Alberta Phoenix Pipe & Tube Plant photo by Walter Kot

I worked that winter learning the plan sifter trade, that summer I was scheduled to work on the roll floor when the other Miller’s were on holidays.  Unfortunately in April of 1970 I became disabled with another boat of rheumatoid arthritis so I ended up off sick.  When I returned to work I was told to return to my job in the warehouse, and then I was then laid off for no reason.  I figured they did not want me around with my health problems. I went on unemployment insurance and took a year off.  The  two-helper jobs on the flour delivery truck were abolished as a cost-cutting measure.  I knew the owner Dennis R. (Barney) Giles quite well, and he hired me to be the swamper on the city flour delivery truck in the fall of 1971.  The warehouse had finally joined the 20th century, and had purchased a secondhand Clark Fork lift, two electric pallet jack stackers, a single electric pallet jack stacker, half a dozen hydraulic pallet jacks, and finally thousands of pallets.  The first ones they purchased were made from 3/8 of an inch plywood, onto these they loaded 30-100 hundred weights of flour, they were stacked and layers of four, which were interlocked seven high, and two bags were stood up right in the hole in the middle of pallets.  The pallets did not work to long as the sheer weight of 3000 pounds caused to break down.  They next tried 3/4″ plywood, which worked satisfactory.  To load the city truck for Westons Bakeries only required eight pallets of flour for a total of 250 bags.  The flour truck was left spotted on door one of the warehouse, and I was assigned to come in at 6 a.m. to load the truck for its 7 a.m. departure.  I have never driven a Forklift before, but seeing there was nobody around the warehouse between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. it didn’t take me long to learn how to run the machine.  The main thing I had to watch out for were the sprinkler pipes, if I ever hit one of those we wouldn’t have a real mess.  I remember on one occasion I was placing a pallet of flour on the trailer, I had gone over the aluminum dock board into trailer when it started to roll away on the downgrade from the warehouse across Bonnybrook Road fortunately there was no traffic coming, and I had the sense to drop the pallet to the floor of the trailer this anchored the forklift until the tractor and trailer came to a safe stop.  The driver had forgotten to set the air brakes on the rig.  I worked that job the fall of 1971 and the spring of 1972.

In the spring of 1972 I had an opportunity to get a really good paying job at the Alberta Phoenix Pipe and Tube Co. they have acquired a large order for 36 inch sub arc welded natural gas line pipe, the pipe was manufactured by taking flat rectangular sheets of steel rolling them through a steel pipe mill, and welding the seam. I placed an application for employment and was hired to work in the yard filling it with the finished product lengths of pipe that were 36 inches in diameter and 48 feet long.  These were loaded onto railway flat cars, and gondolas the pipe was loaded three across on saddles which were 12 feet beams of lumber 10″ x 10″ they were notched out in the yard using a large band saw that cut contours for the pipe to rest in they were stacked four high and were strapped together using Signode  steel banding that were tightened with air power tools that tightened the straps and steel clips were crimped onto the banding so they would not slip.  One of my other jobs was working as the helper on the Track Mobile a small diesel driven locomotive that had the ability to run on railway tracks, and with hydraulic rubber tires it could be operated on the road.  My job with it was to bring incoming flat cars of steel into the mill for unloading to start its journey through the mill to be made into pipe.  These cars were usually loaded with 12 to 14 sheets of flat steel, when the cars were unloaded we took them over the loading tracks where they could be prepared for loading pipe.  We worked long hours on this job there were two shifts in the yard one started that 6 a.m. till 6 p.m., the other shift started at 6 p.m. and work till 6 a.m., seven days a week so there was a lot of overtime to be made.  I enjoyed working out in the yard, where the air was fresher.  Not like inside the mill where there was lots of airborne pollution.  The mill workers were scheduled to work 3 eight-hour shifts, seven days a week.  There were opportunities to make pretty good money in the different crafts the sub-arc welder’s made a good paycheck.  But like all good things they come to an end the order was finished in November 1972 and I was once again unemployed.  Though I had saved enough money to tide me through the winter.

