Writing from Gilbertville, a Lewiston journal correspondent says: Gilbertville, a manufacturing community in the town of Canton, twenty-five miles from Lewiston, up the Androscoggin, is now a village of over 500 inhabitants, where three years ago there was but a single farmhouse. If a town had sprung into existence in a far Western State with so much celerity, the phenomenon would not be considered remarkable, perhaps; but growths of this kind are not indigenous to the New England of the present era. Gilbertville has probably outstripped all New England villages in the race of the past three years. It is only one of the signs that old Maine is not dead yet.
Gilbert Brothers erected a saw mill here three years ago. A year later, the Denison Paper Manufacturing Company, of Mechanic Falls, erected a big pulp mill, which, also, the town voted to exempt from taxation for ten years. The mills are valuable companions for each other. The pulp mill utilizes all the waste of the saw mill. A settlement was speedily built by the operatives. Gilbertville now boasts of a post-office, a store, several large boarding houses, a nice school house, and over 500 inhabitants. The pulp mill employs seventy men. It runs night and day. It manufactures monthly 350 cords of poplar and spruce into pulp. It consumes monthly 500 cords of wood for fuel, 45 casks of soda ash, valued at $45 per cask, nine car loads of lime, 24,000 pounds to the car. It produces 1,000,000 pounds of wet fiber, valued at about $17,000, monthly. The pay roll amounts to $3,500 per month.
The larger part of the stock used by the mill consists of poplar logs floated down the Androscoggin and its tributaries. One thousand two hundred cords of poplar cut in four-foot lengths are piled about the mill; and a little further up the river are 5,000 cords more. The logs are hauled from the river and sawed into lengths by a donkey engine, which cuts about sixty cords per day, and pulls out fourteen logs at a time. All the spruce slabs made by the saw mill are used with this poplar. The wood is fed to a wheel armed with many sharp knives. It devours a cord of wood every fifteen minutes. The four-foot sticks are chewed into fine chips as rapidly as they can be thrust into the maw of the chopper. They are carried directly from this machine to the top of the mill by an endless belt with pockets attached. There are hatchways in the attic floor, which open upon rotary iron boilers. Into these boilers the chips are raked, and a solution of lime and soda ash is poured over them.
This bath destroys all the resinous matter in the wood, and after cooking five hours the chips are reduced to a mass of soft black pulp. Each rotary will contain two cords of chips. After the cooking, the pulp is dumped into iron tanks in the basement, where it is thoroughly washed with streams of clean cold water. It is then pumped into a machine which rolls it into broad sheets. These sheets are folded, and condensed by a hydraulic press of 200 tons pressure. This process reduces its bulk fifty per cent., and sends profuse jets of water flying out of it. The soda ash, in which, mixed with lime and water, the chips are cooked, is reclaimed, and used over and over again. The liquor, after it has been used, is pumped into tanks on top of large brick furnaces. As it is heated, it thickens. It is brought nearer and nearer the fire until it crystallizes, and finally burns into an ash. Eighty per cent. of the ash used is thus reclaimed. This process is an immense saving to the pulp manufacturers. The work in the pulp mill is severe, and is slightly tinged with danger.
Three thousand four hundred pounds of white ash to 2,100 pounds of lime are the proportions in which the liquor in each vat is mixed. One does not envy the lot of the stout fellows who crawl into the great rotaries to stow away the chips. The hurry of business is so great that they cannot wait for these boilers to cool naturally, after they have cooked one batch, before putting in another. So they have a fan pump, to which is attached a canvas hose, and with this blow cooling air currents into the boiler, or "rotary," as they call it. The rotary is subjected to an immense pressure, and is very stoutly made of thick iron plates, bolted together.
Describing the business as carried on at Mechanic Falls, the same paper says: There are six of these mills on the three dams over which the Little Androscoggin falls. These are the Eagle, the Star, the Diamond, the Union, the pulp, and the super calendering mills. The Eagle and the Star mills run on book papers of various grades. The Union mill runs on newspaper. The old Diamond mill now prepares pulp stock. The pulp mill does nothing but bleach the rag pulp and prepare for the machines in the other mills; while the super-calendering mill gives the paper an extra finish when ordered. There is practically but one series of processes by which the paper is made in the various mills.
It is a curious fact that America is not ragged enough to produce the requisite amount of stock for its own paper mills. Nearly all the rags used by the Denison Mills (and by others in various parts of the country as well) are imported from the old countries. All the rags first go through the "duster." This is a big cylindrical shell of coarse wire netting. It is rapidly revolved, while a screw running through its center is turned in the opposite direction. Air currents are forced through it by a power fan. The rags are continuously fed into one end of this shell, which is about ten feet long and four feet in diameter. The screw forces them through the whole length of the shell, while they are kept buzzing around and subjected to breezes which blow thick clouds of dirt and dust out of them. The air of the room is thick with European and Asiatic earth. It is swept up in great rolls on the floor. The man who operates the duster should have leather lungs.
Overhead is a long room where thirty girls are busily sorting the rags for the various grades of papers. That the dusting machine is no more perfect than a human machine is evinced by the murky atmosphere of this room, by the particles that lodge in the throat of the visitor, and by the frequent coughing of the sorters. They protect their hair with turbans of veiling, occasionally decorated with a bit of bright color. These turbans give the room the appearance of an industrious Turkish harem. Short, sharp scythe blades, like Turkish scimeters, gleam above all the girls' benches. When a sorter wishes to cut a rag, she pulls it across the edge of this blade, and is not obliged to hunt for a pair of shears.