#248. Travel Photo of The Day – Spinning Wheels at Zaanse Schans

By pascaljappy | Travel Photography

Jun 23

One of the charms of the windmills outside Amsterdam is that they are fully functional, not just amusement park attractions. These spinning wheels, pulleys and cogs at Zaanse Schans are an example of what you can expect to see inside.


gears and wheels spinning fast inside a windmills in Zaanse Schans near Amsterdam

Spinning and spinning


Mills in the Netherlands served many functions until fairly recent times.

Those built on the polders were used to extract water and lift it back out to see or canals higher up than the fields from which it was removed. It was through the continuous work of these mills that the Dutch were able to exploit larger and larger areas of artificially created land.

Others were used for crushing and sawing or any other industrial activity involving brute force and repeated movement. For instance pressing peanut to make oil, crushing chalk to make lime and white paint or grain to produce flower or even sawing planks from full-size tree trunks.

Two things this image doesn’t necessarily convey are the loudness and the scale of these gears.

  • First of all, they are huge, easily 10 foot in diameter each and 12 feet from the ground. This photo was made on a very steep and narrow ladder with no railing to hold on to and only a “climb at your own risk” sign at the bottom to make you feel warm inside. Needless to say, my heart was racing as I made this photograph and the many others needed to get the exposure and speed just right : movement in the wheels but no trembling from my terrified body was a tall order 😉
  • Secondly, the noise levels produced at close range by the clattering teeth (not mine), vibrating axles, protesting stones being crushed to dust and probably many other things I forget is quite surprising. Loud doesn’t begin to describe it. Oral communication is out of the question and, even further away from the creaking, cracking and pitter-pattering, you feel sorry for the poor person in charge of the mill.

Unsurprisingly, those whose job it was to operate these huge wind-powered machines invariably became deaf as doornails.


Grindstones inside windmills at Zaanse Schans are painted in colourful colours to ensure visibility of movement in the dark

Safety wheels


And since the inside of windmills is a rather dark environment, unexpected encounters with heavy grindstones (5 tons a pair, above) often resulted in unpleasantness. White paint sometimes shipped in batches labelled intestine pink or brain grey.

To prevent such accidents, the more dangerous moving parts (the grindstones and mortars) were painted in bright complementary colours to ensure the miller could detect any movement immediately (remember the mills are operated by wind so may function one minute and not the next).

Both photographs were made at medium-high ISO (1600, from memory) but were processed very differently. I increased saturation on the grindstones to show the visual difference between neighboring pairs and decreased it and cranked up contrast slightly in the first photograph to give it a less charming, more industrial look.

If you’re visiting Amsterdam and fancy a change of sight, I strongly recommend Zaanse Schans. While the tourist shops and general atmosphere border on the theme park, there’s a lot to see and photograph that’s really worth breaking your neck or being ground to a pulp for.

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