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Posted on 29-10-2008
Filed Under (Calgary 1970s, Flour Mills, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

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Renown Flour Mill Circa 1951

In the Fall of 1969 through the Spring of 1970 I decided to take a promotion and learn the trade of Flour Milling, this gave me a raise in pay to $2.71 an hour. On the first Monday in September I reported for the day shift at 8 a.m and rode the Humphrey man lift up to the ninth floor of the mill where I was to learn the trade of Sifter Operator. To operate the flour mill there were 4 men on the 3 shifts from 08:00 to 16:00 — 16:00 to 24:00 — and 24:00 to 08:00. There was Shift Supervisor, who was a Journeyman Miller, a Miller who operated the milling rolls on the fourth floor of the regarding that something update for the program the mill, a Sifter Operator whose duties I will explain later, and a Screen room Operator who prepared and supplied the wheat to be ground into flour. On day shift there are also two sweepers who were qualified to work all positions in the miil, on day shift they would look after housekeeping, and look after light repair work repairing sifter, and purifier screens, and were used to relieve men on shift who are off sick. My duties as a sifter operator involved the following.

On the ninth floor I had a worktable that was 2′ x 6′ On the surface and stood about 48 inches high and was made from a hardwood salvaged from the warehouse floors that were torn up in the 1940s due to flour beetle infestation, this is where I could place my lunch pail. I would then read the written report from my previous shift operator, and would write my own report from my shift. In today’s case that did not apply as the mill had been shut down over the weekend. And was to be started from a dead stop. We were only operating “B” Mil this week, as there is no orders for export flour. Well starting up a flour mill is quite a procedure to observe. The Screen Room Operator has arrived half an hour earlier and has the wheat ready for milling. On the ninth floor the Milling Superintendent and Shift Supervisor stand beside the Scale chute that has two wooden doors that they open and observe the wheat coming from the screen room when the scale bucket starts to fill, there is also a timer to set the speed o the scale the Milling Superintendent pushes a doorbell three times this rings simultaneously on all floors of the Mill as a warning for all the employees to be at their stations, and be clear of the machinery, it also rings in the electrical room on the other side of the mill on the fourth floor, this is the signal for the electrician to start the massive 500 hp electric motor that is recessed off down off of the fifth floor where it run the line shafts, underneath the rolls that grind the wheat on the fourth floor, the motor has multiple grooved pulley and has eight belts called ropes that run all machinery on the upper floors, there is open space above the motor that connects the ropes to intermediate pulleys above the 7th floor that connect to more ropes that drive the elevator legs on the 10th floor and in the machinery on the 9th floor of the mill.

All the machinery has to be checked at startup to make sure they are all operating okay. On the ninth floor I have two enormous plan sifters, picture a wooden box 8 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 12 feet long suspended 1 foot off the floor by bamboo canes. The sifter operates by a gyroscopic transmission mounted on top that keeps the box oscillating inside the sifter box it is divided into 16 compartments, 8 on each side of these compartments that are divided into two levels and are filled with dozens of steel and silk sifter trays of all different gauges for the flour to sift through as it is reduced by the mill rolls from wheat to flour. On the bottom of each compartment there are four outlets that are connected to spout’s that go through the floor. They are connected with nylon sifter socks, they are tubular sleeves with a stitching down the length and elastic cuffs on each end to connect to the spouting on the floor, and the outlet on the bottom of the sifter. On The ninth floor there are also five belt driven feeders that the grain can be checked each time it goes through the break rolls which are course and fluted to break down the flour from the bran and shorts of the wheat kernel. After checking all my machinery on the ninth floor, I continued my inspection.

