Is Your Bank In Trouble?

Numerous banks have "gone under" this year already. Many more are expected to in the days ahead. I recently read this blog article which states that about 200 banks in Illinios are in danger of failing.

That led me to wonder how you can find out what kind of financial shape a bank is in. Maybe it is common knowledge where on the internet you can go to find bank ratings. If so, would someone please point me in the right direction?

In the meantime, I found this web page at Bauer Financial. The page allows you to look up all the banks or credit unions in any state and check out their "star" ratings. The rating is from zero to five stars. Bauer recommends that people use only four and five star institutions, "because peace of mind matters."

It is amazing how many banks are rated less than four stars.

**********

On another note, Franklin Sanders had this to say in his most recent daily commentary:

[T]he US constitution has been officially junked & the economy openly transformed into a fascism for benefit of the banks & well-connected. Probably not the death of the system, but pretty much the end of y'all's economic hopes, if you remain inside that system. Whether the outcome is a hyperinflation or slow-burn, whether it arrives sooner or later, makes no difference. The Tapeworm is consuming its host. You either swallow the worm medicine, or die.

It's what John Milton called "Necessity, the tyrant's plea" when he put the words in Satan's mouth in Paradise Lost. 9/11 ended the personal rights under the constitution & bill of rights, the bailout will end economic rights. It has happened. Be a man, face it, stop living in your dream world.

The bright side is that events are confirming the death throes of the monster, even though he might thrash around for several more decades. It's time to get you & yours outside his usurious economy. Revive the local economies long ago gutted to feed the Tapeworm. First, secure your ongoing livelihood. If you don't have a business that produces or sells something people need, get one. If you have no business or farm, make yourself indispensable in your job.


Contact Information
For Herrick Kimball

By: Herrick Kimball
Updated: 3 May 2014

Yours truly, with my grandson,
and some homegrown radishes.

My life revolves around my family, seasonal homestead work, and my home-based Planet Whizbang mail-order business. This way of life is an integrated, full-time pursuit. It leaves me little time for interacting with people outside of my family, and local community. Bearing that in mind, if you wish to contact me, please read the following information. 

E-Mail
The best way to contact me is by e-mail at hckimball@bci.net 

If you have a question about a Planet Whizbang order you have placed, I will answer your e-mail immediatley. If you have a question about any of the products I sell, I will answer you promptly. 

Other e-mails will get answered as time permits. If your e-mail requires a lot of answers or in-depth thought, I may not be able to get back to you.

If you want to send me links to articles or products that you think I (or my blog readers) might enjoy knowing about, please do so.

Phone Calls
I discontinued my business phone years ago because I had it set up to take messages and did not have time to answer all the messages I got. I have put a LOT of information about the products I sell on the internet. I can answer brief questions by e-mail (see above), or I will direct you to an appropriate web page with information that will answer your question(s).

Media Requests
My blog and business writings are the only way I care to promote myself or be any better known that I already am. Therefore, I’m not interested in doing any public speaking,  audio interviews (Read This for more details), movies, and etc. I’m also not interested in having any in-depth magazine or newspaper stories done about me.

If you want to write about any of the products I make and sell, that's different. Send me an e-mail with any questions you have. I'll do my best to provide information, photos, or whatever else you may need. 

If you would like permission to use a photo, or quote from my books or blog, just go ahead. All I ask is that you give me credit where credit is due (not all the pictures I use are mine—ask me if need be), and provide web links to whatever web site(s) of mine that are appropriate. 

Visits
I do not sell Planet Whizbang products from my home. Please do not visit me. It is an inconvenience for me and my family to entertain visitors. I wish this was not the case, but it is—at least it is for now.

Thank you.



An Exemplary Farm

From the Dictionary
Exemplary: Serving as a pattern. Deserving imitation because of excellence. Commendable.

*****

Back in 1978, Marlene and I attended Alfred State college here in New York. I was in the building trades program. She was in landscape design. On our first day of school we saw a notice posted in the dorm about a weekly Bible study.

We made it a point to go and discovered that the Bible study was led by Robert Love, an older man who happened to be the school’s Dean of Allied Health. Dean Love took it upon himself to initiate and lead a Bible study for students every year. It was an informal, private, evening gathering at a comfortable lounge in one of the school’s buildings.

Very few students showed up for the Bible study and even fewer attended regularly through the year. There was, however, a core group of five or six of us. Those times of nondenominational, Christian fellowship were an important part of our State College experience. Indeed, they were a refreshing countercultural refuge in the midst of a dominant social culture dedicated to typical college bacchanalian revelry.

We found Dean Love to be a man of wisdom, sincerity, warmth and integrity. He was an encourager, and a friend. In short, he was a literal Godsend. And we loved him dearly.

One of the other students in our close little core group was a girl named Dotty, who was going to school to be a nurse. She became involved with a church and Christian coffeehouse there in the town of Alfred and that’s how she came to meet Jerry Snyder. Jerry was a local dairy farmer and had recently graduated from Alfred’s Ag Program.

A couple years out of college, Jerry & Dotty married, settled into Jerry’s family’s farmstead and started a family of their own. Over the years we lost touch with the Snyders, but they have always been special to us.

Well, I was recently browsing through the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s new York directory of farms. I saw a few other farms I am familiar with, including Scott Terry's. Then Marlene suggested that I look and see if maybe the Snyder’s farm was in there.

Lo and behold, there was Gerald & Dorothy Snyder and their Sunny Cove Farm in Alfred Station, New York. And they had a web site. I wasted no time in checking out their site and I discovered An Exemplary Farm.

To my way of thinking, an exemplary farm is a family farm, meaning it is operated by a whole family working together. Beyond that, the exemplary farm is small and diversified in its production, and it focuses on marketing its goods direct to the community around it. The exemplary farm would also employ sustainable farming practices.

I saw all of this in Sunny Cove Farm. Jerry & Dotty and their seven children produce organic raw milk, organic maple syrup, organic grassfed beef, and organic apples on their farm. It was exciting and inspiring to see what our old friends have done in the last 25 years.

I invite you to stop by their web site and see what I mean. Be sure to check out all the links at the top of their home page: Sunny Cove Farm

Also, for those of you who are diary farmers, you will want to read the Rodale Institute article about Jerry and his quest for the best quality raw milk. According to the article, Jerry started his grass based dairy back in 1978. I find that remarkable. I wasn’t aware that anyone was focusing on grass-based dairy farming back then. I think Jerry is one smart farmer!

Here are a couple excerpts from the Rodale article:

“I don’t dip teats” after milking, as is usually done with a disinfectant to prevent infection that can lead to mastitis. “Hot water and organic soap keeps the udder soft and supple, and that’s the best protection,” says Snyder.
“I don’t know much [about fixing sick cows], but I don’t have to know much because my cows are healthy – and I just want to keep it that way,” he says.
"Jerry Snyder, with his wife, Dorothy, say seeing milk leave the farm in jars and cars rather than a tanker truck has added more than dollars per hundredweight to the farm’s income. It’s put the family in relationship with customers who value them as providers of high-quality food."
*****
The Snyder family is just one of many exemplary small farms all across America. They are what professor John Ikerd calls the New American Farmers. I have written of this kind of farming in a previous essay titled: Broken Limbs & Grant Gibbs
*****

700 Billion Divided By 300 Million

[Dateline 24 September 2008]

I know everyone else in the country is talking about this latest bailout plan. I guess I’ll weigh in.

Hank Paulson & Ben Bernarke are saying they need 700 billion bucks in order to stave off a financial crisis. They want the money now, meaning by the end of this week. They want virtually no congressional oversight about how they spend the money.

My simple understanding is that they are going to buy bad debt from banks & lending institutions. In other words, they are going to bail out the bankers. The moneylenders of the nation are licking their chops over the prospect of this kind of money coming to them.

To the credit of some members of Congress, they are balking at this request. or, so it appears. But I think we all know that in the end they will give the 700 billion.

In the words of Patrick Henry, “I smell a rat.”

Hank & Ben are using fear to manipulate and get this unprecedented amount of money, not to mention concentrated power. Perhaps the fear is justified. Perhaps the economy will crash & burn if this quick fix is not implemented. I really don’t know. But my advice to congress is Just say NO.

And let the chips fall where they may.

What think you?

**********

By the way, 700 billion divided by 300 million people is $2,333.00 for every man, woman, & child in the country. If they are going to throw away that much money, why should the bankers get it all? Send me my "share." Is this insanity or what?

**********

P.S. Is your bank in trouble? Click Here to read my blog on this subject.

Vacuum Bottle (Thermos) Cooking: Cheap, Wholesome Meals

[Dateline 22 September 2008]

We all know that the cost of everything is going up, including food. As a result, lower income households are hurting and middle class households are experiencing financial concern, if not yet hardship. People are looking for ways to save money. In this blog essay I’m going to introduce you to a remarkably simple, almost unheard of method of cooking. And I’m, going to tell you how to utilize this idea to make a very wholesome meal for very little money. I present this idea as a brilliant solution to a serious problem.

