Chances are, you've never walked among 40 assorted windmills quixotically gathered in one place. Well, I'm here to tell you—it is consummate joy. Their blades and platforms, whether wooden, metal, or something else entirely, their bright colors, their pedigree advertised in paint on their tails—Samson, Beatty Pumper, Baker—all merge into a landscape of purposeful industrial beauty.
Some are tall, some are tiny. One is made of half-gallon drums. Another, its wheel having lost individual blades, resembles a prizefighter missing teeth. These windmills aren’t spinning. They’re historic, and to let them loose to catch the wind at their age would be to strain the good nature of whichever saint is responsible for rare windmill parts. But they don’t need to spin to speak. Your imagination hears them just fine: a prattle of gears and pivot rods giving rise to a soft mechanical white noise, creaks and clangs adding the pecu- liarities of regional dialects, inflections introduced by the rise and fall of the wind. Each with its own voice, its own story. It’s like a Chautauqua where everyone is performing at once.
I’m at the Dalley Open Air Windmill Museum, on the grounds of the Roosevelt County Fair- grounds in Portales. This is easily one of the most immersive museums in the state—if you called it an experience rather than a museum, nobody would correct you. It’s also a good example of a museum with true regional character, which is why I’m here. I’m visiting museums that lie off the beaten path. More broadly, I’m looking at the ways local communities preserve their special history, in a state with so much of it.
Along the way I'm finding a joyful assortment of wonderful people. People whose admiration for their part of New Mexico has led them to open their doors and invite the rest of us to visit and learn, proudly stating: This is our part of the story.
Here in the eastern New Mexico city of Portales,himself, like the paddleboat-style “GoDevil”—the windmills this Bill and Alta Dalley collected windmills. They walk with me one morning through this menagerie of wind instruments. The Dalleys recently donated their collection to Roosevelt County, and it’s been moved from their backyard on Kilgore Street to the county fairgrounds. The county plans to expand the site into a xeriscaped park complete with walking paths and, because of the peanut-grading station just across the lot, your occasional wayward peanut shell.
“We got a call from a farmer who told us of one in Canada,” Alta recalls while nodding toward a “folding fan” windmill—so named for its evolutionary adaptation of folding sections of itself inward for protection against strong winds. Lacking one of that type, Bill and Alta got in their car and steered north. On their return, the border agent was puzzled to see so many pieces of wood in their backseat.
“Covered in bird droppings,” Bill notes.
“Luckily a carload of pretty girls drove up behind us,” Alta relates, and the Dalleys and their new folding fan were soon back on the road home.
It’s hard not to think of the Dalleys and their windmills as a large extended family. As we walk among them—the white-and-red Dempster No. 9 that they rescued from Belén, the giant metal Samson built in Freeport, Illinois, even a few that Bill made himself, like the paddleboat-style "GoDevil"-the windmills this morning seem glad to see them.
Little wonder. For more than 30 years, Bill and Alta worked like a husband-and-wife windmill search-and-rescue team. They took to the back roads, avoiding the interstate, preferring instead “the boonies,” as Bill calls it. The better for windmill hunting. Abandoned homesteads, farms, watering holes: all places where a forgotten windmill might be rediscovered. After getting permission from the owner, who was most often glad to be rid of the thing, they’d take their new old windmill home with them, repair it, paint it, and hoist it up in their backyard with all the others.
When Bill mentioned one day that they had collected 80 windmills, Alta made him prove it by walking with her through their backyard to count—and he was right. Most of those have since been moved to the fairgrounds, but a few hold exalted positions around town. There’s one at Yucca Communications by the courthouse, and another by the J.P. Stone Community Bank, across from the Super Save.
“I’m just a hobbyist,” Bill says.
I honestly can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
Dalley Open Air Windmill Museum on the Roosevelt County Fairgrounds. Visible from outside the fence; set up an appointment with the County Manager’s office to enter. 705 E. Lime St., Portales; (575) 356-5307
Inside the Little House Museum in Amistad, Barbara Copeland holds out a jar filled with topsoil.
“That’s Dust Bowl dirt,” she tells me.
It came from the rafters and crawl spaces of this very building, blown in by the unforgiving Depression-era windstorms that scraped away the veneer of the country. Even after Amistad residents cleaned up and converted this house into a museum in 2000, a tug of the string to turn on the lights would send a sprinkle of dirt drifting down from the ceiling boards.
“If we get into dire straits,” Barbara says, “I’ll put that dirt invials and sell it on eBay.”
This is actually my second visit to the museum in Amistad, a tiny town south of Clayton, in northeast New Mexico, close enough to the Texas line that you’ll want to keep your voice down. My first was on a blue December evening back in 2004. The museum was locked, but I inquired at the potluck taking place in the church next door, where a kind woman handed me a bowl of posole and the key to the museum and gently cautioned, “Don’t touch anything.”
Ten years later, that welcoming spirit is still evident, as Barbara calls me the morning of my visit and advises me that she’s leaving the museum unlocked in case I arrive before her. The bookmobile is in town that day, it turns out, and there’s a bit of a time crunch.
