Tag Archives: windmill

Windmill Woes

What’s wrong with this picture? Yes, the blades of the windmill are missing. The fan assembly came off about three weeks ago, apparently due to a failed cotter pin. We’ve been trying to get it fixed but the well service firm that erected the windmill has decided they don’t want to work with us anymore (in spite of the fact that we have of course paid every bill promptly and in full, no haggling, no delays.)

Fan on the ground.

The fan is 10′ in diameter and weighs about 75 pounds. Together this means it’s no easy feat to get it up the tower and installed. My first couple of attempts to reach tech support at Aermotor, the firm that made the windmill, were futile. Some of the sales guys gave me information on the required cotter pin but didn’t say anything about what it would take to restore it to it’s proper place.

Thinking it was just a matter of getting the fan up the tower and sliding the shaft in place, I worked out a way to rig an upright, a boom, and a pulley system. We bought a 24′ extension ladder, which gets me up to the platform. I pulled a length of 2.5″ water pipe into a vertical position and anchored it to the platform on the tower.

Tower rig

Not visible in the picture is the boom which slides into the upright pipe and provides a 4′ arm to support a pulley. I got this all done before lunch today. I came back to the house for a lunch break, which is when I finally got hold of someone at tech support. He explained it wasn’t just a matter of slipping the shaft back into the gearbox and reinstalling the cotter pin. Apparently some other gears are in the way and have to be disassembled first. He was pretty emphatic that there was no safe way to do this with the windmill on the tower.

After lunch our friend Ramey gave me the name of a well-service firm in Española. I called immediately and got a friendly voice on the other end. He’s backed up about two weeks, but seems to be very happy to do the work. To top it off, he’s familiar with Aermotor windmills, so he knows what he’s doing. With a little luck I’ll have another post in 2-3 weeks with a repaired windmill to show.

Wildlife at the Windmill

The next step after getting the windmill up and running was to lay some pipe and place a stock tank where wildlife would be hard to spot from the road. (Sure, it would be illegal to hunt on our property, but that doesn’t stop everyone around here.) The stock tank is about 75′ west of the windmill, slightly downhill along the spine of the hogback. Animal tracks started appearing around the tank the very night we first filled it. I placed a motion-activated game camera on a post by the tank two days ago and here are some shots of our visitors. The black and white shots are infra-red images taken after dark. The camera has an infra-red flash, which the animals can’t see, but reflects from the eyes, giving a glare in the image.

The Windmill (Part 2)

In late September the well service company (a one-man operation with an occasional extra hand) showed up with the windmill on the trailer, along with some pipe and “sucker-rod”. They accessed the site by following the road to the edge of the property where it has dropped to the valley level, then back-tracking across the valley and more gradually up the hill. Even this was a bit much for the load, which wasn’t well anchored. In the process of crossing the valley they bounced several lengths of pipe off the trailer. With the trailer on the site it was pretty straightforward to use the truck-mounted crane to lift the windmill off the trailer and lay it on the ground. By the time all this was done it was early afternoon and the thunderheads were rolling in. That was it for the day – too dangerous to be working with the crane in an electrical storm

Lifting the windmill from the trailer.

The delivery of the windmill was followed by a three-week hiatus while we waited for Mike (the well-servicer) to return and get to work on the well itself. The first step in refurbishing the well involved puling out the old 3″ pipe and sucker-rod. This is a pretty straight-forward operation in which the crane is used to lift the entire “string” of pipe until a section clears the opening of the casing. A metal plate with a slot cut in it is slid around the pipe belong the coupling to support the pipe. (The plate is called a “skillet” because of it’s similarity in appearance to a cooking skillet.) Large pipe wrenches are used to unscrew the upper pipe from the coupling and that now-free length of pipe is laid on the ground, and the process starts over until all the pipe is out of the well.

The second step is to “shoot” the well, which involves exactly what the name says – a .357 revolver is fired repeatedly into the well. The impact of the bullet in the water is believed to create a pressure wave that emanates outward and clears debris from the filter screens at the bottom of the well. Most of what I’ve read says this is a myth, which seems the likely explanation.

After shooting the well, the next step is bailing. Just like the name suggests, this is like bailing a boat – you’re pulling up the water and dumping it. Unlike a boat, you’re not going to reach down with a bucket. Instead, the process uses a 15′ length of 3″ diameter pipe with a valve on the end. The valve is basically a metal plate that closes off the end of the pipe. The plate has a bar attached to it, pointing straight down. When the bailer reaches the bottom of the well the bar pushes up the plate so water can flow in. (Of course, if the water is deep enough it just flows into the bailer from the top as it sinks into the water. When the bailer is lifted the valve plate closes on the bottom of the pipe and holds the water. The bailer is then pulled up and out of the casing and the crane swings it around to some place where it can be drained by lowering it until the bar on the valve plate is pushed up and the water flows out. Since the well had not been used for probably 50 years or more, the water was pretty nasty – filled with all sorts of slimy plants, sludge, and generally smelly crap.

Once the well has been bailed, you reverse the process and start dropping a string of pipe into the well. The bottom of the string is the working tube, which is a brass cylinder with a polished interior surface. This tube is about two feet long and is screwed to a length of water pipe, which is typically 21′ long. You lower the pipe until the coupling sits just above the casing and slide a “skillet” around the pipe so you can detach the pipe string from the crane. You lift the next piece of pipe with the crane, screw it to the coupling, remove the skillet and lower the new length of pipe until its coupling sits on the skillet at the top of the casing.

Attaching the last length of pipe. The skillet is sitting on top of the casing supporting the coupling.

