The Associated Press
FOOSLAND, Ill. — With a bitter wind blowing, what’s left of a brief winter day’s sun dips below a leaden sky west of Foosland. Paul Behrends stands in his back yard, surrounded by three ancient windmills he has restored and displayed. For Behrends, his passion rides on a good wind.
“I’m a windmiller,” says Behrends. “I travel around mostly Illinois and the surrounding states. I work on, replace, rebuild traditional water-pumping windmills. These are the old-fashioned kind that are mostly junk relics today, but every now and then you’ll see a nice one that’s spinning.”
Though few windmills are left on the rural landscape, and even fewer are in good shape, Behrends is driven to keep the icons of a simpler time alive.
“I like the hands-on aspect of the work, the fact that I am saving a bit of history,” he said. “These old farmsteads, silos and livestock barns and windmills are a disappearing aspect of Americana.
“I have been doing this job for about 17 years. I really enjoy it. I am a machinist and fabricator with some engineering background.”
Behrends, who operates Behrends Windmill Service from his rural Foosland home, says his gem is the Perkins windmill manufactured in 1885 in Mishawaka, Ind.
“It’s one of the most beautiful windmills.”
His passion began long ago.
“I thought it would be kind of neat to find and rebuild a working windmill and put it in my yard, years and years ago,” he said. “Well, I did, and the next thing I knew, I had people calling me asking me to help them rebuild their windmill.”
The work is in Behrends’ blood.
“My great uncle Wendel Dean used to be the executive vice president of the Aermotor Windmill Co. They were the largest windmill company in the world,” he said.
That business was founded in 1888 in Chicago and still makes windmills in San Angelo, Texas.
Behrends said he was blessed to be able to talk to his late uncle about the business and learned much from him. The out-of-print “Field Guide to American Windmills,” is his bible on the subject.
Adjacent to his shop is a large pole barn filled with replacement windmill parts he has gathered over the years. A large map of the Midwest in his shop is dotted with small colored pins marking towns where his restored windmills catch a new wind.
“Not to sound egotistical, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone, at least local, with the knowledge I have of the history, the mechanics and the installation and the wherewithal about windmills,” he said. “I enjoy sharing my knowledge with other people and it’s nice to make a few bucks on the side too.”
The Associated Press