Wakeman 3. The Grist Mill that Father Built

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1900 census showing F.A. Denman as farmer

“When Father sold the farm and moved to town so that Mother could take care of her parents, he was left with nothing to occupy his time and he had to figure out something that he would do. [This was beginning in about 1901, and Grandpa Lyle was about 4-5 years old.] He decided that the town needed a grist mill so that the farmers could get their grain ground for their livestock, and an elevator to hand– to buy and sell the grain, wheat, oats and corn — those were the main things that were raised around Wakeman.”

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1900 census showing Humphrey family that owned mill (I think)

“To do that, he bought from the Humphrey family an abandoned saw mill. At one time there had been two saw mills at Wakeman; the McMann family owned one and the Humphrey family owned the other. For some reason, the Humphrey family discontinued and dismantled their saw mill including all the machinery was taken out and sold and disposed of but the shells, the empty buildings — there were two big empty buildings — left.

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1910 census showing F.A. Denman as proprietor, elevator

Father converted one of those buildings into a warehouse to store grain, feed and fertilizer and items that farmers would need. We will call it a farm supply building. The other building — he dug, or had dug, a very large basement. I can’t give you the size of it. But it was a very large basement. At the end of the basement he erected three grain bins to store wheat in, or wheat, oats or corn, whatever, the storage. Then he had a place for an engine room beside the — the engine room was to be located next to the storage bins. The center of the building became the operating area for the machinery. To crush the corn, there was a corn crusher that would crush the cobs and corn and all into a fine, fine enough so it could go through a grinder and be ground up for animal food. And hog food could, they would use, they would eat the, even the ground up corn cobs mixed with the grain and it provided a bulk for the animals. He had the corn crusher, a corn sheller installed beside — and then the grinder for grinding the grain and then a wheat cleaner. Those four items were sort of placed parallel, in a line along one side of the building, the front side of the building where the farmers could drive up with their rigs and a chute would be opened up that would open out so that they could empty their grain right direct from their wagons into this chute and it would either go in to the crusher or the sheller or the wheat cleaner where there was wheat. The one other small elevator in town had a horse powered arrangement which was very, very slow and it took farmers a long time to unload. Father installed this cleaner which was operated with the energy from his gasoline engine which was installed. In doing so, a farmer could unload his grain almost as rapidly as he could dump the bags of it or shovel out — if it was a tight wagon box they would just shovel it out into a little chute that opened out and it would be through the cleaner and with the chaff and screenings the imperfect matter was taken out of it and the good wheat was stored in bins. The wheat that Father had for sale on the market thus was much superior to the wheat that the other elevator had because they did not have any way of cleaning it. The wheat that they took in was just as it came from the threshing machines and contained the chaff, screenings and any impurities that the cleaner would take out.”

“I will go back to explain about the power that Father had for operating his machinery. He had the first gasoline engine of any size in Wakeman. It was 25 horse power. He purchased it from a company at Columbus, Ohio. It had been used. It was a second — it was a used engine but it was fully guaranteed, had big heavy fly wheels on it that were more than six feet in diameter and must have weighed a ton apiece. That machine was very heavy and had to have a solid, firm base. People advised him to have it put in the basement where it would be down on the ground and solid. He disagreed with that. He couldn’t see going down, running to the basement, every time they wanted to do something with the engine. He conceived the idea of building a rectangular pyramid of solid masonry, rock, rubble, brick, anything that, and with cement — mostly sandstone, rock, and hardheads — anything in the way of heavy rock material and they built a rectangular pyramid from the basement up level with — a little above level, a few inches above the first floor. It was quite an undertaking but that’s the way Father said he wanted that engine up on the first floor where they could run to it and get at it and shut it on and off without having to run downstairs into the basement which the company thought was the proper place for it.”

