Helen Walter sat on a recessed step in the floor to get the feel of how a Kregel employee operated a massive multi-point drill press to punch holes in angle iron. The factory’s wooden floor couldn’t support the monstrous machine, so it had be placed on the ground, along with the step, which served as the operator’s seat.
Museum board member David Silcox shared such details as how the long belts used to drive the machinery were made of American bison skins and how employees shaped windmill blades using wooden jigs as guides.
“This is an amazing historic resource. It’s just too valuable not to preserve. It’s a snapshot into history,” Helen Walter said after a two-hour private tour. “It’s one man’s windmill shop in a small town.”
The Kregel Windmill Factory Museum Foundation, with financial help from the Kimmel Foundation and others, is encasing the factory and its historic contents with another building, complete with new roof, walls and other infrastructure.
“The original structure stays as it is,” said Dan Vokouen, project manager for Sampson Construction in Lincoln. “They wanted to maintain the original structure just as if they closed up on a Friday and no one ever came back.”
The Kregel Wind Mill Co. made about 2,000 water-pumping windmills from 1903 until rationing of raw materials during World War II ended production. After the war, the company focused on maintenance and pump repairs and made beehives as a sideline. The factory closed in 1991.
The wooden and steel windmills were sold in a 40-mile radius around Nebraska City under the “Eli” brand name. A few of the windmills survive today on nearby farms, but most were tossed in ditches.
“It’s the only existing windmill factory as it existed during its heyday,” said museum board President Duane Smith, noting that the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., has taken thousands of photographs of the factory and its contents.
The Walters found out about the museum while attending the International Windmillers’ Trade Fair in Batavia, Ill. They met Silcox there, and he invited them to stop in Nebraska City before continuing their journey to the American Wind Power Center and Museum in Lubbock, Texas.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>
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