A light breeze spun the top of the windmill as Jerry Karrels looked up at the tall wooden structure to view the glistening metal at the top.
“They are still putting these up in Texas
for watering cattle,” he said. “There are a lot of windmill towers around. People think they are valuable.”
This is the final piece for completing his vision of his family’s Cushman Road farm, one where the tractor comes from the 1930s and the wooden barn has a running sawmill.
Across the 30-plus acres east of Fort Atkinson in the Town of Jefferson, this farm is the way he remembers it during his childhood. The tractor, a 1937 Farmall, is the same year as the one his father had. And some of the farm equipment is the same as when he helped run the place, long before the years he spent as an air traffic controller in Madison.
“I raked many fields with that side rake,” he said.
Driving along in a golf cart across the property, the view is stunning for miles. Karrels overlooked the land he once helped farm and realizes the time is right to now sell the property. But not before he completed his last project.
The windmill, he says, is something he has wanted to construct since 2002. But he never had the time.
“That’s another reason why we are selling the farm. I always got something to get done,” he said.
There are so many projects around the property to do each summer that Karrels never has been bored.
And when he had enough time to build the almost three-story windmill, he did the project by himself. With one exception — his neighbor ran a lift so the 72-year-old Karrels could climb to the top to secure the metal fan to the wooden tower.
“I’m a MacGyver man. I find out how to do something myself,” he said.
Like last year when the exhaust manifold cracked on the RV.
“So, I was a diesel engine mechanic,” he said.
Walking through the large wooden barn he constructed, Karrels showed another project he’s been working on — tricking out his and his wife, Shirley’s, giant RV.
A new side window to watch out during breakfast. A heated tile floor — all the touches of home when they travel to California and Lake Havasu in Arizona.
Shirley grew up in southern California and the couple not only goes there each year, but soon will be making the move for good.
“She came out here for 20 years when I had to be working, so now it’s time to go back,” he said.
The lawn mowing on the large property can take much of a summer here. Throughout the land, Karrels has created walking paths so he and Shirley can take a spin around the property on the golf cart to enjoy nature.
On a tour, he pointed out the years of work to make this look as though it was all natural. He pointed out planted trees and ones that have been here since the Civil War-era.
One of those old white oak trees became the wooden base for the windmill.
After dragging the fallen tree to the barn, Karrels put his shop to work crafting the idea for the windmill.
“Nothing but geometry on how to put that up,” he said.
Using pictures, Karrels started to build, shearing off bolts that were not as tough as the wooden planks he made from his saw.
For more than six weeks, he built the base on its side inside the barn.
After pulling the windmill into place outside and hoisting the structure vertically, the challenge came as to how to attach an old metal fan structure to the top.
With a harness strapped around his waist, Karrels scaled the structure. He had rented a lift that his neighbor operated to hoist the metal fan to the top.
Finally getting good weather, he completed the project last Friday.
“I’ve always seen them when I travel out West (and in) western Texas,” he said of the windmill. “I’ve always admired them.”
Shirley flipped through pictures of the project over the last few months.
“Turned out pretty great,” she said.
Out West, windmills like this were used for pumping well water. While the parts are there to do that, Karrels said, he does not think he will go that far.
He also used wooden logs to secure the base and hopes no wind will be able to topple the mighty structure.
“A white oak is very rot-resistant wood,” he said.
As word has gotten out of someone building an oldtime windmill structure, there already have been people sightseers coming to take pictures.
The design of the metal structure on top of the windmill is from about the same year as the tractor Karrels has — completing the look of a farm that has been in the family since 1947.
Even though the property, buildings and house look new and impressive, Karrels knows the time is now to move on. When he drives around the property, he overlooks the fields he once helped take care of. Now, he rents out that land for agriculture.
Whoever buys the property will have a working windmill, and a farm the way it might have looked a long time ago — pristine.
“I don’t want to see the place get run down,” he said of the land and buildings. “Because we can’t keep it up. So, I’d rather sell it.”
Before this year, Karrels said, he tried to sell the top of the windmill structure on Craigslist. But there were no takers. Now he’s glad he didn’t.
When he and Shirley sell their place and head out West for good, Karrels no doubt will drive past windmills like this one. They will be weathered by a century of sun and rain, but often still standing long after a homestead no longer is.
And someday, when he comes back to visit, Karrels hopes to drive past his old place to see the windmill turning again.
“Oh yeah. I’m hoping it will be out there,” he said. “I’m hoping it will sit around for a few more years.”