Keeping History alive

by Stormy Wylie
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   Any flour miller knows that his customers' success will surely influence his own.

   That was certainly the case for the Keynes Brothers flour mill in Logan, Ohio, U.S., which recently found itself in a predicament. Customer demand was growing by leaps and bounds, and the mill was already running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just to keep up with orders.

   “The only thing to do was increase capacity,” said William W. (Bill) Keynes, president.

   In April 1998, the company began a U.S.$1.4-million expansion project, adding 3,600 cwts of capacity (225 tonnes of wheat ground) to its existing mill. The new milling unit, which was up and running the following September, raised the company's total daily milling capacity to nearly 8,200 cwts (500 tonnes).

   It was only the third major expansion in the 130-year-old flour mill's history, although over the years equipment has been added and changed and moved around so much as to make the mill almost unrecognizable — at least from the inside. On the outside, the Keynes Brothers mill looks much the same as it has since 1887.

   The original mill was built in 1855 by Thomas Dewar, in a choice spot at the edge of town next to the Hock-Hocking Canal, a branch of the Ohio-Erie Canal system. Mr. Dewar sold the mill in 1869 to Robert W. Keynes, the head miller who had come to the United States from England, and his partner, financier John Wellman.

   A fire destroyed the mill in 1886. “From that, phoenix-like, arose the present magnificent structure that is a pride to the city and a monument to the perseverance and industry of its founders,” according to the Journal-Gazette, the town's newspaper, in a souvenir edition printed in 1897.

   It has taken perseverance — and a little ingenuity — to adapt a mill built for the late 1800s into a modern, efficient flour mill for the 1990s and the next millenium, said Mr. Keynes, who is the great-grandson of Robert Keynes.

   Family history reveals that Robert Keynes had two sons, William W. and Charles H. When Robert Keynes died in 1894, he left his interest in the mill to his sons. In 1896, the brothers purchased John Wellman's interests and the mill became completely family-owned.

   William died in 1920, leaving his portion of the mill to his brother. Charles operated the business alone until 1928, when his son, Robert, came into the business. Charles died in 1942.

   Robert's son, William (the current president), joined the family business in 1959. Bill Keynes' two sons, aptly named Charles and William, are the fifth generation to be involved in the family's flour milling business. Charles Keynes is vice-president and Bill Keynes Jr. is secretary-treasurer of the company and mill superintendent.

   Over the years, each generation made improvements to the mill.


   Like most mills of the late 1800s, the Keynes mill once processed more than wheat flour. It also cracked corn, mixed feed, split oats and milled buckwheat and corn. When the mill was rebuilt in 1887 after the fire, it was considered to be one of the most technologically advanced of its time, producing 250 barrels of flour per day. The Allis Chalmers roller milling process was powered by steam.

   “So complete is their system that there is absolutely nothing lost and there is no grade of flour that they cannot produce,” said the Journal-Gazette.

   Fast forward to 1963. Bill Keynes, who came to work at the mill just out of college four years earlier, was involved in the mill's first major expansion that year. “We knew we either had to be a flour mill or a feed mill,” he said. “We couldn't be both.” The mill was completely remodeled with a Buhler pneumatic milling system, including new, modern roller mills and plansifters. The expansion increased the mill's capacity to about 1,200 cwts (75 tonnes) per day.

   “Every year we did something to get the capacity up a little,” Mr. Keynes said. “We'd buy larger roller mills or reflow things to make it work better. We'd take a roller mill that was 18 or 24 inches long and replace it with a 36-inch roller to increase the grinding capacity. We were constantly finding places that were bottlenecks and eliminating them.” By 1969, the mill was up to 1,600 cwts (100 tonnes) per day. In 1977, the company completed its second major expansion by adding more roller mills and a newer Buhler pneumatic system, which increased capacity to 2,400 cwts (150 tonnes) per day.

   John Lampkin was hired as head miller in 1983. A Canadian citizen, Mr. Lampkin was a technical flour milling engineer who had trained in England. In his previous job at Thomas Robinson and Sons (now Satake U.K.), he helped design and build about two dozen flour mills in the U.K.

   By tweaking things here and there, Mr. Lampkin had the Keynes mill producing up to 3,000 cwts (185 tonnes) per day. A couple more sifters and four roller mills later, the mill had topped out at about 4,500 cwts (280 tonnes) By then, Bill Keynes said, “We were done, we had run out of air.” As improvements were made over the years, all the equipment was moved to the south side of the main building, a 5-story, 40-foot by 50-foot brick structure. The north third of the mill was kept empty, “with the vision of increasing capacity down the road,” Mr. Keynes said.

