Our Windmill – A Sustainable Pump

Our new windmill sings in the breeze

We dug our well last year with the goal of using a windmill pump. Our idea of living sustainably means we aren’t dependent on the availability of fossil fuels or grid power to exist. Since installing solar panels, we normally run our generator only about 30 minutes daily to fill our water tanks. Our inexpensive electric jet pump takes too much “juice” to start with our simple power system. If we aren’t dependent on that pump, we’ll eliminate the need to use our generator.

Since water is the number one survival need, we’re prioritizing securing several good water sources. All other preparations will be pointless within three days with no access to water. So last year we used a tax refund to purchase an eight foot (2.4 meter) O’Brock windmill on a 21 foot (6.4 meter) tower. We just didn’t have the time to get it set up till recently.

Silver Oak got a call from Mr. O’Brock in OH several months ago wondering if he would be interested in putting up another windmill close to our house. Once we got ours installed, Silver Oak would be the “expert” in the area. That appealed to Silver Oak as he is always looking to realize our goal of working from home or very near home rather than commuting to town for landscaping. And this was a motivation to get our own windmill up quickly.

In February Silver Oak started assembling the tower of our windmill, and dug the four big holes by hand to place the legs into. Without the aid of heavy equipment we had to come up with different ideas than the instructions gave at times, so there was quite a bit of trial and error. The base of the tower was lowered by hand into the holes (with lots of grunts!).

We initially helped support the bottom of the tower while Silver Oak assembled it

The four-foot-deep holes were dug by hand

When the base was lowered into the holes the rest of the tower was assembled

The tower and platform are completed

Once the tower was completely constructed, leveled, and squared, the concrete was mixed and poured into the holes to tie it down. There are quite a few O’Brock windmills in central Florida and none were lost to the hurricanes several years ago. Their secret is a strong foundation.

16 bags of concrete were mixed and added to each hole

Next came the assembly of the windmill engine and tail. Silver Oak did this just before turning his attention to the windmill on the neighboring ranch in March.

Assembling the engine, tail, and vane

The ranch’s windmill was the same size as ours, but with a taller tower. The ranch had a back-hoe to dig the holes, hired a truck to bring the concrete, and rented a crane to set the windmill on the tower. That made it easy.

On the nearby ranch Silver Oak assembled the base of the tower, then put the mill together while waiting for the concrete truck to arrive

The next day the crane came to lift the mill up onto the completed 33' tower

With ease the crane swung it up and into place

Silver Oak had to be up there to guide it onto the mast pipe

But it wasn’t easy to set up everything on the top of that 33 foot (10 meter) tower! It was a fairly windy day and we naively had not thought about using a safety harness for such a job. Silver Oak was extremely careful about every move he made up there that day, and resolved to do the next job with the proper harness. I went at noon to take pictures and it made me so nervous to see him crawling around on that thing that I couldn’t leave till he was done. I stayed and prayed, and helped with what I could from the ground.

After the mill was bolted and oil poured into the engine housing, the cover was put in place...see why my heart was seizing up?

Farmer Boy went with me so he got in on the action. This windmill was installed to run an air compressor to aerate the ranch’s pond rather than pump water. It was situated next to a rustic cabin and when it was done it made a handsome sight.

The aerator pump was connected

Silver Oak and Farmer Boy pose proudly beneath Silver Oak's first completed windmill

The ranch's cabin with the windmill in the background...a handsome sight!

Once the neighboring ranch’s windmill was up Silver Oak was itching to finish ours. But we didn’t have the funds to rent a crane to lift the 300 lb (136 kg) mill up to the top of the tower. And you can’t just hang 300 lbs on your back and carry it up there! So Silver Oak had to do what all true homesteaders must learn to do…get creative!

He racked his brain and prayed for ideas, and looked at materials we have to work with. He ended up investing in a $40 chain hoist from Harbor Freight to lift the engine. But what was he going to hang it from, and how was he going to swing the engine around and set it in place once he got it up there? He came up with this:

The pieces used to assemble a lift support for the chain hoist

With the wood he built a little platform for the pole, with a hole to seat it into. Then he dropped the t-pole into the straight pole so the arm could reach out and hold the chain hoist, then swivel around to place the engine and tail right where he wanted it. The finished product is officially called a “gin pole.” It took a lot of tries and adjustments, and was slow going, but he finally got it lifted up and swung into place. That was grounds for lots of cheering!  It is so valuable to know how to do it without a crane!

Mounting the t-pole on top of the tower

The chain hoist is hung from the t-pole

The chain hoist lifts in 10 ft increments, so scaffolding and planks across tower trusses held the engine between increments. I kept the engine from beating against the tower. That was as high as I went!

Preparing to lift the engine the final segment of the journey to the top of the tower

Almost there!

At the top, Silver Oak swung the t-post around, and lowered the engine right onto the mast pipe! It was done!

When the engine was mounted he carried the wheel up in six different sections, installing one piece at a time. It made the job much more manageable. And, this tme, he used a safety harness.

Rather than purchase an expensive harness which he didn’t have time to wait for or money to buy, he studied others and made one himself. He combined webbing rated for a 5000 lb load, a chain, bolts, and heavy duty seatbelt type straps, all which he already had on hand. We all felt more at ease when he started using that. We’re thankful for God’s protection.

Silver Oak's safety harness

Testing it by hanging on the side of the deck

Completing the windmill felt like a major accomplishment, which it WAS! We dug a trench for plumbing from our shallow well in the front yard to the windmill near the back. We hope to some day dig another well closer to the windmill, but for now we’ll pump from the original well.

Our view of our handsome addition from the front yard

Unfortunately other priorities (like planting pasture seed and building my new herb garden) have crowded out finishing the plumbing from the windmill to our water tanks, but it’s a relief to know the big job is done and we have the components on hand to complete it.


Absolute Preparedness

Absolute Preparedness

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