Century-Old Shingle Mill Restored and Functioning on Pennsylvania Mountaintop

Dedicated to the memory of Carl Campbell (1912-1999), lumber, steam engine, and shingle mill man.


| December/January 1999



Allan, Carl, Gary'

R. D. #1, Box 127-B, Troy, Pennsylvania 16947

On the eve of the millennium, not all good mechanical ideas ate computer driven. As many people focus on the technological wonders--and issues--of Y2K, two Pennsylvania men have delved back into the past and revitalized an 1894 A. B. Ireland shingle mill. One hundred and five years later, the restored machine is producing shingles for Gary and Allan Crist on Armenia Mountain near Troy, Pennsylvania. Together they make an ideal team, with Allan providing the technical expertise and Gary, a former U.S. Army combat engineer, utilizing his considerable operating skills.

Owning and operating an early shingle mill has been a dream for Gary since the late 1960s when he moved with his parents from Louisiana to Minnesota, attended an 'old timer's convention,' and had his first view of old time machinery. Not until the late 1970s, though, after working with his father in constructing natural gas plants in Oklahoma and Kansas, did he gain hands-on experience with an old shingle mill. After Gary and his parents settled in Pennsylvania, a chance visit from Carl Campbell, an old-time saw and shingle man, offered Gary the opportunity to help run an 1884 Ireland shingle mill. Gary credits Carl, who died in the summer of 1999, with teaching him everything he knows. In fact, when Carl sold his 1894 mill, Gary was interested, but the cost (about $4,000) seemed prohibitive, and Gary bided his time. Finally, in 1996, while attending the East Smithfield, Pennsylvania, old-timers fair, Gary and Allan met Mrs. Louise Wildrick of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, who told them she was interested in selling an 1886 Ireland shingle mill. Although several competitors offered her more money, Mrs. Wildrick chose to accept Gary's lower offer of $800 because he, unlike the others, actually planned to use the machine. With the help of several men, Gary and Carl used a backhoe to load the nearly 2,000-pound machine onto a pickup truck, drove it to Armenia Mountain, and eased it little by little onto its new location near the Crist home. Gary was ecstatic; when the sun shone that day for the first time after a week of rain and gloom, he knew he had made the right decision.

Transporting the mill was only the beginning of a long process, however. Mr. Wildrick, the former owner, had not used the mill since 1941 and, not surprisingly, every moveable part had frozen in place. After using an entire gallon of WD-40 over a period of several weeks, Gary and Allan managed to run the machine and test it. They were able to replace some of the missing parts themselves: the table for catching the sawed wood was easy to recreate, along with a custom built brace, and Allan built a sturdy new shingle bundler to band the finished shingles together. After belting the mill into a 1959 International 240 utility tractor and running it at slow speed, several more complicated problems arose. They found they could adjust the timing by adding little pieces of steel to the springs in the rotating arms that kick the shingle block so that they finally achieved the correct tapering angle for the shingle bolts. Allan also built the chute under the saw blade to keep the sawdust away from the mill. They finished this work by the end of October just as the first snowfall arrived.

With the coming of warm spring weather, Allan cleaned, primed and painted over the original gray color of the American chestnut machine. His use of red, green and gray resulted in a spruced-up, rejuvenated, and cheerful looking shingle mill. He then mounted 6x6 wooden skids beneath the four cast iron legs so that the tractor could pull the mill without breaking the legs. Hooking it onto the tractor and skidding it down into the garden area, Allan and Gary set up the mill and leveled it by putting pins on each corner to hold it steady and unmoveable. It still stands in that spot today.

A few problems remained that required outside purchases. The clutch pulley shaft--it had, after all, been made in 1886--was worn and therefore running lopsided, as were the shaft on the main drive gear and the two shafts on the four-inch pulleys. Parker Machine Works in Canton, Pennsylvania, made new shafts and put new sleeves in all the pulleys. The original 12-gauge blades (36, 40, and 44 inches) were thin and tapered and tended to break easily, so Gary contracted with the International Knife and Saw Company in Florence, South Carolina, which made a new 40-inch blade that is twice as thick as the originals. These are the specifications: