The Story of Two Mules – by Emily
Once upon a time there was a mule called “Brother”. Brother was drafted into turning a cane mill for what seemed like hours on end. After becoming dirty and dizzy, he began to bray for help. Another mule called “Wife” heard his braying and decided to help. With Brother on one end and Wife on the other, the cane mill turned and turned under the hot sun. Then Wife became tired and brayed, “Why can’t I have a rope to pull this load, why do I have to push?” The farmer hooked up a rope to the cane mill. Brother pushed and Wife pulled the cane mill under the hot sun. Round and round the cane mill went while Brother and Wife became dizzy and tired. Finally, both Brother and Wife started braying so loudly that farmer had pity on them and hooked the rope to a tractor. Brother sat upon the tractor and the tractor turned the cane mill round and round under the hot sun. Wife went back and forth, carrying more cane to the farmer who sat upon the ground. The two mules said nothing to the farmer about not thinking of the tractor earlier. However, every time the farmer got hit in the head by the board attached to the mill’s roller, the sounds of “hee haw! hee haw!” were heard throughout the land.
I think her story is hilarious and pretty well summarizes how our day went…
The plan was to process the cane I described yesterday into sorghum syrup. Basically, the canes are full of liquid with natural sugars and other magical things that give it a distinct flavor. To extract the liquid, farmer Warren has to crush the cane using a cane mill. Farmers in the old days used to hitch up horses or mules to a long pole attached to the center roller in the mill. As the animals walked in circles, the rollers turned crushing cane fed into the mill a few pieces at a time.
We reassembled the mill and lagged it to a few sections of old railroad ties. Old timers used to attach the mill to a tree stump that was quite solid in the ground. You see, when the rollers are turned in the mill, a tremendous amount of torque can be generated. If the mill isn’t attached to something solid, it will be spun around…not something I wanted to deal with as a 600 pound block of iron in motion is slightly more than I can handle.
So, we got it assembled and rigged a board to the center shaft. I was the first draft animal to take a turn at the mill. It was slightly easier than I expected to turn the mill. It was frozen solid when I got it so nothing moved. I guess I had an idea that it would be only slightly easier to turn once it was cleaned up. I had not assembled it even once since restoring it so I had no idea! Luckily, it turned well so we decided to start crushing cane. We tried to run a single pieces of cane through it but it didn’t really work.
The rollers are supposed to be spaced at around 1/16th of an inch. On each end of each roller, there used to be bolts that could be used to adjust the spacing of the rollers. On my old mill, I was able to free the top bolts but I couldn’t replace them (not for this year anyhow). The bottom bolts remain frozen in place so I had some ability to adjust the tops of the rollers but the bottoms were set in iron…literally. We set up the mill under a spruce tree so I grabbed a few pine cones and jammed them into the top of the mill to force the rollers closer together. Surprisingly, it worked amazingly well! The spacing at the bottom of the rollers was a little too wide so I had to be careful feeding the cane so that it went mostly towards the top of the joint between the rollers. That worked just fine but was less than ideal.
So, as I said, I was the original draft animal but I had the vision on how to feed the cane too so my brother, who has a mind well suited for being a draft animal, took over turning the rollers (just kidding…he has a PhD in chemistry). Really, neither job was too glamorous. After a few turns, we were both dizzy (and I swear it had nothing to do with the liquid wheat we had nearby) and decided to hook it to the motorized draft animal. I remained on the ground to feed stalk while Isaac and my brother took turns riding the tractor. I suppose we ran cane through the cane mill for 3-4 hours slowly learning tricks and getting better at the process. We had to fight the mill a few times as I got impatient and fed too much cane. The torque increased and we spun the mill in circles…luckily we kept the mill low to the ground for safety. Next year, I will mount it higher and more substantially to make it easier to feed cane and to minimize rotation.
Click here for a short video of the sorghum press in action
When sorghum juice flows, it is pea green. Truly, it doesn’t look appetizing and I think it smells like the guts of a pumpkin around Halloween. Still, we got juice flowing and I was so excited. The process was working! We pressed a bunch of cane and had a nice bunch of juice to cook down. You’ll have to wait until the next post to hear about that adventure (yeah, I lied yesterday…I have to write more than 2 parts)!