Retired teacher preserves old hand-crank gristmill, now powered by tractor
Buel Upton is a retired teacher, but he hasn’t stopped teaching.
His classroom today is a trailer housing a decades-old gristmill; his students are people who’ve never seen a mill in action.
“It used to be that every little country store had a gristmill,” the Raymond, Miss., man said. “But I knew it was becoming a thing of the past, and I wanted one.”
Buel already had a gristmill when, about 16 years ago, he learned of another one for sale.
“It was sold in November 1958 by Sears,” he said. “It was a Meadows Mill, made in North Carolina. It had been used briefly in a little country store, and then put away in a Quonset hut. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted it. … It was so much better than the one I had.”
After he got it home, he took the entire thing apart to see the grinding stones, check the mill’s condition, clean and repaint it.
“They do sharpen the rocks on these things,” he said. “The rocks have grooves. If they touch, that’s what grinds. If they don’t touch, they have to be re-grooved. Mine has never been re-grooved. When older folks see this, they always ask if the rocks have been re-sharpened.”
An Allis-Chalmers tractor engine powers the mill, a fairly recent development.
“When I first got the mill, it was hand crank,” he said, “and all my family thought I was going to break my arm cranking.”
Buel grinds corn or wheat (whole wheat flour makes the best pancakes, he said) for a small fee. He can grind about 50 pounds of corn in about five minutes. He once took on a job of grinding 2,300 pounds of corn: That took five hours. For a time, he ran a cane mill as well.
“I had sugar cane in the garden, and I like to drink the cane juice,” he said. “It was a mule-powered mill, but I had a Cushman scooter powering it instead.”
Buel has fitted out a trailer to display the gristmill and related materials.
“I’ve carried it a few places,” he said. “A lot of young people have never seen a gristmill. I love to show it, I love to talk about it, and I love to sell enough corn meal to cover my expenses.” FC