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A Short Course in how to be an Historic Miller-Mill Operator

The late Master Miller Charles Howell is shown testing the texture of the ground meal.

Should a finer or coarser quality be desired, this can be achieved by varying the distance between the millstones by use of the tentering staff, visible in the left foreground which connects to the bridge tree by the brayer (not shown in this photo). Charlie said this setup was unusual, it only the second mill he had ever seen that used a tentering staff or beam and a series of wedges to adjust the millstones. The other mill that he had seen that used this system of tentering the millstone was a mill in Rye, New York.

A Short Course in how to be an Historic Miller-Mill Operator
by Theodore R. Hazen

01-0. Introduction
02-0. Maintenance and Repair of the Mill
03-0. Operate Mill and Produce Flour and Meal
03-1. Grinding Different Grains
03-2. How to Grind Grain into Flour and Meal
04-0. Interpretation to the Public
05-0. Cleaning up the mill


We are going to do the impossible. Condense 7 years of apprenticeship training into 3 Saturdays (or one short course). Some people talk of millers in the sense of being artists, in that you are born to it. Sometimes your father was a miller, or it ran in the family. Others have the idea that anyone grabbed off the street can easily be taught to be miller. Because of this attitude, some people give miller's very little respect which is unusual because millers have been one of the pillars of the community. Traditionally you learned to be a miller by becoming an apprentice, and then later there were milling schools that taught milling science. Today milling groups and mill societies have classes in England and Europe on learning to be a miller. In England, specifically if you purchase a mill what do you do with it, and in Holland a demanding training course in how to be a miller.

Old Mill of Guilford, 1340 N.C. Route 68 North, Oak Ridge, North Carolina.
A miller-mill operator has to learn to grind grains on a variety of milling machinery.

The three main objectives of this training are to learn how to:

1. Maintain and repair of the mill.
2. Operate mill and produce flour and meal.
3. Interpretation to the public.
I think the most important thing in being a miller and operating an historic mill is safety, for the operator, volunteers, staff and the general pubic. Safety should come over all other considerations, because if someone gets hurt, the site could be closed down for good.

A miller's day is divided into the following periods. 1. Get the mill ready to operate. Check and inspect mill machinery. This is a visual inspection, and to turn the gear and water wheel by hand to check balance. Grease and lubricate bearings and gear teeth.
2. Operation and interpretation of the mill. Demonstration of grinding grains and producing flour and meal. Present interpretive programs to school groups, special interest groups and the general public. Bagging of grain products. All the time the miller continues his visual inspection and listen to the operation of the machinery, and operates by sight, sound, touch, smell and vibration.
3. Clean up of mill to maintain health standards. Secure the machinery and the building.
What is your day like or your time commitment? Do you have a job description?

How do you run the mill? 1. The text book method. Some people learn from a text book but most libraries have very little of anything about mills and milling. Even schools that teach milling science have a flour mill on campus for the students to learn to operate a mill.
2. Some people learn by trial and error. These people learn as they go.
3. Some people just learn how to turn it on, and turn it off (and hope for the best). These people never check wedges, inspect bearings or see if anything is our of alignment or out of balance.
4. Some people learn by the use of your senses.
5. Some people learn by actually working in a mill and learning from others.
What comes first? What is most important thing to being a miller in an historic mill. 1. The machinery, preserve the machinery from wearing out.
2. Safety, for groups, visitors, staff and volunteers.
3. Interpretation to the public, school groups and special interest groups.
4. Maintain health standards for sales of flour and meal.
5. Flour and meal production for sales as an interpretive item.
6. Historical accuracy in demonstrations of an operating mill.
What is your motivation to being a volunteer? 1. Community service.
2. Family tradition.
3. An interest in mills and want to learn more about them.
4. Court ordered community serve.
5. Employer benefits for volunteer work. Some employers pay big cash awards to employees.
To be a miller in an historic mill you first have to learn to know your mill. 1. What can it do. How much grain can it grind in a set period of time.
2. What can you make it do. Can the mill only run one pair of millstones or can they be both operated. Can the millstones produce 300 to 500 pounds of product each in an hour? Do you want to grind 50 pounds of grain in ten minutes or slow it down to grind that amount in one hour? So the greatest number of visitors can see it operate.
3. Do you have to take in consideration of wear and tare on the machinery? Do you have to budget out the operation of the mill over many years? Do you have a set limit upon how much grain you can grind per day or week? Does this mean that you only operate the mill once a year? Only for school grounds and for a set time period. For a given number of visitors in the mill for a few minutes, or do you turn it on and run it all day.
4. Clean up. Operating the mill for a few minutes may mean that at the end of the day you have to spend an hour or an hour and a half cleaning up to maintain health standards. Even with the health standards aside it has to be done to prevent insect and rodent infestation, and to maintain good housekeeping practices.
5. Do you operate the mill for each visitor, a number or group of visitors?
6. What is your time worth? Basically how long to you spend talking to each visitor and per group. You the term "group" in meaning school group. A mill full of visitors that you talk to at the same time counts as a single interpretive program, and not the total number of visitors in the mill.
7. Establish standards by the mill or dictated by the organization. This may be dependent up there being a single miller or a group of millers that may be volunteers.
8. You have to give your self breaks during the day and between school groups.
9. What do you do with what you grind? Throw it out and sell product that is manufactured that comes from a commercial mill? Do you sell it as an interpretive item or give it only to school kids as a souvenir of their visit?
10. What is the source of the water? Does the mill obtain its power from the stream as it originally did, or is it artificially supplied to turn the wheel? How is this system maintained and cleaned? How does seasonal flooding and low water periods effect the milling operation?
Do you have an operation and maintenance manual? 1. I have written one, but the problem is that they tend to disappear. I wrote one for Peirce Mill and the only draft copy disappeared from the mill. In reality very few mills have them. Jon Sass was brought here from England to create an operation and maintenance manual for the windmill at Flowerdew Hundred Plantation in Hopewell, Virginia. I think sometime after Jon went back to England it disappeared.
2. Some historic mills have only a volunteer handbook. The volunteer hand books mainly provide guidelines and standards for the operation of the site. They provide a general history of the mill usually about the same amount as found in the mill folder. How the mill operates. I remember when it became the thing to include some of the most commonly asked questions visitor and answers. These questions and answers usually begin with where is the drinking fountain, location of the restrooms and nearest pay phone. The questions and answers which deal with the actual operation of the mill are mainly dependent upon the authors actual knowledge and times spent in the mill if at all. Very little information is found on the actual daily operation and maintenance of a mill.
3. The classic Meadows Mills they (at one time) came from the factory with operation and millstone dressing instructions. The problem is that when they are resold second hand, this information usually does not come along with the mill, especially with the older mills. New River Mills and others should also come from the factory with operation and perhaps millstone dressing instructions.
4. Milling schools came into existence in the second half of the 19th century. The problem with milling schools is that they are like medical schools, in that they only teach what is current. They don't teach history or what is past. You have to have an interest in learning traditional milling on your own. Only one milling school in Europe (that I know of) teaches both traditional and modern milling (milling with roller mills and with millstones).
5. National Park Service courses or training for the operation of historical mills. At one time the National Park Service used to conduct training courses to teach people to operate historic mills in park settings. They used to mainly train older retired citizens who would operate a mill during the tourist season. These classes are no longer being offered because of budget concerns, and now the National Park Service no longer operates its historic mills in National Parks. Because of the introduction of modern heath standards, the National Park Service no longer have employees grinding and selling grain products. They have adopted the attitude that anything made out of stone and wood cannot meet modern health standards. Another concern is the worry they visitors will sue the parks for allegedly getting sick form eating the product. Any grain ground for demonstration is thrown out and all flour and meal products are produced in modern mills under modern health standards. It all comes to the mill prepackaged and sold as a souvenir of your visit.
6. Where to you become an apprentice in todays world? They are very few actual operating mills around the country as compared to in years past. When I worked in several mills in Pennsylvania, in a nearby town high school students worked in a mill as part of a distributive educational program. Since World War Two most of the small rural mills have stopped operating and have disappeared. There are a number of historical mills around the country that have continued to operate commercially producing mainly organically grown grains that are milled using traditional millstones making a six figure profit each year. Like anything else, you have to know how to get rid of your product. This means that you don't maintain a large inventory of ground grain products in the mill and that you can't depend upon visitors coming into the mill to buy the products. These commercial mills usually have a hard time finding the time to have a training program while maintaining production standards.
7. If you live in Germany or Holland, this is where they take milling very seriously. They have high standards for training and instruction. it is often like the German apprenticeship programs, someone else may decide what your career pathways in life and what you trained to do. To get into a German milling school first you have to pass a test, and have worked in a mill for at least 5 years. It is very structured training and the milling groups in these countries are very organized with a long standard of support for these national treasures.
The trend in the flour milling industry has be focused in the direction of modern milling for a least the last hundred years. In publications (text books and trade journals), and in instruction and training have gone in the direction of modern milling. From time to time some trade journal publication would have an article per issue on an old mill but mainly with the focus of a curious archaic relic of the past. Milling societies in the United States and Canada, they have reprinted some old publications. These groups tend to focus in the direction of touring old mills. They don't focus on instruction, do it yourself or that you can do it as well, mainly upon what others have done. International milling groups, they tend to focus their attention upon reading and presenting technical papers. Their papers are of an academic nature and for the most part, have no practical experience behind them. Touring mills is secondary to their focus, and touring those mills they beleive have some sort of interest of study. They do not stress going out and buying a mill, restoring and operating it, or provide publications for the restoration, and operation of an historic mill. All of these groups efforts, they might have the main focus of their group subject matter could be about old castles. They maintain the view that mills like they are old castles, very expensive to purchase, even more expensive to restore, and the average person could never do it in their lifetime. You can look but do not touch.

