Recreating a 19th Century Flour Mill

Antique roller mills and bran dusters used to bring century-old flour mill back to life

| January 2011

  • The Cottonwood Station Milling Co. at the Meriden (Kan.) Antique Engine & Threshers Assn. grounds.
    The Cottonwood Station Milling Co. at the Meriden (Kan.) Antique Engine & Threshers Assn. grounds.
  • Gary Bowen (left) and Bob Hjetland spent four years acquiring and restoring vintage milling equipment. The mill represents a typical small commercial mill from the 1880s.
    Gary Bowen (left) and Bob Hjetland spent four years acquiring and restoring vintage milling equipment. The mill represents a typical small commercial mill from the 1880s.
  • Located on the mill’s third floor, this Salem bran duster used brushes and a cone-shaped sieve to dust off bran during the milling process.
    Located on the mill’s third floor, this Salem bran duster used brushes and a cone-shaped sieve to dust off bran during the milling process.
  • A three-pair high roller corn mill
    A three-pair high roller corn mill built by Nordyke Marmon & Co. before 1880. By 1902, the Indianapolis-based company had begun manufacturing experimental automobiles, including the 1909 Model 32 Wasp, winner of the first Indianapolis 500 motor race.
  • This Perfection dust collector, manufactured by Prinz & Rau Mfg. Co., Milwaukee, created a vacuum to collect milling dust in each of these 460 authentic cotton tubes, or socks, which had been preserved for years in sealed metal containers.
    Accidental fires and explosions caused by accumulated milling dust and overheated bearings posed a constant threat to flour mills in the 1800s. This Perfection dust collector, manufactured by Prinz & Rau Mfg. Co., Milwaukee, came out of a Nashville Milling Co. operation in southern Illinois. The device created a vacuum to collect milling dust in each of these 460 authentic cotton tubes, or socks, which had been preserved for years in sealed metal containers.
  • Two Nordyke Marmon & Co. roller mills displayed on the first floor of the Cottonwood Station mill.
    Two Nordyke Marmon & Co. roller mills displayed on the first floor of the Cottonwood Station mill. During the mid- to late 19th century, Nordyke Marmon sold and shipped the equipment needed for a small commercial flour mill, complete with a steam engine, for approximately $10,000 (about $250,000 in today’s terms). These “Mae West” model roller mills, built in the mid-1880s, were acquired from the Robertson Mill in Brownstown, Ind. By 1896 the model’s profile had been streamlined and the wooden access doors replaced by steel doors.
  • Perfection cleaner, separator and grader
    One of the newer pieces of equipment in the Cottonwood Station Mill, this Perfection cleaner, separator and grader was patented in 1887. It was manufactured by Lewis-Tuttle Mfg. Co., Topeka, Kan.
  • Model No. 1 Monitor screening, polishing and separating machine
    Among the vintage milling equipment acquired from the Spangler Mill in Floyd County, Va., was this Model No. 1 Monitor screening, polishing and separating machine, manufactured in the 1800s by Huntley Mfg. Co., Silver Creek, N.Y.
  • Starr 30-inch stone mill
    This Starr 30-inch stone mill, which may date to 1850, was also referred to as a plantation mill. It could have been used to break down corn into mash for a distillery or to produce pearl cornmeal. After locating the mill in North Carolina, Gary and Bob disassembled it, replaced or rebuilt worn parts, and stripped and refinished all wooden parts for this stunning result.

  • The Cottonwood Station Milling Co. at the Meriden (Kan.) Antique Engine & Threshers Assn. grounds.
  • Gary Bowen (left) and Bob Hjetland spent four years acquiring and restoring vintage milling equipment. The mill represents a typical small commercial mill from the 1880s.
  • Located on the mill’s third floor, this Salem bran duster used brushes and a cone-shaped sieve to dust off bran during the milling process.
  • A three-pair high roller corn mill
  • This Perfection dust collector, manufactured by Prinz & Rau Mfg. Co., Milwaukee, created a vacuum to collect milling dust in each of these 460 authentic cotton tubes, or socks, which had been preserved for years in sealed metal containers.
  • Two Nordyke Marmon & Co. roller mills displayed on the first floor of the Cottonwood Station mill.
  • Perfection cleaner, separator and grader
  • Model No. 1 Monitor screening, polishing and separating machine
  • Starr 30-inch stone mill

The flour mill was a fixture in most towns in America during the 19th century, with as many as 23,000 water- and steam-powered mills operating by the 1870s. The mill was where farmers took a portion of their wheat and corn crops to be ground into flour, and where local grocers bought 196-pound barrels or 100-pound sacks of flour for retail sale to their customers. 

While most small-town mills have vanished over the years, burned to the ground or abandoned to the elements, a few have been preserved to remind younger generations of the days before flour came in a paper 5-pound sack. One outstanding example is located on the grounds of Cottonwood Station, a living history recreation of an 1880s town established by the Meriden (Kan.) Antique Engine & Threshers Assn.

In 1998, club members Gary Bowen and Bob Hjetland set out to recreate a small commercial mill typical of those used in 1885. “We started out by visiting Dr. W. Dale Eustace, a professor at the Milling Science and Management Department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University, who gave us an idea of the types of machines we’d need,” says Gary. “We also got a lot of information from the Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM), and made several trips to tour a beautifully restored mill at Lindsborg, Kan.”

Next, Gary and Bob made a proposal to the Meriden club. The two men would track down, acquire at their own expense, restore and equip a mill with the proper equipment dating to the 1880s – if the club would construct a mill building. The members readily agreed, and the two ran an ad in Old Mill News (the official publication of SPOOM) seeking vintage roller mills, a stone mill and other equipment.



Equipping an 1885 mill 
The ad quickly produced results, and before long Gary and Bob headed for Brownstown, Ind., where they purchased three Nordyke Marmon & Co. roller mills, a Meadows 20-inch stone mill, three small metal swing sifters, a metal bran duster, a flour sacking machine and sack holder, a Nordyke Marmon differential reel, a Columbian governor and miscellaneous other equipment. “We rented a 24-foot truck,” Gary recalls, “and still ended up making two trips to haul everything home.

“We also got a call from Sammie Phillips in Willis, Va., who had some old machines from an 1800s water-turbine mill in Floyd County, Va.,” Gary adds. “Bob and I drove out, and with the help of Dennis and Dorothy Knudsen, members of our club, we came home with a Salem swing sifter large enough to handle five breaks (grindings), along with a Monitor wooden scouring machine, a wooden bran duster and a differential reel. Then we got a lead on a five-story mill in Nashville, Ill. While most of the machines were too large for our needs, we were able to acquire the line shafts from the third floor up, a large dust collector, and a Fairbanks barrel scale.”



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