Water… That Vital Source of Life

I’m still here in New Mexico with my parents. We’ve been talking a lot about the old days of ranching in the West and some of the things that stood out in my parent’s minds as vital to survival, not only for their own families but also their livestock. Of course one of the most important was water.   This was where that most amazing invention came into play – The Windmill.


I asked my mother if she would be willing to be a part of this blog post. She very happily picked up pen and paper and began writing.   Following is her memory of the time she was six years old and understood so clearly the importance of water.

The Sounds Of Home

I am six years old – big enough to set the table for breakfast. I hear the windmill squeaking as it starts to turn. Daddy says, “Well, Ma, it sounds like you’ll be able to do the wash today”. We have been saving on water lately for we’ve had very little wind.

I hear my brother stamping the dirt from his feet on the door step outside the kitchen. He empties the last of the hot water from the kettle into the wash pan on the stand for each of us to wash and comb our hair before breakfast. He refills the kettle so water will be hot to wash dishes. My sister washes the dishes, Mother pours boiling water over them and lifts them out. I dry them.

The wind is picking up speed now. As it whips the vane of the Windmill, the wheel comes full toward the wind and turns. The sucker rods begin to lift and water is gushing out into the tank mounted on the windmill platform. I love to watch it work. Soon we will have water piped in to the house, but I hope we keep the water bucket with the dipper. Water tastes so good out of a dipper.

When Daddy and my brother were digging our well, they started early every morning. I watched as they shoveled dirt out to the side. Then soon they climbed down a ladder and only their heads showed. As the well got deeper they took turns, one shoveling and filling a bucket while the other drew it out and dumped it. I remember my brother shouting with glee when they hit water! What a wonderful day that was!   Then the water bucket was lifted by a windlass and carried back and forth.   Now at last we have a windmill and our own good pure water.

~ By Carol Dunagan Smith ~


I guess after living in the South for several years now I’ve gotten used to the rain, full ponds, and rain barrels. Being back here in the “boothill” of New Mexico, I’ve been thinking about windmills and how important they are to the Rancher when the average rainfall is no more than 10 inches a year and the ability to pipe in water is practically impossible.


If you look closely in the above picture you can see the water pouring out of the pipe into the tank.

Windmills are vital for providing water for the livestock as well as for the wildlife.

My mother said another important part the Windmill played was as a look-out tower!  She said they would climb it to see if they could find a missing cow, or to see what vehicle was in front of the rolling dust a mile away, or to see where their Daddy was working!


Something that you will almost always see when you see a working windmill, is a shade tree!  It very likely will be the only shade tree you will see for miles.


Windmills require a lot of maintenance to keep them up and working.  If the vane breaks off in a heavy wind storm, it will very likely bring down the whole wheel.


One of the neatest sounds is the sound of the wheel blades as they are rapidly turning in the wind.


The water storage varies from one windmill to the next… some are in holding tanks on a high platform and the water is piped elsewhere.


Some have a large stock tank that holds the water and is piped to a small trough in a corral  a short distance away.  The tank in the above picture is perfect for swimming in!  Most of us Ranch kids learned to swim in a tank like this one!

At my parents Ranch (which I didn’t get to visit this trip) they have a Windmill that pumps water into a large stock tank in the ground.  (Similar to what we would call a pond in the South.  They do not call them ponds here in the West!)

Windmill Jolyn 2

The above picture was taken by my cousin on their Ranch in Arizona.

Windmills are such a beautiful part of my heritage.  I wish I could pick one up and take it home with me to Tennessee!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Cr9wL3LyNQ&w=420&h=315]

For fun, here’s a little video I took just in case you’ve never seen a Windmill in action!  Sorry for the wind noise… but after all, that is what makes the wheel turn!

I have so loved this time with my Momma and Daddy.  We’ve talked so much about their lives, stories and memories.   I will treasure this month for a long time.

And my mother?  She has actually written and published a book about the life of her Mother, an early Pioneer, homesteading in New Mexico.

Until our gravel roads cross again… so long.


P.S.  I’m still working on an Interview with my Daddy.  Unfortunately, it is a lot more work than I thought it would be to get him to talk about himself!  He said, “I’m no more special than any other small time Rancher”!

  1. Joan says:

    Awww yes love the windmill and they are still very important in many areas yet today. I live on and old ranch that is now a housing area but very rural feeling, I have a 8′ decorative windmill that, in the windy prairie spins most of the time and I love it. Thanks for the memories. God bless.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Joan, I’ve been thinking about a decorative windmill on our farm in Tennessee! It would give me a taste of home! 🙂 – Dori –

  2. Linda says:

    I really enjoyed this visit with your family, loved the windmill, not scary like the new ones! Happy thanksgiving.

