A flip of the switch. A whine quickly followed by a rumble. A rumble that slips into the rhythm of a freight train. The men don't even hear it any more, just like city-dwellers don't hear traffic or police sirens. It's a part of their everyday soundscape.
Churning and chugging overhead, the original 1870s mainline shaft is the spinal cord of this old woodworking mill, and its long belts crisscross and reach down to deliver power to every machine. And what machines! Some every bit as old as the shaft, and beautiful, too.
Big, heavy iron behemoths with all sorts of unnecessary ornamentation, these lever and knob-encrusted contraptions would look right at home in H.G. Wells's classic The Time Machine. Fitting, then, for the architectural time travel taking place daily in the hamlet of Sebringville, where they make big, heavy wooden replacement doors, windows, balusters and gable-ends for necessarily ornamented Victorian homes.
Hoffmeyer's is the name, but you can call it Ogilvie's, since the Ogilvie family has been running the place for more than 30 years.
A little history: The long building on Highway 8 just outside Stratford started life as a wooden well-pump factory.
At the turn of the 20th century, it started fabricating pumps out of iron. In 1906, Henry Hoffmeyer bought the place and converted it to a planing mill.
In 1926, poor Mr. Hoffmeyer stood in the wrong spot. A wooden projectile from a table saw impaled him and he died from infection shortly afterward.
"Everybody who knows us knows that story, knows not to stand behind the saw," deadpans Reg Ogilvie, who owns the place today.
Mr. Hoffmeyer's son, Lorne, ran the mill until 1945, then, since he had no heirs, sold to his nephews, the Stoskopf brothers.
They, in turn, sold to John Ogilvie in 1974, who saw no need to change the name of his new business. In 2005, John's son Reg and his wife, Ruth Ann, took over.
For the past dozen years or so, Hoffmeyer's has focused solely on making the kind of stuff you can't find at big-box stores, stuff that, if you have an old Ontario farmhouse or Toronto bay-n-gable and a little more money, will ensure your restoration comes out right. Mr. Ogilvie calls his products "reproductions" but they're as close to real Victorian pieces as you'll find today.
"You can get somebody to set up a new shop and start making windows, but if you look at them and how they're made, are they made the same way?" the 36 year-old asks rhetorically.
The shop also has had an Internet presence for the past dozen years, which has helped this low-volume, niche business stay afloat. In fact, Mr. Ogilvie estimates that 40 per cent of his customers find him via the website, www.hoffmeyersmill.on.ca. "It's the high-tech saving the low-tech," he jokes.
Thank goodness, because it's beautiful to watch Mr. Ogilvie and his men - semi-retired John Ogilvie, father-and-son team Carl and Steve Strasser, Corey Mielke and Joe Higham.
They manoeuvre around piles of wood shavings as high as sand dunes, and past curlicue templates hanging beside 50-year-old product posters, uniting themselves with ancient machines and raw materials to produce wooden works of art.
"These machines are quite simple," Mr. Ogilvie offers. "Every Monday, religiously, we oil and grease everything."
A few days ago, a fine entry door for an Albany Avenue home was picked up by some happy customers; today, scattered around the shop are stacks of windows awaiting shipment to Dundas, Ont., a fireplace surround, a couple of intricate screen doors, and a piece of curved crown moulding that will eventually end up on a porch in Champaign, Ill.
While a corner bookshelf has some dog-eared Lee Valley Tools pattern books, more often than not a customer will send over a decaying piece of porch or a chunk of chair rail and ask if they can reproduce it, which they usually can. Sometimes, they work from vintage photographs.
Mr. Ogilvie stresses, however, that dealing with Hoffmeyer's - like many of the finer things in life - takes patience and planning, since there can be a 12-week wait for some orders.
"If they want a custom door and they decide they want it once the hole is there, then they've got to board it up," he shouts over the buzz of the saw.
"A lot of people come to us in October, November wanting storm windows and they end up either leaving it till the next year or they're out there in February, with white knuckles, fitting a storm window. We can look after them all but not always when they want."
Mr. Ogilvie's wants, on the other hand, are simple: to see that long 19th-century shaft spinning overhead well into the 21st, so he and his crew can continue to manufacture beautiful things.
With more and more homeowners in tune with historically accurate restorations, it's a safe bet it'll continue chugging.
"It's the only job I've ever had," he finishes. "Hopefully it's the only one I'll ever need."
Dave LeBlanc hosts The Architourist on CFRB Wednesdays during Toronto at Noon and Sunday mornings.