This is also the time of year when we often go up to the University of Wyoming Wool Lab to scour and card white fleeces. As our well water is so limited, I have stopped washing wool here at the farm. I set aside a number of fleeces until we have enough to make the trip to the Wool Lab. Randy Townsend runs the scouring train and carder twice a year as part of a class that is taught about sheep and wool at the University. He allows a small number of farms to bring up a few hundred pounds of fleece during that week of operation as a means of off setting the costs of running the scouring train.
The following are photos that Keith took while we were at the Wool Lab this past September. We put some 120 pounds of grease wool into the truck and drove the two and a half hours up to Laramie. We work all day with Randy. I have already skirted and sorted the fleeces and have an order for loading them into the picker. I want to be sure that the fleeces end up in the carded roving as a good blend of the finer and less fine wools that our flock produces. This way the roving is a medium grade that is good for spinning and felting. The cleaning agents that are used in the scouring train are a concentrated liquid surfactant plus soda ash.
After the wool is loaded into the sorter it is blown into the large hopper in the left back of the photo. This is the picker that pulls the fleece into small clumps and then dumps it into the first tank of the scouring train. The train consists of three large tanks that contain controlled heated water.
The first tank contains the cleaning agents. The wool is moved very slowly and gently through the tank by the "finger" looking devices you see hanging into the tank.
These tanks hold over 600 gallons of water. The lanolin that is scoured out of the grease wool presents a major problem for approved disposal. In fact, a large part of the cost of the scouring is the fee that is paid to have the tanks pumped at the end of the week after the scouring is finished. The effluent is pumped and disposed of just as septic tanks are pumped. The Environmental Protection Agency is very strict about this disposal and has written laws which are quite specific and must be obeyed.
In this photo you can see some of the many pipes and components that make up this complex and very specialized equipment. After the first tank, the second tank also contains a hot soapy water mix and the third tank is a hot, clean water rinse.
The machinery was designed and built around the turn of the century at a time when functionality of the device was of the greatest importance, with no regard for noise levels while in operation.
Here the wool is being moved from the second tank around a 90-degree bend, into the third tank. This is the final hot water rinse tank.
No coloured wools are ever washed here, as there is the possibility of the wool falling to the bottom of the tanks and appearing in a later scouring.
The wool is dumped into a hopper after washing and then has to be moved by hand in large containers to the dryer. This is the hopper of the dryer. The wet wool is lifted, separated, and then dropped on to a seven-foot wide expanded metal conveyor belt. It is then moved slowly through the large dryer. The dryer is a sheet metal enclosure about twenty feet long. It has blowers that circulate the warm air all around the wool on the moving conveyor.
The scouring and drying of the 120 pounds of wool takes only about two hours from the time it is loaded into the picker and then comes out of the dryer.
I also watch the wool as it comes out of the dryer and order the containers to be loaded into the carder. Again I am trying to make sure the wool is blended the way I want. There's nothing like being able to do it yourself when it comes to getting the final product you want. It means a day of hard, noisy work but it is by far the most beautiful roving that I have ever seen processed anywhere in the USA. Unfortunately not many can participate as we do.
This is the hopper for the carder. Many pounds of clean dry wool are dumped in and then begin the process of carding. The carder has some seventeen drums that are sixty inches wide and of varying diameters. Another reason not to process coloured wools is the difficulty of cleaning wool bits out of the teeth of those seventeen drums. In fact, one would want to use a separate carder if carding coloured wools.
What comes out of all of those drums and teeth is the beautiful carded roving you see below. Randy is very diligent in his efforts to keep this old equipment running ... not an easy job. It will be a sad thing if the University decides the Wool Lab in not essential.
So this is how our fleeces get processed into roving. On the whole, this is one of the best ways to spend a day.
We hope the coming Holiday Season is a happy one for you all.
Keith & Joanna