Powerland’s steam-powered sawmill gets a second life

The historic sawmill at Powerland Heritage Park in Brooks, just outside of Salem, came screeching to a halt this year when its antique power supply became less charming and more of a headache. 

There are 14 buildings on the 62-acre property that makes up the museum complex. The historic steam-powered sawmill from the 1930s provides lumber for all of them. 

“It helps keep the costs down for the museums,” said park president Michelle Duchateau. “The sawmill is a separate entity and it cuts for all of our museums so they can expand and remodel.”

The sawmill runs like so many other things at the park – by steam power. 

“You need to build a fire, get it to pressure and then it creates the power to run the saw and cut the wood,” Duchateau said. 

But like all the other steam-powered machinery at the park, the boiler that runs the sawmill is subject to state inspection and according to Duchateau, it failed the test this year. 

“A percentage of the tubes that run the boiler have to be operational and these weren’t because of decay and mineral build up,” Duchateau said. 

It meant the museums could not rely on lumber supplied to them by the mill, free of charge.

Enter the Oregon Cultural Trust. 

The organization handed out an historic $3.4 million last week to 138 arts, heritage and humanities organizations statewide. 

Powerland Heritage Park earned $5,000 to fix the boiler. 

“It’s a matching grant and we have some money so we’ll be able to fix it in time to have it up and running when the park opens again,” Duchateau said. 

The park’s season runs from April 1 to October 1 and it expects the repairs to happen in the off season. It will take a month or two for the tubes to come in and then some additional time to have them installed. 

It will be in time for next year’s Great Oregon Steam-Up, an annual event held over the summer that showcases the historic machinery at the park. It includes a demonstration of the sawmill. 

The two weekends the event was held this summer, DeChateau said, drew about 10,000 people to the park where she said they operated the sawmill off of another steam-powered machine. 

“The event helps us keep the lights on and the tractors running,” she said. “We will do the repairs to the boiler and it will be back up and running by the time the park opens again.”

Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!

Caitlyn May served as a journalist for nearly a decade in Nevada and in Linn Lane counties in Oregon with a focus on rural stories and long-form journalism. A graduate of both Oregon State University and the University of Oregon, she currently serves as an elementary school teacher but returns to journalism now and then, remaining a dedicated supporter of the Fourth Estate.