Sunday, November 14, 2010

How This All Started, Part 11

So, now we go back to Christmas morning, 2003 and Carl, standing in my mother's machine shed, staring at his gift, an Aermotor Windmill.  He was surprised, to say the least.  "Did you buy this from Arnie?" he asked  incredulously.   Carl was amazed he would part with it.  He just stood there, gazing at the big fan.   If there's one thing Carl loves, it's a challenge, and his favorite challenges are something someone else has given up on. He figures nothing mechanical is unfix-able, all it needs is (and our sons can fill in this blank, for it is their father's favorite saying) "A Little Work".

I succeeded in making Carl a very happy man, he had a little work cut out for him once again.

Carl's attitude is a blessing and a curse; he is an optimistic genius and an incurable hoarder all rolled into one.   I posted some time back on being Married to MacGyver...some of you may remember the late 1980's TV show about the man who could get himself out of any terrible predicament with say, a mere paperclip, a roll of dental floss and a wad of chewing gum?  Poor Mac, he was always having to save the damsel in distress, the pet in peril, or our planet on the verge of destruction with nothing but objects he found lying around.  For all intents and purposes, Carl is my Mac.  The only problem with Carl is, his tools to save the universe take up a whole lot more space than dental floss and tin foil.  And he is forever saving things to fix things...all kinds of things, trust me; things more numerous than you can imagine.  He has one entire building and parts of others dedicated to the Saving of Things.  Sigh.

But back to the windmill...

Our windmill is an Aermotor Model #602, which was built from 1916 to 1933, making it anywhere from seventy-seven to ninety-four years old.  That's a lot of years to stand on a 40' tower, facing the elements.   Despite the mill's advancing age, I thought it looked marvelous.  Compared to the two windmills standing a few miles away from here, pictured below, ours looked very good. 

Carl and one of a pair of abandoned neighborhood windmills, in need of repair.   You can see there are parts of the sails missing and the tower bracing is starting to deteriorate.

This is the other windmill, the picture was taken from my scrapbook.  This one is in better shape, but has plenty of bullet holes.
I find it amazing that old windmills have stood the test of time.  Just think of the force placed on them during high winds!

Not to get too technical, but here's a mini-explanation of how these old mills have survived nearly a century, their design has much to do with their longevity:    Aermotor windmills have a slightly off-center wind wheel counterbalanced by a coiled governor spring.    The wheel automatically turns away from increasing wind because it is off-center which slows its speed.  The increased tension on the spring causes the wheel to return into the wind when the wind decreases.  When the mill is turned off from the ground or when it is completely put out of the wind, a friction brake on the hub tightens, preventing the wheel from free-wheeling.
As you can see in the pictures above, most windmills that are still standing have several problems; sometimes the self-regulating brake and furling system wears out and the mill is subjected to high winds, spinning out of control and causing damage.  The tail can bend from the wind force and get caught in the spinning blades, shearing the blades off.   Or there is no oil left in the gearbox, causing the gears to run tight.  The towers are very important too, and if the legs are bent or the bracing fails, the whole apparatus can topple.

However, in my opinion, the biggest problem windmills face is People With Guns.   The inventors of this ingenious device tried to make them fairly idiot-proof, but  probably never envisioned people using their product for target practice.  It's a shame that windmills get picked on so much, but they make irresistible targets for every wayward marksman trying to prove he's a great shot.  The resulting 'plink' of a bullet hitting the mill is their reward.   The poor windmill bears the evidence, another hole.

Talk about survivors: our windmill has been shot at a lot in its lifetime!  There are 106 bullet holes in just the tail alone, not counting the blades or the helmet covering the gearbox.  Most of the holes look to have been made by .22 rifles, but then there are some holes of a much higher caliber rifle ripped in the tin, too.

Hitting the blades or tail of a windmill doesn't affect it's performance too much; it will still keep on turning.  But sometimes the bullets hit a vital organ, the gearbox, which is the heart of the windmill.  This can be the beginning of the end.  Aermotor windmills are self-oiling, their gears rotate in a sealed gearbox full of oil.  The self-oiling mechanism was a luxury to the owners of these mills, who wants to climb up a 40' (or taller) tower to oil a windmill every day?  But once a bullet penetrates the gearbox or the helmet covering the gearbox, the problems can be severe since the helmet protects the gears from water and wind-blown dust.  Oil and water don't mix too well, and the combination does a lousy job of lubricating gears, too.  If the bottom of the gearbox is hit, all the oil may eventually drain out, if the helmet is hit, the gearbox will eventually fill with accumulated water and dirt.   Poor windmills, standing mute while idiots take potshots.