One of the things that you should have in conjunction to operating an historic mill is a log book. This is kept in the mill, and should not go home. It maintains the days and hours of the mill's operation. The book should record days in which the mill is frozen or flooded out, and things like the weather conditions. Also thing that should be noted are grains ground, and how many pounds ground that particular day. The daily repairs of the machinery and any problems. This includes things like simple belt repair, and gear tooth, cog, rung or stave replacement. Who is the operator of the mill, and what staff in on duty each day. Special events and activities that day should be noted, along with daily visitation. This is recorded on a daily basis. When one book becomes full you placed it away for safe keeping and then you start new one. Records like volunteer hours, donations, and grain purchased, stored, thrown out, sold, money received, donations are kept in separate books for inventory and auditors.

Mills historically don't operate all the time unless you are a merchant mill. Mills break down, they are down because of maintenance and repairs. They are frozen up, and get flooded out. However, don't make money if they are not operating so often they may do make-shift repairs just to get back into operation. An historic mill if they are not operating, they may upset visitors who come a long distance to see the mill operate. Sometimes it is better to just tell visitors to phone ahead before coming that particular day. If they really want to see the mill operating should be instructed to make an appointment if they can be classified as a group. Any more than 5 visitors should be considered a group and needs to be scheduled. A mill located upon a stream can't from day to day insure a constant operating schedule. Because you are dependent upon the stream for power and because of the maintenance of the machinery. Custom or grist mills operated seasonally mainly at harvest time and only went farmers brought in grain for them to grind.

A water mill is not like a wind mill, that basically puts up a flag or a signal so people from a distance could know what the mill and the miller is doing. The four characteristic positions of the sails to be stopped in tell you the following: 1. Rest for a short time during a working period.
2. Rest for a longer period.
3. A"celebration" or in a "joy" position to commemorate a special event.
4. In a "mourning" position because of a sad event.
The further direction of this portion of the program will be discussed in the third portion of the training, that of Interpretation to the public.

Note read my web page entitled:

So You want a to be a Miller?
Position Description for a Mill Operator in an Historical Mill.

Return to Table of Contents

Maintenance and Repair of the Mill

Types of water wheels.

A. Vertical water wheels.

1. Undershot (undershot and flutter wheels). 20-40% efficient.
2. Breast shot (low, medium, and high breast shot wheels). Low breast 45-60% efficient. High breast 50-65% efficient.
3. Overshot (overshot and pitch-back wheels). 60-65% efficient.
4. Fitz and Campbell Water Wheels (steel overshoot wheels) up to 93% efficient.
Sometimes a water wheel is know by the point on a clock face that the water fills the buckets, or strikes the paddles or blades. For example a low breast shot water wheel may be known as a 4 o'clock wheel, while a high breast shot water wheel might be known as a 2 o'clock wheel, while a pitch-back water wheel may be known as a 11 o'clock wheel.

B. Horizontal water wheels. 1. Greek or Norse wheels. 20% or less efficient.
2. American tub wheels. 20-30% efficient.
3. Water turbine. 70-83% efficient.
Traditional types of mill gear drives are as follows: 1. Direct drive (early to later). These are mills in which a single pair of millstones is driven by a single water wheel. This means that the water wheel and the millstones are on the same spindle, or using direct drive. This form of drive is found with Greek, Norse and American tub mills.
2-A. Step drive (early). Originally on the inboard rim of the water wheel contains gear teeth that turns a lantern pinion. Then if the mill needed two pairs of millstone operating a second water wheel had to be added an so on.
2-B. Step drive (middle to later). This is a mill in which on the water wheel shaft is mounted a large gear wheel that turns a single lantern pinion in a vertical alignment above the shaft. If the mill has two pairs of millstones, the shaft is made longer and then another large gear wheel to turn a lantern pinion. The millstones are driven in a single step or transfer throw gears. Slip cogs are used to take one millstone out of drive and to engage the other.
3. Two Step drive (later). This includes two types, counter-gearing and great spur gear drive.
3-A. Counter-gearing (counter gears) is a system of two-step gears using a combination of face or spur gears, and wallowers to drive millstone spindles. The problem with counter gearing is that generally you can only drive two pairs of millstones from a single water wheel. They take a lot to maintain and operate, and are generally associated with mills with limited power and output. Counter gearing became obsolete in the 1700's in England, and the late 1700's in America for a better system of gearing known as great spur drive.
3-B. Great spur gear drive is a system of two-step gearing using a system of face gears, spur gears, and lantern or spur pinions (stone nuts) to drive millstone spindles. This method of driving millstones you can operate as many as 5 or 6 pairs of millstones (arranged in a circle) from a single water wheel. This system of milling is one in which the water wheel can generate more power, the gears develop less problems in operation, and the mills have a greater output capacity.
C. Combination mills that have both counter gearing and great spur drive to operate the millstones. The great spur drive system is the main system for operation the millstones on a daily production basis, and the counter gear driven millstones are used only for the secondary milling operations, such as grinding of buckwheat, rye, or corn.
Drive parts include: 1. The gudgeons, and bearings.
2. Master or greater face gears.
3. Lesser face gears.
4. Wallowers.
5. Lantern pinions or stone nuts.
5. Shafts.
6. Millstone engage and disengage systems.
Because of the industrial revolution and that for a time we were part of an English colony, England wanted to keep the industrial revolution from happening in its colonies. This meant that if it happened in England with the use of metal or cast iron in water wheels, it usually happened there a hundred years, before it happened here in America. This would also included things becoming obsolete in England before it became obsolete here in America? With the improvements of Oliver Evans in the 1780's American mills ceased to resemble English mills, and for the most part those improvements are not found in English mills. The traditional English country mill remained unchanged without begin effected by developments in the flour milling in the United States.

Barrels were used in packaging the flour in the Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Mills are often very dark places in which to work. Notice the lanterns hanging to left of the packer.
For another photos of the Washburn "A" Mill showing the same lanterns click HERE. These lanterns may have been the inspiration for the lanterns used in the Colvin Run Mill restoration.

