Monday, February 03, 2020

Sawmills ~ my column from Sunday

The first time I remember visiting a sawmill was when I was 11 years old. My mom had told my dad that if he ever wanted eggs for breakfast, we would have to clean out the chicken pen. Apparently, she wasn’t fond of wading through the stinky stuff. That Saturday morning, my dad looked at me and said, "Let’s go to the sawmill."

I thought we would take the '57 Buick Roadmaster, but he stepped into the backyard where he kept the ancient Chevy truck parked. It hadn’t been cranked in months, but Dad had strung an extension cord out the kitchen window and hooked it to a battery charger that he kept in the old truck.

The engine groaned and whirled a few times before springing to life. We left the engine idling while we fetched two shovels from the shed and tossed them into the rusty bed of the truck.

We took the backroads since the truck hadn’t had a tag on it since Eisenhower was in the White House.

Somewhere down close to the Flat Creek Community, we pulled into a sawmill owned by a friend of my dad’s. The owner wasn’t there, but Dad pulled a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer from behind the seat and left it near the makeshift office. Payments for goods and services were a little different back then.

Looking around, I was amazed. There were chains, gears, belts, and a saw that was as big as a rear tire on a tractor. Also, there was a mountain of sawdust.

Dad backed the idling Chevy up close to the edge of the sawdust, and we started shoveling. In less than an hour, the bed of the truck was so full that it couldn’t hold another shovel-full of sawdust.

He rolled a Prince Albert cigarette and leaned against the tailgate to rest a moment. I took the opportunity to go sawdust diving. It should be an Olympic sport.

By the time we headed back toward Sloss Hollow, I had sawdust in my pockets, my hair, in my underwear and “other” places.

You may wonder what started me down this sawmill path, so here’s the deal.

One of the first things I’ve learned as a beekeeper is that beehives are expensive. I’ve bought several locally and a few online. It didn’t take a rocket surgeon to understand that if I wanted to expand my apiary, I’d need to learn how to build some of the parts myself.

My bee-buddy Ricky Grace told me about Rustic Lodge Sawmill in Cullman. He said that If I bought the wood, he would show me how to build the beehives. “Nuff said.”

After lunch today, I headed out to the sawmill. It didn’t take long to see that this sawmill wasn’t like the ones of my youth. The equipment was more sophisticated, but the sounds and smells were the same. The biggest difference was there was no mountain of sawdust. I’m guessing that the new equipment has a way to capture the sawdust and haul it away from the yard.

It only took a few minutes to load my lumber and head back to Empire. I checked on the drive home to see if I had any sawdust in my pocket. I didn’t.

Tomorrow, I’ll learn to take sawmill lumber and build things that will house bees and help save the planet.

This is a picture of dad and me. I wish I had one of us with the old truck.


  1. Another splendid column. Taking the backroads made me laugh, along with the sawdust diving!
    I think sawmills have sawdust extractors these days and the sawdust is stored in a silo.
    Your story reminded me of my last year at a small rural primary school when we went on an excursion to a sawmill. I remember nothing about it now but I do recall I won a prize for writing the best composition about our excursion.
    I wonder if might turn up the book prize if I ever get serious about the decluttering....

  2. Sawdust diving sounds irrestible - if itchy.
    Looking forward to seeing your beekeeping post (as I always do).

  3. First off, I am always shocked looking at your handsome dad because he looks like my dad when my dad was young. I love sawmills! Why? I grew up on a sawmill! My parents owned and operated a sawmill and i can’t recall how many time a friend of mine and I would climb onto the conveyor belt( there was wood to support the belt) and jump into the huge sawdust pile. My mom and her best fr8end were not happy when we would come back full of sawdust. We had an old carriage at first where you have the old log turners to turn the log, put 8t in place and make sure the log couldn’t move in the carriage before going through the saw to cut it. I am so proud to say I grew up on a sawmill and had no clue that our machine were 100 years old. My dad knew but we it worked and my parents knew how to make it a business.

    1. Wow! That had to be a remarkable childhood. There was a sawmill across the road from our little league baseball field and after practice we would all run across the road to play in the sawdust.

  4. #1 I love that your dad had an extension cord out the kitchen window to start the truck.
    #2 I love the names "Flat Creek" and "Sloss Hollow"
    #3 I love the saw dust visual.
    #4 I Love your dad lighting up a cigarette while standing in a sea of saw dust.
    #5 I love the visual of saw dust diving as an Olympic event.

    I'll bet modern mills today have a way to use the saw dust.
    Good luck with your new bee homes.
    Fun post!

    1. Thanks Joe. I think they use sawdust the days to make particleboard though I could be wrong.

  5. Sounds like a fun project with a bonus of happy memories.

  6. Such a good memory of your dad and what a wonderful picture too. Sounds like you are going to be very busy.

  7. This made me have good thoughts about my pop "Tom" and that's rare so thank you

  8. Great photo and article. Brought back memories, good ones, of growing up rural in the 1950s. Thanks.


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