I wish I had thought of this idea myself, but I didn’t. I learned about it several years ago on the internet from a man named Kurt Saxon. Mr. Saxon has a reputation as being something of an athiest-anarchist-survivalist. Personally I am not an atheist, nor an anarchist. And though I do have some survivalist tendencies, I’m not so highly focused on the subject that I would term myself a survivalist. Nevertheless, I learned this idea from Kurt Saxon and, like I said, I think it is brilliant.

In fact, this is such a practical idea that I use it often even though my financial situation is not hurting (yet). Now for some specifics....

This cooking method begins with a good quality vacuum bottle (a.k.a., Thermos). And the specific “recipe” I'm going to explain begins with whole grain oats, which are also known as oat groats. I’m going to tell you how to prepare a delectable bowl of oat groats with five minutes of effort on your part and very minimal energy input. This cooking idea can be applied to other foods, which I’ll mention later.

I have cooked whole grains in a Stanley vacuum bottle, the green metal kind that many construction workers use for their coffee. It has an unbreakable stainless steel liner. It is a fine vacuum bottle but it is not the best for cooking because it is not the best at holding heat.

I year or so back I bought myself a 1-liter Nissan vacuum bottle. Like the classic Stanley, the Nissan has an unbreakable stainless steel liner. But it has a much better form of insulation. I don’t know the specifics, but I know my Nissan holds in the heat far, far better than my Stanley.

I noticed a guy at my work one day who had a Nissan vacuum bottle and asked him how he liked it. He verified what I already knew. The Nissan is superior when it comes to holding heat. Here’s a link to the 1-liter bottle: Nissan Stainless Steel Vacuum Bottle

You can cook any whole grain in a Nissan vacuum bottle: oats, rice, wheat, lentils, and others can be cooked with this simple technique I’m going to tell you about. I even think it is possible to cook beans if they are first run through a grinder and cracked, but I have not tried cooking beans this way yet.

Oat groats are what I have cooked in my vacuum bottle the most. Among grains, I believe oats are the nutritional king. Do a little research on this subject and you will find oats (whole oats) are loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber. They are remarkably good for you. You can’t go wrong incorporating oats into your diet—especially oat groats. I always feel better if I start my day with some form of oats.

Oat groats are nothing more and nothing less than the whole oat kernel, including the bran. The more common rolled oats, on the other hand, are oak kernels that have been stripped of their outer bran covering, steamed, flattened with a roller, and dried. Instant oats are the same as rolled oats except they are rolled flatter and chopped in small pieces.

Cooked oatmeal from rolled or instant oats is a fine food, but cooked groats are nutritionally superior. The less you process a whole grain, the better it is for you. And better yet, a big bag of whole oat groats is comparatively cheap to buy. What’s more, if you store the whole kernels properly, they will keep just fine for years. Oatmeal will not keep as long.

The disadvantage to oat groats, and the reason many people have never eaten them in their whole oatmeal-eating life, is that they take so long to prepare. The usual instructions call for soaking the grain in water overnight, then bring them to boil in a pan of water before simmering for 45 minutes to an hour. Expending that kind of time and effort for a bowl of hot cereal is not something most people are willing to do. Besides that, think about all the energy consumed to cook that bowl of food!

Now this is where the vacuum bottle comes into play. You can prepare yourself (or your whole family) a bowl of oat groats in five minutes, at most. It’s true! Here’s how I do it in five easy steps:

Step 1: Heat water to boiling in a teakettle on the stove.

Step 2: While the water is heating, put oat groats in the vacuum bottle. 1/3 of a cup (level, not heaping) makes a good serving. If you have a big appetite, put 1/2 cup of the groats in the bottle. A funnel helps considerably with this task.

Step 3: Add a pinch or two of sea salt.

Step 4: When the water in the teakettle has come to a rolling boil, add three measuring cups (1/3 or 1/2, whichever you measured your grain with) of hot water to the vacuum bottle.

Step 5: Screw the lid on the vacuum bottle, swish the contents around a couple times, set the bottle aside, and let it be.

That’s it. You have just made a batch of cooked oat groats with minimum of time and fuss.

I make a batch of oat groats like I just explained before I go to bed at night (around 9:00). When I get up in the morning (around 5:30) the groats are cooked to perfection. I simply open the vacuum bottle, tip it upside down and shake the cooked groats into a bowl. Here’s a picture of the Nissan vacuum bottle and a bowl of groats:



Here’s a close-up of the groats:



With an exact 3 to 1 ratio of water to groats, the cereal is just the consistency I like. You might like it with a bit more water.

To the steaming hot dish of cooked grain I typically add some maple syrup and a little milk. Chopped apple and walnuts are real good with groats too. Anything you would add to oatmeal can be added to groats. It’s the same thing—just better.

Beyond Groats

Once you’ve made yourself a bowl of groats using this method, you can expand your vacuum bottle cooking exploits into other wholesome foods. Here’s a picture of wheat berries cooked the same as groats.





Cooked wheat berries can be eaten just like groats, with maple syrup and fruit (a pear is in the picture). or, you can let the cooked berries cool down and make a cold wheat berry salad. Do a Google search of “wheat berry salad” and you’ll get some recipes. I love wheat berry salad.

One winter I used my Nissan vacuum bottle to make different soups to take to work for my lunch. I added boiling water to barley, wild rice, dried kale from my garden, and some spices. If we had leftover chicken in the fridge, I added some of that. I made the soups before bed and they were just right at lunchtime the next day.

On Mr. Saxon’s web site (which I can no longer find) he gave a recipe for making rice pudding in the Thermos.

There are so many possibilities for inexpensive, convenient, wholesome, simple, vacuum-bottle-cooked meals that I think someone should come up with a whole recipe book centered around this idea. Believe me, I’ve considered it, and I might do it yet. But I have a feeling someone else out there is better geared for this idea.

Thermos cooking would be well-suited to campers, backpackers, retirees, frugal college students (are college students still frugal?), and anyone looking to eat well for less. All that is needed is dry ingredients and boiling water. You could have two vacuum bottles, each cooking a different meal.

The only drawback to vacuum bottle cookery is that the bottle can be hard to clean. It helps considerably to rinse the inside out immediately after emptying it of its contents. I see that Nissan makes a wide mouth bottle. That might be a better idea. I also noticed that they have a two quart (family size) bottle.

So, I ask you... is there an easier, more convenient, more economical method of cooking than this?

Morning Glories in September 2008

I just read that our government has come up with a plan to spend a whopping 700 billion dollars to try to save our economy. Desperate times require desperate measures. Nobody is saying much about the future ramifications of this kind of unprecedented intervention and deepening of national debt. "Solving" this crisis with this kind of spending may (or may not) delay immediate collapse, but it lays the groundwork for even greater problems in the future. I know this and I'm not that smart. So I suspect the government men know this too.

While the world financial markets have been going down the toilet, I have been painting the front of my house. That was one of my goals this year. I had also planned to build an outdoor earth oven but that will have to wait. Getting the front of the house painted is, I decided, more important. I bought the paint two years ago. The cedar shingles have weathered for over 20 years. So I had to wire-brush them before painting on the solid-color stain. Two coats. I'm about 3/4 done. Our place will look a little more respectable with two sides painted. Then I'll have two more to do.Maybe I'll get another side painted next year. Maybe not.

In any event, it turns out that September is a good month for Morning Glories. They are Marlene's favorite flower and she plants them around the house. Marlene's homemade soap company is called "Morning Glory Soapworks." The label on each bar bears this Bible verse: "And in the morning then shall ye see the glory of the Lord." (Exodus 16:7).

If we ever have a farm (or something akin to one) she wants to name it "Morning Glory Farm." I want to name it "Strong Arm Farm."

Here are some pictures I took of Marlene's Morning Glories as they look around our home this time of year. The entrance is on the side of our house—the one side that is completely sided and painted:







So I've been painting the house, and Marlene has been canning salsa, tomato sauce, and stewed tomatoes. She says she has canned over 175 quarts of various fruits and vegetables this year. That's more than usual. She still has applesauce and grape juice ahead of her.

While I was painting the front of our house, our neighboring farmer was cutting hay. Then he had my son James ted it. Here are a couple pictures of James tedding hay in the field across from our house. He's thoroughly enjoying himself.



Working Boys

Up here in the northeastern part of the country, a sense of urgency begins to set in when the nights turn cool. It is time to step up the winter preparations.

