Lumber Steam Engine
you believe that once upon a time a saw mill was located on the
corner of Wyandotte and Walker? Is it possible to imagine that Walkerville
was once densely forested?
This is no fairy
tale! The mill did exist and was owned by the Walker family and
operated before the turn of the century, turning local logs into
lumber for export and for use in many local Walkerville homes. To
power the mill, a Goldie Corliss steam engine was purchased from
the Goldie McCullough Co. of Galt, Ontario for the enormous sum
of $1,000 in March 1885. It was installed by Walkerville-based Kerr
Brothers and was the heart of the mill for seventy years.
steam engine was an immense machine with a 12 foot flywheel. The
engine component was twenty feet long and four feet in diameter.
The bolts holding the flywheel together weighed approximately twenty
five pounds each! The engine powered the machinery that produced
rough and dressed lumber, crating, interior trim casings, baseboards,
wooden boxes, doors, windows, cabinets and staircases.
One of the last
people responsible for maintaining and operating this gigantic engine
was George Nurbury who came to Walkerville by way of Salford, England.
His pay in 1947 was 89 cents an hour.
Jim Cooper, owner
of the mill from 1947 to 1976 describes the workings of the engine:
"The routing of the day was George pulling the line in the boiler
room, it was, I believe 7:30 or 8 am, which in turn blew the
steam whistle atop the boiler room, calling all to work. He then
crossed the alley-way to the room which housed the steam engine
on the west end of the mill and at the time (in what sequence I
cannot recall) and with two hands, turned a large valve which opened
the steam line from the adjacent boiler room."
"I believe, at
this point, he made some other adjustments, which only those in
the field would know, and then very slowly, the large piston would
make the first horizontal stroke and this was the most exciting
thing to watch. Gradually, the strokes grew faster and the hand
rail surrounding the engine gave you a feeling of safety as it moved
to its maximum speed, turning the 12 foot flywheel, which carried
and delivered the very wide leather belt to the line shaft to the
half-earthen basement below. Immediately, the main line shaft was
delivering its power to the many sub-lines and connecting belts
to the main floor and progressively to the second floor. All in
all, with the whirling pulleys and flat belts of all sizes, and
lengths, from line shaft to pulleys, the Walkerville Lumber Mill
was alive and able to manufacture the wooden products of that day."
Some years later,
the boiler was converted to low pressure and a 200-horse motor was
installed in the basement. From then on, the mighty steam engine
lay at rest. In 1996, the mill was slated for demolition.
owner of the property contacted the Essex County Steam & Gas
Engine Club to donate the engine. They gladly accepted and organized
volunteers to help with the dismantling. The building was torn down
by Mark Gagnon of McGregor and he donated his time and help with
his big crane to get this heavy piece of equipment out of the building
and loaded on to a flatbed trailer.
It was taken to
the Zack farm where it is being stored until funds are raised for
refurbishing it. The club has applied for a Millenium Grant to help
finance their work but require additional funds. They estimate they
will need almost $50,000 and expect that it will take about a year
for the club members to accomplish the job.
If anyone would
like to see the engine in its present condition, contact Gerry Vincent
at 733-6684. The Club invites everyone to their 15th Annual Steam
& Gas Engine Show from August 6-8 in Co-An Park in McGregor.
Donations to the club for the steam engine restoration are welcome!