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Iowa Public Television
Some of the earliest mills depended on horses, not water, for their power. In sparsely populated areas—where a full-time miller was unnecessary—the mills were self-service. A farmer had to drive his wagonload of grain 10-20 miles to the nearest mill, use his own horses to power it, do his own grinding and leave his toll in the toll-box. He might have worked up a sweat in the process, but it was still the only way to get bread. But as the farm community grew so did the importance of a grist mill. Farmers grew wheat, oats, barley and corn and a place had to be found to grind that grain into flour and meal. The miller was dependent on Iowa’s abundant rivers and streams for his power. If the river was too high or too low, the mill had to close down completely.
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