Before the last length of pipe is attached, a disk with a hole big enough for the pipe but smaller than the tee at the top is slid onto the pipe to support the pipe string on the top of the casing. (Or in our case, you lower the last length of pipe, realize you forgot the disk, lift the last length, remove it, insert the disk, then screw it back on and lower it again.)

(There actually was a two-week break while the pipe was lowered into the well. We unfortunately didn’t have the right combination of lengths to reach the bottom of the well, which meant breaking off work until a 10′ length was purchased and brought back to the site.)

Once the pipe string is in place you drop a check (foot) valve down the pipe where it falls to the bottom of the working tube. (Why don’t you just place it in the working tube at the start? Probably because dropping it is more fun.) The next phase is to install the pump. The pump piston is a machined brass assembly with “leathers” (now silicone) that seal to the sides of the working tube. A floating ball valve allows the water to pass the piston when the piston is lowered and supports the water when the piston is lifted. The piston is connected to lengths of sucker rod that screw together. These are lowered in a manner similar to lowering the pipe string, with each length supported on top of the well casing as the next is screwed in place. In spite of the fact that the bottom of the string of sucker rod will live under water, the sucker rod is wood, possibly ash, maybe oak.

Attaching a length of sucker rod

At this point the well is complete and it’s time to put the windmill over it. The windmill is first moved so that it’s immediately adjacent to the well pad. It’s then lifted from an attachment point near the top so that it’s basically pivoting into an upright position. In the picture below Tony is holding back the top of the tower so that it doesn’t swing too far and too fast once the center of gravity shifts to inside the contact point.

With the tower upright over the well pad, it’s all hands on deck to rotate the tower to the right orientation (the holes in the base are not symmetrical, of course) and then to guide the tower over the anchor bolts cast into the concrete pilings. The anchors are 5/8″ and the holes are 3/4″, so while we have leeway, we don’t have much room for error. We get the tower onto the bolts on the first try. No “persuasion” was needed to make things align. That’s two successes in a row on my concrete casting. With the tower in place we adjust the nuts under the base to level the base. Another set of nuts is threaded onto the achors above the base to lock it all down.

In addition to 12″ diameter, 3′ long pilings, the tower is anchored with guy wires from the corners. Although they had a ladder on the truck, it was deemed easier to just climb the tower. Clearly not an OSHA-approved procedure.

Tony climbing the tower

All that’s left at this point is to attach the sucker rod from the well to the mechanism in the windmill itself. That involved cutting the last length of rod to match the position of windmill mechanism and we were off and running.

Two weeks later Elaine and I are back with a 350 gallon stock tank and a bundle of PVC pipe and parts to provide a watering tank for wildlife. We dig a shallow trench from the windmill to the tank, about 75′ away. An adapter, a union, a couples of elbows, and we’re attached to the well head. Then it’s just a straight run of pipe to the tank. Pretty easy work.

The well head piped to the stock tank

Post script: While this all worked pretty well, water was flowing out of the top of the pipe on the up-stroke of the pump because the flow down the 1″ pipe to the stock tank was too slow. This was solved by adding a length of 2″ PVC pipe above the 2″ nipple above the tee in the photo above. This required detaching the sucker rod from the windmill. I followed the same procedures the service crew did to keep from dropping the sucker rod down the hole. In reality this was not much of an issue because even with the piston sitting at the bottom of the working tube, the last length of sucker rod still sits above the piping (or at least I believe it is.)

The elk found the stock tank the first night it was there.


The Windmill (Part 1)

As mentioned in the previous post, Elaine bought Sonya’s old windmill with plans to install it over one of the old wells on the property to pump water for a wildlife stock tank. The windmill will need some sort of footings, so the first step in site prep was to pour 12″ diameter, 3′ deep concrete footings.

The windmill site is about 1/2 mile south of the house, out on the end of a “hogback“, a usually steep-sided ridge formed by erosion. There is of course no electricity or water at the site, so everything is loaded into the pickup – a generator, cement mixer, 1260 pounds of concrete sacks, four 5-gallon buckets of water, a 55 gallon drum containing about 40 more gallons, and assorted tools – shovels, post-hole digger, level, … . Finally, a template for locating the anchor bolts.

A truck-load o’gear

Here’s shot of the site, behind the truck. (Why behind the truck? Because I took the picture after we were done.)

The well site

It’s a pretty bumpy ride, smashing through the sage. The shot below shows what we have to navigate to get back to the road. Directly below the RAV4 the bank slopes at about 40°. Behind the RAV4 the slope is gentler, maybe 20°. I drove mosty across and somewhat down the slope. After doing it a few times it stops feeling like the truck is going to roll over.

I had help on this job from John Rohr, who helps around the ranch, mostly with Elaine’s garden and other nasty/physical jobs. I had the holes half-dug before John came up. He helped finish the holes and helped with all the mixing and pouring. Even so, it took almost five hours on a pretty hot morning.


We used 12″ sonotube and three lengths of rebar in each tube. I tried to tie the triangular arrangement but it was such a mess that I ended up welding the rebar – it was much faster and a lot more rigid. The top of the old well is centered between the footings. The “sucker rod” is free enough to move by hand (with a fair amount of effort – you’re pulling up 40′ or so of rod). A 2″ galvanized pipe runs about 100′ down the hillside (to the right in the photo) to where the stock tanks must have been.

A few days later I returned to the site to check on everything. I walked up the spine of the hogback from the direction of the main road, a path I hadn’t taken before. About 10 yards short of the footings I stumbled on some relics of the past. No idea what they are other than some sort of long-forgotten machinery. One piece has “McCormick” cast into it. If this is the same McCormick as the inventor of the mechanical thresher, that company was bought out by International Harvester in the early 1900s.