Bates Mill History: Solving Little Problems With Big Machines.

The Bates Mill was a textile juggernaut in the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s. Spanning over 2 million square feet of strategically placed mill space along the Androscoggin River and Lewiston canal system, the Bates Mill was a strategic asset for the region as well as a globally renowned feat of industrial engineering. With advancements in technology, however, also came some very complex challenges…

At the height of Bates Mill’s productivity in the first half of the 20th century, these brick buildings were filled with enormous networks of looms responsible for the creation of the textile fabrics. Of all the problems that could afflict a network of thousands of looms, one of the most significant would occur if the raw yarn became so dry that it lost its strength, and snapped. Stoppages like this were productivity killers and would cost the mill both time and money. Naturally, finding a solution was a top priority…The large machine that sits in our main entryway at The Pub is a standing relic of one such solution.

The Chicago Pneumatic air compressor that greets every guest who enters The Pub (pictured above), is a 4000-pound, steel, behemoth of a machine that was once used to cycle the entire volume of air in the mill. But rather than dehumidify the air, this compressor was used to humidify the air. The introduction of moisture into the air kept the yarns and fabrics tensile and strong, preventing breakage. The compressor was powered by a large hydroelectric motor fed by the canal waters along the mill (photo below). The air compressor is an in-line, single piston engine that could produce up to 70 Horsepower of force at around 150 RPM. That bull wheel that you can see is about 65 inches across…imagine that thing spinning 2.5 times per second! As the bull wheel spun, a large piston displaced air inside the engine, creating a sizable air pressure which was then diverted throughout the mill using ducting. The air would flow constantly throughout the mill to keep moisture circulating through the production areas, thus keeping the yarn stocks strong and operating efficiently on the looms. Problem solved.

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