Even during construction to turn America’s only intact historic windmill factory into a museum this fall, the Kregel Windmill Factory has international appeal.
Helen Walter, publisher of Australia’s Windmill Journal, toured the factory after attending the International Windmillers Trade Fair June 14 in Batavia, Ill.
She arrived as crews worked to construct a new building to surround and enclose the factory. The interior offices, machines and manufacturing lines were draped in plastic allowing tour guides Dave Silcox and Duane Smith to uncovered each piece for Walter and her sons Patrick and Alex.
Afterward, Walter said she was impressed.
“It’s neat. Not as in tidy, but as in fantastic,” she said.
There are five windmill manufacturers in Australia, where there are still areas that rely on windmills to pump water, but the historic factories have been bulldozed or modernized.
Walter said the history of the windmill captivated her late husband, Malcolm, and soon his passion for collecting actual windmills focused on researching their stories.
He started the Windmill Journal in 2002 and interested Helen enough to secure her help as a proofreader.
“He was the one with the passion,” she said.
Somewhere along the line, the windmill’s story also captivated her.
“There’s something about the sight of the historic windmills that just gets you,” she said.
Walter, a part-time music teacher in Morawa in western Australia, said her students knew about her “windmillers” trip to the United States.
“They gave me a morning tea to send me off,” she said.
She said her students would be thrilled to visit such a place.
“It's gorgeous. It's going to be magnificent when it's done,” she said.
She said the Kregel's meticulous record keeping and the fact that is has all been preserved is exciting.
“It's unheard of for a researcher,” she said.
In Australia, the state library archives might have a directory listing or an old advertisement that proves a business existed, but Walter said researchers would have to track down descendants and hope they have some knowledge, some detail.
“Actually, you end up telling them about their family history,” she said. “History can so easily be lost because, if there are no documents, no letterhead, no postal letters, then there is no verification,” she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Her son Patrick is a diesel mechanic and her son Alex is an archaeologist.
They pointed out the creativity of the Kregels, using the hydraulic lift of an old barber’s chair, and the indications of America ramping up the assembly line manufacturing.
“It’s not automated, but an early stage of mass production,” said Silcox of the Kregel museum board.
George Kregel and his son Arthur operated the factory from 1903 through the early 1940s.