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A visit to Slater Mill

Another one of the places we visited last (1 1/2 weeks ago) weekend at the motss con was Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI. It is a historical preservation of a mill - parts of which were built in 1793 and through various stages of evolution finally ceased operation in 1921. Its products were cotton thread, cloth, and later on tools and bicycles. Thanks to lots of volunteers and donors it was preserved and is now an active museum with guides wearing period costumes.

Our guides were well informed. Among other things we learned a lot about water power - a small dam on the Blackstone River is right there - and how they diverted and filtered the debris from the falls, how the machinery worked, and how the labor was managed.

They have to protect against debris coming down the river and do it by several means once of which is the grate at the edge of this pool at the entry to the mill:




Waterwheel and its control:


The power was delivered to these machines by a huge array of belts. They used lots of grease on these belts which flew all over the place coating the floor with a layer of grease. As a result workers went barefoot since the style of shoes those days was such that they'd be too slippery. Good thing for them that there was no OSHA then.




In the weaving room they employed lot of very young kids (as young as 6 years old). Partly because they were cheap labor and also their small size made it easy for them to get into the machine and untangle snags. If they stopped the machine they'd be docked several days wages. An adult overseer would yell at them if they were in danger. It was so noisy and there were many such machines that it would be hard to hear the shouting and distinguish between the guy behind this machine or the next one. They often employed the father of the kid at his machine figuring he'd have more at stake and also because the kid would recognize his voice. The owners didn't really are about the welfare of the kids because there were always an available replacement since they had large families.
A braid weaver, the overseer's desk and the timetable. Twelve hour days five days a week; Saturday was only 9 1/2 hours.







The braid weaver and a cloth weaving machine. The array of slats on the left had pins in them that could be changed to change the pattern - yet another instance of an early programmable machine.


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Slater Mill is one of my favorite places in RI, and it's like a lost city within a city. How many people actually see all of it?

Anyway, did they turn on the wheel for you? The sound it makes is just beautiful. I once was given a private appontment for an hour, just so I could take my equipment in there and record the sounds...

No, unfortunately the water level was too low to run the wheel. I would have loved to see it in action.

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