As I have written about in the past, I really like sawmills. I can remember taking trips to them with my grandfather back when I was a kid to pick up lumber and sounds and smells permeating the air from those buildings still come flooding back when I see something like the video below. What truly rules about this video is that the mill featured is the Phillips Brothers Mill in beautiful Oak Run, California. It is a fully functional, working, steam powered mill and when you see this video of the thing in operation and the amount of labor it takes, you’ll have a new appreciation for how hard the people that manned these things back in the day worked. It is pretty tough and unending labor. From the person operating the carriage that carries the logs to the guy stacking the stuff to the guy feeding the ever more hungry boiler.
This is one of those videos designed to make you appreciate the machine and the process necessary to operate it. There is no dialog, there is no drama, there is just the work and the the amount of hustle it takes to have the whole thing come together. From calibrating stuff to cleaning and oiling, to building steam and finally opening the valve to get the engine and the blades spinning, it is an amazing process…and that is just getting the thing started.
The Phillips family has been in the logging and milling business since the late 1800s and their family legacy in the industry has survived world wars and other calamities along the way. From the days of literally hand cutting boards to the “automated” process of the steam fired mill, they have been at it for a long, long time. One can only imagine the first time they fired the boilers, built steam, and used this mill. It had to have been a wonder. It still is for us, that’s for sure.
It seems like the toughest job in the place is being the person on the carriage riding with the log, making the saw adjustments, and making sure that the most material is gotten out of each piece that comes into the mill. Watching the thing roll the log over so that it can be evenly cut on all sides and then watching how the handle must be ratcheted on nearly every pass to maintain the board thickness is awesome. Being the guy who shovels the sawdust and throws the cut scraps into the boiler looks like a no fun job but one that is vital because with no steam you have no functioning mill.
Gearheads will appreciate this video and everything that is going on during the process. The sounds, the moving parts, the fury of the saws, and the care taken to make sure it is all working OK. The most pure form of mechanical entertainment on the planet…watching the machine work.