I purchased firewood from my bachelor diary farmer neighbor again this year, just as I have done for so many previous years. I usually get ten face cords but decided to get fifteen this year. He delivered the split, seasoned hardwood to our side yard for $45 a cord. That $675 worth of wood will heat our house all winter, heat my work shop as needed, provide fuel for backyard maple sugaring next spring, and leave a few cords extra for the next year.

A neighbor of ours recently told Marlene that they spent $5,000 for propane to heat their house last winter. It is a big old house. I like big old houses. But I wouldn’t want a heating bill like that. Small houses have their advantages.

The only thing better than getting wood from my neighbor would be getting it ourselves. Cutting and bringing in a year’s supply of firewood can be a great family project, if you have the woodland. When I was a teenager, my stepfather and I worked together to cut firewood in our woods and get it hauled back to the house. We had an old Farmall F20 tractor and a wagon. The tractor started with a hand crank in the front. Cutting the wood was a lot of work. But it was good work. We split it all by hand with a maul. The harder-to-split chunks called for a sledge hammer and splitting wedge. We never used a hydraulic splitter.

We have friends who have woods and two teenage sons. They had their wood lot logged two years ago and have been working together as a family to cut the tops left by the loggers. They use the wood to heat their home and are selling the rest. I would love to be able to do that with my boys.

But we still manage to get some firewood work in. The wood we buy is split but many of the chunks are too big for our wood stove. So we re-split much of it. In previous years we have rented a log splitter and worked together over a weekend to re-split and stack the wood. Then my 17-year-old son, Robert, wanted to do the job himself, by hand, with a maul, and I paid him what it would have cost for renting a hydraulic splitter. He did that for two years. Last year my 13-year-old, James, took over the job of resplitting the wood. And he is again doing it this year.

I’m of the mind that every healthy boy needs physical work to do. They have a lot of energy and a physical challenge suits them. Splitting firewood is ideal work for a teenager. And it’s not “make-work.” It’s necessary work. It’s important work.

Another beneficial job for boys is helping with hay. I’ve written of this numerous times in the past, and here I go again....

One day last month I came home from work and Marlene told me that James was helping a neighboring farmer with his hay. A short while later he rode into the driveway on his bike. He was seriously filthy. Green hay chaff was plastered to his arms, neck and forehead. he was home only for a few minutes to refill his water jug. It was an exceptionally hot day. He was tired and grumpy. We didn’t have much of a conversation. He had to get back to work.

A couple days later James told me he had been working that day on the hay wagon, which was being towed behind the baler, which was being pulled through the field by the farmer on his tractor. Typically, when there are a lot of people helping to get the hay in, the farmer kicks the bales into the wagon with its tall sides, and they end up in a jumble. Then the wagon is unhitched, an empty is hooked up behind the baler, and the full wagon is taken back to the barn where several helpers help to unload it into the barn.

But on that day, James was the only helper. So he stood in the wagon as it was being towed behind the baler. He grabbed each bale as it was kicked into the wagon. He packed the bales tightly, layer after layer until the wagon was full.

It is something of a trick to ride a jouncing wagon and pack it full as the bales come flying back at you. It’s also hard work, especially when you are the only one doing the work and it is very hot. James packed two wagons tight and high on that day.

What pleases me most about this story is that James told me he was so hot he felt sick. He thought he was going to throw up and pass out. Those are two symptoms of heat exhaustion. But the bales kept coming. There was no stopping. The farmer needed him, and he stuck with it. That kind of work is for men, and he did the work like a man. I’m quite certain I could not have done that at 13 years old.

Robert has done less farm work this year because he has been working 40+ hours a week since early spring for a local building contractor. It has been a learning experience for him. It has not been without discouragements, but he has stuck with the job, and his employer told me he was pleased with Robert’s effort. That is what a father likes to hear.

Now, with summer over, it’s time for these working boys to refocus their energies into school work. James can continue to split firewood while homeschooling, but Robert will stop the carpentry work in October. His goal is to get his high school diploma (as a homeschooler) by next spring. Getting his own car (which he has saved the money to buy) is contingent on getting that diploma.

The car is the “carrot on a stick.” Boys need work and they need a tangible goal to work towards.

Our 2008 Chicken Harvest

We butchered this year's crop of 51 Cornish-X chickens last weekend. I set up the equipment in our backyard in the morning and we started "processing" right after lunch.

My son James gathered the birds, hung them upside down, cut their necks so they bled out, then scalded and plucked them, two at a time, before handing them off to me. He's an old pro at 13 years old. I eviscerated every bird and cleaned them up before depositing each one in a big cooler of cold spring water. Marlene took care of bagging the birds for the freezer. My 16-year-old son, Robert, stayed busy in different capacities helping as needed. It was a team effort and an excellent example of the "family economy" in action.

We finished up the final chicken just before 8:00. James rigged up a light so I could see to process the last few.

That translates into one butchered-and-packaged critter about every ten minutes. But we were not trying to break any records. We just plodded along, and took our share of little breaks.

The next morning Marlene finished canning 18 quarts of good chicken stock while the boys and I cleaned up our processing area and put the equipment away.

So, after nine weeks of raising chickens in the front yard, and a day of processing, we once again have enough chickens in the freezer for another year. It's a good feeling to have that job done!

Ten years ago, when we raised and processed meat birds for the first time, it was new and difficult, and more than a little offensive. But with the proper equipment and some experience, we've discovered that butchering your own chickens can be as simple as picking strawberries and making jam. Well, almost.

I no longer mind the act of harvesting chickens. In fact, I look at every chicken as an opportunity to become better skilled and more proficient at the task of butchering. Such work is, ultimately, a rural craft that I take satisfaction in doing. I have come a long way to make a statement like that.

If you would like to see a photo essay of how we backyard-process our chicken crop each year, check out this link: Backyard Poultry Processing With My 11-Year-Old Son

The pictures at that essay show my homemade Whizbang Chicken Plucker, and my homemade Whizbang Chicken Scalder. I could certainly process chickens without these devices, but it would not be nearly as fast, easy, and efficient (not to mention FUN) to do.

If you have never eviscerated a chicken, I have posted a step-by-step, detailed, how-to photo essay on the subject at this link: How to Butcher a Chicken. That link will also take you to information about how Marlene makes and cans chicken stock.

My point in relating all of this is that if I and my family can learn to raise and butcher our own meat birds, so can you. Once you've gotten through the learning curve, and have some good tools to help you, it's not difficult to do and, like I said, it's a good feeling to be stocked up for the year.

You can find all my poultry-related essays at this link: Raising & Processing Poultry

Creeps!

From an old dictionary:

The Creeps: a feeling of fear or repugnance.

Repugnance: extreme dislike or distaste; strong aversion

*****

Every so often there is a news report about some poor schmuck who was on some railroad track and got hit by a train. The train ran right into the guy. And that was the end of him.

I always wondered how such a thing could happen. I figured the person must have been drunk or determined to commit suicide. But now I realize a person can be in their right mind and just not see the train coming—believe it or not. That was how it happened with me. Or, I should say, that’s how it almost happened.

I walk over train tracks every day when I go to work. The tracks run between the parking lot and the entrance to my work. I work in a maximum security prison (it’s the kind of place that can give a person the creeps). I have seen the train and had to wait for it many times in the last eight years. But last week was different.

I got out of work late that day. The usual crowd of employees (which usually includes me) had already left. I was alone, walking to my car, intent on getting out of town, away from the asphalt and concrete and convicted felons, back to the sanity of my family and the refuge of our home on a green hillside, surrounded by fields and woods. As I was stepping over the train tracks, I caught sight of a bright light off to my left, and turned my head.

The bright light was the headlight of a train engine. It was bearing down on me and only about 25 feet away. I hustled across those tracks fast and turned around to watch the train go by. It was only an engine and a caboose. I never heard a whistle. I never saw it coming. It didn’t try to slow down for me. Now, a week later, the thought of that incident gives me the creeps.

Speaking of the creeps, I went to WalMart yesterday. I rarely go to WalMart. But Marlene and I were in town (I took her to lunch for her birthday) and I needed a few things.

When I got inside the store, I forgot what I thought I needed. All I could think is that “Nobody needs all the crap they’re selling in this place!” I ended up getting a toothbrush and heading for the checkout line.

I hate to use the tired old analogy of “another planet” but, really, I felt like I was in an alien civilization. Everybody looked strange to me. It seemed surreal. Maybe it was the artificial lighting. Maybe it was the shock of so much mass marketing. Maybe it was all the needless crap. Whatever it was, I felt like I was on “another planet.” The planet Circus. It was a dehumanizing place. I didn’t feel like I should be there. I wanted to go home.

“Must.... get.....out....now.... Scotty. Scotty! Beam us up!”

So there I was, waiting in the WalMart checkout line, toothbrush in hand, looking at the magazines. Who are all those people? Why should I care about Brad Pitt. The John McCain family was pictured on the cover of People magazine. They looked like aliens too.

