My Grandfather's Farm
As It Is Today

Dateline: 30 September 2014


Photo by Paul Cyr
(click to see enlarged view)

My Aunt Carolyn recently sent me the picture above. It shows my maternal grandfather's farm, on Forest Avenue Road in Fort Fairfield, Maine, as it looks today. 

I sent the picture to a cousin and he wondered if I might be mistaken. That's because the old place looks a whole lot different than it once did. The red barn with silos was never there before. Neither was the long back addition on the white house, nor all the other outbuildings and additions. There was only the house and the red-roofed barn in the foreground.


The barn on the right was the only barn on the farm when my grandparents owned it. I remember the barn very well.
(photo by Paul Philbrick)

My grandfather died in 1971. My grandmother sold the farm a few years later. It changed hands several times before an Amish family (the Yoder family) from northern New York state bought the place and moved in back in the summer of 2007.

Near as I can determine, Noah and Lovina Yoder, along with their 11 children, were the first Amish family to settle in Aroostook County, Maine. Noah is a farmer and a carpenter. He builds barns and furniture. I'm pretty sure all the buildings and additions to buildings on the farm have been made since the Yoders arrived. It is great to see.

This DownEast magazine article, featuring Noah Yoder's story and that of the Amish in Northern Maine, is particularly good. The picture at the top of the article of the Amish boy making a snowman shows a little bit of my grandfather's barn. Sadly, the article reveals that Noah's 22-year-old son was killed in an auto accident one winter. He was a passenger.

This Web Page shows pictures of an Amish barn raising in Easton, Maine, which is right next to Fort Fairfield. If you look closely you'll see that the barn is not a traditional post and beam structure. It turns out the Amish rarely, if ever, put up post and beam barns anymore. 

These days, Amish barns are nailed together using 2x6 lumber. You can learn more about the specifics of how Amish barns are made in Maine from This Link

I have a lot of memories of my grandfather's barn. Back in the July issue of my 2010 Deliberate Agrarian Blogazine I told the story of helping him repair potato barrels, and getting split ash hoops from the indians, and nearly blowing my hand off with a firecracker I found in the barn. Click on that link and you will also see a picture of my grandparents back in the day (there's a picture of me too, back when my memories were fresh and real and lodged themselves into my brain).

The barn was built by my Uncle Clyde Kennedy (author of The Hard Surface Road: A Memoir of the Great Depression) after WW2. Clyde married my mother's sister, Aunt Dawn. The lower half of the barn is a potato cellar. If I remember correctly, the upper floor of the barn is concrete (it would be the ceiling of the potato cellar). I'm pretty sure this is right because I recall there was a rectangular concrete hatch in the floor. Maybe more than one. I think they were there to unload harvested potatoes through.

Anyway, there is a little bit of a secret in that barn. One of the concrete hatch covers has my grandfather's name in it: P.O. Philbrick. The letters were written in wet concrete by Uncle Clyde, and there is also a profile drawing on the hatch (made in wet concrete) of my grandfather's head. Uncle Clyde was an artist and I was always amazed as a kid by the excellent likeness of my grandfather.

If I ever make it back to Fort Fairfield I would like to stop and see if that little secret is still in the barn.


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You can see a film clip showing the beautiful farm country of Northern Maine (including my grandparent's farm) from an aircraft in This YouTube Movie. It also shows some Amish boys plowing fields with horse teams. 


My grandparent's house looks pretty much the same on the outside
(photo by Paul Philbrick, December 2013





Planet Whizbang Profile
And My Advice
For Economic Independence

Dateline: 29 September 2014

Yours Truly, back in 1977 BB (before beard).
Marlene took this picture for Farm Show magazine.

A man in Georgia contacted me a couple weeks ago to see if I would be interested in answering some questions about my homestead business for a book he is writing. The book will contain some profiles of people who are generating income while living off the land. 

I don't live off the land entirely but, as anyone who reads this blog knows, Planet Whizbang is a successful homestead business that allows me to live on my land, full time. 

Everybody's situation is different, but I know how I got to this point in my life. If someone else can benefit from my example, then I'm more than willing to share what I know.

