By the summer of 1924, he was operating a sawmill on Peace Island at Taylor but there again memories escape me except for a name or two such as D.A. Thomas and Weenusk, river boats that plied the might Peace. Here logs were cut, dumped into the river and floated to the mill. Lumber was loaded on barges and taken to Peace River Town.
The steam engine consisted mainly of a fire box and boiler where the water was heated to form the steam which in turn was injected into a piston through ports thus forcing the piston to move back and forth, activating a connecting rod attached to a fly-wheel. The rotating motion of the fly-wheel was belted to a main shaft and thus used to operate various pieces of machinery such as a carriage on which logs are transported past the saw and cut into lumber. From the saw, the lumber usually went through an edger which cut-off the remaining bark and sized the lumber for width. A trimmer was used to cut the uneven ends off and a planer smoothened out the lumber.
In 1925, we found ourselves west of Rolla in what was later known as Alderdale. A mill purchased from Herman Trelle was operated there till fire again put an end to the operation. 1926 was the start of what is now known as Olinger’s Farm. A mill was set up, logs were hauled in and all went well till the summer of 1929 when again the mill went up in smoke. These fires were all caused by sparks from the steamers igniting dry material somewhere on the premises.
1930 saw the construction of the most elaborate mill of the early days. Two steam boilers were installed to supply steam to a stationary steam engine. All the machinery was set up on a second story-floor, with nothing but drive shafts at ground level. By this time trucks began to replace horses for hauling lumber but logging was done mainly in the winter and sleighs were still used to haul the logs. This mill required about 20 men for peak operation. Prices were low but wages were $1.00/day and board.
With the advent of the railroad to Dawson Creek and an influx of settlers from the prairies, the country began to boom. A lumberyard was opened in Rolla and another in Pouce Coupe. These however were short lived as the Frontier Lumber Co. (later Beaver Lumber) stepped in. A conference was held in Grande Prairie. Mr. MacMillan of Frontier offered to buy out these yards and the entire Olinger production for a number of years. A satisfactory deal was finally worked out and the yards were soon closed.
By 1937, diesel had come to the Peace. A WD-40 McCormick tractor had been purchased and the portable mill had started. Logs did not have to be hauled so far as it was simpler to move the mill. By 1938 brother Max was running the mill and John hauled the lumber.
At the time the Sudeten settlement started at Tomslake, we delivered planed lumber from 10 miles northwest of Rolla to the Tate Creek Ranch.
In 1941 Mr. Olinger, by this time also a General Merchant in Rolla, purchased a sawmill and planing mill on what is now known as Clarke subdivision from G.G. Moore. The following spring, with the coming of the first U.S. troops and the building of the Alaska Highway, the mill was taken over and operated by Oke’s Construction, and the “little Frenchman” retired to Edmonton.
In the spring of 1945 the remaining timber at Sweetwater burned down and the mill was moved to Edmonton where it was later sold to J.C. Burger Lumber Co.
Through all these years, accidents were at a minimum. One cook was injured when a gas lamp exploded and there were a few minor bruises but nothing serious. Possibly the employees — mainly homesteaders taking part time jobs — were more safety conscious than the present day mill worker.
There were exceptions, of course. One fellow stuck his finger in the planer knives to see if they were turning and got the tip cut off. After first aid by Mrs. Olinger, he was standing around with his hand in the air. On being asked by Mr. Olinger what happened he said, “I stuck my finger in there” and promptly had another piece chopped off.”