And then I realized something I never realized before...... they changed the gum.

What happened to the packages of gum with the flat sticks like I have known all my life? It wasn’t there. There was alien modern gum packaging. Why can’t they leave well enough alone?

So then it came to me that I’ll bet people are selling old fashioned stick gum on Ebay.

When I got home my kids asurred me that I could still buy gum in stick form. But I checked it out on Ebay anyway.

Yep. You can buy “vintage” gum on Ebay. I saw a three-pack of unopened Chicklets from the 1960’s sell for more than $15. A “wax lips” Halloween whistle from the 1970’s (in the original wrapper) was selling for over $90. I remember buying one of those things when I was a kid. I ended up eating it. That was the whole idea behind it. You blow the whistle for awhile and then you eat it. They probably cost a dime.

If you act fast, you can go to Ebay right now and bid on a single stick of Wrigley’s Doublemint chewing gum, circa 1930 (with some minor staining of the wrapper). The bidding is up to $5 (plus $3.50 for shipping) and there are two days of bidding left. Or how about this: four pieces of Banana Splits (1970s) chewing gum with tattoo transfers. That’s currently going for $11.72.

Yesterday the fourth largest investment firm in the world filed for bankruptcy. The largest insurance company in the world was on the brink of folding. The stock market was taking a dive. And people were paying big bucks for vintage gum on Ebay. Do they know something we don’t know? It begs the question... Will vintage gum be the next big investment bubble?

All of which (somehow) leads me to the favorite books of my youth. Long before WalMart wiped out the diversity of little hometown department stores with creaky wooden floors and smiling neighbors. Back then I read Hardy Boys mysteries. But better than the Hardy Boys was Brains Benton mysteries. I loved those Brains Benton mysteries! Only six were written and oh how I yearned for more.

Barclay “Brains” Benton and his sidekick Jimmy Carson were jr. high school buddies in the little town of Crestwood. They were an Americanized boy-version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. They had some great adventures.

My favorite story was “The Case of The Counterfeit Coin,” which begins in Chapter 1 (The Crawling Hand) like this:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that bottle of soda pop. Not as long as I live.

That’s how the whole thing started—with a drink of ice-cold cherry soda. But before it was over—brother!—I was up to here in a genuine Grade-A detective mystery, complete with guns, knives, screams in the night and a bumper crop of goose pimples.


That’s Jimmy Carson doing the narrating. Jimmy’s favorite expression (which he usually thought, rather than spoke) was, “Creeps!” Chapter 5 of the same book quoted above ends with this situation:

Looming over us was a scowling, unshaven face with two beady eyes—a man with the bald head, scrawny neck and huge nose-beak of a vulture!

And in his hand he held a hammer!

Creeps!


Now what kid could put a book like that down without seeing what happens next? Yeah, I really liked those books. When I think of that expression, “the creeps,” I always think of Jimmy Carson.

And when I look around me at the world as it has become, with it’s strange modern situations and circumstances, with dangers looming, and the hammer about to come down, and I realize it's not some innocent fiction mystery book, I think like Jimmy...."Creeps!"

Emerging Crisis, Population Shift, & The Rural Remnant

We live in an industrial-world system dedicated to the proposition that the economy and “standards of living” can grow infinitely. With that in mind, the industrialized nations of the world have plundered, manufactured, consumed, and tossed away at a manic rate for generations.

The industrial machine has been fueled primarily by a plentiful supply of cheap fossil-fuel energy, which happens to be a finite resource.

Now, with the reality of limitations beginning to settle into the collective consciousness of modern man, slowly comes the sobering, horrible feeling that the industrial age is waning and we are entering a new era. Life as we have known it is not going to change someday, it is changing now.

We are not going to run short of carbon-based energy resources someday, we are running short now. We are not going to suffer financial disaster someday, we are suffering it now. We are not going to see the shining example of the American Republic fade someday, we are seeing it fade now. We are living in the days of reckoning and transition right now.

Some will argue about the degree to which these things are happening, but there is no arguing that it is all happening to some degree, and even to an increasing degree. And some will assert that things may be bad but they aren’t that bad. If, by saying that, the inference is that things could be worse, I would agree. And unless something significant (and totally unexpected) happens to change the course of events, things will be worse.

Even now, in the beginning stages of the evolving crisis, demographic transition is occurring. If news reports are to be believed, numbers of people are moving from their rural-based homes into the high-population urban centers of the nation.

The motivation behind this population shift is, as you probably realize, financial. With the decline of resources, and attendant higher costs, comes the inevitable decline of our debt-based, fiat-money economy, including the current mortgage crisis. Everything is interconnected.

The recent government bailout of Bear Sterns was a tip-of-the-iceberg indicator of an underlying financial debacle. The unprecedented takeover of Fannie and Freddie is much worse; it is a portentous development, to say the least. If the Powers That Be can maneuver our economy through the uncharted minefield we are currently in, without losing any body parts, it will be a miracle.

I happen to believe in miracles. But the hand of Providence is necessary for miracles to happen, and Providence owes this nation no favors. The inevitable consequences of industrial and economic sin (let’s call it what it is) can only be delayed for so long.

How will the massive and ever-growing government debt in America be paid off? Certainly not by production and taxation. We are beyond that possibility. Certainly not by cutting spending to any meaningful degree. So-much-money is the lifeblood of bureaucracy and the political machine. Only when it is too late will government spending be cut to the bone, as it should be, and then it will be ..... too late.

Increasing monetary inflation—the most subtle and cruel form of government robbery—is already destroying the savings and purchasing power of all Americans. Continued and increasing monetary inflation (instead of deflation) seems to be the only vehicle for buying more time, which is, ultimately, all the “experts” behind our economy are willing or able to do.

Leaving the countryside for urban environs is seen by many as an expedient move. Mass transportation, jobs, and goods & services are, after all, closer and cheaper to access in the high population centers. And for those who have lost homes in the mortgage mess, there are more “rental units” in the cities.

Looking ahead, it’s not hard to imagine that the evacuation of rural areas is likely to become more pronounced in the next couple of decades. It may well be that the rural countryside of America will one day be populated only by a few farmers, their lower-class workers, and those with the wealth to afford the extravagance of rural life.

But there will be another kind of people who remain on the land, steadfast in the face of economic turmoil and demographic shift. These will be the ideologically motivated Rural Remnant.

I and my family will, by the grace of God, be among this latter class of rural dwellers. No matter how desperate it gets, we will remain; we will cling to the land and this rural lifestyle.

But why?

Speaking for myself, there are two ideological reasons to hold fast to rural life in the face of the cultural sea change that is happening. First, as I’ve stated so many times before, I believe God calls his people to live simply and separately from the worldly urban culture. You can not effectively do this when you live physically within the urban culture.

Second, I’m convinced that urban dwellers are in a better position to be controlled and manipulated by the Powers That Be. In any kind of national emergency (use your imagination), those in the urban centers will be carefully managed. Control of the urban masses will be a top priority for those who wield power. Control translates to the loss of personal freedom.

I like my freedom. And I don’t herd well.

In the developing crisis (or a sudden national emergency) scarce goods and services will be diverted to the urban centers. The Rural Remnant will likely face loss of electrical power and other significant deprivations.

Adversity and hardship is not something most people seek. But the Rural Remnant will endure because people motivated by ideology can and will adapt to tremendous privations.

Are you ideologically motivated to remain in the wilderness when life gets difficult? Or, are you ideologically motivated to get out of the cities and into a rural area now, before the crisis deepens? Will you be one of the Rural Remnant? Right now is a good time to decide. That is the first step to making your stand. The next step is to learn the rural skills you will need to persevere.

Remember, all of this is not going to happen someday, it is happening right now.

I wish you well.

Home Business Ideas: Some Concluding Thoughts & Your Comments

If you have not read the previous six essays, each discussing a different home-based business idea, and the beginning essay, “Losing One’s Job," Click Here For an Index

*****

In this concluding essay I’d like to wrap up my thoughts, and provide you with an opportunity to add your comments. But first, I ask you, where else on the internet will you find anyone seriously suggesting that you can start your own business as a pick & shovel ditch digger? I’ll answer that: Nowhere else. Remember, you heard it here first. Same goes for being a toilet repair specialist. I guess I just look at the world differently than most. ;-)

Speaking of ditch digging, I got a nice e-mail from Ed in Tennessee, who wrote, in part:

”My father was born in 1902 (I was his only child, born when he was 48), so much of your revelations about manual labor and ditch digging in particular, were passions of my father.  I, like you, did more than my share of digging in my teen years, in addition to helping him in the construction business.  He loved to relate to me the Polish brothers in Ohio who made a marvelous living as ditch diggers.  He explained their array of tools, how they were maintained and the precision of their work.  He would often say that an average man could not shake hands with them, since the span of their palms was too great too grasp!  You aroused many memories, as you have with other blog entries..."


