Tale, A Day in the Life of a Miller
For many years, I have not been known by my real name, but a name that
comes from what I do, Mr. Miller. I have worked on a number of both commercial
and restored flour mills. I have also worked for a many years in grist mills
open to the public, along the commerical mills. Dressed in my traditional
miller's clothes. Just so I would be there to talk to people about how the
mill works, and show them the mill grinding flour. A lot of what I did nobody
ever saw. I would spent many hours making parts for the old wooden machinery,
crawling around the wooden gears; often in the mud, grease, water and even
on ice. Most of the time, I had the mill up and running for when the visitors
came through the door. How do I remember, most millers keep a daily log
book, much like a captain on a ship does. Each day I would write in the
book what I do, like grease the gears, repair or replace wooden gear teeth.
I would specally note what kind and who much flour I would grind that day.
If anything unusual happened that day, I would write it down in my book.
So if one day it rained so hard and the mill flooded, or the water wheel
was frozen up with ice, I would make note of it in my log book. I would
keep separate records of how much grain is delivered to the mill, how much
I would grind each day, how much flour and of what kind I would bag and
how much I would sell in account books.
The following are some entries from my miller's log books (written in
Italic Style ), along with some additional notes explaining
about what I did on that piticular day. The entries are taken at random
from various days, years and various mills that I have worked in.
-Sunny but cool day.
-Had Lloyd back the truck onto truck scales with lot of corn he
picked up yesterday.
-tried weighting load of corn, but there was a rat on the balance beams
of truck scales. The dial on the scales kept spinning back and forth.
I went out side and jumped on the truck scales to try and chase off
the rat. Finally Ed said there was nothing I could do about the rat until
he decides to stop walking on the balance beams of the truck scales. So
I waited until the dial on the truck scales inside of the mill stopped turning
in crazy fashion, and I knew the rat has gotten off. One afternoon Lloyd
had dumped a lot of corn into the bulk bin and it laid their over night.
The next morning when I can to work the birds were eating the corn that
had spilled on to the ground. I went into the mill and started up the auger
that lifted the eared corn from the bottom of the bulk bin into the corn
sheller. I turned on the auger and it ran for a few moments and suddenly
it jammed. I went down to the basement and a rat was in the bottom of the
bulk bin and was carried up the auger and jammed it self were the auger
turns over, what a mess to clean up.
-dumped corn into bulk bin and ran corn through corn sheller and up elevator
to cleaner in third floor. The belt driving the elevator and machinery on
the third floor snapped and fell to the first floor. I took belt to the
basement to repair it and then replaced it. It was a good thing no one was
standing underneath the belt when it fell three floors to the first floor.
The mill's work shop was down in the mill's basement. That is where
we kept the belt lacing machine and some tools that were not kept in the
mill's office. The belt lacer is a vice like machine that is used to place
or embed wire staples in the ends of the leather belt so the ends of the
belt can be brought together, interlocked and a round strip of cat gut can
lock the two ends together.
Friday -April 18:
-Sunny warm spring day.
-Today Ed and I ground corn. Later when he added up how much corn we had
ground, he said we had set a new record and had ground fourteenth tons of
Ed had worked in the mill since he got out of the service after World
War 2. He had worked in the mill for some twenty-eight years when it closed
down. That day I remember bagging up a hundred pound sack and carrying it
on my shoulder over to the food co-op, which sold corn meal in bulk. When
I got back to the mill, I spent some time bagging up 10, 20 and 25 lb sacks
of it for the customers who walked into the mill.
-Sunny and cold, no snow.
-Went down starts to bag up corn cobs and start a fire.
The basement steps had scalps on boards from years of use. One day when
I went down the steps I was not watching how I was placing my feet and slid
all the way down them. I was not hurt and I was saved a lot of embarrassment
that no one saw me. At any given time on could easily bag up twenty-five
sacks of corn cobs off the floor where they flew out of the corn sheller.
Some of the corn cobs we would grind into hog feed, and the rest we would
use to start a fire in the mill's furnace in the basement. After a good
fire was built from the corn cobs, we would add coal to the fire. The burning
corn cobs would make the mill smell wonderful, they burned very hot and
left almost no ashes afterwards. The mill's furnace heated the mill's office
with radiator pipes. After we got the mill started and operating in the
morning the machinery would heat up the rest of the mill.
Wednesday- June 10:
-Went with Lloyd Wiley to Fredonia, Pa. to pick up a load of grain.
This mill in Ferdonia is where we would once and a while pick up additonal
grain. The owners would often give us ball caps with feed logos on them.
This is also were we got the insulated coverhalls we wore in the mill. In
our mill we would always try and keep a ton or so of buckwheat around just
for when someone wanted ground buckwheat.
