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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