I'm a newbie here, but a long time prepper and a beginning writer. This is the first novel length thing I wrote, and it shows of course, in the defects it has. I've done 3 more since this one that improved some. It is about 220,000 words, so be patient about me getting it all posted. But it IS complete, so I won't leave you hanging. This story has been posted on other forums so some of you may have already seen it. It becomes a PAW story after a long prep period. Here goes.


Chapter 1 RUNNER

In 1962, every teenage boy wanted a hot rod. Dad had driven his "old man's" model of '57 Ford to sell insurance until I turned 16 and got my driver's license, whereupon he treated himself to a new mid-size Ford with a small economy engine. I was delegated the old one to drive. It showed a lot of miles, burned just a little oil and was the Plain Jane model. No sexy trim and just a kind of lame V8, but at least I had wheels. I couldn't afford anything else with what I had saved from putting up hay and other farm work, so it had to do. Dad kept it in his name so the insurance was cheaper. There was no status to this ride whatsoever, so I had mixed emotions about it, but now I could at least ask a girl out, so that was good.

It was hard to get going, since the engine seemed pretty weak, but I limped around in it for a few weeks and got used to driving it. I found that it ran a lot better if I let it wind up in all 3 gears and that led to me cranking it up on a deserted highway one hot summer night, but I felt a bumping in the back and limped it home slow. I kept it clean and waxed, and even had a couple dates so things had been looking up until I found that big knot on the side of one of the recapped snow tires. Dad looked it over and said: A, I was lucky to get home on that tire. and B, it shouldn't have done this, so he called the tire shop in the county seat and they agreed they should replace it. Being summer, I was out of school, so it fell to me to go get it done.

They directed me to the last garage bay where an old guy with a gray buzz haircut took over. He looked at the tire, jacked it up and soon had it on the tire changer. He gave me a hard look and said, "You know that recaps won't hold up to what this car will do, don't you?" I gave him a blank look. He said, "Hot weather and high speeds will take a recap apart quick. If you're gonna run this thing hard, you need new tires, 'cause it will go fast enough to throw off the tread."

I told him it wasn't all THAT fast, afraid I'd have to pay for the tire. He just said, "Pop the hood." I did. He took a look and asked me what happened to the two-four's setup that was on the car? I swore it had never had anything but that little 2 barrel carb on it since Dad bought it. He gave me an odd look, then looked again under the rear wheel well. "Yep, this is the car all right, but somebody has changed the carbs on it. You DO KNOW about this car, don't you?"

I gave him another blank look. Over the next half hour or so that he tinkered with changing tires, he volunteered to "shave" all the tires round on some sort of lathe gizmo with a little round blade thing on it, and then balanced them for no charge. Business was slow, so we were the only two in the shop. He sat down and began to talk.

"You notice there is no rust on this car? Ever wonder about that? Every '57 on the street has rust around the headlights, under the doors, and behind the back wheels, but not this one. That's because it's got about 3 dozen coats of paint on it! This car came from a "dry" county down in Kentucky, and was used to run moonshine. They painted it a different color about every other week, to make it harder to find."

I sat there with my jaw hanging open and listened as he went on. "The reason it is so doggy taking off is because it has the rear gears from a station wagon that had an automatic trans in it, so the ratio is real fast. It will run over 60 in low gear, right?"

"Well, I know it will go pretty fast in Low, but I never went that fast."

"And it will do about 105 in Second gear, and with the 2-fours on it, you should see about 130 or better in High. I used to work on it some, since they wanted to keep it real dark down there in Kentucky and didn't keep it there."

"Kid, what you got here is not the 292 V8 you thought, but a bored out 312 cubic inch V8, with all the goodies that Ford made back then. They called this the "E2" motor. It makes right at 300 horsepower at peak torque RPM, and by the time you get it wound out, prob'ly about 3 and a quarter. They didn't put out good numbers on the HP rating, 'cause it made the insurance too high. Chevy did that too. That ain't all that much power, but this is the light body style, the Custom 300 model, and it is shorter and only weighs about 2600 pounds after they got done with it. So you got a better Horsepower-to-weight ratio than a new 'Vette! This thing is a RUNNER!"

