When we see a windmill we think “ranch.” This iconic equipment, without doubt, has made ranching possible in the arid Southwest as well as other parts of our nation.
I’m one of those ranch kids who tied my horse to the metal windmill frame and piled into the drinking tub’s water for a little fun. Also, at least one windmill in every pasture had a metal drinking dipper hung from the frame near the outlet pipe with baling wire. If the wind was blowing — which it usually was — water came spilling out of the pipe and we could drink and fill our canteens from it.
We can thank Daniel Halladay for his design of the first commercially successful new-style windmill in the New World. His windmill, first built in 1854, had a self-governing design. This means it automatically turned to face changing wind directions and it automatically controlled its own speed of operation.
Halladay’s company manufactured his windmills in Connecticut from 1854 to 1863. Delays in production and shipping, some caused by the American Civil War, prompted him to relocate the factory to Batavia, Illinois. There, his company thrived, selling its Halladay Standard windmills by the thousands to farmers and ranchers on the plains and prairies of North America as well as farther afield.
Other people joined Halladay in windmill production, of course. The one I remember is Aeromotor, introduced in 1888 and one of the few still in business.
In the beginning, all windmills in North America were built from wood, with some iron and steel parts holding the wooden components together. As early as the 1870s, however, all-metal windmills were introduced, but at first they were not especially popular. People believed they were easily broken and difficult to repair. In time, however, the use of steel and iron for windmills increased so that by the beginning of the twentieth century the majority of windmills were metal.
Often overlooked by modern “environmentalists” is the fact that in the arid Southwest great areas had no — zero — water sources. Therefore, no wild animals lived there because, obviously, every living being must have water to survive.
Windmills made it possible for wild animals to live in those areas. Ranchers also provided salt and/or mineral blocks and were fine with wildlife sharing it.
Many ranch wells are extremely deep. When the time came to pull the well to replace or repair leathers or sucker rods, “windmillers” were called.
I recently visited with the Williams Windmill family of Lemitar, near Socorro. They are among the few remaining businesses equipped to handle windmill problems, and most area ranch people know them.
He says he spends a great deal of his time dismantling windmills and replacing them with solar-operated pumps. “I’m working myself out of a job,” he says, noting the solar powered water pumps require little maintenance, and have a long-life warranty.
Next time you’re driving down a country road and pass a windmill, you might oughta stop and “take a picture.” This icon is headed for history.