Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Page Begins Here

Is the Miller a Craftsman?

The Old Grist Miller from a Steroview Slide Card.
The View: No. 767 The Old Miller.
Photographer/Publisher: Kilburn Bros., Littleton, N. H.
Circa: 1865 - 1877.

Is the Miller a Craftsman?
A Collection of Different Voices
as Written down by
Theodore R. Hazen

Topic: Folklore and Joblore.

The Miller's Neighbor: I say the miller isn't very much of a craftsman.

A Man in the Village: What the miller does is extremely important. The mill is the main reason we settled here.

Another Villager: So why is the miller not much of a craftsman?

The Miller's Neighbor: Anyone can run the mill better than our miller. He drinks, and is drunk much of the time...........You don't need to have skill to be a miller. All you need to have is the strength to open and shut the gate for the water wheel. Any monkey could do the same. Then he just stands around there like the big ape that he is, and afterwards bags up the mess that he has created.

Another Villager: The miller grinds grain for the farmers. Every meal that everyone in the community sits down to has something in it that was ground my the miller. You cannot deny that?

The Miller's Neighbor: It is not that the man is drunk most of the time. He shows no pride in the products that he produces..........He rejects no inferior or bad quality of grain that is brought to his mill. It is all the same. He grinds it, and takes his toll..........I swear that he will purchase the poorest quality of grain. Grain that is mildewed, or rancid, and then try and pass it off as the best quality of flour.

Voice from Today: There are historical sites and parks which employ craftsman. A craftsman may be a plumber, a welder, a carpenter, and or a stone mason. They may be paid a craftsman's wage of 30 to 40 dollars an hour. However, it there is a restored mill that operates within the park, the miller is often considered less than a craftsman. The miller's position may be that of a volunteer, retiree, or that of an interpreter. The miller is no where near what a craftsman makes an hour. Does not the miller need to know more than that of a plumber's education?

A plumber can learn to be a plumber not by being a plumber's helper or though a technical school, but by reading a book, and passing a test without showing that he has any practical or hands-on experience.

You could say that the miller could learn to be a miller by reading a book, but what book?

"The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide," by Oliver Evans, published in 1795, in 15 editions to 1860, was the first milling text instruction manual to explain the building and operation of flour mills. It became known as the millwright's and miller's bible.

You have to find a milling text book that reflects the technology and time period of the mill. A book which is historical accurate to the period that the mill is restored.

There is a restored mill and historical site which contains a restored mill. The foundation that operates the believes that the reason that the site is there is because of the historic miller's house, and that the mill is secondary. The house was built there because a millwright found a site where a water powered mill could be constructed. So the foundation pays the miller only minimum wage with no benefits. They believe that anyone can walk off the street, and operate the mill. The miller's position at the site is only seasonal, and he does not even rate the salary of an interpreter. The miller is the person who knows how to interpret the mill best.

"I get no respect," said Rodney (the miller).

Please do not confuse him with Rodney Dangerfield, who centuries later, also got no respect.

Rodney (the miller) who got no respect centuries ago, talked about the mill owners had this kind of Southern attitude about employment. Which basically stated that anyone could be a miller. We could grab the average person off the street, and with little or no training he could be made into a miller. What ever quality of flour that person made would still be used for baking. No matter how well he understood what happened to the grain between the millstones, and how ever he dressed the millstones they still would still grind some quality of flour. This attitude has gone on as long as I have been around mills. People with no training or understanding of mill technology, in some cases, have professed to be mill experts.

A millstone dresser wore the mark of their trade in their hands and forearms which were speckled blue from embedded steel chips lodged under the skin. A miller or mill owner would ask a millstone dresser to demonstrate his skill by pulling up his shirt sleeves, "To Show His Metal." "Are you worth your metal," meaning does your skill at dressing millstones reflect the (worth) amount of metal you carry around underneath your skin. It gets under your skin, and some people have long asked the question, "What is to stop a metal chip from finding its way into a vein, and going straight to your heart, and killing you?"

Voice from Yesterday: This way of thinking developed after World War Two. Someone believed that a mill was such a complicated device that only former military officers should be put in charge of them. This idea at least persisted to the present day in some areas that only the military officer mind could deal with the elaborate machinery and process found in the average mill.

This may have been an idea started by Professor Benjamin W. Dedrick who was Head of the Mill Engineering School at Pennsylvania State College, Pennsylvania, who said, "The miller of today, it seems, must be miller, baker and chemist." Perhaps the thought was that only a one time military officer could presents the facts with a proper balance of historical information, technical knowledge, with a blend of human interest.