Carl had a few days of vacation coming that year, so he set to work on the windmill the next day, removing the helmet to see what the damages were.  There was one major hole in the helmet which had also hit a tooth on one of the four gears, breaking it.  He was able to repair the gear by doing some creative welding and pounded the jagged hole closed with a hammer and soldered the edges shut.

The tail of our windmill resembles lace in places, due to all the holes, but we decided against making a new one for now.  Despite its damage, it still works fine as do the blades.  There are 18 blades on an 8' mill, and 17 of ours have multiple bullet holes...only one blade managed to escape with a mere dent.

We were lucky that the blades were very straight.  When Arnie took this mill down from it's former home, he did it the right (and the much harder way) by using scaffolding and taking it down piece by piece.  I'm not sure how he removed the actual windmill head itself, which weighs around 350 pounds. I wish I had asked him for a better explanation, but sadly, he passed away about a year after we bought the mill.   He did an awesome job, there were no bent blades.   Some people resort to pulling a tower over to get a windmill head on the ground, but the blades suffer mightily from the crash, becoming bent and crumpled.

When I bought this windmill, the $250 also included most of the tower which had also been disassembled and was stacked up in Arnie's woods.  Not all of the parts were there, one of the four legs was missing, but this was no big deal, really.  We bought some new angle iron from a local steel supplier to complete the tower and replaced all of the cross-bracing too, since the older steel was pitted.

The holidays were now past by a few days, and we had a goofy thought, should we try to put the tower up?   We had quit working on the quarry construction just before Christmas because of  the colder weather and the upcoming holidays.  It was now the 9th of January and we hadn't received any significant snowfall beyond a light dusting, which was very unusual.  The ground was frozen to a depth of maybe three inches but once you chiseled down past the frost, it was easy digging.   The weekend was coming up....why wait?

Siting the windmill was the first decision we had to make, where should we put it?  We wanted to see it from the house but didn't want it in the Quarry itself.  We settled on an area about 75 feet from the pond.  Joel had dug a test hole and found out there was water under the windmill's site too, so the decision was made.  At some point in the future, we hope to make the windmill actually pump water for the waterfall, but that's another project for another day.

 We had done some hasty research on the internet searching for 'the best way to raise a windmill tower' and found out the best way would be with a crane capable of reaching 40' in the air complete with a nice bucket on the boom where a person could stand and work.  That would be the best way, and of course, a quite costly way, and ever-mindful of the Frayed Shoestring Budget, out of the question for us.  Our next option was to build scaffolding to a height of 40'.....but if we had that sort of time and money, we may as well hire a crane.  So the next option was to dig holes for the legs, attach one end of a cable to the top of the tower and the other end to a tractor and pull.  That idea sounded about right to us, it was completely dysfunctional, risky, dangerous and Cheap.  Ok, we have a plan.

January 8, 2004 was spent getting ready to raise the tower.  The first thing we had to do was dig four holes 5' deep for the windmill legs.  After several hours of digging, the holes were ready.  The next morning,  we assembled the tower.  January 9 was ridiculously warm for Wisconsin; we hit 45 degrees which was nice, but by midafternoon, a light rain started falling.  In the picture below, David is sorting through the bracing and getting ready to put the bolts in the holes to form the cross braces:
Dave sorting bolts for braces, January 9, 2004.
Carl working on the layout of the tower parts.

  The loose dirt in the foreground is from the hand-dug holes for the tower legs. 
January 9, 2004
In the above tower assembly picture, David, Carl's father, Don, Carl and Joel are all working on tightening the braces.  Daylight is dwindling and the mist is starting to turn to rain.

The view from the top of the tower looking back.  Left to right: David, Carl, Don and Joel.

It was getting to be very late afternoon when these pictures were taken, so there was little light for photography. It began to rain harder, so we had to quit.  The weather forecast for the next day was for a cold snap coming in with falling temperatures as the day progressed.   We knew we had to hurry and get the windmill in place before the temperatures dropped too severely because we needed to pour cement into the holes after the tower was in place.  We went to bed and hoped for good luck the next day.

The next day, Jan. 10, 2004, dawned sunny and colder with a rather brisk breeze.   We brought both of the tractors out to the windmill site and hooked up the very heavy 100 foot long 1/2" thick cable to the head of the windmill.  Carl put boards in the two front holes so as we raised the tower all in one piece, the legs would catch on the two boards and simply fall into the holes.  Then as the tower continued to be pulled upright, the other two legs should just as neatly plunk into the next two holes and we'd have an upright tower.  Sound like a plan?