Mill drives changed because of the introduction of metal, in the use of shafts, gears, drives, and water wheels. Water turbines would have never been developed if they were not made out of metal. With metal you can design and build shapes that you cannot build out of wood. In the 1840's-50's and towards the 1860's the millwrights became more of an installer of machinery rather than completely fabricating everything within the mill with the exception of the millstones. This means that the drive system of a water wheel mill is different than that of a turbine powered mill. A mill driven with a Fitz Water Wheel is like that of a turbine powered mill. Because of this a Fitz Water Wheel can become more efficient that a water turbine.

A water wheel turns very slowly because of the structure and nature of the wood. A water wheel can only turn so many revolutions per minute. This is dependent upon the diameter of the water wheel, the larger the water wheel the slower it turns. So to power the millstones using a water wheel the gear ratios go up. This means that the water wheel turns at a much slower rate than that of the millstones. The average gear ratio is twelve to one. A water turbines turns as fast or faster than the desired speed of the millstones along with most other machinery within the mill. So with a water turbine, the gear ratios usually go down or you power down to obtain the correct speed. A turbine powered mill usually only has gears to change the direction of the power from vertical to horizontal or vice versa. The millstones and other machinery is usually driven by drive belts.

Because the average wooden water wheel and gear system are made out of wood, this means that it is still a living thing. It does not matter that it no longer looks like a tree. It is still effected by seasonal and climatic conditions. This means that if the miller never could go outside or look outside, the machinery of the mill would tell him when the season change. It is like a barrel hoop, sometimes of the year, every time you look at the barrel a hoop has dropped to the floor. Then other times of the year, you could not pry loose a hoop. This is the same way with the wooden wedges that hold the gears in position. After a while you will learned when you have to almost daily tighten the wedges and other times of the year they don't have to be checked as often. Wedges should be replaced when they become water logged because they will no longer hold tight, they will slip. If they become broken, split or rotten they should be replaced. You should only use a wooden mallet on wooden wedges. If you have a metal hammer, then you should use a wooden pounding block between the wedge and the hammer. Some wedges that have to hold tight all the time can be held in place with a single nail driven into the shaft behind the back of the wedge. If you are driving the wedge beyond where you once placed a nail then you need to replace the wedge. If you feel that you need to place a nail in the wedge to hold it tight, then drill a hole in the wedge. The wedges should be made out of the same material as that of the water wheel and the gears.

The metal bands around the gear wheels should be checked to see if they have slipped, and the shafts for rot, and decay. If you see mold growing on the surface of the wood, that means that the roots have found their way already deep into the wood. The problem may quickly become greater than just surface rot. Use you pocket knife to check the wood of a shaft. If the point of the knife blade sinks into the shaft like butter then you need to replace the shaft. Many of the beams in the hurst or husk frame can move by wedging to maintain alignment of the gears and the shafts. The gears can be aligned on the shafts as well.

Traditionally wooden water wheels and shafts are made out of seasoned white oak. Cypress wood can be used for the bucket boards. A wooden bearing can lost longer than any metal bearing, as long as it is maintained and lubricated properly. A wooden bearing should be basically hand tightened. If a wooden bearing is tightened too tight, then it will overheat. If it is too loose then the journal will wear the bearing hole larger or out of round. The advantage of the wooden bearing over the wooden one is that the cell structure of the wood becomes an additional reservoir for the lubricant. If a wooden bearing becomes hot on the outside then you have problems often in the inside. They should remain relatively cool on the outside. Sometimes wooden bearings have metal or brass inserts. Wooden bearings are lubricated either by lifting off the top bearing cover or by use of an oil hole. Some vertical shaft bearings have a grease collar that gradually allows grease to find its way into the journal shaft. Sometimes between both bearing halves there is a gasket usually of cardboard material. The bottom bearing is either bolted to the bearing support and or wedged in place. Wedging is often used to align the bearing besides wedging the bearing support beam. Stone (usually granite or soapstone), oak, osage orange or other woods can be used as bearing materials.

Wooden gear teeth, staves or rungs and cogs are usually made out of rock maple, hickory and apple wood. This is made of seasoned wood like that of the water wheels, shaft and bearings. Often the wooden teeth are boiled in raw linseed oil to impregnate the wood with lubricant and to harden the surface. Using boiled linseed oil will not have the same desired effect. If a wooden gear tooth is properly lubricated and aligned it can last 50 to 75 years. If it is not properly lubricated and aligned it can wear away to uselessness in a single day. Lubrication can be anything even water. Traditionally the lubricant used by millers was tallow. The problem with using tallow is that it is made out animal fats, and it can turn rancid, and attract insects and rodents. In the old nursery rhyme that went "Hickory dickory dock the mouse ran up the clock." The reason that the mouse ran up the clock was to gnaw on the wooden gear teeth to get the grease. This is why when you find old clocks that still have their original gears the gears have been thoroughly cleaned are not used. Petroleum grease should never be used on wooden gears. The best lubricant to use on wooden gears and bearings is lithium grease. It can come in grease cartridges so it can be used in grease guns. Modern grease even comes in colors, it can be purchased in a non-toxic form for foodstuffs, and can be purchased in a form that is less likely to sling off with the turning motion of the gears. On wooden gear teeth I like to used a mixture of raw linseed oil and graphite. Powdered graphite that can be found in most hardware stores in little plastic tubes, and the linseed oil can be purchased in various size cans or drums. You heat the mixture just to bath temperature before applying. In time the old and the excess forms a gel which can be scrapped off with out damaging the wood.

Wooden gear teeth are held in place usually with wooden pins or dowel rods inserted through holes in the back shank were it comes through the gear housing. Gear teeth in great spur wheels are held in place with keys placed in the back of the gear shanks. Wooden cogs on vertical gear wheels are held in place by splitting the shank of the cog and expanding the shank with a wooden wedge. Wooden cogs on horizontal wheels with the cogs facing up can just be placed in the cog hole without wedges or pins. It is just the horizontal wheel with the cogs facing down that need to be secured into place. Sometimes a wooden tooth will come loose, or if it breaks you can hear it. If you break one or loose one out of a gear wheel, you should be able to continue operating the mill with one missing tooth depending upon where it is located. If you have to replace a tooth or cog with a new one, they will make the gear run rough until the new one(s) is worn down to the condition of all the others. Sometimes it is easier just to replace them all. Millers usually saved the old teeth to often replace the broken one with an ready worn in one.

Wooden gear teeth and cogs should only show signs of wear on one side. If you look at a set of gear teeth, one could tell the direction in which the water wheel turns by just looking at the wear patterns. In the wooden gear teeth of Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., the teeth of the great spur wheel and wallower gear have wear on both sides. This is because the gears and the teeth have been operated by the 1930's built breast shot water wheel and then the replacement 1969-71 overshot water wheel, which the entire system now needs replacement. The wooden gear teeth used in the Burwell Morgan Mill restoration that came out of the nearby Jackson's Mill were heavily scalloped on both sides (they had no shoulders) of the gear teeth because they were worn out to begin with. For years they took this to be the standard of gear teeth and would pay to have new ones made that were already worn out to begin with.

Oliver Evans advocated the use of metal rungs or staves in lantern pinion and wallower gears. A metal sleeve is used to replace the original all wood rungs (which look like rolling pins when out of the gear wheels), and a wooden dowel is inserted down the center that holds them in place. The Colvin Run Mill, at Great Falls (Drainsville), Virginia, makes use of this application in its 1972 restoration by a Canadian millwright and engineer Clifford Currie. Mr. Currie also did the restoration of the Duff Roblins Mill in Black Creek Village outside of Toronto, Canada, a five story Oliver Evans mill also complete with a hopper-boy. The metal sleeves work much the same way as slip cogs that are used to take a driven wheel out of gear. Smaller wooden cogs often have the lead corners shaved off on a diagonal to eliminate the break in wear time required for the gears to wear in smooth. This is fine as long as one or two of them don't become loose and rotate to the exposing the full shoulder of the cog which would cause it to bind. As long as the gear wheels are aligned to each other, you should have more problems with gear teeth and cogs coming loose (working their way out of the sockets and falling out of gear) that ones that would break.

