Wagner Forest Management, Ltd., is pleased to underwrite Northern Woodlands’ series
on forest entrepreneurs. www.wagnerforest.com
Clockwise from left: Ben (left) and Dana Southworth both returned to New Hampshire
to operate Garland Mill. Garland Mill is one of only three water-powered sawmills still
operating in the state. Logs are stored in the mill pond while waiting to be cut; the water
preserves the wood and makes it easier to saw. A series of belts and pulleys transfer
power from the water to the mill saw, edger, planer, conveyor belts, and more.
fins of the turbine, causing it to turn. The turbine spins a vertical
shaft, creating mechanical power. An array of shafts, pulleys,
and flatbelts allows the sawyers to direct that power to where
it’s needed. If the brook is flowing and there’s no sawing to be
done, that power is sent to the grid by way of a small electricity-generating turbine Tom and Harry Southworth installed in 1982.
“It’s very simple technology, but well thought out,” said Dana.
When the mill is running, the floor of the building vibrates
intensely with the power moving through a series of belts and
pulleys. Each log is pulled into the mill by a heavy chain operated
by a lever. Dana and brothers Luke and Seth Colby, who are
both electricians as well as sawyers, heft the log into place
with peaveys, and a belt moves it toward the 28-horsepower,
50-inch-diameter circular head saw. The brook also powers
an edger, planer, and trim saw, as well as constantly moving
conveyor belts that transport slab wood into the bed of a 1965
GMC pickup outside and sawdust to a covered shed at the other
side of the mill building, where local farmers collect it for use as
livestock bedding. Finished timbers are moved along rollers to
the end of the building, where they’re collected by forklift and
stacked in one of the storage sheds outside.
Roughly 80 percent of the wood sawed at Garland Mill is
used for Garland Mill Timberframes’ projects, which typically
include a half-dozen structures each year, ranging from barns
and simple cabins to carefully designed, energy efficient homes.
What building lumber they don’t saw at their own mill, the
Southworths source from local commercial mills, like Poulsen
Lumber in nearby Littleton.
Logs that arrive at the mill are stacked and scaled next to the
mill pond, then rolled into the water, which keeps potentially
damaging bugs out of the logs and helps maintain the moisture
level in the wood, making for easier sawing when the time comes.
On an unseasonably warm day last December, with the
brook ice-free, Dana Southworth and the brothers Colby took
advantage of the still-flowing water, hauling logs in from the
mill pond and sawing large timbers. In the woodshop across the
pond from the mill, Liz Friereman carefully and precisely fitted
together pieces of a large cruck frame: two huge, curved cedar
timbers notched expertly and exactly to hold other sections of
the frame that will become a screened porch for a repeat client.
A framing crew was working on site, as well.
Garland Mill is a display of classic Yankee industriousness,
keeping things simple and creating something both useful and
beautiful, something built to last longer than the people building it. It’s hard work, but for Dana and Ben Southworth, this
is where they want to be: where they were raised, where their
fathers made a life and a living before them.
“We have a fascination with and an emotional attachment to
the business,” said Dana. “But we also really enjoy the work, and
from a practical point of view, the business model works.”
Meghan McCarthy McPhaul lives in Franconia, New Hampshire, where she writes on a
variety of subjects and maintains a blog: Writings From A Full Life.