Minnesota man restores 90-year-old Baker Manufacturing Company steel windmill at fourth generation family farm
It was an overcast, dreary Saturday, with an occasional shower. But that didn’t hamper the enthusiasm of more than 50 neighbors and friends who gathered at the Carol and David Baker farm just south of Kenyon, Minn., last spring. The occasion? Watching David re-install the family windmill.
David lives on the farmstead founded by his great-grandfather, Ole Baker, in 1868. In about 1890, Ole purchased a Perkins windmill and tower from F.G. Held, a prominent local windmill supplier. Towers built by Perkins Windmill Co., Mishawaka, Ind., had distinctive channel iron cross-braces; the fan was constructed of wood blades.
In the mid-1920s, David’s grandfather, Edwin Baker, purchased a new 10-foot Monitor Model D steel windmill from Held and installed it on the Perkins tower. Produced by Baker Mfg. Co. (no relation), Evansville, Wis., the Monitor was superior to the old Perkins windmill, in large part because the gearbox was enclosed and the gears ran in oil. “The first oil gearboxes for the Baker Monitors were sold in 1925,” David says. “They were a vast improvement over the earlier open-gear models.”
The Monitor brand name was a nod to the Civil War battleship. The manufacturer claimed the Monitor’s gearbox could not be punctured by hunters’ bullets.
David’s grandfather selected the 10-foot Model D partly because of prevailing wind patterns and partly because of the depth of his well. “Our well is 212 feet deep,” David says. “It took more power to pump water over 200 feet. The gearbox head and fan of the 10-foot Model D weighed nearly 1,000 pounds. If a farmer had a shallower well, and lived where there was a lot of wind, he might have been just fine with an 8-foot fan.”
The windmill served the Baker farm for decades, pumping water for livestock and family use. It remained in use up to the 1960s, when a new submersible pump and state-of-the-art pressure water system were installed.
In 2008, David dragged the windmill out of the grove and began the process of restoring the tower and fan. He shortened the 65-foot tower by 15 feet, salvaging channel iron to replace missing or damaged sections.
Without the help of good friends, the project would not have been possible. Jim Quaale helped David get the 10-foot fan mounted on a temporary stand. David worked countless hours straightening blades and filling bullet holes made by some young farm kid. Wonder who that was?
Gary Pavek’s help was needed to weld and repair the brake and fix badly worn parts. Mark Kindseth built a new wood platform. Everett Fletcher helped with tower repairs. Finally, it took hours to paint the complete structure, with special detailing on the blades and tail, which is painted with authentic lettering that reads “Baker Evansville, Wis.” on one side, and “Sold by F.G. Held Kenyon MN” on the reverse.
After pouring a concrete base, and hoping that the measurements were accurate, the big day finally came. Richard Rundquist, David’s cousin, brought in a crane truck to set the tower in place. Use of a crane was much safer than the horse-powered technique used decades ago, employing a gin pole and block and tackle. Bill Yunkers brought his bucket truck to use in installing the fan.
The restored windmill is a fitting companion to a handsomely restored barn dating to the early 1880s. David installed steel siding inside and out. The lower level was insulated, stanchions were removed, new fluorescent lighting was installed and a new concrete floor is now level from one end of the barn to the other.
“I’m glad I saved a piece of Baker farm history,” David says. “Windmills and barns were once a very common sight in rural America. At least I have saved mine for future generations.” FC
For more information: David Baker, 47511 County 12 Blvd., Kenyon, MN 55946; e-mail: CNDBaker@frontiernet.net.
John Cole is a postcard collector/dealer from Minnesota.