The Millers Tale

The Miller's Tale

As the miller in one of only two working tide mills in the country, our miller Matt Painter could be said to have a rather unusual job. His role involves some ancient and fascinating processes and during the improvement project he will be involved in the restoration of the mill machinery, so we’ve asked him to give us occasional updates on what he’s been up to.

Relishing a trip to Bear’s Mill, Ohio, USA

September 2015

While on holiday in the US this summer I decided to use the opportunity to visit an interesting mill. So it was that on a hot and sunny Saturday morning in August, I set out from Loveland, Ohio, heading north towards Greenville and Bear’s Mill.

Arriving at Bear’s Mill after an 80 mile drive I was immediately struck by its size and the sense of space around it.  Bear’s Mill is an attractive four-storey building clad in American black walnut which, I was informed, had last been replaced in 2001 and looked as though it was weathering very well. As you walk in the front door you can’t fail to admire a beautiful 1929 Ford parked outside.

As I stepped thought the front door I was greeted with a well ordered shop that not only sold flour but exotic brands of tea and coffee as well as jams, relishes and cooking sauces. As a man who loves relishes and mills, I was in heaven, but my most vivid memory is of the delicious smell of the building gently baking as the wood-cladding was warmed by the sunshine.

We were met by Terry Clark the miller and the mill’s new executive director Marti Goetz. She was very interested in hearing all about Eling and in particular our lottery-funded project.

Terry began his tour of Bear’s Mill, complete with juicy gossip about past corrupt or drunk millers, as well as an apparently security conscious one who Terry had learnt about when he took down some of the internal cladding and found a rifle. Terry told us that the mill dated back to 1848 and asked when Eling was first mentioned. They were taken aback when I said 1086.

Bear’s Mill has had a very productive life: after being converted from a sawmill to a flour mill in the mid-19th century it continued to use turbines to rotate French burr stones until 1882, when it was converted to work with rollers. Luckily all of the original machinery and the stones were left in place and can now be used again. Terry gave me a brief milling demonstration. Everything was much as I expected but all of his controls were up on the stones floor. He spun a wheel which opened hatches and allowed the turbines to begin spinning about 10 feet below the water in the mill race. He made his tentering adjustments (adjustments to the position of the mill stones) from here and was also able to check the quality of the flour by lifting a flap next to the tun cover, meaning that he only needed to go back to the ground floor to replace his flour sack when it was full.

We wound our way around the building with Terry pointing out items of interest and telling colourful tales of old millers, including one whose wife used to coat the floors with flour so she could follow his footsteps to find his alcohol stashed around the building. Once the tour was complete Terry wanted to show me one of his favourite parts of the mill: one of the central beams that ran the length of the building. There are twelve of them in all, three on each floor, each one 50 feet long and without a single split or splice. Terry admired the craftsmanship involved in creating such a piece and, as a member of the Timber Framers Guild, he knows a thing or two about wood.

After finishing up inside the mill, Marti took me to check out the dam and mill pond which is a breath-taking sight that no camera can do justice to. Their mill pond is 2 acres, a bit smaller than Eling’s, but they are also backed up with nine miles of the scenic Greenville Creek. Bear’s Mill has three turbines; two to power the French burr stones within the mill building and a third which is built into the dam about 200 metres upstream from the mill. This third turbine powers all of the electrical systems and lighting within the mill. This extract from their website states that the water “turns a 150 year old Leffel vertical turbine, a drive shaft and a differential from an old Chevy truck, a pulley system and two 3kW DC servo motors / generators. The turbine itself with a seven foot head of water has the capability of delivering 15kW of power”. Now I’m not going to pretend to understand the amounts of power that this creates, but to me it was satisfying to know that the four storey historic building is being powered through green energy.

Bear’s Mill also has 35 acres of land and they are looking to start up a wood working course, no doubt utilising Terry’s passion and expertise. Whilst outside I asked about the different types of animals around the mill: fish, ducks, ground hogs, deer and butterflies but unfortunately no bears.  It transpires that the mill was named after its first owner Gabriel Baer. I was happy to report our wide range of different birds (gulls, cormorants, ducks, egrets, oyster catchers, swans and kingfishers), as well as fish and crabs.

I completely lost track of time and spent the next two hours with Marti sat in the mill’s decking area which overlooks the tailrace. She told me about the different colours of corn that they have just begun milling and how restaurants were enjoying producing different coloured ‘chips’ with them. They were proud to have a local supplier of the yellow cornmeal, rye and spelt that they mill, as well as whole wheat which was a lot more familiar to me. I asked how much they produced but was stumped when they used ‘pounds’ instead of kilograms - curse the metric and imperial debate!

I was very jealous that this French burr stone looks like it has considerably more life left in it than mine at Eling.

Multiple chutes leading towards the hopper.

Beautiful exterior of Bear’s Mill.

I would like to give a big thank you to the team at Bear’s Mill for making me feel so welcome and taking the time to make it such an enjoyable visit and going above and beyond what they needed to do. Keep up with the good work guys and hopefully see you again soon.

Matt trying to explain the Eling mill pond to Marti Goetz, Bear’s Mill Executive Director whilst overlooking the Bear’s Mill reservoir.

I was very happy to see that the French stones were the originals that Gabriel Baer travelled all the way to France to get them.

I would like to give a big thank you to the team at Bear’s Mill for making me feel so welcome and taking the time to make my visit so enjoyable. Keep up with the good work guys and hopefully see you again soon.


You can learn more about Bear’s Mill at www.bearsmill.com . They also have a great online shop which ships internationally, so if you’re looking for something different, give them a shot.

Matt Painter

Dressing the stones

July 2015

"Bright and early on a Monday morning Geoff Wallis arrived to help me do some stone dressing. This task requires determination, a steady hand and left me with some aching muscles. The purpose of dressing the stones is to redefine the furrows and to ensure that the grain is being ground correctly. We had initially planned to spend Monday to Thursday on the stones but hoped (correctly) that some extra-long shifts would help us to finish a day early and catch Wednesday evening’s tide to try and do some milling.

“The tools we used included; a staff, a proving staff, some thrifts and tungsten tipped mill bills (with some spares). The purpose of the staff is to check for high spots on the grinding face, but as the stone is very hard it wears away the surface of the wood so we needed to use a wood chisel to keep it level. The first job was to lift the runner stone - for this we needed to use the stone crane. Once the stones were apart the next job was to investigate the pattern upon the bedstone, where the grain is turned into flour. This gave us a good indication of how much work was needed. Once we had cleared all of the flour off the bedstone it was time to use the staff to check for high spots. Historically the staff would have been reddened with red ochre but nowadays we use food dye, which leaves a red stain upon the stones on all of the points which need work. Once we had chipped away at these high spots we started the process again to get rid of the next highest spots. This was a lengthy process and blunts the mill bills very quickly.

“Late on Wednesday afternoon, after numerous cups of tea and stone fragments in the eye, we were finished and put the grinding stones back together. Then, by opening the sluice gate a small amount to get the machinery turning, we checked that the stones were equally balanced. If one side was heavier than the other then the stones would rub, undoing all our hard work. Fortunately they were well balanced.

“The last task was to put the wooden tun cover and the furniture back over the stones and, once we had hoovered up all of the mess, we attempted to do some milling. It was a relief when good quality flour started coming down the chute. We shut down the machinery, had one last tidy up and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

“Thanks Geoff.”

 

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