Above photo in taken 1996

Controversial for its time. Thrilling for its audience. The Sawmill, sometimes called “the old mill” has been a staple in Trimper’s Haunted House ever since it was built in February 1962. It has been in the same location for nearly 50 years stunning riders as they turn around the bend following the upside-down room. Every aspect of this stunt is magnificent, even down to the last hair on the head of the female victim who is being brutally sawed in half by a 24” buzz saw in a remote barn.

The Sawmill is one of the most popular Bill Tracy stunts of all time, being included in many Tracy attractions—most notably the Whacky Shacks and Fright Zone. And, with careful restoration and refurbishment, it is destined to end up as one of the most widely known dark ride stunts in amusement history.

The scenery of this stunt sets the mood for what is about to happen. Obviously, whomever wanted this lady buzzed wanted to be sure it was done in isolation—in an old mill. The vertical wooden slats mark a deteriorating mill interior, sometimes mistaken for barn-like décor, and the door on the left side of the display goes to… nobody knows! The window atop the saw table peers outside and the shelf below it contains some old barn-like items including rusted cans and what appears to be an old washboard. In recent years, the HH management has added some additional props like a foam-filled latex head and a few skulls. Hanging on the walls are ropes tied in the form of nooses which are apparently waiting for a victim. The far right wall contains a spare saw blade covered in blood, as if the blade in use is going to chip a tooth. A unique addition to the set design is the bloody hand prints on the wall—perhaps it is the print of Bill Tracy???

The woman figure is somewhat tempting, or at least, she was. A blond-haired damsel lay on her back wearing a skimpy garment that appears to be some sort of night attire. Her lipstick bright as ever, her flamboyant fingernail polish, and her “made up” face make this victim ready for a gala of sorts, except for her current state: being sliced up her center with a giant saw! An acceptable amount of blood is evident from her deep wound, but not the gory amount often seen on many modernized stunts.

The technical aspects of this stunt are simple. The body is mounted to a sliding platform which has small wheels affixed to its underbody. When the car trips the sensor, a pneumatic cylinder protrudes underneath forcing the platform to be off-balance and slide downward, which is actually to the right. At the same time, a gear motor turns on making the saw blade rotate. After the car passes, the cylinder is decompressed and the platform glides back to its original position. Back in the day, a self-contained sound unit played the distinct sound of a women screaming as your car would ride by, but due to wear, this particular tape broke before it was able to be dubbed onto a digital repeater. Currently, the stunt operates soundless with only a spotlight turning on for illumination.

Above: Picture taken in 1998 when the Sawmill was just freshly painted. Notice the new flesh-tone paint.

This stunt was indeed controversial and a bit risky for its time. Even for the 1960’s, the Sawmill was one of the most hardcore dark ride stunts in existence, with the exception of its sister stunt “the Torture Chamber”, which also included tortured victims and a barely clad damsel in distress. Although it was risky, it was a nice addition to Tracy’s attraction and sat nicely beside the Knit wit, Lady in the Cellar and Upside-down room. It was more or less accepted by the general public and not frowned upon like most modern stunts are today. Tracy did an excellent job crossing boundaries with his audience, but knowing when to pull the plug. It was this careful balance shown in all of his work, weather it be simple and innocent or more complex and hardcore.

Please note that additional pictures of the Sawmill can be viewed at LaffintheDark.com. Also, check out the alternate Sawmill scene which was located at Frightzone in Erieview Park in Geneva-On-The-Lake, Ohio HERE. If you have additional pictures of the Sawmill you would like to submit, feel free to E-mail me.

Video of the Sawmill - 4.5 seconds

I would like to thank Jim Matterer for contributing his photograph for this article.
Copyright © 2007 Brandon Seidl
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