Chasing Windmills in Alabama

When he isn't logging, John McGowin blows off steam by building windmills.

McGowin in the foreground with a windmill in the background

“Chasing windmills” means pursuing something in vain. John McGowin, owner of McGowin Logging Co. in Chapman, Alabama, is no Don Quixote, the literary character who inspired the expression. Quixote fantasized about being a knight and believed the windmills he was attacking were giants. Unlike Quixote, McGowin has built a successful logging business by keeping his feet very much on the ground and working hard. But like Quixote, he has a fascination with windmills. “I really enjoy windmills,” he says. “They are my hobby.”

McGowin’s windmill can be viewed from the rocker on his front porch, the kind of view you might expect while you “set a spell” (as Southerners say) and sip sweet tea. The windmill stands tall among the majestic longleaf pines, next to a water tower that McGowin built out of the plentiful loblolly pine that his operation harvests.

Aermotor Windmill

The windmill isn't just for show. The Aermotor Windmill is a fully functioning wind-powered water pump. Water is drawn from a 520- foot-deep well to fill the water tower, which irrigates the garden.

McGowin has put up two windmills on his family property and restored a few older ones for himself and friends. His passion goes back to his childhood. "When I was a kid, there was a windmill at my grandparents' home. And when I got older, I'd turkey hunt in San Angelo, Texas, and there were windmills at the ranch. I was always fascinated by windmills."