Monday, September 30, 2013

Wind flowers

Model "E" windmill, U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Co.

I lived in the little town of Batavia, Illinois, while I was in grade school. The oldest town in Kane County, Illinois, founded in 1833, Batavia is on the banks of the Fox River, and almost immediately after white people arrived, it became a manufacturing dynamo for America's westward expansion.

The Fox River provided water power for the flour mills that ground the wheat farmers grew in the rich Illinois soil. It also drove the saws and milling machinery that built farm equipment, provisioning the homesteaders and settlers what they needed to conquer and domesticate the vast prairies of the Midwest and central plains. It drove saw mills that sliced the downed oak, maple and hickory trees of the Big Woods, clearing the land for the farms and milling the lumber to build barns and farmhouses.

Halladay Vaneless windmill, manufactured by the U.S Wind Engine and Pump Co.
Batavia was home to three manufacturing firms that made windmills - essential machinery to draw valuable water for irrigation, using the endless energy of the wind that rushed across the high flat land. These factories ranged alongside the Fox River, built from the mellow yellow limestone that was quarried out of the river bluffs just north of the business district. There was the Appleton Manufacturing Company, the Challenge Company, and the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company.

Challenge vaneless windmill

Batavia now proudly calls itself the "Windmill City," reviving and celebrating its heritage, but back in the 1960s when I lived here, we didn't know anything about windmills. The crumbling yellow buildings by the river were run down, home to small factories and warehouses.

Goodhue Special windmill, manufactured by the Appleton Co.

Today, the old Appleton factory has become the City Council meeting chambers, and the area around the old factories have become parks that connect to the Fox River Trail. These vintage windmills are displayed in the park nearby.

Challenge vaneless windmill
Beautiful as the conventional windmills are, I was fascinated by the shapes and intricacies of the two antique vaneless windmills displayed here. A vaneless windmill has no tail or vane, and its wheel turns behind the tower instead of at the front. These examples have wooden wheels and cast iron counterweights that keep the wheel turned into the wind.  The balance between wind velocity and the counterweights regulate the speed of the mill, so the slats adjust to the force of the wind. Once the wheel reaches a maximum speed, it does not increase.

The limestone building used to be the Appleton factory.
On the light, breezy day I visited, these mills were braked, and could not spin in the wind. But how I would love to see their flowered, feathered shapes in full motion, spinning. What beautiful, fascinating wind-flowers to bloom on the high prairie!


Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I never before thought of a windmill as a wind flower -- but now I shall. What beautiful photographs of wind flowers against a brilliant blue sky!

carmilevy said...

I'll never look at a windmill in quite the same way again. Who knew there was so much engineering and thought behind them? I love how you teach us something new every time you pull your camera out.

Anonymous said...


smalltownme said...

They are unique and beautiful!

Unknown said...

Hi, I collect and rebuild windmills and you took some nice pictures. That Goodhue Special was found for them by the Late Homer Beck of Wichita Kansas, he was a good friend of mine and he would be very happy so many people are enjoying one of his windmills. Thanks for posting, the windmill preservation movement needs all the support we can get. :-)