Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Old Chopping Mill

            I walked by the Chopping Mill in the small town I live in today. It is located right beside the creek, the water was low and flowing quickly, and probably at one time it was dammed up and provided water power for the mill. The air carried the strong heavy scent of ground grain.
            It got me thinking of the old chopping mill in the town of Atwood where I grew up. This mill was a large high building right beside the railway tracks. Opposite it was The Blacksmith Shop. Neither building is there now but I remember riding our work horse Molly to the shop to be shod. It was quite thrilling to be considered old enough to ride the horse to Atwood and watch the blacksmith remove the old shoes, shape the horses hooves and fit the new shoes on her feet. The shop was a low building with smoke darkened windows. The forge was in the corner of the building, fine coal heaped on the fire and glowing red hot. Sparks flew when the blacksmith hammered the red hot iron shoe on the anvil to shape it to fit Molly’s hoof. I marveled at the strength of the man wearing his dirty leather apron when he picked up the horse’s hoof and nailed the shoe in place.
            In the 1940’s my uncle worked at the mill for a while. Our farm was about 4 miles from the chopping mill and in the fall and winter, on Saturdays, we used to load sacks of grain from our granary onto our trailer to take to the mill where it was chopped and mixed with supplements which we fed to our cows. Our trailer was a sturdy old wooden trailer big enough to load a cow into. The wheels came from an old 1928 Chevrolet and had wooden spokes. We had wooden racks to put on the trailer which were 6 feet high. I can remember painting the trailer a bright red. We still had it in 1998 when we sold the farm and the wooden spokes on those narrow rimmed tires were still solid and strong. That trailer was used a lot. It carried many a load of grain. Every time dad got a new car the first thing he would do was get a trailer hitch put on it to haul around our old wooden red trailer.
            It was heavy work lifting those 100 pound sacks of grain. I used to like to watch as the men threw the sacks off the trailer and up onto the dolly on the wooden platform outside the chopping mill. Then they pushed the dolly to a trap door on the floor of the mill. The string was untied on the bag and the grain was dumped down the hole. The grain was carried by little cups on the leather belted elevator up to a holding bin. The ingredients were mixed with the grain which then flowed down a wooden chute by gravity and the grain was chopped into cattle feed. Then it was carried by more elevators to another holding bin. From there it flowed down another wooden chute where it was bagged into the 100 pound sacks of flour. A man stood at the inverted Y shaped chute and tied off one bag while the other bag was being filled with chop. It was dusty here. He would lift the bag up bounce it a bit to settle the chop then with a quick one hand motion tie off the bag with the string. I got to learn this skill too over the years. After the bag was tied off he would throw it on the dolly which would hold all of the farmer’s grain. Then the load of chop would be rolled to a large room in the mill to stay until the farmer came along to collect it.
            It was fairly noisy in the mill with all the belts pulleys and elevators running. It certainly was dusty and you could smell the chop and taste the dust in your throat. Standing on the mill floor you could look away up to the high roof and see all the holding bins. My uncle let me climb up the long wooden ladder to the top and look down at the scene below. It was a scary climb.
            After the chop was loaded onto the trailer dad would go into the office to pay the bill. You went through a couple of glass doors up to a long counter. It was quite in here as the noise from the mill floor was deadened. Behind the counter was a bulletin board with pieces of paper pinned to it. There were also some big calendars hanging on the wall. There was an area at one end of the room where the farmers could sit around a big wood stove and chat and visit while they waited for the chopping to be completed.
            My aunt lived in town and she gave my sister and me piano lessons. Every Saturday we went for our music lessons while the grain was being chopped. These are my memories of the old chopping mill.

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