Texas Highways intern Brenna Burkarth interviews Ruby Rickgauer, co-owner of the unique Windmill Farm B&B in Tolar.
How did you acquire the windmill farm and how did it take off?
We bought the acreage in 1994 and moved out here. Four or five years later, we put up the first windmill. It originally was from my parent’s place in South Dakota. We were visiting my parents one time and noticed that their farm didn’t use this one windmill anymore to pump water. Chuck [Ruby’s husband] asked my mother if he could have it. "I don’t know what you might do with it, but if you want to take it you can,” she said. So we did. After the first windmill was installed, we started seeing others that Chuck decided to bring home and repair. Then, people began coming through our farm to look at them, and we started meeting other people who collect them. It just snowballed from there. It started as a hobby, but we never thought it would turn into a business.
How did you and your husband get the idea for a windmill farm B&B?
About seven years ago, I was working as a nurse and decided to do something different. My friend said, “You have so much room, why don’t you build some cabins?” So, now on our 26 acres we have 3 cabins for our bed and breakfast, and 42 vintage windmills. I run the bed and breakfast and Chuck sells and repairs windmills. He also works at Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant as an engineer. It’s not just a bed and breakfast—schools will bring their children for tours, senior citizen groups come through, photography groups visit to take beautiful pictures, and car clubs come out here. It’s open to the public.
How far have you traveled to purchase a windmill?
Sometimes we arrange for windmills to be brought to us. We travel occasionally, but we try not to travel far away—more than about three hours. Usually, there’s somebody else who we know that does repairs within three or four hours of us. So, we refer back and forth between windmillers. We do go to windmill trade fairs every year—they have been in Colorado, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana. There have been 21 annual windmill fairs full of windmill enthusiasts who come and bring their parts and pieces to trade them.
Does one story behind acquiring a windmill stand out the most to you?
The six-foot Model 702 Aermotor windmill that came off my parent’s farm is very special to me. It carried water to our home. That was the only source of water we had until I was in the seventh grade. When it got real snowy and icy, sometimes the well would freeze up and my father would start a fire under the pump to get the water running again. If it was real windy, he would send me to turn the windmill off because the wind would tear it up. It is still working just fine--Aermotor windmills have survived the longest and remain the best made.
How do you fund your hobby?
All of our windmills are for water pumping, but none of them are over a well to generate power. We don’t receive any government funding—we are private. So, we make money off of selling windmills and doing repairs. Lost of times, Chuck will get a windmill for cheap and restore it, so it doesn’t cost us as much because he works on them and gets them looking good for other people to buy. Some of the wooden bladed windmills are harder to work on and maintain because they’re more fragile in the wind and storms.
It’s a getaway out into the country and it has the unique draw of the
windmills. Coming here is an experience that you can’t get
Which windmills do you decide to sell? Keep?
We always have some ready for sale. Right now we have stopped with our 42 windmills because it’s a lot of work to keep them running. The ones that we choose to keep are a different kind than the rest we have. We have a Challenge 27, Star 7, a Hummer an Eclipse, and many other varieties. We have windmills that represent about 10 or 12 different brands—Aermotor, Red Cross, Clipper, Monitor, Samson and Air King are a few. Some have wooden blades and others have steel blades. We put them up two or three at a time. We have brought home several from the windmill fairs.
How do you incorporate the windmill farm into the guests’ experience at the B&B?
Most of the people who come to the bed and breakfast are interested in windmills to begin with. The three cabins are spread out, and they each have a big porch so they can sit and watch the sunset. It’s real quiet and people just like to get out of town. Most of our guests come from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. They go down and visit with Chuck while he’s working in his shop, they like to walk around, or talk to the guy at the front gate who knows about each windmill. Guests look forward to what I make—apple pies and cinnamon rolls.
Most interesting person who has purchased one of your windmills?
Oh, I have lots of stories. One lady wanted one for her husband’s birthday. She said, “Can you sneak it in without him seeing.” So, we went over to work on it while she kept him away from the house for six or seven hours. When she brought him home, the windmill was up in their front yard. I’ll never forget her.
Which would you say is the favorite windmill among spectators?
The 14-foot Axtell that was made in Fort Worth. It has a big wooden wheel, white blades and red tips. We got it three or four years ago, they’re not made anymore. It’s an awesome looking windmill because it’s so big. It’s at the entrance of the driveway and makes for a great picture.
Which is the most popular cabin to stay in?
The cabin I put in front of my parent’s Aermotor windmill, I named the Dakota. It is very rustic, and couples love to stay there. The Windjammer has a full kitchen and sleeps more people—it is also popular among families.
What is a typical day like for your B&B guests?
Many guests come in the late afternoon—around 3 or 4 p.m. I usually put a snack of some sort in the cabin—like a pie, cookies or brownies. They usually go and eat dinner on their own in Granbury. There are a couple of theaters, the Granbury live, and the opera house that keep our guests entertained. The next morning, I serve breakfast between 8-10 a.m. Then, they spend the day doing whatever they want to. Lots of times, they’ll go out to the Glen Rose Dinosaur Valley State Park or Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Or, they’ll go back into Granbury to shop. Many people just wander around here on the property. We have a donkey named Jack and a horse named Lightning. If there are guests here, they’ll come to the fence because they know they’ll get fed. I give the kids carrots to feed the horse.
Why is the Windmill B&B unique to Texas?
It’s a getaway out into the country and it has the unique draw of the windmills. We take children and pets, which many other B&B’s don’t. People travel here with their diabetic dogs, or their blind dogs, and we welcome them. Coming here is an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
From the June 2012 issue.
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