Another round of repairs put sawmill back on track
Ledyard — Years of repairs to the historic Up-Down Sawmill wrapped up this weekend, and volunteers hope a new wooden frame and realigned foundation will return the landmark to regular operation after a long hiatus.
The Up-Down Sawmill had been due for repairs for some time, according to Historic District Commission Chairman William Fossum. Built in the 1860s and badly damaged in the 1938 hurricane, the building and machinery were purchased by the town and restored in the 1970s, but subsequently went through a 20-year period with no major repairs.
In 2013, Fossum and the commission embarked on a project to replace the wooden frame that holds the saw in place after noticing that much of the wood was in bad shape. However, after replacing the frame, other issues began to crop up, particularly with the pitman arm, a component that converts circular power of the flywheel to the "up-down" motion that gives the mill its name.
"It got so far out of alignment that the pitman arm was being worn away by the flywheel ... if something would happen, say a piece of wood would get into the turbine and stop it, you could end up shattering the pitman arm," Fossum said.
Around 40 percent of the arm was already gone, and the commission decided to keep the mill closed and finish the job, spending about $30,000 on the entire project, including a $2,500 grant from state historic preservation funds.
Industrial installation and fabrication company Collins & Jewell won the bid in April to replace the wooden pitman arm and realign the foundation, which involved shortening the driveshaft and taking out a lot of the concrete foundation that had been added during the initial restoration to keep the equipment in place. Bobby Mariani, a machinist and fabricator on the crew, manufactured the new wooden pitman arm.
The historic nature of the mill's mechanical parts was hammered home to the crew when they tried to heft the iron flywheel out of the mill without a forklift. Job site leader Tom Miesen estimated that the cast iron flywheel weighed more than 1,000 pounds.
"It's definitely a unique and unusual project; you don't run into anything like this anymore," Miesen said. "It's almost like a vacation from work ... to find something like this, aside from (that) it shows us where we came from, it is kind of fun."
Steven Tomichek, a woodworker who has volunteered for decades helping run the saw on Saturday afternoons for tour groups and school trips, says visitors really like to see the mechanics at work. He was inspired to start volunteering there after a chance visit to the mill.
"The third and fourth grade classes come, and we put on demos for the kids," Tomichek said. "There's something about water power that's just closer to home; people understand it easier than electric or gas engines."
While Miesen and his crew have finished with the machinery, there here are still a few finishing touches to add. Fossum planned to install the saw over the weekend, test the machine, and open soon thereafter.
Tomichek hopes the care that the Historic District Commission has taken in all of the repairs and tests will give the mill some longevity.
"I would say — keeping our fingers crossed because it is an old piece of equipment — I hope we'll be able to run this way for at least 10 years without any major overhauls," Tomichek said.
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