Thursday, October 31, 2013

Aermotor F602

Hello Friends,
It was about this time last year that I set out to rescue an old Windmill in West Texas. It was the South Mill on an 1895 ranch and is probably a 1915 to 1920 era installation. Patent dates stamped on the motor case are all late 1800s and very early 1900s. The self oiling model, as this one is, was first offered in 1915. Pencil inscriptions on the tower from ranch hands or someone servicing the mill start in 1921. The original well was 521 feet deep.

It turns out that this is not the first Aermotor I've owned. After WWII, my dad acquired a Norden bomb sight out of a B29. I remember playing with all the intricate mechanisms of it as a child. I still have the prisms downstairs. Aermotor made the sight for Bell and Howell. I have a lamp too made out of a B29 prop cowling.

Anyhow - as soon as the opportunity presented itself, I drove out to West Texas hauling a trailer and a handful of tools with one pal - Chay Engleman. With the long awaited help of Gil Komechak and his son Matthew, a Windmiller from that part of the World - we laid the tower down from where it stood for eighty five years. 

For the next couple days, Chay and I disassembled the entire thing and stacked it all on the trailer. This was not without the occasional blood spewing injury, run in with cactus or stinging or sticker laden life form. And after a few nights of ranch fun, we headed for home - all 309 miles at forty miles an hour.

When we got home, the trainer wouldn't fit in the driveway, so we unloaded everything on the street - nearly the reverse of loading the trailer in the first place. With the exception of the motor, we stacked it all by the shop. The motor, weighing in as much as a good size engine block - we rocked and skidded it off the trailer on wooden skids. We ended up towing it on the skids down the driveway with my four wheeler - where it sat for a good long time.

As you may recall, there was an administrative process required to reassemble and restore this thing at home. Long and cumbersome to say the least, but in the end, we prevailed and were given the green light - and as it turns out, the green inspection sticker too.  

So I stood in my yard and imagined one day the old mill coming back to life - turning in the wind as it had so many years before - but this time with an innovative, improvised mission and purpose. 

For months it seems I toiled - carrying piece by piece out into the yard and slowly reassembling her. Interestingly, the one variable I'd not taken much store of was whether we would actually be able to get a crane into my yard. So too was I faced with the occasional reality that some of the parts for this old mill were no longer available - and so I had to make them myself. My little Blazer that could made it all the way from Triple S Steel in San Antonio with six 24 foot lengths of two inch galvanized angle iron sticking out the passenger window to the front and a good ways out the back - without incident. Although, carrying 20 feet of 4" by 3/8s angle iron from Green Guy was not so fruitful. 

I had to become friends with the local Windmiller - a 1925 business here in San Marcos without whose help, my mission would fail. And so once a week I'd grab a cup of coffee and drive out to the office of Kutscher Drilling and Well Service on Hunter Road. I do think I actually became a pain in their ass for a while. As one might expect, windmills are great and conquered the West and arid lands everywhere - making uninhabitable land inhabitable. But with the advent of electric service and solar technologies - windmills have found themselves in some parts, lower on the totem pole as they used to be - sad but true. 

And then one day I asked Daniel Kutscher - the proprietor and grandson of the company founder - if I was being a pain. Daniel is a good cat and he does a lot of good things to help people along. A whole book could be written on that. I could see in his face that day his anguish at putting me off again. And to make a long story short - he needed someone to help out on that part of the totem pole and I was it. The next week I started working on Windmills for him. I did a few other things too - hauled hay (hated it), pulled a few pump wells - but mostly helped out with Windmills in Hays, Comal and Blanco Counties. Dirty hard work but it was fun - and I earned my keep. 

As one might expect - now having the inside track - when the tower was finished, we got it raised. And we got the service truck into my yard with a half inch to spare. With all that I was learning at work, I slowly rebuilt the motor, re-tapping all the threads here and there, replacing parts where necessary - and making them if none could be found. I cut and knocked out 54 1920 era rivets - you know, from when things were made out of real metal. The thing cost me a fortune in nuts and bolts. I re-welded the original sail rings. I even pounded out a few things with a five pound hammer and anvil. I very nearly had to build a shop to make it all come true - certainly to improvise tools or contraptions to perform special requirements. And no part on this thing weighs less than a hundred pounds. Lots of people helped me carry things from place to place.

In mid September, my working partner at Kutscher, Will Martin - started back in school. This freed up my schedule a bit and I made haste finishing up what I could. Just before my mom's 91's birthday I'd finished nearly everything.  I started making plans at work to schedule a lift, checked in with Troy Kimmel to manage the weather, and raced to get all the little things done. You can't put up a windmill on a windy day - it wants to take off on you. Troy said Thursday and Friday would work, but not Saturday. 

On Wednesday night I dragged the generator and welder out into the yard and welded a bolt to the top the the motor for the hood and then cleared a path for the truck. At six o'clock on Thursday morning I let out the dogs and did my dishes - long overlooked - just in case one of my colleagues came into the house for some reason. At eight o'clock I bought a rope at Lowe's and started feeling giddy. At about 8:45, Hunter, Austin, and Daniel showed up at the house as I was tightening the last nut on the tail. Once again we managed to get the truck into the yard and positioned by the tower. The Dillon's cleared their drive so we could get up the hill. Will got out of class at 9:20 and raced home on my bike. He's been parking at my house and taking my bike to school so not to feed the University's coffers with ticket money. He arrived just in time to run up to the top and grease the stand pipe and set in the washers - the bearing on which the windmill turns around. Daniel, whose been doing this since he was a kid offered Will - his nephew - five bucks if he would ride the mill up to the top. It was a command performance. Hunter manned the hoist. Will and I quickly installed the brake assembly - which you can only do while the motor is hanging from the crane. Austin manned the ropes. I then manned my camera. 

By ten o'clock the mill had been "stabbed" - a colloquial term that described the insertion of the moist lubricated standpipe into the windmill motor's eager standpipe receptacle. 

A little oil, a little cleanup and we had a windmill. Daniel, Austin, Will and Hunter signed the tower - like "AD" did in 1921, "Juan" in 1946. I thanked them all. It has now been standing for twenty eight hours and it has not stopped turning once. 

Thanks to Chay Engleman, George Gries, Gil n Matthew Komechak, Aermotor Windmill Co. Jesse Zweibel, Scott Boruff, Alison Brake, Peter Baen, Chuck Nash, AD Welding and Fence, Alex Dillon, Ryan Davis, Milton Deal, Nick Deal, Daniel Deal, Virginia Deal, the ZBOA, Will Martin, Kutscher Drilling, Daniel Kutscher and his clan, all my good neighbors and two great dogs. 

I'm going up the hill to pick up my mom and drive her down to see the "Kasch Mill".

What's next you say? Something spectacular!