Twister Alley is an art gallery of mobiles, pinwheels, and windmills created by craftsman Don Taylor
Twister Alley on the south side of Abilene isn't a reference to the tornadoes that spin off the Caprock and across the West Texas plains. This is an art gallery of mobiles, pinwheels, and windmills created by a man who does it mostly for fun and a little spending money.
"People are always out looking for something different. That's why Elvis made it big," says Don Taylor in his slow East Texas drawl, with a hint of pulling your leg. "I just gave a new twist to old wind mobiles."
In front of his shop on state Highway 36, about three miles south of the Abilene airport, Taylor has a menagerie of his creations all dancing in the West Texas wind. There are butterflies spinning in a circle, stars twisting in the wind, and shapes at the top of a balancing beam driven around by two metal cups at either end. "Anything in the shape of Texas or with the Texas flag on it sells real well," he says almost matter-of-factly.
Among his cheapest creations and best sellers are the spinning and turning pinwheels made from old compact disks. "I finally found something to do with all those AOL disks I was getting in the mail," Taylor says. Not only are the CDs flashy, but they're light and cheap. "It seems like I've got an endless supply of them."
Most of his artworks' materials come from junk he has scavenged or that is given to him. Taylor has been building the mobiles for about 30 years. He'll work on a design for a while and then move on to something else when he gets tired of it. Right now next to his workshop is a clever design with a paddle wheel that the wind pushes up a ramp only to have gravity pull it back down. "I can't get that one quite right," he says. "I'll probably wind up using the parts in something else."
Taylor's father-in-law taught him how to use an acetylene torch. Maybe it was so the young man would have a trade to support his daughter, but Taylor made a career in food service instead of working as a welder. "I'm no welder," he says modestly. "I'd starve to death if I had to make my living welding pipe."
A tinker all his life, Taylor says he just likes building things. He made all of the chairs and tables for his steak house outside of Fort Worth. "I like working with metal better than wood because metal stays put once you put a good bead on it," he says.
Raised in the Four-Corners area of northwestern New Mexico, Taylor moved to East Texas near Tyler with his first wife. He started making wind-driven art that he sold in the flea markets until he retired from the restaurant business. "I have people bring by some of those early wind machines and ask me to fix them," he says. "I can always tell if it is one of mine. You never forget something like that."
Although his creations are pretty sturdy on the steel pipes, the constant West Texas wind can get annoying even to an easygoing guy like Taylor. Last spring the winds reached 70 mph as they raced down the highway past his shop. He says two or three of the poles came loose and started a domino reaction that ruined nearly half of his stock of windmills. "I was so disgusted that I quit making them for two or three months," he says. "But people kept coming by, asking when I was going to open back up. Everybody's support gave me a second wind, and now I'm back better than ever."
Twister Alley is south of Abilene near the airport at 734 Hwy. 36 E. Prices range from $20 for the CD windmills to around $100 for some of the more elaborate designs. Even though the sign says he's closed on Mondays, Taylor is around his shop almost every day from 8am to 6pm. He does like to travel, so you might want to call (325/698-5073) before making a long drive to see him.
802nd in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.