WHEN asking for direction to Jim Sawyer’s property, on the outskirts of Dalwallinu, in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, I was told to look for the windmill next to the gate.
It seemed a logical response given I was going to Jim and wife Betty’s property to do a story on his impressive windmill collection.
Making my way up to the house I knew I was in the right place with a few more windmills strategically placed for good measure – but it was nothing compared to what I was greeted with when Jim slid open the doors at The Windmill Shed – two immaculate structures that house more than 80 fully-restored windmills, with space for plenty more.
Jim has always been around windmills, being fascinated with them from an early age.
He was mesmerised watching his dad oil windmill gear sets every couple of weeks.
“When I got old enough, when there were no winds, he (dad) would say to mum, Jimmy will go and oil the windmill, so I have been fascinated by them ever since,” Jim said.
At about the age of 12 he would climb up the tower and “give them a squirt”.
“The risk is the early ones were open geared and you could put your fingers in the gears,” Jim said.
The interest became more than just a hobby in 2008.
“I was repairing a windmill at one of the properties we purchased at north Kalannie and in the bush alongside, when I was up the windmill I could see an old red windmill,” Jim said.
“When I got down I walked over and had a look at it in the bush and I threw it on the ute and then on the way home – I went to some other well dumps and scrap heaps and when I got home I had five on the ute.
“I dropped them off at the workshop and it’s been going ever since.”
Since then Jim and Betty have criss-crossed the country about seven times, looking for interesting and rare windmills to be included in the collection.
Many of the mills were in bad shape and required a lot of work to get them working again and look presentable.
“A lot of them you wouldn’t recognise them as a windmill and it’s amazing how good they come up,” Jim said.
A lot of them you wouldn’t recognise them as a windmill and it’s amazing how good they come up.
If he didn’t have parts, he would duplicate them as close as possible to the original.
“It’s amazing what you can come up with,” he said.
Getting historical data on the old windmills was made a lot easier as the Walters family, Morawa, had done a lot of research for their own windmill museum.
Early on in the process Jim decided he wasn’t going to mount his windmills on big towers.
“I realised, right from the start, that if you are going to have a lot of windmills and put them up in the air, they would take a lot of looking after,” he said.
“Especially the old ones that you have got to oil every week, or every fortnight.
“So I decided to put them on short stands – for two reasons – windmills that are up on 30 foot or 40 foot towers, they all look the same, but if they are down low, you can physically see how each one is different.”
Jim now mounts them on small tower stands with forklift attachments so he can move them around, particularly from the workshop to the museum.
The collection features windmills from overseas as well, particularly the United States.
“Windmills are a big thing in America, their museums are just amazing and you can almost get any information out of America,” Jim said.
A few years back he took the bold step of boxing four windmills and sending them to America, in the hope that a collector over there would return the favour, sending four back to WA’s Wheatbelt.
At the time the move was questioned by Betty, but sure enough they received four windmills in return, providing both collectors with diversity.
“I have done that with England and New Zealand so I have got windmills from there as well – I have also done it with Queensland and other States,” he said.
Jim, who is now 82, still helps his three sons with their various farm programs as much as he can, but in the back of his mind is the next windmill project.
“If no one is looking I might sneak over there (to the workshop),” he said.
“They know where to find me.”
Jim has lived on the family farm all his life, apart from completing a stint at Fremantle Boys School in 1952 and farming is all he wanted to do, but these days the focus is on windmills, which played a major role in farming for so many years.
On an almost daily basis Jim is fielding calls from spotters who are on the lookout.
Even sitting down at the dining table for a cuppa, Jim was fielding messages and photographs on his iPhone about new finds and stopped to have a look at them.
“It’s now that I have got so many friends and mates ...they ring me or message me,” he said.
“Its amazing, they just keep coming.
“A lot of them I have but I will still get it, it’s something that I can swap with or send it to New Zealand or somewhere.
“It all costs money but it’s a good game.
“The phone bill gets a bit high but it’s all good fun.”
As soon as he completes a project he takes photographs of it on his phone and sends them off to his mates.
“You have got to brag a little bit, don’t you?”
And there are still windmills on his wish list
“Dad’s father came from Horsham (Victoria) and there was a Wimmera Windmill and nobody has ever found one,” Jim said.
“We have been looking and we have had a lot of people looking and every time we have been over there we have had a look.
“There are a lot of dream windmills out there...a lot.
“Every time somebody rings up I am hoping that it’s going to be something different, but no, I have got six of them,” he laughed.
“But that’s part of the game – every now and then somebody will come up with something you haven’t got.”
I figured asking Jim if he had a favourite windmill was akin to asking him who his favourite child was, but I ventured there anyway.
He paused and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get an answer.
“Well everybody asks me that,” he said upon reflection.
There are no favourites but a Grigson windmill apparently goes pretty close.
Jim and Betty spent seven years trying to get hold of this particular windmill near Jurien Bay in the Lesueur National Park.
The windmill is believed to have been built in 1876 and it has a self-lubricating system and a bonnet type cover over the open gears.
“I have restored a lot of windmills and seen a lot of windmills and I have never seen that on another one,” he said.
Jim’s collection includes a windmill that his grandfather put on a well he sank at the former Jibberding station (the first station on the Great Northern Highway out of Wubin on the Rabbit Proof Fence) in 1912.
He also has a windmill that his dad put on a block at Miling in 1922.
“I was lucky enough to get the wreck of that back as well.”
Jim is quite proud of the contacts he has built up all over the globe and spoke of a Canadian family who visited last year.
They were fascinated by the collection and when they returned home, they dismantled a windmill on their Manitoba property and sent it to Dalwallinu.
“They wouldn’t take any money for the freight or anything,” Jim said.
“They just sent it to me and just said put Manitoba on the map.
“I love that because I just can’t believe that somebody would do that.
“It wouldn’t have been a cheap exercise to pull a windmill down and put it in a box.”
Betty said when they first started collecting windmills and heading to the Eastern States, there were not a lot of people interested.
She said a lot of people liked to have one at their gate but not have a major collection.
Betty recalled them stopping at Balladonia on the Eyre Highway, with 11 windmills stacked onto their purpose-built trailer.
She said a fellow motorist raced over and abused them for collecting all the windmills, believing they were going to be turned into scrap.
“We could not get a word in to say Jim was going to restore them,” Betty said.
Apparently after the man calmed down he said he would visit the museum one day, but Jim doesn’t recall seeing him again.
The museum has 80 windmills in various shapes and sizes, with detailed information on them and another 26 in various stages of repair.
“That’s why I built the second shed – there are only 15 in the second shed, but if I live long enough there will be a few more in there,” Jim said.
He estimated it would take two years to complete those ones.
“Hopefully I have got two years left in me,” he said.