Putting Up a New Mill

Note: The installation of a new windmill was called "putting up" a windmill. Although I definitely remember the two of us putting up a new windmill on the north slope of King Mountain, I can not remember the details and so, what I will describe here will be sort of a composite of a typical such job.

We got to West Texas Lumber Company early and started loading the parts onto the truck. The motor was the heaviest part and the wheel sections were in crates and were bulky. There was a freight elevator that carried those things and the tail and boxes of nuts and bolts down to the loading dock. The parts to the tower were in another section of the yard. There were different height towers, of course, and dad had to be careful to load the correct parts for the particular tower that was ordered by the customer. We are talking about the galvanized angle steel which composed the tower legs, horizontal pieces, and angle braces. We also had to have anchors, cement, gravel and sand. The depth of the well would determine how much pipe and sucker rods to load on the truck also. Finally, there had to be a cylinder and valves to go at the bottom of the pipe and other things, pipe fittings, oil, etc.

With our load, we headed out for McCamey. After a drive of three hours or so, we find the ranch and the well site. The well driller has left a piece of well casing sticking out of the ground and a big puddle of cuttings from the well. Our job was to have the windmill pumping water from the well before sundown.

We began by laying out on the ground the tower pieces. The direction is important because the truck will have to pull the windmill up and will need room to do so - the tower in one direction and the track for the truck in the opposite direction. We bolted the tower together and propped the top end, with the mast, up on a barrel. Dad always placed the ladder on the southeast corner of the tower because the prevailing wind is from the north or west and this makes it easier to climb the tower since you would come up under the tail and not under the wheel. The motor was lifted up and slipped on to the mast. Now, the tail and wheel were assembled and bolted onto the motor. The platform and ladder and other things were added until we have a complete windmill and tower lying on the ground with the feet near where they will be anchored.

A big board was bolted onto the feet which were on the ground and two stakes were driven into the ground in front of the board. This created a pivot point for the tower in the raising. An A-frame was constructed of two joints of pipe held together at the top by a bracket. This A-frame was propped up with the bottom ends lying on the board near the foot of the tower. A cable was clamped to the top of the tower and strung through the bracket at the top of the A-frame and then clamped to the front of the truck. Three more ropes were tied to the top of the tower; two safety lines perpendicular to the pull line and another adjustable line with a pulley on it was placed on the back side of the pull line to catch the mill from falling toward the truck when the mill is all the way up.

raising a windmill with a truck and an A-frame

I had the back line and kept an eye on the safety lines as Dad backed up the truck. The mill started up with the leverage provided by the A-frame until the pipes fell off the bracket and then on up it went until I had control with the back line. The weight of the mill was then on the board with the other two feet just off of the ground. The tower was centered over the well by prying the board with a crow bar. Later, the tower was made vertical with the mast directly over the well by tugging on the ropes and using plumb bobs. But now came the hardest part of the job - digging the anchor holes.

We started with the two anchors on the side with the feet off the ground. We were working on practically solid rock that day and so the anchors would be rock anchors. The usual anchor holes, the ones where there is enough soil to dig them, were dug about five feet deep and about two feet in diameter. We used two tools. One was called a sharp shooter. It was one of those long garden type spades about five inches wide but with a long handle. You could chop up some of the soil and then scoop it out with the other tool. The other tool was actually a shovel but it was bent forward to form a scoop. You would chop a while and then scoop and be careful to keep your hole going parallel to the tower leg, not vertical. The tower leg, by the way, was in the way of your work while you were doing this.

When the anchor holes are deep enough, the bottom is covered with a little bit of gravel and the anchors are placed down to the bottom and bolted on. These anchors are made of the same angle steel as the tower leg and have a cross piece on the bottom. Now with the first two anchors on, the back line is tightened to place the weight on the new anchors and take the weight off of the board side. The board is removed and now the other two anchor holes can be dug. After the mill is sitting on the anchors, final adjustments are made and then one wheelbarrel of concrete is mixed to pour on top of each anchor. Then the hole is refilled with the dirt.

