Archive for Thursday, July 28, 2011

McLouth man relishes windmill relics

July 28, 2011

As Kansas leaders talk about the state’s emerging wind industry, it can be easy to forget that the state has a rich history in windmills.

But a visit to Russell Smelser’s home near McLouth brings that history sharply into focus. That’s because the remains of old-time windmills — blades, old towers, pumps and gears — cover his property.

Smelser has a passion for them and is one of the few repairmen in the region who can fix them. His property is also home to three water wells that at one time had water drawn by a windmill to power steam locomotives that ran on nearby railroad tracks.

Following the railroad companies were the settlers who built the windmills so they could irrigate crops.

“About every farmer, when they could afford it, put in a windmill,” Smelser said.

In the late 1800s, windmill manufacturers were common throughout Kansas. At one time there were at least two manufacturers in Topeka and another one south of Eudora.

As a young boy, Smelser would travel past an old wooden windmill during family outings. His fascination grew from there. Years later, Smelser fixed up his first windmill, which ignited a passion for collecting and repairing them. Today, he salvages old windmills, which he uses for parts to keep other ones running.

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