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  Mill Construction.

The Fitz Water Wheel Company Restoration Engineer Donald C. Wisensale with his assistant, Richard Walker building the wooden apron in the 1930's restoration of Peirce Mill, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. Note the wooden archway frame work for constructing the water wheel arch opening in the stone building. The original stone archway had been closed up when the water turbine was installed in 1876.


Read by J. F. Mueller, of the Operative Miller.

Chicago, before the F. O. M. A.

Convention, June 16th.

The subject of mill construction is one which volumes might and should lie written. It is a difficult matter, therefore, to do such an important subject justice in a short article.

Millers have often wondered why there are not more books printed on mill construction. One reason, perhaps, is because millers as a rule do not care to express their opinion for publication. Another reason, and no doubt a very good one, is that by the time a reasonably large volume be prepared some radical changes are presented whereby a large portion of the volume just written would be made to appear a back number. There is no stand still. The tendency is to push forever onward.

Unlike nearly every other kind of manufactory, a flouring mill is one vast piece of machinery—complete, self-contained and automatic. It is I so-called "labor saving machine." It Is not a great many years since the miller, or his seconds, were compelled to do a considerable amount of shoveling of grain and work of a similar nature. It is a comparatively few years since the elevator and conveyor were introduced. Had the elevator never been introduced, such a tiling as long system would never have found a place in a mill.

The many improvements to facilitate the handling and transportation of material from machine to machine and within the machine itself are forced in a measure by the powerful stimulant of close competition. I am satisfied that with the inventive genius of our millers, millwrights and mill builders, unequaled by any in the world, together with the shrewd capacity of the mill owners, excelled by none, we shall be able to battle successfully in the markets of the world and dispose of our surplus wheat in the flour.

Although no miller can with certainty foretell what its future phases of mechanical development may be, still we are satisfied that the ultimate goal must of necessity be toward cheapening and lessening the power to run the mill, decrease in the cost of the operation, so far as the number of men necessary to tend the machinery is concerned; decrease in the quantity of wheat taken to make a barrel of flour, and an increase in the superiority of the flour produced.

It is a very peculiar fact that scarcely two mills have ever been constructed alike, whether of large or small capacity. There is always something to govern the location or arrangement of machinery even though the same system or flow of stock be adopted. Some 30 years ago the millwright was held responsible for the erection of the entire structure, from cellar to attic. He designed the building and the arrangement of machinery and adopted a stereotyped flow sheet which his grandfather had probably used and which was, therefore, "not found wanting." In the mill of the present day are incorporated the ideas of the machinery salesman, the milling engineer, the designer and draughtsman, the millwright, the architect, the mill owner, and last, but not least, the head miller and his corps of assistants. There is an old saying that "Too many cooks are apt to spoil the broth." This, no doubt, often proves true In the construction of a flouring mill. The building or remodeling of a mill might be compared to the formation or reformation of tariff by our Congress at Washington. A certain plan known as a "bill" is presented by a certain individual. His name goes down into history with his "bill," but the chances are that It has been punctured, tattooed and patched by others who also had ambition to have their names go down into history, that the originators scarcely recognize it. It has grown to be a monstrous affair. After it is completed, it is turned over to the public to praise or condemn. It too frequently proved true that a flouring mill is erected under similar trying conditions: Many influences are brought to bear from the time the enterprise is first talked of until it is finally turned over to the miller. Each one who has had his say will claim all the good points as being his own suggestions and is apt to place the faulty features on the "other fellow."

The completed wooden apron at Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C., in the 1930 Fitz Water Wheel Company restoration. What is needed to be done yet is to install the two metal battleship gates which will slide up and down behind the slot openings for each side of the water wheel. The standard Fitz gate control system works with a counter weight, and is controlled from inside the mill's basement.

It is natural for a miller, when getting ready to let a contract for his mill, to say that he wants the best that can be obtained. The representative of a reputable mill furnishing house is called upon the scene. His intentions to give the prospective customer a good mill are no doubt good. He becomes a trifle suspicious, however, when he sees a competitor arriving on the next train. It gradually dawns upon him that while Mr. Mill Owner is after a good mill, he also wants the cheapest that can be had. Salesman No. 2 may be known to use a few less machines, cheaper machines or something decidedly new with which he may be able to make great inroads. More salesmen arrive, some by invitation and others by chance. The men with the "best wheat cleaners on earth" appear one by one. The men who represent "the only purifier worthy of the name" are on deck. Then come the dust collector men, the engine and boiler men, etc., etc. Each recommends a certain mill building concern that "really knows how to build a mill," or is likely to point to just one who is not capable of building a mill, all owing to what extent the mill builders in question may patronize them in the equipment of the mill. Each of the mill builders keeps a sharp lookout, hesitates, wonders and schemes and finally presents his proposition and estimate with, perhaps, a dozen or more strings attached to pull without in any manner defacing the proposition or causing suspicion on the part of the mill owner. It too often occurs that owing to the struggle of competitive firms, questionable methods are resorted to, and the manner in which the disadvantages of rival machinery and systems are set forth is too often carried to extremes. The antagonism that exists in some cases where competition is actively brought into play is positively painful, and all respect to personal feeling is utterly disregarded. The manner of depreciating competitors' goods Is often carried on to such an extent that the buyer is placed at sea. As a result some outside party who escaped the fight when at its hottest becomes the favored one, by way of securing the contract. Before leaving the traveling salesman, I wish to say that more is required of him than of the average commercial traveler. He is expected to be a sort of lightning calculator. Upon visiting a mill he takes a mental inventory at a glance. His face beaming with smiles, he enters upon the introductory and social part of the performance, admit ting a "flow sheet" of sunshine into the heart of the proprietor, head miller, second miller—in fact, everybody about the place. He is the most cosmopolitan of souls; his headquarters are in the saddle, and his ever faithful ally and best friend are his nerve and "cheek." His stories, like the Yankee's suspenders, must be long enough for the biggest man or the expert in good disposition to meet the many obstacles placed before him. If the good salesman with a congenial spirit and a soul of good fellowship Is obliged to resort to the tactics of a "fighting cock" It Is certainly no fault of his.

