The Stolen Sawmill

P.O. Box 3128 Deer Park, Maryland 21550-1028

Whenever I have the opportunity and can find them, I like to
read old area newspapers of decades ago. Usually I always find at
least one news article, or advertisement, of special interest to
me. THE REPUBLICAN newspaper, printed in Oakland, Maryland, on a
weekly schedule, is a local paper that I enjoy reading old past
issues of. This paper’s August 6, 1908, issue carried an
article on a stolen sawmill and hopefully, it was an accurate
accounting of the incident, as it is the source of information of
this newer article, 90 years after it occurred.

In July, 1908, the partnership of Sterling and Dillinger were
engaged in the saw milling business, using a portable-type circular
sawmill that they moved about, location to location, doing contract
saw milling for area farmers and other small acreage timber owners
in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.

These partners had recently completed a sawing operation
somewhere, and at this time, they were in the process of moving
their mill machinery to the Emmett Lyons Farm, where they were next
to operate their sawmill. In the moving of their mill equipment
over public roads, they were overtaken by the arrival of darkness,
near the village of Gans, Pennsylvania, located east of Point
Marion, Pennsylvania, and just north of the Mason-Dixon line. With
some distance yet to travel to the Lyons Farm, the men pulled their
traveling equipment off to the side of the road in a suitable spot
and left it there for the night, unattended.

Unfortunately, the newspaper’s article did not give details
of the mill’s machinery, nor, how exactly it was being moved.
In that era the mill machinery would be loaded onto wagons, then
the wagons pulled by either use of animal team or a steam traction
engine (steam tractor). From what I’ve determined, the Sterling
& Dillinger sawmill was being moved by use of an animal

Portable-type sawmills of this time period, once setup for their
operation, were chiefly powered by use of a steam traction engine,
being belted to the sawmill’s machinery. A portable steam
engine was a steam boiler, which had a steam engine mounted on top
of it, all of which was mounted on wheels for any required
transportation, or movement of it. It was pulled by an animal team,
but later in time, gasoline powered farm-type tractors also were
used. A portable steam engine was not self-propelling like a steam
traction engine.

Some operators of these portable-type sawmills had special mill
conveyance wagons custom built that eased and speeded their
tear-down, transportation, and set up again of this type mills,
since they so frequently relocated to different mill ‘sets’
in a year’s time. A few of these same mill operators also had
enclosed wagons fitted up as portable tool sheds. The wagons held
saw-sharpening tools, other needed hand-tools required to setup,
operate, and teardown a sawmill’s set, operation, location, and
repair items for their mill engine. These wagons could also be used
as temporary living quarters for the owners if suitable lodging
could not otherwise be obtained at a particular sawmill location.
These portable tool sheds were sometimes referred to as ‘gypsy
wagons,’ for they so resembled the wagons of those traveling

For some unexplained reason, Sterling & Diller did not
return for their sawmill until ‘a few days later.’ The
newspaper stated that the two ‘were not ready to work yet’
and allowed their mill to remain unattended, parked where they had
left it. When the two partners did later return for it, they
discovered it missing.

Apparently they contacted the local police, then began their own
inquiry into the mill’s disappearance. In doing this they
learned from the local population that both a stranger and a known
local man had been seen about the sawmill as it sat along the road
to Gans. With the identity of the of this local man, the partners
sought him out and questioned him about the sawmill’s theft and
its present whereabouts. This individual claimed no knowledge of
any theft or crime. He had merely been hired by the stranger to
wagon the sawmill to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, not too
distant from Gans. At Cheat Haven, Pennsylvania, on the B & O
Railroad, he had been paid for his work and then had returned

With this information, the partners quickly traveled to Cheat
Haven, hoping to locate their sawmill. They interviewed the
railroad’s station agent who reported that the sawmill had been
loaded aboard a railroad car, which had already departed for
Cumberland, Maryland. At Cumberland it would be switched onto
another route of the railroad and would then be moved to
Rowlesburg, Preston County, West Virgina. This agent also provided
the owners with the name of ‘McMin’ as the individual in
Rowlesburg, who was to receive the sawmill.

From Cheat Haven, the partners then followed their sawmill to
Rowlesburg, chiefly a railroad town, but with a lot of timberland
about its area. At the Rowlesburg train station they learned the
man McMin had already taken possession of it, and the railroad
employee gave the partners a description of the man. Shortly after
their arrival in Rowlesburg, the partners located their sawmill,
which they could identify, as well as McMin, who was soon arrested
for the mill’s theft.

Later in court, McMin supposedly claimed he had been in
Pennsylvania and had come across the sawmill as it sat along the
side of the road. After remaining about the mill, apparently for a
couple days’ time, he devised a plan to steal the unattended
mill and transport it to West Virginia, where he figured neither
the sawmill, nor himself, would ever be located. At Rowlesburg,
McMin had plans of setting up his own sawmill business with this
stolen mill.

As a result of his trial, McMin was ordered to pay the involved
transportation costs and to return the sawmill to the Lyons Farm in
Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This expense was set at the figure of
$70.00. However, McMin did not have the money and an arrangement
was made whereby McMin would work off this amount of money by
laboring for Sterling & Dillinger, in the future operations of
their sawmill.

The sawmill was returned to Pennsylvania and placed in operation
on the Lyons Farm after a lengthy trip through two other states to
reach that location. By the time it did finally arrive on the farm,
the two partners were very ready to work it. Supposedly, McMin did
work on the sawmill for a few days, but then quietly disappeared
one night, well before he had worked off his seventy dollars
restitution to the owners.

It is reported that Sterling & Dillinger did not seek any
further to find McMin again. They were happy enough just to be
sawmilling again. As a result of this incident, and the
disappearance of McMin, the two partners had to endure quite a lot
of people’s joking about it, not only from the area population
of Gans, but also from other business associates and other sawmill
owners. It is unknown how long these two men continued in their
sawmill business, or whatever became of McMin.

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