a fine millwright and mechanic but proved to
be a poor superintendent. He was what is called a ‘working
foreman.’ This means a boss who will do all the work and let
his men stand and watch. This is bad, when about 60 men are
supposed to be at work.

By this time, we had the camp about finished, with mess hall,
kitchen and supply room built of lumber, and tent floors enough to
accommodate 500 men.

All of First Company (formerly called Company A, 1st Battalion)
had been moved up from the old camp at Mees. Sergeant 1st Class
George E. McKay, who was now logging superintendent, had surveyed
and laid out the campsite and was building a 36-inch railway into
the woods, getting ready to bring logs.

With the work on the mill lagging, Capt. Starbird was in a bind.
Capt. Duncan P. Shaw (formerly 1st Lt.) who was in command of First
Company, was now in the new camp. Capt. Starbird would hardly allow
any of the other officers in the mill, but Capt. Shawbless his
heart! He was one of the best friends I ever hadventured to speak
to the great Captain, and told him that ‘Erwin could build the
sawmill.’ To make a long story short, I got the joband how big
I felt!

I put Cpl. Goulasch on a special job with four good men helping
him, and we got along well and became good friends.

I have a history of the Twentieth Engineers that devotes a good
many pages to describing the ‘horrible’ conditions in the
‘Burned Area.’ The writers of this book talk a lot about
‘Slave Labor,’ men being marched to work in military
formation and the like, and call Capt. Star-bird ‘the much
anathematized Engineer Officer.’ I was too busy around the East
Mill and camp to know much about what was going on in the other
camps, but while we had a few complainers crying about wanting to
go home, I could usually get them hushed-up by reminding them that
about 200,000 of our men wouldn’t be going home at all, and
they should feel lucky. On the whole job, I recall only two
instances of men refusing to work. I got them both back on the job
without raising my voice, making any threats, or even getting mad.
Lt. Fitzgerald, who was Camp Commander, never even heard of these
incidents unless, perhaps, I happened to mention them and we had a
‘little laugh.’ When our men would complain about paddling
around all day in ‘slicker suits’ I would say: ‘We had
to work last winter without these good suits.’ I’d also
say: ‘We are lucky that this is just water and sand. What if it
were black, sticky mud?’

Anyway, we got the East Mill completed, and it was a dandy. Two
fine rigs built by McDonough, Eclaire, Wisconsin, set in right and
left hand, so that the logs came in between and could be unloaded
on the log decks. The whole plan was 80 feet wide by 84 feet long.
Each mill was 24 feet wide by 84 feet long, with the boiler room 32
feet wide in between.

On the left hand rig, we used the 12′ x 16′ Twin
Cylinder Robey Engine that we had used on our other job. On the
right hand side, we had a new 14′ x 18′ side crank engine,
built by Chandler & Taylor, Cincinnati, Ohio. The steam was
furnished by the Robey ‘Colonial’ boiler that we had used
at Mees, with two open bottom fire-box type boilers of 50 H.P.
each, set on a three-furnace ‘Dutch Oven,’ fired by sawdust
conveyors.

We got the mill started late in January, 1919. Everything worked
beautifully and I felt about as big as Capt. Starbird. In fact I
heard that some of the men, behind my back, were calling me
‘Little Starbird.’ This pleased me. I had a high opinion of
the Captain’s ability.

Just before we got the mill started, the 25th Company, who had
been running a mill in the Vosges Mountains, near the front, was
sent to help run the operation. I continued as Superintendent. The
other mills got started about the same time. As soon as all the
mills were in operation, Capt. Starbird took off to his job with
the Yates Company. He sent me a fine letter of recommendation on
‘Yates’ Letterhead,’ which I have kept to this day.

We got the mill into good production, 20 hours per day, very
quickly, cutting European type railroad cross-ties.

