Again something different! We’ve been meaning to visit Elim Mill since we visited Genadendal Mill, also a Moravian Mission Station, about two years ago. Joanna Marx, who introduced me to Compagnes Drift, received an SOS call in the week from Malcolm Temmers, Municipal Manager of Elim, saying their Water Wheel was rubbing against the building! Could she please come and give some advice?


Immaculately kept houses in the Main Street of Elim. 

This sounded bad! Could the wheel have come unshipped from the Axle Tree? Was it rotten in the centre? Could the Axle Tree be broken? Heaven forbid! Resorting to Field Marshal Slim’s maxim that ‘no good news is ever as good, nor bad news ever as bad, as when first reported’, we arranged to inspect.


The launder and water-wheel end of the Mill building

We arranged to ride together and compare notes on the way. Joanna last did an inspection on 17th March 2005, and at that time she was not able to give a satisfactory report. In what state could it possibly be in now? As it happened, she was delayed and we travelled separately and I had plenty of time to speak to Board Members Paul Swart and Ronald Engel, as well as Malcolm himself, before she arrived.


The area of the water wheel is neatly enclosed with this stone wall.

What is most encouraging is the appearance that all the Board members are united in their view that the Mill should be brought back into operation as soon as possible in order to attract more visitors, to give them more to experience, and more Elim products to take away with them, in the form of stone-ground meal in an attracive, printed cloth bag. 

In the picture above, marks can be seen on the clasp-arm spokes where the wheel has rubbed against the outer wall of the pit. At that time, the wheel was shifted towards the wall of the building, perhaps too far. Now with some more shift, it’s rubbing against the wall of the building. Spacers have been made between the clasp-arms and the axle tree, but these are parallel sided planks, there does not appear to be any taper on them, so that they can be knocked in as wedges. There is no other axial fixing method to locate the wheel on the shaft; this would not be normal anyway. These wedges are also used to true-up any run-out the wheel might have. There was no other apparent damage, at least outside. 

The wheel is in dire need of maintenance, it needs scraping back to bare wood and the metal fittings need de-rusting and many of the square nuts are badly rusted. Professional advice must be sought regarding the best method of wood treatment, rather than re-applying a varnish which will simply peel up like the last product has done.


Clasp arm water wheel. It is about 5.5 metres in diameter and when in operation, is said to be the largest working wooden water wheel in South Africa. If Boskloof, not far away, were brought back into operation, it would be another serious contender!

The ‘gudgeon’, the metal point set into the outer end of the axle tree, is in good order; however the inner end looks as though it has been a problem for a long time. Successive sets of bands and bars have been added. The wheel will have to be turned to watch whether it can be used like this.


Many repairs have been done to the gudgeon on the inner end of the axle tree.

Otherwise, on the inside, the machinery looks in good order. The bevelled pit-wheel looks good; the mesh between that and the bevelled pinion on the wallower shaft is fine. New cogs have been made out of ironwood and installed in the large wallower gear, and the ‘stone nuts’ mesh well with that.


The inner end of the Axle Tree, showing many repairs. Behind is the bevelled pit wheel which drives the bevelled gear on the wallower shaft above. Behind the pit wheel, the solid wooden pulley for the generator can be seen.

It can be seen from the picture below that the stone-nut can be disengaged from the wallower gear by turning the hand wheel above it; this moves the stone nut vertically, in and out of mesh.


The hand wheel above the stone nut is turned to raise the pinion out of engagement with the wallower gear.

The two mills are almost complete, and could easily be put into operation as they are, after a bit of adjustment. What is most interesting with these mills, made by I Zimmerman of Danzig, Germany (Now Gdansk, Poland), is that the runners are under the stationary upper (bed?)stones! However, tentering is still achieved by raising and lowering the stationary upper stones.


A visitor inspects the main Vitruvian Mills.

According to drawings by James Walton of these mills, there should be upper parts of the tuns, slightly smaller in diameter than the red lower sections. Some meal might escape with these missing, but from my experience with the Vitruvian Mill at Compagnes Drift, not much. The stone-lifting apparatus is all there, a gibbet crane complete with calipers, exactly positioned to swing centrally over either Mill.

Also under the Stones Platform is an electric generator, with two-stage step-up shafts running from a solid wooden pulley behind the pit wheel. It would be fun to get this operational!


