La Forge, Wisconsin
THIS LITTLE STORY IS supposed to be an explanation of the old 'Steam Engine' and the new 'Hydraulic Fork Lift' working together in my sawmill, but a few lines of history of our little mill may be of interest to some, so, we will start at the beginning.
When we started sawing in 1946, my experience amounted to a few hours spent watching other small mills run. My equipment consisted of my Case 40 which I kept for steaming tobacco beds, a 1926 model S International truck, and an old Frick Mill which had been so rotted down and so many parts missing, that it had taken my spare time for two years to rebuild it.
None of our troubles were serious, and the mill cut accurate lumber right from the start. Each year I added equipment, and made improvements. First I put in an edger and built a shed over the mill. Next a concrete foundation under the mill kept it always in line. Rollers to carry slabs and sawed lumber to the end of the mill saved time and labor. Each year some of the logs were too heavy to turn with cant hooks, so I built a simple log turner, using a hydraulic pump which is driven by power from the mill and two double acting hydraulic cylinders.
The little engine was doing very well, but it was overloaded. My wife, Koletta, was fireman, and I thought that I was giving her a hot, dirty job. What I didn't realize until later was that the steam bug had bitten her and she was enjoying every minute of it. We drove the steamer out and put in a gas motor. We gave up the inimitable sounds and smells of a wood-burning steam engine, for the roar and speed of modern power.
The gas motor did very well, as gas motors go. It required little space and little attention. It was more expensive to operate. There is always cheap fuel available around a saw mill for a steamer. The slab piles grew faster than ever. Chips and scraps too small for the slab pile accumulated, and had to be hauled away. There was a saving in labor, but the work was not as interesting.
We had made a mistake, but I didn't want to put the little engine back in. In 1955 I declared that I was going back to steam power. That fall I bought a 24 hp. Minneapolis from an old man who wanted to quit steaming tobacco beds. We put it to work in the mill right away. Except for a while when it was out for repairs, it has done all the sawing since then. We are back to steam power to stay this time. We hope.
There has always been a great amount of heavy lifting and carrying around a small mill. We are always short of help. A fork-lift looked like the answer. They had come into use near here only recently, even in larger mills. Factory built the cost is prohibitive, and most of them are either heavy and clumsy, or of the small wheel type, which I cannot keep going in soft ground. In December, 1956 a machinist friend of mine said he had time to help build one. I borrowed some ideas from other lifts I had seen, designed the rest the way I thought it should be, and made a scale model to work by. I bought a truck to build it on and started collecting steel and parts. About the only important parts that we didn't make ourselves were the hydraulic pump and control valves and two of the 3 hydraulic cylinders. It took about two months to build. There were so many things to change on the truck besides building the lift. It is completely changed to travel the other way. Steering wheel, foot pedals, gear shift and seat face the drive wheels. The back was cut out of the cab and replaced with a Plexi glass windshield. The forward and reverse speeds were exchanged. The hydraulic pump is driven by the front end of the crankshaft, so the hydraulic system is alive any time the motor is running. It handles about 800 board feet of green hardwood lumber easily. Total lifting height is about twelve and one half feet from the ground to the bottom or the load. Wheelbase is nine feet and one inch so it can be maneuvered in tight places.
It saves many steps and much time. Lumber is piled close to the end of the mill in piles four feet wide and a convenient height. Edgings 'stickers' are put between the layers of boards so drying can start without re-piling. These small piles are carried out on the forks and stacked three or four high until enough has accumulated for a semi-trailer load. They are moved again with the fork lift to a convenient place to take out the stickers and do any necessary trimming of the boards. The stickers are put in a rack to be carried back to the mill by the fork lift for re-use. The packages of lumber are lifted onto the semi-trailer. Four by fours of cull lumber are put between packages of lumber, so the forks can be withdrawn. Slabs are piled in a rack near the mill. When a bundle about four feet in diameter has accumulated, a single number ten wire is bound tightly around the middle and the bundle carried out with the lift. They could be handled in smaller bunches without binding, but a much neater pile can be made, and the bundles can be lifted again for hauling if desired. The forks can be pushed under logs that lay on the; ground or pushed between logs if the pile is high. Two big logs or three or four small ones are an average load to carry to the mill. It also works well for loading logs onto a truck if the ground is reasonably near level. I haven't used it for loading logs in railroad cars yet, but it would work very well.
A few more words about the 24 hp. 'Minnie'. Number 8673. It was the last new one to come into Vernon County. Levi Allen was a Minneapolis dealer. On July 30th, 1927 he took delivery of this engine for his own use. Steam power was a long way down the road to the land of memories; so, the price was cut by Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. It was a hard working engine in its' younger years. Sawing lumber, threshing, shredding corn, and steaming tobacco beds kept it hot most of the time. He run his machinery at top speed, and worked his engines and his men hard. After a few years of such work, Levi Allen was killed in one of his saw mills powered by another 24 hp. Minneapolis. Number 8673 was sold to one of his men and did nothing but steam tobacco beds until 1955. I have it restored mechanically but not in appearance. It runs quietly, has good power and is a very easy steamer. I have used it some for steaming tobacco beds and threshing, but the 20 hp. Advance and 40 Case will do most of that. They are a great team. The old engine does its share of work and makes our share more interesting. The new fork lift does most of the lifting and carrying.
When you get steam and sawdust both in your blood, you at least know what you are going to be doing part of next year. It's the little details that keep it interesting. No two days are alike. The six o'clock whistle doesn't mean-quit for today. It means- Time to start getting ready for tomorrow.