Archived Story

Who has seen the wind?

Published 5:43pm Thursday, October 4, 2012


Christina Rossetti wrote, “Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”

We can’t really see the wind; we can only see the results of the wind. Can we stop the wind? I don’t think so, but we can redirect the wind.

For many years, the wind has been harnessed to do man’s work. In the first century AD, the Greek engineer Heron of Alexandria used a wind-driven wheel to power a machine.

Since the 1800s, windmills have revolutionized farming and ranching in America. Early settlers hauled water from natural springs, dug wells by hand or dug ditches to water their crops. Windmills were vital to pumping water for crops, livestock and household use in the 1920s.

Today’s farmers use windmills mostly to pump water for livestock. Irrigation wells are now pumped with diesel or electric motors.

Many of the pictures in the museum of the local farms from years ago all had a windmill somewhere near the house. This made the job of pumping water a little easier. Otherwise, water was pumped by hand with a hand pump, which also stood outside the back door.

So why are we not using the wind energy of the old days?

The new wind farms are springing ups all over the Midwest.  As we drove through the plains of Minnesota last week, we went through a big wind farm.

What is a wind farm? It consists of several hundred individual wind turbines and covers an extended area of hundreds of square miles. Usually wind generators need wind speed of 10 miles per hour or greater so they fit nicely in the open plains of the Midwest.

California, Texas, Iowa and Minnesota have the most wind farms today. Wind power consumes no fuel and emits no air pollution, but provides electricity and power with little cost for production.

The farm we drove through was six miles long and four miles wide and is spread over 10,000 acres on both side of Interstate 90. As far as you could see on both sides of the highway were turbines turning softly in the wind. Well, maybe not so softly.

One of the objections to the farms is the noise of the turbines. But many farmers say it is white noise. You get used to it and don’t notice it any more. Something like the grain dryer on a farm near my house. After a while, you don’t even notice the sound.

The turbines are made of fiberglass and weigh 13,900 pounds and are 122 feet long. The height to the tip of the highest blade is 389 feet, about the length of a football field. Many times at the museum we witness the blades being trucked down U.S. 12 going somewhere to be put to good use.

Maybe the local farmers knew what they were doing when they used windmills. No water bill, or in some cases, no electric bill.

The museum is looking for a windmill for the backyard. Not to pump water, but to remind us of the machines of the past and days made easier by the  invention of a simple machine.

Who has seen the wind?



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