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Problems with Interpretation of Oliver Evans'
"The Young Mill-Wright & Miller's Guide."

Problems with Interpretation of Oliver Evans'
"The Young Mill-Wright & Miller's Guide."
Theodore R. Hazen

The first problems it that you need prior knowledge to understand "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide."

The one person (mill-wright) that I ever met that knew the most about this period in milling history and technology (of Oliver Evans) was John B. Campbell (1890-1987). John Blake Campbell was the hydraulic engineer who recommended that Clifford Currie, a Canadian millwright who has supervised the restoration of Duff Roblin's Mill in Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, Canada, also supervise the restoration of the Colvin Run Mill beginning in May of 1968. The providence for the internal machinery of the Colvin Run Mill was upon the technology of Oliver Evans, and the concept similar to that which guided the 1934 restoration of the Peirce Mill, Donald C. Wisensale and the Fitz Water Wheel Company of Hanover, Pennsylvania. The Fitz Water Wheel Company had an advantage in this because they warehoused old mill parts in a building at the Hanover plant. The guiding principal as explained by John Campbell was to locate, move, and restore machinery and equipment from other historic mills (that there were no plans for them to be restored at any future date in time) of the same time period that were found in the area. This is the same method of historic restoration used in the reconstruction of George Washington's Mill, and that of Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C. The Washington's Mill was moved from Front Royal, Virginia, and the Peirce Mill used mill parts from two mills one in Pennsylvania, and the other in Maryland.

It was around the time that the Colivn Run Mill (circa 1810), Great Falls, Virginia, was restored that I met Mr. Campbell. He told me again and again, that one of the biggest problems with the interpretation of an Oliver Evans (1755-1819) book was, just because it was in the book does not mean it should not be in the mill. I have only seen a descender and a drill being used on only one or two Oliver Evans' mills, which means they were not meant for all mill applications like the marine elevator leg. Oliver Evans presented information on the state of the art on mill-wrighting at his time. Mr. Evans was not a trained mill-wright, but Thomas Ellicott (1738-1799) was. Mr. Ellicott presents the state of the art of mill-wrighting up until the development of Oliver Evans improvements. So what one does with the knowledge presented in the "Guide," construct a mill with the drive train shown on Plates XXVII and Plate XXVIII. Another basic problem is the use of Thomas Ellicott's drawings, they use them in mill brochures or blow them up into posters and label them as an "Oliver Evans' Mill." Ellicott's drawing is simpler to understand and interpret than Oliver Evans drawings of his automated flour mill.

The big drawback to Oliver Evans' "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide" that there is not a clear connection between the machinery, the mill power and what makes the improvements work. The form of gearing set down in the section by Thomas Ellicott which is known as counter gearing cannot generate enough power to run the Oliver Evans machinery (the elevator, conveyor, hopper-boy, descender and drill). Mr. Ellicott's section on "the Practical Millwright" was only presented as the state-of-the-art in mill gearing, which meant new forms of gearing had to be developed to make the Oliver Evans machinery work. This meant the use of great spur gear drive which is presented at the end of "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide."

The improved Automated Merchant Flour-Mill of Oliver Evans is meant to use Great Spur Gear Drive (type of two-step gearing) so several pair so of millstones could be arranged around a spur wheel according to its size, to operate two, three, four or five pairs of millstones. the miller operates the mill from the first floor where the millstones are. With one-step gearing, and two-step (known as Counter-Gearing) are mounted lower in the gear pit and are more subject able to rot and decay. Using the Great Spur Wheel and Wallower of the Spur Gear Drive system, the gears are mounted higher up on shafts, so that water wheels of larger diameters was, of course, slower than a smaller water wheel, the millstones could be operated at more efficient speed. It is not practicable to build mills using Oliver Evans system of automated milling using the one-step and the two-step counter gearing. One-step and two-step counter gearing is from the age of wooden gears.

Several exceptions of metal use in counter gearing are: metal rungs in trundle gears at the Colvin Run Mill (restored counter-gearing), Great Falls, Virginia; metal gear teeth Newlen Mill (restored counter-gearing), Glen Mills (Media), Pennsylvania; Lee's Mill, Stratford Hall, Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Oliver Evans automated milling means the use of metal water wheels shaft hubs, metal shafts, iron gears (pit, wallower, spur, stone nut gears) smaller metal gears and shafting on the upper floors of the mill. The use of metal gear housings holding wooden gear teeth engaging a metal tooth gear wheel. A new mill constructed with the Oliver Evans system would have incorporated the above mention gear systems. Only a mill that existed before Oliver Evans improvements and was adopted might still have had an earlier form of gearing.

Only in the last couple of years has Counter Gearing (two-step) has been called "English Gearing." This terminology cannot be found in any milling reference book or other written material. It is like the lawyers speak popularly known as "gobbledygook." They made up terminology, and use words that no-one else uses to make themselves sound more self important. Mill gearing in use in England during the 1780's and 1790's was of Great Spur Gear Drive (type of two-step gearing). Counter Gearing (two-step) was obsolete at this time.

