Clyde's Cider Mill
Old Mystic, CT
A few weeks back someone from NEMES emailed me about Clyde's Cider Mill, the oldest operating, steam powered cider mill in the nation. Who it was I don't recall and can't find the email. I live only about 12 miles from Old Mystic, used to work in Mystic and have lived in the area for the past thirty years. I have always meant to go and visit the mill but never got around to going.
22 October UPDATE
Turn out that Vic Kozakevich, NEMES Gazette editor was the one who nudged me into visiting Clyde's. He sends along the following information:
Miner Pawcatuck, Connecticut 02891
Mention the word "steam" in Old Mystic, Connecticut, and the townsfolk inevitably follow with the words "Clyde's Cider Mill."
On Old North Stonington Road, the tall, white building with its distinctive red doors and trim sets back apiece, surrounded by green grass and colorful autumn foliage. A tall, brick stack stands erect alongside the building, and just one thunderous blast from the big, brass whistle atop the roof leaves no doubt in one's mind that this is the home of the steam operated B. F. Clyde's Cider Mill.
Every fall since 1881, Clyde's Cider Mill has transformed thousands of bushels of crisp, red apples into thousands of gallons of sweet cider, rich in color and taste.
The chief steam engine operator, and the man behind this amazing process, is Jack Bucklyn, owner, and grandson of the original B. F. Clyde. The family operated business is open every day from mid-September to shortly after Thanksgiving. Cider is made fresh daily, and Saturdays and Sundays are custom cider making days where local farmers as well as entire families bring their own apples to be ground into cider by steam power. Some are as many as fourth generation cider makers, upholding a real New England tradition.
Clyde's holds steam all the time during the cider season, so even if the mill is not in operation, Jack is more than eager to show steam buffs how the engine works.
When Jack took over the mill in 1946, the original steam engine and boiler had been scrapped and replaced by a 1921 model T engine. Jack's obsession to return to steam power led him on a 20 year search for a suitable steam engine, which ended successfully five years ago. During Jack's search, he advertised in various trade papers and magazines, and spent many hours looking at hopeless old relics. Jack was determined to reproduce the exact engine and boiler that originally powered the mill, and finally, five years ago, Jack found what he was looking for. Ironically, he found his steam engine less than five miles from home, and all the necessary other equipment within a week of each other.
The 16" square, 26' high smoke stack was quickly erected, and then the boiler, steam engine, steam pump, and all essential piping followed. The entire assembly took just 21 days, finishing only two days before opening for the season.
The mill is now powered by a 15 HP Vim model steam engine with an 8x8 cylinder. Made by the Ames Engine Company, the non-condensing engine runs rather slow at 220 rpm. The 15 HP Dutton vertical fire tube boiler carries 100 pounds of steam. Water to the boiler is fed via an injector and also a duplex Deane steam pump.
Colorfully painted and pinstriped, and adorned with brightly polished brass, the steam engine thumps away quietly in the corner of the boiler room as the process of cider making gets underway.
The apples are brought in by truck and are dumped into the top half of the "apple house," a small, white building connected to the mill only by a length of enclosed conveyer. The apples are then hand fed down a wooden chute and through an apple washer before they are caught up on the wooden paddles of the conveyer and transported into the apple grinder upstairs in the mill. The chopped apple pulp then comes down a long canvas chute onto a large, nylon cloth made square with the use of a wooden form underneath it. When the cloth, called a "Cheese" is full of pulp and evenly spread, the ends of the cloth are folded over and the wooden form is removed. A slatted, hardwood rack is then placed atop the pulp filled cheese, and the form and another cloth are placed on top of the rack for the process to be repeated. As many as 12 of these cheeses can be accommodated on Jack's press, which would be the equivalent of about 75 bushes of apples. When the desired amount of cheeses is ! reached , Jack swings the turntable around until the stack comes to rest under the large, wooden press. Gears grind, and wide leather belts whistle and whir overhead as the heavy press block descends down upon the stack. Visitors watch, eyes wide with awe, as the juice flows down the sides of the cloths in sparkling amber streams, filling the turntable and splashing into holding tanks below. When the pressing is finished, the stack of 12 cheeses will have yielded approximately 260 gallons of pure, fresh sweet cider.
And while steam power doesn't make for better tasting cider, one thing is for certain, nothing equals the breath taking excitement one feels as the big brass whistle lets out a blast and it's cider making time once again at Clyde's.
On October 21, 2006 my wife and I headed down there to see what there was to see.
This is the cider mill building. The truck in the foreground is loaded with apples. They are dumped into a hopper and brought to the upper floor of the mill by a conveyor. There they are crushed and fed down to the cider press.
Well, you certainly can't have a steam powered cider mill without a steam whistle!
Different views of the engine that powers the mill. I was told that it is rated at 15 horsepower. There wasn't opportunity to find out the manufacturer of the engine.
My digital SLR camera is away for repair and I had to fall back on my old digital camera. The flash on it is pretty limited so this photo of the oil fired boiler didn't come out too well.
The belt coming up from the left is from the engine.
This copper, telescoping pipe leads down from the apple crusher upstairs. In the right hand picture you can see the handles that start and stop the flow of crushed apples.
When we arrived the two man crew was unloading the spent pulp after the previous pressing. The pulp is loaded on a cart and wheeled out to a dump trailer. In the background are barrels that used to be used for cider storage.
Old cider jugs hang among the rafters.
L to R the crushed apples are dumped onto the rack and spread evenly. Then the cloth is folded over the apples and another rack is added and the process is repeated until a number of racks are stacked and filled.
The table is swung 180 degrees (somehow didn't get a photo of that) so that the stacked apples are under the press.
The belts and gears are then engaged and the press starts to lower squeezing the juice out of the apples. In the second picture in the above sequence you can see a flood of apple juice in the channel at the lower left of the press. The press is rated at 100 tons!
This is what the racks look like after the pressing is done. 100 tons will certainly flatten things out.
Different views of the cider mill. Visitors can purchase "hard cider" at the lower level door shown in the second picture.
This plaque declares the National Historic Landmark status of Clyde's Cider Mill
A correspondent from the r.c..m. newsgroup, Karl Townsend of MN (Karl is an apple grower), wondered if the cider sold at Clyde's is from the apples shown in the above pictures. I just got off the phone with Clyde's and they assure me that every apple is hand picked, washed, pressed and the juice pasteurized. An e-coli scare a few years back resulted from the old practice of picking up "drops", apples which have fallen to the ground, for use in cider making. So yes, the cider made in the old press is what is sold at Clyde's.
Photos and captions by Errol Groff
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