I agreed to answer a a series of questions in writing. If a verbal interview were part of this, I would not have been as interested. Having questions in writing allows more time to give thoughtful answers.

It remains to be seen how my Whizbang profile will eventually end up in the book, but I thought I would share with you the last question, and my answer to it...

Question: What advice do you have for someone considering leaving a "real job" to become more self-sufficient? 

Answer:   A person or family can become more self-sufficient while working a wage slave job to pay the necessary bills. It’s just a whole lot more work. But it is a practical way to make the transition. While working the wage slave job, you can seriously pursue the elimination of all debt. You can’t be self-sufficient if you are in debt. Simplify your wants and needs in every way possible, while acquiring tools and skills of self reliance.

Beyond that, develop an entrepreneurial mindset and look for small business opportunities. It is almost impossible to pay the industrial-world bills with a small farm these days. But it is entirely possible to create a home business that pays the bills and allows a family to live a down-to-earth, more self-reliant lifestyle on a section of productive land. I know it’s possible because I’m doing it.

Being home, on my land, with  my family around me, not dependent on a job to pay the bills, and living a contra-industrial lifestyle is my definition of success and freedom. 

It all starts with having a personal vision of what you believe is the right, and true, and best way to live your life, then embracing the vision one step at a time. 

As a Christian, one of the key Bible verses in my life has been Proverbs 3:5-6... “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.”  That is, essentially, my story. 

The Biblical concept of being faithful with small things is also critically important. In other words, do the best you can with what you have. Everyone’s story is different. Don’t compare. Don’t covet. Be brave. Work hard. Enjoy the adventure. That’s my advice.


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The term,"economic independence," as found in the title of this blog is a misnomer. I don't think anyone in the "civilized" world can be economically independent these days. But you can be independent of a so-called "real job," and that's my point. More and more people are pursuing and achieving this form or economic independence. It's great to see, and I'm looking forward to reading the new book. I'll be letting you know about it here when it is in print (it will be an e-book).


Birth Of An Orchard
Part 4
Forlorn Reality

Dateline: 26 September 2014

Futureman, on the way to the orchard
(click pictures to see larger views)

Lyle Stout sent me an e-mail wondering how my orchard was doing these days. It's a good question, and this blog post will answer it, in a round-about way.

For those who don't know, I wrote about the orchard of my dreams in the following blog posts…

Part 1: Getting Started (April 2013)
Part 2: Layout & Planning (April 2013)
Part 3: After A Summer's Neglect (November 2013)

Back in the spring of this year I spent several hours over the course of a few days working more at leveling a circle of ground around each tree, and laying in a heavy mulch of hay from old round-bales that were on the property (as explained in Part 3). I also planted some comfrey around the trees. And that was the last I've seen of my orchard.

Life gets real busy around here in the spring and doesn't let up until late fall. The orchard is quite a distance from my house, on the new land we bought a few years ago. Out of sight, out of mind. I've come to realize it's not the best situation for getting an orchard started. It would be a whole lot better if the orchard were right near my house. But there is no land right near my house for an orchard. It's a bit of a conundrum.

Anyway… yesterday was a good day to go and see my forlorn orchard. Marlene had a lunch date with a friend so it was me and Futureman (my grandson), home alone, looking for something to do together before his nap time. 

We took the "back way" to the orchard, which is to say, into the woods behind our house, down into the gully for a distance, then up out of the gully into the field where the orchard is. We were not in a hurry. 

After finding a good spot to cross over the creek I found a steep bank, quickly climbed to the top, and encouraged Futureman to follow. He made it up the bank quicker than I expected.

I set him on a moss-covered rock outcropping at the top and took the following picture…




Then I sat on the rock while Futureman explored around the area (the cow was in his pocket)…




From there, we headed into the top of my field. Here's a picture of the field from the wood's edge…



My field is full of goldenrod. There are no animals. There is no crop. I'm still trying to figure out what best to do with it. I kind of wish it was all woods. I'm partial to woods.

The goldenrod is well over my head in parts of the field. This next picture shows Futureman on my shoulders…



Another selfie in the goldenrod jungle…


We found our way to the orchard and this is an example of what the apple trees are looking like…


It may not be immediately evident from the picture, but the apple trees have grown pretty well, despite all the weeds that surround them. The old hay mulch only suppressed the weeds a little. A thick mulch of wood chips would, I'm sure, be better, but I have no wood chips. The tree trunks have thickened nicely. There are too many branches. Pruning is needed. The ring of fencing has kept the deer from browsing… for now. 

The comfrey root cuttings I planted in the spring have established themselves. Comfrey will help with weed suppression, and it is supposed to mine nutrients from deep in the soil.

I planted three comfrey plants around each tree, several feet out from the trunks.

So my orchard isn't looking all that great, what with the weeds all around, but it's not a lost cause. Futureman and me headed back into the woods down below the orchard…



One of Futureman's favorite things to do is throw stones into the stream. There is an abundance of stone on this land. He can busy himself for a long time throwing the stones. When the stone makes a big splash, he laughs. When I throw a stone into the water so that it splashes on him, he's startled. But then he picks up a big stone for me and wants me to throw it, because he likes getting splashed.





Our little hike allowed me to check on the trees I planted earlier in the spring. Some have died. Some have lived. This little oak tree has done the best of all…


Futureman loves to play in the creek. I dare say, there is nothing he likes more than throwing stones in the water. But maybe there is something he likes more…

When we got almost home, in the woods directly behind our house, I lifted him up to grab the hanging rings under a tree fort my kids made years ago. To my surprise, he was able to hold his weight and hang there. He laughed with delight at this new experience…



And that's the story of me and Futureman going to the orchard. We had a good time together. And he had a good nap afterwards, dreaming, I suppose, of big rocks and the wonderful splashes that big rocks make in the water.







An Old Agrarian
Mystery Tool

Dateline: 26 September 2014

(click pictures to see larger views)


I bought the above tool at an antique shop earlier this year. It is in good shape and didn't cost much money. I had to have it. :-)

I know what the tool is called and what it was used for, so it's not a mystery to me. It is an agrarian tool, for sure. 

I'm thinking this may be a real mystery tool to a lot of people who read this blog. Then again, it might be that a lot of readers know exactly what it is.

The tool is 15" long. The blade is thin but rigid, and surprisingly sharp along the bottom. It is 2-1/4" wide at its widest point. The handle has a comfortable, ergonomic fit in my hand.

I'm not sure how old the tool would be. My guess is that it was used in the late 1800's into the early 1900's. There is no reason it couldn't be put to use these days, but few people would have need of it. 

Any guesses?






Clothespin-Making Update
September 2014

Dateline: 24 September 2014


(click pictures to see enlarged views)


I am still working at making clothespins outdoors under the tent. Good fall weather is in the forecast for the rest of this week and I hope to finish up this year's first production run of clothespins from the 300+ square feet of ash lumber I bought three weeks ago. 

I'll be finished (hopefully) to the point that the wood halves are made. Then comes tumbling, sorting, sealing, assembling, packaging, and all of that.

My plan was to mill a second batch of wood into clothespins before the cold weather gets here. But my plan was also to start making these in early August, not early September. I lost a month of productive clothespin-making time. So it looks like I will just have a single production run of clothespins this year.

I'm making these clothespins part time. Every day until about 1:00 I have to tend to the Planet Whizbang business. Then, weather permitting, I work under the tent until dark, which is getting earlier and earlier at this time of year. 

But I need to dig potatoes. I need to get the garden cleaned up for winter. The raspberries need to be thinned and tied up. Garlic will need to be planted. I have firewood coming this weekend. It will need to be split and stacked. This is an especially needy time of year.

Making clothespins is incredibly tedious work. But I came up with a way to make the hours spent at the table saw go by a lot easier. In the picture above, you can see a portable CD player on my table saw. I bought a copy of Wendell Berry's book, Jayber Crow, on CD. I tuck the player inside my shirt, plug the ear buds into my ear sockets, and put my hearing protectors on.

The book amounts to 15 hours of listening time. I'm about half way through. If the book finishes up before I finish the saw work, I have I Am Hutterite to listen to.

I've mentioned in the past that I'm not much of a novel reader, but listening to a novel is something different. And Jayber Crow is something different in a novel. Were I to have bought the book to read, I surely would never have finished it. I would have bogged down in the poetic wordiness and self-conscious philosophical ramblings of Port William barber, Jayber Crow, recounting his life story. But the man who does the reading does an excellent job of it, and the story holds my attention pretty well.

Wendell Berry is clearly a master wordsmith and I marvel at his talent. Jayber Crow is considered by many to be the best of Berry's fictional works, but I'm still undecided about what to think of the actual story line. I enjoy hearing of the chronicle of life as it once was, and would be, in Port William through the decades, along with stories about the many colorful personages of that small rural town. But the one-sided love story between the bachelor barber, Jaber Crow, and the much younger Mattie Keith Chatham is just plain weird. I'm to the point in the story where Jayber "marries" Mattie (who is already married) in his mind and vows to be true to her. 

Well, anyway, about those clothespins….




The picture above shows a box of clothespin "flitches" that have been milled. The next step will be to rip the many clothespin halves out of all the flitches. I estimate that box in the picture will render around 900 clothespin halves, which would, of course, equal 450 finished clothespins. When I get done, this production run should yield over 10,000 clothespins. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but I don't think my supply will last long, based on the number of people who have signed up for the Planet Whizbang newsletter, and are awaiting the announcement that the clothespins are finally for sale.


Clothespin Confusion

I put together 30 of my Classic American Clothespins, sealed them with tung oil, and gave them as a wedding gift last month. The bride's mother e-mailed us later to say it was "the best wedding gift ever."

She furthermore said that when her daughter opened the gift, all the country wives that were there oohed and aahed, realizing how special the quality clothespins were. But the groom's mother, an urbanized woman who does not hang up her laundry, didn't get it. What was the big deal?

This is typical, and it is interesting to see.

I see it when I tell people I am making clothespins as a business venture. Some people respond with  excitement, enthusiasm, and genuine interest. When this is the reaction, I know that person uses clothespins (and they know that all the store-bought clothespins are junk).

And other people respond like the groom's mother. They seem  a little confused. "You are making clothespins?" There is no interest. No enthusiasm. They don't use clothespins. They can't relate. They think to themselves, 'That's dumb.'

This "clothespin confusion" may, I believe, explain why the several woodworking magazines I contacted about my clothespins have no interest in them. 

I sent clothespin samples and the specifications booklet I put together for woodworkers who want to make their own heirloom-quality clothespins. What a great woodworking project, right? Well, apparently not. I got absolutely no response from any woodworking magazine I contacted. Obviously, none of the magazine editors line-dry their laundry. 






Always Count The Cash

23 September 2014




There are times when I pay people with cash. For example, when I buy firewood from my neighbor, I always pay him with cash. When I pay someone with cash, I always count it out for them. And if someone gives me cash without counting it out, I count it out for them.

I always count the cash because I've heard stories about problems arising because the cash didn't get counted. Someone bought something and handed a wad of cash to the seller. The buyer had counted the money beforehand, and the seller assumed that the amount was correct. Neither party counted the cash during the transaction. Then, later, the buyer counted the cash and found it was short. 

I have a friend who bought a utility trailer from another friend. He paid with cash. No one counted it at the time of the transaction. Later, the seller found he was short some money. It was an honest mistake on the part of the person who handed over the cash. But it was an awkward and embarrassing situation that could have been totally averted by simply counting the cash.

With this in mind, I've always told my sons that if they pay an individual with cash, the cash always needs to be counted out when it is handed over. This is what is known as "wise fatherly advice." 

Nevertheless, my youngest son recently bought a used car and handed the seller some cash in an envelope. He counted it beforehand. The seller took it without counting it. A little while later, the seller called my son to tell him he was short $100.

It wasn't a major crisis. My son doesn't know what went wrong, but he assumed that the mistake was his and got the $100 to the seller. Nevertheless, it was an awkward situation that never would have happened if if my son had followed my advice (which he has heard more than once over the years).

I'm wondering…. 

Does anyone reading this have a story about a problem that arose because the cash didn't get counted? 

Or, can you recollect a time when you ignored some wise fatherly advice, and later regretted it?