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The windmills of southwest Kansas

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
The Star windmill which stood in the yard at the Boot Hill Museum. SUBMITTED PHOTO

As we travel the bi-ways of southwest Kansas, we take them for granted. Yet they are getting fewer and further between, overshadowed by their modern descendants.

The newer windmills, referred to as "wind turbines," constructed to provide electricity for our Nation, are huge and technologically advanced. But the concept behind their operation is old.

Instruments made to harness the power of the wind go as far back as the 1st century.

In Roman occupied Egypt, Hero of Alexandria designed a "toy" which may or may not have been practical.

In Tibet and China wind-driven "prayer wheels" made their debut as early as the year 400.

The nations of Europe truly benefitted from wind power beginning in the 11th or 12th century.

Energy from these early mills was used to grind grain. When one thinks of windmills in Europe, buildings with large sails or vanes come to mind. The Netherlands is famous for its old windmills. Their numbers have dropped, but the government now protects those remaining.

Smaller structures, called "wind pumps" have been seen on the U.S. Great Plains for over 150 years. Designed to pump water they often are called American windmills, or wind engines.

The concept of using the wind to pump water is 1,000 years old. But it wasn't until 1854 that Daniel Halladay invented the first of the type windmill we see on today's prairies. They convert wind energy into a useable form of energy by rotating vanes or blades, and are often part of a self-contained water system which includes a well. The water they pump is used to irrigate crops or feed livestock. In this region water is pulled from the large Ogallala Aquifer.

At the wind pumps' peak in 1930, there were about 600,000 of them in the world.

The chief manufacturers in the Americas were U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company, Challenge Wind Mill and Feed Mill Company, Appleton Manufacturing Company, Star, Eclipse, Fairbanks-Morse, Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company and Aermotor.

The windmill which had stood in the yard at Boot Hill Museum is an Original Star solid wheel invented by David C. Walling in 1878. It was marketed by Flint, Walling and Co., Kendallville, Indiana. Original Star windmills were sold in most of the United States and exported overseas.

It was enormously popular in the Great Plains from the 1880's though World War I. The Company made the last Original Star around 1920.

The wheel of the Original Star windmill is a solid wheel pattern and set to one side. Unlike most windmills the wheel of the Original Star turns counterclockwise.

The regular pattern mills came in sizes of 10, 12 and 14 feet in diameter, and the railroad pattern in 16, 18, 20, 24 and 26 feet.

In 1887, they ranged in price from $90 for the smallest and $700 for the largest.

The last Original Star windmill was produced around 1920.

Boot Hill Museum will feature the wheel of its restored and refurbished Star windmill in its new exhibits.