Vintage Windmills Vanishing from Old Homesteads

The symbol of the farm in America, vintage windmills are disappearing from old homesteads


| September 1998



Windmill

Windmill

Photo by Maria Brunssen

As a symbol of the farm in America, few images are as enduring as that of windmill. But the genuine wooden-wheel article, collectors say, is disappearing from old homesteads fast. "This stuff is rare," said collector Howard McLain, Carroll, Neb. "Original mills carry a lot of value."

More than a century ago, windmills made the Great Plains habitable, harnessing the wind's energy to provide water for settlers and their livestock. But the advent of rural electrification in the late 1930s marked the beginning of the end for the prairie sentinels. "The REA came in 1936, and then the World War II scrap metal drives," Howard said. "From there on out, there were less and less windmills."

Progress in other avenues also spelled the end of an era.

"It used to be, the railroad companies would have a lot of large windmills alongside the tracks to supply water for the steam engines," he added. "But when the diesel engines came along, that was the end of that."

Collectors even have to contend with other collectors.

"There were so many collectors who saved the weights," Howard said, "and threw away the iron."