These familiar silhouettes, and the simple technology they embody, helped settle the rural byways of Texas
Travel down any Texas highway, regardless of direction, season, or time of day, and you will pass a windmill, the workhorse of arid lands. Like the bluebonnet, it tends to pop up in ideal vistas, almost natural in its familiar shape, yet forged from human endeavor.
The windmill makes water from wind, a concept of mythical proportions but practical in a decidedly earthbound way.
Windmills made settlement possible throughout the rural byways of Texas; in fact, the entire West could not have been settled without them. Pioneers could settle in otherwise uninhabitable regions, and railroads, powered by fire and wind-conjured water, could crisscross the country allowing the exchange of goods and ideas.
Between 1854 and 1920, more than 700 companies in the United States manufactured thousands of windmills. Today, only two of those companies remain in business, and one, Aermotor, is based here in Texas, in San Angelo.
Aermotor converted the wooden windmill market to steel, and each windmill is accompanied by a seven-year warranty, though a warranty may not be necessary, considering the fact that fully functioning Aermotor windmills, some approaching the century mark, are still working across the Texas landscape.
Windmiller Chad Peterson, owner and operator of Concho Windmill and Pump Service based in San Angelo, travel throughout the country repairing old windmills and erecting new ones. Concho is a favorite whenever Bracher needs a new Aermotor windmill installed.
“Everyone loves a windmill,” says Peterson, “even a broken one. Farmers and cattle ranchers still need them fixed, and gentleman ranchers want new ones. We install them, maintain them, and repair them. We even custom-paint them in whatever color or design you want.”
The late Billie Wolf, a faculty member of Texas Tech’s then-College of Home Economics, and a dedicated windmill researcher, spent 30 years traveling the country in search of early windmills, interviewing farmers and ranchers, and shipping what she could acquire back to Lubbock. In 1992, she learned of an intact collection of beautifully restored windmills in Nebraska owned by a man named Don Hundley. Together with Coy Harris, a Lubbock native and CEO of Wind Engineering Corporation, Wolfe established the nonprofit National Windmill Project to provide a permanent home and museum for Wolfe’s acquisitions, including the Hundley collection.
Today, the American Wind Power Center offers visitors a look at more than 150 wooden and metal windmills and wind turbines, spanning the history of the American windmill from the early Halladays, with their collapsing wheels and draft horse counterweights, to today’s giant megawatt wind turbines.
From the September 2009 issue.