In many parts of the world, old windmills can be found resting idle in the fields. A once-proud but now lonely windmill standing on a tower can be a temptation for many of us. As the wind blows, the motionless windmill seems to call out to you with a squeak or even a painful whimper, just as the Tin Man called to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Oil, you think, just a little oil and that windmill will run again.
But in the world of used pumpers, a fine line exists between the “do-it-yourselfers” and the “do-it-to-yourselfers.” Compare that old windmill to an old car. Would you buy a 1940s-era car that’s been weathering the elements for decades and expect to drive it every day? More than likely, that windmill has been standing on top of its tower, exposed to the weather, every day of its life—for decades. Do you think that its owner diligently changed the gearbox oil every year since 1940?
Most abandoned windmills have been damaged beyond repair during years of disuse. Common points of failure or damage in an old windmill include the soft metal (babbitt) bearings, which need to be poured in place, not simply replaced with a kit. Every shaft hole is mostly likely out-of-round, and moving parts have worn due to lack of oil. Structural failure could be one broken bolt away. Windmill gearboxes are typically cast iron, and are balanced by the even distribution of weight. Once one part fails, other parts are unequally loaded and stressed by the failure.
Even if you find a well-preserved and well-maintained ’mill, you still need to remove and transport it. Putting up a windmill can be very dangerous—taking down an old windmill is always dangerous, and is not work for the uninitiated. It requires skill and experience in climbing, rigging, and dealing with large, heavy objects, and a sixth sense about the condition of the used tower and mill.
So if you’re thinking about salvaging an old windmill that’s been sitting in your neighbor’s field for decades—just stop. Many folks have tried before you, and the relic usually ends up joining the other tired windmills tucked away in the garage corner after someone finally figures out that they’ll be money ahead investing in a new one.