“Directly above the first floor, he had a huge piece of sandstone quarried from the quarry which operated north of Wakeman that must have been at least two and a half to three feet thick, at least three feet wide, and perhaps nine or ten feet long. It was a very huge chunk of sandstone. That he had quarried to set on top of the rectangular pyramid built up from the basement. That sandstone block was to be the base on which the gasoline engine was bolted. Holes were drilled in the rock and they had a way with chisels of building that and then setting bolts in there. And the bolts were surrounded by concrete and at the proper distances. It was all very nice, very well worked out. When the engine arrived it was unloaded from the train with the aid of pulleys and rollers. It was a very arduous task but the people knew how to handle the machinery. They got the engine inside the building and had it hoisted up with pulleys and rope and had it moved over the, directly over the base, and had it lowered onto the bolts that were set in the rock and everything was put together perfectly and those, then the base of the engine was bolted firmly to that big sandstone bed that was on top of the rock pyramid. It made a perfectly sound foundation for that motor and it worked — that part of it, it worked perfectly.”

“The engine was connected to a drive shaft which went the full length of the building. That drive shaft was one that operated the various elevators that would carry the grain from one floor to another. This drive shaft had pulleys on it that operated the crusher and the corn sheller and the cleaner and the grinder that ground the grain. Different sized pulleys, different sized belts and a clutch that would engage or disengage each one of those items as they were needed. Otherwise the elevators ran continuously whenever the line shaft, as we called it, or the drive shaft — the elevators operated continually up and down and that was the power that was used to operate the cleaner and the grinder. And the fact that he could clean that wheat made it very wholesome and some people would buy just the cleaned wheat and prepare their own breakfast food from that. It was rather a novelty in that there was nothing like it anywhere in any of the towns around.”

“The grinder had two stones. They were perhaps 24 inches in diameter, maybe 28 or — yes, I would say they were around 24 to 28 inches in diameter. One stone was fixed permanently in a solid piece of metal. And the other stone was on a shaft that would whirl against the fixed stone and grind the grain. In other words it was an — you may have heard of stone-ground flour or stone-ground corn meal or stone-ground various items in the grocery store. Sometimes it used to be advertised.”

“Well about once in a — depending on how much the grinder was used, it would have to be sharpened. It would be taken apart and the two pieces of stone would be laid flat on their back and then a man with metal picks, steel picks — first it would be marked out on there, the original markings would be marked with, they called it Venetian red. It was a sort of a paint but it was just a marker to guide the person sharpening it. And the person sharpening it would wear gloves and goggles to protect their eyes and would sit there and pick, pick, pick. The picks were sharp metal with flat blades, perhaps an inch wide on both ends and a handle in the middle. And having them sharpened on both ends make the single pick, made a double use. And it would take many hours. It would take perhaps a matter of two days to sharpen those stones to dig, to rechannel, make a slight, just a slight channel all the way around from the center to the outside so that as the stone whirled, the grain would be in those little channels there, but it would, there was a very delicate adjustment that would push the moveable stone up against the fixed stone to cause the grinding of the grain between the two stones.”

“And the sharpening of that was quite an event. It would take a couple of days or more to sharpen that and it would take hours. Two people could work, one on each stone. And it would take the two people anywhere from six to ten hours for two days to complete the job of sharpening those grinding stones. That covers the grinding operation there.”

“The grain that came in from the farmers was stored in the elevator there and when the elevator storage was filled, Father would arrange to sell a carload of wheat and — I don’t remember that he shipped out any oats. He may have sold oats, but most of the oats were consumed locally for livestock feed there. But the wheat was all, it was practically all shipped at that time out of town. At a later period, he constructed a flour mill in connection with this and put in a brand new power plant. I’ll come to that just a little later.”

I got interested in what this all looked like, and since I don’t have any family pictures of any of it, I went looking on the internet. What I found was a blog entry that describes the process and shows some great pictures of a grist mill still working today, in southern Indiana. If you’re interested, here is the link to that post.

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2 comments on “Wakeman 3. The Grist Mill that Father Built
  1. Pat says:

    Thanks! Do you have any pictures of your grist mill? I’d be interested in seeing it. I liked the detailed description that Grandpa Lyle gave – he was clearly interested in how things worked as well as in food.

  2. We have a working grist mill in Michigan, too! I work at The Henry Ford, and in Greenfield Village, we have the Loranger grist mill, that sounds very similar. I have very much enjoyed this oral history, and I am planning to pass it along to our curators!

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