Odell J. Shank paused, then added thoughtfully, “l like water power."
He had been discussing the principles upon which his mill on Abattoir and Mill Roads operated. Built in 1857, it is, according to Shank, the only extant mill In Franklin County operating entirely on water power. Not too many years ago Shank says, there were 21 within a radius of 25 miles of Waynesboro. The reason for the great decline in number?
"Well." Shank said, "Years, ago transportation facilities wouldn't allow for long hauls, so the countryside became dotted with mills for nearby farmers. Today, of course, it is very much different.
"Too, today most grain is refined by modern machinery in mass production. It would be prohibitively expensive, as an example, for anyone to buy — or make to sell — an old-fashioned burhstone. The stone's productiveness would not justify its cost”, Shank said.
Shank draws his water from Red Run. The stream flows into a tiny dam where it is, under normal conditions, kept at proper level simply by the dam's breast. If the stream should swell to create a high water pressure in the dam and thereby cause erosion, a gate in the breast is opened releasing the surplus water.
Dam erosion is a factor which may make water power costly. It is wise to keep it at a minimum, Shank said.
Shank's mill race — a canal-like affair a quarter of a mile long has its inlet at the side of the dam. The water in the dam flows to the inlet, "drops" through the inlet into the race. Thus it enters the race with little force, preventing excessive erosion.
The race, roughly 12' feet wide and three to five feet deep, can be a costly part of the system if not well maintained.
PRESSURE CAUSES EROSION
High water pressure against the banks makes for erosion and the piling up of mucky debris on the race bottom.
Muskrats burrow tunnels through the banks out into the surrounding fields causing heavy water losses which, during periods when the stuff is scarce, may put the supply in jeopardy. The tunnels must be filled constantly.
According to Shank, crawfish also get into the act. They work their way through the banks, sometimes reaching subterranean streams. Water from the race seeps to the underground streams and may eventually wear a channel wide enough for a man to stand in. These tunnels also have to be filled in.
DUCKS KEEP IT CLEAN
Shank solved another mill race problem by using ducks. It seems a generous amount of "seaweed" is contained in the water, often causing breakdowns when it gathers in clumps and gets into the machinery. The ducks, which he keeps on the race, eat some of the seaweed and what they don't eat, their water antics keep in a harmless state of dispersion.
At the race head the water passes through a grate and moves into a flue four feet in diameter. It flows to a tank, which is four feet deep and is located above the water wheel. The water issues from one side of the tank's bottom, falling into the "buckets" on the water wheel.
WASTE GATE NEEDED
When the water wheel is stopped temporarily during the day's operations after the dam was adjusted for full efficiency, it is necessary to provide a relief for the high pressure which would build up in the race, again to prevent erosion. A waste-gate on the tank is provided for this purpose. When the gate is opened, the water is spun away from the wheel.
Shank's water wheel is housed in a pit 30 feet deep. It is enclosed to prevent it from freezing in the winter, the mill owner said. The wheel has a 25 horsepower and a two rpm. It is made of steel and is 25 feet in diameter.
The wheel has approximately 200 buckets. Each bucket holds about four and one-half gallons of water, which means that in an eight-hour day nearly 900,000 gallons of water are used.
The early water wheel had only the force of the water to revolve it. Wooden slats extended out from the rim to receive the gush of water. It was later discovered that if the water-receiving sides were carved concave, not only the force of the water would be harnessed but in addition some of its weight would be used to turn the wheel. Carving the slats, of course, was a tedious and time consuming process. But the water they held gave a weighted side to the wheel — the slats, of course, emptying when they became vertical — and a higher rpm was reached.
BUCKETS ON WHEEL
With the Bessemer process for making steel came the steel water wheel equipped with buckets.
A system of gears and shafts speeds up the two rpm rate of the water wheel to, for example, 110- 120 rpm for the flour mill and 2100 rpm for the hammer mill which is used in custom grinding.
Shank’s French-type buhrstone is an atomic age take-off on a method of primitive man. Originally grain was ground by placing it between two flat stones and rubbing them together. The idea of upper and nether stones was contained in all mills until recently when machines for passing it through rollers were invented.
The two circular slabs in Shank's buhr stone are actually many tiny stones held together by composite. This, according to Shank, makes the best kind of stone. His is 95 years old and it is still grinding away. The upper stone can be adjusted for fine or course-ground corn meal.
The grinding surfaces of the stones have to be "Sharpened" or made rough with a pointed hammer from time to time. Grooves extend radially from the centers growing more shallow as they near the perimeter. The corn is fed into a hollowed-out portion of the upper stone. As the hulls are removed the ground cornmeal is forced out from between the stones, pushed through a sifter from where it travels to a bin.
The buhr stone preserves and adds to the flavor of the kiln-dried corn, due to the heat generated by the grinding friction.
As soon as the weather begins to get cold in the fall, millers scramble to get their cornmeal on the market. Shank says the miller who gets there first has the greatest volume of sales. Because of this, the corn is purchased early.
It is shelled and cleaned, dried in a kiln, cleaned again by two processes to take out impunities such as immature grains and pieces of cob, and then stored in bins on the second floor. From there it is gravity-fed into the buhr stone.
Shank has corn meal customers from Pittsburgh, Washington and Baltimore.
The mill was originally owned by S. H. Martin. Shank's dad bought it from Hobart Shockey the last of three Shockeys who ran the place. Before the Shockeys it was operated by Stover Friedly, around the turn of the century.
Many persons passing by the mill, according to Shank, stop and ask him to show them around. Water mills are few and far between, but there is doubtless more than this which creates so much fascination about water-power.
Could it be that in this era of the high cost of living and exorbitant spending, water power, erosion or no, represents economy and stability?