windmill near Cuero|
may be a bitter pill for some Texans to swallow, but the windmill was not invented
in Texas. Neither was the Colt revolver. Ditto barbed
All three are Texas icons credited
with taming the wild west, making the land inhabitable and improving the cattle
industry. Texas would have had a hard time without
any of those three items, but none are Texas natives.
wire was invented in Illinois, allegedly by a farmer attempting to keep chickens
out of his wife's garden The Colt revolver and the windmill were both invented
in - gasp! - Connecticut.
the three, windmill is the one that probably gets the least credit for doing the
most work. Here in Central
Texas you still find a few working windmills, but a lot of the ones that endure
here do so more out of sentiment and aesthetics than need.|
In all those
old Western movies, the Colt .45 and even barbed
wire often had starring roles but windmills just stood there and looked iconic.
"I do not remember ever seeing John Wayne or any other cowboy hero pulling sucker
rod or pipe from a well," West Texas
writer Elmer Kelton noted in 1992, adding that windmills served as an introduction
to any machinery more complicated than a coffee grinder for many an old time cowboy.
that's true to some extent in nearly all of Texas,
it was especially true in West Texas,
where much of the land would still be uninhabitable if Connecticut Yankee Daniel
Halladay hadn't figured out a way to turn a mill into a windmill in 1854. The
key turned out to be the addition of a vane that directed the wheel into the wind.|
Some inventions don't change much over time because the inventor gets it
right the first time. Halladay's invention fits that category. The first wheels
were made of wood radiating from a horizontal shaft and set at angles to the wind.
The biggest advancement came when manufacturers began building galvanized steel
wheels in 1888.
Other than that, the windmill still works basically the
same way Halladay designed it. The wind turns the wheel and a gear box moves sucker
rods up and down inside a vertical pipe. Valves open and close in concert with
the movement of the sucker rods, and that draws the water out of the ground. That's
the bumper sticker version, but you get the idea.
The whole thing was
set on a four-legged wooden tower that a good crew could construct over a well
in a day. Of course, an important part of erecting a windmill was to know where
the water was and how deep the sucker rods had to extend to reach the water table.
If windmills hadn't done the work, especially on the Great
Plains and in the arid West, the
work wouldn't have got done.
except in the most arid and isolated areas, the windmill often does little more
than look picturesque, and it's good at doing that. Windmills remain a favorite
subject of painters and photographers and people who like their scenery spiced
with a touch of romance. Windmills represent a blast from the past, suggesting
as they do the primitive and isolated way of life that settlers lived.|
"Texans have always expressed a particular fondness for old windmills," E. Dan
Klepper wrote in his essay, "Sail Ribs and Tailbones." "Windmills are the desert's
handmaidens and signal the possibility of life in landscapes seemingly barren
of comfort or overwhelmed by isolation. Their integration into the Texas
profile is so complete that it is difficult to imagine the land having ever been
enough. A Texas without windmills is as hard to imagine
as open range. The day of open range is long gone, thanks in large part to barbed
wire and the windmill. Windmills made it possible for ranchers
to fence their land and keep cattle
in different pastures, instead of grazing practices dictated by the location of
surface water. That enabled cattle
raisers to cross breed cattle, which gave us shorthorns, Herefords and other
breeds, which has helped keep ranchers
and butchers busy for all these years.|
Non-native Texans like to say
they weren't born in Texas but got here as fast as
they could. The same could be said of the windmill, because here is where it found
its most receptive market. In 1928, manufacturers produced 99,050 units a year
and exported 26,000 of them. Half of the remaining windmills were sold in Texas.
The XIT Ranch
in the Texas Panhandle at one
time had 335 functioning windmills.
The world's tallest windmill was located
on the XIT,
but the wind giveth and the wind taketh away. The big windmill was toppled by
- what else? - the wind in 1926.
from Central Texas"
October 16, 2005 column
Family windmill in
photo courtesy Bob Walker
It [windmill above] was on our farm in Lubbock,
Texas in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The tank was a converted oilfield
boiler manufactured by my father. As six and seven year-old children, we would
climb the windmill, scoot across the small pipe, and swim in the tank. - Bob
Walker, A Texan in Florida, December 20, 2005 |
farm in Tolar|
courtesy Sam Fenstermacher 2004
took this photo at an oasis in Big
Bend National Park. It is a functional windmill. There is a plaque
there stating that it was once a watering hole for travelers." - George Lester,
June 13, 2004|
in Rule, Texas. Photo courtesy Rule
Chamber of Commerce|
Life on a Small Spread by C. F. Eckhardt
Cowboyin' ain't all it's
cracked up to be. It's not all horsebackin' and branding and Saturday night at
the dance hall. Herewith a view of some of the cowboy chores Roy and Gene never
did in the Saturday matinee... Truly the windmill-powered waterpump with its huge
fan atop a spidery wooden or metal tower is one of the great symbols of the American
plains, from Texas to North Dakota and beyond. Unfortunately, the windmill is
a mechanical device. All mechanical devices have to be, from time to time, oiled
or greased... more