Steam Powered Sawmill
You Never Forget the Scent of Fresh Sawn Lumber
The Amador County Fair is the home of the only operational steam powered splinter sawmill in California. The sawmill is owned and operated by the Amador Sawmill and Mining Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving this bit of our heritage. They have cut wood for everything from fencing for the Plymouth City Park to 1,000 board feet of 1x12 Ponderosa Pine for a lodge.
The Amador County Fair's sawmill, operated by volunteers since 1968, is an authentic, antique mill. Sawmills like the one operated by the Association were once located throughout Amador County and the Mother Lode region from the 1850s through the 1940s. The sawmill is available for custom cut jobs for non-profits, museums, and governmental museums that want rough cut timbers or lumber for historic restoration & preservation projects.
Once you smell the fresh, pitchy scent of new-sawn lumber you never forget it. You can watch the massive saw, which can cut 24” boards during two demonstrations daily at 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.
Historically, lumber from these small sawmills was typically used to shore up tunnels in mine shafts to prevent cave-ins and for sluice boxes and flumes. As gold mining progressed, cabins and towns for the gold-miners needed lumber. Soon it was needed for the wooden lug boxes to hold the fruit grown in Amador County valleys and to supply the railroads with timbers for ties and bridges.
Amador County residents Rolland Matson and Dick Cooper rescued this sawmill in the late 1960s. It was located under more than five feet of dirt, on the Charles Bakman Ranch on Deadman Creek between Fiddletown and Volcano, where it had been abandoned. The sawmill had previously been used in making lumber for fruit boxes. Matson and Cooper restored the sawmill to full operating condition and began cutting logs at the Amador County Fair in 1968, to demonstrate how it was done over a century ago.
A crew headed by Bill Braun spent the last six years scrounging and machining their own parts from historic drawings to restore a stationary steam power plant for use at the fairgrounds to run the sawmill. The steam engine is a 1904 Nordberg Corliss with steam supplied by a steam donkey (boiler). The flywheel is 7 feet in diameter. It was put into service at the 2007 Fair. They are currently seeking funds to repair the second of two boilers they received from the Port of San Francisco. The repairs must be made in a certified shop by a certified welder and are estimated to be around $8,000.
This "splinter" sawmill is capable of cutting logs up to 24" in diameter. If the sawmill were to run for an entire eight-hour shift, it could produce up to 8,000 board feet per shift, from 20-24" logs.
For information on how you can support the Amador Sawmill and Mining Association contact Bill Braun at 209 245-3448. Donations are tax-exempt.
Demonstrations are scheduled for each day of the Fair – see the schedule for times so you don’t miss this experience.