Our First 10 Years

Of course, there was no operator’s seat or booth or computer control room either. The sawyer just stood about two feet from the spinning saw blade and pulled on a wooden handle that made the carriage go back and forth through the saw. It was a two man operation as logs were rolled one at a time with a peavey onto the carriage. Sharp steel dogs would ratchet out and down on the log into the bark to hold it in place. Then, the sawyer would pull on another metal handle while turning it to the right and this would move the carriage bunks pulling the log forward. Once the log was ready for the first cut, you would ease the log into the spinning saw teeth and pull hard on the wooden handle. This handle applied friction to some sort of wheel covered with an asbestos material that connected it to more belts and pulleys. It was similar to pulling on a Rhino’s horn as it ran across the Kalahari, jerking and bouncing out of your hands. “You know that feeling.” The carriage was powered by a cable and pulleys, but without any brakes. So once you made the first pass, you’d better reverse the handle direction and bring it back before it jumped the tracks and crashed. Of course, we learned that lesson the hard way. With the peavey you’d flip the log over and continue to mill the other side, and then your helper would flip it off and down some log ramps on to some log dunnage. As antiquated as this old mill was, it was quite productive and extremely accurate compared to the chainsaw mill. The poor sawyer’s helper really worked his butt off, because he had to jump back and forth like a rabbit from the loading side of the mill to the unloading side while the sawyer just stood there. I liked to be the sawyer, even though I’m down to three fingers on each hand. “Just kidding, Mom.”

Being able to mill logs ten times as fast enabled us to build and re-tool the Nordic Prince into a corner notching saw. We put a pivot point in one section of track and used it to make our V-notch mortise and tenon notch. It worked perfectly. As I look back, almost everything we built was with logs or steel, and we were getting pretty good with chainsaws, cutting torches and welders. Our V-notch corner came from the Anderson company and was a butt and pass system, pretty similar to what most of the other companies were doing. A come-along pulled the corner together and compressed two rows of vertical gaskets. While the corners were tight, lagscrews were installed at three foot centers in countersunk and piloted holes. Two rows of gaskets were stapled in between each course of logs and it made for an air tight seal. It was a good system, and far better than most of the industry who used spikes and a sledgehammer. Big logs, hand-peeling and lagscrews were our edge. We also learned who was doing all of the hard work and who wasn’t in our company and with a little extra money we bought out a few guys to get it down to four partners. We also paid back Lance and his wife their home deposit, and I think they used it as a down payment on a double wide mobile home with log siding. “That had to hurt.”

Our new mill worked great for almost a month, and then it wouldn’t cut straight worth a darn. We tried new saw teeth, adjusted the wooden guides and increased the amount of water spitting on the blade. No one mentioned to us that the sawyer would be completely drenched and had to wear raingear all day. The water was like a lubricant and also kept the saw cool. After talking to some old timers, we found out that our saw needed to be hammered. That’s right, beat with a hammer like a cymbal, so the saw would spin straight at the right rpm. Fortunately, there was one guy in our area that still knew how to do it and had the tools and expertise. He was around eighty, a grumpy old dude that worked out of a shop behind his house. The good part was that he had a spare 48 inch saw blade, so we had two, one working while one was being hammered. I still don’t know what he was doing with that hammer. But, when he died about five years later we gave up on it and bought a new, portable band saw mill.