My eyes must have bugged out and made him grin.

"You decide you want those 2 fours back on it, I think I might know the man who has them."

I indicated that I would dearly LOVE to have that setup, so he gave me directions to a country junkyard WAY back in the sticks. Half an hour later, I had bought the Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold with a pair of Holley four barrel carburetors on it and was 20 bucks lighter--a lot of money then, when 50 a week was a decent job for an adult. I got $5 a day for pitching hay and was lucky at that. I never said a word to Dad about this deal, and he never figured it out.

Lewis was a close friend and classmate whose Dad was not only a hotrodder, but also a State Trooper. What a combination, I thought, but it was true. I spent the weekend at his house, and after borrowing a second vacuum gauge to tune the carb settings, we got the 2-4's on it and running like it should. It burned a quarter of a tank of gas doing that, and I wondered if I could afford to feed this thing, but Lewis' dad explained progressive carburetor linkage to me.

"If you just keep your foot out of it, it will only use the small primaries to run on and will be just as economical as it was with the 2 barrel, but the minute you stand on the gas pedal, the gas gauge will go down about as fast as the speedometer goes UP!"

Okay, I understood. I would drive it sensibly.

But I HAD to know just what it would do, and Lewis' Dad knew that. He grinned and said, "Let's go see what it will do!"

I was aghast--this coming from a COP!! He reassured me and directed me to a long straight section of highway outside of town. The evening was cool, so I hoped the tires would hold together. At the edge of town, I had it up to about 70 when I hit the straightaway, as he'd told me, then romped on it. I chickened out with about 2" of gas pedal travel left, and slowed it down, scared the tires would pop.

Lewis' Dad said, "Not too bad, I got 126 on the radar, but it should do better than that."

I admitted that it had a lot left when I slowed down.

He nodded, "Yeah, can't push it with recaps on there. It oughta do 140, I think, and give my Dodge a hard run to keep up."

His patrol car was a Dodge "Dual Cross Ram", a 426 V8 with well over 400 HP. I was impressed, and knew I didn't have the tires, let alone the courage, to find out what it would really do. He gave me a serious talk then, about driving like I had some sense, so I didn't kill myself or somebody else. I took that to heart and vowed I would treat it right.

I drove home with a smile, knowing I had a real "sleeper" of a car--one that looked like an old lady might drive it to church on Sunday, but it had a dandy surprise inside for the teenaged hot rodders around home! Mom and Dad must have figured that Lewis and I had a great time over the weekend and suspected nothing. I was tuckered out from the late nights getting the wrench work done, and the stress, I suppose, so I slept like a log.

My gas budget wouldn't keep up with the car's appetite, but I learned that if I set the timing back a bit, I could run it on the cheap tractor gas in the farm tank. I tried not to overdo that, so Dad had plenty left for the farming. On a few Saturday nights, I set the timing back up where it belonged for good performance and paid dearly for half a tank of high-test gas. The local boys found out that it was not a good idea to bet me on a race, and the proceeds helped pay for the premium gas. Mostly, I kept it under wraps, about how fast that car really was. Unlike Lewis' Dad, some of the local law took a real dim view of kids and fast cars.

There were a lot of details the old mechanic had told me. The rear springs had a main leaf added, the leaves clamped together for stiffness, double shocks in back and "helper coil springs" on the front shocks. There was 150 pounds of lead poured into each rocker panel below the doors to lower the center of gravity, and make it less likely to roll over in a hard corner. That thing went through corners flat, like a go-kart. The clutch. driveshaft, and mufflers came from a dump truck, and it had oversize exhaust pipes. The engine had a super high performance camshaft that only needed the big carbs and a timing adjustment to let the engine squall like you stepped on the tail of a cat. He said something about Canadian forged connecting rods, a chromed steel crank, ported heads and "tuliped" valves. He had gone on for a long time, and I couldn't remember it all. All I knew for sure was that it was more car than I could handle, and drove it accordingly. For a while.

