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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Mertzon Windmills

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Last time I drove through Mertzon, it sunk in on me that the windmills were gone.

West Texas still has plenty of Aermotors cranking away, and on many mesa tops giant wind turbines are popping up like rain lillies, but Mertzon used to depend on wind power long before it was the green thing to do.

With a little editing, here is a piece on Mertzon in the 1960s from “Red Rooster Country,” my long out-of-print first book:
Wind Farm On US277
Wind Farm On US277
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, June 2010

“They look like a field of iron sunflowers in the distance, but they’re windmills – literally scores of them scattered all over Mertzon.

“Though no one has tried to organize the movement, there is a distinct possibility that without much effort, Mertzon could be named the Windmill Capital of the World.

“One Mertzon resident estimated there were about 100 windmills dotting the small Irion County capital and at one time, even more.

“The reason for all the windmills is that Mertzon has no public water works. If a resident wants running water, either a windmill or an electric pump must be used.

Mertzon residents naturally don’t pay much attention to their abundant windmills , but motorists passing through on U.S. 67 often are surprised.

“If Mertzon does own the title of windmill Vatican City, it’s going to have to enjoy it while it can. The day will come when the electric pump phases out the windmill for good, at least inside the citiy limits.

“‘All the windmills are fairly old,’” County Judge Reginald Atkinson said. “‘I don’t remember any new ones going up in the last 15 or 20 years.”

“Mertzon was settled around the turn of the (last) century by ranching people. “‘Naturally,’” the judge said, “‘when these people moved in from their ranches they moved their windmills, too.’”

“Today (1968), people are finding electric pumps quite a bit less expensive than the traditional windmill. A good windmill costs about $700 while an electric pump can be installed for around $300, the judge said.

“But no one around Mertzon intends to junk their windmill before it doesn’t work any more, and even then they sometimes leave them standing.

“If a city water plant was constructed, however, the pumps and windmills would be made useless. But the chance for a city owned water plant any time soon is not very likely.

“‘Right now we have one of the lowest tax rates in the country,’” the judge continued. “‘If we were to decide to operate a water works the tax rate would naturally have to be increased accrodingly.’”

“There is commercially-owned water system in the city, but it does not serve the whole city.

“One resident said for each windmill in Mertzon there is a different tasting water supply. “‘Some of it is really good, but some wells are so bad you can hardly drink the stuff,’” he said.

“Regardless of poor water in some wells, the people of Mertzon appreciate their windmills. After the initial investsment, they don’t have to pay any water bills.”

These days, alas, the urban windmill thicket is gone and folks in Mertzon no longer enjoy free water.


© Mike Cox

"Texas Tales" July 15, 2010 column

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