A hunting cog is an odd number of cogs in a gear wheel so that when they rotate they will be always searching for a new series of slots or other cogs to match up with. This is so they are not always turning in the same cogs or teeth in the opposite gear and would cause wear patterns. Hunting cogs create a more even amount of wear. Sometimes people have made gears smaller to increase speeds or unknowingly eliminate the odd number of cogs thinking that both wheels should have an even number. It is not always the case and sometimes things are left better off alone. If you have to think you have to make a gear wheel smaller to increase speed, then you have another problem and it may be better to increase one wheel rather than decrease another. If you change the diameter of a gear wheel then you also change the pitch circles.

The water wheel bearing and gears should be lubricated each day that the mill is operated. The millstone spindle bearing needs to be lubricated about once in every three months, and should be checked and lubricated each time the millstones are dressed. If you have bearings and gears on the upper floor above the grinding level, then then need to be lubricated less often, perhaps once a week.
Don't lubricate the wooden gears and cogs by turning on the water wheel and holding out a brush or paddle and letting it rap against the teeth. This is not an acceptable method of lubricating the gears. It is dangerous and can have the same awful effect as trying to remove a moving belt with a broom handle or the claw of a hammer. If you can't turn the gears and the water wheel to get to the teeth that are meshed together, do what you can do, and then turn the wheel some until the ones you missed become unmeshed where you can get them. You can put oil into an oil hole in the bearing when it is running but the best practices is to do all maintenance and lubrication on the machinery when it is not in motion, and locked down for safety.

Number One Safety Rule: When you are going home for the day lock the water wheel. If you are going to go work in the machinery, lock the water wheel. If you are going to change operation from one millstone for another, always have one of them engaged. If the water wheel is out of balance or has standing water in it, you can cause serious damage to people and the machinery if you suddenly disengage the millstone or lift up a millstone off the spindle for dressing. if you are going to disengage the water wheel, lift the runner stone and turn it over by hand to check for balance and water in the buckets. As soon as you turn your back, if you have an external water wheel visitors will climb inside or on top of the water wheel. If it begins to turn some one can get seriously get hurt or killed. You should always lock the wheel at night or when the mill is not in operation. Never allow the water wheel to freely turn and idle.

This means that before you operate the mill each day, you should check the water wheel for being in balance. Find a place were you can safely turn the water wheel by moving its arms. If a water wheel is in balance and aligned, it should be relatively easy to turn. The Fitz Water Wheel Company advertised that a small boy could turn one of their water wheels by using a single finger. If the bearings are too tight, then that can make it harder to turn. Once you get it turning it should become easier to turn. If when you stop the wheel it begins to turn in the opposite direction then it is out of balance. The average wooden water wheel can weight 4 thousand pounds and once it becomes water logged it can weight 10 thousand pounds. So an out of balance water wheel can have a lot of power in it even without any water in the buckets.

Meal bin sifters or country mill sifters, were used as the first mechanical means of sifting or bolting. These sifters are mounted above a meal bin found in the mill's basement. Originally they were operated by an eccentric that was comprised of several pegs sticking out of the top of the millstone lantern pinion and a hinged lever that moves the sifter screen back and forth. The one end of the sifter can be adjusted higher or lower to aid in the process of better sifting. Later these sifters were driven off of leather belts from a pulley on the millstone spindle that turns a small pulley and an eccentric that connects the head of the sifter box tray. The lower tail end rests on a pin atop a wooden springs attached to the one side of the meal bin. The tailings fall into a barrel, or sack hung under the tail end of the sifter. The sifter screen usually contains a single mesh screen that sifts the bran out of corn, or wheat. Several screens can be used in the sifter screen and a box or container placed in the meal bin for an additional separation. Such as unbleached white flour, wheat middlings and wheat bran, or corn flour, grits, and corn bran.

Generally leather belts in a mill are not fixed by the miller or his helper until they break or just will no longer stay on the pulleys. Modern belt dressing can be purchased in tubes or spray cans. Traditionally the millers mixed flour with linseed oil and used that as belt dressing. Up until around 1900-10, millers hand laced the leather belting with leather lacing. After that metal or alligator clips, and wire staples were used. Use what is period appropriate for your mill's time period. The alligator clips are placed into the belting with a hammer and the wire stapled are placed into the leather with a lacing machine. Leather belting can also be glued together. My experience is that leather lacing is stronger and breaks less often. Several reasons leather belts will no longer stay on the pulleys is when the belt becomes stretched, you suddenly jerk the machinery (by suddenly starting or stopping it), or when the pulleys become out of align to each other. Generally the gears or cog wheel on the upper floors are the only ones that can be engaged or disengaged without stopping the machinery. Any drive gears in the mill's basement can't take the sudden load of being engaged while the machinery is turning. In later mill setups you find clutches on line shafts that are meant to be engaged or disengaged while the mill is running.

For safety reasons never stand on the edge of the hurst or husk frame, or climb into it when the water wheel or gears are turning or operating. Never allow visitors to do so even for that once in a lifetime photo. If some part of the machinery needs attention stop the mill first. Never climb on a ladder near moving machinery or get near it with loose clothing. A mill has a lot of power behind the machinery, and it does not care or discriminate between grinding grain or people. If something is about to break do not be afraid to tell all visitors to exit the mill. They have no right to be inside of the mill if their life suddenly becomes in danger. Sometimes gears can fail were it is better that everyone exit the mill and the miller returns to pick up the pieces after the damage is done.

The late James Lockhart and Hal Hodge built a grist mill in Silver Dollar City, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, using six pieces of metal that were welded together to form a driver. The wedges on the driver broke, before the mill operator could get the mill stopped the millstones started to suck the pieces in between the millstones. This caused the runner millstone to jump the spindle and destroying the millstone cover, several pieces of machinery and going through a 14 inch square log wall before coming to rest outside of the mill.

Note read my web page entitled:

The Operation and Maintenance of a Traditional Wooden Water Wheel.

Learn the following skills:

1. Leather belt lacing.
2. Scoop and paddle making.
3. Wooden wedge making.
Tools and materials: 1. Belt lacing, punches, utility knife, straight edge, and mallet.
2. Belt clamp.
3. Bearing grease, grease gun, and tubes of grease.
4. Lubricant for wooden gear teeth and brush or paddle.
5. Wedges, mallet and pounding block.
6. Level.
7. Replacement sifter screen or cloth, tacks, staples and staple gun, brads, and hammers.
8. Wrenches, putty knife or scraper.
9. Ladder.
10. Hand cleaner and rags.

Return to Table of Contents

Operate Mill and Produce Flour and Meal

In demonstrating the operation of the mill often one must make some modern sacrifices for the sake of historical accuracy. Grain is no longer brought to the mill by farmers in costume with horse and wagons. Mills have modern intrusions such as electrical lighting, sales and information desks, exhibits and displays, safety barriers and fences, handrails, exit signs and fire fighting equipment. All one can try and do is create the feelings of the past, and demonstrated in the best way as one can show how it was done. Most mills are not restored or operate to do real first person interpretation. In the majority of mills what is done is costume or third person interpretation.

Because of modern health standards or considerations grain often finds it way into an historical mill from a modern mill where it is cleaned and placed in a sealed paper sacks. The miller should always open the sack and inspect it visually before it is poured into the hopper or the mill's system. Flour and meal keep better as grain. Flour, meal and grain keep better when stored in a refrigeration or preferably a freezer unit. Very few restored historic mills have the luxury of having a walk in freezer unit to store the grain and ground product.

There are two schools of thought on how you should start a mill. On involves placing the grain the millstone hopper. First raise the runner millstone as far upward as it will go on its linkage. Then turn on the wheel, and wait for the water wheels, gears and millstones go begin to pick up speed, you slowly lower the runner stone down to adjust the stones for the desired grind. By this time grain should have worked its way between the two millstones, and the stones can be slowly brought closer to each other to adjust the grind. The other also involves having placed the grain in the millstone hopper. The millstones are together and then you turn on the water onto the wheel, when you gradually raise the runner stone every thing should begin to turn and once it reaches the desired speed the millstones are adjusted for the desired grind.