And regarding my essay on starting a small woodworking shop, I forgot to mention a little woodworking business enterprise in my past....

Marlene and I had been married a couple of years and we were living with her parents in order to save money. I was working as a carpenter and came up with the idea to make and sell picnic tables. Marlene’s dad had a pole barn out back and I made the tables there. I put them, one at a time, by the busy road in front of the house with a FOR SALE sign and price. I sold quite a few tables that way. Marlene’s dad eventually took the business over and it was perfect for him in his retirement.

I also got an e-mail response to this series from Regina in Texas:

”Our 7 year old son has an "alumidum" business, where he actively picks up cans and sells them at the current rate of $ .70 / lb.  He was grinning from ear to ear when he recently sold his aluminum and got paid $9.56.  He felt rich!  And I feel blessed to be able to instill a sense of accomplishment and work ethics in this precious young man.”


Regina asked me to post past link to "Marlene’s Bread Business," and wondered if I had any good business ideas for kids. At the moment, I don’t have any business ideas for children. I think the ideal would be to have an integral part in helping parents with a family business. But I think entreprenuership is something good to instill in children (I suspect it is as much "caught" from parental example as it is taught), and I’ll give the idea some thought.

Here is the link to Marlene’s bread business essay (with some recently updated information) and some other business-related essays I've posted here in the past:

Marlene Blogs About Her Bread Business

Farm Market 2006

Home-Based Agrarian Enterprises & Garlic Powder Profits

Selling My Garlic Powder at The Farm Market

Without a doubt, there are all kinds of opportunities for inexpensive-to-launch, part-time home businesses. But they don’t just happen. You need to add some effort to your ideas.

And it is also worth noting that few home-business startups are successful right from the start. It takes time (years, typically) to establish a product or presence, and a good reputation. That is precisely why it is best to start your home business part-time, when, hopefully, you have another source of income and don’t need the money so much.

That’s what I’ve done with my Whizbang Books business. I started with less than $500 and printed 100 copies of my plucker plan book at a quick-print shop. That was the only seed money I invested. The little business has grown and paid its way as I've slowly added more books and branched out into making & supplying plucker parts.

I don’t think I could have invested more at the start and made more money right from the beginning. Building a small business with limited resources just takes time. It is a step-by-step process. So be sure to keep that in mind.

I turned off the comments option for this series but have enabled it for this final essay. I welcome your feedback about small-scale home businesses. A lot of people will be reading these essays over the next few years. Do you have insights, experiences and ideas that you can share with others? how about ideas for businesses for children?

Thank you

Home Business Idea #6: Self-Publish How-To Books

I received an e-mail from someone who has been reading this series of home-business essays and wondered if I would offer some advice on writing and self-publishing books. Okay, here goes....

I shall begin by deferring to E. B. White, who wrote the following to a class of fourth graders in 1968. They had written to him asking how to write a book:

”First, you have to want to write one very much. Then, you have to know of something that you want to write about. Then, you have to begin. And, once you have started, you have to keep going. That’s really all I know about how to write a book. I’ve written seventeen of them and I’m almost ready to quit—but not quite.”


Personally, I’ve written ten books, seven of them have been self-published. E.B. White’s books, which include “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stewart Little” have sold millions of copies and been made into movies. My books have sold only a few thousand and none have been made into movies (unless you count all those Whizbang Chicken Plucker videos people have put on YouTube).

Me and Elwyn Brooks are birds of a feather, but he was an eagle and I am a sparrow. He wrote essays for “The New Yorker” and “Atlantic Monthly,” and was paid well for them. I write essays for “The Deliberate Agrarian,” and get paid nothing.

Nevertheless, E.B. White’s advice to those 4th graders is something I can relate to, and it is spot on.

In another letter, written the same year, White relates to William Zinnser another particularly insightful (and encouraging) bit of wisdom for aspiring book writers:

”Sid [Perelman], of course, commands a vocabulary that is the despair (and joy) of every writing man. I have to get along with a vocabulary of about fifteen hundred serviceable words that I just use over and over again, trying to rearrange them in interesting order. Sid is like a Roxy organ that has three decks, fifty stops, and a pride of pedals under the bench. When he wants a word, its there. Sid even speaks with precision—a feat many a writer is incapable of.”


In other words, you can be a fine writer without an overly-extensive vocabulary. And that part about many writers being incapable of expressing themselves with the spoken word is something else I can relate to. E.B. never gave a speech. I’m not inclined to give speeches either.

By the way, anyone who has any kind of desire to write any kind of book would be wise to read E.B. White’s little volume titled “The Elements of Style,” which is a resurrection of a book originally authored (and self-published) by his college English professor, William Strunk, Jr.

The other classic writing book you must read and absorb, especially if you desire to write nonfiction, is William Zinnser’s, “On Writing Well.”

The nice thing about producing a how-to book is that, if the information is good, it should have a ready market for many years. That isn’t as much the case with fictional books. Thus, if you want to write and self-publish a book, and you want to make money from it, I recommend it be a practical how-to book of some sort.

As for getting your how-to information into actual book format, I’m probably not the best source of advice. All my self-published books (except one) have been produced the hard way. I composed each page on my computer using the basic Appleworks word processing software. I printed each page out on a laser printer and hand-drew the illustrations directly on the page. Sometimes I glued corrections and other copy in place on the page.

In the printing world, such pages are known as “mechanicals” and that is what you submit to a printer. Producing mechanicals is exacting and tedious, but it is also simple to do, so it suits me.

I’m convinced that how-to books sell best when they measure 8-1/2” by 11.” That’s something to keep in mind. And I’m also convinced that you should price the book at $14.95 to $19.95 to adequately cover your production costs and make the kind of money you should make for your time and effort and overhead expenses.

The simplest way to get a fledgling how-to book published is to take it to a local quick-print shop and have them make 100 copies. Then start marketing the book. Send sample copies to appropriate magazines for review. Send review copies to your local newspaper. Include press releases. Spread the word on the internet. You’ll find that producing your own book is very easy compared to marketing it.

If the book delivers useful information clearly, word will spread and you’ll start selling it. When that happens, take your mechanicals to a bigger printing company and get 1,000 copies. They will be of better quality and cost you less than photocopy editions from the quick-print shop.

You'll also want to try to sell your book wholesale to established book sellers. You'll have to discount the price 45% off retail to them. That means you don't make so much per copy. But they will sell more copies than you can.

That is the significantly condensed version of how to write a how-to book and bring it to print on the cheap. My book, Anyone Can Build A Tub-Style Mechanical Chicken Plucker is the classic example of a homely little homemade how-to book that was produced just as I’ve explained. It has now sold a little over 5,000 copies in the past eight years and continues to sell at a steady rate.

It is worth noting that my plucker plan book is the best selling (by far) of my self-published books. It is also worth noting that 5,000 copies is really nothing to crow about.

I got an e-mail a couple weeks back from Jeff Eberbaugh in West Virginia. He bought my plucker book and said he was going to build a Whizbang for himself. Then he related to me that he wrote and self-published six humor books and has sold 275,000 copies. That is awesome. It makes me want to write another book, or another ten. Sales like that would buy me the land I’m working towards.

Are you curious about Jeff’s best seller? The title is Gourmet Style Road Kill Cooking and Other Fine Recipes. Whodathunkit?

My experience has been that, yes, you can make some part-time money producing and self-publishing your own books. And a few people make a LOT of money. But it is not fast money, and self-publishing books is never sure money.

I would liken the writing and self-publishing of books to planting seeds in the garden. Planting and caring for the garden is a lot of work, and it takes awhile for the harvest to come. Sometimes it is disappointing. Sometimes it is very satisfying.

In the end, it boils down to E.B. White’s beginning advice about how to write a book:

”First, you have to want to write one very much.”


*****

This essay is part of a series on home business ideas. CLICK HERE to go to an index of all essays in the series.

Home Business Idea #5: Publish a Local Diner's "Gazette"

I’ve been sharing ideas for part-time, home-based businesses that would cost relatively little to get off the ground and can bring in an income stream. None of my ideas will make you rich (I wouldn’t want to be responsible for that!). But they could provide some self employment income that will help you sustain a deliberate agrarian lifestyle.

We agrarian-minded souls find ourselves in different situations. Not all of us have the advantage of being born and raised in the agrarian paradigm, or of having an enabling inheritance, or of a substantial life savings to draw on. Those who are blessed with such situations and choose to live a simple, rural-based, agrarian lifestyle are blessed indeed, and wise to boot.

The rest of us find ourselves stuck in a sort of industrial-agrarian twilight zone, carefully assessing our limited options with limited resources as we look for a responsible pathway that will take us into a deeper and purer agrarianism. From our vantage, no matter how you examine the conundrum, some source of income is an unfortunate necessity.

