Monday, March 29, 2010

Book Review: Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

When sixteen year-old Hattie Brooks receives the message that she has inherited her uncle’s homestead claim in Vida, Montana, it solves some of her immediate problems. She now has a place of her own, away from Arlington, Iowa and her spiteful aunt, one of the many relatives she’s lived with since her parents died.

As it happens, she simply trades one set of problems for another, except this time, she invests more than hard labor. She invests herself in becoming a neighbor, a friend, and a responsible member of her community. The scrubby parcel of land boasts nothing but a nine- by twelve-foot claim shack to live in and a barn to house a range horse and a cranky milk cow.

Her tasks are daunting. In order to prove the claim, she has to cultivate one-eighth of the claim, forty acres, and set four hundred eighty rods of fence–all within the remaining ten months of the claim. One of Hattie’s challenges is just to get through the Montana winter. Nothing productive toward working her claim can even be started until the ground thaws.

Hattie Big Sky is a delightful book written in first-person. Throughout the book she corresponds with a school chum, Charlie, who is fighting WW1 in France, and to her uncle, husband of the spiteful aunt. Through her uncle’s efforts, she becomes published in the Arlington paper and receives a small monthly income that sees her through an otherwise bleak existence. Hattie’s struggle for survival is shown in vivid detail and readers learn to admire this young woman’s grit, determination and humor. Hattie is capable of grinding hard work and raw courage, but is also the frequent recipient of the kindness of neighbors. She repays these kindnesses in her own way, endearing and binding her to the kind of friendships she has never known before.

Although this book is considered a Young Adult genre, it is delightful for any age. Hattie Big Sky is fashioned after the author’s own family history and its authenticity is obvious from the very first page.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wind Turbines: Harnessing the Wind for Electricity

As early as the 1930's, wind was used to generate electricity in rural farming areas, mostly where electric distribution systems had not yet been installed. Now we have gone full-circle with modern, “personal use” wind turbines designed to produce electricity in homes when the wind is blowing.

Systems are now available that can either store electricity or, depending on the utility company, can spin the meter backwards, sending electricity back to the grid, giving credit to the wind machine owner. When the wind is not blowing, the house is powered by the utility.

Wind turbines can also be used on a larger scale to power neighborhoods, businesses and schools. Large turbines are grouped together into “wind farms,” which provide bulk power to the electrical grid.

When mechanical energy is used directly by machinery, such as a pump used to lift water from underground, the machine is usually called a windmill. A wind turbine is a machine for converting the kinetic (motion) energy in wind into mechanical energy.
If the mechanical energy is then converted to electricity, the machine is called a wind generator.

The two types of wind turbines, based on the axis on which the turbine rotates, are horizontal axis and vertical axis. The most common, horizontal-axis wind turbines, typically have either two or three blades which operate with the blades facing into the wind. Vertical-axis turbines have the motor shaft running vertically to the ground and usually result in lower energy extraction efficiency.

Wind turbines are also classified by the location in which they are used: onshore, offshore or aerial, and each have unique design characteristics. Wind turbines may also be used in conjunction with a solar collector to extract the energy of the sun.

Not all opinions are positive regarding wind turbines, however. Noise and vibrations from the rotating blades may interfere with the tranquility of some nearby country dwellers. In Kansas, many object to the interrupted land aesthetics converting wild prairies into vast industrial areas. Radio, TV, wireless Internet, phone, anything that receives or transmits over the airways may, in some areas, be affected by wind turbines. As a result of these problems, property values could be impacted.

Putting the wind to work is not a new concept and the use of wind turbines has caused problems for some. Corralling wind power for efficient, safe use has a way to go toward perfection. But we’re getting closer to efficiently utilizing the wind’s unlimited potential.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE WINDMILL: An American Tradition

Windmills helped define the American West. Although in many parts of the country we tend to think of windmills as an old-fashioned method of drawing water from a well, they still are widely used today in rural United States and abroad.

On a recent trip to Eastern Oregon, I was fascinated with an old Aermotor windmill on an abandoned homestead north of Grass Valley. The dilapidated house and sagging barn spoke to me of a family with long-passed dreams and plans. The windmill, however, seemed to be in good shape–a few bullet holes, but it appeared to still be operable.

I could easily make out the manufacturer’s name on the wind vane, Aermotor, Chicago. What tales of history that old machine could spin!

Aermotor is known as the most popular water pumping windmill of the 20th century. Their windmills have been called the Cadillacs of windmills because of their outstanding design and quality workmanship. Even today, old reconditioned Model 702 mills, which have been in production since 1933, can command prices almost as high as those of factory fresh mills.

The phenomenon began in 1883 when Thomas O. Perry conducted over 5,000 scientific tests on 61 different experimental wind wheels. As the result of these tests, Perry figured out a way to design a wind wheel that was 87% more efficient than those currently on the market. The company he worked for was unimpressed.

Perry partnered with an astute businessman, LaVerne Noyes, and five years later, Noyes and Perry introduced Aermotor Windmill, much to the amusement of their competitors. But, within four years, Aermotor became the dominant supplier of windmills throughout the world. Not only did these windmills efficiently pump water out of the ground, the Aermotor design reduced maintenance costs. By 1904, Perry and Noyes transformed the Aermotor Windmill of Chicago into a major American industry.

A key to Aermotor’s efficiency is its wind wheel which consists of curved galvanized steel blades which are riveted to steel wheel clips which in turn are riveted to curved steel rims.

The pumping Aermotor is governed through the action of a slightly off-center wind wheel counterbalanced by a coiled governor spring. The wheel automatically turns away from increasing wind, because of its being off center, slowing its speed. As the wind decreases, tension on the spring causes the wheel to turn back into the wind. Thus, the free energy of the wind is captured.

Below the turning wheel, a long rod moves up and down. This “sucker rod” is powered by the windmill’s motor, a unique set of mechanical gears that converts the rotary motion of the wheel into a reciprocating up-and-down motion that powers the water pump located deep underground.

Over the years, the company changed ownership and locations, moving from Chicago, Illinois to Detroit, Michigan, to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to Argentina, back to the United States to Conway, Arkansas, returning to Illinois at Decatur and finally to its present home in San Angelo, Texas.

This remarkable windmill can be seen in many parts of North America today as well as
in many countries abroad. Many thousands of them are in service, efficiently lifting ground water for agriculture and livestock.

According to Bob Bracher, Aermotor’s President and CEO, their windmill company is the “oldest and largest water pumping windmill producer in the world.” Further, they stock replacement parts for all of their windmills dating back to 1933, and many parts for models dating back to 1915. That’s American business integrity and ingenuity at work.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: Counting the Cost by Liz Adair

Counting the Cost by Liz Adair captures the essence of love: not always practical, often destructive, but present and undeniable nevertheless.

The fast-moving story takes place in 1930s New Mexico. When eastern society lady Ruth Reynolds moves onto a ranch where cowboy Heck Benham works, sparks instantly fly. There is a big problem though--Ruth is married and Heck is as honorable as he is hard-working.

Fate draws them together, but not without pain and heart-wrenching sacrifice and challenges. Yet, their love shines through at every turn, though the cost is perhaps more than anyone would bargain for.

Adair does a magnificent job of describing the New Mexico setting–its rugged people and stark countryside at a time when nothing came easy. A New Mexico native, she paints the story with meticulous detail and historical accuracy to the ranching and social norms of the era.

Counting the Cost is available through Inglestone Publishing Bookstore, the author’s website,or