I then take the Humphrey man lift to the 10th floor, remembering to get off before the safety switch trips and turns the lift off to save me from going over the top. While walking eastward I learned a valuable lesson there was a sprinkler pipe painted with black and yellow stripes as a warning, it was about the height of my forehead, the first tour of duty on midnights I remember waking up on the floor I had walked into this pipe and wearing only my cotton cap knocked myself out, I laid on the floor for about 10 min. before I recovered. The machinery on this floor consists of the elevator heads that distribute the flour being processed from the rolls on the third floor. There are a half a dozen machines called Detachers and they are a belt driven impact centrifuges machines used to purify flour, I check all these machines and take the East staircase down to the eighth floor where I have eight more sifters to check out, there are also three large bins 12 feet in diameter that are used to store bran and shorts a byproduct of the milling that is used for cattle feed. A lot of this product is blown into feed cars, or packed into bags for shipping by boxcar. It is important to watch these bins because if they get too full the mill would have to be shut down. On afternoon and midnight shifts it was my duty to watch these cars being filled with feed, from the scale upstairs on the fifth floor you can tell when the feed car was half loaded, you then had to go down to the main floor and out onto the front loading platform, climb up a ladder on the car being loaded, and turn the spout 180° to start filling the other end of the boxcar with feed. We also had a straight pipe that fed through the box cars to fill a trailer with feed. I remember coming to work one morning and seeing a big pile of feed laying on the ground in front of the box cars. The midnight sifter operator had put in the straight pipe to load the trailer, as the box cars were all full, little did he know that they owner of the trailer had taken it away for maintenance. So the feed blew out onto the ground for eight hours creating quite a pile that had to be shoveled up into bags and brought up into the mill and dumped back into the feed bin on the eighth floor.

I next work my way down to the sixth floor, stopping to visit the Screen Room Operator in the elevator side on the seventh floor. There is not much on the seventh floor just a lot of spout’s that distribute the flour from the sifters on the eighth floor to the purifiers on the sixth floor, there are about 16 of these belt driven machines. There are also some of the break rolls for “A” mill, located on the northeast corner of the floor . On six the purifiers are checked they are rectangular boxes about 8 feet long and 4 feet wide and stand about 5 feet high, they are made from hardwood with glass window doors on each side that slope in an a 45° angle,they are hinged on the bottom and have handles on the top, so they can be opened for inspection, on the top there is a air pipe that creates a vacuum to pull lighter particles off of the screens on the bottom of the purifier, were there are screens of silk that are vibrating from the machinery’s driving mechanism, the heavier particles go through the screens. At lease three times a week the screens are cleaned with a bristle brush. The sixth floor is also the tail end of the mill and there are five-gallon pails of tailings, it acts as another diagnostic tool, and if there are too much tailings that would indicate that there could be a problem with the milling process. This is where the vitamins, bleach, and maturing agents are added to the flour, through feeders, I have to check that they are all full and top them up, from the large cardboard drums full of the required agents. My next task is to go to the fourth floor where the Miller is working on the rolls, on this floor there are 16 steel bins that the flour goes into. I have a small tin can about the size of a can of Copenhagen snuff, that I use to take a sample of the finished flour. I do this on the half hour and the Miller does the same on the hour. I then go back to the ninth floor where I have on my bench a little oven heated by a light bulb. I have canisters of all our different floors that we manufacture, and these are my standards. I have a bunch of hardwood sticks one quarter of an inch thick, 2 inches wide, and 8 inches long. I have a tool called a slick it is made of stainless steel and looks like a putty knife I use this tool to take a sample of the standard place it on the front of the hardwood stick and shape it like a pyramid behind the standard I place some of my sample and feather it against the standard. I then dip the stick into water and place it in the oven to dry. I mark the time on the stick with a pencil. When the stick is dry you can compare the standard with the sample and see if there is an anything wrong with the milling process.

