Wincharger and Jacobs
Writen by Steve Hicks and reproduced here with his permission
©1989 by Steve Hicks
Wincharger and Jacobs wind generators were the two most common types during the pre REA (Rural Electric Administration) days of the 1930's, 40's and early 50's. Although this might seem like an article about antiques, it is a short description of the most cost effective wind machines in the 150 to 3,000 Watt range available today. These machines worked fine for thousands of rural people a generation or two ago. They can sometimes be put back into service for under $300 and many hours of work. IF you are living without utility power, have a windy site, better than average do-it-yourself skills, and willing to put in some hard work, then a wind generator installation is more cost effective than PVs.
The most common Jacobs wind plants are 1,800 and 2,500 Watt, 32 Volt direct drive machines with 13 foot diameter three blade props. The 300 to 375 pound generator only turns about 225 rpm at top speed. This means very long generator brush and bearing life. Winchargers came in a much greater variety. Some early models had a small 20 pound, direct drive, 6 Volt generator driven by a high speed (900 rpm) six foot diameter prop. These small 6 Volt units were often sold with a Zenith radio when the Wincharger Corp. was owned by Zenith. A popular 32 Volt Wincharger in the 1,000 Watt range had a 10 foot diameter two blade prop driving a 50 pound 32 Volt generator through a gearbox. The largest Winchargers had 12 or 13 foot diameter four blade props, turning a 1,500 Watt 85 pound generator through a gearbox. Up until the last three years, 12 Volt Winchargers were still being made in 200 and 450 Watt models. Newer design 10 kiloWatt and larger Jacobs that tie into the utility lines are still being built.
Since the end of the tax credits in 1985, the demand for wind generators has fallen off and so have the prices. It is still possible to find unrestored one owner wind generators. Many times these can be had for under $200. Although the price is low, there is generally a lot of time spent in the search. In all likelihood, the wind generator won't be complete. A lot of individuals have given up on their rebuilding effort as soon as they price a new set of blades. In the case of the Jacobs or a large Wincharger the new blades may run two or three times the original purchase of the used machine. The airbrake governors for the Winchargers is another item that is in short supply, many just didn't survive.
If you have priced a rebuilt machine from a dealer, it may seem expensive, but it really isn't when you figure all the time that went into restoration. I know of no wind generator dealers that are getting rich, most are not even making money above the poverty level. Instead of money, there is a lot of job satisfaction, working with other energy independent people.
Since Energx Corp. stopped production of their 200 and 450 Watt Winchargers, I know of no good buys in small units. Although there may be a few good machines being currently made, the ones I'm aware of are expensive for the amount of power produced. This is not to say that the current manufacturers are rip-off-artists. There just isn't enough sales volume to mass produce the units at a lower cost.
With a good wind site, you could generate hundreds of kiloWatt-hours a month. Enough to use all the appliances you already have without buying expensive specialized direct current ones. For many people, a wind generator makes sense, complimenting a PV array. Most areas of the country are windiestduring the winter months when the sunshine is the least. Restored Jacobs and Winchargers are proven reliable and will remain popular until the demand for new wind generators decreases their price.
Steve Hicks started building wind generators in 1980 and now specializes in rebuilding old Winchargers. He will answer short specific questions from Wincharger owners free of charge if an SASE is enclosed. The address is:
P.O. Box 394
White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645