Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area


First Windmill in Kennewick


Area Was Never Short of Wind


By BURTON 0. LUM
Tri-City Pioneer
Sunday, 15 April 1962

Captain Al Gray, younger brother of Captain W. P. Gray, brought the first windmill to Kennewick. Captain Al Gray always lived on the Kennewick side of the Columbia. Captain W. P. Gray lived on the Pasco side. Captain Al Gray had built quite a fine pioneer home near the present Kennewick portal of the railroad bridge.

The house was a well constructed story and a half building sheathed with California siding and painted white. Captain Al Gray had planted shade trees and fenced about 20 acres with the then new barbwire fencing. His hired man had found enough cedar logs in the drift piles to split cedar fence posts for the 20 acre enclosure.

Captain Al Gray was anxious to seed the 20 acres down with rye to stop the terrible dust storms that the spring winds raised. He was also anxious to have water so that he could raise an early spring garden and irrigate the yard around his home whenever it was needed. The vegetable gardens of the pioneer residents in the Kennewick area were always late in the season. The gardens were not planted until after high water of the Columbia, which usually occurred about the 20th of June.

The windmill was shipped from Clarinda, Iowa, where it was manufactured. C. J. Beach, who had been a millwright at the mill town of Ainsworth, and C. E. Lum erected the windmill when it arrived. There were no angle-iron steel towers in those days. The tower had to be built with wood timbers and a water tank built in the tower with lumber. It was quite a project.

These two splendid mechanics worked many days in completing all the details of its construction. The well had already been dug. A hand pump had been installed. The hand pump was removed and replaced with a larger force pump. This would be driven by the mechanism of the windmill. The well had to be deepened to give it a sufficient supply of water to keep the pump functioning. The well had been deepened to a depth of about 26 feet. A fine mesh copper strainer was installed to keep sand and slit from clogging the mechanism of the pump. The windmill tower and pump house was painted white. A ladder was installed on the tower from its base to a platform under the wheel of the mill. A guard rail encircled this platform. There were many safety controls to these windmills. Most of them were automatic.

When the wind would get too strong the speed of the wheel would throw it out of gear. The tail of the mill would take the wheel edgewise to the wind and slow it down to a stop. There were also manual controls by pulling a lever. The mill could be swung into the wind or out of it.

There were many other makes of windmills. I can not remember their names. I do not remember the name of this windmill but I do remember Clarinda, Iowa, as I was born in Iowa, not too far from Clarinda.

Because of the gusts of wind in this locality it was quite a problem in keeping the windmills tuned to these changing wind speeds. However 70 years ago, as it is today, this was quite a good windmill climate because there was no lack of motive power for any great period of time.

Old Aeolus has always been very busy in the Tri-City Area. Since trees and paving have been secured there is less dust to bother the view.

The old real-estate boosters of pioneer days always stressed the fact that the rapid change of the atmosphere in the Tri-City region was conducive to good health, as it gave a greater supply of new fresh air to be used. They omited the fact that maybe some of this was hot air. The old pioneers will tell you that the healthiest and best chicken had the most sand in its craw; and that went for human beings also.

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