For the Love of Lumber
“Fifty-two inches,” says Alan Bills, standing within arm’s reach of the shiny circular blade at the only working sawmill in Wardsboro. “I sharpen it myself.” He shuts down the Caterpillar 13000 diesel engine, the kind of behemoth motor you might see below decks in a heavy tugboat and used at the mill to power woodworking machinery. Then he sets aside the old wood-handled cant hook he uses to roll logs. Pulling neon-green foam plugs out of his ears, he reaches for a steel clamp-like gauge and a metal file. As nimble as ever, the 71 year-old sawyer hops up over the rails of the log carriage and leans over the blade to demonstrate his technique. One saw tooth at a time, fifty-two teeth, fifty-two inches. Like nearly every operation at Bills Lumber, this, too, is done by hand.
The men at Bills have not kept up with the times. And it seems this is rather on purpose. They like the old way of doing things. It is the old way they know best. Standing in the mill yard, peeking into the sheds, looking at the boards and beams stacked in the bins, and watching Alan, his son and grandson working together to slice and trim a giant hemlock log into lumber, the year could be 1940. The place, the conversation, the work ethic and the family pride are timelessly Vermont.