In the picture below, Joel has the tower hoisted as high in the air as the Super H can lift.  This is also one of only a handful of pictures we have of the late and great rock hauler, the Mighty Buick Century and our little trailer. 
Tower partially raised, waiting for the final lift.  January 10, 2004

Carl tied two 100' long guide ropes to either side of the top so the tower could be guided in one direction or the other as the tower was being pulled up.  Luckily, our two young neighborhood friends, Dale and Eric, were available to come over and help with this crazy endeavor.  Carl and Joel took the rope tied to the west side of the tower, Eric and Dale took the rope on the east side and I was on the south side with the pulling tractor.

We all discussed what everyone's role would be and what hand signals we would use and then everyone manned their battle stations.  My biggest problem was the fact that I could not see anything to do with the tower or the men from where the tractor was sitting over 100' away.  I was right next to the quarry pond with only a narrow space between the quarry and the barn to drive on, so I had to make sure I didn't run into anything as I drove slowly ahead.  Behind me, the spruce trees blocked my view completely.   I had to rely on David as the go-between to tell me to start or stop. 

Tower going up, frantic Carl and Joel on left side pulling while Dale and Eric try to guide it straight on their side.

Carl yelled, "Ok, let's give it a try!" and I fired up the 574 and eased the clutch out ever so slightly.  I kept monitoring my forward progress with the barn and quarry while trying not to look away from Dave for anything more than a few seconds as he watched the process from his angle. Dave was also in charge of photographing the event, too, so he had his hands full.

What I didn't know was Carl was yelling for me to stop pulling, but Dave couldn't hear him from where he was standing.  The tower slid toward the holes and Carl decided he wanted me to stop pulling so they could try to wiggle the tower in by hand.  David misunderstood and kept motioning me to go forward, so I didn't have a clue.  Meanwhile, behind the trees, the four guys were furiously pulling on their guide ropes, fighting with the unruly tower for all they were worth. Suddenly, over the trees, I saw the tower's mast rising.  Dave started gesturing wildly and I couldn't tell if I was supposed to stop or go, so I stopped.  By this time, the tower was nearly straight up and down anyway.  (I guess we should have worked on our hand signals and choreography a BIT more.) 
Despite the fact I had been pulling when I should have stopped, the guys managed to guide the tower into position.  All four legs had dropped neatly into their assigned holes and nothing and no one was bent or harmed in any way.  What a relief!  It was around 3 PM.

After thanking Dale and Eric, they headed for home.  We still had to pour cement in the holes to stabilize the tower and it was growing dark and much colder, so time was of the essence.  While Carl and Joel brought out the bags of dry cement from the garage with the wheelbarrow, I hauled five gallon pails of hot water out of the house one after another for the cement mixing.  We worked until long after dark, with Carl continuing mixing cement while Joel helped me haul water.  We were so glad to be done, finally, around 7PM.  We had some straw bales available to pile up and over the holes so the cement would cure without freezing.  The temperatures dropped substantially that night, well below freezing and it started to snow.  Winter had finally arrived.  We were truly done working outside now until spring.

Joel climbing down from the newly installed  tower.   January 2004

Next chapter:  The insane way to install a windmill head.


Anonymous said...

So very cool to have a windmill. Now that is the ultimate yard ornament.

Garden Sense said...

Quite the DIY project! Good for you.

Missy said...

Your entire story is enthralling Karen. You have a great team.
There are quite a few windmills still in use in outback Australia. No electricity but plenty of wind and underground water for stock, irrigation, etc. I'm sure they get used as target practice too.

Zoey said...

Wow, what a great gift! I can't even imagine how the windmill head is going to get up there!

Gatsbys Gardens said...

Karen, what a wonderful structure, can't wait to see it up.


Karen said...

Thank you, Donna, yes, we're lucky to have the mill.

Garden Sense, it was nerve-wracking, probably not one of our wisest decisions, but it turned out well.

Hi Missy, I'm glad to hear windmills are still thriving in your country, too. They are amazing machines. I'm glad you're enjoying the story!

Zoey, stay tuned.......and you'll understand why I went prematurely gray!

Thank you, Eileen, the rest of the story is coming next.

xoxoxo said...

Ha! And here I thought you had forgot to put the head on before raising it! I was part of the plan all along--can't wait to read the next one!

Sall's Country Life said...

So interesting Karen. Our farm had two empty towers as yours is pictured at this stage. I'm always using the one for those great aerial shots of the garden (not very safe however)the other one, I finally got tired of it impairing my view of the beautiful sunsets. How lucky you are to have found all the pieces and with Carl's talents to reassemble it all. Simply amazing, can't wait to hear the rest of the story!!