A couple of days ago I included a photo of my parents at the base of a windmill they were erecting. This windmill was to pump underground water for the farm animals. I include it again because it is relevant. But I will reduce its size. If you want to look again it was in Going Bush.

When Andrew drove me all over the Fens I was intrigued by the fact that they had started draining them almost four hundred years ago. The water was pumped out using windmills such as we associate with Holland. This is pretty obvious when it is known that much of the planning and engineering was done by Sir Cornelius Vermuyden who was a Dutch engineer who introduced Dutch land reclamation methods to England. He got involved in the second stage about twenty years after the start of the affair.

This mill was not built to pump water from the Fens but was, and is used to mill wheat into flour. It is in the village of Moulton near Spalding and is the tallest windmill in the UK.

The Fens when drained became a very fertile area for growing wheat. If you want to read something about the history of this mill Andrew has an excellent post all about it and a certain amount of political stupidity.

If you look at the top of the mill there is a small wheel that mimics the main wheel.

This wheel is at right angles to the main wheel. The main wheel is preferably facing into the wind and the small wheel is obviously not going to react to the wind. But if the wind turns around and starts coming from a different direction then this little wheel will start to operate. Its purpose is then to power a set of wheels and cogs that turn the top of the mill – all that which is painted white – so that the main wheel is turned around to face the wind from the new direction. I hope that makes sense.

When Mum and Dad built our windmill the same thing happened.

This is a mill that I saw at a windmill museum in a small country village in Western Victoria about an hour from Ballarat. The large tail has the same purpose as the small wheel mentioned above. You might notice, if you feel so inclined, that the tail is in the same plane as the wheel. That is because it has been physically drawn around and therefore the mill will not work because the wind is not blowing into the face of the wheel.

In this photograph there are seven mills. Six of them are not turning. The one to the left of the lamp post is facing toward the camera and was turning. The six that are not turning have the tail parallel to the wheel – fan. The one that is facing the camera has its tail at right angles and has turned the fan to face the wind. Now isn’t that interesting. Well it is to me because when I was younger I was often sent up to the top to oil and grease the working parts because my father was terrified of heights. When I was very small it was my mother who did that.

You can see that the axle of the wheel has an elbow in the shaft pulls which the rod up and down. At the end of this rod is a submerged  pump and the rod, on its up-stroke lifts the water. But I won’t go into the mechanics of a basic pump. Anyway you should have learnt it in about grade six or seven.

Don’t forget to have a read of Andrew’s adventures with the windmill in Moulton.

21 thoughts on “Windmills

  1. Another piece of equipment I had just taken for granted, not thinking about all the engineering involved to make windmills do their job. Thanks for jogging me out of my lazy acceptance. Now, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I am off to do some self education about them. But, I will read Andrew’s post before I go down that wormhole.

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  2. When I saw that little wheel, I knew what it did, but I still wondered at how something that size could rotate the whole works. Interesting. Where I grew up the windmill water pumps of the sort your parents built were on every farm–a pretty common sight.

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  3. Windmills have always fascinated me. I never have had the fortune of coming upon the kind Don Quixote charged at, but those would apparently be the equipment that are subject matter of this post. All I can tell you that a certain company called Suzlon sold a bunch of metalic, tall versions of the contraption, extremely hard to photograph from close quarters, to the rich and spoilt of our land who are all nodding their heads in the air now for the ensuing vacuums in their wallets.

    I am amused by the protective instincts of a man who would send his wife, and later on the ward, to oil the levers of a beast like that. I don’t blame Mr Quixote at all for his angst!

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    1. Suzlon isn’t a big name in Australia but we do have the alternative here. I know the pluses and minuses but in the end I am a bit of a fan of wind power.


      1. Suzlon is in the dock for putting a bunch of banks in stress through their airy deals. I would also prefer clean energy over fossil fuel based plants any day. Somehow the promise hasn’t really paid off when it comes to serious output.


  4. I have seen the windmills is the Netherlands. Quaint but obviously useful in their day. I have yet to come to terms with the modern windmills that dot many of our skylines now and are used to generate electricity. Maybe they are useful but I think they are ugly. Am I old fashioned and out of date?

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