Not to worry. She’s at the museum in time to greet me. In fact, there’s a welcoming committee: Barbara herself, who moved to Amistad way back in 1952 but still refers to herself as a Johnny-come-lately; Peggy Clay, likewise instrumental in getting the museum going; Ruth Shields, the director of the Amistad school until it closed in 1980; and Clara Mae Daves, who grew up in Amistad and got wrangled into this meeting to keep everyone honest.
“There are a lot of treasures in here,” Barbara says of the museum, “but the real treasure is the house.”
That house, which donated its own dirt to the collection, is an old Montgomery Ward “kit house,” constructed from prefabricated parts shipped by rail, sometime around 1906. That was the year Reverend Henry S. Wannamaker and his flock chose to start a town here after finding that the land in this part of New Mexico came in the two forms they most desired: horizontal and abundant. They named the place Amistad, Spanish for “friendship.”
Taking turns among themselves, Barbara, Peggy, Ruth, and Clara Mae explain how the town worked with a local man to move the house to its current spot from its original location, a mile and a half across the pasture, past N.M. 402. The highway, by the way,used to be Highway 18. The renumbering doesn’t sit well in Amistad, and various levels of displeasure register on the women’s faces during this part of the story. For the rest of the day, I call the highway “18” in solidarity.
At the museum dedication, former and current Amistad residents joined hands and completed a circle around the house. Almost everything that has filled the six-room, two-story building to over-flowing since that day has come from people who once lived here, from a quilt made of twine donated by Pat Ritch to a full World War I army uniform Childers. The Little House has become much more than a museum. It is the lovingly curated memory of the community. There’s the original stove used in the church, photos of the Amistad Cornet Band looking sharp in pressed white shirts, even something called a “Dissected Animal Puzzle,” which I can’t describe in detail because I was afraid to look at it. The train set that Clara Mae herself played with as a girl is on a table in the parlor.
My visit spans lunch, and for the second time in my life, the residents of Amistad feed me. They even let me ring the bell on the United Methodist church next door, the very church Reverend Wannamaker and his congregation founded a hundred years ago. I’m a novice and fumble with the rope, but the bell seems to know my intentions and sends forth a peal full and pure across the prairie. You can hear that sound from two miles away, I’m told. As I listen to it echo after a day spent in good company, I understand why the reverend chose to name his town as he did.
Amistad Little House Museum is across from the school and next to the church. It's open by appointment. (575) 633-2251
Interesting story. One day back in 1923, the James family closed their store and post office on Chloride’s main street (Wall Street), a store that had served the small southwestern New Mexico mining camp since 1880, locked the doors securely, and boarded up the windows. They would reopen it, was the plan, when young Edward James Jr. returned with his degree from the schools he was attending in the East.
Then something incredible happened over the next 73 years: nothing.
Edward James didn’t return to open the store. So it sat. No one opened the door, no one went inside. Stillness became the proprietor. While the world passed by outside, while the Gila National Forest, to the west, became the site of the first designated wilderness area in the country, while the town of Hot Springs, to the east, changed its name to Truth or Consequences, the store remained as it had been the day it was boarded up, untouched by time.
Driving into Chloride this morning, I pass a solitary tree in the middle of the road, labeled chloride national forest, around which surveyors laid out the town. Don Edmund, who owns the Pioneer Store Museum today, is riding his mower over the grass parking lot across the street from the old wooden, two-story, false-front store. He told me on the phone that he’d seen me arrive. In a town of 11 residents, it’s easy to notice someone new. We visit for a moment on the store porch as the grasshoppers bounce around us and the birds have a poetry slam in the trees. Don recalls the Sunday afternoon back in 1979 when he and his wife, Dona, first met Edward James Jr. himself. He was visiting Chloride and had it in mind to enter the store his family had boarded up so many years before.
Don remembers the invitation from Edward: “He asked, ‘Want to break into a building with me?’”
The key having long gone missing, Edward, Don, and Dona kicked out a panel from the back door and crouched through the hole into the darkness. Over time, the building had sagged, enough to crack the glass in the windowpanes and create an entry for bats. The creatures made the gloomy interior their sanctuary, living undisturbed in the rafters for decades, leaving a stratified record of their sovereignty on the floors below. Dirt shrouded the inventory left in the store, covering the jar of Seroro Quick Drying Auto Seat Dressing, the advertisement for Sincerity Soda Crackers, the metal egg carrier, the tub of Avondale Rolled Oats. Boxes of town records that someone had stacked in the corner near the front door had tipped over long ago, carpeting the wooden floor with school attendance records and U.S. Treasury Mining Company time cards, while the steely-eyed faces of pioneer men and women stared out from old photographs also tucked into those records. Underneath the dust, the post office register still showed a certified letter being sent from Mrs. A. H. Norton on April 11, 1885.
“Mr. James,” Don said to his host in the darkness, “if you sell me this place, I’ll turn it into a museum.”
