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John's Blog

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Grist Mills

Last October, my wife and I spent 10-days in Vermont. I created several plein air studies... (See the story HERE)... and took many photos. One of the little towns we enjoyed was Weston...home of the wonderful Vermont Country Store... and, it was in Weston that I discovered this wonderful old grist mill.
This is the first of many paintings I will be doing as a result of the trip.

Weston Grist Mill  -  16"x 27"  -  Oil on canvas

Now, I have to admit, when I'm traveling I'm thinking of paintings...and when I'm thinking of paintings I'm thinking of light, value and composition. So when I discovered this wonderful grist mill and found it visually appealing, it never occurred to me to go inside and actually see its operation. It's embarrassing to say this, but for all I know it may have been just an interesting facade. So now I'm full of regret for my oversight...not going inside to check it out.

Painting Detail

How do  grist mills work and what exactly do they do? Inquiring minds need to know.
Vertical water wheels were in use in the Roman Empire as far back as 100 BC, so they've been around a long time.
A "gristmill" can really be any type of mill that grinds grain, but we think of them as the type seen here...a multistory structure with a vertical wheel located near water.
Mills were of great importance to the agricultural economy of America. Usually built and supported by local farming communities, farmers would bring their grain to the miller and receive back ground meal or flour.

Painting Detail

Painting Detail

Classical mill designs are usually water powered, though some are powered by the wind or by livestock. For those powered by water, a sluice gate is opened allowing water to flow onto or under a water wheel, causing it to turn. It appears to me that in Weston, water flows in and propels the wheel from below.
The water wheels turn at about 10 rpm. That energy is transmitted to the mill stones through a series of gears, and a drive shaft. This increases the mill stone rotation to 120 rpm. Two circular stones, laid on top of one another, do the work. The bottom stone is fixed and is called the "bed" stone, while the top rotating stone is the "runner".

Painting Detail

Grain is lifted in sacks, by a hoist, onto the "sack floor" at the top of the mill. The sacks are then emptied into bins and the grain falls down through a hopper to the millstones on the "stone floor" below. The flow of grain is regulated by shaking it in a gently sloping trough from which it falls into a hole at the center of the runner stone. The milled grain (flour) is collected as it emerges through grooves in the runner stone from the outer rim of the stones and is fed down a chute to be collected in sacks on the ground or "meal floor". It's all a very interesting and ingenious process, proving man's creativity and ingenuity. 

If you're interested in learning more, the video below does an excellent job of thoroughly explaining the process.

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