Having come down to the business part of the program, arrangements and plans of various kinds are considered and talked over in many ways. He is expected to give the outlines or make an imaginary plan of the proposed arrangement. While the proposed building may be too small to admit the machinery without crowding to the extreme, since his competitors have agreed that the building is suitable, he also accedes to it without thinking of the serious results that may follow. He does not intend to be snowed under, and for fear of otherwise losing the sale, everything is made to look favorable. The prices being made satisfactory, the contract Is brought to a close. If the contract is for a mill to be remodeled, the dimensions of building and old machinery are taken, frequently in a haphazard way, and the data finally reach the house. Unless our traveling man is present to explain the sketches he has made (often resembling a Cuban war map), It is not a wonder if the draughtsman succeeds in getting "the cart before the horse."

We all know that a draughtsman does not as a rule walk on a bed of roses, and the manner In which the dimensions and general situation of things are put before him decide in a measure the efficiency of the entire arrangement. A mistake in the height of a story may cause a serious trouble. The diameter of shafting in old mills Is seldom found to correspond with standard sizes of the present day, and other very important matters that may be overlooked will be the cause of many drawbacks before the mill is completed. The chances are that the draughtsman is overcrowded with work, particularly during the busy season. It too frequently occurs that mill owners linger a long while before deciding where to place their contract. Then, when they do place their order, they can scarcely wait until the mill Is in operation. Many times the defects in mill construction can be traced back to the mill owner's uneasiness in getting ready to purchase wheat and grinding it into flour.

It too often occurs that there is not a clear and definite understanding between the mill builder, the miller and the mill owner as to what shall really constitute the mill. It is an old truth that the ability to design and the capacity to turn the design into money Is very seldom united in one head just as scholarship and philosophy rarely stand together. Though a miller must have technical knowledge, in most cases, still his mind takes a different turn from that of the mill owner. While the eyes of the miller looks thoughtfully on the problem of his mind, the details of the mill, his employer looks in the distance. On account of this difference, it is easily explained why the mill owner's views of a mill are quite different from that of his miller. The one regards the mill as he would any other salable article, but the other sees his mill only through eyes as a mother would her child, or an author his book. The mill furnisher makes his machines look attractive to suit the miller's ambition, very seldom the mill owner's, because how often does it not occur that buildings are put up "in the rough," the contract for which Is given to the village carpenter? What a glaring contrast there usually is between the highly finished machines of the mill builder and the conspicuously rough posts, girders and joints of the building. This is not the only fault which is likely to occur, however. Buildings are often put up in the most slovenly manner possible. Millwrights find difficulty in bracing machines sufficiently to withstand the vibration.

If mill owners will only stop to give the matter of mill construction a little more thought, they will find that for the amount of money that they pay out they can expect better returns so far as the building itself is concerned. It is rather strange to think that millers will demand unreasonable guarantees in these days, particularly when placing contracts with reliable parties at reasonable figures. If a mill does not give the best results when first started, it stands to reason that the builders, if they intend to retain their reputation, will spare nothing to make the mill a final success. These extraordinary fancy guarantees are nothing but a delusion. What a man can do in a fancy test is not what he can do in a regular week's run.

Mills should be made as nearly fireproof as possible. A strictly fireproof mill has never been a reality and probably never will be; therefore let us rather decrease the fire risks than attempt an elimination of them while combustible materials are used in mill construction.

There is scarcely a limit to what might be said on the subject of mill construction, and yet I have scarcely begun. One could ask when will the period come when mills can no longer be improved—when everything is so good that no improvement Is necessary? I will answer, that as soon as land stops to make progress it Is going backward. Improvements arise out of discoveries of wisdom.

Donald C. Wisensale's crew assembling the wooden breast shot water wheel at Peirce Mill during the 1930's Fitz Water Wheel Company restoration of Perice Mill, Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. The water wheel parts were cut out, and assembled in one the Fitz Water Wheel Company's buildings in Hanover, Pennsylvania. This building was also the pattern shop building which stored period mill parts which were used in their historical restorations. Once the breast shot water wheel properly fit together it was disassembled and brought to the Peirce Mill were it was assembled for the final time in place.

Pages 21-22, Modern miller, Volume 24

Modern Miller, St. Louis, July 23, 1898 Volume 24, Number 7

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Copyright  2010 by T. R. Hazen.