Everything flows – panta rhei – is an ancient aphorism that goes back to the philosophers Heraclitus and Plato. In Altheim, the water power of the village stream not only drove the machines in the Tinkerers’ Workshop ...
... but also two grain mills, two oil mills, a sawmill and a hammer mill. Plus, two hemp mills.
Hemp softening mills are important in textile production. Prepared and braided hemp fibres are separated into very fine threads, and can then be made into cloth, much in the same way as flax is turned into linen.
In engineering terms, these were mills with overshot water wheels, meaning that the water is channelled on to the wheel from above and drives the blades by its own weight. Only the hammer mill was driven by an undershot water wheel, where the water flows beneath the mill wheel.
The Tinkerers’ Workshop was supplied with water from the village stream via a mill race called the "Gewerbekanal". It measured 170 metres or 560 feet from the stream to the workshop, and was built by master mason Josef Gasser.
Hydropower provided ample energy – able to drive more than just the machinery in the workshop. In fact, electricity was being generated here as early as 1924, quite some time before the electrification of the village.
In the early 1930s, the Widmers replaced the water wheel with a turbine. The mill race, which had previously been open, was enclosed into a conduit. A water silo was built to utilise the entire gradient and the whole weight of the column of water for propulsion.
Nevertheless, the energy yield of the new turbine fell short of what the mill wheel had provided. To make up for this in the workshop, an extra electric motor was installed.
In 1972, the local authority suggested that the Widmer family give up the “Gewerbekanal” mill race due to local road-building work, but they refused. So, to this day, we’re able to marvel at the elaborate distribution of power and energy via the broad transmission belts on the ceiling.
All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen