Cecil Freitas, 88, of Oakdale, isn’t one for idle hands. For a man born in a generation made of resilient self-starters, the idea of retiring to a quiet life of couch surfing and Bingo, is about as appealing as a swift kick to the shin by a skittish heifer.
What started as a favor to an ailing friend, turned into a way to pass the time, building wooden windmills of varying sizes.
Freitas’ former boss at Claribel Farms asked him to fix an old windmill that was dear to him. The windmill was in dire shape with rotting wood and faded paint. Freitas took on the job but back surgery derailed his efforts and then, his friend succumbed to cancer before Freitas could finish the windmill.
As a gift to the man’s widow, Freitas returned to the project as soon as he was able, and delivered the finished windmill, a remembrance to the man he’d respected and considered a friend.
The man’s wife was overjoyed by the gift. Freitas realized how much fun it’d been to rehab the windmill and decided to start building more.
Freitas, a Korean War veteran father, grandfather and great-grandfather, traveled the United States in various careers from dairy herdsman to a handyman who could build a house or lay a floor, but eventually returned to his Oakdale roots.
Born in 1932 in the country, on the outskirts of Oakdale, his family owned and operated an 80-acre ranch where Freitas learned everything there was to learn about ranching life, from taking care of the animals to fixing anything that broke or needed tending.
Freitas and the family moved to Riverbank when his older brothers were drafted into the war, spending many of his formative years on California Avenue in a house that has since been purchased by the school district and torn down.
“So we moved over on Roselle,” Freitas shared. “My mother, and dad bought eight acres over there and we had about 12 to 15 cows.”
Freitas spent more time milking cows and irrigating fields than spending time in a classroom but he’s filled an entire life with interesting adventures as well as picked up valuable skills.
“It was fun. I mean it wasn’t big money but I’ve always had a dollar in my pocket,” Freitas said with a chuckle.
And now, he’s building lawn art in the form of windmills to keep busy.
Freitas said, “I thought well, it would be a good pastime. They’re small, and don’t cost an arm and a leg to make. The plywood is outrageous but you know if I can sell one or two, it makes up for it.”
It takes Freitas about 10 hours to put together a larger windmill and to date he’s made 11 but he’s given away about half of that number to friends and family. However, if he wants to keep tinkering, he’s going to need to sell a handful to cover the costs of materials.
“I enjoy doing it. If I get bored sitting in the house, I’ll come out here,” he said of his workshop. “If I get bored out here, I’ll go back in the house or go somewhere, and go see somebody.”
Anyone interested in purchasing a windmill, can contact Freitas at 209-872-0037 or can call his daughter, Tonya Freitas, at 209-404-5884. Price varies but the larger windmills will cost $125.