The fight over plans to erect massive, electricity-generating windmills on farms and ranches around the Cross Timbers area surrounding Stephenville is a heated topic these days. Supporters of the so-called “wind farms” say they produce clean energy, while critics say the towering structures are eyesores.
One windmill farm, nestled in the heart of Texas dairy lands, has escaped this controversy.
Since 1990, Chuck and Ruby Rickgauer have owned and operated The Windmill Farm and Bed & Breakfast in Tolar. With more than 40 windmills on 26 acres, The Windmill Farm stands out in the rural town about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. Their large collection of windmills all started with one, memorable windmill.
“We built the barn in 1989 and in 1990 we decided that since Ruby grew up on a farm, and the windmill she grew up with was still there, we’d ask her grandma if we could have it,” Mr. Rickgauer said. “So Grandma gave us the windmill. It’s the same one that she [Ruby] used to tote the water from because the water didn’t get to the house from the windmill - it got there because you carried it.”
Both South Dakota natives, the Rickgauers display a wide variety of windmills, the oldest dating back to the 1880s. The windmills originate from many areas across the United States, including Wisconsin, Kansas, Illinois and Texas.
Most of the Rickgauers’ windmills have vanes, the balancing mechanism that resembles a sail on the back of the windmill, but several are vaneless with blades that fold in and out. They are balanced by a counterweight in place of the vane. The counterweights on the farm’s vaneless windmills are shaped like animals and stars.
Today, only three companies in the United States continue to manufacture windmills, Mr. Rickgauer said. “Monitor, Aermotor and Dempster — Aermotor is in San Angelo, Texas, Dempster is in Nebraska, and Monitor is in Kansas.”
Aside from owning and operating The Windmill Farm and working at the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in nearby Glen Rose, the Rickgauers also repair windmills.
“We’ve done over 200 windmills… about 175 for other people, plus our 40,” he said.
The Rickgauers’ windmills stand up to 18-foot tall and the blades can measure between five and 14 feet in diameter. That may not sound very big compared the windmills used to generate electricity, but the Rickgauers’ windmills tower over most of the farm’s other buildings and structures.
The Rickgauers also make and sell wooden windmills.
“Most of the windmills years ago were made with wood blades,” he said, “and not too many people are still making them.”
The giant windmills used to generate electricity are a welcomed addition to the energy grid, according to Rickgauer.
“Since I work at a nuclear power plant, my opinion is that for every windmill you put up there, you’ve still got to have some other form of energy when the wind doesn’t blow to take over its purpose,” he said. “That’s a problem. But when you’ve got a lot of wind, you can run them all the time. As of this year, Texas produces more wind energy than any other state. I say, if you can make it cheap enough, do it.”
Besides repairing and showcasing windmills, the Rickgauers also run a bed and breakfast with three cabins scattered among the windmills. The cabins, which can accommodate up to 12 people, rent for $125 to $150 per night. Independent drive-through tours of the windmill farm, however, are free. Guided tours can be arranged by calling (254) 835-4168. For more information, go to www.thewindmillfarm.com.
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