Water Windmill Repair on the Trew Ranch

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Detail of the working parts of an early Advance windmill.
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Whether you are plowing, harvesting, hauling hay or restoring tractors, one thing always brings the work to a halt. When mama runs out of water in the house, the windmill, pump or whatever will be fixed or attended to promptly.

Historians tell us it wasn’t the U.S. Cavalry, the Texas Rangers, sheriffs or six-guns that won the West: It was barbed wire and windmills. Barbed wire gave us control of the land, and water windmills made the land habitable. I agree with this philosophy but at times have questioned whether the farm windmill is a curse or a blessing. Guess it depends on whether it is pumping water, or whether you have to work on this contrary device.

Until retirement, Ruth and I personally repaired our farm windmills. We prided ourselves on being an efficient, experienced and well-coordinated team. After the chains, blocks and cables were in place, she entered the truck while I stood at the wellhead with wrenches in hand. Ruth drove the vehicle slowly, pulling the sucker rod and pipe from below one joint at a time.

Our timing was near perfect and our work signals clear. From long experience of working together, we could replace pump leathers, repair rods, pipe or pump cylinder with hardly a word other than commands. In reality, after most windmill repair sessions, several days passed before we spoke to each other again.

“Whoa!” “Up a little!” “Down a hair!” “Too fast!” “Slow down, you trying to kill me?” These were the usual working commands. Intelligent conversation went downhill swiftly after that. These commands, yelled over the roar of the truck engine, caused cramps in her clutch leg, mild profanity on both parts and, worst of all, it could ruin a hairdo.

In my experience, it is more economical to hire someone to repair your farm windmills than to use your wife to help. On one occasion, for instance, it cost $19.95 to replace the pump leathers on a windmill. The cost to repair Ruth’s disposition was $129.95 at Boots & Jeans.

A rancher cousin in New Mexico had to do his own cooking and washing and was banished to the bunkhouse and totally ignored for days, all because he said, “Turn the pipe wrench around, honey.” But she thought she heard him say, “Turn the pipe wrench around, dummy.”

My neighbor was left standing at a water windmill 3 miles from the house, holding a string of sucker-rods with his bare hands, all because he asked his wife to hand him a wrench but forgot to say “please.” Let me tell you, repairing windmills with your wife can be tough.

It costs a little more now to keep the windmills running on the Trew Ranch. I believe it’s worth it because it probably saved a marriage, or at least saved us from serious counseling. Ruth and I even brag to the grandchildren about “the good old days” when we did all the windmill repair ourselves. We leave out the parts where we didn’t speak to each other for days at a time. FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net

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