Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hear that lonesome windmill's song

Sounds trigger memories, and out at Last Chance Friday, I began to hear a familiar song rising from silence with the wind --- music to my ears.

Somewhere windmill blades were spinning endlessly in the breeze, going nowhere fast, unhitched from the mechanism that had once secured them, metal surfaces in need of greasing grinding gently.

I walked back to the cemetery entrance from its prow, surrounded by timber, and took a look south. Sure enough, there it was.

I’m surprised I missed it driving in, but headed west down the old Mormon Trace earlier I’d caught sight of the first landmark straight ahead --- the final incarnation of Last Chance Church converted into a house --- then began scanning the north side of the road for the driveway entrance. Hadn’t even glanced to the left.

The alternate Frank stopped at the state library in Des Moines last week to find out how many horses there were in Lucas County during 1895 --- the peak year enumerated. Twelve thousand.

While there weren’t that many windmills, hundreds of them were scattered across the countryside then, and well into the 20th century. Nearly every farmstead had at least one; some had more.

When I was a kid, our windmill was on the south side of the creek in a little valley north of the farmstead. Carl and Margaret Cottrell’s windmill was on the other side of the creek, a little way northwest.

A windmill is a wonderfully efficient and relatively simple device. The blades empower a shaft that powers a pump that the lifts water from the well and forces it to go where you want it to.

Ours filled two stock tanks on either sides of the road at the top of the hill. When the water level was low, someone walked to the bottom of the hill, released the mechanism that secured the blades, allowing them to turn into the wind, and pumping began. When the tanks were full or overflowing, the process was repeated, the windmill head turned and secured.

As years passed, Dad replaced the windmill-powered pump with an electric pump that operated from a switch at the top of the hill and the old mill became redundant. He sold it off eventually to Kansas or Nebraska where, quite possibly, it continues to pump water into an isolated stock tank far from power lines.

Carl’s and Margaret’s windmill, although no longer used, remained in place. When they left the farm and new owners allowed a once-immaculate place to fall apart, the mill’s restraining mechanism failed and the blades began to turn in the wind --- endlessly.

That lonesome sound became part of the background music --- not constantly and not annoyingly although the sound sometimes spooked strangers who didn’t know what it was, especially if outside at night.

And there it was, that lonesome song again, on Friday, generated by an abandoned mill that is one of the few still standing in Lucas County.

The Cottrell windmill, many years later, was rescued by their daughter, Doris, and her husband, Ron; brought to their place near Chariton, restored and re-erected. It doesn’t sing any more --- the blades are secured --- but at least it still stands. And if the need ever arose, I’m sure Ron could figure out some way to make it pump (and sing) again.

1 comment:

NameBrandFaucets said...

A lovely song indeed, recited effortlessly. It took me back to my childhood days.
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