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Tutor family milling legacy continues through the generations

Jim Tutor, left, removes the cut lumber from the conveyor, after his son, Brad, right, cuts side lumber from a white pine log. Brad is a third generation mill owner. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Brad Tutor of rural New London considers operating his grandfather’s sawmill to be a hobby. “It’s a hobby, but it sweats the same as work.”

Tutor, grandson of James Wylie Tutor who lived in Iron River, Wis., is a welder and pipefitter by trade, but a sawyer by heritage and at heart.

Brad’s father, James Wylie Tutor Jr., 81 (Jim) is the oldest son in James Wiley and Marjorie Tutor’s family of 12 children, who were born between 1927 and 1951.

On Sunday, July 5, 2015, Brad and James were joined for a generational saw mill demonstration by James’ brother, Gerald Tutor of Poplar, Wis., and Brad’s son-in-law, Lance Elliott.

“Grandpa was 30 when he bought the mill in the mid 1930s,” Brad explained. It was built out of pieces, and ultimately served as the elder Wylie Tutor’s primary livelihood and means of support for his dozen children.

Up in Wisconsin, the elder Wylie Tutor won a contract to supply ½-inch casket lumber for a supplier in Illinois during 1938 and 1939. “He shipped three (train) carloads out before the contract quit,” Gerald Tutor, now age 65, said. The elder Mr. Tutor had an abundance of ½-inch lumber already milled, so he paid off the balance that he owned on the mill with these boards.

In addition to the casket contract, Mr. Tutor – who served during both World War I and World War II - supplied wood for fish boxes up until World War II. Fish boxes were used by commercial fishermen on Lake Superior to ship the fresh fish to their customers.

Sawmill hub

Hayward, Wis., was a hub for large sawmills beginning in the 1870s. The small family mill now in Brad Tutor’s possession is known as a bolster mill. The American #1, was made from the 1870s or 1880s until the 1900s. After that, models 2 and 3 were produced.

Lynne McGee Tutor, wife of Gerald Tutor, explained that this old saw mill was belt driven by a flat belt drive on a Waterloo Boy stationary engine, which also ran the planer, fish box mill, and shingle mill by the use of line shafts, but was later changed to a PTO driven, meaning the power is supplied by a tractor.

“My dad was quite an adventurous person,” Gerald said. “He only had an eighth grade education. He was a self-taught timber cruiser and surveyor. He could look at a tree and tell you how many board feet” it contained. As he was operating the sawmill, “Dad would sort and tally it in his head as he sawed it.”

Brad described his grandfather as “quite a flamboyant figure.” Gerald finished his nephew’s thought, “And Ma raised 12 kids.”

Mr. Tutor was killed by Gerald’s bull when he was 80 years old, in September 1980.

After her husband died, Marjorie Tutor gave the sawmill to her four sons. Two sons weren’t interested in the mill, and two remaining purchased their brothers’ shares.

The sawmill was stored in the mill shed for nearly two decades, until Brad expressed interest in moving it to the rural New London farm where he lives near his parents.

There was some family resistance at first, but ultimately, the family came to the consensus that Brad would be the one to take proper care of the family heirloom.

Brad has modernized the old sawmill, adding hydraulic feed works, motor drives and a sawdust conveyor. He still has his grandfather’s original blade, but he uses an inserted tooth saw blade to which he can add new teeth as the old ones wear down.

Gerald said, “This mill, when it was my dad’s, it was a flat belt drive.”

“This is one of the few remaining sawmills left in the area,” Brad said.

Skill and luck

You have to be a millwright and a machinist to operate the sawmill, Brad Tutor said. And you have to be lucky. He explained that he still has all 10 digits on his two hands. “Grandpa had 10 digits, but two were shorter,” he said, injured in a shingle mill accident.

Recently, Brad injured his leg with a milling tool known as a pickaroon or hookaroon. “I put about 1 ½ inches in my leg three weeks ago,” he said, cutting his leg “enough to put blood in my shoe.”

Family legacy

During the ensuing years, Brad has offered his Uncle Gerald – 9 years his senior - the opportunity to operate the old mill, but Gerald has always declined. Back when he was growing up, Gerald said, “I was the off bearer. I threw slabs on one pile and lumber on the other,” he said. His father always operated the mill himself.

Move to Missouri

Brad’s dad, Jim, left his home state as a young man, going to work with the Corps of Engineers – up and down the Mississippi River – for 20 years. He left the corps, and eventually settled along Route T in Ralls County. “I wanted a piece of ground of my own to raise my boys on,” he said. He milked cows for 40 years, selling out in the 1980s. He worked for the Hannibal school district for 12 years, and Manchester Tank until he reached the age of 65.

Brad Tutor, left, discusses the family milling heritage with his uncle, Gerald Tutor, right. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY

Today, Brad Tutor uses an inserted tooth saw blade to which he can add new teeth as the old ones wear down. He still has the saw blade that his grandfather used on this same sawmill.

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