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More mind chum,chew on this one
Posted to Open Discussion Forum on 4/16/2016 9 Replies

Good day all. We have returned from our trip to New England to visit with family and some friends.Staying with my son and oldest daughter in Manchester N.H. Driving through these areas of my youth, now as a grown man it might sound a little strange, but as we drove around observing some of the magnificent architecture in the old mill buildings,i can't help but think of the role that they played in this countries history.

Visiting home, for myself it literally is like going back to this countries earliest roots of the industrial revolution. Having done some research on these mill buildings,it stands as testimony to the care that many were built with. Most are well over 130 years old.

In my mind I travel back to a simpler and hardier time. Back before labor unions, back before child welfare laws were enacted. A fourteen hour work day was not uncommon. And working six days a week was also not uncommon. And on the seventh day they rested.

Many of the single girls were put up in boarding houses with each floor having a house "Mother" in residence to make certain that no hanky panky was going on. Many of the girls were farm girls that had come to urban areas such as Manchester, to seek out a better life for themselves.

A large lot of the employees were new immigrants from all over the globe, coming to America to find those fabled streets paved with gold. A select few did find their fortunes by being clever mechanics and inventing better ways of making the machinery more productive and efficient. Improvements in the machinery made the mills more productive which in turn helped to make more product. The products in this case being woven goods.

Driving through the downtown of Manchester I am still in awe of the size of these structures. The largest of these is the Amoskeag mills which stretches for a mile in length and at its height employed over 9000 people from all areas of the world. This mill building still exists and is one of the very first buildings that greets ones eye upon crossing into the Manchester downtown.

The diversity of the cities neighborhoods was one of many small communities. People find comfort in what is familiar ,so small neighborhood markets would open, these were crucial in the makeup of the neighborhoods, places to gather and get the latest gossip on what was going on about the town. Growing up I now realize that these mills were the reasons for the pockets of Italians ,or Poles,as well as the Germans, from my own background the French Canadians and the Armenians .Enter the Lithuanians ,a lot of the Baltics were also represented.Greeks the Irish the Scots the English , and to a lesser degree the people from Sweden and Finland and Norway, the list goes on. All of these individual groups brought to the Americas their own individuals rights and customs.To be celebrated as they were back in their own homelands.

The mills of themselves were simply vessels, a brick, wood and mortar container for the machines of industry. Many were built after disasters had struck, such as fires,or floods. Almost every major urban area has had conflagrations of epic destruction. Partly due to crowded conditions and also due to crude firefighting methods of the times.

These major fires brought with them improvements in building construction and standards for fighting of fires. Floods were another one of the destructive elements that could wipe out buildings and bridges in moments.

Stories have been written of communities where connecting bridges over major rivers would have to be rebuilt every few years,due to being flood damaged. As most of the mills were water dependent,very few safeguards were implemented to prevent damage by flooding. Not until the advent of the Army corps of engineers in the early part of the 20th century, did dams and floodgates get installed to better control the flows of rivers after either major rainstorms or spring melts,which brought along high water and ice blocks which could cause severe damage. A very few early water control projects were built ,but most were for the entrepenurial use of selling the water rights to the mills for power usage. And did little to control flooding, many actually increased the damage that was a by product of poor engineering and the understanding of the power of water.

All of the mills from the era of 1870 and on were designed with water turbines installed in the lowest levels.Canals had been hand dug many by the Irish that had come to America to escape the potato famine and would do the most menial of tasks, eager to find work,and to get some cash flowing for their families. These canals were crucial to the operations of the mills .Water gates were controlled by companies formed for the sole purpose of controlling and selling the water to these mills.

A whole industry was formed just for designing and maintaining the mills turbine engines.And these are not what we all would think that a turbine is. These engines were nothing more than a vertical shaft with a wheel on the end, supported by a casing with bearings and seals. Attached to the outer perimeter of this wheel would be specially shaped cups where the jet of water would hit spinning the turbine. The flow was regulated by valves on the intake pipes to increase or decrease the flow as was needed. Many, many different designs were created over the years,each being touted as the most advanced and efficient turbine

As the mills became more sophisticated the turbine was eventually replaced by a steam engine that was more capable of driving the many machines in the mill. A complex system of shafts and gearboxes were installed in the mills.And with all of the machines in use being driven by flat wide leather belts. Seeing pictures of the mills using these drive systems it is visual chaos.

These drive systems had their own separate maintenance division inside the mill as these power systems were the one item crucial to how the mill operated. All of the shafts and gearboxes had to be precisely aligned or the belts would not stay in place. When the steam engines started replacing the turbines it was a twofold for the mills. Eletrification could now start happening .The steam plants were often centrally located and would divide and sell the power to the individual mills. It was very common to see advertising from these early mills boasting of a 25,000 shaft horsepower steam engine or larger. Remember in these times all of industry was done on a grand scale .So whomever had the biggest most powerful steam plant was deemed the king, as well as boasting rights.

As a mechanic the skills that were needed to keep these machines in operation were crucial. Apprenticeships were not entered into lightly, as you were expected to carry on your chosen profession for the remainder of your working life. It is the same today, the most highly skilled and creative were always in very high demand, Also it seems that the standards expected from a mechanic were very high. There was also the notion of being proud of what you did and not being ashamed to sign your name to it. Some things unfortunately, have changed with time.

I can almost hear these mills today while driving past them, imagining them humming like a huge hive. The buildings past grandeur is still visible in their immense size and scale. The stone and brickwork are now becoming lost art forms.As I found out from my research , when the Italians started coming to America ,the stonemasons that did most of the work were the Italians. and they were prized .The work they did has stood the test of time,To my eyes these buildings are beautiful to look at and the history in them simply boggles my mind .Anybody that has passed them by ,please take the time to take a closer look, you just might be observing the work of your families long lost relatives. till the next time, thanks for reading, Bruce

Bruce Caron
Technician/Shop Foreman
Bruce Caron
Brunswick, Georgia, USA

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