The world according to Rico – Something about a windmill

Well, I just had my five-week anniversary of moving to York, which means I’m now a whopping 13 weeks old. I’m still a puppy, but I’m noticing I don’t quite fit in the little cubby holes I first discovered when I made my debut. And when I lay on my folks’ faces during the night, to wake them up for my 2 a.m. yard run, I nearly smother them now rather than just barely cover the spans of their necks.

Being a little older now, I’ve been able to appreciate some things I didn’t notice when I was just a five-pounder. That includes my appreciation for a strange, interesting and mesmerizing structure called a windmill.

There is a windmill at a place called Stone Creek where my parents often go to work. It stands in the corner of an outdoor area they call The Courtyard and I guess people get married right next to it pretty much every weekend.

I love to look up at it, as it turns in the wind. Sometimes it goes fast if it’s really windy and at a snail’s pace if it’s particularly still. It makes a slight creaking sound that’s strangely soothing. It stands so tall and looks so beautiful when the sun goes down in the Nebraska sky.

I don’t think this particular windmill generates any water any longer – something called technology eliminated that role. But for some reason, people still love to look at these beautiful pieces of ingenuity created many years ago.

My mom looked up the history of the windmill and tells me how the early pioneers relied on homemade windmills to help them pump up underground water. As Erwin Hinckley Barbour, geologist and University of Nebraska professor said in an article, “These homemade windmills made the difference in time of drought between the pioneer family who was able to hold on and the one that had to give up.”

The windmills were often among a homesteader’s most prized possessions. The water pumped by windmills was used to cook, bathe, drink, water crops and animals, wash clothes and more.

And there were eventually places like the Kregel Windmill Factory in Otoe County, Nebraska, where Louis and George Kregel began windmill production in 1879, according to Those windmills were ideal for settlers on the plains and became a staple of their lives. Without them and the water they brought up from the ground, living in early Nebraska would have been nearly if not literally impossible.

My mom has fond memories of the windmills on her parents’ farm and every piece of land where they had cattle grazing. There was the big one on the main farm and her dad maintained three others at pastures called the West Place, the South Place and the Bartek Place.

Windmills reach up to the heavens, so I shuddered with fear as she talked about how she and her siblings, when they were still little kids, would spend hours climbing on the structures. It was so much fun, she said. It’s interesting how that was fun to her back then but her evolving fear of heights over the years would never allow her to indulge today.

I wondered how her folks could have let their kids crawl on old windmills. She quickly reminded me how she grew up in an era where most things were considered safe. “Heck,” she says, chuckling, “when I was a kid, we rode in the old pickup, standing up on the front seat, hanging onto the gun rack which probably had loaded guns on it at the time. My dad would take the old beater down the bumpy dirt road and we’d just hang on for dear life and laugh the whole time. Sure couldn’t do that in today’s world.”

So they would climb on aging windmills, snagging their clothes on old rusty screws and defying the dangers of gravity. She remembers how a lot of the stock tanks below them not only provided water for the cattle but they also provided a habitat for her grandpa’s giant goldfish.

“We would perch high up on the windmill to get a bird’s eye view of the top of the cow tank,” Mama tells me. “From that viewpoint, if the light was just right, we could see all the bright colors of those old fish in the water. I don’t know where Grandpa got the goldfish or when exactly he put them in all the tanks, but the fish were huge and ancient. They just didn’t die. They did their job of cleaning the tanks and he rewarded them with fresh water. Sure, they had their fair share of being accidentally licked by cattle as the black and white heads entered their realm for a drink of water, but they seemed like pretty happy fish – if one would know what a happy fish looks like.”

Amazingly, she said no one ever fell off a windmill and there was only one Tetanus shot after someone sliced their hand open on the way up.

Her dad would work on the windmills when parts would break. Then an eccentric man in overalls with a straw hat would show up once a year to give them a thorough check-up/tune-up while spitting chewing tobacco and trying to sell them another one.

Back then, natural prairie grass existed on those pieces of land. Nothing was intentionally planted. The cattle would spend the summer out there, silently grazing and living their best lives. Nightly, my mom and her folks would go out to each of the pastures to count cows, make sure everyone was healthy and there were no holes in the fences. She says one of her fondest memories was seeing the sun set over those natural prairie spots, with the silhouette of the windmill searing its image into her brain.

That’s probably why I love to see the Stone Creek windmill at that same time of day, as the sun goes down behind the old structure.

The other night, I was treated to such a moment with two of my new friends. I was delighted to see Mack (who does the floor work inside Stone Creek) brought along her two little kids, Kaylii and Ryker! Besides loving windmills, I’m a sucker for little kids, obviously, because they run and jump and make weird sounds and squeeze me and roll around on the ground. We had a festive play date and were just in time to see the beauty of a summer evening with the windmill creaking in the background.

I understand what my mom says, about how it brings back memories to her and creates new ones for me.

There really is something about a windmill.





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