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114  Windmills, Center Pivots, Feedlots, and Porkers we sell rain!| 1969 irrigation equipment advertisement You can produce a lot more raising hogs than dryland wheat| Paul Hitch, 1994 The windmill is the familiar symbol of the independent plains farmer. It appears in political cartoons, Dust Bowl photographs, and any number of romantic farm films. It failed in its promise because windmill technology could not water large fields.¹ A farmer’s windmill could usually draw water from a maximum of thirty feet below so he was only frustrated when he learned that good water lay directly underground , a tantalizing fifty feet close and yet too deep. Windmill technology deserves credit because it did substitute for water laboriously raised bucket by bucket from the hand-dug well, but this could supply only the home and barnyard, or at the most, five acres of wheat or thirty head of cattle. The windmill would not become another major force in the remarkable technological revolution that Walter Prescott Webb said transformed the plains and raised farmers above survival levels, including Glidden’s barbed wire, John Deere’s shear plow, McCormick ’s reaper, and Colt’s revolver.² The need was obvious. Webb said plains farmers sought “a mechanical device that would raise water to the surface, one that would be economical in construction, inexpensive to operate, and capable of making slow but constant delivery.”³ As early as 1872, the newfangled windmills situated strategically along the Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroad tracks did not escape farmers’ attention.⁴ These were not the large, creaky windmills, with their massive wooden sails and revolving millhouses, that characterized the landscape of Holland or Spain but leaner wood and metal devices windmills, center pivots, feedlots, porkers 115 spinning twenty- or thirty-foot blades set on top of a simple platform. An old western Kansas saying had it that the trains ran only on days the wind blew. Windmills pumped water into strategically located water tanks to replenish Santa Fe steam locomotives. The Santa Fe ran through southwestern Kansas by the end of 1872. Each tank was on a ten-foot-high platform. The train crew would “jerk down” an iron spout to pour water into the steam locomotive’s water jacket. Occasionally “jerk water towns” grew up around the windmill, tank, and maintenance crew. Nor did it go unnoticed that smaller homemade windmills allowed cattlemen to fence their land into separate fields, each with its herd supplied by windmill and tank. Legend has it that as early as 1854, an old midwestern “pump doctor ,” John Burnham, weary of constant repairs, suggested to a young Connecticut mechanic, Daniel Halladay, that if a windmill could be made self-governing, it might well transform western farming. Halladay devised a windmill that turned itself into the wind and controlled its speed, all by the centrifugal force of a weight. The response was astonishing. Halladay moved to Chicago to be closer to potential dryland markets. Quantity orders from railroads allowed the United States Wind Engine and Pump Company to dominate the big new industry by 1862. By 1879, as the railroads spread across the plains and independent plains farmers became a significant market, sixtynine manufacturers sold more than a million dollars’ worth of windmills . Competitive shakeouts reduced the number of manufacturers to thirty-one by 1919, while sales reached nearly $10 million.⁵ Important refinements in that period included reduction in size from thirtyfoot diameters to a range from four to sixteen feet, with eight- or ten-foot windmills becoming standard. The introduction of curved steel blades led to higher efficiency, reductions in size, and lower cost. The wonder of the self-oiling mechanism delighted the farmer who otherwise climbed up in the midst of a blizzard or dust storm to lubricate the linkages. Manufacturing guidelines established by Fairbanks, Morse & Company summarized the features that successfully sold windmills to farmers, townspeople, and railroads on the windy, waterless plains: 116 windmills, center pivots, feedlots, porkers 1. Ability to be shipped knocked down and yet readily erected with simple tools by ordinary mechanics 2. Interchangeability of parts 3. Durability 4. Minimum amount of material used, keeping down costs of material and transportation as well as erection 5. Simple lubrication 6. Self-governing, both as to staying in the wind and as to maintaining a uniform speed regardless of velocity of wind⁶ The pumps under the spinning vanes ranged from five- to twelve-inch bore cylinders with a stroke of six to twelve inches. Farmers were...


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