How many people does it take to erect a wind machine at Cedaredge's premier historic village?
It's not a trick question.
It takes about a dozen plus a board of directors.
Last month Les Mergelman, past president of the Surface Creek Historical Society, and a crew of dedicated workers spent six hours raising a 1960's fruit orchard wind machine at the highly visible junction of Highway 65 and Pioneer Town's east-facing parking lot.
"We've been trying to come up with something to catch people's eye as they pass along the highway," said Mergelman. "Since Pioneer Town sets back from the road, people tend to drive by without noticing it."
Now visitors are unlikely to miss the 35-foot shiny silver shaft with a cowling the size of a small appliance and a 19-foot propeller on top.
Half a century ago, the Pioneer Town wind machine and thousands like it churned high above Western Slope orchards striving to keep springtime frosts at bay. From March to May the action of whirling blades which mix warm air with cold can be the difference between a bountiful orchard harvest and a freezing disaster. Over the years the older 'motor-up' machines with engines on top were retired and replaced with newer models.
It seems appropriate that Pioneer Town's newly installed wind machine has found its final resting place a stone's throw from the historic Stolte apple shed -- a sprawling building that once processed the bounty of Surface Creek's fruit orchards and now serves as a community gathering place. And the wind machine is in good company. It joins two dozen other historic structures on Pioneer Town's five-acre lot including the apple-sorting shed, a vintage train depot, a blacksmith shop, a vintage main street, three museums, and a trio of unique wooden silos.
Like most of what goes on in Delta County, the project of acquiring and erecting the wind machine was a joint effort of individuals and businesses. The machine itself was donated by Richard Kinser, manager of Rogers Mesa Fruit Company in Hotchkiss. Benson Brothers, Inc. of Austin hauled it from Rogers Mesa to the Pioneer Town blacksmith shop where Big John's Hardware of Cedaredge provided a forklift to offload the large structure. Then resident blacksmith Paul Michaels set to work cleaning up the machine and removing the lengthy ladder once used to maintain the gasoline engine on top.
"The ladder had to go. Just too tempting for adventurous kids to climb," explained Mergelman.
The heavy gas engine was also removed though the empty cowling remains in place. And the pivoting propeller housing and the whirling propeller were disabled as Al Stohler welded the cowling and prop shaft in place. It might have been ideal to have the propeller operational and spinning but fickle Colorado winds which sometimes produce damaging micro-bursts were a factor in deciding to make the display a static one.
After the Town of Cedaredge issued a building permit, Arlo Hansen of Cedaredge used his backhoe to dig a foundation hole for the concrete base. United Companies provided 8 1⁄2 yards of concrete at a discount and the Rogers Mesa crew was on hand to assist in pouring the slab. Pioneer Town paid $75 apiece for six huge bolts to secure the wind machine base to its concrete home.
Once the foundation was in place, it was necessary to move the unwieldy machine two blocks from the blacksmith shop to the concrete slab. Bill Vezzoso of Aspen Trails RV Campground near Cedaredge solved that problem with his tractor. Jim Hardin did the final welding of the prop to shaft and also welded stops to prevent the turret from rotating and then he jumped in to operate the crane provided by Hardin's Welding and Crane of Hotchkiss. It was touch-and-go as Hardin lifted the towering shaft and deftly steered it into position. Finally the six base bolts were tightened with a sturdy wrench (then doubly tightened by applying firm blows from a 12-pound sledgehammer) and it was time for someone to ascend in a cherry-picker to secure the housing and propeller.
"That was a young man's job," Mergelman chuckled.
Rogers Mesa employee Zed Perry was up to the task and he balanced on top of the wind machine for forty-five minutes working in the sunshine until the upper components were hauled up and secured in place with the final four bolts of the day.
"We started about 9 in the morning and broke for lunch after 2 p.m." recalled Mergelman. He paused then to study his lengthy list of helpers to make certain he didn't leave anyone out. After double-checking the workmen, he acknowledged the essential support and assistance of the Pioneer Town board of directors, especially past president, Richard Udd and current president, Greg Hart.
So with the work of many volunteers the Pioneer Town wind machine has been installed. Now it's one of two such mechanisms enshrined along Highway 65, the other being the double-bladed machine at the Frichman Orchards roadside stand in Eckert. Both are towering reminders to residents and tourists alike of the historic legacy and present value of the area's importance as a fruit growing region.