Yesteryears: Hobbyist's own sawmill brought back childhood memories - The Daily Progress: Yesteryears Column

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Yesteryears: Hobbyist's own sawmill brought back childhood memories

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Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2013 6:00 am

As a person ages, things from his or her youth often become more precious.

Adults will search high and low to reclaim favorite toys they had played with as children. Some have been known to go to considerable trouble and expense to reunite with cars that holds special significance.

For William "Will" Faulconer, it was a functioning sawmill that reconnected him with his childhood. What made his choice all the more interesting is that he built it behind his house, which happened to be on Canterbury Road in Bellair.

The neighborhood just west of Charlottesville doesn't seem a likely site for a sawmill, even in the 1950s when Faulconer built it. Then again, he had eight acres of property on which to play and build.

Faulconer was born June 7, 1880, in Orange County. His father, James William Faulconer, ran a large steam-powered sawmill, and his son started helping out at an early age.

In early December 1962, Boyce Loving, a reporter for The Daily Progress, paid Will Faulconer a visit. The sawyer hobbyist told the journalist that by the time he was 12 years old, he could saw as much lumber in a day as any of his father's adult workers.

Of course, Loving asked Faulconer the obvious question: Why build a sawmill?

"Just to keep me out of devilment," Faulconer said.

Faulconer worked at his father's sawmill until early 1900. Then, just as spring was arriving, he left his childhood home and moved to Albemarle County to work in heavy construction for W.A. Rinehart and Son.

For the next 22 years, Faulconer helped build dams, tunnels, railroads and bridges. He worked throughout Virginia, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Faulconer left the Rineharts in 1922 to start a construction business of his own. He did so well that he was able to retire in 1934 and buy a 750-acre farm near Scottsville.

The retired builder named his place Scotland. To keep himself busy, he went into the cattle business, eventually building his herd of Herefords to 250 head.

During the Depression years, there was no shortage of good men eager to work on the retired contractor's farm. But World War II brought about a severe shortage of manpower, and he had to shoulder much of the work himself.

When the war ended, Faulconer continued to have difficulty finding good men willing to work as hired hands. In 1948, he sold the farm and moved to Bellair.

For the first time in his adult life, Faulconer was without something to do. Building the sawmill was his answer for idle hands.

It took Faulconer about a year to build the sawmill he dubbed "Big Bill." It cost him less than $1,000, because he made many of the parts himself.

The homemade mill was powered by a tractor, and rigged so that the builder could operate everything on his own. The saw could handle logs up to 8 inches in diameter.

The day Loving dropped by for a visit, Faulconer had just finished sawing some locust logs into fence posts. The sawyer said the saw had cut through the tough wood with ease.

When the reporter asked Faulconer if he sawed any lumber for profit, the answer was "no." The sawmill, Faulconer explained, "was only the fulfillment of a boyhood fascination."


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