The Haircut Engine


| January/February 1997



The old millhouse

The old millhouse.

2507 S.W. Rockhouse Road Madison, Alabama 35758

Being retired, my brother Joe and I see each other often. His hobby is woodworking, while mine is salvaging old iron. Also, both of us enjoy another hobby Indian artifact collecting. We hunt together quite often, so we have plenty of time to talk. During a visit to his home, we were discussing where our next trip would take us. Mostly, we walked in planted fields or river banks, but this day, with the temperature in the nineties, we decided to wait for a cooler day. I mentioned that I needed a haircut and was going to the local barbershop.

Joe told me that he had a friend a retired barber who still cut hair occasionally, who probably would cut mine if I wanted him to. We called and he said to come on over. His name is Bill Erwin.

While there, I mentioned old engines, as most old iron nuts do. It turned out Bill had run an old grist mill and feed mill when he was eleven or twelve years old, and a large old one lunger was the power supply. Bill loved to talk, so for thirty minutes he told us about his father, and life in the hills of Tennessee.

Bill's father had been a woodworker and whittler. He made such things as walking sticks, stools, chairs, baskets, etc., generally selling his wares on Saturday of each week at local flea markets and hardware stores. As sales would get slow in a community, they moved on to another. This time, they would move to the old grist mill site. The owner of the grist mill let them live in the house rent free, just for running the grist mill and feed mill one day a week, and that day was Friday. The owner also got his feed for the cattle ground that same day. The general store, also owned by this same man, sold the corn meal on Saturday, and of course the following week.

When Friday came, Bill's job was to operate the grist mill, while his father took care of his whittling and woodworking chores to be prepared for Saturday. Bill, being only eleven or twelve years old (he is now seventy), could not start the big engine, so his father started it and then left it to Bill to run and maintain. Bill fed the mill with corn and sacked the meal along with any adjustments to be made. He also ran the feed mill.