Paying Homage to Two Texas Icons July 2016
Summertime and Texas sunsets go hand in hand. Like cowboys and cattle. Brisket and barbecue sauce. Windmills and water towers. Ah, windmills and water towers, two icons that don't often receive the acknowledgment they deserve for their role in Texas' past, present, and future water supply.
That's why we're giving them a shout out—a whole month of recognition, actually. We're taking a virtual road trip via Instagram, and we'll be on the lookout for Texas windmills and water towers. Everyone is invited to participate! But first, learn more about them below.
Tilting at American Windmills by Dr. Robert E. Mace, TWDB Deputy Executive Administrator – Water Science and Conservation
When traveling the highways and byways of Texas, I always smile when I see a windmill whirling on the horizon. More accurately called a windpump, these metal sentinels not only provide water for thirsty cattle but also represent American ingenuity from a bygone era.
Back in the 1850s, Don Quixote-style European windmills were the norm both in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately, these giant windmills were capital intensive and required constant attention to face them into the wind and regulate their speed. In 1853, a Connecticut pump maker named John Burnam solicited the engineering skills of Daniel Halladay to develop the world's first self-regulating windmill. After a short while, Halladay developed what became known stateside as the Halladay Standard and known worldwide as the American windmill.
Although the new windmill wasn't a big seller in the eastern states where surface water is ample, it quickly became a must-have for folks west of the Appalachians for farming and railroads. Burnham moved to Chicago and formed the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company to get closer to the demand, ultimately buying out the Halladay Wind Mill Company and moving manufacturing to Batavia, Illinois. The greater Chicago area became a hotbed of windmill manufacturing and innovation, many of which showed up in Texas. Particularly popular in Texas in the early days was the Eclipse, the windmill of choice for the XIT Ranch, but other windmills, such as the Axtell (made in Fort Worth), the San Antonio Machine and Supply Company, and Monitor, also graced the Texan pastures and rangelands.
Early American windmill rotors sported narrow wooden slats for blades, but by the 1870s several manufacturers began to experiment with all-metal rotors, including the gloriously named (and oddly curvaceous) Iron Turbine. Curious about these all-steel windmills, the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company—the dominant windmill manufacturer at the time—hired Thomas Perry in the early 1880s to investigate them. Perry responded by developing a steam-powered whirling table with which he could attach different windmill rotors and measure the efficiency of various designs. After 5,000 tests, not only did Perry verify that there was great promise with metal windmill rotors, but he also, through trial and error, developed the modern windmill rotor, a windmill 87 percent more efficient than the most efficient windmill on the market at the time.
Amazingly, Perry's bosses were not impressed. Concerned that their customers would prefer wood over metal, they rejected his recommendations for a new windmill design. By 1888, Perry had left the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company and formed a new company with La Verne W. Noyes—the inventor of the all-metal windmill base—to manufacturer his scientific windmill. They named their company Aermotor.
Derided by its competitors as the "mathematical windmill," Aermotor sold 22 windmills in 1888. By 1892, they were selling 20,000 windmills a year. By 1900, Aermotor was selling half of the windmills bought in the U.S. market. Aermotor's manufacturing plant was in Batavia until 1964 when it moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. In 1981, manufacturing moved to Conway, Arkansas. In 1986, a group in Texas bought the company and moved manufacturing to San Angelo where Aermotor remains today. About half of all windmills sold since at least 1928 in the United States were sold to Texans.
So the next time you admire the metal rotors of a windmill catching the breeze and dutifully pumping groundwater, note that you do not only see a classic and well-loved scene of Texas but also a remnant of history and an example of American ingenuity—and Texas grit—in steel.
Waving at Water Towers
Elevated storage tanks, more commonly known as water towers, are sprinkled across Texas in various shapes and sizes, all with the same purpose—to store water. But who really thinks about the day-to-day function of a water tower and what its presence means for a community?
Some water towers have existed for decades, if not longer, serving the water needs of nearby residents. Most rarely garner more than a glance from passersby. Some, however, attract attention with brightly colored paint, oftentimes featuring the town name, motto, mascot, or other source of local pride that offers a window into the heart of a community—or at least catches your eye.
But back to how they work. Towns and cities rely on local water systems to treat and pump water to residents for consumption and daily use. However, the water doesn't go straight to consumers from the plant; it must be properly stored in reservoirs, water towers, and storage tanks before it routes to our faucets and showers.
A shorter—although often larger—version of its water tower cousin, ground storage tanks function as short-term storage for drinking water and are the main source fulfilling regular water demand and daily use. When demand is met or when there is excess water provided by the water system, the water is pumped up into the water tower and stored as backup for times of peak demand, like in the morning when people wake up and are getting ready for work, or in the event of a power outage when the town's pump may be out of commission. Water towers usually hold enough water to accommodate area users for 24 hours.
When the region needs extra water, the pull of gravity provides the pressure needed to push water from the tower through the town's water pipes—which is where the water tower's height comes into play. Each foot of height provides approximately 0.43 pounds per square inch (PSI) of pressure, so the water tower must be tall enough to supply enough pressure to all of the homes and businesses in the area. At night, when water usage is generally low, the water tower refills itself from the town's water supply. Water towers also supply the water that flows through fire hydrants in the event of a fire.
The TWDB not only thinks about water towers on a daily basis; we also fund these critical components of a community's water infrastructure through our financial assistance programs. Since the agency's inception in 1957, we have helped Texans build hundreds of water towers and storage tanks, from El Paso to Houston, Grayson County to Zavala County, Muleshoe to Magnolia, Gatesville to Clarksville, Liberty to Prosper and numerous points in between. Our programs have helped finance the planning, development, and construction costs for elevated and ground storage tanks.
TWDB regional water teams would be glad to discuss the financial assistance options available for communities considering their water needs; connect with us and find out how we can help! And next time you pass a water tower off in the distance, give it a nod of appreciation.