Automated Water Mill of the 18th Century in England. A sack hoist lifts grain to horizontally in the mill as seen through the doorway on the mill's first floor (behind the millstones). The grain is chuted to the grinder. After it is miller, the flour flows to the bottom bin in the mill's basement. Power for automation comes from the rotating water wheel in the mill stream, that operates the millstones, wire machine (bolter or sifter), and sack hoist.

In an article entitled: "The English Watermill," by J. Kenneth Major, he makes several important statements: He is talking about a mill of 1538..........." the mill could of had two waterwheels and two pairs of millstone to each wheel. The mill of this period would have have been furnished with wooden millwork, hardly any iron would have been used, and the gears would have been cog and rung. The mills would usually have had only one pair of stones to each waterwheel so that the stone nut engaged directly with the pitwheel. If more millstones were to be used then they would be served by lay shafts rather than by the conventional two-step gear of pitwheel, wallower, great spur wheel and stone nuts which we have today. These might also have been two or more water wheels in tandem to give increased grinding power.

The great changes in the pattern of mills came in the eighteenth century. The first change came in the design of gearing. The change here was from the cog and rung, in which the gears were knocking each other from tooth to tooth, to the conventional shaped teeth, proposed by Euler, where the wheels rolled along each tooth and gave a smooth motion. The second, and possibly more important, change was the introduction of coke into the process of making cast iron so that cast iron became an everyday material. The use of cast iron in the gear train meant an even smoother running, particularly if an all-iron wheel engaged with a mortise wheel (wooden teeth in the sockets of a cast-iron wheel).

At the end of the eighteenth century the first English millwrights' textbooks were being written, Andrew Gray's "The Experienced Millwright," published in Edinburgh in 1804, is one of the classics which did for north-country milling practices what the "Groot Volkommen Moolenboek" did for Dutch practice in 1734. Gray wrote about the improved wooden-geared mill. Sir William Fairbain's "On Mills and Millwork" of 1832 was produced at a time when the all-iron mill was very much the mode of construction. However, we did not need, in Europe, a textbook of the standard of Oliver Evans' "The Young Mill-Wright and Miller's Guide" which was produced in very large numbers simply as a means of transmitting the knowledge to isolated areas where any skilled man could be faced with the need to build a mill. As this book passed through numerous editions over many years it had a great influence on the style of mills in the States.

In the nineteenth century the corn (he means wheat) mill of England developed along fairly straightforward lines and really showed no recognizable steps of change until the introduction of the roller mill. The introduction of the roller mill in Britain in about 1850 meant that the corn-grinding mill had to have great mechanization of the plant. Elevators were introduced, and better dressing machines so that the product of the stone grinding mills improved to meet the competition created by the roller plants. The roller mill which could deal so successfully with the large quantities of grain imported from the United States, spelt the end of the mills in which corn was ground between stones."

NOTE: Volume 1, pages 142-143, section on "Flour Mills," of "The Operative Mechanic, and British Machinist: Being A Practical Display of The Manufactures and Mechanical Arts of the United Kingdom," by John Nicholson, Esq., Civil Engineer, 2nd American edition (3rd London, edition with additions) Philadelphia, T. Desilver, Jun. 247 Market Street, James Kay, Jun. & Co. Printers, 1831. Plate reproduced and description from (Andrew) Gray's "Experienced Millwright," shows an English mill with a pit wheel, wallower gear, great spur wheel and stone nuts driving the two pairs of millstones

"The Practical Mill-Wright," by Thomas Ellicott had been printed in technical journals shortly after its original publication: 1796 in Great Britain (Repertory of Arts, Manufactures, and Agriculture, London, volume 4, 1796, pages 319-28, plate 18), and 1802 in France (Annales des arts et manufactures, volume 9, (an 10), 1802, pl. 5). Technology unlike the theory of Continental Drift can move in both directions.

That is why I really hated to use Thomas Ellicott's drawing with out an explanation from his section entitled, "The Practical Millwright." That is why it is called: "The Miller's Bible." It begins with Genesis and ends with Revelations. Thomas Ellicott is just some dude found in the Old Testament. The Luddites & the Grahamites are part of the New Testament business where they talk about the "Evils of Technology," and processed, keepable "white flour." I guess this means that Oliver Evans is the messiah, while Sylvester Graham "the poet of bran," might be considered the anti-christ.

Program's Source: Interpretive programs by Theodore R. Hazen, Master Miller (mill operator), Millwright, Curator of Molinology, Site Supervisor, and Lead Interpreter, Pierce Mill, Rock Creek Park, National Park Service, National Capital Region, The Department of the Interior, 1984-1995.

Program Reference Material:

Major, J. Kenneth, "The English Watermill," Eno, Volume 7, Special Issue, papers from the seminar on water mills and windmills held in Durham, North Carolina, July 1878, in the Bicentennial year of West Point on the Eno River, pages 6-10.

Sharrer, G. Terry, "Oliver Evans and the Beginning of Automated Milling in Maryland and the Upper South", Eno, Volume 7, Special Issue, papers from the seminar on water mills and windmills held in Durham, North Carolina, July 1878, in the Bicentennial year of West Point on the Eno River, pages 11-24.

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Copyright 2003 by T. R. Hazen