Benjamin W. Dedrick was the milling consultant on the Robert E. Lee Mill at Stratford Hall, Virginia, for the Fitz Water Wheel Company which was the companies most accurate historical restoration. So for nearly half a century, the site only employed former military officers to be in charge of the mill site. Part of the reason may have been because Robert E. Lee was a military officer.

The Miller's Neighbor: The miller is so dishonest, that it is impossible for him to tell the truth..............He makes up stories. He claims that only he knows the grain. Why the farmer who grows the grain must know something about grains.

A Man in the Village: But it is the miller who works his magic, and turns the raw grain that farmers bring to him into flour.

The Miller's Neighbor: There is no magic about it. The miller lies about how many times he has taken his toll............Why I bet the miller sits back, and gets drunk everyday, and it is the miller's wife, children, or miller's helper that really operates the mill...........This is why we are told to leave our grain at the door and come back later. No one is allow in the mill when he practices his trade.

A Man in the Village: All craftsman across the countryside work in that sort of fashion. They shut and bolt the doors of their shops to keep outsides from watching them practice their particular trade.

The Old Man in the Village: I tell you........the miller is evil. He takes our good grain, and gives us sawdust in return. He is a monster! On the same order as the blacksmith who is in league with the Devil. The miller has his own demons that he is in league with..........spirits of the water who deceive your mind and bedevil you into death.

Another Villager: The miller is part of our community. He was here before all of us came to live here.

The Old Man in the Village: The snake existed in the Garden of Eden before Adam came to live there, and many of use said that this place looked like the Garden of Eden when we first came here. The miller is the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Voice from Today: Is the miller a storyteller, or just a bullshit artist?

I have always said, "If you want to know something about a particular mill. Where it was, something about its history, and operation, just ask the miller at a nearby heritage mill which is still producing a product."

You can sit the miller down, and he can not only tell you stories of his own mill from the past, but from other mills in the area.

The late Charlie Howell could sit down, and tell ghost stories about mills for hours. He would stop once, and a while and say, "I have never seen a ghost in my life, and I don't believe in them!" Yet the man knew all of these ghost stories about mill. I was with Charlie enough that when me saw a person he knew, he always had a new mill related story to pass on to them.

One of them that I remember is about a baker who was mixing bread dough one day, and suddenly got sick. Before he could run out of the bakery and throw up outside, he threw up in the box of bread dough. Being a thrifty man, he though it I mix it up enough, no one will notice. A few days later, one of his regular customers came by the bakery, and asked if he had anymore of that good bread that he has been baking lately. The baker asked which one, and the customer replied, "The beer bread with the meat and potatoes in it!"

Voice from Yesterday: Millers were important members of the community providing an essential service, and people trusted them to do their job well and honestly.

The Miller's Neighbor: The miller not only charged exorbitant prices for the work he did, but in addition, he stole his clients' flour.

A Man in the Village: We have no sympathy for the miller due to his dishonest behavior. This is why our forefathers erected the gallows in front of the mill to hang the dishonest miller's helpers.................Why I think we should have hung a few millers from time to time.

Have you ever killed a crow? All you have to do is have the flock of crows see you kill one of their own. Then they will stop coming around your fields. Why we should have hung a dishonest miller to weed out the bad apples.

Voice from Yesterday: Instead of the farmer paying the miller, the miller takes a percentage of the ground grain for a payment. The miller works for barter. This is a system where his work or services are traded for goods rather than money. Originally these were considered a class of people who were unworthy to trade using actual money. This is the lower class of people who would be considered part of the human bondage, and indentured servant caste. The people who would be prone to cheat, lie, deceive, haggle, beguile in the bargaining or exchange. These are the people who sell cheap, and would peddle their souls for dust.

Is the miller a victim of his own making? Would the miller be treated better if he had only dealt in a fair and just dealings with his customers?

Voice from Today: The average Historical Site today consists of an Educational Director who salary averages 60 to 75 thousand a year. Employees consists of part time staff (10 to 20 hours a week) with no benefits and at minimum wage. What sort of quality of programs can the outcome for education and professionalism. They are simply hand puppets of the Educational Director. Part of the attitude is that if they know nothing, they cannot create problems.

This sort of situation employs spouses, senior citizens, and students. It basically amounts to paid volunteerism. I have visited mill sites with the same situation and in some cases, they want to keep the position, voluntary.

