Tucked away in a far corner of the N.C. State Fairgrounds, alongside Smokey the Bear and exhibits on the Forest Service and soil and water conservation, you'll find a fully operational turn-of-the-century sawmill powered by a steam engine built in 1924.
The engine, owned by Joe Daughtridge of Raleigh, powers the mill for demonstrations on old-timey log-cutting every hour during the fair, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The sawmill is a permanent exhibit at the fairgrounds, but it only operates, courtesy of Daughtridge's engine, during the state fair. "Other than that it sits around and rests," Daughtridge said of the machine.
Daughtridge has been running his steam engine at the fair for 11 years, he said.
It takes about eight volunteers to operate the sawmill during the fair. Jim Liacos of Raleigh is one of them. During the rest of the year Liacos runs an autoshop, but says steam engines are his hobby.
"It's fascinating to me," said Liacos. "It's all totally different from what I do everyday."
Liacos belongs to a group called SEAMS, the Southeast Antique Machine Society. Liacos says the group restores old steam engines and offers classes on steam safety. They are also involved in a Country Christmas Train event each year in Denton, near Asheville, which includes a ride on a steam locomotive.
While the steam engine at the state fair is running, the volunteers occasionally let kids come up and blow the whistle, which is pretty deafening. The sawmill blades that are powered by the engine spin at around 500-550 rpm.
According to state fair history, the sawmill was originally located in Conetoe, near Fayetteville, but was purchased by H.L. Lewis in 1910 and moved to his farm in 1910. During World War II, German prisoners of war were brought in to work the mill, which remained operational until the early 1970s. The Lewis family donated the mill to the state fair in 2002, when it was restored and put on display there.
The original steam engine that ran the mill is on display next to it, but Liacos says it is too old to be restored to working condition.
Jim Liacos feeds wood into the steam engine before Saturday's first sawmill exhbit.
Joe Daughtridge, who owns the steam engine, makes sure everything runs properly.