-very hot, sunny.
-A box card load of grain and grain products is sitting on a siding in Cambridge
Springs, Pa. We have three days to unload it.. Some of the shippment goes
to Drake's Mills.
Lloyd Wiley and I got to work very early so we could get as much unloaded
before it got warm and the box car bacame like an oven. Before nine or ten
o'clock it was still bareable working in the box car. We would stop working
loading our part and help Clerence Moffett and his nephew unload their portion
of the shipment. After working all day you felt like you had been working
in a hay field haying all day, but it was much more hotter and unpleasent.
I was always told my father could unload a box car by himself,in the time
it took three men to do it.
In stacking the hundred pound sacks of grain in the open dump truck we always
had to be careful how we stacked it so the load would not shift. Route 99
between Cambridge Springs and Edinboro had such a high crown in the middle
of the road, that when there was no oncoming traffic one would have to ride
the crown, so you would not loose the load. Once after Lloyd and I loaded
the truck we headed up Route 99 behind Clarence. We found Clarence stopped
by the side of the road where he had spilled about 15 bags of gain on the
high way. We stopped and helped Clarence who was alone that day. If we did
not get the entire shippment unloaded in three days the railorad would charge
the mill extra for each day the box car there, so often we worked very hard
to get it all unloaded.
-Sunny warm day.
-Today I began cleaning the mill from top to bottom, while Ed ran the mill.
Once a year I would begin to clean the mill. We would sweep our work
area every day, but once a year we would clean up all the spilled grain
from leaks in chutes, machinery, etc. The material would have turned rancid
with meal worms in it. Most of the stuff was so bad we could not grind it
into hog feed. I enjoyed going up to the top third floor and taking part
the grain cleaner, cleaning was usual signaled by the time the cleaner would
not usually run any more with out cleaning. I would begin by bagging up
all the spilled grain heaped in pile around it and drag sacks of it down
the three twisting flights of stairs. Then I could begin the take apart
and clean the machine. I loved working on the top floor with the elevator
heads, machinery, but there was little air there in its closed in environment.
The cob webs hung heavy from the ceiling. I was always glad to work my way
to the basement because it was always cooler working there, not that it
was any easier. The spilled grain in the basement was mixed with grease
and molasses, and had to be picked up with a shovel and put into a wheel
-Sunny chance of rain today.
-clean the stables in the barn next to the mill.
Once a year the college in town would have a homecoming parade and a
man who farmed out side of town would bring his team of Belgian horses into
town and keep them in the barn (the old carrage barn from the old Robinson
Hotel, later part of the mill) over night. It was my job to help him and
stay late if needed, and to be there early next morning to open up the barn
for him. We would put the horses in the stalls after we pulled the wagon
into the center of the barn. The mill's part in the college activity was
to provide part of the carriage barn, feed and straw, and someone to help
him with his team of horses. Then after he left I would clean the stalls
until next year.
-Grinding wheat on the French millstones. A piece of tramp metal went through
the millstones, it did not damage the stones.
I was grinding wheat like usual on the French millstones when a piece
of metal that was mixed with the wheat went through the millstones. It was
not noticed in the wheat, and I was down stairs when I heard it rumble through
the millstones. After it passed through the millstones I saw what was left
of it falling down the chute like a falling star burning out. A little round
ball of orange glow fading away. It did not damage the French millstones
and the burning iron lucky enough did not ignite the flour dust. I need
to install the magnets in the receiving chute like I have been planning
-Cold weather tempture outside -10 degrees.
-discovered it was -20 below in the mill. There is three feet of ice build
up on the ends of the office eves. Charlie worried about the weight on the
roof. When on a ladder and broke some of it off.
It was no fun standing on a ladder in the cold wind trying to brake
off the ice with a pry bar or an ax. Ed and I are bundled up with our insulated
coverhalls and layers underneath. What a difference walking form the cold
mill into the warm mill's office. It's wonderful to go into the warm office
and stand by the stove and have a warm drink. All the windows in the mill
are so frosted up you can't see out of them.
-Sunny tempurature in the 50's & 60's.
-I bagan making wooden paddles or sweeps for new auger.
-braced off bearing frame on cog wheels that sends power down to augers.
-cog wheels kept coming loose for wheat cleaner. Worked on it several times
until machinery would run with out throwing of wedges.
-went to grind-tried running grain up through cleaners, the belt broke on
the wheat cleaner. All the wheat built up in the cleaner when the belt boke.
Only ground a bucket of whole wheat flour. Shut down grinding and the mill
had wheat spilled on all floors of mill.
-cleaned up wheat and grindings .
