"The mill was driven partly by water and partly by steam. The Cornish boiler was about 18 feet long, with a working pressure of 15 lbs. The engine was the old beam type. Largo was the second oil mill to be operated in the Kingdom of Fife, the Leven Mill...being the first. We had six 4-box presses. Until about 1863 only 10 boxes were worked in each battery. Thereafter, the whole 12 were operated every 12 minutes. With 10 boxes we produced 600 cakes in the spell; with with 12 boxes 720 - this against Hull's output of 440 and 660. The wrappers in the early days were of hair. Some years later wooden wrappers were introduced. We were dissatisfied with those we bought in, consequently we put on our own joiner to make them of greenheart wood, but of a heavier type than was usual in Hull."
The comparisons with Hull are made because Hull was a significant centre for oil seed crushing and had 28 seed crushing companies in 1858. It's interesting that the small operation in Largo seems to compare favourably against its equivalents in Hull, where the industry was long-established and widespread. More can be read about the industry in Hull here. Wallace explained that, in the early days, the type of seed crushed at Largo was rape - two kinds, Rubsen and Indian - although they also experimented with other "oddments" such as castor, dodder, ground nuts, niger and hemp. Around 1864, the mill began crushing Egyptian cotton seed "being the first in Scotland to do so". This was imported to Leith or Granton and transshipped over to Largo. The three Fife Herald adverts below - two from 1861 and one from 1865 - bear out David Wallace's account.
The enterprise at Largo was unique in that, for a time, David Russell grew his own flax at Silverburn, had it threshed, then sent it to Largo to be crushed. This allowed employees such as David Wallace to personally be involved in every step of the process. Wallace said "I myself have pulled, threshed, steeped, dried, and scutched the flax, and have made the seed into oil and cake". The self-sustaining nature of the operation also extended to making their own gas for lighting in the early days, even supplying Largo railway station. Nevertheless, over time, certain facilities were seen as inadequate at Largo and so the Russell firm set up at the old sugar house at the Burntisland docks. Knowledge and staff from Largo moved to Burntisland in 1877 and David Wallace had the honour of making the first cake at the new Burntisland mill, where he would work until 1922.
He noted that "throughout my working life I have filled every post in the mill from paring boy to taking sole charge". He recalls that in the early days "the work was much harder and the hours much longer than now". He continues...
"I view with disapproval the hashy methods and lack of interest one sees nowadays in many oil mills. In my young days, pressmen, parers, and all, took the utmost pride in their work, and in their machinery. Largo and Burntisland were for many years the best polished-up mills in the country - the press columns always gleamed!"
David Wallace passed away in 1927 at the age of 79. When David Russell died in 1906 at the age of 75, the Dundee Courier noted that "he was always on the look out for new methods and new inventions, and spared neither time nor expense to have the business conducted on up-to-date lines."