Another word about the 25th Company, who had been working in the
Vosges Mountains near the front, and who had come to help operate
the East Mill operation: I would particularly like to mention one
of their sawyers and his crew. He was a French Canadian, a
sergeant, but, they said, ‘He had been made sergeant seven
times and ‘busted’ six times.’ His weakness: getting
too much cognac and forgetting to come back to camp on Sunday
night; but you should have seen him making logs into cross-ties. We
had good sawyers, but none who had quite the ‘flair’ and
‘style’ of this man. The elegant gentleman who conducts the
orchestra on the Lawrence Welk Show reminds me of him.

The crew that operates the head-rig in a mill of this type,
consists of the sawyer who handles the motion of the carriage with
one hand and bosses his crew by hand signals with the other, the
‘block-setter’ and two ‘doggers’ ride the carriage,
and two cant-hook men roll the logs on the carriage and turn them.
The carriage seldom stops except for an instant at the time it
reverses. You may have heard old-time sawmillers talk about
carriages so fast that you could play pitch on the
‘block-setters’ coat tail! Well, this French-Canadian was
almost that fast and his crew obeyed every crook of his fingers,
all with precision and rhythm. If I could have a movie reel of Andy
Anderson and his crew loading logs, and this sergeant (I don’t
remember his name) and his men sawing them, the Rockefeller family
wouldn’t have money enough to buy it. Oh, I might lend it to be
copied.

Since First Company had been in France longer than any of the
others except those of the old 10th Engineers, we were relieved on
February 22 (easy to remember that date), 1919, by the 27th
Company, and we went back to the old camp at Mees to prepare for
the long trail to Hobo-ken. I have never known what units were used
in operating the mills, but the History of the Twentieth says:
‘The job was finished in June, 1919, and the total cut by the
Americans was: Thirteen Million Board Feet.’

After we got back to our camp at Mees, about six miles from Dax,
which is a little city of about 15,000 in which the headquarters of
the first battalion and Dax District were located, General Pershing
came down to visit us.

Our men had not been in military formation for over a year, and
it was some trouble to get them in shape, but we managed to parade
and pass in review. The General gave us a fine talk. He told us
‘we were a ‘gutsy’ bunch of guys, and while we had not
had to face the enemy in battle, we had endured the back-breaking
work, the cold, the heat, rain and mud, to furnish timber when it
was needed, and he wanted us to know that our services were
appreciated.’

None of the units of the Twentieth were ever used in combat, but
several of the mills were close enough to the front to be under
long range artillery fire, and two men were killed. The greatest
loss was suffered by our Sixth Battalion when the British troop
ship ‘Tuscania’ that was carrying them was torpedoed and
sunk by a U-boat January 23, 1918. Ninety-one of our men failed to
reach the shore. The 100th Aero Squadron was also on board and
suffered heavy losses. Altogether about four hundred Americans were
lost in this disaster when occurred off the Isle of Islay, near the
coast of Scotland.

The delay caused the tract of timber intended for the Sixth to
be given to the Seventh Battalion, and after the survivors of the
Sixth regrouped, they were assigned to a job cutting timber for the
British about 30 miles north of our operation at Mees. They built a
couple of Canadian mills, like ours, and worked there for several
months. During this time we became well-acquainted, and among the
many things they told us about the sinking, one thing I especially
remember was: ‘You may have heard that the Scots are stingy.
Never believe it! We were picked up and landed on that little
island, hungry and cold, many of us half drowned; and no clothes,
excepting those we had on our backs. Those poor people gave us food
and clothing that they really needed for themselves. So, ‘Never
tell us that the Scots are stingy!’

I was very much disappointed by failing to get the promotion to
‘Warrant Officer’, but as a sort of consolation prize,
several months after I got home in 1919, I received a citation for
exceptionally meritorious service signed by ‘John J.
Pershing.’ After all those years I prize this citation higher
than I would have the promotion.

All in all, if America had always been served as honestly and
faithfully as the old Steam Engines and Lumber Jacks served, she
wouldn’t be SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS in debt.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment