Hull-Oakes Lumber may be the last steam-powered commercial saw mill in the country, and they’re one of the few mills capable of cutting large timbers up to 85 ft. long. The mill has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1996. Large long timbers are still used in railroad trestles, the restoration of historic structures, and for the spars and masts of ships. By coincidence, the day I arrived the mill was cutting an 80-ft. long timber for the restoration of the C.A. Thayer, an early 20th century three-masted schooner used to transport lumber along the West Coast.
In 1934 Ralph Hull went into the sawmill business by leasing a mill which had been closed since the beginning of the Depression. Hull started building a plant on the current site in 1938. Right up until he passed away, in May 2002, he continued to check in on operations, but his grandson, Todd Nystrom, now runs the mill, located about fifteen miles south of Corvallis, OR.
Operation of the Mill
Trucks arrive loaded with logs.
The waggoner, a log-handling machine, grabs the logs before the binders are released, then lifts the logs clear of the truck.
The truck pulls out…
and the waggoner drops the logs over the log brow…
into the log pond.
|Then the truck backs up under the A-frame hoist, the driver releases the trailer…
|and the trailer is hoisted “piggy back” onto the truck.
The waggoner operator also doubles as the “pond monkey.” Back in the early 20th century, a pond man walked the logs in the pond, arranging them with a pikepole and stacking them at the log lift. But today, a pond boat quickly shuffles the logs, picking and ordering them at the base of the lift, so the boat operator is often called a “pond bronc.”
|The bark that accumulates in the pond is lifted on a conveyor up to the mill, where it’s transported to the chipper. All debris goes to the chipper.
Once the logs are ordered and ready to be lifted, the boat operator goes back to off-load another truck of logs.
|The log-lift hoists the logs individually out of the pond…
|and drops them into a chain-driven conveyor, called the “long transfer,” which transports the logs through…
|the barker, where the bark is stripped off and conveyed to the chipper.
The logs continue on the conveyor to the “short transfer,” or log table, where they stack up. The sprocket-and-chain-operated table moves the logs individually to the log cradle (see photo, below) which holds each log in preparation for a short tumble down to the log deck and the log turner.
The log turner lifts, rolls, and shoves each log onto the carriage. The heavy steel arms—operated by steam cylinders—can throw a six-foot diameter, eighty-foot-long log. At the extreme right side of the photograph (below), the next log is held by the cradle.
Now the log has been rotated to minimize waste. The first cut removes mostly wane—the round and bark-covered edge of the log.
The off-bearer (right side of photo, below) secures the fall-off until the log clears the blade, though large logs require more help. Here the ratchet setter lends a hand, too.
The carriage rides on tracks, like a railroad car. The movement of the carriage is controlled by the sawyer. The sawyer looks at his order board then motions to the rachet setter, who operates the carriage, racheting the log closer or farther from the blade. Hand signals are the only way to communicate with all the thunderous noise. Everyone wears ear protection.
The sawyer and the rachet setter must be sharp and quick, as the carriage moves the log past the blade quickly. Two fingers means the log must be moved out for a two-inch cut; a fist or a connected finger and thumb followed by four fingers means a 14-in. cut. In this way, the rachet setter knows that the carraige must be returned to the log turner so the log can be rotated before the next cut.
The Sawyer controls the movement of the carriage with the wooden-handled lever on the left, while simulataneously controlling log-loading and log-turning with the control on the right. The control on the right also operates the “short transfer” chain conveyor and the log cradle.
|The rachet-setter is seated behind controls that operate the movement of the log on the carriage, and controls that secure the log to the carriage.
This log now lies flat on a clean cut, ready for another pass through the band mill, which squares the timber in preparation for making a new mast for the C.A. Thayer. The mast is so long that transporting the log required a truck-and-trailor with stearable rear wheels. The finished timber will be transported by barge to the ship restoration project in San Francisco.
|The off-bearer works right beside the blade, as the mill squares up the timber.
|The off-bearer relies on an assortment of tools to help move both slabs and sawdust away from the headrig.
|Long timbers become a hands-on operation when they’ve developed a slight bow.
|Hull-Oakes specializes in cutting long logs and big ones, too, over 6-ft. in diameter.
|The off-bearer guides the second cut onto the rollers,
|and helps pivot the slab slightly. Gravity does the rest.
|The slab is shoved tight against the straight-edge fence of the edger table before going through the edger.
|The edger cuts wide slabs…
|into narrower beams and boards.
|All of the fall off—the bark, the wane and waste—goes into the wood chipper. Some of the resulting material is used to fire the boilers, but most of the chips are shipped to Toledo, a nearby paper company.
|After cross-cutting for length,
|timbers and beams are hoisted to a pallet, loaded on a lumber carrier,
|and stacked for shipment.
|The over-sized bandsaw blade runs around two wheels in the headrig. The headrig includes the blade, pulleys, and protective housing.
|The blade is removed for sharpening every two hours. The doors on the blade housing swing open and a carraige moves the blade off the pulleys…
|then lowers the blade to the ground. The saw filer, with assistance,
|guides the blade onto a long dolly.
It only takes two men to position the blade…
in several careful steps…
into the sharpening station.
|The carborundum grinder must be dressed before sharpening each blade, then the saw filer calibrates the machine for the stone, adjusts the travelers, and starts the machine, which…
Though the saw filer still has to keep an eye on the process.
|The shark-size teeth on this blade are a little larger than those found on most band-saw blades.
|This old boiler, now used to store water, has the doors removed, revealing the inner tubing.
|The heat from the fire below circulates through the tubes, boiling the water within the tank.
|The fires are fueled by a mixture of sawdust, planer dust, and bark,
|transported on conveyor belts from the mill,
|and fed into the furnaces. Two boilers supply steam to the steam engines.
The headrig, carriage, edger, and log-table are powered by steam engines. The main engine, an Ames twin-cylinder, built in 1906 and still operating, powers the headrig and edger. A second steam engine powers the carriage, which is drawn back and forth on its tracks by a cable-and-pulley system.
The steam engines have fewer breakdowns than any other equipment at the mill. The larger engine has two 16-in. cylinders, an 18-in. stroke, and the pulley is 8 ft. in diameter. The engine is 13 ft. long and 10 ft. 5 in. wide.
But it’s an assortment of chains…
and gears that provide the fine tuning power of this mill.
|The operation of the mill is dependent upon the millwrights, who repair everything from hydraulic lines, to steam engines, to boilers.
|The millwrights have to know every inch of the plant, and how to operate nearly every aspect of the mill.
(This article originally appeared on GaryMKatz.com)