The following article was taken from a local paper just as it
was written and sent to us. It is interesting and we know you will
The rasping drone of a saw and the sporadic puffing of a large
steam tractor mingle along Route 8 south of East Sparta during the
operation of Stark County’s only steam sawmill.
The sounds, which come from inside a building having walls of
rough, waste lumber and a roof of wood and sheet metal, are music
to the ears of the mill owners.
Lester May, 74, owner of the sawing equipment, and Otis
Baughman, 54, owner of the tractor, have been active many years in
operating a sawmill using steam.
The two men have operated their mill at the present location
since 1948, generally doing only custom work for area farmers who
need rough lumber for fences or small farm buildings. They usually
run the mill every week or two, depending upon when the customer
can supply the logs or needs the lumber.
When the mill isn’t in operation, Mr. May, who resides with
his wife at R.D. 1, Magnolia, works his 50-acre farm across the
hill from the mill. Mr. Baughman, who lives in East Sparta,
operates a store there or hauls logs with his two trucks during off
Prior to 1948, the two men traveled throughout this area with
the tractor, setting up operations in woods to clear the land for
the farmer. Mr. May recalls taking the equipment as far south as
Mr. Baughman, who was born in East Sparta, started in the
milling business at the age of five. His father, the late William
Baughman, who died in 1949, owned about 25 steam engines during his
life and was active in milling work 65 years.
In 1926, Mr. Baughman bought his present one-cylinder steam
tractor from Russell & Co. of Massillon for about $4,000. He
also used the machine in threshing grain for farmers.
Mr. May, son of the late George May, an Army veteran and farmer,
bought a sawmill with steel mountings and frame from Knight Mfg.
Co. on Market Ave.S in Canton, about 1921. A fire warped and ruined
He returned to the firm and bought his present sawmill equipment
with wooden mountings for $510. He said he thinks it was the last
wooden mill made by the company.
The tractor and the sawing equipment are joined by a rubber belt
believed to be 20 years old. Mr. May said the belt has never broken
or been repaired since its purchase for about $50.
A hose delivers water for the steam tractor from a 600 gallon
tank. Mr. Baughman said he filled the tank with water from a nearby
stream until it dried up. Now he hauls water with a truck.
Furnaces in the boiler are filled continuously with waste wood
to keep steam moving into the cylinder of the engine.
The saw has removable teeth, which must be replaced after
cutting about 15,000 board feet. During an average day on
continuous cutting, they file the teeth by hand in the morning and
evening to sharpen them.
During cutting, logs are placed on a carrier which moves on
railroad tracks past the saw. Sawdust drops into a ditch below the
tracks and is dragged away by a moving chain, which picks up the
wood particles and carries them up a ramp. Prom the ramp, the
sawdust drops onto a pile outside the mill building.
The men said they average cutting 75,000 board feet of lumber a
year now but during operations many years ago were able to cut that
much in one month.
They said timber has been scarce during the last 8 to 10 years.
‘It has been cheaper to buy lumber already cut than to buy
logs, truck them and cut them today,’ they added.
The mill is used to cut logs of ash, maple, poplar, hickory and
various types of oak. ‘Hickory is the hardest and the toughest
on teeth,’ Mr. Baughman said.
When cutting logs, Mr. May handles the saw and adjusts cutting
thicknesses. Mr. Baughman manages the tractor and aids in loading
the log carrier.
Both men appear expert at their jobs and indicate they have an
inner pride in their equipment and knowledge of their work.