Windmill water pump

By Ray Ford

How one cottager gets water from the lake

Windmill water pump

Photo by Paul Martin

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Heading, bucket in hand, out to Lake Huron’s Dorcas Bay, Paul Martin mused about easier ways to fetch water. Then—faster than you could say Bob Dylan—he had the answer: “I realized it’s almost always windy here.” By using the wind to power a pump, Martin could supply water to the off-grid cottage of his friend Helen Buckton, without schlepping it from the lake.

Putting his plan into action, Martin found an old piston pump at the cottage, welded a windmill frame out of 1″ steel tubing, and bolted the frame to the rocky shore, with the pump mounted on a bracket inside the structure. He fashioned a wind turbine by cutting blades from 8″ PVC pipe, using a pattern he found online. Each blade is 42″ long and 6″ wide at the tip, tapering to 3 ½” at the hub. The pipe’s curve helps grab the wind. “It’s cut like a propeller blade,” he says, “and shaped like a wing, so there is less air pressure on one side than on the other. That helps it spin.”

Affixed a short distance from shore, the blades spin a driveshaft to turn a 1½” pulley. This upper pulley connects to the pump’s 10″ pulley with a 14-foot drive belt (tightened by adjusting the pump on its brackets). When the wind blows, the blades move so fast “you don’t see them, they’re a blur,” Martin says. The pump “plunks along,” pushing enough water to power a showerhead or fill the 80-gallon fibreglass storage tank. (Once it’s full, surplus water goes back to the lake.)

If it’s too windy, he pulls a lever, engaging a lawn-tractor disc brake that slows the driveshaft until he can secure it with a big thumbscrew.

The windmill cost maybe $200, Martin says. “I put about forty hours into building it, because I was learning as I went. Now I could build it in a couple of days. It’s a neat thing to play with,” he says. “A lot of people stop to ask about it.” And best of all, he adds, now there’s no more schlepping.

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Ray Ford