One other neat little feature of the car that he pointed out, was the button under the driver's seat. That car had the gas filler under the license plate, which was hinged to open and had a spring to keep it upright. Under the rubber mat in the trunk was a cable, like the throttle cable on a lawn mower. The front end of that went to the button under the driver's seat, and the back end could be hooked to the license plate, by unhooking the spring. Just push the button and your license plate laid down flat, so nobody could see it. Looked like it had fell off or something. Came in handy a few times.

Chapter 2 BALL GAME

Indiana is a basketball state. High school tournaments are followed with almost religious fervor, by kids and adults alike. By the Spring of 1963, our tiny school had a great ball team and high hopes. The final game of the Sectional, Tri-County Tournament wasn't even close. We kicked butt from the start, and beat them all, including the big rival in the County Seat, where the tire shop was located, incidentally. In high spirits, kids and parents drove the 35 miles to that offended County Seat town to crow about the win, and clogged the streets with honking cars, kids waving and yelling at each other and at the locals, who didn't like it a bit. We cruised the town square so close together the locals couldn't get anywhere.

Myself and 3 other boys were in my car and decided to leave early before the law got into the act. I was just putt-putting over the hill near the edge of town when a red light came on behind me, and I had to pull over. Big John Law got out of the Town Marshall car, and tapped on my window. I just looked at him, not volunteering anything, wondering if he was going to try to tap me for speeding, but traffic had made that impossible. What could he want?

"Boy, this car's pretty loud, now ain't it?"

"I don't think so. One muffler's got a little hole, but they ain't that bad." It really wasn't loud. I hadn't done anything wrong. He was just looking for trouble for me.

"Well. START IT UP, so's I can listen to it!"

I did, just shoving in the clutch and keyed it. The warm motor caught right away and I let it idle

He bent down on one knee, his head lowered near the doorsill. I gunned the motor. It wasn't all that loud. But the engine had modified heads with loose clearances for high RPM performance, and that meant that it used a little oil that leaked over the valve guides, and got blown out the exhaust. Idling for half an hour around town had allowed a lot of oil to collect in the muffler. The one with the hole. The one right next to his head.

He came up sputtering, with black oil all over one side of his face, and mad enough to eat me in one bite. Now, Momma didn't raise no stupid kids. I had already evaluated the abilities of his old 6 cylinder Chevy. He had not asked for my drivers license or registration, and I was pretty sure he had been too close to me, and too mad, to get my plate number. I saw instantly that this was no place for me to be. So, I side-stepped the clutch and did my first burnout with this car, learning on the fly just how damn fast it WAS! I made it over the next hill in record time, and was hitting about 90 in second when I caught up with a string of cars going back to our town after celebrating. I passed about 20 of them in a string and didn't let any grass grow under me the rest of the way home. Never saw that Town Marshall that night. He gave it up, seeing as how I had a big head start and his car was no competition for what he was looking at. One of the boys in my back seat said he was just standing there in the street when we went out of sight.

Again, not being an idiot, I managed to stay out of that town with THAT car for over a year and a half. It turned out that wasn't long enough, but that is another whole story.

Chapter 3 FIRST DATE

It was my first date with this girl. My mother and a friend of hers had set me up with her. That almost always turns out to be a disaster, but this was different in that I really liked the girl. The problems came later.

My problems were of my own making, mostly. I was just an ordinary farm kid back then, named Alan Walter. With only one grown sister, I grew up as practically an only child. Dad had done well on just 80 acres, raising a lot of high profit crops and registered livestock, but after a teenager's car hit his in the rear, the whiplash neck injury he got made it near impossible for him to continue doing the hard farm work. He tried, but it wasn't going to happen, so the farm work fell to me. Dad sold off the labor intensive stuff like hogs and a big lot of laying hens, keeping only some beef cows to make it possible for a kid to keep up with it. I didn't mind, and never knew anything else. All the neighborhood kids worked like dogs, but we all played hard, too.

