“A wonderful icon of Americana” is how Chris Lombardo, a Sand Canyon resident and owner of a video production company, describes his newest addition to his vintage collection: a windmill from the Aermotor Windmill Co.
Drawn not by its functionality, but rather aesthetics, Lombardo has always been fascinated by the old American appeal — his front yard is decorated with a wooden wagon, a tractor and even a classic, red Ford truck. Lombardo felt inspired to continue his search for authentic pieces.
“I love iconic Americana type of symbols like tractors and windmills and old wagons. I started looking into it and discovered the Aermotor; they’re probably the most well-known classic windmill brand,” Lombardo said. “I found out that they’re still in business in San Angelo, Texas, and that they make the same windmill that they’ve been making since 1888, with just some minor improvements along the way. I just thought that was just the coolest thing.”
Not much has changed with the construction of the windmill, and the manual itself seems to be in its original format.
“The tower is probably the easiest part. Because that’s like putting together a jungle gym. It’s heavy, but then we tilted it up using our Jeep. That was probably the only modern piece of equipment that we used. The manual for Aermotors says that you could use a vehicle or you could use draft animals. [It seems] that they haven’t even edited their manual to keep up with modern times.”
Taking pride in assembling it on his own, with the help of his wife, Joy, his “old skool” method, as he calls it, entailed hiring a civil engineer, two inspections and a permit. In addition, Lombardo spent nearly a year for his beloved project to finish, due to his patience to conduct each step legally and correctly.
The 21-foot windmill’s original function is to pump water from wells, and while Lombardo does not have a well, that is not an issue. Instead, a 200-pound weight hangs in the middle to stabilize the mechanism, moving up and down according to wind speeds.
Wanting the challenge of exerting each step on his own, Lombardo dug four 2-foot-wide by 5-foot deep holes in the ground, then eventually used 132 bags of cement, 60 pounds each. Discussing how a truck would have cost the same as both the cement and mixer, Lombardo went with the obvious choice:
“Now I have a mixer.”
However, there would be no journey without inevitable hiccups.
“The tower’s the easy part, but then the fan weighs 320 pounds. Getting that up 30 feet to fit over the masthead pole is usually done with a crane nowadays, but in the old days, what they used to do was make [something] called a gin pole.”
A gin pole is not a contraption that could be easily bought, which therefore meant that Lombardo needed to utilize his welding skills that he hadn’t used since high school.
“I kind of designed one and welded it together. I put this thing together and I was praying that the welds would hold, and that this [heavy] windmill wasn’t going to crash to the ground and cost a fortune.”
While the hefty rainy season was, in Lombardo’s opinion, necessary, it also delayed the process of securing and stabilizing the windmill in the ground.
“I dug all those holes in December. With the incredible rainy season we had this year, they filled with water. At first I thought, ‘Oh, well, I’ll just get my hand pump,’” Lombardo said. “I realized as I was pumping that it wasn’t doing anything. Then I realized that this is groundwater.”
Needing to wait two months before he could pour the cement, the holes had caved in by then.
“I had to basically refill the holes halfway, and pack it all down, and then dig all four of them [again].”
Despite the obstacles, every moment was worth it to Lombardo.
“You read the stories about the pioneers and the people that built the towns and railroads in the Old West, and it’s just always amazing to hear how they did it. I just wanted to experience and pretend it’s the old days. The journey was fun,” Lombardo said.
The Old West is alive in Sand Canyon, where Lombardo’s neighbors have encouraged his passions and supported his endeavors.
“[My neighbor] said: ‘You’re contributing to the aesthetic of the whole neighborhood. We love what you’re doing. And we’d love to help.’ My [other] neighbor across the street has talked about how he loves how it looks and that [it has] contributed to the Old West vibe we have going on in this area.”
Old West, Disneyland, or even both, Lombardo is relishing a replica that has become his own.
“Disneyland has always been a very happy place for me: Frontierland in particular. I kind of feel, in some ways, that I’m building my own little Frontierland.”
Next on Lombardo’s list? Perhaps a working train for his grandchildren to ride in.