Vintage shingle sawmill powered by a Case steam engine |

Vintage shingle sawmill powered by a Case steam engine

Story and photos by Fred Hendricks
The Chase sawmill is shown making a final cut from a block of wood to form a shingle 8” X 16”. The shingles are cut one-half inch thick on one end and tapered to a point on the opposite end. Courtesy photo

Amish friends in Holmes County, Ohio, strive to preserve century old equipment with a shingle sawmill powered by a steam engine. Abe Mast and his brothers purchased the saw out of an uncle’s collection. “The 100-year-old saw had not been used for years. We saw a chance to preserve history by demonstrating how shingles were once sawed,” Mast said.

     Ivan Miller said that his family purchased the 1909 Case steam engine 30 years ago. “When my grandpa, dad and uncles purchased the Case in 1991 it ran but needed serious restoration. By powering Abe’s shingle sawmill, we’re keeping this element of power equipment alive for the viewing public,” Miller said.

The Roman Miller family’s 1909 Case steam tractor is powering the Chase shingle sawmill owned by Abe Mast. The combination steam tractor and sawmill were demonstrated at the 2021 Doughty Valley Steam Days in Charm, Ohio.


     In 1850, J.D. Chase and Sons started a manufacturing firm in West Concord, Vt. The firm produced turbine water wheels, circular sawmills along with shingle, heading, and lathe machines. The production facilities were ruined during the Civil War. Consequently, the business was reorganized in Orange, Mass., in 1865. The firm was then incorporated in 1874 as Chase Turbine Mfg. Co. Dennison Chase, son of J. D. Chase received a patent on a pace-setting sawmill in 1881.

The business thrived until 1936 when it ceased operation. The Greenfield Recorder reported that final remnants of the building that housed Chase Turbine in Orange, Mass., was demolished March of 2020.

The operator’s view on the Case steam tractor as it powers the Chase shingle sawmill.

      Although records are scarce, the company manufactured numerous types of sawmills and water wheels. The 38″ circular shingle sawmill owned by Abe Mast was built in 1904. Records are not available that indicate the span of production for this sawmill.

     Mast provided the following information on his involvement with the shingle sawmill. While still a young lad, Mast helped his uncle operate the sawmill. When the Mast brothers purchased the sawmill, Abe quickly learned to operate it.

The Roman Miller family expertly restored this 1909, 30 hp Case steam tractor. The Millers enjoy keeping this element of farm power alive with demonstrations throughout events in Holmes County, Ohio.

     The sawmill is mounted on a frame that becomes a trailer. The unit is raised and lowered with jacks. Axles with wheels are inserted into square tubing and secured for transportation. When resting on the ground, 1-inch steel stakes secure it for belt power. “I like the Case steam engine because it has good power to run the sawmill,” Mast said.

     The sawmill is equipped with a de-barker to square a round log for cutting shingles. However, Mast uses 8-inch square blocks that are pre-cut 16 inches in length. This provides for a standard 8″ X 16″ shingle when cut. The singles are cut one-half inch thick at one end and pointed on the opposite end.

The Chase shingle sawmill is shown in action with its belted power provided by the Case steam tractor. The shingle sawmill was manufactured by the Chase Turbine Mfg. Co. of Orange, Mass., during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“I’m impressed by the mechanical automation of the sawmill for that period. For cutting purposes, the block of wood is locked securely in an auto-set carriage. When the block is passed through the circular saw, the carriage setting determines the cutting depth. The shingle is cut one-half inch at one end and tapered to a point on the opposite end. On the next passage, the carriage setting is reversed,” he detailed.

     Cedar is the preferred wood for shingles with its durability. For demonstration purposes, Mast uses pine and poplar. If shingles are cut from non-cured wood they are stacked with spacing for drying. Although wood shingles are used less for today’s roofing, Mast has requests for the cut shingles.

This angle of the Chase shingle sawmill shows the block of wood secured on the auto-set carriage as it passes into the cutting blade.

