The Junkyard Principle and the Homemade Windmill
Back in the early days when my dad and I were first beginning to build our homestead out west, we had one unpleasant encounter with a dead battery and we figured that maybe it would not be a bad idea for us to consider the benefits of having actual electrical power even living off the grid. Our first notion was to check with the utility companies, but given our experience with the roads, we should have known from the very beginning that this would never work.
We actually purchased our initial seventy acres, and ultimately all of our land for our homestead, through the tax lien auctions held by both the county and city tax offices … which should have been our first clue. Washoe County and Reno had both been in a relative battle for a land grab for all of the land North of Reno on up to the Oregon border, along the California border with Nevada. Our land was maybe two miles in from the border as the crow flies with about fifteen miles of dirt and gravel road to get to the small California town which was the closest “civilization” to our home.
When it came to the roads, to say that they were in bad shape would have been a kindness. On many occasions, we had found ourselves needing to walk the last six miles or so. That is, if we walked along the “roads”, as they were impassable for any vehicle we had at the time and for most vehicles in general. If we walked in through the country side, we could narrow the walk down to three or four miles, though this involved going through a dry lake bed that would leave you without any line of sight to guide your direction.
We had tried to get both the county and the city to repair the roads, but both claimed that the other party was responsible for the maintenance of the roads in that area. Still, every year at tax time, both the city and the county would claim ownership of that area for the purposes of collecting our tax payments. You have to love government efficiency and the continued efforts of bloated bureaucracies to fatten their purses I suppose.
Thus, it was no surprise that we came across many of these same issues when seeking to get utilities hooked up. However, we were given a most generous proposition in which we could pay for six miles of telephone and power poles installed every thousand yards for a total of six miles … at an extremely inflated cost to us personally, and then return ownership of these “public utilities” to their “rightful status” as property of the city and/or of the county, free for everyone else to hook up to and use for the benefit and financial gain only of the government.
Suffice it to say that even if we did have that much money, we would not willingly give it to the government at inflated prices for reduced services, so we considered our alternatives.
When we had our experience with the dead battery, my dad, in his regular course of ingenuity, had charged it up by attaching a weedeater to the alternator and running it until the battery was charged enough to start the vehicle. In that particular case, the alternator had been more than sufficient for our needs, though I was once again left wondering as he loaded up the vehicle for another weekend getaway to what was, at the time, still nothing more than a blank spot in the desert with nothing more than a single camp trailer to mark the land.
As I packed up the car, I included some pallet shelving made of heavy steel, some concrete, a fifty-five gallon drum, the rear axle from something … though I do not recall what it was from, an alternator, a selection of fan belts, steel bearings on small cables, a wide selection of batteries and battery cables, and some shaft bearings again, coming from something I was not aware of, though they were rather large in size, and fitted with homemade rubber gaskets inside.
We stopped as we normally did, at the store on the way out, got some grub and other goods, and I prepared for a weekend of education if not entertainment as I watched my dad practice his craft … and maybe I would even be able to help some as I became more aware of what it was he had in mind.
Upon arriving, I opened up a beer for me, made a drink for my dad (read: I poured some whiskey in a glass for him) and began to make some grub so we could begin working with a full belly. While I was doing this, my dad was unloading the vehicle and laying everything out just so. After we ate, he went out and began cutting the barrel (or drum) in half as I cleaned up the kitchen … after which I proceeded outside to assist … or at least to watch as he rarely requested … or even wanted assistance with his work.
Ultimately he did have me build a small wooden box to hold all of the batteries in and wire them up in a parallel configuration … which I did … while watching him of course. He proceeded to build a support on the outside with the pallet racks and stood the vehicle rear-end (rear axle) up in the center.
After some more cutting and welding, he had set the two halves of the drum up as a windmill of sorts, and attached the alternator to the U-Joint with a belt to turn the alternator. The steel bearings and shaft bearings, he had used to make a centrifugal braking system as we routinely had consistent and steady winds that reached well over one hundred miles an hour out in the middle of the desert, and allowing this contraption to run full speed would have risked overcharging the batteries and tearing up the windmill itself.
By the time that weekend was over, we had a CB Radio, a car stereo, and even a wide selection of lighting replete with light switches from speaker wire and headlights and a selection of brake lights and toggle switches. In effect, we had all of the comforts of home in a most ingenious fashion, none of which even required an inverter to power. In point of fact, while we did ultimately begin using generators to run our machine shop, even when the homestead was “finalized” insofar as it can be, we never ran anything other than twelve volt direct current to power our homes.
The advent of xenon headlights and other technological advances made it quite sufficient to meet virtually all of our needs without ever having to purchase much of the more expensive equipment. Better still, before we were said and done, we had hot and cold running water, full electrical power and a host of other modern conveniences, all without ever having to do the bidding of the city or the county at their much-inflated costs.
Let us know what you think please!