Freeze column: Windmill is 57 feet of Christmas spirit
Late this past March, I went to West Virginia for a three-day bicycle ride along the Greenbrier River Trail. On my drive to the Caldwell, W.Va. area, I saw many beautiful Civil War-era farms and small towns. I couldn’t help but slow down and take long looks at these symbols of the past. Beautiful houses, large and well kept barns, board fence pastures, 150-year-old trees and windmills. Yes, there were windmills still operating at many of those farms. In my opinion, nothing says history and farming like a stately and majestic windmill. My mind started to wander, which it often does, and soon I thought: “I have an old farm, shouldn’t I have a windmill?”
Windmills are normally used to pump water, pulling water from a well using the power of the wind. Of course, these old West Virginia farms didn’t have efficient electricity until years after they were built. The need for water for humans and livestock could be addressed by windmill as an efficient method that didn’t require horse or human power, thus allowing the farmers to worry about other things.
At home, I have a powerful well pump and plenty of capacity to water five horses and myself. But there was just something about having a windmill, so I started an Internet search for data and sources for used windmills.
I mentioned the prospect to several friends and family members, all of whom soon played a part in the acquisition and completion of what has now became my favorite Christmas ornament. I read nightly about the different types of windmills and soon found there are many companies that sell and erect them on your farm. My friend Bradley Eagle, who operates a boom truck, told me that we should go see a windmill that he helped set up in the Woodleaf area. We drove up late one beautiful spring afternoon to take a look, and I knew that very soon I would have one.
I found a company in Rome, Ga., that offered to sell me an unassembled 30-foot-tall version, knowing that it would all have to be put together here. Used windmills are very expensive, but new ones are even more so. I made plans to drive to Rome that weekend and pick it up.
Another friend named Mike Mangum does HVAC work. But more than that, Mike has already forgotten more about mechanical things than I will ever learn. Mike mentioned to me that there was a windmill in pretty good shape at Patrick Smith’s farm off Bernhardt Road, and he thought it was for sale. We rode over and looked at it, and soon I had a windmill.
Now, what to do with it?
We got Bradley to pick up the windmill tower, which is already assembled, and put it on a huge trailer that Mike pulled to the farm. In the meantime, my nephew Sammy Freeze devised an ingenious way to haul the 8-foot-wide blade mechanism upright on the hitch of my old Ford F-150. We got bewildered looks from those along the road. Sammy said that we should call President Obama and tell him we were doing our part by powering the truck with wind. Did I forget to mention that we brought all of this stuff home in a huge thunderstorm? Lightning was popping everywhere as Bradley used his boom truck to take the tower off the trailer. Bradley wasn’t worried, saying, “As soon as I put my raincoat on, the storm will stop.” He did, and it did!
Next came more than a month of painting by me and preparation by the others. I hate to paint. Sammy researched the parts that we needed, and Bradley ordered them from eBay. My brother Larry used his welding skills to repair the frame and the mill housing. Bradley devised a concrete anchoring system, and soon we were ready to have a windmill! Bradley’s boom picked the frame up, and Larry welded the tower to steel plates bolted to the concrete footings. Mike climbed the 53-foot tower and helped Bradley guide the fan mechanism in place.
We had a windmill!
The windmill was manufactured in 1915 by Aermotor of Chicago. Aermotor is still at it, having made more windmills than anyone else. It is beautiful, completely restored and painted as it was originally. Total height is 57 feet. But best of all, somewhere along the way I saw a beautiful Christmas picture of an old farm with a lighted windmill. Guess what? I had to do that too.
So this was my entry in the Salisbury Post Christmas Light Contest! Come see it anytime at 3065 Weaver Road. If I had won, the cash would have been divided with those who made it possible. Thanks to Mike, Bradley, Larry and Sammy!
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David Freeze lives in Rowan County.