As I drove up the long driveway to Art and Ann Weber’s farm just north of Melrose, it was a cold, crisp afternoon. I wanted to get a clear photo of the new 120-foot wind tower they had erected just before Christmas. As I stepped out of the car to take the picture, I could feel the goosebumps creep up my arms. This was like a step into the future. This is the first windmill in our area, and it struck me that this could be the first of a trend, and that it is like a bridge from the past into the future. The very first windmill for the pioneers must have brought them goosebumps, too. Art was coming down from the garage ready to answer all my questions. The first one was, “Why did you decide to put up a wind turbine?” His answer was, “I don’t know, but rather than accept the low interest rates at the bank, I decided I would use my money in a way that would be more profitable. The wind turbine typically provides a rate of return of 6 percent to 25 percent. Much better than traditional investments these days.” Weber had his windmill installed just two weeks before, and already he has seen what it can do in a good wind. “Now we are looking forward to windy days,” said Ann, as we made ourselves comfortable at their kitchen table. After visiting a while, it was clear that the Webers had three things in mind while they researched wind turbines at the county fair and Farmfest and wherever there was information about them. They were looking for something simple, low in maintenance, and with not too many moving parts. The wind turbine turned out to be all three of these. It has only three moving parts and no scheduled maintenance is necessary. It only needs greasing every two or three years or so. When Ann heard Art tell about the ‘greasing,’ she immediately questioned Art about this, “Who will do that greasing?” When Art answered, “The company will,” Ann immediately breathed a sigh of relief. I think she had visions of Art crawling up there. Art is working with his electric company and they have a meter and so does Art Weber. Art and Ann can watch the meter and see what it is doing at any time. Should the meter start to run backwards, they know excess energy is pouring back into the power company, who will then reimburse the Webers for it. Hoping the windmill will pay the electric bills on the farm and the two houses on it, Art and Ann are also hoping it will often meter backwards to help pay for the windmill. The wind turbine is located 140 feet from his buildings, makes no sound except when there is ice on the blades. What about the ‘shadow flicker’ people complain about with the windmill? “No problem,” said Art. “I like to watch the shadow flicker on the snow.” Art Weber said a lot of folks are not aware that there are government grants available to help with the expense. Farm History Art and Ann Caspers Weber are both 68 years old. Ann was from Meire Grove originally and was a classmate of Art Weber. They married in 1963, and in 1964 Ann visited the farm for the first time, and she asked Art, “Where’s the house?” She said what was there resembled a crackerbox. Art added that it was a log home without a basement. “We have replaced all the old buildings except the barn and one shed. We built the house in 1970.” The couple made their home there for 46 years and raised three children, Daniel, Sharon and Gerald. Dan has some acreage and lives on the farm in his own home next to Art and Ann. He works for Jennie-O many hours and helps on the farm besides. The Webbers sold their dairy cows in 2004, when they decided to go into the sheep business. Art says if he had to start farming again, he would do it with sheep. “I like sheep,” he said. Self-sufficiency sort of runs in the Weber family… “I remember my grandpa owned these 40 acres of woods here,” said Art, pointing out back, “and brother Joey and I went out there when we were young kids, and built a fire, and we had no chain saw in those days. My grandpa said, ‘You could have had that whole 40 acres cleared with the stumps out of the earth and all in those days if I’d had let the people cut the trees, but this way we felt our family would have wood for as long as we lived – but then oil came…’” “But,” cautioned Weber, “those days might come back!” Corn Burning Furnace In the Weber kitchen they had a neat little compact heater that was throwing out some nice warmth, and Art said it was a corn-burning heater. It was the size of “about two cases of beer” as Weber put it. He continued, “ I was surprised to hear some people who were raised on a farm could not understand that corn would burn.” He went on to explain it was the starch in it that burned. I was then shown their house furnace in the basement that also burned corn. “I experimented with heating our house with wood chips a while ago,” said Art, and this worked pretty good, but I figured this did not make sense, since I had to buy the wood chips, when I had this bin full of corn.” So that was how it started. Art demonstrated how he just removed a large pipe and moved it to the side to let the heat come into the basement when it got too warm upstairs. The Webers are happy with burning corn in spite of the high price of corn these days. They still feel they can come out pretty good by using clean scrap corn. It is fed to the furnace from the outside. “Only time will tell how everything works out,” said Art.
A change in the air