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Family Keeps Windmills Spinning
Phil Gehman likes the quiet and great views as he installs and works on windmills that are up to 80 ft. tall.
“I love working on top. That’s my office,” says Gehman, who took over Great Plains Windmill Service in 2019. His family has been in the business since 2007, when Gehman’s father, Daryl, started the Iowa business. Turns out there’s plenty of demand and interest in windmills in the Midwest to keep him busy.
About 40 percent of the work is for practical purposes to pump water for livestock or off-grid and backup home use.
“People don’t realize that windmills are still being made,” Gehman says. “A brand new installed Aeromotor windmill costs about $8,500 and is fully functioning to pump water. We often have used ones starting at $6,500. Our goal is to put the windmill back on the map.”
Other customers want windmills for nostalgic or ornamental reasons. Family farms, especially, often want to restore a windmill that’s been in the family, or put up a new one as part of their heritage.
Great Plains services several hundred windmills each year and find the most common problem is just neglect.
“They are supposed to be serviced once a year, so if there’s no oil in the gearbox the bearings wear out. When the bearings go out, the fan leans into the tower and it rips the fan blades off,” Gehman says. Brake failure is also a common problem when regular maintenance is neglected.
Since Aeromotor is still in business, parts are readily available, and the Gehmans rebuild many gearboxes. They can also repair other windmill models, using parts the Gehmans make in their machine and wood shop. Great Plains also offers annual maintenance contracts to make sure windmills keep running properly.
While workers usually climb the ladder on a windmill to work on the head, they use a crane to lay a windmill down to refurbish and paint the towers.
“The fans range from 6 to 20-ft. dia. and the towers from 15 to 80-ft. tall,” Gehman says. “The deeper the well the bigger the fan needed. A 600-ft. deep well requires a windmill tower with a 14-ft. fan.”
There is plenty of work in the Midwest, and Gehman travels regularly to the nine states surrounding Iowa and occasionally outside the region. Customers call, explain their situation and Great Plains gives them a cost estimate. They get to most jobs within 3 to 4 weeks.
The working season starts in March when workers oil and do annual maintenance work for customers. After that they travel to repair and install windmills until December, or when weather makes it too difficult to work.
Gehman is proud of the family business and hopes it carries on for generations.
“We get out in rural areas and meet very friendly, down-to-earth folks. It’s really fun to grow a business in that sector of our country. And they appreciate it,” Gehman says. “The windmill is an icon of the West and more people want to see them spin again.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Great Plains Windmill Service, 300 Hwy. 22, Kinross, Iowa 52335 (ph 319 325-2467; www.greatplainswindmills.com; greatplainswindmillservice@gmail.com)

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2020 - Volume #44, Issue #2