Pulling Their Weight: The Windmill Counterbalance

Counterbalance weights on old windmills are more than folk art.

| October 2008

  • img_3616
    This Challenge windmill features a spear-shape weight.
  • 941839_59462563
    Bob and Francine Popeck with their dog, Fargo, in front of the Challenge 27 mill in their backyard. Bob restored the mill and built the wood tower.
  • img_5067
    A squirrel-shaped weight from an Elgin Victor mill.
  • img_5005
    The "rainbow" rooster manufactured by Elgin (Ill.) Windmill Co.
  • img_5071
    The Elgin Windmill Co. "screw leg" rooster, so named for the construction of its legs. The 80-pound piece is Bob's favorite. "It's almost more a work of art than it is a functional item," he says.
  • img_4994
    The H37 Halladay Vaneless Standard star manufactured by U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co., Batavia, Ill.
  • img_4999
    A spear-shaped Challenge weight.
  • img_5023
    The Hanchett bull made by Simpson Windmill & Machinery Co., Fairbury, Neb.
  • img_5006
    The Dempster Mfg. Co. Boss bull (the manufacturer shipped the hollow weight with instructions for insertion of scrap metal on installation).
  • img_4997
    The Danforth horse in front of a windmill fan section.
  • img_5025
    A weight from the Pipe Raymond vaneless mill produced by Althouse & Wheeler Co., Waupan, Wis. The W weight ranged from 23-1/2 to 119 pounds.
  • img_5028
    This weight for the Success vaneless windmill was manufactured by Hildreth (Neb.) Iron Works. The letter B stands for the first initial of manufacturer Burt Winters' name.
  • img_5060
    How it all began: Bob Popeck surprised his wife, Francine, on Christmas with this Hummer Model E weight manufactured by Elgin Windmill Co.
  • img_5063
    A pinback badge for Fairbury Iron Works & Windmill Co.
  • img_5065
    A heart-shaped weight manufactured by L. Houston, Montgomery, Pa. The Popecks discovered it at an antique show on Valentine's Day several years ago.

  • img_3616
  • 941839_59462563
  • img_5067
  • img_5005
  • img_5071
  • img_4994
  • img_4999
  • img_5023
  • img_5006
  • img_4997
  • img_5025
  • img_5028
  • img_5060
  • img_5063
  • img_5065

If it weren’t for its folk art appeal, the windmill counterbalance weight probably would not be as highly collectible as it is today. But the windmill weight is more than just a pretty face: It’s a key component of the vaneless windmill produced in the late 1800s.

Vintage farm-style windmills that pumped water came in two basic varieties. Vaned windmills used a tail, or vane, to guide the wheel into the wind. Vaneless mills depended on a counterbalance weight, perched at the end of a wood beam, to perform that function.

Counterbalance weights represented a short-lived but stylish variation of tail technology in windmill production. The Halladay Standard windmill, manufactured by the U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co., (USWE), Batavia, Ill., was the first manufacturer to employ a patented self-regulating wheel that would place itself in or out of sail depending on the strength of the wind. This “folding” mill was first developed with a wooden vane in 1854. Early catalogs from various windmill manufacturers show mills with wood tails.

In the 1880s, USWE introduced a vaneless version of the Halladay Standard. The Vaneless Standard, as it was called, utilized a star-shaped counterbalance weight instead of a tail. This mill was produced until 1916; other companies produced their own versions with different styles of weights into the 1930s. As a general rule, counterbalance weights were used only on folding wheel windmills, while tails were used on both early folding wheel and later solid, or fixed, wheel windmills. “Once they came up with a light, sturdy metal for the windmill tail,” explains collector Bob Popeck, “it was a whole new ball game.”



Weights not only served as a counterbalance but also as a marketing device, identifying the mill’s manufacturer in a recognizable manner. “But basically, the windmill weight just kept the wheel directed into the wind and prevented the whole thing from tipping over,” Bob says. Today, these weights are prized by windmill enthusiasts, such as the Popecks, and collectors of folk art.

In all shapes and sizes

Housing a collection of more than three dozen vintage windmill weights, the Popecks’ Batavia, Ill., home is not going to tip over any time soon either. “My brother warns me that this room is going to collapse from the weight of them,” he says with a smile. The weights range from fairly light (some were hollow, designed to be filled with scrap metal) to as much as 100 pounds or more. Bigger windmills needed heavier weights. “It all depended on the diameter of the wheel,” Bob notes.



SUBSCRIBE TO FARM COLLECTOR TODAY!

Farm Collector April 16Farm Collector is a monthly magazine focusing on antique tractors and all kinds of antique farm equipment. If it's old and from the farm, we're interested in it!

Save Even More Money with our SQUARE-DEAL Plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our SQUARE-DEAL automatic renewal savings plan. You'll get 12 issues of Farm Collector for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of Farm Collector for just $29.95.




Facebook Pinterest YouTube

Classifieds