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Art of windmill maintenance: quixotic Dutch restores old pump

A few years ago, Maarten van Dijk went jogging by an old windmill near his home in Abcoude (Utrecht, Netherlands) and was intrigued by the half-abandoned building. Before long, he had become caretaker of the historic structure (under a leasing agreement with a foundation that owns 23 mills in the area), taking classes to learn to operate it and renovating the home that fills its base.

Beginning in the early 1500s the Dutch built windmills to help shape their country- to pump water out of areas below sea level- and while Van Dijk’s mill is no longer used for land drainage (it was replaced by more modern technology in the 1950s), it is still operational. With his formal training, Van Dijk can “run the mill” – adding sails to the wooden structure to catch the wind.

He is part of a long Dutch tradition of apprentices who learn the trade with first-hand experience and who help to push the technology forward. “With 20,000 windmills a lot of technology, a lot of people working in it,” explains Van Dijk. “And what I also heard is nowadays anyone who has a technical intelligent mind works at Phillips or at some kind of big industry. In those days they would just be at home and if I had had six children one of them might have been bright and one of them would say, ‘Hey dad why don’t we do it differently, why don’t we change this part for this part’, and local developments would spread all over.”

Maarten and his wife currently rent the space for overnight guests, but they hope to live in it full-time once they retire.