Merritt’s famous Wild Wind Onion now has a permanent home. It was installed on Nov. 4, in Lions Memorial Park, dressed up in Merritt’s signature colours — yellow and green.

When it was first introduced to the Merritt population back in 1974 by local inventor Heinz Lange, the Wind Onion was dubbed “revolutionary.” At the time, the world’s fossil fuel reserves were beginning to dwindle and people were starting to look for alternate sources of energy.

At that point the numerous wind turbines we see everywhere today did not exist. But Lange recognized the power of wind was “an unescapable fact of life that should be utilized.”

He reasoned that wind power is readily available, renewable, non-polluting and that the price was right.

So, after 14 years of experimentation and observation, Lange, a shop teacher at Merritt Secondary School, built an innovative windmill that looked a lot like, well, a wild onion. Soon after his windmill was chosen by the Ministry of Transportation to power airport warning beacons.

Heinz was born in Eisleben, Prussia, before Germany annexed the country. He studied engineering and art.

He was a pilot in the Second World War and then immigrated with his wife and two daughters to Windsor, Ontario.

There he worked in the automotive industry as a design engineer.

One year later and divorced, he moved to Kitimat, B.C., where he worked as part of an engineering team that built an aluminum smelter. He then met and married his second wife, Lydia Heinrichs.

Lange attended UBC, graduated with honours and taught industrial arts in various locations throughout B.C., finally settling to teach in Merritt.

He was an amateur, but accomplished oil painter, woodworker and fisherman among other things, but he became a part of Merritt history as the inventor of alternate energy sources, most importantly the Wind Onion.

He studied wind patterns and experimented with various devices until he developed a windmill that uses one of nature’s basic designs — the helix. The helix is often found in nature — tornadoes and whirlpools are just two examples.

So Lange built a windmill in a helical shape (which just happened to look like a wild onion). The windmill operated regardless of wind direction and its efficiency and resiliency in high winds was said to revolutionize wind power technology and how it could be used as an energy source.

At that point in time, conventional, propeller style windmills had limited tolerances.

Energy conversions were poor and durability in strong winds was low. The Wind Onion’s helical configuration is crucial to the conversion of wind power to energy. It captures wind energy regardless of wind direction and even works when there are crosswinds.

When he received a patent for his Wind Onion, Lange constructed a smaller model of it, attached it to his fishing boat and discovered it provided enough power to maintain a good trolling speed in the water. A Wind Onion compressor, built by Lange’s shop class students, was installed at Edna Lake on Iron Mountain to supply oxygen and increase the population of fish in the lake. It was the first operation of its kind in B.C. The following summer, Lange was invited to participate in a workshop to build more windmills for other lakes in the province.

Following this, Lange built an 18-foot high Wind Onion with a prop eight feet across for Centre Lake and another was under construction on Corbett Lake.

Heinz Lange died in June 2000, but his wife Lydia made sure the Wind Onion in his backyard in the Merritt Bench subdivision remained intact for all to see. When the property was sold, the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives stored the “onion” as a part of Merritt’s history.

Now it’s back out on display, with an official unveiling tomorrow, (Nov. 13) at Lions Memorial Park at 1 p.m.

Take the time to come and see this historic and revolutionary invention.

For more information on the history of Merritt and the Nicola Valley, call or come and visit the Nicola Valley Museum and Archives, 1675 Tutill Court, (250)-378-4145. You can also visit our website at www.nicolavalleymuseum.org.