Monday, July 7, 2014

From Dutchland to Texas by Ciara Gold

I took a trip to Europe the end of June and saw all sorts of things that sparked ideas for stories and even blog entries. One of our excursions took us to the Zaanse Schans, an open air museum featuring wooden houses, windmills, warehouses and businesses from the 17th and 18th century Zaan region of the Netherlands. In 1594, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest invented a crankshaft that made it possible to turn horizontal wind direction into a vertical sawing movement. In its heyday, the Zaan region sported over 600 windmills capable of sawing wood and powering other ingenious apparatuses, one of which was a washing mechanism for clothing.

Of course, the Dutch and German immigrants to the United States brought with them the technology for building these windmills. But western settlers needed the windmill to do more than saw wood or power machinery. They needed the windmill to pump water and in 1854, Daniel Hallady provided the plans for such a windmill. The first American windmill was built in Ellington, Connecticut and sported a vane or “tail”, the name given it by Texas cowboys.  This “tail” directed the wheel into the wind. By 1888, wooden blades were replaced by galvanized steel and while ranchers debated the use of wooden windmills against the newer backgeared designs, by 1912 only a handful of wooden bladed windmills could be found for purchase.

The windmill was used as a sort of experiment in Texas when barbed wire first came into use. With the land fenced, access to water holes, springs, rivers and creeks became difficult so farmers and ranchers needed a way to dig for water. The first attempts to pump water using a windmill met with little success as few understood the ratio needed for the size of windmill in relation to the depth and width of the well, but Christopher Doty of Schleicher County, Texas had one of the earlier successful windmills.

In 1882, due to a drought, “he ordered a drilling rig from Fort Scott, Arkansas, bored a fifty-two-foot well, and erected a Star windmill, which successfully supplied water for his 4,000 head of stock.” ~ Texas Online. Others followed suit but The King Ranch’s extensive use of the windmill played the most influencial role for the windmill in Texas and by the 1990s, the practice of using windmills to water stock became a common endeavor.

The need for windmills  gave rise to a career in the old west that few really think about. I’m always looking for more unique  careers to bestow upon my characters so maybe these will inspire others. The driller, usually a loner, followed fence crews until he could determine the best location for water. He bore well holes with a horse powered drilling rig. If he met with success and found water, the windmiller took over and set up the windmill. Windmillers were also employed by the larger ranchers to insure the equipment stayed in good working order. The range rider greased the windmills twice a week. The need for this duty lasted until 1912 when a dvancements in the design of the mill offered a self greasing mechanism that only had to be fed oil once a year.  “Though Texas became the largest user of windmills in the United States, there were never more than three active manufacturers of windmills in Texas at one time.” ~ Texas Online.

But, while the windmill did wonders for Texas cattle ranches, I'd like to share with you a short video I took of the power of windmills in The Netherlands. At the Zaanse Schans, they had on display a 18th century laundry. The windmill powered the mechanism that agitated three tubs of wash. I was fascinated.


Caroline Clemmons said...

I love windmills and listening to them pumping.

Ciara Gold said...

Me, too, Caroline.