Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum in Mineral enthusiastically announces the opening of a fully restored steam-powered sawmill, donated to the museum by the late Gene Frase of Onalaska, Washington.
Frase built the mill in 1956 for personal use, from discarded commercial sawmill equipment. In addition to using it for his own purposes, Frase also operated it to mill timbers for use in barns and other structures in Western Washington and Oregon.
In June, MRSR's restoration crew installed the sawmill machinery onto new footings and timbers, because the original mill structure was unsalvageable. No restoration work on the equipment has been done other than cleaning it, preserving the equipment in the condition in which it was last used. The restoration crew's next steps include constructing a roof over the mill and also installing a wood deck inside the mill, treating museum patrons to a close-up view of the myriad pieces of equipment and an opportunity to fully appreciate Frase's creation.
"The mill is unique, because it was totally steam-powered at a time when all sawmills were electric," said Brian Wise, director of restorations and operations at the museum. "Even more importantly, the mill was built by one man, not a company, because he wanted his own mill. Gene ran the mill often by himself, too."
Frase operated the mill regularly through the 1990s. The mill had a cameo appearance in the 2001 independent film The Immigrant Garden, produced locally and premiering at Daryl Lund's Historic Chehalis Movie Theater in Chehalis, Washington. The mill operated last in 2009; Frase passed away on July 21, 2011 at age 97. Serendipity led MRSR to acquire the mill. In 2009, the heavy winter snow caved in the sawmill roof beyond repair. In 2010, a historical group approached Frase to acquire the sawmill and put it on display. When the organization realized they didn't have the resources to complete the project, they approached Wise at MRSR.
"We agreed to accept the mill for the museum, because it completes the logging story we're trying to tell," Wise said. "We already had the other pieces to talk about cutting down the trees and moving the logs to the mill, but nothing after that. Adding the mill to the museum lets us tell the whole story of trees-to-lumber."
For more information, visit www.mrsr.com/.
Photo courtesy of Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum.