Friday, September 20, 2013

So Long Windmill, Hello Solar

Since the 1880s, windmills have dotted the Kansas Plains, providing wind-driven power to pump water for farms and ranches. These familiar sentinels seem to stand at attention at old farmsteads, their familiar squeak-squeak-squeaking providing a melody that connected one generation to the next.

Often, windmills are the silhouette between me and a sunrise or a sunset. Their simple shadows provide the stick-figure image that accents a color-streaked sky. And while the windmill at the Palmer Place will continue to stand, it's no longer doing the yeoman's work it was designed to do.

The well by the old barn gave out two summers ago, and the guys have been hauling water to that pasture. It was time for a new well. Instead of drilling a new well at the same location, we moved it down a lane and opted to install a solar pump.

First, Randy and Jake placed a new stock tank there. They hauled in rock to place around the tank to give the cattle more solid footing and to keep the dirt from eroding. 
In August,  Darling Drilling from Hutchinson drilled a new well. It looked a little like a miniature oil rig.
They set up their rig just across the fence from the new stock tank. Randy decided to put the well and solar pump outside the pasture fence. Since it's at the edge of farm ground and not in the pasture, cattle can't rub against the pump and potentially cause damage.
 The drillers kept adding length to their drill bit to reach the water table.

As they got deeper into the ground, the sediment changed. At first, it was more claylike (see the photo in the upper righthand corner below). Then, as they neared the water table, it became more gravel-like.
They drilled to 46 feet, where they found a clay layer under the gravel. The gravel is where the ground water flows. They didn't want to drill through the next clay layer because they were afraid they would find water with a higher salt content, which is common in this area near Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's salt marshes.

Below, a crew member unloads pipe for the well casing. 
Randy points out the small slits in the PVC pipe that allow water to flow into the well casing. 
Just this week, they came back and erected the solar pump. Sunlight powers the solar panel and the pump brings the water to the surface, where it flows into the tank. There's a float on the tank so that the water turns off before it overflows.

Control box for the solar pump
Right now, our 25 heifers are enjoying the new water source at the Palmer Pasture. And the guys are enjoying the fact that they no longer have to haul water there.
Cattle are curious. They came to check us out as we looked at the new solar panel.
And the windmill is retired for anything other than sunset portraits.


  1. I'm so glad you left the windmill in place. There's something about their silhouette that's solid and faithful.

  2. I agree. A journey through my photo files would prove my love of windmills. Thanks for taking time to comment!