The Drive arrangement for the electric generator. There is a solid wooden pulley on the axle tree with belts which drives the small pulley on the far shaft. The large pulley on that shaft drives the small one on the closer shaft. The large pulley then drives the generator. Speed is increased many times at each stage.

The wallower shaft extends upwards through the upper floor, there through a small enclosed crown-wheel and pinion to drive a grain cleaner and grader above:


The drive for the grain cleaner / grader above the main Mills. Drive comes up through the floor on the left, through a bevel crown-wheel and pinion, to drive the horizontal shaft, then through belts to the machine.

This gearing and shaft is positioned under a table, which might have served for conditioning (dampening) and inspecting the grain before scooping it into the respective hoppers.


Grader, hoppers and conditioning (?) table for the main Mills

There is no sign of any form of sack-lift or grain elevator. Instead, plenty of evidence of this job being done ‘by hand’ on the main stair-case which is at the front door. Another staircase from the stones platform is visible above on the left, but this would be too awkward to use while carrying a grain sack!


Looking down the main stair-case, showing many years of wear!

At the other end of the Mill house is another milling set-up which cannot be driven by the water wheel. Instead there must have been an engine, steam or internal combustion, either outside, or under the lean-to section at the back which is now the tea room, where line-shafting is attached to the wall:


Line shafting fixed to the wall of the rear room, now tea-room. The shaft protrudes through the wall and there is a pulley outside. 

The line shaft extends through the wall, there is a pulley attached outside. The belt is still hanging on the shaft and through the wall, which drove a Portable Mill, made by E R & F Turner, a firm which still exists as Christy-Turner in Ipswich. They have been ‘leading manufacturers of flaking mills and roller mills since 1837’. The large pulley could have been driven by an engine standing in this room, or it could have driven some equipment here, there is a raised section in the floor. A wooden cover can be seen over another slot in the wall towards the near end of the shaft, there would have been another pulley in line with that, driving the sieve made by T Robinson of Rochdale, high up against the wall on the other side.


From left to right, Portable Mill by E R & F Turner of Ipswich; meal elevator; and meal-dresser by T Robinson of Rochdale. It is not clear how the elevator was fed.

The other side of that slot is covered by the dark wooden plank on the right; the meal-dresser pulley is in line with that. Hanging through the roof is another belt which drives from the double pulley. This powers the meal-elevator which feeds the dresser, which is visible between the portable Mill and the dresser, with the inspection window in it. It is not clear how the elevator was fed at its base, something is missing. Before we left, we had re-united the hand-wheel seen lying against the tun with the lighter screw and had found and refitted the two arms of the caliper:


Calipers refitted to stone-lifting gear.

We turned the gears of the Mill, but there’s no drive to the runner for some reason. 

Upstairs at this end, is another grain cleaner / sieve, supplied by P Andrag, another ‘conditioning table’ (?) with its hopper and the top of the meal elevator:


Winnower and grain grader, supplied by P Andrag. 

Although this machine turns, the sieves are damaged. 

That sums up the machinery. The remainder of the Mill house contains, as mentioned before, the Tea Room, which is run as private enterprise, where we had an excellent meal, served by the proprietresses in coordinated uniforms J, and ‘melktert’ of the First Order!


Proprietors of the Tea-room and delicious ‘melktert’! 

The rest of the wall space is crammed with framed old photographs and artefacts.


Hundreds of old photographs and many artefacts line the walls! 


Fish-moths have been attacking this period view of the mill. Note there is no pulley protruding of the wall above the cart on the left. This would suggest that the lean-to at the back was not specifically built to house an engine.


Photographs of a stone-dressing demonstration, during a recent restoration


This is a stencil; I remember something similar at Mamre.


This is a carpenter’s tool, the like of which was featured in an overseas magazine recently. It’s for clamping onto a floor beam and by turning the handle, the rectangular metal plate at the other end forces the next floor plank against the previous one!

Work is scheduled to begin on the wheel on Monday, using local labour and craftsmen. Some planks need replacement on the wooden buckets, too. When the wheel is ready to shift, they will call me and we’ll make a plan, using straps and chain-blocks from the end of the gudgeon. I made measurements before I left. The race is on; they want it turning by the 26th of this month! 

Nothing like a deadline to chase a job along!

Andy Selfe

5th September 2009