Pumping Water with the Wind: Page 3 of 3

Modern Historic Technology

Inside this Article

The author lifts the sheet-metal covering to expose the pumper’s gearbox.
The author lifts the sheet-metal covering to expose the pumper’s gearbox.
A water-pumping windmill
A water-pumping windmill supplies water for cattle that graze under large wind turbines in northern California.
The author inspects a new gearbox.
The author inspects a new gearbox.
The author installing a 10-foot-diameter windmill.
The author installing a 10-foot-diameter windmill.
The author lifts the sheet-metal covering to expose the pumper’s gearbox.
A water-pumping windmill
The author inspects a new gearbox.
The author installing a 10-foot-diameter windmill.

Servicing the Windmill

The one major improvement in the 150 years that American windmills have been made was the introduction of the self-oiling windmill in the 1930s. Before that, a windmill’s parts had to be lubricated weekly by climbing the tower to grease the moving parts. But even with this advancement, windmills still require regular maintenance to keep them working well.

The instructions that a windmill manufacturer would have offered 75 years ago still apply today:

  • Always keep an eye and an ear toward your windmill. Peculiar sounds or visible abnormalities should be investigated at once.
  • Once a year, change the oil.
  • Twice a year, check the nuts and bolts. Tighten any loose fasteners, and replace any that are rusted or damaged.
  • Water-pump seals should last five years or more, unless your water contains lots of sand or grit, which will shorten seal life. A good filter on the bottom of the pump will help alleviate this problem.

Repair any damage you spot during your semiannual maintenance check to help ensure that your windmill will keep pumping water for decades.

Windmills: Yesterday & Tomorrow

At one time, water-pumping windmills were a common sight on the American landscape. It wasn’t until the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which provided cheap electricity to almost every home, that windmills were replaced by electric pumps. But water-pumping windmills haven’t died—and as people search for simple, reliable, and renewable solutions in our complicated world, these pumpers are experiencing a renaissance.

So if you need to pump water and you have a suitable wind site, think about using this modern historic technology. But be prepared for people to ask you, “Is that an old windmill you just put up?”


Kevin Moore (www.rockridgewindmills.com) is a water-pumping windmill enthusiast and owner of Rock Ridge Windmills in northern California. He has worked on windmill projects from rural China to the American Midwest, and teaches water-pumping windmill classes at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, California.

Tom Conlon (www.ironmanwindmill.com) was in the windmill business in California for many years. Today, he manages a windmill factory in central China where he functions as an unofficial American ambassador of goodwill, while working to introduce American agricultural technology to help improve living conditions in poor rural farming villages.

Water-Pumping Windmill Manufacturers:

Aermotor Windmill Inc. (Texas) • 325-651-4951 • www.aermotorwindmill.com

Dempster Windmills (Nebraska) • 402-223-4026 • www.dempsterinc.com

Iron Man Windmills (China) • 86-27-8349-6716 • www.ironmanwindmill.com

Southern Cross Windmills (Australia) • 61-07-131-786 • www.southcross.com.au/windmills

Water-Pumping Windmill Classes:

Solar Living Institute • 707-744-2017 • www.solarliving.org

University of New Mexico, Carlos Rosencrans • 505-646-4511 • www.nmsu.edu

Comments (1)

Volker Bause's picture

Nice article!

In Afrikaans, one of the native languages in our country, we say "Oud maar nog nie koud nie" which translates "Old but not cold yet" suggesting while this may be an old technology, it still has much life in it and it is not surprising to me that this peace of technology is finding its feet again.

I personally prefer the term classic. It's not an old windmill, it's a classic windmill. In Namibia you still find them on many farms. I was brought to this site and your article via Google search.

I consider to building a scaled down (Miniaturized) version which I can plant in my home as a piece of art. I am thinking along the lines 1.5 meters with electrically driven wheel. Something of beauty to behold. I hope to start and complete this project in 2015. The reason I landed here is because I was doing on-line research to gain some perspective and ideas and figure out what is feasible or not.

When I am done with my project, I will post some pictures on my Facebook and Google+ profiles.

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