Getting to my date was the problem, since I had to go through the County Seat town, or drive 20 miles out of the way. So, I went the short way, and hoped I could avoid that Town Marshall. I crept through the back streets in residential areas until I had to get back on the highway going east at the edge of town. I never saw the Town Marshall, so I thought I was home free, heading out the curvy highway.

It was a speed trap and had been for years. The road had a 20 MPH speed limit for half a mile out of town where it should have been 40 or 50. Everybody knew that, and watched for the County Mounties that got a lot of revenue from that stretch. One problem was the Sheriff's son. He wasn't much past 21 years old when his Dad got him hired as a deputy. He had an inflated idea of himself then, and gave tickets out as fast as he could write them, hoping to make a reputation so he could get elected Sheriff when his Dad retired, I heard. Wrong way to go about it, but, he was a kid.

When the State gave them money for an unmarked pursuit car, the kid got it. A brand new Studebaker Avanti, with the hotted up supercharged 289 V8. This was Studebaker's last gasp as a carmaker, but they did build a fast one. On a straight it would hit 150 MPH, I read in a car magazine. The company didn't put enough effort into the suspension though, and it handled about as well as a concrete truck.

I found the kid on my bumper headed out of town, and he STAYED on my bumper through that 20-zone, gunning the Studie, then dropping back, trying to egg me into a race. I knew better than that, but I also knew he would write me up for something, if he had to invent it. I puttered along in Second gear for half a mile, because the fast gear ratio wouldn't let it run in High at that speed. He stuck with me. All my choices were bad, once he had tagged onto me.

I realized that he couldn't have noticed my tag number, because he had stayed too close to me. It was dusk, and we both had our lights on. Okay. I pushed the button and laid the license tag down flat. His red light came on when I straightened up in the seat. I shifted to Low gear and it was on! I gained some through the rest of the curves, hitting second gear exitting the last one at around 60 as we hit the straight leading up a hill. The highway followed the ridgetop from the top of that hill, and was crooked again, going into a series of S turns.

We both were running about 90 at the hilltop when I let off and hit the brakes, knowing just how fast I could make that turn and crowding it to the limit. I had backed off to about 80, then nailed it again, using the high RPM in second gear to power through the first turn. He had been right on me, but I couldn't look back driving that hard. I let off just enough to cock the wheel the other way to set up for the switchback and nailed the throttle again, drifting the second turn with all 4 tires howling. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw headlights jigging up and down far off to my left, but I was fully committed to driving the beast at that speed and couldn't look.

I knew he had to have gone off the road, because I didn't see headlights behind me. After another set of S turns, I got the car under control enough to look and saw headlights sitting still way off to the left. None behind me. Cool.

I went on to the next town and picked up my date, a really cute little brunette that was as nice as could be. We had a nice evening at her Junior Prom, but she was a bit young at 15, and her folks wanted her to come straight home. I set up another date for the next week and walked her to the door. I had high hopes for the future with her, but she was a just too young.

When I pulled out of her driveway, I remembered the cop chase again, and turned the other way. I went home by way of another town, at least 20 miles out of my way, but I figured there was no need to go poke the bear again tonight. Some time later, I learned that was a good decision.


The county schools all got together once a year to show off their music programs with a joint show for the proud parents. I could never play any kind of instrument, but I could sing fairly well and got into our school chorus. This had the advantage of keeping me in close proximity to all the girls, which I thought was a lot better than running my legs off playing basketball to attract the girls' attention. I got enough of a workout at home and stayed thin and wiry.

Something over 200 kids got bussed to the school gym at the county seat for this deal, and mingled all day at rehearsal. Me and a buddy met a couple sweet young things seated near us that day and made dates for that evening. Me and Chuck drove to the event that night, having arranged to take the girls home later. The program went swimmingly, or did as far as I knew with my mind on the girl next to me. We talked it over and planned to dash out of the gym at the first possible chance to beat the traffic out of the parking lot, lest we be stuck there for an hour or more. We had better things in mind.