There are several schools of thought on how one should stop the mill. One method involves shutting off the flow water to the wheel, and when it begins to slow down you raise the runner stone. When the water has emptied itself from all of the buckets the wheel should stop and the two millstones can then be placed together. A second method is just to turn off the water to the wheel and allow the mill to grind to a halt. Then the runner stone can be raised to clear out the remaining water from the wheel. Still another method is to push an extra handful of grain into the millstones and gradually bring them together. The added weight of the two stones coming together with a cushion of grain between them should over take the weight of the water and stop the mill. The last method puts more strain on the gears and but is the best method of stopping the mill quickly. It is used to quickly stop the mill is someone is caught in the machinery or by millers doing off and on demonstration of grinding. If the gear teeth are worn too much it can snap them like match stick but it someone is caught in the machinery you take that risk.

The miller uses his sense of smell, sound and touch to adjust the grain for grinding. If the millstones begin to smell from over heated stone, either their is not enough grain going between the millstones or they are out of balance. Overheated meal and flour burns up the gluten with allows the bread to rise. The miller does not want to place to much pressure upon the grain because it might loosen the oil out of germ and release it into the flour which would quickly cause it to turn rancid. Flour meal should come out of the millstones only slightly warm, and not overheated or hot. If the grain has too much moisture in it, it will tend grind overheated or excessively warm.

Grinding Different Grains

The grinding of each type of grain is different and requires different skills and knowledge. The amounts of dust and smells from each type of grain is different. Generally millers say it takes no great experience or ability to grind corn into meal. Usually any way that you grind it, some how it will still make corn bread. It takes real skill upon the miller part to grind wheat and other grains. The following chapters provide so information about each type of grain that is ground in mills.

1. Buckwheat. Dutch and German settlers brought buckwheat to New Amsterdam in 1626. Buckwheat is an herb which black triangular seeds are used as a cereal grain. Since it is an herb it has no gluten which caused bread to rise, and it is mainly used to make pancakes, Japanese noodles and French crepes. The Russians use buckwheat to make a distinctive black beer. Buckwheat is natures highest source of protein in the plant kingdom, even more than soy beans. Buckwheat has a black hull or covering to the seed or groat. The hull is a non digestible food stuff and is used to stuff Japanese dolls and pillows, and as ground cover by hunters when they set traps to cover or mask their scent, and mulch. Often buckwheat is hulled before it is ground to removed the hulls. The raw seeds are roasted and then the groats is used to make kasha. Buckwheat grows best in very rock and poor soils often where other grains will not grow. It actually improves the soil and then allows other things to grow. When the pioneers often first cleared the ground, they would first plant buckwheat. Buckwheat by its nature does not like heat or warm weather. So buckwheat is mainly grown in New York, Pennsylvania, parts of Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan. Buckwheat also requires bees to pollinate the flower. The top of the plant covered with heart shaped triangular leaves is a pinkish white flower. Buckwheat seeds are bitter and the honey it produces is dark and think like black strap molasses so not everyone likes it. It is often called the poor man's crop, because sometimes you don't get as much back from a field as to what it takes to plant it. When you order buckwheat to mill make sure you tell the supplier that you want buckwheat for mill and not the buckwheat seeds that have been treated for planting. The seed planting buckwheat has a pinkish covering to it. Buckwheat is very dusty when it is ground and requires finer screen than what would be used to grind whole wheat or corn meal. It basically needs a 32 mesh screen to sift out the silkily grayish flour. The dust from buckwheat is not explosive like that of wheat, rye, oats and barley. It is used to produce buckwheat flour, buckwheat cereal or cream of buckwheat, buckwheat middlings and buckwheat hulls.

2. Rye. Rye is also very dusty when it is ground and it has a distinctive smell to it. The problem with mills grinding rye is the fungus called ergot. It has basically the same chemical composition as LSD, even after it is ground and baked into bread. The fungus is purple in color when it is immature but when it matures it becomes the same color as the rye seeds. It is also the same size and shape as the rye so it is hard to distinguish from the rye kernels. Whole towns in Germany and France have flipped out on eating contaminated or rotten rye bread. This is what may have caused the girls of Salem to trip out and make others think they are witches. Rye can be ground into whole rye flour, much like whole wheat with the rye bran is sifted out. There is dark rye flour or meal, the lighter being sifted like white wheat flour. Rye is also ground with wheat to produce Bohemian rye flour. Pumpernickel is the part of rye known as middlings, this is used to make pumpernickel bread, and contains the most gluten which would make the best bread. This dark rye flour got its name during the Napoleonic Wars, it is said one day when Napoleon walked into a German bakery. Napoleon picked up a handful of this course grayish meal and asked the German bakers what are you going to do with this? A German baker answered, "We are going to make bread out of it." Napoleon came back with the remark, "Why, this is not fit to feed my horse!" You have to remember that French bread is white, and the French said the heck with rye breads because of the problems ergot. Napoleon's horse was named Nicholl, the word pumpernickel means "Not fit to feed Nicholl." Rye bran is much easier to digest and has a much more mild taste than that of wheat bran, it melts in your mouth.

3. Soft Wheat. Wheat that is grown in the eastern United States is mainly referred to as soft wheat or English wheat. In New England the soils are very rocky and poor. The New Englanders did not like wheat. They also had problems in growing wheat, and they preferred rye over wheat. When they made corn bread they made something called "rye and injun," which was made out of corn meal and rye flour. New Amsterdam was a early flour milling center when the Dutch controlled it. Wheat grown in New York State did not make good bread, because of the wet climate. It rains too much and it effects the gluten levels in the wheat. So then wheat grown in Virginia was superior for making breads. This is why the Shenandoah Valley became the bead basket of the South. Early wheat flour milling centers of the United States were along the Erie Canal in Rochester, the Brandywine, Wilmington, Ellicott City, Georgetown, Occoquan and Richmond. Richmond was the largest flour milling center in the United States up until the time of the American Civil War. English wheat or soft wheat is low in gluten and high in white endosperm. It makes a good white or pastry flour but actually makes a poor bread flour. It can easily clog chutes and screens if the moisture level is too high.

Miller's for centuries have tempered and conditioned the wheat before they ground it. They would place it into a bin and sprinkle water on it. Then they would turn it over once and a while in a period of 24 to 72 hours. What tempering and conditioning does for the wheat is that it toughens up the bran so when they grind the wheat, the bran comes off in a larger flake. So the bran is not as brittle and does not break itself in to fine particles which would become harder to sift out. There were some mills built in central to eastern Pennsylvania that were built just to produce pretzel flour, and when the pretzel bakeries closed down so did some of the mills.

The wheat middlings is also known as ship biscuit or red dog, because it was used to make ship's biscuits and it is reddish brown in color. Ship's biscuits were effected by moisture and would become buggy or wormy on ship voyages. The problem being that it contained the part of the wheat, the wheat germ that most attracted insects and it turned rancid very quickly. Red dog was named for a Native American Indian Chief named Red Dog who agreed to take all of the middlings a New England miller could supply them with. Originally the wheat middlings and bran were termed as offals. Offal to get rid of and often they threw them into the creek. It was not until about the time of the American Civil War did millers think to use these ingredients to make animal feeds.

4. Hard Wheat. Hard wheat was brought to the western plans of the United States and Canada by the Mennonites in the 1860's from the Ukraine. It was used to make dark peasant breads. The wheat is meant to be grown in an arid climate. This wheat is a hard wheat which contains very little endosperm but a higher amount of gluten which makes it a better bread flour. The bran from hard wheat is also stronger and more bitter to the taste than that of soft wheat. It is harder to grind on non French millstones and was one of the reason that roller mill grinding became a better alternative. The roller system turned this inferior wheat into a superior white wheat flour. Hard wheat is mixed with soft wheat to make all-purpose flour because it is good for both purposes, that of making bread and for the making of cakes.

