Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More from oil lamps to the internet by Walt Barrett

I actually have very fond memories of the nineteen thirties and the nineteen Forties in spite of some of the hardships we endured.
The main point I want to make is that I’m not whining. I just want to present the facts as they were for many families at the time. It will help you see the future. The second point I want to make is that in those days we had plenty of fuel available in this country. We just could not afford to buy it! There is a good side to this story, and that is that we learned how to live without electricity, central heat and indoor plumbing. We also learned how to survive on very little money. Now the money thing alone is a valuable lesson because in these times we see many people that have no idea how to budget what little money they have. My Mother had a budget book that she kept faithfully and adhered to religiously. She is the one who showed me the basic rules of business, because, living within a budget is really just a form of business, just like running a shop, or a factory, and especially a City, Town State or Federal government, and it seems that many people have forgotten that. Let’s all say it again. You can’t spend more money than you take in! We can talk about that subject more later on.
I mentioned previously that I grew up in a micro home. It was twenty feet by twenty-four feet with a sleeping loft divided into two sections, one for me and one for my parents. There were no real closets and clothing etc was mostly kept in a few bureaus with heavy coats etc being hung on salvaged clothing racks. It certainly didn’t kill us! It did give me the incentive to try and do better financially, now that I look back at it.
We lit the house with oil lamps for many years. They do give off a very soft glowing kind of light, and at the time I didn’t think about it too much. I just thought that was what everyone else used too. There was no TV, radio, electric toasters, laundry machines, dishwashers, flushing toilets etc, and the bathroom was a small closed off area where you sat in a galvanized wash tub filled with just enough water that had been heated on top of the wood fired cook stove, which also was the heating system. The toilet was in the back yard just like everyone else’s was on our street, and you used whatever paper you could find, no luxury soft tissue or anything like that! Computers were science fiction!
When my Dad managed to find work he was often gone for long periods of time, and he took some pretty terrible jobs like clearing power lines in Vermont in January while wading up to his chest at times through ice cold swamp water. He would come home every couple of weeks or so and bring some money and food. He and his fellow workers would have to ride back to Vermont in the back of a dump truck in the wintertime, but he never really complained about it. He did often tell the stories though just to remind everyone how bad it was in the Thirties. My Dad lost his factory job in 1929 when the economy collapsed like it may do again in 2008.
We didn’t have much water because we had a shallow dug well that went dry for the entire summer. You had to drop a bucket down the well and pull it back up full of water with a rope, hand over hand. When the well went dry in June of July depending on the rain that year my Mom and I would each take a couple of those old style galvanized milk cans with the narrowed down neck and the carrying loop type handle on the side of the neck, and we would walk to a beautiful clear spring about a quarter of a mile from our home that bubbled right up out of the ground for water. My Dad had cleaned it out and sunk a large wooden barrel in it that stuck up above the ground with a cover on it to keep the dirt out. We would go there every afternoon when I returned from school and carry back the drinking water. Somehow I remember the water tasting better then and the air smelling cleaner. We did the laundry and other tasks with water captured in our rain barrels. My Mom said it was nice soft water. She taught me a lot. We used to go picking wild berries, and in the spring we would also gather the tops from fiddlehead ferns. They were liked spinach and the woods are still full of them. My mom knew a lot about plants and herbs. My Dad taught me to shoot a 22 rifle by the time I was seven. I would go out in the late afternoon and shoot three squirrels for supper. We would also go to the pond and catch yellow perch, clean them, and salt them in crocks so we would have food in the winter. After school I would empty the ashes from the stove and put them on the vegetable garden. Talk about recycling. Looking back, it wasn’t such a bad life, but would kids do it today? They might be better off if they did. By the way, there were no drugs in any schools I ever attended.
Well, enough of that for a while. Let’s take a giant leap forward to 2008. I have a vision of a super insulated but properly ventilated micro home with the actual size being based on the number of occupants. It may or may not be tied to the power grid. The electricity could be from solar, wind, or in a few rare cases small hydro, which would be really great because you could actually heat the micro home with free Hydro. Solar hot water, solar heat, a composting toilet, LED lighting, and a gray water recycling system would be a very good start. Now I would build this home on a piece of land large enough to grow a fair amount of food. I would salvage as many of the necessary materials as I possibly be could. As a matter of fact, I have already started to gather my stuff and it has been all for free so far. I have glass-sliding doors that I took apart for the glass. I have sheets of barely used plywood that was going to be thrown away from large construction site and my friends brought it home to me gladly donated by their bosses who have to pay by the ton to dump it in the landfill. Can you believe it! Personally, I think we need to start thinking more along these lines. My micro home is going to be for the two of us, my Wife Nancy and me. I hope to find a reasonable piece of land to put it on, but will build it here at my workshop. I intend it to be a model for others to copy. I would also consider setting up an assembly line to mass-produce them for low bucks. The trouble with all of the commercial micro homes I have seen so far is that the prices are off the wall! We need home for the not so well off folks who carry this country on their backs. Well enough for today. I just hope I can get more people thinking along the lines that I do. Not that my ideas are perfect, but the more people’s ideas we can gather now, the better off we are going to be in the future. Think about low cost building materials and smaller spaces to heat and cool, and cheap electricity. Try to save a gallon of fuel a day. It all helps.
In the meantime I have a business to run, so long for now.

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