Windmill

Hero of the Prairies

In the late 1800’s, American-style windmills changed the prairies previously known as “the Great American Desert” into America’s breadbasket.

Before windmills, water was scarce on the prairies where the rains were followed by droughts that dried up most of the surface water. Wooden windmills solved that problem as there was plenty of water beneath the surface, though wells might be drilled as deep as 300 feet.

Because they could automatically turn to face the prevailing wind, wooden windmills could pump in high and low winds. They were a steady source of water that was used for drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry, and watering crops and livestock. These windmills were well-built, dependable, and required little maintenance.

I find it interesting that people could order a windmill from Sears & Roebuck and it would come by train. People’s friends, relatives, and neighbors would come and build the platform and put the windmill together.

My grandfather could witch for water. He would use a peach branch and hold it by the branches. Where the point would dip toward the earth, water could be found. This was not a guaranteed procedure, but he witched for water for quite a few people over the years and they successfully drilled for a well.

Railroads were another important customer as the steam-powered engines had to be watered about every twenty miles. As the railroads moved west, they built their own windmills along the tracks.

The1935 Rural Electrification Act enabled more farms to have electricity. They could now use electricity to operate electric-powered pumps. Decreasing demand for windmills almost eliminated the windmill market.

Today, water pumping windmills continue to be used on rural ranches and small-scale farms in places where it is not feasible to string miles of electric wire. It’s also a good solution in developing countries where there is a scarcity of drinkable water on the surface.

The accompanying picture is of a wooden windmill in the Oklahoma Panhandle at a time when metal windmills or electric-powered wells have taken over. I give my husband credit for the picture.

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