To my way of thinking, the most preferable source of income is found within home-based self employment. And the best kind of home-based employment involves the whole family working together to make it happen. Outside of farming there are few examples of such a family economy that truly works. And this is where we who desire this thing find ourselves smack dab up against the conundrum (cut now to the twilight zone theme music and Rod Sterling introduction).

All of which is to say, I’ve got another idea for a part-time, non-farming home business and this one is particularly appealing to me, in my situation, at this time in my life. Perhaps it will be to you too.

If you have a computer and some basic desktop publishing skills, you can start this little home-based, community-focused business for less than $500 and make a steady income off it. You could do this business at 18 years old and, if your mind was still clear, you could still be doing it at 86 years old. What I particularly like about this idea, as opposed to previous ideas I’ve shared with you, is that a husband and wife can work this business together.

Did you know that the average age of widowhood in America is 55 years old? I’m pushing 51. My days are numbered. Even if I happen to beat those odds, chances are that I’ll kick the bucket before my wife. What will she live on with me out of the picture? Life insurance? I got some, but not a lot. Life savings? That’s a laugh. Social Security? I guess that would help. Financial assistance from our children. I certainly hope so to some degree if it's needed. Maybe she'll remarry some rich guy. :-)

But the sad fact of the matter is that many older women who chose a career inside the home are, upon the death of their husband, forced to find some sort of job to get by. Unfortunately, the job market for older women who have been out of the work force is not promising. That being the case, isn’t a small home business that a husband and wife can operate together a good idea? Sure it is. It’s a real good idea. Now (finally) I’m going to tell you what this business idea is.....

A few years ago my family and I took a trip to Maine. We went to a restaurant and I noticed a free, single-page paper in a simple Plexiglas holder. I took one of the papers and looked it over. I found similar papers in other restaurants in Maine. I had never seen anything quite like the paper here in New York. I immediately saw this paper as a good idea. Let me describe it for you:

The overall size of the paper was 11” by 17”, which is know as “tabloid size.” It was printed on both sides and folded in half. Down the right and left hand side of front and back there were advertisements for local businesses. Every ad was the same size (2” by 3”). So there was space for 32 ads. There were absolutely no ads for restaurants. Between the rows of advertisements, in the 5” by 17” column on both sides of the paper there was some “easy reading,” which amounted to things like a horoscopes, famous quotations, entertaining anecdotes, and so forth. Except for the horoscopes, I found the paper interesting and fun to look over while waiting for my meal.

Now lets do the math. If you charged $20 a week for an ad, the paper would bring in $640 a week. What would it cost to have a quick print shop crank out a few hundred copies? Less than a hundred bucks. What about other weekly overhead costs? Maybe $40. So you end up clearing $500 a week. That’s $26,000 a year.

A closer look at the periodical revealed that every advertiser has a lock on their category. In other words, if Big Bob’s Auto Repair advertises, Big Bob “owns” the auto repair category. He has no competition. That’s one good incentive for advertising in the paper.

Another incentive for advertising is the uniform size of the ads. No one is going to take all the attention with a huge ad. And the position of each ad rotates to a new position each week. Then there is the cost. Twenty bucks for a 2” by 3” ad is pretty reasonable.

The paper that I discovered in Maine happens to be a franchise. Maybe it is already being published in your area. I know it’s nowhere near me. You can learn more by going to This Link.

I think the basic idea for this little home publishing enterprise is brilliant. I don’t know what a franchise costs but it might be worth checking into. Personally, I just need the spark of an idea to fan my own flame. I can come up with my own name, my own style, and my own “easy reading” copy.

Even in a rural community like I live in, centered around a small town with several small businesses, the idea has potential. I would start with a smaller-size paper and gear the center copy to suit my particular community. I would nix the horoscopes section for sure and replace it with something inspirational. I’d include tidbits of local history, local trivia, and so on. There is no end to interesting and informative copy that you can put in such a paper.

I would endeavor to celebrate the rural/agrarian culture of my community and encourage advertising of local agricultural products and enterprises. Perhaps a section of $5 agricultural classified-style ads would prove popular. In my town, the current weekly "Pennysaver" newspaper has few local ads and is published by a big company from outside the area.

My approach would be more of a personal, conversational, editorial-type format. Nothing serious or contentious would be discussed. And I’d probably work in some excerpts from my old farm almanac collection.

My original intention was to pursue this idea a couple years ago with my oldest son who was learning graphic design. He wasn’t interested so I put the whole thing on the back burner. But the idea seems like a natural for me and I contemplate it often. If the idea appeals to you, give it some contemplation yourself. It could turn out to be a perfect little home business for you. I hope so.

******

This essay is part of a series on home business ideas. CLICK HERE to go to an index of all essays in the series.

Home Business Idea #4: Be a Ditch Digger

This essay is part of a continuing series. Here are links to the previous essays:

Losing One’s Job
Home Business Idea #1
Home Business idea #2
Home Business Idea #3

*****

When I was 17 years old, I was visiting with a man who lived down the road from my house. He was a friend and in the conversation he mentioned to me that he needed to get a backhoe to come dig a ditch across the end of his driveway in order to install a culvert pipe. I looked at the pipe laying in his yard and said, “I’ll dig that ditch for you.” He said, “You don’t want to dig that ditch. The ground is hard packed gravel and dry.” I responded that I could dig that ditch for his pipe, no problem. He asked me how much money I wanted to dig the ditch. I told him a dollar an hour. He chuckled and said, “Okay, go ahead.”

I went right home, fetched a shovel and a pick, and returned on my bicycle to dig the ditch. It was maybe twenty feet long. Four hours later it was done. And I did a good job. It was a nicely-dug ditch. I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the challenge. I was like that at 17 years old. Part of that physical inclination is still in me at fifty years old.

I’ve done a fair bit of pick & shovel work in my life. I worked five years for a contractor that did a lot of barn, house, and camp jacking and foundation repair. Some days I did more digging than I did carpentry work. Along the way, I met some older men who were far more experienced with a pick and shovel than I was.

One such man was Chester, a fellow of Polish heritage who had lost his farm years before and lived with his wife on a small country lot in a trailer home. He must have been sixty years old at the time and worked as a right-hand-man to the backhoe operator my boss usually hired. Chester was quick to show his denture-smile and wielded a shovel with the kind of confidence that comes only from a lot of experience.

It was Chester who told me to “use my legs and hips” as much as possible when digging. I watched him as he pushed the shovel ahead, into the ground, with his legs bent and his right thigh behind the handle. Then he would lever the shovel handle over his thigh to direct the scoop of soil up and away. His digging was a natural, steady, fluid motion. I imitated his style and the work became easier.

Another digger I once knew was Paul. He too had grown up in my rural community and was an experienced farm hand (but I don’t think he ever had a farm of his own). Paul was a bachelor and got by doing odd jobs. I knew him best from loading hay. He was lean and laconic with a hawk nose on a dark, weathered, creased face that bespoke years of hard living. He looked ancient to me. Paul wore long sleeve shirts with the top button holed, and rolled his own cigarettes. One of his oddest quirks was that he continually mumbled to himself and would regularly clear his throat with a loud, long, phlegmy roll, then spit and utter, “Leslie!” like an oath. I always wondered who or what Leslie was but didn’t feel it was my place to ask.

Paul was never fast but he was steady and that is exactly the way you need to do the work of haying, and ditch digging.

Paul and a couple of his brothers often worked together to do odd jobs for people who owned camps along the lake. I once observed them digging a 150-foot trench for a water line. It was deep and in stoney ground. The brothers worked quiet and steady all day long for a few days to get the job done. I was amazed that three old men were able to accomplish such a feat.

Though I never knew him, I’ve heard of another man around here who once had a reputation as a hand-digger, and he only had one hand. He had lost his arm to a corn chopper and wore a hook. But I’m told this fellow could dig like you wouldn’t believe.

Most people in our world look down on men who do hard manual labor, and look up to men who have athletic prowess. This is a perversion. I once had the unforgettable pleasure of seeing an overconfident young man with an impressive physique wilt in the hay mow next to to couple of comparatively frail-looking old farmers. They kept plodding along, getting the job done, while Mr. Atlas sat down on a bale of hay to give his puffy gym-muscles a rest. There is no sports hero alive who impresses me more than a man who can regularly do hard, physical work without complaining, stick with it to the end, and then do it again the next day.

All of which leads me to the point of this essay. I believe a man with the mind to do it, can make decent money as a self-employed ditch digger. There are plenty of places where backhoes and mechanical diggers just aren’t practical. And such machines usually make a big mess of things. A hand-digger can carefully remove sod and set it aside, then dig a trench or ditch neatly. They can lay a strip of plastic on the ground by the ditch and throw the earth on it to keep things especially tidy. Ditch digging can be a craft that you take satisfaction in doing well, and it is a true opportunity for a person with the mind and body to do it.

