San Angelo, Texas- The winds of Texas have been blowing for a long time. When westward expansion came through the Lone Star state, this abundant natural resource was crucial to the success of those brave souls who helped settle the land. The invention of the windmill made it all possible, and today there’s only one place that still constructs these long tall towers.
That place is right here in Texas at the Aermotor Windmill.
“When we go to trade shows and things, people go, ‘Oh, Aermotor. We didn’t know you guys were still around,’” Steven Pierce said.
Steven grew up on a cotton farm in Tahoka, Texas just south of Lubbock. On the days he wasn’t working in the fields, you could find him on the football field. Now, the 4th generation has gone back to his rural roots as the director of operations at Aermotor, the only windmill manufacturer in America.
“Our product is all U.S.A. made,” Steven said. “We don’t outsource anything overseas or to Mexico or anything. We’re proud of that. “
Aermotor got its start in 1888 up in Illinois. Only 24 windmills were sold that year, but Aermotor blew on into San Angelo in 1986 after calling several locations around the world home. Ever since then, San Angelo has been home to these hovering harnessers of head wind. Steven and his small crew make some of the biggest fixtures you’ll find on pastures across the plains of Texas.
“We really have a group of great people, a really good team,” Steven said. “People that really specialize in what they do and know their job and take pride in it. “
Brad Mitchell is the longest tenured employee on the premises, and he puts the most crucial parts together.
“I’ve been doing it for 21 years, and I enjoy it. I love doing the job,” Brad said. “At my age, picking up this stuff and throwing it around, I feel pretty good.”
That “stuff” includes the gargantuan gears that the windmill propels to pull the water up the pipe. When it comes to manufacturing these massive machines, that’s where it all starts.
“Each motor has two sets of gears; some small gears we call pinion gears, and some large gears we obviously just call large gears,” Steven said. “What we’re running here is this auger cuts the teeth on the large gears and we’re cutting a set of fourteen-foot gears for a fourteen-foot motor. These guys, we cut them in pairs so that they’re a matched set, so they stay together from here, all the way until we get back to the motor assembly area where we put the motor together.”
Brad gets the gears shoved into the housing.
“The work, itself, once you figure out the tricks to it and everything, you got it pretty much made,” Brad said.
Shane Nelson has been fabricating what are called helmets for 17 years.
“They say I’m the best helmet builder in the country,” Shane said.
With the clock slowing spinning, Shane’s tedious and tenacious tacking helps create a crucial piece of agriculture that will stand the test of time.
“We’ve got windmills that have lasted 100 years still out there,” Steven said. “There’s not much that’s sold that lasts that long still.”
With Aermotors long connection to cultivation culture, it’s no wonder it’s become a symbol of the backbone of America. It shines in the sun and shadows, and it spins and sways its Lone Star State pride.
“You’ll probably notice, when you leave, how you never really noticed them before, but you’ll go, ‘Oh, there’s another one. There’s another one,’” Steven said. “We’re proud of that, to see our name on them. If you see Aermotor, you know what that is. It’s part of the fabric of this country that goes back to 1888.”
Once again, the winds of west Texas never die down. It’s hard to change something that has history of standing tall.
“You can drive almost anywhere in Texas and you can see windmill, and you almost automatically know it’s an Aermotor windmill,” Brad said. “And know that you had a part of that, it definitely makes you feel a lot better, like you made an impact on the world around you. Instead of going through life and wondering what impact you made, drive down the road and you see it everywhere. “