5. Barley. Barley is mainly ground into flour and meal in Scotland, Ireland, and parts of eastern Canada. Barley flour is mainly used as a thickener in soups and as a porridge. Barley is pearled before it is ground which means the bran is rubbed off. Also in these parts of the world, oats are ground in mills.

6. Oats. Often like mills build in New York State just to grind buckwheat, many mills were built only to grind oats. Oats suffer from moisture problems in milling and with the stored product. The big problem with oats is the terribly indigestible hull which had to be removed before grinding or sometimes afterwards in the sifting. Rabbits won't even use it for bedding. The hulls from oats is worse than corn bran in that it also tares up your insides. Oat mills were built with separate kilns which heated the oats to crack open the hull, so it could be removed using a pair of hulling stones. Oats is used to grind oat flour, oat meal, and only recently oat bran has become popular. Oats were milling in Ohio for German immigrants. They discovered that if oars were rolled by using rollers made out of French millstone material it eliminated the problems with moisture. The common rolled or steel cut oats is oats that have been flatten on a pair of roller mills which greatly destroys the nutritional value of the oat meal and therefore it is mainly eaten for its fiber. The fiber eaten in oat meal is similar to the fiber found in cardboard. Oat meal made upon millstones has a superior taste and flavor to it as compared to commercially produced oat meals. Mills can also grind rice, millet, soy beans, peas, and other grains.

Grist Miller, Grist Mill, Falco, Florida. A rural corn mill that was constructed to grind corn.

7. Corn. The word "corn" is the European and English generic word to describe all grains, mainly wheat, rye, oats and barley. They call what we know as corn, maze. In England and Europe corn is not widely grown or used as a food by people or animals. So in England a traditional corn mill would grind anything but what we know as corn. The two wars, the American Revolution and the War of 1812, American made a conscious effort to separate ourselves from all things English. So about this time what was commonly referred to as maze to American became know as corn. A common mistake in reading an early document that makes reference to a "corn mill" is often interpreted to mean a mill that grinds corn or maze, but in fact is like an English corn mill that may grind anything and everything but corn or maze.

Corn has no export value, it does not keep for long periods, and was mainly ground by custom mills. The type of corn that is ground into corn meal is field corn. In the North they prefer the yellow corn, and in the South they prefer the white corn. In the North they commonly say that they use the yellow corn and the corn that was not good enough to turn "yellow" they feed to the animals. Corn did not become a popular food staple in the South until the American Civil War. Basically the soldiers got the white wheat flour and the people who remained at home got the brown flour or corn meal. In central and eastern Pennsylvania, the local custom is to roast the corn before it is milled in a peanut roaster. This gives it a very nutty aromatic favor to it. Corn is very difficult to digest and cows mainly eat it for roughage. Corn is milled into bolted and unbolted corn meal, grits, and corn flour. Corn bran is fed to the chickens, because it is too coarse and rough for humans to eat. Hominy corn is made by soaking the corn in lye water which dissolves the outer bran covering and changes the chemical composition of corn to make it more easily digestible by humans. The original source of lye was wood ashes as used in making lye soap which could not have made it very attractive before processed lye was used. Not all corn will pop, it is a specially grown corn that pops.

How to Grind Grain into Flour and Meal

The first step is to decide what type of grain that you are going to grind. If your mill only grinds corn then that is an easy decision to make. You should grind the oldest grain that you have in the mill first. One reason to buy grain from modern mills that clean it before hand, and seal it up into 50 pound paper sacks is that it becomes easy to date each sack as to when it was received in the mill. Eared corn used in corn shelling demonstrations will become buggy the quickest. It should be stored in metal containers like garbage cans preferable in the mill but in an out building away from where the grain is stored that is ground during demonstrations. Soft wheat seems to be the next one that seems to go buggy, then corn, hard wheat and finally buckwheat. Storage time depends upon temperature. During the summer months you simply order and keep less grain in the mill than what a mill would have on hand in the fall, winter and spring. Most of the grains ground in the mill would be ground during the three months of fall, winter and spring. Most visitors would think of visiting an old mill during theses three season like they would think more about using it in the kitchen.

Master Miller Charles Howell and Mill Cat Dusty.

The Master Miller checks the quality of the ground meal emerging from the spout opening in the "stone case,:" the circular wooden frame surrounding the working pair of millstones. A top the stone case is the "horse" or "hopper ladder," a four-legged wooden Frame which holds in position the "hopper," which feeds the grain into the "shoe," a tapering wooden trough through which the grain is feed into the stones. The ground meal exits the stones by way of a "spout" or "chute" into the "meal bin."

The ideal thing is for the miller to know his grain. Open each sack before it is ground before hand, and then tie it closed until it is ground later that day. You don't want to pour a sack of grain in the millstone hopper to grind it, and have visitors notice bugs crawling in it. So the miller should inspect the grain daily during the warm summer months and once a wheel during the rest of the year.

Once you start operating the mill, the grain will begin to fall into the eye of the millstones. You have to grind about 20 to 25 pounds or what ever amount it takes to lay a bed of ground meal around the millstones underneath the cover for a regular flow to come out the millstone chute. If the millstones are too close together and there is not enough grain between the millstones you will smell the stones getting hot. There is also the difference in the sound of the grain getting ground, and the stones rubbing together. If the mill slows down you may have the stones too close together or the feed too heavy. Operating a mill is like operating a machine in a machine shop. You have "speed," the amount of water going over the wheel. The idea being that the more water you have, the more grain you can ground, and the less water the slower it will grind. Second you have "feed," this is the amount of grain that you have going into the millstones. It does not work like the more grain you have going into the stones the more you will grind and the less you have the less you grind. The feed is a balancing factor, between speed and the final factor being "cut." Cut is the distance between the millstones that determines how course or fine you are grinding the grains. If the millstones are at a set distance apart, you can only put so much grain between that space, with out increasing the speed. If you do, then you will over load the millstones and they will choke down much like a car gets too much gas. The same is true if they get too little grain, they will over speed and not allow the grain to get properly ground and tend to come out unground or mixed with cut or pieces of whole grains.

Added to the balancing act of grinding with millstones besides how much grain you want to grind in a set period of time, is the problems of moisture. Too little and too much moisture will effect the mills ability to grind the grain correctly. Then if the millstones are not dressed properly or are dull, then it take more labor and strain to grain the grains. You can tell this by looking at the bran, if the stones need dressing or not. Millstones that need dressing with tare the bran rather than scrapping it off in a nice flake. If every time you turn around, you have to readjust the stones to maintain the same grind, then the millstones needed balancing and leveling. If the millstones are out of balance you will hear the runner stone hitting the bottom millstone as it rotates. Normally if the stones are in balance and level, then they should be run all day without having to tend to them as long as they are given the water and the grain. If the millstones are out of balance when they strike each other they can send a shower of sparks that can ignite the dust in the flour. They also can suddenly begin to reduce the grit of the stone into the flour. Normally when millstones are dressed they much be purged to remove the stone chips by grinding 50 to 75 pounds of grain that is then thrown away.

One of the things that the student miller has to learn how to do is listen in the back of his head to the machinery while they are interacting with the public. A real miller would not have this problem. However, the miller in an historical mill has to learn a greater variety of skills beyond the milling of grain and producing flour and meal.

The miller always has to listen to the speed of the millstones. The sudden speeding up of the stones means that less grain is going into the millstones which usually means the volume of grain moving from the hopper to the shoe is running low. The sudden slowing down of the millstones may mean a change in the moisture content of the grain or some visitor has changed the feed without you noticing. The smell of the millstones means that less grain is going into the stones and they are getting hot, or the millstones are out of balance and they are rubbing together. The millstone spindle bearing if it is too tight around the spindle or not lubricated with slow down the millstones. Then also if it is out of grease then it wall cause the stones to chatter.

The miller some times has to make makeshift repairs. The leather strip that holds the bottle weight may break or the bottle weigh come off. The crook string may break or come off of the twist peg or miller's willow. I have had the miller's willow even break. Sometimes the damsel may come off the balance rynd, and you have to get the stones stopped before it gets sucked between the stones. Even the mill chute that connects to the millstones on the underside in the basement may come loose in time. Anything can happen. It is like having an old car, sooner or latter you will have to replace everything.

