I asked who the man was in a photo taken at the dedication of the Dallas County Freedom Rock. He wore a knitted cap and was one of the first people to come up afterwards to talk to me. I’d been asked to talk about the Wilson brothers, who are remembered on one side of the memorial.
Jim Boll, I was told. Not only is he a Vietnam veteran, he’s known as the man who rescues windmills. The old Aermotors and other classic windmills we rural Iowans grew up with. They are dying out since electricity now pumps water on farms.
Jim started out with the one he played on as a kid. It later needed fixing, so he did it himself. Someone came by, saying he had one that needed repaired. That’s how it started, but he’s saved and mended well over 100 of them, some dating back to 1892.
Boll has survived the Vietnam war and cancer. It’s a good thing he has no fear of heights, although he does use a safety harness for the taller windmills.
Once in a while he sells an old windmill. The Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines bought one. He repaired one on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
I’m drawn to the silhouette of old windmills across a prairie, announcing a farm there or at one time an old homestead among the corn, elderberries, oats, sumac, and wheat fields. That old windmill drew water at one time for the life of a family and their livestock.
An old windmill was my first chore, at least that I can remember from age 4 or 5, that of trudging down a gravel road to wire the handle of the contraption to let the blades above catch the wind to pump our water up the hill to a holding tank.
You can see Jim Boll’s forest of windmills along Highway 44 in Dallas County, Iowa, between Grimes and Dallas Center. It’s a treat to get to see so many all at once.
Here’s a story about him from KCCI TV.