  3. Dori, What a beautiful post! I love the pictures, too. Reminds me of the old windmills peppering the drive as we would drive to my dad’s ranch in the Texas hill country. That last picture of the windmill at sunset is stunning…you should frame a copy of that! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole (Suburban Farmgirl)

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Nicole, Thank you! 🙂 I would love someday to see some of the Texas Hill Country. I’ve seen pictures and it reminds me a lot of this part of New Mexico. I’ve been to a bit of Texas but not too much… I guess to actually really “do” Texas you’d need a year! My husband flew here to my folks for a week while I’ve been here and he flew into El Paso (it is the closest airport to my folks place). Anyway as we got close to El Paso I saw a sign that said: El Paso 8 miles, Beaumont 862 miles. It made me realize how HUGE Texas is!!! 🙂 Thank you for writing! Hugs, – Dori – P.S. I keep thinking about your skate project and am going to look for some skates when I get home and see what I can do!

  4. Marcie says:

    Hi Dori,
    I loved your blog and I love windmills. So glad you got your mother to help you write about her earlier times and good luck getting your dad to share his stories. It is so important to gather your parents memories, now while you can. Your family history sounds so interesting and rich with yesteryear treasures. I’m looking forward to reading about those ‘good old days’.
    My husband and I used to manage a 700 acre ranch back in Texas and there was an old windmill standing tall upon a hilltop on the property (had long stopped pulling water and someone had tied the wheel so it would not turn). I got my husband to untie the wheel and let it fly free in the wind with its beautiful sound. I told my husband I wanted to think of it as Chell’s spirit (previous deceased owner and long ago Texas Ranger) finally free to fly with the wind. I loved that old windmill turning in the many Texas breezes. Windmills represent a time that has gone by but still very much alive in our memories.
    Thank you Dori for a great visit.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Marcie, thank you so much for telling me your windmill story. I think they are such a rich part of our heritage. I love being “home” again where there are so many still in working condition. Like I said, if I could just one back to Tennessee with me!!! 🙂 I have not seen much of Texas, but what I have seen reminds me a whole lot of this part of New Mexico. Thanks for writing! – Dori –

  5. Cyndi D says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful stories, Ms Dori and Ms Carol. Windmills are such a wonderful site and such a reflection of our life out here in the west. I never fail to love seeing and hearing an old windmill pumping that valuable resource called water……. And if a windmill could talk, what stories they could share…. When my mom and dad bought their place out in Gila from the Dominguez’s, it was nostalgic to learn that my real dad, Kenneth McKinney had actually been the well driller and installed the windmills on two of the old wells several decades earlier. That was super cool to me cause he had died in an accident when I was 5….so now when I see the old windmill, I often think of my family before me and the heritage and legacy they have left. It always evokes such warm feelings to hear the sucker rod going up and down as the fins turning in the wind. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Dear Cyndi, I LOVED your story of your real Dad being the well driller at your folks place. I was asking Mom if she knew that story – she said if she did she had forgotten it so she really enjoyed hearing it. What a lovely heritage. Hugs to you, dear friend. – Dori –

  6. Judy Acker says:

    Loved your blog about the windmills. We have just returned from a 6 weeks trip through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona to California and back to East Texas we love the windmills and watch for them.
    Have you been to the Windmill Museum in Lubbock? It is a great tribute to the west. We don’t have enough wind in East Texas.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Judy, what an awesome trip!!! I bet you logged a lot of miles huh? 🙂 No, I have not been to the Windmill Museum… have not actually been to Lubbock. But, I think I would love that. I think that needs to be on my list of things to see and do. Thanks for suggesting it. – Dori –

  7. Phyllis says:

    Ohhhhhh how your photos remind me of my 13 years in Lakewood, NM halfway between Artesia and Carlsbad. Yes, it was quite a trek to the airport in El Paso! Those years were full of windmills, cattle, cotton fields, single digit humidity, jack rabbits, road runners and rattle snakes! I have since discovered what I suspected all along…that I am a true beach bum. The ocean is where I started out as a child. I was lucky enough to retire early and roam the country in a motorhome looking for the perfect place to retire “for good”. I found it right back where I started and I agree…slow down and enjoy. Wherever you are, you are in the right place for right now.

    • Dori Troutman says:

      Dear Phyllis, Oh yes the rattlesnakes! 🙂 You were indeed lucky to be able to road the country looking for the perfect place. I love what you said, wherever you are, you are in the right place for right now. That is so very true. Happy New Year to you! – Dori –

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