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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Mondovi Man Scaled Windmills at Age 90


Don Quixote may have tilted at windmills, but octogenarian handyman Willard L. Standish (1845-1938) made a living by climbing and repairing them. And that wasn't his only trick.

Standish told inquirers, "When I was 13 years old I came out to Wisconsin from Rutland Co., Vermont, and was left to shift for myself. And I did some shifting. This was wild country around here in those days and I had a taste of it."

To support himself, Standish did odd jobs, drove the stage coach between Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls (fending off robbers along the way), worked on farms, and ultimately became a blacksmith. He discovered that he possessed the rare skill of finding water with a divining rod: "Well, I found I could do it with any kind of wood or with a blacksmith's tongs. I finally got so's I could find water with a couple of old hack saws fastend together. They'd spring so in my hands that I could hardly hold 'em when I came near water." He is shown here demonstrating this method of water witching.

In 1894, Standish got tired of shoeing horses and bending steel, and decided to combine his skill at locating water with metal craftsmanship. He started a business that erected and repaired farmers' windmills. This often demanded that he climb 60 or 70 feet in the air carrying his tools, which he did gleefully for the next four decades, usually without a safety belt (shown here in 1931, when he was 86).

When he was nearing 90, Standish told a reporter, "I get my adventure out of the air these days. I get a real thrill out of loooking over the country from the top of a windmill. When I first saw the land around here 73 years ago, it looked a good bit different."


:: Posted in Odd Lives on December 28, 2008

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