Digging by hand is, of course, not something you’ll want to do into your retirement, and it certainly isn’t suited to people who are out of shape or have health problems, and it is seasonal (you can’t dig very well in frozen ground). But the job can be started with reasonably little investment, and I believe a man could make a decent bit of money digging. If you’re a young fellow looking to make some money, this is an idea for YOU. It beats making hamburgers all day at McDonald's or stocking the shelves at WalMart. At least, I think it does!

Launching your own business as a ditch digger would be surprisingly easy. Start by getting yourself some business cards. Put on the cards that you hand-dig trenches, ditches, post holes, graves, and whatever else. Then go see every backhoe operator in the neighborhood. Tell them what you’re doing and give them a handful of your cards. Those guys don’t want to dig by hand. They’ll respect you for what you’re doing and refer you to people who call them with small or difficult little jobs. Go see local plumbers and contractors and give them your cards too. They’ll probably call you to do subcontracting work for them, and they’ll spread the word. Then put your card on every bulletin board in town. A small, inexpensive ad in a weekly “Pennysaver” newspaper would be good too. The calls will come in. I guarantee it.

And when the calls come in, you need to be ready to give a price for your service. How much? Well, you certainly aren’t going to work for minimum wage. You will charge a premium and you will deserve a premium for what you can do for your customers. I suggest you always price by the job, not the hour. Don’t sell yourself short. It’s better to price your services a tad high and not get the job than too low and end up making less that you deserve. So charge a premium and do a premium job and you can’t go wrong.

I don’t know what people are charging for services these days. To start, I’d probably look the job over, calculate in my mind how many hours it will take, and figure $50 an hour. With experience you’ll get better at “guess-timating.”

For tools, you’ll need a good shovel. Buy a more-expensive contractor-grade shovel. Get a coarse metal file to keep the blade sharp (this is no small matter). You’ll need a pickax and a post hole digger and a digging bar. If you have the money to invest, I recommend a heavy-duty electric demolition hammer with a variety of ends (including a spade end) and some heavy-duty extension cords. A demolition hammer can easily loosen up hard-packed earth and stone and will pay for itself in no time.

Other “tools” you’ll need are hard-sole work boots, gloves, and a water jug (keep well hydrated). Digging in hot summer sun is tough. When the days are brutally hot, you can dig in the morning, take a siesta through the hottest part of the day, and dig again in the afternoon. You can do things like that a whole lot easier when you are your own boss. You could even dig at night with a halogen light. Then there is always the possibility of “portable shade.” One of those pop-up craft fair tents would be ideal to work under as you dig.

If you approach this as a serious business, price accordingly, and do your work in a diligent, professional manner, you’ll soon have more work than you can handle. Each job will be a physical and mental challenge. Each job will have a beginning, and an end goal to work towards. And every job will have a payoff, part of which will be some real satisfaction. You’ll sleep well at night too.

Some people will question whether the human body can stand up to a daily dose of hard labor. Of course it can. In time, calluses form, sore muscles firm up, and the body acclimates to the routine. Hand-digging may be hard, but it isn’t unhealthy. I would argue that a regular measure of manual labor is good for a body. But not one in a thousand healthy young men looking for a job would even consider this idea. To those who do, I salute you and wish you well!

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This isn’t the first time I’ve written about ditch digging. Here’s the link to a previous essay: Benny’s Grandfather Was a Ditch Digger

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One more thing... There is a small ad in my local “Pennysaver” newspaper every week for a company called ’LIL DIGG’R. It says: “We dig post holes & ditches. We deliver small quantities of dirt, sand, gravel & mulch. We dig perc holes. We dig pet graves. We dig your little jobs.” ’LIL DIGG’R CAN DO!

I don’t know if the person who runs this business actually hand digs. Maybe he has a mini backhoe. In any event, the ad has been in the paper a long time and that’s an indication that the business is making money. It doesn't surprise me.

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My next business idea will be something entirely different. It is something much less physical. A teenager or housewife or retired person can do it and make a steady income. It isn't some envelope-stuffing scam. It might just be the best small home business idea you’ve ever heard of....

Home Business Idea #3: Teach What You Know

I have written previously here about a unique service business and a practical craft business, both of which can be started with relatively little investment and can be developed as part-time businesses with full-time potential. Now I will inspire you (or maybe just entertain you) with another kind of home business idea.

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Back in 1997 I wrote a book for the Taunton Press titled, Refacing Cabinets: Making an Old Kitchen New. The book sells in low but steady numbers, which is better than the other two books I wrote for Taunton.

A year or so after the book came out I got a call from a guy in Texas who had bought the book and had a business proposition for me. He would line up students to come here to New York for one week of instruction by me in the craft of cabinet refacing. He explained to me that I could teach one class a month and make a very good living at it.

I was doubtful. He assured me the profit potential was considerable and explained that he had done this same thing in Texas teaching windshield crack repair. The guy offered to fly up and further discuss the idea with me. He was planning to invest a lot of money in marketing. All I had to do was teach people what I knew. My book would be our manual.

I liked the idea because I’m naturally inclined to teach. But the timing was wrong. I didn’t feel I was in a position to do it. Besides that, I was hesitant about going into business with someone who I really didn’t know. But the man from Texas did have a good idea.

A couple years ago, when we almost bought the Grange Hall building in my community, I had designs on utilizing the big building as a teaching facility. Woodworking classes for kids and adults would be right down my alley. Cabinet making and cabinet refacing classes could be taught right along with my Yeoman Furniture business (see previous essay). Marlene could have taught soap making and even bread baking in the kitchen. Shoot—we could have even had Whizbang poultry processing classes at the facility.

Do you have a skill that you know well and can teach? How about small engine repair? I would pay someone hereabouts to teach my sons a regular, hands-on, class in small engine repair. Can you do desktop publishing with a computer? I’d pay to learn more about that. How about fly fishing? Or making braided rugs? Or pruning grapes and fruit trees? Or making cheese? The list of teachable subjects that people will pay you to learn is almost endless.

A variation of this idea is to teach an adult evening class at a local vocational school. I did this a couple times back 20 years ago. The class was about learning carpentry. I had about 15 students in each class and it was a lot of fun. I’ve often thought about teaching a night class again some day.

If you have a particular skill and the inclination to teach it, contact the school. Chances are they will be very accommodating to your idea, provide you with a room and resources and advertise to get you some students. Then, of course, they’ll pay you for teaching. It can be a great experience.

Stay tuned for Home Business Idea #4.......

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This essay is part of a series on home business ideas. CLICK HERE to go to an index of all essays in the series.

Home Business Idea #2: Start a Woodworking Shop

I heard on the radio today that the official unemployment rate for last month was up to 6%, a five-year high. Since the government typically lies fudges the numbers on such things, the actual percentage is, undoubtedly, even higher. So I guess a series of essays on part-time home businesses is timely.

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In my previous essay I presented you with an offbeat but viable small business idea that would not require a large initial investment to get started. All it takes is a dose of humility, some basic tools, easy-to-learn mechanics, and the chutzpah to get things started.

Seeing as I’m a Deliberate Agrarian, you might be surprised that I didn’t highlight an agrarian enterprise as a part-time business—something like raising chickens or hogs or growing stuff to sell at the farmer’s market. Well, those can all be fine sideline enterprises. Fact is, I used to have a dandy little business growing garlic and adding value to it by transforming it into Herrick’s Homegrown Stiffneck Garlic Powder. This year will be the first year in many years that I am not selling my garlic powder. That’s because I lost use of my neighbor’s land to grow garlic on. They up and moved to Seattle, and we miss them.

Though I have 1.5 acres of land, most of it is woods and gully. The remaining space, for my house, workshop, garden, and some lawn, is really quite small. I dare say there are a lot of suburban lots with more growing space on them than I have. But we make remarkably good use of the land that we have.

Which always seems to bring me to the advice I give to others who dream of an agrarian lifestyle and lament that they don’t have enough land to farm to some scale: "Just do the best you can, where you are, with what you have, as the Lord leads you, and be content in that.”

You can, of course, still work and plan and save and dream of having more land some day or, most importantly, getting out of the urban centers to a more rural locality. Even more important, though, is to not let the dream be an idol. And you also don’t want the dream to be so grand, so ideal, so perfectly dreamy, that it is unattainable and you never make any progress at all. It’s a step-by-step thing.

That said, I am really not in much of a position to pursue food-based agrarian enterprises at this time. Besides, I’m of the mind that, sad to say, making enough money to support a family in agriculture is not easily nor often done, especially on a small scale. And big-scale agriculture is certainly not possible or desirable for me.