Anchoring a windmill never went as easily as I just described. This was West Texas, after all, and there were rocks. When you hit a rock you had to get out the crow bar and pound it until you broke it into small enough pieces to scoop it out. We called that tool a "crow bar" but most people would call it a "rock bar". It was about six or seven feet long with a two inch blade on one end and a point on the other. Digging the anchor holes was a lot of work but I was actually glad to see a job with dug holes than to face the rock anchor jobs. And thus, I return to my narrative:

It was rock anchors that day on King Mountain. We used the blade end of the crow bar and pounded away at the rock. Gradually, I drilled a two inch hole and scooped out the powder with a little scoop the size of a table spoon. I did my best to get the hole in the right place and slope it parallel to the tower leg. I did not use gloves. I did not know any better. My dad never used gloves in his life and his leathery hands were the toughest that I ever saw. The first time each summer that I used the crow bar or some such tool, my hands would be completely blistered. They would heal and then blister again and eventually, the skin was tough enough that I did not blister again. In the fall, when school began, my windmilling season was over and my hands would begin to peel. The skin would flake off for weeks until my hands were normal again.

A rock anchor consists of a piece of heavy steel rod welded onto a piece of angle steel which matches the tower leg. The steel rod part of it will go down into the hole. We drilled the holes several inches deep until dad thought they were deep enough and then I got some boards and paper and started a fire. We had an old iron pot especially for the purpose and poured some pure powdered sulfur into the pot and set it on the fire. When the sulfur was melted, it was poured into the hole filling the gap between the rod and the rock. The sulfur then cooled and hardened and one more windmill was attached firmly to the Earth.

Before rigging up for running the pipe into the well, dad got out a roll of string with a nut tied to the end and lowered the nut into the well. He could hear and feel when the nut was on the surface of the water. The string was pulled out and thus the length of the pipe to be placed in the well was determined. The cylinder at the bottom of the pipe was always placed a few feet below the surface. We might have had to cut and thread a joint of pipe to get the length right. The cylinder was screwed on to the first joint and then the whole string was run into the well. On the last joint, we bolted on a clamp block. If we did not have a metal clamp block, the clamp block consisted of two pieces of 6 by 6 timber bolted around the pipe under the top coupling. The clamp block supports the weight of the pipe.

Note: the process of pulling pipe and rods is described elsewhere.

After the pipe is in place, the bottom valve or seat valve is dropped into the pipe. Dad listened carefully to make sure the valve hit the water and then rattled its way on down to its position at the bottom of the cylinder where it made a thump. The top valve, or traveling valve, was screwed on to the first sucker rod and the rods were lowered into the pipe. A standpipe was slipped over the last rod. Now the string of rods was carefully lowered down to the bottom and then raised up a few inches to get the stroke of the windmill within the range of the cylinder. The standpipe had a T-joint at the top with a several inch long splash pipe on top of that. This was screwed into place and a lead (rhymes with "seed") pipe screwed into the T-joint to carry the water away from the mill toward a tank which was yet to be built.

full view of windmill

Now the final connection to the windmill was made with a piece of redwood 2 by 2 cut to length with connectors added to each end. The red rod, it was called, needed to be protected from buckling, which it would sometimes do on the down stroke. Dad never used the guides that came with Aermotor windmills and instead built his own. He nailed a length of 2 by 6 to the red rod and then another 2 by 6 was bolted horizontally across the tower. This 2 by 6 had a gap cut out of it and two pieces of wood nailed on to fit around the red rod. If you ever see a windmill with that kind of red rod guide, you will know that Peck Young was in charge of putting up that windmill.

The time finally came to turn on the windmill. We did not have a source of water to pour into the pipe that day. If you have some water available, you can pour some down the pipe and the added weight on the leathers will get the pumping going sooner. The wind was blowing, the glittery new galvanized wheel turned, and we waited for the water to appear out the end of the lead pipe as we put away our tools. The first splash of cool water from the pipe landing on the ground was the recognition of success. The windmill began its countless rhythm, turning faster on the down stroke and slowing on the up stroke followed by the splash. It was as comforting a sound as you would ever want to hear to send you to sleep at the end of the day. We had to coil up our ropes, get the stakes out of the ground and load everything on the truck to get ready to go to tomorrow's job. I had to build a fire too so that we could heat up something for supper before falling into the bed roll. The sun which had scorched us all day was low. But the sun was still up.

Off to college -I explained that I grew up in West Texas, my father was in the windmill business and I traveled all over West Texas helping him work on windmills. I said "I helped him until I was off to college". Then as an afterthought, I said "And that is why I was off to college". Mr. Carter (President Jimmy Carter) enjoyed that remark. He laughed and motioned to our surroundings and said that this farm is the reason that he was off to college.