After the "Great Flood" of 1936 overtook Chamberlin Mill, destroying the road bed that served as the lower dam, the Chamberlin family was presented with a critical challenge. To keep the mill operational, they turned to the automobile.
A first, unremembered automobile engine did not last. However, its successor, a 1928 Studebaker Straight 8 engine, known for its powerful design, was able to provide sufficient energy to keep the Mill's 1873 Lane #1 saw in operation through the 1960s, when the mill produced its last boards.
Shed for automobile engine under construction. Studebaker straight-eight engine keeps Mill running through 1960s
According to Chamberlin family recollections, Raymond Chamberlin purchased a 1928 Studebaker President for the Mill. He cut it down at the site, and sheltered its engine section under a lean-to shed adjacent to the 19th century saw box and saw arbor shaft. Engine identification numbers confirm the family recollections.
While the shed disappeared after decades of disuse, the engine and unused cut-down sections of the 1928 Studebaker remained on site when The Nature Conservancy took ownership of the property in 2008. No longer in usable condition, the engine section was carefully removed to safe storage, pending development of plans for the mill.
2008. Studebaker engine outside Mill, in snow.
The 1928 Studebaker is considered a central part of the long story of Chamberlin Mill, demonstrating its adaptation to technological change in the face of adversity. It also speaks of the determination and "Yankee ingenuity" of the Chamberlins, whose ancestors had used the mill site since the beginning of the 19th century, in finding a way to keep the Mill functioning into the second half of the 20th century.
Today, as the non-profit Chamberlin Mill, Inc. attempts to preserve this rare site as a historical and educational resource, the Studebaker story is considered an important element in the overall interpretation of the mill.
Through great good fortune, Mystic Seaport engine restoration volunteers offered to attempt restoration of Chamberlin Mill's rusty straight-eight engine, and in September, 2014 it was loaded on Nate Rosebrooks' truck for the trip from Woodstock to Mystic, CT. Secured on a sled constructed by Andy Quigley (with lumber cut on his 1867 Lane #1 saw), the engine arrived safely in Mystic, in time for display at the September 21 Mystic Seaport Antique Vehicle Show.
Sept.14, 2014. Loading engine for trip to Mystic Seaport Sept. 21, 2014. Engine at Mystic Seaport Antique Vehicle Show
Following the Antique Vehicle Show, work began in the Mystic Seaport engine restoration workshop. Jim Creem, Nate Rosebrooks, and other patient and expert volunteers began to disassemble the engine, saving all that could be saved, and making an inventory of parts needed for reassembly. With the support of a generous Studebaker collector, and donations from Mystic and Chamberlin volunteers, new pistons and valves were secured, and the engine was given a final cleaning to ready it for reassembly. This began in January, 2015. Stay tuned for the story to unfold...
Sept. 23, 2014. Engine ready for work.. October, 2014. Work in progress.
Dismantled and cleaned. Primed and ready for the machine shop.
January, 2015. Beginning reassembly.
October, 2015. Walktober visitors get to see the engine in operation at Chamberlin Mill
May, 2015. Engine mounted on frame.
Late February, 2015. Restoration nears completion.
September, 2016. Radiator and cowling repaired and braced.
March, 2015. First start up at Mystic.
September, 2015. Nate Rosebrooks fires up engine at celebration for Chamberlin Mill supporters
Summer, 2015. Engine returns to northeast Connecticut.