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Windmills made agriculture viable across the American West

 A mammoth windmill is just one of more than 100 historic windmills on display at the Windmill Museum in Lubbock, Texas
Tom Wilmer
A mammoth windmill is just one of more than 100 historic windmills on display at the Windmill Museum in Lubbock, Texas

The iconic windmill has been a part of western landscape since the mid 1800s.

It was the windmill that allowed settlers to farm and ranch large tracks of land. And it was also the windmill that allowed trains to travel across the empty plains and mountains. A steam engine needed to refuel their water tanks every 20 or 30 miles, and it was the windmills that pumped the water from wells to the water towers at the depots and refueling spots.

As a best-of-the-best Journeys podcast we are resharing an interview recorded in 2018 with Tanya Meadows at the Windmill Museum in Lubbock, Texas, and Jim Stark at the Kregel Windmill Factory Museum in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

The Lubbock, Texas based Windmill Museum showcases more than 100 historic windmills.

There's also historic signage, ephemera, and photographic displays that showcase the windmills’ vital role in making farms viable enterprises across the American West.

At one time more than 700 U.S. windmill manufacturers supplied ranchers, farmers and railroads. Today, just two windmill manufacturers remain in business.

The circa-1903 Nebraska City Kregel windmill factory remains intact exactly as it stood back in the mid-1930s. Kregel’s windmills were regarded by some as superior to the leader of the pack—the ubiquitous and almost bulletproof Aermotor—which is still manufactured today in San Angelo, Texas.

A handful of Kregel’s "Eli" windmills are still pumping water on farms and ranches around Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota.

Tom Wilmer produces on-air content for Issues & Ideas airing over KCBX and is producer and host of the six-time Lowell Thomas award-winning NPR podcast Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer. Recorded live on-location across America and around the world, the podcasts feature the arts, culture, music, nature, history, science, wine & spirits, brewpubs, and the culinary arts--everything from baseball to exploring South Pacific atolls to interviewing the real Santa Claus in the Arctic.
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