Thursday morning commuters along I-90 and I-5 will be among the first to view the renewed Dickman Mill head saw as it journeys from Spokane to Tacoma following a major restoration.
The historic Dickman Lumber Company head saw was a mechanical marvel manufactured by Sumner Iron Works in Everett. Originally installed in 1923, it once helped power Washington’s economy. It was the last remaining head saw from an era during which Tacoma was lauded as the “Lumber Capital of the World.”
With its 350-horsepower Westinghouse motor, the head saw – named because it made the first cuts into logs brought to the mill – could cut boards as long as 65 feet, and generate up to 150,000 feet of lumber per day at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Two huge wheels held a 15-inch-wide band saw that was changed out twice daily and refiled. Logs were placed on the 12-foot by 45-foot carriage, bringing them through the flashing blade of the head saw, also called the “head rig.” The 9-acre Dickman mill, which closed in 1977, was the last operating sawmill on the Ruston Way waterfront. The head saw, which stood 34 feet high during its operations was displayed at Marine Park following the mill’s closure, but was removed in 2003 after years in the salty air b. It relocated to Point Defiance Park’s maintenance yard where it laid in pieces for nearly two decades while Metro Parks awaited an opportunity to restore and showcase it once again.
In 2017 Cambia Health Solutions, parent company to Regence BlueShield, turned that vision into a reality through a $2.9 million gift to the people of Tacoma. As part of the company’s centennial celebration, it funded a major update to Dickman Mill Park commemorating its roots in Tacoma. In 1917, local doctors joined together to offer health insurance for timber workers. The workers pooled a small percentage of their weekly wages and in return were granted a safety net in case of sickness and injury, launching the company that continues to serve today.
Tacoma isn’t the only beneficiary of this gift though. The project is also contributing to the economic health of eastern Washington where Northwest Fabricators not only restored the head saw, but also produced the steel structure and handrails for a new catwalk that will provide park visitors with a view overlooking Puget Sound. It is another feature of the park’s plaza where the saw will be displayed. In total, these elements of the design fed over $300,000 into Spokane’s economy.
The head saw will be trucked from Spokane to Tacoma in pieces and anticipated to arrive at Ruston Way between 8-9 a.m. on Thursday. The parts will be offloaded from the truck into a gravel area across from the park. They will then be transported to a staging area in the park where a crane will help reassemble the massive artifact piece by piece. The contractor estimates they will be lifting the head saw into place around 1 pm and will finish assembly by end of day.
The head saw will grace a beautiful plaza built with bricks from the old mill that were reclaimed from the shoreline as part of beach remediation in the early stages of the project.
Another exciting element of the park is slated for delivery next week. Artist Mary Coss’s Ghost Log, a magnificent interpretive artwork, is a massive 44’ Corten steel sculpture that depicts the story of the land on which the park sits.
The park construction remains on schedule for an anticipated early summer opening.
Learn more and stay up to date by visiting metroparkstacoma.org/dickman-mill.