-lubricated all the cogs in the mill.
Making wooden paddles or sweeps for augers was fun. Soldering together
new metal cups for elevators took more time, there was a lot of things to
do in the mill. An eleavtor running up through four floors might have 80
some cups on it belt.
I braced up the wooden hanger for the cog wheels. Years ago when it was
installed it was only braced it from two opposite sides. And when this machinery
was operated the wheels could vibrate back and forth, causing the wooden
teeth to be worn in a strange pattern. I put four braces in the wooden hanger
from the two other opposite sides, so it would not osoliate from side to
Before I realized the belt had broke on the cleaner the elevator had lifted
a quanity of wheat up to the cleaner. All I had to do is turn the cleaner
by hand and empty all the wheat into the bin on the floor below.
-snow on the mountain road.
-Pete and I in the mill, it's cold, kept the shudders closed and did not
run the mill.
I talked to Pete about where and how he thought the wheat millstones
were set up in the mill,that had been removed. He talked about the miller's
office that had been torn down and how nice it would be to have it back
again with it's warm stove. I went down into the gears and measured the
gear wheels and counted all the teeth. We sat on the grain bin most of the
day he smoked his cigarettes and I smoked my pipe. Once and a while we would
open up a shudder on the mill and look out but it was too cold and windy
to keep the sudders or the door open very long.
-unloaded the dump truck full of 100 lb sacks of grain into the mill.
I stacked 600 to 800 lbs of grain onto the hand truck and wheeled it
into the back of the mill, where I stacked it up. Once and a while you might
loose the stack from the hand truck. This day when I went the tip back the
hand truck, I slipped on the smooth bed of the dump truck and fell back
with the hand truck on top of me. I was not hurt, more embarrassed than
anything when Ed came to rescue me.
-Sunny, cool and mild.
-Ground whole wheat flour.
-bagged up the flour.
-Noticed vibrations on the bridge tree of the French millstone.
The vibrations were felt on the first floor next to the millstones.
I knew that it was not the millstones were out of balance, I had recently
rebalanced the millstones and trued up the millstone spindle. The bridge
tree was vibrating because the two post on either side of the end of the
bridge tree had to be wedged closer to keep the brdige tree from vibrating.
Saturday May 3:
-Sunny, mild temperature in the 60's.
-moved the two vertical husk frame posts on either side of the bridge tree.
-Retightened the leather belt on the sifter.
-Ground whole wheat flour.
-Sifted and bagged corn meal.
-Ground buckwheat flour.
-Cleaned up after grinding.
The two vertical posts on either side of the bridge tree are movable
with wedges on the top and on the bottom. They need to be close just so
the bridge tree does not vibrate but not too tight so the bridge tree can
still move up and down.
-Set corn cob pipe Ed gave me on window ledge of office, discovered later
someone had walked off with it.
Ed Zessinger had given me a wonderful corn cob pipe. It had a straight
round wooden stem and did not taste like you were smoking a corn cob pipe.
It was a beautiful looking pipe. When I went into the office from smoking
it outside, I sat it on the window ledge just inside the office. I waited
on a customer and went back into the mill to work and later discovered someone
had picked it up and walked away with it. Ed would go home for lunch everyday
and afterwards he would take a nap before he came back to work.
When the owner Charlie Zortman was not at the mill Ed was incharge and would
hold the company wallet in his pocket. When Ed was also gone like to lunch,
I would be then incharge and have to fit the company wallet in my pocket.
It was an old brown leather wallet that was falling apart and held together
by several rubber bands. In side of the wallet $100.00 amounts were paper
clipped together, so all one had to do was count the number of paper clips
and you knew how much was in the wallet. Once when both Charlie and Ed were
gone, I got to take the company wallet home over night so in the next morning
I could take about $1600.00 out of the wallet along with the checks that
would come in the mail that day to the bank, leaving about the same amount
still in the wallet. This way repeated again each day.
-Mill broke down, Ed working on repairing mill.
-Lloyd and I took all the grain needed to be ground today to F. A. Drake's
When the mill broke down, we moved our operation to Drake's Mill. Loaded
the dump truck with 100 pound sacks and ground them at Harry's mill. When
they were broke down, Harry's son Clarence brought their grain to our mill
to have it ground. The two mills are only four miles apart and we always
helped each other when one had a problem.
-Sharpened 4 mill picks to dress French millstone.
-Spent most of the day dressing millstone.
-Most of mill picks have lost their temper, using only a few that still
have their temper.
-worked on dressing bed stone some, resharpend mill picks.
-Flour bags should say, "This product is made by an historical process
which does not conform to modern health standards.""
