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MUSEUM MUSINGS: Helping the war effort was saw mill’s stock in trade

Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on October 1, 2020

A little bit of Boone County was found throughout Europe and the Pacific during World War II.

The Erwin Brothers Saw Mill, located in Harrison, produced thousands of walnut gun stocks for the military in its fight against the Axis powers.

According to Raymond B. Erwin, writing in the Boone County Historian in 2004, Carl and Dewey Erwin established a saw mill at the end of East Stephenson Avenue sometime in the early 20th century. Carl ran the Harrison mill, while his brother ran a second operation in Cotter.

Carl had served with the 20th Engineers in France during World War I. His duties included being in charge of installing the machinery for saw mills that were powered by steam engines. Lumber was sawed to repair and build docks for the Army land supplies and to provide lumber for barracks and warehouses. They also cut railroad cross ties.

Raymond Erwin went on to say that, over the years, the Erwin Saw Mill cut wagon timbers, wagon tongues, coupling poles and hickory axles for the Springfield Wagon Company and the Bower Wagon Company of Harrison. It also cut wood for ski poles, skis, Model T wheel spokes, wagon wheel rims, plow handle strips and pieces for Singer sewing table legs.

“In 1953, the lumber industry in and around Harrison had a combined payroll of over $2 million,” according to the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. “Men were employed in cutting and milling logs and, increasingly, turning wood into finished products such as gunstocks and furniture.”

During World War II and the Korean War, Erwin Saw Mill cut and shipped over half a million walnut gun stocks. According to many firearm experts, American Walnut has been the primary gunstock material for all guns in the U.S. from the 1700s to today. Walnut is hard, dense and resilient. It resists warping, suffers little shrinkage and isn’t prone to splitting.

In a Harrison Daily Times article on April 6, 1944, it was stated that Erwin Brothers had processed and delivered walnut wood for about 150,000 rifle and machine gun stocks.

“The demand for this material is definitely tapering off,” Carl Erwin was quoted. The curtailment, he went on to say, had caused a decided drop in the local market for walnut logs, which had been unusually good up to that point.

“This let-up in government purchases,” the Daily Times said, “is not taken as an indication of belief that the end of the war is in sight, but merely that the supply of this material now built up is sufficient for present needs.”