If you are grinding soft wheat with too much moisture with can clog around underneath the millstones cover and stop the flour coming down the chute. The sifters or bolters can over load and not sift properly, and suddenly you get more tailing out that what you normally want. Chutes can clog from the webs of miller's moths as the ground meal starts to collect and stop the flow. If the shelled corn has pieces of corn cob in it, then you might want to stand at the hopper and pick out the pieces of corn cobs. The same might be the case if the grain has other types of grain mixed in it or pieces of sticks or stock. I have been to a seven story commercial flour mill in Ohio that was built in 1874. One of the owners of the mill was proud to show the newest piece of mill machinery they had recently added at that time. A stoner, a machine that removes stones from the wheat. We stood there, and ever few seconds another stone would shoot out of the machine, and fall into one of the two buckets underneath the machine. I asked him what did you do before you got this machine? He did not have an answer, because the stones got ground into the flour. This may be fine to add a few more minerals to a mill that grinds 125 to 600 thousands pounds of wheat every 24 hour period, but not a good practice to allow visitors to witness foreign matter mixed in with the grain get ground in a demonstration mill. Basically in a large modern merchant mill, there is no one watching the wheat all the time as it flows into the milling system to catch any foreign matter mixed in the wheat. The basic approach you take with visitors is that because demonstration mill grinds a small limited amount, you can take more care in the grinding of the grain, bagging the product and in cleaning than in a commercial milling operation. In a commercial milling operation that runs 24 hours a day, they do some regular daily cleaning but to fully clean the entire mill they have to do a total shut down. The millstone hopper should have covers to protect the grain from visitors touching it or from contamination.

The miller uses what is commonly known as the "miller's touch" to judge the quality of his grind. Even in a modern mill instruments can't completely replace the miller. The miller catches a hand full of ground material in his open hand. He first closes his hand and then opens it. If it falls through his fingers like sand, then there is too little moisture in the grain. If it holds together like it is made out of clay, then there is too much moisture in the grain. It should somewhat clump together and break apart in his open palm. The miller next then rubs some of it between his thumb and index finger to just the coarseness or fineness of the grind. Then finally he spreads it back and forth with his index finger across the open palm of the other hand to examine the particle size and shape of the bran. It the millstone need dressed the miller can tell that by how it grinds and looks in his hands.

The old saying amongst millers is that when you grind wheat flour to judge the quality of the grind, it should be as soft as rubbing your two fingers around your ear lobe. And to grind corn meal it should feel as rough as the bottom of your big toe. The ground grain should only feel slightly warm to the touch or lukewarm, and not over heated or hot. You should not operate the millstones with too much pressure upon the grain. If there is too much pressure it can cause the oil in the germ to be released into the flour and cause it to quickly turn rancid. Just as burnt flour will not rise if the gluten is burned up or over heated.

Perhaps one of the best methods to learn how to mill flour, is to go out and purchase a similar bag of stone ground flour or meal that you think is good quality. Open the bag and try to grind the same texture and quality with the mill as in the sample of one you admire. In time you should be able to grind and sift flour that visitors could not distinguish from the one that you purchased. This can be done for one of the grades of sifted flour and so then you would also learn what the missing grades of flour would look like as well. If your unbleached white flour and bran looks like the commercial grades, then your middlings should also be similar to the grade you are missing. Save the samples of the various grades (in tubes or jars) that you think is of good quality to show to visitors and for later reference.

Why do mills appeal to us? It is because you get immediate results. The farmers take love and care in plowing their fields, sowing in their seeds, and waiting for the right time to harvest the grains. The miller puts love and care into maintaining the machinery of his mill, and how he dresses the millstones. Them the farmer brings his grain to the mill to have it ground so he can take it home to his family. As soon as, the warm ground meal or flour falls out of the millstones chute upon the miller's open hand, the miller, he knows right then and there, if it is going to make good bread or not. He already knows before the farmer takes it home to his wife. A child you have to wait 20 years or so to discover if it is going to turn out good or not. This is what the miller knows in an instant. If the miller tells you to take this home and it will make good bread, he knows what he is talking about.

The saying goes, "Mills and wives are always wanting." Mills make terrible masters, and require constant attention. The more a mill is operated, the more it is maintained, and in the long run you should have less problems with it. If you restore a mill the best policy is to run the heck out of it. It is when you start operating a mill intermittently or on an off on basis is when you develop problems with it. Mills that operate once a month or once a year for a special event or festival can't generally have all wooden water wheels and gearing.

First of all you need to feel comfortable operating the machinery. The visitors can sense if you are afraid of the machinery. Don't get so involved with interacting with the visitors that you ignore the machinery. If you can't talk to visitors, along with being able to stand there bagging flour and keep the mill foremost in your mind, then you need someone to stand there and interpret the mill for you. If something is wrong or about to break with the machinery, the mill comes first. You have to be able to interpret your conversation or interpretation to attend to the mill. This is part of demonstrating the operation of a mill is to start and stop it as needed. Don't allow disaster to happen and the machinery to break down for the sake of interpretation. If the visitors are interested they will wait until you stop the mill.

Mills are operated by the miller's use of his senses, of sight, sound, smell, touch, and vibration. The miller should know by using his sight if gears are turning out of round to the shaft or not properly aligned to each other. If a belt is about to jump off, or if the elevator cups have jammed. The miller can only use his powers of sight on the floor in which he is located at the time. To sense the operation of on the other floors, the miller has to use his senses of sound and vibration. If a miller is located on one floor of a mill with four levels of turning machinery, he should be able to know when something is wrong on another floor. Even in the miller is taking to a room full of 50 to 75 visitors, it becomes like an alarm clock going off in his head. The mill when it is operating, and every thing is the way it should be, it should make very little noise. It is an old wives tale that mills are noisy. Mills and the machinery makes a noise when there is a problem that is how it tells you there is something wrong. In reality the miller should be able to turn the mill on and go to sleep. If something requires his attention then the alarm clock in his brain when the slightest change occurs with the machinery.

If the millstone hopper begins to get low, the miller should know by using is senses of sound, the gears and the water wheel begin to speed up because there is less resistance between the millstones. Visually the gears should start turning faster and less ground material begins to come out of the chute. The millstones with less grain between them should begin to smell because they are heating up. These are signs or warning for the miller to stop what he is doing, and either add more grain to the hopper or stop the mill.

If the millstones should run empty, bad things can happen. One of them being that the water wheel and the gears can over speed, and the cogs and gear teeth break like match sticks. Second the millstones will no longer have grain going between them and they loose their natural heat distribution. The turning millstones so close together with no grain can build up enough heat to cause them to crack or burst apart.

Usually the miller, or mill operation make the best mill interpreter. They know the mill, inside and out, and how the grain is ground. When I walk into a mill and hear the miller say something to the effect that, "The rocks mash up the grain into flour," he does not really know what happens or just does not care what he tells visitors. Any good miller should know that the grain does not get mashed up between two stones or rocks.

You should have two people, within the mill if it is the miller and his helper or another person. Both individuals should know how to start and stop the mill for safety reasons. A miller takes a big risk in operating the mill when he is the only staff member on duty that day. For the safety of the miller and the visitors.

Note read my web page entitled:

The Art of the Millstones, How They Work.
Bottle Weights, as used in regulating grinding with millstones.
Flour & Meal Products from Historic Mills.
Recommended Health Practices for the Operation of Historic Grist Mills.

Learn the following skills:

1. Knowledge of grains and grain products.
2. The miller's touch.
3. Learn to tie a miller's knot.
Tools and materials: 1. Sacks of precleaned grain.
2. Flour and grain scoops, bin paddles.
3. Flour sacks or bags, wire twist ties wire twister, or cloth string.
4. Scales.
5. Counter brush or stiff bristle brush.
6. Metal or wooden tub, pails (optional).
7. Sack holder and burlap sacks for offals.