If there is a problem the sample will be different from the standard, it could be speckled with bits of shorts, another way to diagnose a problem is to check the tailings coming off the mill on the sixth floor and look for excessive articles than normal. This is reported to the supervisor and the detective work begins to try to find the root of the problem which is usually a hole in one of the sifter screens. Through a process of elimination the leaky screen can be found, there are little wooden inspection drawers under each sifter sock by checking the stream of flour coming out of the sifter, to fix the problem the screen has to be changed out while the mail is still running, this is quite an exercise in coordination, there are wooden doors on the top and bottom quadrant’s of the sifter boxes, they are fastened with two brass round knobs, in order to loosen them you use a pair of pliers, you have to remember that the sifter is oscillating back and forth, and in and out while you attempt to get your pliers to grip the brass fasteners. Once this is accomplished and the door is removed you are looking at 24 sifter trays that are rock ‘n rolling and flour is pouring out onto the mill floor. Here once again with great coordination you start to pull out the sifter trays one by one and checked them for leaks, eventually you find the one that will have a hole in its silkscreen, a new screen is installed, and the sifter door reapplied, and we are back in business making pure flour in less than 20 minutes. The damage screen is repaired in-house by the day shift, they have a bench with a glue pot of hide glue, the part of the sifter tray which is divided into quadrants with an internal lattice work of wooden ribs. The hole in the silk is cut out with scissors and a new piece of sifter silk is skillfully cut and glued into place and the tray is ready to be returning to service when required.

Other problems one would have to be on the outlook for were belts fallen off some of your line driven machinery, to reinstall them you carried an oval shaped piece of 1/8″ thick leather the size of your palm with a leather strap that held it to the back of your hand you would take the belt that was hanging from the line shaft place it on the rotating pulley and place the belt against the stationary pulley of the machinery and with the leather in your palm put pressure against the belt and with a circular motion the belt will climb onto the pulley and the machine will be back in service again. This could be a dangerous procedure on some of the bigger machinery like the rolls, and many Miller’s have lost fingertips doing this. There would also be chokes this is where flour would start backing out of the spotting and we would have wires to feed in to the spouting to clear the obstruction from, this you had to be careful doing at some time the spouting fed into an augur and would tear the wire out of your hands. One of the worst problems we would face would be a broken elevator leg. The elevator legs ran from the third floor of the mill up to the 10th floor, they consisted of two enclosed wooden chutes about 12 x 16 inches that were spaced out 3 feet apart and ran parallel to each other from the third floor to the 10th floor. They were connected together on the third floor by a cast metal casting that was semicircular inside and had a large pulley 3 feet in diameter, there was a similar casting on the 10th floor with the exception that it its pulley mounted inside connected to the line drive. Inside these elevator legs ran a rubberized woven canvas belt about 12 inches wide and riveted to it were metal buckets in about 12 inch intervals, their purpose was to scoop up and transfer product that came off of the mill rolls on the fourth floor and transfer it up to the 10th floor where it would be distributed into the sifter’s and other machinery below. There were about 36 of these elevator legs that ran from one end of the mill floor to the other. At times one of the belts on these conveyors would break, this would create a big problem and the mill would have to be shut down. You have to figure the length of these belts running through several floors of machinery twice would work out to about 140 feet in length, when the belt broke it would fall off the driving pulley on the 10th floor and fall into the legs on each side. There were access doors to the front elevator leg on the fifth floor it was open and we were able to access the broken conveyor belt. It was pulled out of the legs and laid out on the mill floor. The next step was to splice the belt together, we had a special splicing machine and the two broken ends of the conveyor belt were clamped down, another tool of the trade was a sharp jackknife which we would use to cut the jagged edges of the belt parallel to each other, we then used a lacing machine to install belt fasteners to each end of the broken belt. These fasteners were made of steel teeth made of wire and were spaced out about 1/8 of a inch apart they were round on one end the correct diameter of the belt being spliced, they had two arms that radiated out at a 45° angle for about 1 inch there they were bent at a 90° angle and had a razor-sharp extension about a half an inch long. The lacing machine would be loaded with the fastener of the correct length and it would clamp the fastener to the end of the belt the sharp extensions would pierce the belt along its length on both sides and the ends that stuck out were hammered over this lab a round loop extending across the width of the belt on each end. A 1 inch manila rope was placed over the driving pulley on the 10th floor and lowered down the back lay around the bottom pulley on the third floor which had an opening on the bottom, the next step was to feed the elevator belt down the front elevator leg on the fifth floor down to the third floor first taking the precaution of clamping the one end of the elevator belt to the front elevator leg to prevent it from falling down as the other end of the elevator belt was being lowered to the third floor where it was all laid out on the floor. The rope was attached to the end of the of the elevator belt that was lowered down from the fifth floor. Now was the hard part we brought all the warehouse men on shift up to the fifth floor and with our crew of three men we would have to pull the elevator belt from the third floor up the back leg of the elevator and over-the-top pulley and back down to the opening on the fifth floor. This took a lot of brute strength, there was one man stationed on the third floor to make sure the belt and buckets fed into the black elevator leg okay. After pulling the elevator belt up through seven floors and over-the-top of the drive pulley, it got a little easier to bring the elevator belt down to the opening on the fifth floor, once this was done the elevator belt was clamped to the outside front of the elevator later on five close enough to the other end that had been clamped so the splice could be finished, the two ends with the Staples lakes to them were interlocked together and through the hole formed a piece of round catgut about 5/16 of an inch in diameter that to the width of the elevator bell was driven between the lacing staples and the clamps holding the elevator belt were released, the repair was now finished, the covers were all reinstalled, and we were ready to start the flour mill up again. The electrician had been called in, and all the help at hand was used to start the mill again. This was no easy feat not like the dry start on Monday mornings, the male in this situation were shut down under full load, but we usually did not run into too many problems getting the mill back into production again. Downtime was probably about two hours, so not too serious on a 24 hour operation.