   In early 1998, the company asked Codema, Inc., Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., to design a “B” mill for that empty space that would add another 3,000 cwts capacity.

   Work began in April, with Mr. Lampkin and a millwright crew doing most of the electrical work and installing the equipment themselves as fast as it could be delivered. They worked six days a week, 12 to 18 hours a day. Five months later, on Sept. 10, 1998, the new “B” mill was operating, producing 3,600 cwts.

   Heinz Baecker, president of Codema, said, “The yield in this mill is consistently above what is normal for a soft wheat mill.” Besides providing the diagram and engineering, Codema supplied all the pneumatics, filters and aspiration system, impact grinders and pressure lifts. In addition, Codema facilitated the purchase of other equipment, including Great Western Manufacturing sifters, Schlagel and Essmueller conveyors, Kice spouting and Comptrol scales.

   The mill's nine new single-high double rollstands — one equipped with longer rolls for more grinding capacity — and the bran and shorts dusters are Alapala, a Turkish manufacturer for which Codema is the manufacturer's representative.

   Amazingly, the total cost of the project came in within U.S.$105 of the original bid, said Richard Gilles, project manager for Codema.


   As could be expected, there were several challenges involved when installing modern equipment in a 100-year-old building.

   “In an old flour mill like this nothing is square,” said Mr. Lampkin, who acted as the project engineer for Keynes Brothers. “Any time you work in an old building, nothing ever goes to plan. At one point, we threw the plans away.” A section of the building's front brick wall had to be removed to bring in the new equipment. As the equipment was delivered, it had to be taken apart, carried up the narrow staircase and then reassembled, Mr. Lampkin said.

   During installation, the existing “A” mill was never shut down for more than a half an hour, he said.

   Both mill units can be operated independently, and each has its own electrical supply. Although Keynes Brothers is strictly a soft wheat mill, producing only one type of flour for crackers, cookies and pretzels, the new mill unit was designed with the flexibility to produce cake flours and to even grind hard wheat.

   “We oversized the pneumatics to have an abundance of air,” Mr. Lampkin said. “If we ever need to grind hard wheat there is enough air to add two purifiers.” Wheat is procured locally from growers in Ohio. The mill can store 1.2 million bushels on site, with another 1.4 million bushels of storage in four company-owned country elevators scattered throughout Ohio.

   Wheat is received at the mill by both rail and truck, and both delivery methods can be unloaded at same time. The mill also has its own laboratory for quality testing. “Any commercial mill has quality issues,” Mr. Keynes said. “We make sure the wheat is cleaned and sanitized; we grade the wheat and reject it if it's not the right quality. But by having wheat come from our own elevators, we know where it comes from and that it's not being blended.” Flour storage capacity at the mill totals about 1.5 million pounds (680 tonnes), distributed in 16 bulk trailers and the rest in bins. The company owns its own trucking fleet.

   “We find that we can better service our customers if we control the trucking,” Mr. Keynes said. “Service is really our whole card. We can get product to the bakery on time, just in time. We take the responsibility of flour away from the baker.” Keynes Brothers' flour market is totally commercial and almost 100% bulk. The company hasn't exported in years, Mr. Keynes said. Most of its bakery customers are within a 300-mile radius of Logan.

   “All of our customers kept getting bigger through expansion or acquisition,” he said. “Their growth impacted us.”

   Geographically, the mill is in a prime location in the heavily populated northeastern part of the United States. Because of its location — Logan is located about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio, not more than 30 minutes from two major universities — the small town of 7,000 people has attracted a variety of industries, including a clay tile factory, a staircase company, a Smead plant that makes office file folders, a General Electric plant that produces glass tubes for florescent light bulbs and a Goodyear plant that manufactures foam dashboards for cars.

   Although the flour mill isn't one of the area's largest employers — Keynes Brothers only employs about 40 persons — it is still a central focus of the town, said Jim St. Clair, owner of Risch Drug Store in Logan. “Historically, the town has grown up around it,” Mr. St. Clair said of the Keynes Brothers flour mill. “It's one of those businesses that you can wake up every morning and know it's there. It's been good for the town.”

   He added, “Bill Keynes has done a wonderful job of preserving that building and utilizing it.

   “In the last 20 years, the mill is one of the most modern things I've ever seen.”