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Opinion

May 14, 2013

Uncle Joe, the windmill man for the Common Good

CHICKASHA —

South of town, my grandfather’s family grew wheat. North of town, my grandmother’s family raised cattle. Water was important to everyone and everything.  Unless you were fortunate enough to have a live creek on your land, you had a windmill.

Uncle Joe B. Hull was born in 1894. He knew how things worked. He was a mechanical engineer without the college degree.  Some people might call him a tinkerer but, to anyone who needed metal bent or splines repaired or gears set, his skills were in high demand.

A windmill was a wonderful thing.  The faint and steady rhythm of the turning of the wheel signified that all was well in the country.  Its harmony was part of the environment.

During the day, the windmill constantly pumped cool, crisp water from the ground.  The pipe through which the water ran was a one inch galvanized line that dumped into a stock tank near the bottom of the windmill. Nowhere on the earth was the water any fresher or sweeter or colder.

Water was plentiful, but it was not wasted.  Between the pipe and the stock tank, the water was for human consumption.  Once in the tank, it was for the livestock, for watering the garden and during the heat of the day for an occasional quick plunge.

Once the water left the tank, it was fair game for any wildlife that was brave enough to venture close enough to humanity to take a drink.  Sometimes the windmill ran through the night and its rhythm would compete with the chirping of crickets.

After my great grandparents moved into town, the windmill’s purpose became purely agrarian.  Uncle Joe remained the caretaker of the apparatus and the operation and maintenance of a windmill was no easy job.  A windmill, as its name implies, needs wind to run, however, too much wind is dangerous to the structural integrity of the machine.

Today, television meteorologist often tell us with pinpoint accuracy when, where and how fast the wind will blow.  In the 1960’s and before, however, unless a farmer had an expensive windmill with an apparatus to automatically slow the blades in high winds, a farmer had to be ready at a moment’s notice to shut down the windmill to prevent damage to the rotor and its blades.

My great-grandparent’s windmill was a Dempster that required human intervention.  For years Uncle Joe faithfully and routinely would visit the windmill twice a day, freeing the blades to turn in the morning and shutting it down in the late afternoon.  

Sometimes, I would ride along in his 1964 Chevrolet pickup and if he had not made his afternoon rounds early enough, the winds, particularly in the spring, would be turning the blades so fast that he would have to swing on the line to bring the dangerous and destructive spinning to a halt.  Water was that important.  

It still is.

Today, about half of the water in Oklahoma is used for agricultural purposes.  Oklahoma’s farmers know the value of water and know what happens to crop and livestock production when there is no water.  The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) is the state agency that is charged with the responsibility of seeing that water is not wasted and is protected for cities, towns and rural areas.

Senate Bill 965 is currently in committee.  The purpose of the Bill is to provide more equitable representation of farmers and ranchers and rural Oklahomans on the governing body of the OWRB.  Farmers and ranchers are conservationists and their livelihood depends upon taking care of their available water resources.  

Currently, each of Oklahoma’s five congressional districts have a member on the board and four seats are at-large seats that allow appointment from anywhere in the state.  The proposal would provide that each of the nine members would be required to reside in one of eight districts established in 1995 and there would be one at large seat.

The logic is that since agricultural interests, primarily located in rural areas, currently use approximately half of the water in Oklahoma, they should have a more reliably equitable representation on the OWRB to preserve their ability to provide food for families across the state and nation.

Right now, most Oklahomans believe that the recent rains have put the state in good shape for the coming year.  Farmers however look at rain and the moisture content of soil with a different mindset.  They have to plan on whether they should sell livestock in the summer or fall or whether they should plan or not plant this year.

There may be plenty of water to drink, but a high second priority must be growing food and raising livestock.  Frankly, green lawns and flower gardens come in third in a long list of priorities.  It is a choice that we do not want to make, but in drought situations, it is a choice that must be made.

Uncle Joe passed in 1983 after 89 years of tinkering.  Rural electrification eliminated the need for most windmills in rural America.  However, during the last several years of his life, Uncle Joe used his workshop to create scores of ornamental windmills that serve as reminders of the importance of water and of this remarkable machine in a bygone era.

One of Joe B. Hull’s handmade windmills is among my most precious family heirlooms.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as State Representative.  For questions, comments or assistance, call me at 405-557-7401, email me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov  or visit my website at www.davidperryman.com   I look forward to hearing from you

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