As some readers know, we are fortunate to inhabit a beautiful spot on a small river in southern Maine, which was long ago the site of a water-powered mill. One of the enigmatic relics of the ruined works was a 3″ diameter steel shaft sticking out of the muck in the riverbed, with a Lovejoy coupling on the upper end the size of a dinner plate. Soon after we arrived, we made a preliminary effort to unbury it one spring afternoon, but if I remember it was hot and buggy, and we ran out of steam after digging down and finding the runner pinned under some chunks of broken metal.
18 months intervened, and I had basically given up the thought of finishing the job before winter, but Saturday dawned pleasant for working, so I took some buckets, a shovel, and a digging bar down to the site and was soon hip-deep in a mucky hole. By a combination of bailing, digging, and pitching out rocks, I was soon able to get back to where we had previously stopped, and was able to rock the runner. With a bit more excavation I could see what I was up against – about half the circumference was trapped under a semi-circular cast iron ring, which had clearly been some sort of inflow nozzle that directed the flow downward onto the axial-flow runner. The cast iron parts were not going to move, since they were bolted down to some structure buried even deeper in the mud, but I was pretty sure if I could pull the one main chunk off (to the right in the photo above), I could lift the runner clear.
At this point I was pretty confident of victory, so I texted Tony and invited him to join the fun. Together we toted our light oxy-acetylene cutting rig down into the riverbed, and without too much effort we were able to burn off 3 nuts (or bolt heads; hard to tell with that much rust):
The old metal was wet and covered with mud, so the cutting was pretty mangy, but I got them burned off and then knocked the slag away with the digging bar. I lifted off the iron chunk, and then we had a pretty good view of the runner. it appeared to be about 3′ in diameter, with 10 graceful sweeping vanes.
The runner was free, but it was way too heavy to lift. However, we were fortunate to have two good-sized forked trees in line with it on either side; an ash on the manmade island between the main watercourse and the ruined spillway, and a pine on the high ground,directly beyond a steep cliff that rose about 15′ above the riverbed. We rigged a chain in the ash, a snatch block on the runner, and a second snatch block in the pine, and used our trusty orange worm-drive hand winch to take up the strain, with the red Ford as an anchor. Once we levered it clear of the remaining bits of metal in the hole, it rose smartly thanks to Tony’s efforts on the winch:
We were about out of winch by the time the runner was clear of the hole, so I guided it over onto the riverbed and Tony set it down. We lowered the attachment sling to just above the balance point, re-rigged to pull directly with the truck, and tied on a rope-a-long that was hitched to the south shore. Then with the truck we quickly raised it until it was even with the cliff edge above:
We then winched it south with the rope-a-long while gently lowering it with the truck, to arrive at its new resting place on high ground:
All in all a fun project, and a neat piece of Maine renewable energy history – I’m curious now to learn more about the mill that was at this site, and more generally about this type of small water mill. My first impression is that this runner seems much bigger than appropriate for the flow of the river (which can be judged from the photo above, which shows the outlet of the millpond, roughly at the location of the ruined dam) – at least during typical summer and early fall flows. Of course there are times in November and early spring when the entire valley fills with a raging torrent (see canoeing pictures from earlier this year) but I wouldn’t think you would build a larger-than-needed mill just to run on those few days or weeks of the year. Maybe the process (sawing wood or what-have-you) had a relatively low duty cycle, and they’d let the millpond fill up between cuts, then open the floodgates to get more power when they needed it.