‘We can’t wait to show this to the rest of the world’
The job at hand is definitely an unprecedented challenge – even for millwrights with nearly five decades of experience. In the hangar of De Gelder Millwrights & Contractors, operating from Sliedrecht, work is underway on the final stages of assembling a giant wooden scoop wheel.
The wheel is being constructed by commission of the Kinderdijk World Heritage Foundation (SWEK). “It clocks in at about eight tonnes”, asserts De Gelder’s Martin Boogert. The Groot-Ammers resident has spent the past month working on the imposing structure. He is supported by his Kinderdijk colleague Gert-Jan Rozendaal, miller of Nederwaard windmill number 7. Boogert: “This is a fascinating challenge. We have guys carrying 45 years of experience around, and even they have never done anything like this before.”
These days, manufacturing a scoop wheel is a pretty unique challenge in the first place; building one that measures a staggering 5.85 metres across is simply without compare. Over the course of the nineteenth century, all existing wooden scoop wheels were gradually replaced by iron ones, including those used here in Kinderdijk. Soon, this replica will be fitted to the fourth Overwaard windmill, also known as the Contramolen, a two-way drainage mill. Once the job is complete, it will once again feature its double set of scoop wheels, just like it did until 1800. The dual wheels allowed it to mill the water out in two directions – an engineering novelty you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
“It’s great to see actual results after all these years of preparation”, says Jan-Willem de Winter, project manager at SWEK. “It’s really coming to life now.” By the spring of 2020, the Contramolen will open its doors as the third museum mill of Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage. Visitors will be able to view both scoop wheels from the structure’s first floor. The Contramolen and the adjacent education barn, presently under construction, will focus on the technology underpinning windmills and the millwright’s craft.
The process of designing the scoop wheel, consisting entirely of Danish oak, was aided by the use of centuries-old blueprints of the Overwaard windmills, as well as by clues found in the mill itself. “We discovered architectural clues that revealed the size of the original scoop wheel, among other things”, De Winter asserts. Every single component making up the new wheel was carefully labelled, because the wooden behemoth had to be completely dismantled before it can be transported and refitted to the mill’s main structure.
Plans for reconstructing and reopening the monument, originally built in 1740, have been underway since 2003; the last year during which ‘the Fourth of Overwaard’ was actually occupied. De Winter: “This particular windmill is so exceptional that we just can’t wait to show it to the rest of the world.”