As you can see from the picture at the top of the page we had a great view of the CPR’s Alyth train yard from the upper floors of the flour mill.  One day John Oliver and I were looking out at the yard from a ninth floor window.  The CPR at that time were rebuilding and expanding the facility.  We could see switchmen riding cars down into yard tracks and securing them with hand brakes, there were also switchmen standing at track switches and lining them for the tracks that the cars were rolling down. John who had worked at the mill since the 1940s told me that the switchmen riding the cars were hump riders and the yard tracks they were working in was a gravity classification yard, the switchmen who were lining switches were called switch tenders, and cars coming into the yard were sorted out for outgoing destinations and new trains would be built from the cars in these tracks.  In the distance you could see bulldozers and machinery building a brand-new railyard, with a five-story control tower, compressor station,are operated switches, and pneumatic control devices alongside the tracks.  John told me that when the new yard was completed it would be a computer controlled classification yard, and the hump rider, and switch tender jobs would be eliminated.


1.) Elevator bucket.
2.) Elevator buckets on conveyor belting, description from 1929 Gustin-Bacon catalog.
3.) Belt fastened with Clipper hooks and Rawhide catgut pin.
4.) Clipper hooks lacing and rawhide catgut fasteners from 1929 Gustin-Bacon catalog.
5.) Clipper No.3 Belt lacing machine from 1929 Gustin-Bacon catalog.


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Posted on 26-10-2008
Filed Under (Calgary 1960s, Flour Mills, Many Jobs and Trades) by Broken Rail

One of the better warehouse jobs was working on the flour truck that delivered to the local bakeries in the city of Calgary. DR (Dennis) Giles owned the truck and trailer, and two warehousemen accompanied the driver to unload the deliveries. One big contract was Weston Bakeries, that was located in a brick building near the Calgary Stampede Grounds they would require seven deliveries. A week six loads of white flour, and one load of whole-wheat flour. The loads were stacks of 100 pound paper sacks that were wheeled into the trailer and dumped three a cross for a total of 18 bags to a row (to make a dump of flour a wheeler was stacked one bag vertical and five bags alternatively moved though many horizontal, it was done this way so the flour could be moved again by sliding the tip of the wheeler under the vertical bag and pulling back on the horizontal bags the flour could be moved again without re-stacking), this was done 14 times for a total of 252 bags, the order required 250 bags, the extra two bags were in case of breakage. We drove down to the bakery in the morning after loading the truck, usually stopping along the way for breakfast at either the Cardinal Grill, or the Shamrock Café. When we arrived at the bakery the truck was backed up to an unloading door with a metal chute that ran down into the basement, a hardwood wooden plank 2 feet wide was positioned on the edge of the trailer to connect with the metal chute to the basement. Two of us would go down into the basement, and the driver would send the bags down the chute to us In the basement. The metal chute, flattened out, and the bags that were about 32 inches long, could be turned and stacked on wooden pallets provided by the bakery. We would put eight layers of the three that were interlocked, and one bag on top to make 25 bags to a pallet. We repeated this 10 times, and the truck would be unloaded. When each pallet was loaded, one of us moved to would take the load away with a pallet jack and store it in rows down in the basement that was used for flour storage only, while the other would keep loading a new pallet.