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Interpretation to the Public

Interpretation to the Public:

The first think that I feel that I need to mention to the student miller, is that don't allow the public to realize that you may be afraid of the machinery. If you don't feel comfortable operating the machinery, then you have no business there operating the mill and interpreting it to the public. Second, is that you should not be afraid to say to someone that I just don't know the answer to that one. Not everyone knows everything. One reason that I have such a large milling reference library is that a person can't keep it all in their heads, and you have to leave some space for other things. If you feel that you have to provide answers to all questions, take their name, address, phone number and e-mail address. Then simply say I will get back to you when I find the answer to that one or when I find someone who does know the answer. Don't make up answers to questions you don't know or take credit for things that you had no hand in. Finally don't allow the public to dictate when and how you will run the mill, the mill should have standards and guidelines by which it is operated. Only the miller know the mill and its machinery best. The pubic does not know the condition of the machinery, what needs repaired and what needs to be done to it before it can operate. If this starts to happen the next thing to go is safety.

Space, the miller needs space to run, operate and bag products. The miller needs to maintain a certain amount of space for health standards and for visitor safety. The visitors need to move through the mill and the miller needs the space to be able to move quickly up and down steps without having to push visitors out of the way.

The Master Miller Charlie Howell explains his craft to visitors.

An expert on mills and milling, the late Charles Howell was always willing to share his extensive knowledge with visitors to Philipsburg Manor, Upper Mills, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

The miller's basic program if it is 15-20 to 30 minutes in length, it is basically the same program if shortened to 5 to 10 minutes in length. I have always felt that the basic program was the school program, and the normal visitors were just getting another version of that. Have a set or established program, something written out, has an outline, lesson plan or a written narrative. Don't ramble along in talking to visitors. I basic program should also include the demonstration and operation of the mill.

Subjects of miller's program can be about the following:

1. History of the mill.
2. History of other mills in the area.
3. How the mill works or operates.
4. Basic information about mills and their types.
5. The grains and the mill's products.
6. History and development of the grain milling industry.
How is the mill operated or demonstrated? Turn the mill off and on in doing a series of demonstrations, verses continuous operation. It puts less stress and strain if the mill is constantly operated as opposed to continuously turning it off and on. The big problems with mills is once you have ground grain into flour or meal, you can't turn it back into grain again. It keeps better and longer as grain and then you have to do something with the ground products. The ground products of a mill turn rancid, mildews, becomes buggy, and has problems with storage for any length of time. Throw out grain that has turned bad, or is infested with insects. Don't grind it just for demonstrations that is buggy with the idea of throwing it out. It contaminates the system and is not a good policy to allow visitors to see. If you mill grain into flour and meal then this texture is often too fine to become animal feeds.

How many visitors do you run and operate the mill for? Every single visitor that walks into the mill? Every 5 visitors? What is the wear and tare factor before the machinery needs to be replaces or wears out? The basic wear and tare factor on the machinery per visitors is about one dollar, and then how you value your time and materials required for demonstrations. French millstones need to grind 100 to 200 thousand pounds of grain to actually need to be redressed. That may mean in a demonstration mill open to the public the millstones may need to be only actually dressed once in every 10 years. Millstone dressing may be a regular program and the millstones may get dressed more often. Historic mills don't grind grain, they grind out more words than they do actually grain grinding. Once you run the mill for a few minutes, it then automatically takes about an hour for clean up. So once you run the mill initially, it does not matter perhaps how many visitors you operate it for after that. You are committed to a set amount of clean up time.

Another point, do you try and talk to every visitor that walks into the mill? Does every visitor wanted to be interacted with? Do you do tours or station interpretation? Some mills only allow visitors to be taken through the mill in group tours, and others allow them to only go through as if they are on a factory belt conveyor tour. Bagging or sacking flour and meal is a demonstration as much as running the mill. The problem with historical mills is that they cannot be operated the way they would have been ran historically. So you have to make some compensations. (1) You may have to grind different products. (2) You cannot operate it as a custom or merchant mill. The modern health standard would prohibit grinding grains brought in by visitors. The reason that the mills are historic restored mills is for education and interpretation, and not for commercial production. (3) It is not cost effective to operate a restored mill for education and interpretation reason. One reason is that you may not sell enough grain products to make it pay for itself. This is one reason that your group is classified as non-profit, you are not expected to make a profit or what you do pay for itself. All you can try and do is break even. It would be ideal if a restored historical mill could set a side a percentage for future mill restoration, but mills are expensive to restore, operate and maintain that it is almost impossible. This is offset some times by the sale of the flour and meal, donations, admission and group tour charges. Another reason is that you may not grind enough grains and may throw more out that what is sold. Some mills throw out what they grind, and only sell products that are commercially made because of their specific health guidelines. Each State's regulations for the production of grain and flour products is different. Some states you have to deal with the health department and others it falls under the direction of the department of agriculture. (4) A restored historical mill may be doing many types of interpretation, and not always depend upon operating the mill and grinding grains.

Note read my web pages entitled:

Interpretation for Old Mills
First Person Interpretation for Old Mills
Examples of Lesson Plans for Historical Mills.
A Glossary of Mill Terms, A Basic List of Mill Terms.
A Glossary of Water Wheel Terms.

Learn the following skills: 1. Interpretation skills
2. Knowledge of history of milling, and of the milling process.
3. Understanding of milling terminology.
Tools and materials: 1. Site or mill folder.
2. Cutaway drawing or diagram of mill.
3. Model of mill (optional).
4. Tubes, containers or jars to exhibit and show different products (optional).

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Cleaning up the mill

There are two types of mill clean up. The first one is for daily demonstrations. This clean up should be if at all possible a "dry" cleaning. Continuous wetting or washing of the bins, chutes, paddles, etc., may cause them to warp and crack. The daily operation of the mill should only require a dry cleaning. You are basically grinding a dry product and water may wash small particles into cracks which could later cause problems with insects and rodents. You may only wash or wipe off counter or table tops with a damp rag or sponge. The second type of cleaning which is "wet" is one that is brought about because of a flood event. So normally a mill should only be cleaned with soap, water and disinfectant when it is flooded or at the beginning or end of a season.

Some mills demonstrate the bagging of grain products where it comes out of the system into a bin. Others bag it up into sacks or containers (perhaps even a flour barrel), and bag it out later out of view of the public. This is sometimes done for historical integrity. A mill may do costume interpretation but may sell products in modern paper sacks and or family size containers. Some mills bag the products up out of view of the public so it won't be contaminated. Still others may bag the products up at a sales or information desk counter. The problem with bagging it up in other areas, is that you have to increase you clean up involvement, and it spreads out the grain particles to more areas where it could attract insects and rodents. From all studies I have made, you sell more flour where it comes out of the system and is bagged on the spot. However, organizations regulations differ in mixing interpretation time with the sales of a souvenir product.

Inside Kenyon's johnnycake flour mill in Usquepaugh, Rhode Island.

Some people think that you don't have to teach someone how to clean. They feel it comes natural to everyone like breathing. You have to instruct the staff and volunteers in how the mill should be cleaned to meet health regulations and to maintain good housekeeping. Another issue is do you do interpretation while you are cleaning? It depends upon the site, if you do living history, you may not want to do cleaning with electric vacuum cleaners because it may destroy the historical integrity. Still if you are constantly stopping to answer visitor questions, and go and sell flour then it just takes longer to clean up. This is another reason that it is helpful not just for safety reasons to have two staff people, one person can clean while the other one deals with the public.

Don't create so many regulations it no longer becomes fun or a learning experience for staff members, volunteers and the visitors.

Note read my web page entitled:

Recommended Health Practices for the Operation of Historic Grist Mills.

Tools and materials for (dry) cleanup:

1. Portable vacuum cleaner or built in vacuum cleaning system (preferably with a spark free motor).
2. Broom and dust pan.
3. Knife, screw driver, putty knife, or awl (something to remove material from cracks).
4. Plastic bags.

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Copyright 2001 by T.R. Hazen.