Balmoral Grist Mill, Nova Scotia
The Balmoral Grist Mill was a treat. I love old mills and was eager to visit this one but I was really excited when I arrived and found out it wasn’t a corn mill but rather a mill for oats and wheat. My first! Cornmeal is relatively simple to make in a gristmill – shelled kernels are fed into the square wooden hopper and funneled through the hole in the runner stone. As the runner stone turns over the stationary bed stone, the corn is then ground between it and the bed stone. But wheat and oats have additional processes that were entirely new for me. Oats start by being spread and dried on a kiln floor, heated from below by a wood-burning furnace.
The dried oats are swept through an opening in the floor where they are collected in sacks in the basement and then hoisted up via pulley system to the second floor. Here they are dumped into a hopper or trough that streams them into a shaker which in turn feeds the oats between two grindstones. This first grinding process only removes shells the oats using softer sandstone, then letting them fall through back into the basement. Next, a grain elevator moves the oats back up to the second floor feeding them into a second hopper which allows them to fall back to the first floor and into the hopper that lies on top of a pair granite millstones, which grinds them into oatmeal. Finally, the oats are moved once more via another grain elevator to just below the ceiling where they are deposited in another shaker that separates the oatmeal from finer siftings.
Wheat flour production begins by emptying sacks of the grain into a ground floor hopper from where its moved via elevator to the second floor and deposited in a shaker. The shaker feeds the wheat into a “cleaner” which separates the wheat from foreign material; the shaker itself helps this process by separating the raw material by density though the sieving and screening done in the cleaner is more thorough. As the grain passes through the cleaner it falls down to the first floor and is channeled to between the grindstones; for wheat, French Buhrr grindstones are preferred as it allows for finer ground wheat. After being ground into flour, the wheat is moved via elevator into a horizontally-oriented spinning dressing cylinder that forces the product over screens of differing sizes, separating the finer flour from the courser. The large bran is collected as it passes through to the end of the drum.
The basic power mechanisms are very similar in all gristmills, whether they grind corn, oat, or wheat though Balmoral was powered by turbine rather than the traditional waterwheel. The dammed waterway creates a mill pond which can be released using sluicegates to power the wheel or turbine. The wheel or turbine turns a shaft which in the case of Balmoral, spins the huge spur wheel in the basement that, through a series of vertical drive shafts and leather belts, rotates the runner stones and powers the grain elevators. Its an ingenious low-tech system that I find incredible interesting.