The mill pick I was using were not carbide tipped mill pick, so they
required a lot of resharpening when dressing a hard French millstone. When
a mill pick has good temper it will make a ringing sound when striking the
millstones, while one that has lost of temper will make a dull sound.
Around the 1880's the improved milling methods of the roller mill came into
popular use. They continued the miller's desire for a flour with less fiber,
bran and wheat germ. With the introduction of modern health standards in
the milling industry in the 1940's the flour being sold on the market contributed
very little to the nutritional needs for a healthy life. The earlier stone
ground flour products were made from whole grains and contained high fiber,
along with never a thought for health standards. So when flour is processed
more, we get less and the desire for flour with less spoilage, increased
shelf life, artificial bleaching, artificial chemical enrichment. The old
mills that were never designed for modern health standards. They could become
dinosaurs, The new health inspector thinks that wood based technology could
never be free of filth and vermin. He wanted put on our flour bags that
"this product is not fit for human comsumptiom."
-Pounded wedges into to the gears and pinned them onto place with nails.
-Measured leather strips and installed them on millstones for the shoes
and twist pegs, cut leather and hand laced them together.
-Wrote Charles Howell and typed it in a letter about the stone dress pattern.
-Put leather pads on shoe where it makes contact with the damsel, to keep
shoe from wearing out and for it to run better and quieter.
A friend that had a mill in West Virginia suggested that I put stainless
steel where the shoe makes contact with the damsel. I tried it for a while
but the stainless steel was harder than the iron of the damsel and marked
it up. I still have the damsel that has worn marks on it from the stainless
steel. I just tried it for a short time and knew the old way of a leather
strip works best. He said with leather you would be replacing it all the
time, but it will last a year or so.
-Charlie Howell called today about the mill stone dress on the millstones,
he did say the dress is strange and unusual. The dress maybe backwards for
the direction of the stones.
The millstones were dressed incorrectly by the previous miller. The
cracking lines were not parallel with the furrows and ran in all directions.
They were about a half inch to an inch wide and were V-shapped. Charlie
thought as I thought, it would be too much work to remove them and start
over. It was best just to work around them and let them gradually wear themselves
Thursday-January 3: -
Wrote and typed a letter to Charles Howell.
-Drilled millstone with two new straight holes.
-Lifted up millstone with millstone crane.
-Checked runner stone for balance. Now that both holes are drilled the same
depth, corrected the slight imbalance.
The hole in one of the millstones were of two different sizes. The sides
of the hole were tapered. I had a set of tapered pins made to conform to
the tapers, but I was afraid that the millstone would slip off of the millstone
crane. So the two holes were drilled out straight and a new set of mill
stone pins were made.
-Sunny temperature in the 30's and 40's.
-Finished resifting the buckwheat flour and middlings ground yesterday,
and bagged it.
-ground corn into grits, corn flour and unbloted corn meal. Kept reginding
it until the grits came out right.
-While grinding the auger on the first floor threw a cog and jamed up the
gear, causing the cog wheels on the first floour to lock up and the drive
cog wheel on the second floour tore loose and kept spinning on the shaft.
-Tooth on great spur wheel came loose after mill was running and jamed up
on millstone spindle stopping the water wheel. shut down the water wheel
and put back the tooth, retightened it up.
-Wedges on the lantern pinion needed to be straghtned again.
-Put wedges into the pit wheel that came out.
-bagged up the flour and cleaned up the mill.
Wooden gears are much better than metal gears. The wooden gears run
much quieter than the metal gears. With wooden gears, if the gear faces
are aligned to each other and properly lubricated will last a long time.
Some wooden gears have been known to last 50 years or more. If the wooden
gears are out of alignment and not properly lubricated they can wear themselves
away in several days. Wooden gears will take more abuse and the wood has
a cushioning effect. The cells of the wooden gears become the reservoir
of the lubricant.
The more the machinery in a mill is operated the better it will run. And
the more it is operated the less problems you have with the machinery. Problems
will develop when the machinery sits for long periods. The wooden machinery
is also affected by seasonal and climatic changes. When I would run the
mill on a year run basis, the machinery would let me know when the seasons
change. One day the machinery would run differently, and I would know finally
spring is here. In some times of the years you spend all of your time pounding
in wedges, while other times of the years it would be almost impossible
to pull old wedges out. A good miller will get to learn his mill, all of
its sounds and vibrations. Just the slightest sound or vibration one would
know what is the problem. You attach human characteristics or behavior on
inanimate objects such as the mill. Anthropomorphism is when the miller
refers to the mill as a "She," like the old saying: "Mills
and Wives are ever wanting." Both require a great deal of attention
and both need to feel they are loved.
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