Bearing all of that in mind, my goal as a Deliberate Agrarian is not to make a living as a farmer. It is, rather, to maintain a simplified and productive lifestyle, centered around a rural home, and a home-based business, dependent on the land and my local community as much as possible, instead of the supermarkets and malls and the whole industrial system.

I speak often of Christian agrarianism, saying that it is the clear Biblical imperative for god’s people. But I am not advocating farming as the only way to achieve this objective. Adam was, after all, not a farmer. He was a gardener. And it was God who showed him how to garden, not how to farm.

So I am looking to create and sustain a peculiar, antithetical, rural lifestyle. Doing this demands diligence, determination, and denial. It also demands a reasonable cash flow, which finally brings me around to the subject of another possible home business.

If you have read this blog long, you have read my essays titled, Yeoman Furniture & My New Wood box, and Yeoman Furniture, Part 2 (Waste Not, Want Not). Both essays show and tell of a simple, practical, attractive style of solid-wood furniture that can easily be made using very basic woodworking tools and skills.

If I didn’t have so many irons in the fire, I would pursue making this kind of furniture as a part-time business. I may yet, regardless of the other irons. The craft suits me, and I believe there is a market for this kind of thing.

I am planning to soon make a Yeoman-style bathroom sink vanity for our bathroom (desperately in need of remodeling) and, hopefully, a Yeoman-style pie cabinet (with punched-tin door panels) to use as a pantry cabinet in the kitchen. Speaking of kitchens, if I ever put another kitchen in my home, it will be outfitted with homemade, yeoman-style, freestanding furniture/cabinetry. Not built-in cabinets and countertops like found in virtually every other kitchen in America (a few hundred of them installed by me in past years). I will bring antithesis into the kitchen too!

My someday-goal is to make a yeoman-style blanket chest (hope chest) with hand cut dovetail joinery in the corners. A believe a line of “signature” blanket chests by a local craftsman could provide steady part-time income for a home business anywhere in the country.

I once knew an older guy named Maurey Babcock (now deceased) who was a retired trim carpenter. Maurey lived in a trailer in one of the local trailer parks. He bought a pre-made, wood-frame shed with a gambrel roof and put it next to his trailer. It was not big, but it was big enough for him to run a busy little woodworking business. He had some basic hand tools and small-scale shop tools. The lumberyard delivered pine boards as he needed them because he didn’t have a truck. Let me tell you—the guy was busy all the time making shelves and picture frames and bookcases and what not for folks all over town. Marlene had him make a toy box for us.

You don’t need a big workshop with a lot of expensive equipment to make some part-time (and potentially full time) income with woodworking. Just start small and basic, come up with some practical, signature products and go from there.

A couple years ago when we came "this close" to buying the old Grange hall in our town (I blogged about it), I had it in my mind that, among other things, the building would make an excellent wood shop and place to market my yeoman furniture. But I didn’t want to put my home up for collateral to buy the place. So it didn’t happen. And I just put the idea on the backburner.

Okay, so there you have another moneymaking idea. Maybe it suits you. Maybe it doesn’t. But it gives you food for thought. Perhaps there is a kernel of an idea that you can plant in your own soil and grow. Or, maybe, Home Business Idea #3 (coming up next) will be something you can better relate to......

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This essay is part of a series on home business ideas. CLICK HERE to go to an index of all essays in the series.

Home Business Idea #1: Be a Toilet Repair Professional

In my previous essay I discussed the wisdom of developing a part-time home business as a financial safety cushion in the event of job loss. And the business can serve as a source of retirement income too.

Though I already happen to have an established part-time business (Whizbang Books) and it would help my family financially in the event of losing my job, I'd still have to find another job, or come up with another home business to help pay the bills.

My personal inclination would be to not find a job working for someone else as an employee. I would, instead, look to create my own opportunity with a relatively inexpensive-to-start business of my own.

Before I launch into the business idea that is the focus of this blog, I should point out that, were I to lose my job, I’m in a better position to get by than many others in this country. That isn’t to say that I have a lot of money squirreled away, because I sure don’t. There is, thank God, a small cushion of savings, but much more importantly I live simply and have relatively few expenses. My home is small and rural and paid for (though not completely finished). I have no credit card debt. I heat my home with a basic wood stove in the living room. We grow much of our own food and keep the larder stocked. Such things are essential aspects of our agrarian-based lifestyle (Read my essay titled An Agrarian-Style Economic Self Defense Plan for more talk along these lines).

I should also point out that if I were an engineer, or business management professional, or health care professional, or some other such well-educated professional, and I lost my job, I probably would look for a higher-paying job working for someone else. I might start looking for new employment opportunities in the newspaper or on the internet. I would spiff up my resume and start circulating it. But in my situation, I have no college degree. I barely have a few college credits. I am a lower-class person. So I tend to think in lower class ways about work, and home business ideas, as you will shortly see.

What I have going for me is that I am fairly skilled with my hands when it comes to home construction and repair. I worked in the building trades for more than 20 years, ten of which I was a self-employed remodeling contractor.

But at 50 years old, I would not become a contractor again. Been there. Done that. And I got the gray hairs to prove it. Besides, I would have to buy a truck, and some equipment that I no longer have, and deal with building code regulations (which irk me). So I would keep it simple and focus on a very specific home repair that there is a great demand for.

It has been my observation, from my lower-class perspective, that the best opportunities are in the most disagreeable jobs. That said, I would focus my small home repair business on flush toilets. That’s right, I would be a toilet repair professional.

Now, you may chuckle to yourself at the idea of being a toilet repair professional, but I’m serious about this. I happen to know for a fact that there is big demand for toilet professionals.

Many years ago, when I had a job working for a local remodeling contractor, I had this idea of fixing toilets as a part-time business, and I actually carried through with it. I placed an ad in the local Pennysaver newspaper. When the ad came out, my phone started to ring. I got far more calls than I ever expected. It so happened that a lot of people hereabouts had toilet problems. I was off and running, fixing toilets after work and on Saturdays.

You’re probably wondering why I’m still not in the toilet repair business. Well, I had a bad experience. I got a call from one of the churches in my area to fix their toilet. I installed a new flush/fill valve and the problem was solved. I was in and out in an hour. It was easy money.

But the following Monday I got a call from a man at the church. He informed me that they had to cancel church on Sunday because the well had run dry. I turns out that I had inadvertently installed the new valve such that, when I put the lid on the toilet tank, the valve got stuck and it remained open for a few days. The entire contents of the church’s well went down the drain and there was no water on Sunday.

The man was a friend and there was no problem. He simply readjusted the valve so it moved freely and the well recharged itself. No harm was done (fortunately the well pump did not burn out) other than church was canceled. Nevertheless, I felt badly and decided I had enough of toilet repair. I really had too much going otherwise.

Nevertheless, that experience convinced me that there is an untapped world of opportunity in toilet repair, and the idea of going into the business comes to the forefront of my mind often when I consider a job change.

I even have a name picked out for the business: “Dr. John’s Toilet Repair & Replacement.” My business card and advertising will have a side view of a toilet on it. Perhaps it would also have a cartoon likeness of me in a lab coat with a wrench in one hand and a stethoscope in the other, taking the heartbeat of a sad-looking toilet. That’s a name and a visual that people can remember.

I imagine that I would get all kinds of calls form frustrated homeowners with toilet woes. For example, the common complaint of poor flushing action.... I would listen intently and say with knowing confidence: “It sounds like a case of the laaaazy flush, Ma’am.” Then, after a brief phone consultation, I would probably be able to better pinpoint the diagnosis" “Yep, I’ll bet those rim jets are obstructed. Happens all the time.” And, of course, I would present the cure: “I can flush the system with muriatic acid, but you might want to just replace the whole unit.”

Toilet repair and replacement would also include the repair of rotted floors around the toilet, which is something I’ve done many times over the years. And I would do faucet and sink repairs, as well as other basic plumbing fixes. Around here you can repair and replace plumbing without any special license or permits.

Another evidence of the need for such a service is a guy I used to work with who had an after-work business fixing faucets for people. He ran a weekly ad and called himself “The Faucet Fixer.” This fellow was my inspiration to do toilet repair on the side. He was busy all the time fixing and replacing people’s faucets and drains. He eventually got more schooling and went full-time into the wider world of hydronic heating and professional plumbing.

In my overactive, Walter Mitty-like imagination, I have envisioned a “Dr. John" franchise, where I would teach other aspiring toilet repair professionals all across America how to troubleshoot toilets and do other basic plumbing repairs, with confidence.

Until then, if you are intrigued by this little-considered but amazingly good small business idea, you can take the bull by the horns and educate yourself at Toiletology 101 (a truly fascinating web site!).

In my next essay here I will share with you another small-scale moneymaking idea that maybe, just maybe, will inspire and encourage you.

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This essay is part of a series on home business ideas. CLICK HERE to go to an index of all essays in the series.