New windmill design has changed very little since those that were built in the early 1900s
Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
Businesses such as The Aermotor Company, which emerged in 1888, have made few changes in the design of windmills that revolutionized farming and ranching on the plains. For the century or more that many of these humble windmills were in use, they withstood whatever elements barreled down on them and reliably provided the essential stream of well water that kept families and herds alive. Now, after years of relative anonymity, the windmill is making a comeback, partly for its beauty and partly because of the demand for alternatives to traditional energy suppliers.
Choosing between antique and new windmills for well-water retrieval is largely a matter of choice, but the first thing you need to do is find a reputable merchant. Check with local antiques dealers and/or manufacturers of contemporary windmills, or try conducting an online search. A good merchant will have general knowledge of the mechanical function of windmills, and may be able to provide you with historical background on the windmill you're interested in. Make sure your dealer knows what you are looking for, whether you want an object of art or a working piece of machinery to aerate a pond or to pump waters. Your dealer should be able to put you in touch with a company that can do the well drilling and casing placement. New windmills have replaceable parts, but the old windmills were cast as one unit and their parts are sometimes difficult or expensive to replace, so make sure your dealer can locate the parts you need. Like anything else that's stood the test of time outdoors, old windmills are often quite weathered, sporting dents and bullet holes in their fan blades. Such imperfections give life to disappearing legends, but too many holes can be a hazard, so stay away from parts with a lot of physical damage.
Next, set a budget. Determine how much money you are willing to spend and find out what the going rate is on the parts you are looking for, which can vary considerably. For example, open-gear, steel windmills from 1890 to 1920 with popular name brands such as Monitor, Dempster, Samson and Challenge can start at about $750, but it isn't unheard of to pay thousands of dollars for a well-functioning windmill. Other factors that will influence your total cost include the depth of your well and the diameter of the windmill wheel.
When estimating cost, don't forget to include shipping and installation fees, which you may or may not be responsible for. While erecting the windmill yourself may save you a few dollars initially, you might want to hire a professional, depending on how much time you can spend and the level of your construction skills. Assembling and erecting a windmill can take one to seven days, depending on how much in-ground work needs to be done.
Maintaining a newer windmill requires little more than a bi-annual check to fill the oil reservoir. Very old models, however, especially those built before 1915, may need an oil bath once a week to keep them in proper running order. Treat your windmill with care and it will run for the generations — a functional treasure from the past and a practical solution for the future.
Aermotor Windmill Company, Inc.
For more information on living off the grid with wind and solar, read Living Off the Grid - Forever.