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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 11, 2011

Ever practical, Stempel presses a century-old mill into service

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

BERNE — Sometimes the old ways are best.

“I’m going back in time,” said Rudy Stempel last week. “I resurrected my old saw mill.”

Stempel at 82 is known affectionately as Rough-cut Rudy. Customers come to his place on Saw Mill Road to get solid lumber at prices with which the big chain stores can’t compete. He is now running his Hilltown operation with a mill that is over a century old.

The more modern mill he had been using needed a new part that cost $36,000, which was more than he could afford, said Stempel. So he has gone back to using the mill he had used to start his business over 50 years ago.

“This one works better and costs less,” he said. Stempel figures he’s using half the gas, and he can run the antique mill with two men instead of four.

He has always enjoyed cutting trees and working in the woods.  “I like to saw wood into nice pieces,” he said. “People smile all the way to the bank. They can afford us,” he said.

His Hilltown roots are deep.

Stempel grew up on a dairy farm in East Berne. “It was drudgery,” he said of caring for and milking the 40 cows. “You worked from sun up to sundown. The doctor told me to go away.”

So, at 21, Stempel joined the Army. That was in the midst of the Korean War, and he was sent to the front lines.

There, he ran a bulldozer, building roads and digging holes for the tanks. He liked the intensity of the work.

“You didn’t have things to worry about,” he said. “Your only goal was just keeping yourself alive.  You had your meals and a place to sleep. You took care of yourself and made sure not to get hit. You lived or died. That was it.”

Stempel returned to the Hilltowns after the war. He settled down and raised a family. Often outspoken, he served a term as Berne’s supervisor and ran many other times for town office on the Republican line in the Democrat-dominated town.

Two years ago, a heavy snowstorm collapsed the roof of his sawmill. Stempel said he’d rebuild, and he did.

He has no intention of retiring. “I love my work,” said Stempel. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

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