Windmill article by Charley Mock
This article was written by a young Texas student in 1983. It is a good example of histories being passed from generation to generation.
Mock, Charley, Windmills of the West, The Permain Historical Annual XXIII , December 1983, pp 43-48.
Since early settlers could only live near surface or shallow underground water America was divided by the vast region of uninhabitable dry plains. Pioneers crossing these arid plains faced many hardships including the lack of water. Not until the invention of a durable windmill could ranchers and homesteaders settle these vast regions.
My great grandfather, John Bartlett (Jack) Thompson, and his wife, Ida Lynch Thompson, joined the land rush in 1902. They left east Texas and traveled to dry West Texas. They loaded their children and possessions into a covered wagon pulled by two horses. They also had a good saddle horse and buggy. The roads were rough, poor and dusty and the weather not always agreeable.
April 19, 1902 was a memorable day for the Thompsons. On this day, their land of four sections was staked on the Seminole Draw, eight miles east and two miles south of the present site of Seminole [southwest of Lubbock]. For identification purposes, the buggy was left on the claim while the family returned to Stanton for supplies.
The Thompsons probably picked this land because an Eclipse windmill was already in the draw. This provided an immediate source of water for the family. The open range ranchers had windmills in many of the draws because water was only 35 feet underground. My great grandfather built a small single walled house on top of the draw for the family to live in until the land was “proved”. My grandmother, Ada Thompson, came to live in his house when she was only three months’ old….
The Thompsons had a rough time getting the house water up that steep embankment and so my great grandfather hired someone to come in and drill a well on top of the draw near the house. Now the family could have water closer to their home. My grandmother saw them drill the well with two horses going around in a circle providing power for the hard metal drilling bit. She said she could remember the twelve-inch rut the horses made during the two-week drilling process. The[y] found water at 65 feet.
The Eclipse was the most common mill on the Plains and the Thompsons put it on their newly-drilled well. The Eclipse mills were wooden and held together with mechanical parts made from iron and steel. They were made of sections of wooden blades nailed to slotted wooden rims. The Eclipse windmill had a counter-weight shaped like a half moon. This weight helped to control the speed of the wooden wheel during high winds. My grandfather, Fred Mock, said these mills were hard to keep repaired. To keep the wooden blades tight he used wet cowhide that would shrink and tighten when it dried. These windmills had to be oiled weekly.
Many ranchers in West Texas believed a large wooden mill was the only mill that could raise water from deep underground wells. They were reluctant to change to the smaller metal mills such as an Aermotor, but after World War I steel mills became increasingly popular. The Thompsons finally changed their wooden Eclipse mill to a self-oiling Aermoter mill in 1946.
The galvanized steel blades were a great improvement over wooden blades. The steel blades are much more efficient in light winds and more durable in strong winds. Blades like these lasted fifty years or more. The wind striking the blades at an angle forces the wheel to turn. The shaft is connected to a set of gears. As the wheel turns, small gears on the shaft turn larger gears. The sucker rods connect the windmill wheel and gear box with the pumping parts in the bottom of the well. The top check moves up and down in the water as the sucker rods are moved by the wheel. The leather keeps a watertight seal between the bottom and top check. The bottom check is stationary in the bottom of the cylinder which is attached to the well pipe. This combination traps and lifts the water each time the mill moves the sucker rods up and down. A tail vane acts as a rudder and keeps the wheel facing into the wind.
The windmill at the Thompson Ranch is still running and is unbelievably dependable. During the summer of 1981 my dad and I rebuilt the wooden tower and replaced the cylinder, sucker rods, and checks. We did this because the windmills are still the cheapest method of pumping water….
This windmill has provided the Thompson family with water for eighty years. They would not have been able to live in the homestead land without the windmill water. I have learned much about my family by working on this windmill project. Someday I will own the land the windmill is on. Then I will be the fourth generation of Thompsons to look after one of the windmills that changed the west and the world.