NEW HARMONY — History buff Wayne Rogers looks out each day on a landscape that more closely resembles a souvenir Texas postcard than his backyard.
It’s not necessarily the pastureland that appears so iconic, as much as the towering yard ornaments adorning it.
“I feel connected to windmills,” he said, watching slow-moving blades rotate in the soft southerly breeze. “I grew up on a farm and we had windmills.”
He remembers staring in childhood wonder at whirling blades and rhythmic churning of the gears as the machine converted wind into energy.
An old photo of his mother with the family windmill burns its significance into memory.
“I didn’t think about collecting them,” he said. “I just knew I was interested. I love history.”
A LIFELONG LOVE
Rogers was working in the 1980s for National Cash Register in Dayton, Ohio, when he was bitten by the collecting bug.
He started with antique engines and it seemed to mushroom from there.
Today, he’s a type of windmill guru and the proud owner of 16 twirling treasures, of which nine are standing and operational.
Some are works in progress, waiting on resurrection day: the time when Rogers and friends will use rope and a sturdy tractor to heave-ho the machine back to its feet.
Rogers knows each unit inside and out. He can repair, manufacture and service them.
Just don’t ask him to slap a price tag on one.
“Most of the time, I don’t have one for sale,” he said. “When I had 13, I thought 14 would be my last one.”
Rogers said with a smile he’s not planning to purchase additional towers, unless it happens to be a rare Halladay Standard or maybe his wife, Jennifer, another windmill fan, stumbles onto a deal they can’t pass up.
The windmill “toy shop” is a type of mechanic’s dream: an expansive playground under roof packed with old tractors, horse-drawn engines and random parts for tinkering.
Amid the relics, there is layer upon layer of windmill photos, diagrams and collecting books.
“I spend a lot of time out here,” he said. “I like all things old. I can look at this stuff and I think of the people working.”
Occasionally, people passing by the couple’s New Harmony home stop and ask for a close-up view of his collection.
It’s unclear how many times Rogers has posed for photographs or paused to respond to questions.
One of his most favorite items is a portable 1907 International Harvester water-cooled engine that can perform farm tasks, from sawing wood to pressing hay.
The purring engine, with its web of spinning pulleys, belches steam as it runs.
As much as Rogers clearly appreciates the farm implement, it cannot compare to his love affair with the windmill.
“I never get tired of looking at them,” he said with a grin.
Antique windmills are disappearing from the modern landscape, but the technology continues to serve an important role in the Texas cattle industry.
Many ranchers — especially in remote areas where it can be cost prohibitive to run electricity — still rely on them to extract groundwater and quench the thirst of bawling livestock.
“Cattle can’t go long without water, and if they walk very far to get it, they lose weight,” Rogers said. “Cattle are sold by weight.”
If all goes according to plan, windmills can be situated so that they provide water in a convenient location.
To work effectively, however, they generally require a wind speed about 15 mph.
Consequently, some areas of East Texas are appropriate; others, not so much.
The equipment historically serves three purposes: to draw water, grind grain and produce power.
There have been instances in which energy produced from the whirling blades is harnessed to pump oil.
It achieves these tasks with a series of moving parts, such as cylinders, valves and rods. Windmills have been around since the 1600s with only modest modifications to help control blade speed and direction.
“The amazing thing is, they have never improved on that design,” Rogers said.
More than 700 companies manufactured 10s of thousands of windmills between 1854 and 1920, according to the American Wind Power Center and Museum in Lubbock.
There are now only two of those companies left, one of which is in Texas. Most windmills from that period have now been lost, and those that remain are in the hands of private collectors or in sparse exhibits in general purpose museums,” its website states.
“We have 110 windmills in our exhibit hall,” said Marketing Director Tonya Meadows, noting dozens more scattered outdoors on its 28-acre site.
The nonprofit organization displays an assembled collection of windmills in an array of sizes, shapes, colors and brands with some dating back to the 17th century.
“When people round the corner of the exhibit hall, they are greeted by a 25-foot diameter Eclipse Windmill,” she said. “Generally, if they have any interest at all in windmills, their jaws will drop.”