When we returned to the mill after unloading Weston’s flour, there would be other orders to be loaded and delivered to other bakeries around the city. They would usually take about 50 bags of flour, cake, and doughnut mixes that packed in 50 pound bags, some of the bakeries we delivered to were the City, Italian Supermarket, Sweet Home, Dad’s Cookies, Mrs. Willman’s, Sam’s Bakery, the Grand Café, Bowness Bakery, Four-Star Lakeview, Honeyboy’s and McDonald’s Consolidated who is the warehouse for Safeway’s. Safeways ordered 50 pound bags of Safeway Bread Flour that we packaged for them, and once a month we would deliver an order there usually early Friday morning, there would be dozens of trucks lined up to be unloaded, and to get the receiver to unload the pallets that we stacked their flour on took a little bribery. One of us would get his car keys and take a bag of flour and put it in his trunk. Then we were prioritized for unloading, and were out of there in less than two hours. This was approved, and saved us a lot of time in waiting to be unloaded. I remember delivering to the Grand Café it was in a back alley behind the Greyhound depot. We had to back the truck in from 1st St West to the receiving door, where there was a freight elevator that we placed the bags in and send them to the basement to unload. They ordered 50-hundred weights, and we had to carry these by hand through a narrow doorway and stack the bags in a pile that ended up 2 feet over our heads, this is where learning how to balance a bag on your shoulders really paid off, you could pick up a bag from the floor and stand it vertically on your shoulder and with that advantage throw a bag upon the top of the pile.

It was are great job getting away from the drudgery of working on the warehouse floor, and the chance to get out into the fresh air in the summer. I remember one summer day on a Friday we had a load for Sam’s Bakery, the driver was a frail looking older man named Harold, who we nick named “Popeye” we finished on loading the bakery was located west of the Marda Theatre in an old Dominion Supermarket we had finished and the other warehousemen Brad Snow and I were looking forward to a weekend off, anyways Popeye drove the truck over the Glenmore Trail Causeway, where he ran out of gas, boy were we upset, he coasted op over the Causeway and we have a green traffic light and started coasting downhill towards Elbow Drive where we once again had the traffic light in our favor, and were able to coast to a gas pump at the service station that was located at that intersection, the gas jockey ran out anticipating a big sale, Popeye said $10 please, and we were on our way home. Sometimes, we had to pick up loads for the warehouse, we would go to Maple Leaf Males over by the Calgary Brewery and pickup bags of oatmeal for distribution, Maple Leaf was Calgary’s oldest flour mill, and it’s warehouse was not heated, a cold place to work in the winter compared to our mill that was steam heated . We would also pick up trailer loads of empty paper bags for backing flour into, these bags were stored in the warehouse’s basement and hoisted up to the third floor packing machines when required In the warehouse we wore overalls they were comfortable in the summer, and added insulation in the winter, the packers and millers wore whites (white shirts and pants) as they worked inside all the time. These were changed every week and provided by a service called Canadian Linen, we also all wore black peaked hat’s (like painters caps) that were supplied by Bonar and Bemis our bag manufacturer, and were very comfortable to wear. These were the days before safety boots, glasses, and hard hats.

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