A windmill that powers a dream

Brakedrum Windmill

From Bob Budd’s farm near Goderich, the land drops in winter-brown humps and hollows to a slate-coloured Lake Huron, four kilometres away, and the wind that sweeps up from the lake, after its rollercoaster approach to his land, arrives in fits and starts, blowing weakly then strongly, from one quarter and then from another. Trashy wind, Budd calls it. Not terrific for windmills.
Nonetheless, he’s adapted a small windmill that works. It’s located near the farmhouse, and as I watch, it keeps changing direction, and is constantly speeding up and then slowing down, but it still produces 80 per cent of the electricity Budd and his partner Beverly use. The remainder they generate from a bank of eight photovoltaic cells.

He built the windmill using scrap parts, and the whole thing, including the 15-metre tower, cables to the house, and batteries cost him less than $1,000.

He calls it the brakedrum windmill, because the housing for the generator is the brake drum from a Ford « F’’ series truck. It will produce 500 to 600 watts, and the genius of the design is not just in the parts which can, for the most part, be picked up from a wrecker’s yard, or from firms that recondition batteries and motors. It is also in the ability of the windmill to start generating electricity with winds as low as 13 to 16 kilometres an hour, and to avoid damage from high winds by gradually angling itself away from their full force.

The concept was developed by a Scottish inventor named Hugh Piggott, and modified for North American use by Budd.

The windmill has wooden propeller blades, made from 5 cm. by 10 cm (two by four) lumber, a plywood tail, some angle iron, a piece of 12.5 cm. channel iron, the brake drum, laminated metal from the core of a discarded electric motor, some magnets, copper wire to make generator coils, an electric cable, and, to store electricity, a bank of eight reconditioned, golf cart, deep-cycle batteries that Budd picked up for $35 each.

For a tower, he uses a discarded 7 1/2 cm. well-drilling pipe, held aloft by two sets of guy wires.

Electrical generators work by passing coils of wire through magnetic fields. So, in Budd’s windmill, magnets are attached to the inside rim of the brake drum. When the windmill propellers turn, the drum rotates around a stationary core to which coils of wire have been attached. As the magnets circle the coils, electricity is produced.

Believing that others can build their own windmills too, Budd and an associate, Andrew Masse, have produced a video and a 39-page booklet that give step by step construction details. They’re selling the video and booklet, plus a full-scale propeller blade design drawing, for $81 (delivery included). Their website at www.windmill.on.ca gives information on ordering the package. Or you can phone Budd at (519) 524-6729, or Masse at (519) 482-5043. The packages are selling at the rate of about three a week.

Budd is an organic farmer who supplies vegetables to 95 customers in Goderich. He and Beverly opted for the windmill and photovoltaic cells, instead of paying Ontario Hydro $8,000 to extend a power line to their house, because « it encouraged us to live our dream. Our whole idea was to live with minimal impact.

« It’s the environment that inspires us. When I’m feeling kind of down, it gives me joy and pleasure. We don’t want to live in a way that … eats away at that inspiration.’’

The electricity they generate runs their water pump, washing machine, and all their lighting, as well as his power tools, which include a table saw, planer, skill saw, and drill. Their refrigerator is propane powered. And they have no freezer, « because they’re so damned ( energy) inefficient.’’

« Why don’t you build one that is efficient,’’ I ask?

« I will,’’ he says. « I just haven’t got around to it yet.’’

So if you’re talking with him, urge him on. It could expand the dream for the rest of us.

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