Lumber Mill

Sartell Brothers Lumber Yard

Sartell Brothers Lumber Yard

Piles of unfinished lumber

J.B. Sartell is in the middle identified by the circle, posing with workers in front of the lumber mill building.


The Saw Mill

By Thomas Sartell

“There they were dumped into the water and rafted across to the mill to await their rendezvous with the screaming band saw. “Deadheads”, waterlogged bottom-resting logs remaining from the great log drives of decades past, were also recovered and processed into lumber.

The sawmill plant itself was an interesting place to explore, perched as it was on the river bluff. At the water’s edge there were docking facilities for work launches and other boats as well as boom holding pens and other means for controlling the logs until they were processed.

Slanting upward from the river was the slip, a V-shaped trough in whose lower point ran a continuous chain with occasional devices (shoes) that caught the butt end of each log fed into it and directed up the slip to keep it from sliding back and thus carrying it up to the second floor of the mill for sawing. There, a log would get to the end of the slip and be rolled off onto a platform to join others awaiting their turns in the sawing process. As needed, each log was rolled from that platform onto the edge of the carriage, where it was dogged into place by holing claws, ready for cutting.

The carriage was a wheeled vehicle on tracks that moved slowly alongside a huge band saw, passing just loose enough so that the saw could slice off a board of predetermined thickness at each pass. As each board fell onto a rollered platform bound for further processing by length and width, the carriage quickly whipped back its starting position, fast adjustments were made to the log and the carriage started its next pass by the band saw. Needless to say, the carriage was the center of interest and production in the mill and its two skilled riding operators the most valuable employees. On their speed and accuracy in handling logs depended the quality and quantity of the product.

The bigger mill became an anachronism in the 1930s and was succeeded by a small, portable-sized sawing arrangement that was an extension of the firm’s planning mill at the mouth of the Watab.

The rest of the lumber-making process was pretty much routine, handled at the various job stations manned by the 30 or 40 employees. Cut to width and length as they changed directions and went sideways through various circular saw arrangements, the boards, planks or timbers headed for the lading end of the line. There they were put onto small man-powered push carts according to their dimensions and trundled along a raised platform to one of the many dozens of piles of unfinished lumber for drying, seasoning and storage.

But there was more to the sawmill than the basic processed. There was, of course the boiler room, where steam was generated to keep the drive shafts turning and the machinery running. Fuel for the boiler furnaces was millwood shavings and sawdust, byproducts of the mill There were storerooms and workshops, especially the home area where the huge band saws, a foot in width, were renovated and sharpened.

There was the underside of the processing part of the mill where trimmings from the lumber came down through holes in the floor and dropped into waiting dump wagons, pulled by horses. This was called mill wood and was hauled out across the road, dumped, and spread out to dry. I was then sold later for use as stove wood.

The sawmill was an interesting place to visit, even when not in operation. Among its adjuncts was the “mill house”, a company-owned house across the road and a hundred or so yards north. That house was inhabited by a family who kept an eye on the premises. Another drawing card at the mill was the well, whose water was prized by many for its quality.

This mill had been built at the time the Mississippi River dam was under construction to replace the original Sartell Brothers sawing facilities that were a block below the mouth of the Watab River and which could not function effectively in the changed environment caused by the dam. “

This quote was taken from the book; History of Sartell, Minnesota Lumber, Paper, Valves and Progress A Century of Progress Welcoming a Century of Promise. Pages 122-124