Monday, August 20, 2012

Benson Grist Mill

This field trip was such a happy surprise. While we were learning about mills and waterwheels, we watched a video of a working grist mill in Virginia. I had planned to go see the old waterwheel at Gardner Mill, but after we watched the video I did a quick search to see if there were any other working grist mills around. (We have the Lehi Roller Mills, but I couldn't find any tours available there, and anyway they use rollers---not waterwheels!) It seems like there are actually very few actual working waterwheel mills in the country anymore, but the Benson Grist Mill came up on my search, described as a "historic mill." On the spur of the moment, we decided to hop in the car and drive over there. It's about 45 minutes away from our house, over the mountains to the west.
Windmill by an old feeding trough (made of a log!)
It was 2:00 on a Monday afternoon, and the place was absolutely deserted, except for us and the sweet old lady that led the tours. She took us (with no apparent concern) into the rather decrepit-looking old mill, where we were thrilled to find much of the original machinery still present! It was so cool to see all the components we'd just been learning about. We scrambled up and down the stairs (hauling Junie's stroller up when possible) and the children hit our guide with barrages of questions.
A look into some of the grain elevators---such an ingenious system!
Some of the old leather belts that pulled the elevators, before they were replaced with stronger materials
I kept the foreground really dark in this picture so you can see the old waterwheel through the window in the background (this one was all broken and falling apart)
Seb by a machine called the "bug and dust collector"
Some later equipment---these are rollers like they use at the Lehi Roller Mills
Gears originally connected to the waterwheel and the turning shaft
Mill from the back---you can see the old waterwheel really leaning to the side
The millpond is all green and swampy, but I thought it was pretty nonetheless
One of the millstones---I think this was the bed stone

So that was fascinating, and then as we were all bemoaning the fact that we couldn't see the waterwheel actually working, our guide said, "Well, we can go next door and see the one there." What?! It turns out that in 2006 they built a working replica of the mill that shows how the wheel actually turns the millstones. We could hardly believe our luck.
First our guide showed us this small hand-grinding mill (which was itself quite an improvement over the mortar and pestle!). You pour the wheat in the center, and it falls through the chute after being ground by the stones. It falls onto a screen which you shake to sift the flour into a compartment below.
Seb could have done this all day, and tried to, until our guide had to gently urge us onward

Then she turned on the waterwheel, and the gears and shafts and millstones all began to turn. I know it seems silly, but we were all giddy over it---having been wanting to see this so much! I believe someone may have started clapping. (I think that was Junie, actually.) Above you can see the gears attached to a shaft below, turning the belts . . .
which turn the run of millstones! You can see the runner stone on top, whirling merrily.
Another too-dark picture, so you can see the water emerging from the flume---this is an overshot waterwheel, the most efficient type---and falling onto the wheel.
Here is the view from the back
And another view
As a bonus, there are several old pioneer cabins, a blacksmith shop, etc. at this site, and we enjoyed seeing them too. Our guide took off the ropes on the doors of the cabins and let us wander around inside (she had taken quite a liking to the children by this time, thanks to their interest in her tour!) so we could see everything. Seb and Abe found this barbed wire exhibit particularly interesting---we learned there are something like 500 kinds of different barbed wires!
We learned that there are events at this place several times a year, and we hope to return when they are actually grinding corn into cornmeal in September! It was one of the best field trips we'd been on, and we talked happily about it all the way home.

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