I Tried Milling by Bill Nye
Story type: Essay
I think I was about 18 years of age when I decided that I would be a miller, with flour on my clothes and a salary of $200 per month. This was not the first thing I had decided to be, and afterward changed my mind about.
I engaged to learn my profession of a man called Sam Newton, I believe; at least I will call him that for the sake of argument. My business was to weigh wheat, deduct as much as possible on account of cockle, pigeon grass and wild buckwheat, and to chisel the honest farmer out of all he would stand. This was the programme with Mr. Newton; but I am happy to say that it met with its reward, and the sheriff afterward operated the mill.
On stormy days I did the book-keeping, with a scoop shovel behind my ear, in a pile of middlings on the fifth floor. Gradually I drifted into doing a good deal of this kind of brain work. I would chop the ice out of the turbine wheel at 5 o’clock A.M., and then frolic up six flights of stairs and shovel shorts till 9 o’clock P.M.
By shoveling bran and other vegetables 16 hours a day, a general knowledge of the milling business may be readily obtained. I used to scoop middlings till I could see stars, and then I would look out at the landscape and ponder.
I got so that I piled up more ponder, after a while, than I did middlings.
One day the proprietor came up stairs and discovered me in a brown study, whereupon he cursed me in a subdued Presbyterian way, abbreviated my salary from $26 per month to $18 and reduced me to the ranks.
Afterward I got together enough desultory information so that I could superintend the feed stone. The feed stone is used to grind hen feed and other luxuries. One day I noticed an odor that reminded me of a hot overshoe trying to smother a glue factory at the close of a tropical day. I spoke to the chief floor walker of the mill about it, and he said “dod gammit” or something that sounded like that, in a course and brutal manner. He then kicked my person in a rude and hurried tone of voice, and told me that the feed stone was burning up.
He was a very fierce man, with a violent and ungovernable temper, and, finding that I was only increasing his brutal fury, I afterward resigned my position. I talked it over with the proprietor, and both agreed that it would be best. He agreed to it before I did, and rather hurried up my determination to go.
I rather hated to go so soon, but he made it an object for me to go, and I went. I started in with the idea that I would begin at the bottom of the ladder, as it were, and gradually climb to the bran bin by my own exertions, hoping by honesty, industry, and carrying two bushels of wheat up nine flights of stairs, to become a wealthy man, with corn meal in my hair and cracked wheat in my coat pocket, but I did not seem to accomplish it.
Instead of having ink on my fingers and a chastened look of woe on my clear-cut Grecian features, I might have poured No. 1 hard wheat and buckwheat flour out of my long taper ears every night, if I had stuck to the profession. Still, as I say, it was for another man’s best good that I resigned. The head miller had no control over himself and the proprietor had rather set his heart on my resignation, so it was better that way.
Still I like to roll around in the bran pile, and monkey in the cracked wheat. I love also to go out in the kitchen and put corn meal down the back of the cook’s neck while my wife is working a purple silk Kensington dog, with navy blue mane and tail, on a gothic lambrequin.
I can never cease to hanker for the rumble and grumble of the busy mill, and the solemn murmur of the millstones and the machinery are music to me. More so than the solemn murmur of the proprietor used to be when he came in at an inopportune moment, and in that impromptu and extemporaneous manner of his, and found me admiring the wild and beautiful scenery. He may have been a good miller, but he had no love for the beautiful. Perhaps that is why he was always so cold and cruel toward me. My slender, willowy grace and mellow, bird-like voice never seemed to melt his stony heart.