We live in an age of preconceived notions - I spent my youth trying to get a job as a miller, but constantly heard the same response. "You don't look like a miller, because miller's are old!" Is it the notion that you only have experience as a good miller with age and time. A young man does not have the wisdom and knowledge that age has given him. Does it take more than the standard apprenticeship and schooling to become a master of flour milling? Or are some places looking for the proper character who fits the part.

As a supervisor working at historical sites, I have seen resumes where individuals who have worked at Disney wearing a Mickey Mouse, Goofy or other cartoon character costume. They have written up that job experience on their resume as being a "Character Actor." How can that be considered character acting when you just walk around in a giant costume, you don't talk, or use the cartoon character's voice, and can barely walk around unaided by someone. When I worked for the National Park Service, it seemed that I was the only one who the Smoky the Bear costume was made to fit. I have always been grateful to have worn the the costume art various times, but never felt like putting it down on my resume as acting experience.

That may be fine if you only want to hire senior citizens who are retired, and pay them minimum wage with no benefits. It is the notion that a young man cannot have the training to run and operate a flour mill. My experience is that you find people of all age groups, male and females working in old mills. Of course, you find the old man in his 80's or 90's operating an old mill because that is what he has enjoyed doing in life, and they have no one younger who is willing to carry on in their place.

Walt Disney's Goofy and the Miller, Grolier Enterprises Inc, 1978, ISBN 0-7172-8477-8.

Voices from Yesterday and Today: The "helper" jobs were a sort of an apprenticeship where they learned by watching and working. In the preindustrial world, boys (and girls) frequently started by working as a helper to their father, or other relative's mill.

The poem or song, "Miller's Will" is a good example of which helper learned best by watching and working. This has several versions. Some of the other version titles are as follows: "The Old Miller;" "There Was an Old Miller;" and "The Miller and His Three Sons." The story tells of a fairy tale world with the water mills, and castles. Even in the realm of fantasy it shows the popular belief of the dishonest miller, and how it is passed from one generation to another. The old miller is getting ready to die, and wants to know which of his three sons to leave the mill to after his death. So he asked each one of his three sons the same question to better see which one has learned his trade the best. "How much toll you intend to take?"

"Success" is measured in not by who could acquire the most "competence" at learning how to mill grain, but by an unrealistic notion of who could collect the best toll to sufficient to support one's family. The song goes against all popular custom where the property would go to the oldest son who worked the hardest to learn the father's trade, but to the youngest who was the most laziest. Then it shows, that the one son who is the most dishonest has the greatest chance of "living happily ever after." Only the Walt Disney version of "Goofy and the Miller," has the classic storybook ending. Before Disney grabbed the story and made it their own, the story was originally published in Denmark as "Fedtmule og Mølleren der Ville Ha'en Hest," and then English language version before it became "Goofy and the Miller."

Miller's Will

There was an old miller by everyone known,
He had three sons was all nigh grown.
When he came to die and make his will,
He had nothing to give but an old water mill.

He called up his eldest son,
He says, "My son, I'm almost done.
And if the mill to you I'd make,
Pray tell me how much toll you intend to take?"

"Oh dear father, my name is Heck,
And out of each bushel I'll take one peck.
And every bushel I do grind,
A very fine living at that I'll find."

"You are a fool," the old man said,
"You have not fairly learned my trade.
The mill to you I will not give,
For never a miller at that can live."

He next called up his second son,
He says, "My son, I'm almost done.
And if the mill to you I'd make,
Pray tell me how much toll you intend to take?"

"Oh dear father, my name is Ralph,
And out of each bushel I'd take one half.
And every bushel I do grind,
A very fine living at that I'll find."

"You are a fool," the old man said,
"You have not fairly learned my trade.
The mill to you I will not give,
For never a miller at that can live."

He next called up his youngest son,
He says, "My son, I'm almost done.
And if the mill to you I'd make,
Pray tell me how much toll you intend to take?"

"Oh dear father, I am your son,
I'll take three pecks and leave just one.
And if a good living at that I do lack,
I'll take the other and steal to the sack."

"You are my son," the old man said,
"For you have fairly learned my trade.
The mill is yours," the old man cried,
And he kicked up his heels and died.

Post Script: When I worked at Peirce Mill, we contacted Disney to get permission to use images from the book "Goofy and the Miller" in our interpretive programs for children and school groups. They refused. Mickey Mouse will live on forever because they got the copyright laws extended beyond a mouse's lifetime while President Clinton was in office. So don't get your hopes up about the images in the book.

Return to Home Page

Copyright 2007 by T. R. Hazen