When I was a kid in the late 1940s, I remember watching the back end of our '38 Chevy truck being unloaded of its burden of wheat by the shovelful into an opening on the dock that sucked it into the mystery of the flour mill. I wondered what happened to it after that, and how it could be magically transformed into pure, white, powdery flour.
Many kids of past generations have felt this wonder, because in the rural America of then, believe it or not, many more flour mills existed than there are now - they were not so big, but there were many more of them. Every small town had at least one or two, serving local stores and housewives. In 1942, there were 4,500 flour mills in the United States. Today there are 365.One of those still functioning in all its splendor stands proudly in the north end of the Utah Valley east of Lehi, in easy view just south of I-15. It has a bright turkey painted on one of its huge storage silos, and a glowing peacock painted on the silo beside it.
The Lehi mill has been managed by the same family since the belts of the rollers began their 24-hour-a-day humming in 1910. The current operator, Sherm Robinson, is grandson to the George G. Robinson who took the mill over just after the turn of the century from a business and farmers' co-op in Lehi. He was from back East originally, and had come out West to work for his Uncle William, who was also a miller. Possessing a fairly rich vocabulary, his Uncle William was affectionately known as "D--- it to h---" Robinson by friends and associates. The extra syllables seemed to fit him well enough to be worth the extra effort of saying them.
George's new enterprise went well, and eventually was handed down to his son, Sherman, who over the years treated the business with the same sensibility as his father. Even during the struggling Depression years the mill was able to survive amidst a world that seemed to be sinking. During World War II, Lehi Roller Mills milled exclusively for the government, which exported its flour to help in the war effort.
Sherm Robinson ran the mill until his death in 1980, when it was passed on to his son, also named Sherman. According to young Sherm, the mill currently grinds out an average 600 hundredweight per 24 hours, which simply put, means it can produce 60,000 pounds of flour a day from 75,000 pounds of very fine quality local wheat, the biggest portion of which is raised in Cedar Valley, west of Lehi.
A near-perfect balance between tradition and modernization has allowed the mill to thrive in a business environment that has been cultivated over several generations of trust between miller and farmer. As Sherm expressed it, "I deal now with farmers whose grandfathers dealt with my grandfather."
The millstones of time grind very fine indeed.