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Memories of T-5 Training

from Harlan Green (T-5)

Some of us in Turkey V group restored the Robinson sawmill in Vermont during our 1964 Peace Corps training.  I’m sure there are others who can also remember the work.  I remember it was Mike Miller, Heath Lowry and myself who did much of the work.  I had worked as a journeyman union carpenter, while I think Heath and Mike also had done manual labor in our young and varied lives.

The Turkey V training group was headquartered at Sandanona, Rudyard Kipling’s Vermont estate near Brattleboro, where he was reputed to have written the Jungle Book.  (He had married a Vermonter and also built a large mansion just up the road.

As part of our training for Rural Community Development, (via The Experiment in International Living), we were moved up to East Calais (9 mi. north of the capital Montpelier on dirt roads) to live on a farm and learn some rural skills.  The people of East Calais were also interested in restoring the sawmill, among other projects, to have it as a kind of historical museum.  Others trainees did road work, built stone walls and a septic tank.  

The Robinson Mill was reputed to be the longest running water-powered sawmill in Vermont.  It ran until the 1950s commercially, when pond silting and wear and tear on the equipment forced it to shut down.  It was run by a water-powered turbine set at the bottom of an approximately 30 foot long penstock that ran water over the dam.  The rotating turbine shaft at the bottom was then geared to horizontal belts that ran the saw blade and a moving bed that held the logs to be cut.   

The upper and lower ponds, regulated by sluice gates, had silted so much there was only sufficient water to cut logs during the spring runoff.  Not only did the metal turbine itself need renovation, but the turbine housing made up of large bridge timbers had rotted.  We totally rebuilt the turbine housing and welded or machined the necessary parts to get the turbine working again.  I believe that Mike Miller even carved some of the broken gears from wood.

This all happened in August, September of 1964, before we shipped out to Turkey and to our villages.  The sawmill was again restored in 2003 after much fundraising effort via a non-profit.  I returned in 2005 during a rainy autumn day and took many photos of its being run.   The local Vermonters are real characters.  They recently did two male nude calendars to raise $500,000 to build a community center at Maples Corner (of which I have copies)!  They got the idea from movie, “The Calendar Girls”.  But since the women wouldn’t pose, Vermont’s men stepped up to the plate and posed.  Our farmer Stanley Fitch in his 70s was one of them….

 Harlan Green (T-5)

 Men opening sluice gate at pond. 

Then water runs down penstock to turbine at bottom. 

Turbine then runs horizontal belts that power saw blade and  bed that holds logs, etc. 


Sawyer is taking cut plank from roller bed. Harlan Green is on the right.

Part of non-profit committee that raised the monies. 

For more information on the Robinson Sawmill, check an article in The Boston Globe:

And a response to the article from Harlan Green:

August 8, 2007


Letters to the Editor

 Dear Globe;

             I enjoyed your August 5 AP article about the Calais, Vermont Robinson sawmill, with but one omission.  I was part of a Turkey Peace Corps Volunteers’ group (Turkey V) that spent several weeks of our training period living in East Calais and restoring the Robinson sawmill in 1964.  We were able to run it at that time, and hoped to turn it into a historical museum.  But its sawyer died soon after and it fell again into disrepair.  The inhabitants of Kents Corner—on the original stagecoach road from Montpelier to Montreal, Canada, I believe—formed a nonprofit organization, and funds were raised to restore it once more.  It wasn’t fully restored and able to run again until 2005.  The local Vermonters are wonderful people, and sure could use donations to dredge their pond.  Otherwise, the pond doesn’t hold enough water except during winter storms and spring runoff to cut logs.  Tax deductible donations may be sent to:  The Aldrich Memorial Association, Inc., PO Box 94, Calais, VT   05648—0094.

Harlan Green,
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer




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