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American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

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Renewable energy may be a hot topic right now, but in Texas, it’s old hat. Honestly! Our state has been using windmills since well before being “green” meant anything to do with energy use and consumption. Which is why a windmill museum in the Lone Star State makes perfect sense, and it’s because of Billie Wolfe, “The First Lady of the Windmill,” that the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock came about.

American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

Photo: Wikimedia

It was in the 1960s when Texas Tech College of Home Economics teacher, Billie Wolfe, began her admiration of windmills which were in the background of the photographs used in her classes, “Housing Design for Family Living”. Each of the ranch and farm photos used in her classes almost invariably had a windmill. While the homes were the subject of her course, she recognized that these windmills were quickly disappearing. More often than not, most of what remained in her pictures were a tower and parts of its wheel, along with a bullet-ridden tail, which only served to fuel her interest. Over the next 30 years, she traveled the US looking for windmills and, when possible, purchasing one and having it shipped to Lubbock to be put into storage. In 1992, she heard of a restored collection of these beauties in Nebraska which was up for sale and negotiated the terms and down payment for the entire collection. She also had to promise the seller that the collection would remain intact and all together before he agreed to the sale. She did so, but before she could see her windmill collection taken from storage and put on full public display, Billie Wolfe, “The First Lady of the Windmill,” passed away.

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American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

Photo: Wikimedia

This exceptional collection of windmills is today displayed on 28 acres off Canyon Lake Drive in Lubbock. Those leviathans that greatly influenced the development of the American west and once dotted the farms and ranches of Texas are now proudly displayed, evoking feelings of nostalgia and encouraging learning in a new generation of the state’s youth. Over 100 rare and historic antique windmills are exhibited inside the museum and another 60 have been erected on the grounds. It is the largest collection of American style water-pumping windmills in the world. From 1854-1920 there were more than 700 companies that manufactured tens of thousands of these babies. Today there are only two that remain; one (Aermotor) is situated in San Angelo, Texas and is the last American brand still built. Also on display at the American Wind Power Center is its own working wind turbine which was built in 2005 and was the first to be placed within a US city limit. Towering over the dozens of older windmills which are scattered throughout the museum grounds, its turning blades slowly generate energy for the facility, while the older collection can be heard almost musically turning in the West Texas wind.

American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

Photo: Wikimedia

There are plenty of exhibits to see, both outside and inside the museum. The biggest wheels on display are 25 feet across, and as a visitor, you get to stand right next to them! Aermotor, Flying Dutchman, Steel Star, and Wonder Mill are among the branch of colorful and practical models; some with collapsible blades; some with directional tails. The types and sizes range as well, from railroad windmills to industrial, and on into home-built. Some even have nicknames! “Battle Ax” and “Merry-Go-Round” are a couple that were popular. Also on display is a haunted windmill. It’s the last “twin-wheel” known to be in existence, that had a reputation for killing a number of windmill workers. If a big gust of wind came along, it would spin around and knocks them off the tower.

American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

Photo: Facebook/China Xinhua News

And on October 17, 2009, the center unveiled a 5,500-square-foot mural (the world’s largest windmill mural, to be exact,) created by artist La Gina Fairbetter, a Department of Architectural Art instructor at Texas Tech University. The project took two years to complete and illustrates US windmill history, from Dutch-style windmills of the 1700s to modern-day wind turbines, and all of the images depicted are represented in the museum’s collection. A narration regarding the mural, scored with sound effects, can be played by visitors, while dramatic lighting lends it the ambiance necessitated to effectively showcase such a masterpiece.

American Wind Power Center: The Dream of ‘The First Lady of the Windmill’

Photo: Facebook/Deb McCuller

Held two days every three months, visitors to the American Wind Power Center can complete the museum’s Windsmith Academy, which also gives them the chance to climb the 17 stories of the center’s own wind turbine. And if you ask about the effect that such a behemoth might have on birds (which appears to be a popular question), the museum staff will tell you that local birds haven’t been bothered by the turbine, nor the many smaller windmills at the museum. They fly in between and around them. They’ll even tell you that the statistics on bird mortality rates are exponentially greater for a bird hitting a window than by hitting a windmill.

Sources:

American Wind Power Center

My Trip Journal

Roadside America