There's nothing I love more in green tech history than the tradition of homemade windmills that sprung up in the Platte River Valley of Nebraska during the last couple decades of the 19th century.
We know a lot about it thanks to Erwin Barbour, a dinosaur fossil hunter, who became obsessed with finding and cataloging the different types that sprung up in the little, dry towns of the Plains. He wrote a report called Wells and Windmills of Nebraska, which was published in 1899. Here's how he described their construction:
Old wire, bolts, nails, screws, and other odds and ends of hardware, old lumber, poles, and braces such as are common to every farm, enter largely into construction. Even neglected mowers, reapers, and planters, old buggies, and wagons contribute material... The farmer who is inventive enough to build a mill is competent to see quickly the adaptability of certain parts to his ideas. It is this use of old and neglected material which is particularly recommended in this connection, for in making a mill of low efficiency, such as most homemade mills are, cheapness is the main object. Many mills have cost nothing whatever. Others cost $1, $2, and $3 and occasionally as much as $50, $75, and even $150... The writer considers $3 a liberal allowance for everything needed on an ordinary farm for the construction of a strong, satisfactory, and lasting mill...
I stumbled on the report in the course of my research, but I wasn't the first. The Farallones Institute, one of the most interesting alternative science and ecology groups to spring up in the 1970s, republished Barbour's original report. Then, J. Baldwin, an alternative technologist who found this early maker culture as fascinating as I do, published a blurb about it in the Whole Earth Catalog.
Barbour's report has plenty of odd photos, like the one below.
But the photo at the top of the page is the only high-resolution picture of a homemade mill that I've found. We can thank the Farm Services Administration for it. Photographer John Vachon took it in October 1938. Here's another from that set.