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Of Windmills and Clyde Piquet

Milestones Vol 29. No. 1

The recent passing of Clyde Piquet leaves a vacuum in the hearts of those who knew him. A great man and a great historian, he will be much missed. Shortly before his death, he gave me this little story and a picture about windmills. I think it is a fitting tribute to Clyde. For like a windmill, he stood high and saw the historical landscape of this county. And like a windmill, he brought forth the fresh water of historical interest.---CW Townsend

Nowadays it's an isolated farm indeed that doesn't have electricity. It lights the houses and barns and runs the washing machine and vacuum cleaner and refrigerator and freezer, pumps the water and does many other jobs. Certainly its advent was a boon to farmers, but it sounded the death knell for that most picturesque structure once so familiar on the country landscape-the windmill.

Windmills have been known for thousands of years. Holland, for instance, could hardly have come into existence without them. These, however, were the old-type mills with huge canvas sails and were used not only for pumping water but also for sawing wood and grinding grain. (Remember that contented miller who lived on the Dee and envied nobody and nobody envied him?)

It was in the 1880s that the newer-type windmill was invented. At first it was made mostly of wood, but a few years later someone started using iron parts, which increased its efficiency and life span so that one would often last fifty or sixty years.

The windmill consisted of a tall iron scaffold, something like the modern television tower. On top of this was a square platform and mounted above the platform was a huge wheel with its myriad blades and its fan-shaped tail which kept the wheel headed into the wind. A long shaft reached from the wheel to the pump; and as the wind revolved the wheel, the shaft, by means of gears, worked the pump.

And when the wind blew and the wheel revolved, it squeaked and creaked and the pump made a jangling noise, but it was all part of a rural symphony which is rarely heard anymore.

The water was conducted to its destination by means of long pipes. There were the tanks in the milk house which must be kept full of icy cold water to cool huge cans of milk. And there were the watering tanks in the barns and barn yards which must also be kept full of fresh water so the stock could quench their thirst.

Sometimes you could keep a few fish or even a turtle in one of the tanks, and it was fun to hold your hands under the end on the pipe and let the cold water run between your fingers. Or you might try getting a drink and get your face plentifully splashed with water.

Windmills very seldom needed repairs, but there was an iron ladder built into one corner of the scaffold just in case you did need to get up to the platform. It did make a good vantage point from which to spot any stock which had strayed away.

And last, but not least, it was an irresistible temptation to Junior. Children were absolutely forbidden to climb the windmill. But children couldn't resist the temptation, at least once. Junior probably made it to the platform, but sister usually lost her nerve about halfway up. Even from that distance the ground looked awfully far away. Being a girl, she could retreat without losing caste, and then she could get revenge on brother by running to her parents and informing them that Junior was on top of the windmill.