Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 338-39.
"I'm a lover and a fighter and a wild bull rider and a pretty fair kind of a windmill man," goes the old Plains-country brag. Along with barbed wire, windmills helped bring an end to the open range, and the cowboy had to add fence riding and windmill maintenance to his roping and riding skills. American Windmills, T. Lindsay Baker's latest volume on the topic of which he is the country's (and most likely the world's) leading authority, brought back a flood of memories as I turned its pages.
When I was growing up on a small Flint Hills ranch in Kansas, one of the jobs I disliked most was windmill repair. As winter drew to a close, we would load a block and tackle, a pipe holder, a couple of lengths of chain, and the windmill kit into the pickup and drive to our summer pastures. Dad would open the vanes on the windmills (we had Samsons, Aermotors, and Dempsters), and if the flow wasn't good we would pull the well. Most of our wells were from seventy-five- to a hundred-feet deep, which meant several long, heavy sections of pipe to haul up, unscrew, and set to one side until we finally got to the cylinder so we could replace the leathers. I can still see Dad holding the back of a pipe wrench firmly on one side of a joint and hitting the opposite side with a hammer to jar the rust loose. Then there were the emergency repairs in summertime when a jet rod would break, or one of the pipes had rusted out and had to be patched with inner tube and baling wire.