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Monday, May 2, 2016

Keeping tradition

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ken Felts Photo by Jody Shackelford
Jody Shackelford

Staff Writer

Ken Felts and family are keeping a longstanding tradition of grinding corn, alive and well in Viola with a mill thought to be nearly 100-years old.

The mill passed from person to person until Ken's father, Dick Felts, received it from the Sherman Family.

"John Sherman had it and gave it to my dad to keep in the family," Felts said. "It's ground a lot of corn."

Felts said the mill ground corn for Viola and the surrounding area around the 1920-30s at a local shop before it was given to the Felts family.

The first thing a person will notice about the mill is the sound. The sputtering chitter chatter serenade of the old tractor just outside the mill shack and the long lumbering belt that breathes life into the mill itself.

Once one's eyes adjust to the light inside the mill shack, you notice the large inverted pyramid shaped hopper feeding the hard corn kernels into the mouth of the grinder, as what looks like sawdust shoots from a wooden spout just below.

"You put the corn in and the grinder has granite stone burs in it. The corn goes between those and when it comes out you have your corn meal and your waste product that they call the chaff. It falls into a trap and it sifts out the corn meal," Felts explained.

Like fake snow on a Hollywood movie set, the corn meal falls through the screen into a long blue plastic tub on the ground.

The mill has traveled the country with Felts' father but now it rests several yards from his back door.

"We decided to keep it in the family. So, every year about this time we will all get together and grind corn," he said.

The Felts, in just a few days with friends and family, grind nearly 1,000 pounds of corn, Felts said.

Felts said he tried to call Viola School to allow kids to come and witness a piece of history in the present but was told it was too short a notice.

The mill has been a local part of the community for years and Felts said they get most of their corn locally too.

"The biggest part of the corn was grown down between here and Elizabeth by James Holstein," Felts said.

Corn isn't the only food the mill can process. Along with corn the mill will grind several varieties of grain and various types of corn.

"A lot of people just like yellow corn. But for us we like the white corn. It makes a better corn bread. We even have a little bit of red corn," Felts said.

While the Felts don't crank out the corn all year long, they said they hope it is a lifelong activity with friends and family.

"We are glad to pass on the tradition," Felts said.


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