Monday, May 9, 2022
Temperature 72 Degrees, Abundant Sunshine, Windy
Kregel Wind Mill Company, Nebraska City, Nebraska
This is one of the museums that we visited several weeks back when we were in Nebraska. I first discovered it online when I was planning our summer trip. It took some doing and a couple of phone calls to arrange a tour, since they are only given by appointment, but I finally managed to do so.
Now, when most people think of a windmill I’m sure the picture that comes to mind is a windmill such as those in the Netherlands. However, what we’re talking about and what this museum is all about is the production and repair of windmills like pictured above. Windmills of this kind have been used since the 7th century for irrigation pumping and milling. In the early days of our country it was windmills such as these that allowed development of areas that were otherwise devoid of readily accessible water.
The brand of windmills that the Kregel Windmill Company produced was called “ELI” — as an homage to one of George Kregel’s friends, a deceased preacher named Eli Huber. Kregel windmills were used to pump water from wells at farms and homes in the region of southeastern Nebraska surrounding Nebraska City. Cousins Louis and George Kregel began windmill production in 1879.
Managed by George F. Kregel, the company moved to the current Central Avenue building in 1903, continuing to operate there for 88 years. During that time they employed between four and seven people.
This museum is the last intact, historic windmill factory in the United States. It has been described as a time capsule of 20th century shop type manufacturing. As you step through the front doors its as if you’re following the workers back from lunch. The factory looks the same today as it did in the 1930’s. Everyday things such as pads and pencils, order sheets, ledger books and even a coat on a hook remain where they were last used.
All total 2033 windmills were made in this factory. It usually took a week to make just one. That may not sound like a lot but remember no more than seven people worked here at one time. The first ones were made of wood but they eventually switched to metal because metal was much more durable and had a much longer lifespan.
Let’s take a walk together through the museum. I can tell you that as I did in my mind I could sense the heat of the forge, feel the rumble of machinery run from an overhead line shaft and hear hammer meeting metal in the fabrication area.
About those belts and the main drive shaft
The belts were made from buffalo hides. They found that they were much more durable.
The main drive shaft was first powered by a one cylinder gasoline motor. Later ,it was replaced with an electric motor.
Now a couple of bonus pictures.
The bathroom, outside and with no heat. I would imagine in the winter time one did not take a book to read while doing their business!
Note the little red can of U.S. Windmill oil – that little can has been valued at $1500.
The company finally stopped production in 1940, and from then on the Kregel’s worked in pump repair and well maintenance until 1991 when they finally closed their doors. All total the Kregel Windmill Company operated for 112 years in Nebraska City producing the ELI brand of windmills and repairing pumps and well systems in a forty mile radius around the city.
Let me encourage you, if you are ever in this area take an hour or two and visit the museum. We both found it absolutely fascinating. It gives one a true glimpse of early manufacturing in America. And we gained a better idea of what life was like for the shop laborer in early America.
Till the next time.