You need only walk through the front doors of the store today and into the year 1923 to know how Edward James responded. The museum evokes a distant era. Tools hang from the walls, hatchets and wrenches and saws, all arranged so artfully it looks like someone wrote shorthand in grand strokes across the wall. There’s something called a “fireproof credit system,” essentially a giant metal accordion file for protecting invoices and IOUs. A few things have been added to the inventory. Don rescued one item, a child’s coffin built in nearby Winston during the Spanish flu epidemic, from a woman who was going to use it as a flower box.
“This is the world’s first laptop,” Don says, showing me a box filled with writing utensils and paper, which Edward James Sr. took with him to get mining company work done when away from his office.
Before I can even ask, Don answers the foremost question on my mind, and probably that of everyone who visits: How did all this stay intact for so long without somebody stealing it? As it happens, Don asked that question of one of the Chloride old-timers. The residents of Chloride kept a watchful eye on the place over the years, the man told him, particularly if anyone seemed too interested in the store.
“He patted the .44 on his hip,” Don recalls, “and he said, ‘There’s only one road out of town.’”
The Pioneer Store Museum is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Far west end of Wall Street, in Chloride; (575) 743-2736; pioneerstoremuseum.com
Everyone says they’ve never seen a museum like this,” Leslie Sandoval-Romero tells me as she leads me into the old adobe, a former dispensa, or storehouse, at the back of her family property.
I sure haven’t. Here at Grandma’s Trading Post and Museum in Truchas, up the High Road from Pojoaque in north-central New Mexico, the heartfelt respect and love Leslie has for her family and village expresses itself in every detail, like the explanatory notes that accompany each item, the edges of which Leslie burned for effect. Shadow boxes on the wall contain photographs of her ancestors and a bit of their personal story, starting with her great-great-grandparents Jose Miguel Pacheco and Segundina Sena-Pacheco in the 1800s. In display cases are a Penitente prayer book that belonged to her grandfather Felimon Sr., her mother’s doll collection, and coral bracelets given to her daughter as a baby, said to prevent ojo—an illness infants might suffer if adults gaze on them with too much adoration. There’s even a recipe saved from her grandmother Anita’s kitchen, written on, of all things, a computer punch card.
Since its inception in 2005 as a family museum, Truchas residents have joined in by donating several items, including photographs, tools, dishes, and bolo ties. Some things were left anonymously outside Leslie’s gate, like a wooden flour sifter, an old typewriter, even a metal bed frame.
In one room, Leslie shows me the sheets—called mantillas—called into service as a drop ceiling, covering the vigas underneath, as was traditionally done in Truchas. Yellow crepe paper covers the gap between the sheets and the wall, another custom Leslie learned from some of the women of the village, who came to the museum one day when she was setting up to give her decorating ideas.
“Why not?” she says of the crepe paper. “It’s pretty!” In a corner is a trunk of clothing that belonged to Leslie’s great-grandmother, Fernanda Pacheco-Fernandez, whom everyone called La Pacheca. La Pacheca was a curandera—a healing woman. She traveled through local villages, using herbs and other remedios to heal the sick, comforting grief, delivering babies—services for which she might receive as payment a chicken, if she was paid at all. She passed away in 1971 on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, while visiting her son.
The magic of the museum is clearly working this morning as Leslie’s cousin, Lillian Chavoija, arrives from California. She was the woman who retrieved La Pacheca from Las Vegas after her death and returned her body to Truchas. That is something of an amusing story, it turns out, and the museum is soon echoing with laughter as Lillian relates the tale.
“She said she wanted to go to her grave with music,” she says of the stalwart woman who loved life. “So we put a tape in and played it all the way from Las Vegas.”
They laugh as well recalling that La Pacheca even decorated the interior of her own casket before her passing, using fabric left over from the curtains she’d sewn for the church. It was red—she wanted bright colors at her funeral, not dark ones.
A photograph on the wall stirs other memories. “They eloped, did you know?” Leslie asks Lillian of her grandparents, telling the story of how her grandmother Anita hid in a ditch while her grandfather Felimon Sr. came and found her—all to escape the watchful eye of La Pacheca.
“I never heard that story!” Lillian says. It resonates, as her eldest daughter eloped as well.
“They ran off and got married and left me a note,” she recalls, laughing. “They crawled out the window. They could have gone out the kitchen door!”
Sitting under a tree for shade, Leslie’s father, Felimon Sandoval Jr., greets me as I walk outside, while her husband stacks firewood in the pickup truck behind him. Felimon jokes that he’s the welcoming committee—and, in fact, another visitor has just arrived. Leslie gives me a hat from the gift shop with a motif of the nearby mountains and the words TRUCHAS PEAKS. “You can advertise for us,” she says.
I drive away, my new hat fitting perfectly, reflecting on windmills and fireproof ledgers and historic dirt, and the dedicated people who preserve the past for those of us in the present.
Grandma’s Trading Post and Museum is open by appointment only. Call Leslie Sandoval-Romero. 96 County Road 75, Truchas; (505) 927-6979