Old Windmills Make a Y2K Comeback

The 19th century technology of old windmills garner interest as the century ends

| March 1999

  • Randy Stubbs, on an old Samson.
    Randy Stubbs, on an old Samson. "Everybody loves a windmill," he says. "It's a very postiive image in the American psyche. The windmill and barbed wire ... that's what settled the west. People talk about the Winchester, but if you had no water and you couldn't keep your cattle confined, you were out of business."
    Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.
  • Big Country puts a priority on used parts, like these blades.
    Big Country puts a priority on used parts, like these blades. "Anytime you can recycle parts, rather than go with new, it's so much less expensive," Randy says.
    Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.
  • This illustration, from an 1893 catalog, shows another use for windmills: grinding grain for stock.
    The Y2K demand for windmills is related to pumping water. This illustration, from an 1893 catalog, shows another use: grinding grain for stock.
    Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.
  • Salvaged gear boxes
    Salvaged gear boxes. Businesses particularly like windmills, Randy Stubbs says. "When you put up a windmill, you have an instant landmark. And it moves," he says. "Nothing catches the eye like a moving object."
    Photo by G. Wayne Walker Jr.

  • Randy Stubbs, on an old Samson.
  • Big Country puts a priority on used parts, like these blades.
  • This illustration, from an 1893 catalog, shows another use for windmills: grinding grain for stock.
  • Salvaged gear boxes

In the antiques business, nostalgia sells. But a once-in-a-lifetime calendar change may top even the nostalgia factor in at least one collectible category. The fast-approaching millenium is generating business for the long sleepy windmill industry as surely as the windmill generates power. 

"This has been the biggest year for windmill sales in the last 25 to 30 years," says Randy Stubbs, owner of Big Country Windmills, based in Maxwell, Neb. "Water-pumping windmill sales have been steadily declining since World War II, but from all indications, this will be the first year of a rise in sales. With this Y2K scare, there's a lot of people out there saying 'Why not pump our own water?'"

Those who expect computer glitches to disrupt basic services when the year 2000 arrives are eagerly exploring alternative sources of energy, Randy says.

Recalling pastoral scenes of an earlier era, many see the windmill as the solution. But it's not quite that simple.



"I wish we were in the business of selling wind-powered generators," he says. "That's what a lot of these people really want. A lot of people don't understand that there's a distinct difference: the windmill works on an up-and-down stroke that pumps water, while a wind generator works more like an automotive generator."

Randy, who's been in the windmill business for 10 years, readily admits that his interest in windmills has become all consuming.



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