Remembering Gristmills

| 6/24/2014 12:05:00 PM

Country MoonIsn’t it strange how sometimes just one little act can lead to an almost forgotten memory? That very thing happened this past week when our grandson Wyatt asked me about helping him with chores. He has two steers and two dairy starter calves that he will take to fair in August.

He asked me to get some grain from the bin while he started the water running. One whiff of that ground feed is all it took for me to visit a sweet memory from my past. When I was growing up, our family raised hogs for market, which meant we had to go to the mill once a week to get feed ground. I usually got to go and that was one “chore” I never minded. I fell in love with feed mills.

Gristmills have been a prominent and colorful part of our past, but they are dwindling in number in recent years. The term "gristmill" can refer to any mill whether it grinds flour, corn or livestock feed. In the 1790s, there were roughly 7,500 mills in the country, but by the 1850s more than 100,000 mills dotted the American countryside.

Water power was the main source of energy for the early mills, which is why most mills are located on the banks of streams or rivers. It was a win-win situation because, as water turned the wheel, oxygen was mixed with the water, which improved the water quality in the streams and rivers for fish and other aquatic life. Eventually electric motors and generators replaced water power.

The early mills had to be plentiful so farmers could haul their grain there by horse and buggy. When motorized vehicles came along, the need for so many mills diminished because folks could drive farther. Something I didn’t realize as a kid is that a gristmill has two separate foundations to prevent the vibrations of the mill machinery from shaking the foundation apart.

Feed mills used to be quite the hub of small towns. People would buy bulk garden seeds, buy and sell their grains, and have custom animal feeds mixed there. Since they went weekly, it was the gathering spot to catch up on gossip and chat with friends and neighbors.

6/28/2014 7:43:42 AM

Lois, here in Nebraska mills are non existent. I know of only one mill in Nebraska and it's on a very small stream. It's only about the size of a small cottage house so it couldn't have really had much volume in its working days. All most all of the grinding of cattle feed was done with a mechanical feed grinder hooked up to a tractor with a wide belt. They were called hammer mills and I too remember those days when feed was ground for the animals. It was not such a pleasant memory as yours because is was very dusty process and the dust stuck every where on a person's body. It was kind of a weekly thing just like your mill visits but without the ice cream and gossip. ***** The rains continue here. We got another 1/2 inch of rain yesterday with more high winds. This June has been filled with wind storms. It's been really difficult to get any gardening done. We're down to 109 days until frost which is still time to get some squash and pumpkins planted with plans for getting the fall garden bed ready for planting. The star of the garden this year still is the potatoes. They have not been affected by the winds, rain, hail, or even the neighbor's lawn service weed spray. My Urban Ranch tomatoes got a pretty good whiff of the weed spray and are looking poorly. I'm seriously thinking about replacing a couple of them with the last of the tomatoes I grew from seed. What a difficult year of gardening this has been. ***** Have a great gristmill memory day.

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