     “The shingle sawmill is very durable and trouble free. There’s about a dozen oil ports that require lubrication. The cutting blade has carbon tips. I rely on a service to sharpen the cutting tips. A metal detector is used on the wood to prevent damage to the blade,” he noted.


      Engine archives recorded the first basic steam engine as the aeolipile described by Heron of Alexandria in first-century Roman Egypt. Numerous steam powered devices were experimented through time. In 1606, a Spaniard by the name of Jeronimo De Ayanz y Beaumont demonstrated and was granted a patent for a steam-powered water pump. This pump was utilized to drain the waterlogged mines of Guadalcanal, Spain.

The shingle is nearly cut.

     In 1698, Thomas Savery, an accomplished engineer and inventor, patented a steam pump. Using steam pressure, the pump drew water from flooded mines. This Englishman is credited with inventing the first steam engine. During the Industrial Revolution, steam engines began replacing water and wind power. The steam engine eventually dominated the source of power in the late 19th and early 20th century.

     In North America, the term steam tractor usually refers to steam-powered tractors. The steam tractor for farming purposes was typically used for stationary power or to pull plows and other implements in the field.

Shown are the pre-cut blocks of wood with two fully cut shingles at the base. Cedar is the preferred wood for shingles with its durability. For demonstration purposes, Abe Mast uses pine and poplar.


     The J.I. Case Threshing Machine Company of Racine, Wis., was founded in 1842. It would become the J.I. Case Company and eventually the Case Company. In the late 19th century, Case was a major manufacturer of steam engines. The company produced self-propelled portable engines, traction engines and steam tractors. Case also manufactured threshing machines and other farm harvesting equipment.

     The 30 horsepower Case steam tractor used to power the shingle sawmill was built in 1909. Miller noted, “The tractor required restoration following its purchase. Due to age, parts were difficult to locate. This entailed fabrication for some parts. The cam on the main crank shaft was especially difficult to build.”

The Chase sawmill is shown making a final cut from a block of wood to form a shingle 8″ X 16″. The shingles are cut one-half inch thick on one end and tapered to a point on the opposite end.

He continued, “The boiler was completely refurbished, and the fire box was rebuilt along with a complete repaint. The state of Ohio requires inspection and certification every three years. Therefore, our overhaul to meet the state’s requirements.”

     At the anxious age of 12, Ivan Miller assisted his dad with cleaning, lubricating and feeding the firebox during the tractor’s operation. Eventually, he learned to operate the steam tractor on his own. “Our primary source of fuel to heat the boiler is coal, but some wood is used. Under a working load, 125 gallons of water is needed per hour. With this requirement, we maintain a supply of water close by. The engine siphons water from that source as needed,” Miller explained.

     When the engine is under heavy use, it is shut down every couple hours. For lubrication of the cylinder, oil is injected before it goes into the piston. This source needs replenishing along with hard, sticky grease for the gears. During shutdowns, bearings are also lubricated.

The Chase shingle sawmill is shown raised on its base to form a trailer for transportation purposes.

     Miller shared these reflections about the family’s steam tractor. “As a young boy, I grew up with dad around the steam engine. It’s a real joy to operate a machine that is 112 years old. The mechanical operation is unique with all its working parts. And understanding how steam is converted to power is intriguing. There are fewer steam engines used today in our Plain communities. It’s been a pleasure providing power for Abe Mast’s sawmill.”

     The shingle sawmill is one of many antiques owned by Abe Mast. His collection includes two Huber tractors, a Rumley 6 tractor, a John Deere Model R tractor, six threshing machines, clover huller to separate the seed, and several hit-n-miss engines.

“It’s been enjoyable collecting the old machinery. But displaying them at shows throughout our community is the best part. There’s always lots of questions and discussions with those who view them. We’re fortunate for friends like the Miller Family who provide power for our shingle sawmill,” Mast said.