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updated: 8/23/2013 2:38 PM

Moving picture: Hampshire farmer turns hobby for restoring windmills into a side business

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  • Video: Moving Picture: Windmill Man

  • Frank Engel of Hampshire works on a windmill in his barn workshop.

       Frank Engel of Hampshire works on a windmill in his barn workshop.
    photos by Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Engel climbs the tower to meet the tail as a crane lifts it to the top.

       Engel climbs the tower to meet the tail as a crane lifts it to the top.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • A windmill is seen beyond a field of corn at the Engel farm in Hampshire.

       A windmill is seen beyond a field of corn at the Engel farm in Hampshire.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Turner of Garden Prairie cranes his neck to see the 10-foot windmill that Frank Engel installed for him.

       Jim Turner of Garden Prairie cranes his neck to see the 10-foot windmill that Frank Engel installed for him.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Engel gets a hand from his granddaughter Mackenzie, 9, while installing a tower in Garden Prairie.

       Engel gets a hand from his granddaughter Mackenzie, 9, while installing a tower in Garden Prairie.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Jim Turner watches as Frank Engel, right on the windmill, and Bill Chidester work on installing a windmill at the top of a 25-foot tower at Turner's farm in Garden Prairie.

       Jim Turner watches as Frank Engel, right on the windmill, and Bill Chidester work on installing a windmill at the top of a 25-foot tower at Turner's farm in Garden Prairie.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Frank Engel and friend Bill Chidester of Sheridan put up a windmill for Jim Turner in Garden Prairie.

       Frank Engel and friend Bill Chidester of Sheridan put up a windmill for Jim Turner in Garden Prairie.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

Like most new things, it started out small.

About 14 years ago Frank Engel, a farmer and lifelong resident of Hampshire decided he wanted to put a windmill up on his property. Engel had fond memories of a windmill on his family's farm when he was a boy. "As you get a little older you go back to those original things," he said.

He didn't really know much about windmills, but he and his brother found a couple they liked in Wisconsin and managed to take them down and put them back up on their farms.

A little later one of his sons wanted one. So he found one, fixed it up and put it up for him. Then he did the same for his other son. On a road trip through Kansas he saw some for sale and did a quick U-turn to buy one for his daughter. And a few more to make it worth freighting them back to Hampshire.

The new thing was getting bigger.

"My wife thought I needed a hobby besides farmin' and fishin'," he said. So he took things a step further and took one of the windmills that he'd restored and put it up for sale on his property on the corner of New Lebanon Road and Route 72 on a Friday night. By Sunday night he had more than 15 phone calls. "Sold that windmill without a problem," he said. A month or so later he did the same thing and the same thing happened. "Turns out there's quite a bit of interest in old windmills out here," he said.

"It has sort of escalated from there," said Engel.

Roughly 60 windmills later, Engel's hobby has turned into a side business that keeps him busy in the little downtime a farmer has.

"I enjoy it," he said. "I tell people who want one that I still do farm out here, but as long as you're not in a hurry I'll get around to it."

He's been working with the Elgin Historical Society on a windmill that they've fixed up and will be installing in early September at the corner of Kimball Street and Route 31. "That will be quite interesting down there trying to put that up," he said. "It's one thing working on a windmill in your barn, it's a whole other thing when you have a crowd of people watching you."

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