She was a little thing, but she was fast. We ran for the car to get started out well ahead of the herd. But some dimwit had parked a school bus right beside me, blocking my way out of the lot. No matter. I didn't see anyone threatening around and I had done a lot of off road driving around the farm. I went across the grass, through a couple yards and driveways, and we were free! Off to the Dog 'n Suds Drive-In for chow. Kids eat constantly, no matter what else may be on their minds.

Chuck had done something similiar, and got there right behind us. We ordered over the speaker thing and soon a curb waitress trotted out with our stuff. There was music on the Drive-In speakers as we ate chili dogs, french fries and slurped down root beer. I got to know Margaret a little better, especially those twinkling blue eyes and freckled face. Chuck and his girl took off ahead of us, still chewing. I didn't know EXACTLY where he was going, but I had the general idea. We all had scouted out some favorite parking places around the countryside.

We took our time eating and talking, learning more about each other. Margaret had several sisters and a couple little brothers. In those days, a lot of kids meant that each one didn't get much, and it showed some. She hadn't worn nylon stockings for this rather dressy occassion like most of the girls did, and her shoes were flats that had seen some wear. Her dress was a nice filmy thing, but just a little tight here and there, like she was outgrowing it. It made me think that she was probably not as well off as I was, and my family wasn't rich by any measure. I filed that away for reference.

She turned on the radio as we left, and found the rock station all the kids liked. I took it easy going out of town, not wanting any undue attention from the local gendarmes that watched young drivers like hawks. Out on the highway, I shifted into second gear and put my arm around her. The gearbox had been worked over to shift easily and I had a heavy chrome knob on the column shifter. When it got up to about 65, I just eased the clutch down and let gravity shift the lever down into high gear. That was a simple trick , but it always got a girl's attention. She snuggled a little closer and we were off down the road. It was a warm spring evening, and love was in the air.

Parking with a girl was a game that all the teenagers played. The trick was to not get caught by well intentioned adults who wanted to protect the virtue of all involved. Margaret directed me toward her home which was not in my usual stomping grounds. I worried over a place to park, but she had that covered.

As we travelled along the highway, she asked, "Do you know about the rock tunnel by Milltown?"

"Yeah, I've seen it going past."

"You can pull in there if you want. It's big enough to drive into and turn around back in there."

I wondered how she knew about this, and she caught that, adding, "My Dad used to work there when it was still going. That was a long time ago. He got laid off, and works at the gas station now."

That put a different light on things for me. Not much money to be made pumping gas. Even if he was a car mechanic, they had it pretty hard.

I checked for headlights, but there wasn't a car in sight when we turned off the highway and drove into the tunnel. It was really a limestone quarry. The top layers of limestone were poor quality, so instead of the normal pit style quarry, they had tunnelled into the side of the hill and blasted deep tunnels to get the good stone out. It had been shut down for several years. Very slowly, I drove deeper into the mine. There were huge pillars of stone left to support the stone overhead, but the open areas were roomy and about 10 or 12 feet high, following the layer of good stone back into the hill, and leaving the floor more or less level. Unlike some caves I had been in, it was bone dry in there. I found a spot to turn around and pointed the car at the entrance, probably a couple hundred feet away. The radio didn't work at all in there, so we were left with each other's company. That proved to be sufficient for an hour or so.

The car windows got pretty steamy, so we rolled them down to get some fresh air. It was pitch dark in the mine. I turned on the dome light in the car, and it hurt our eyes by then. She looked more dreamy-eyed than I had ever seen a girl before, and I got to wondering if it wasn't time for me to take her home. I had plans for college, and they didn't include winding up married to some girl I had barely met. It struck me hard then, that maybe I had become a target of opportunity for early marriage in her mind. It wasn't unheard of, for a girl in poor circumstances to figure out how to entrap a guy she decided she liked. I couldn't fault a poor kid for wanting out of a bad situation, but I didn't want to be a Daddy yet, either. Maybe that wasn't the case with Margaret, but there was a possibility there.

We got out of the car to cool off, walking around by the the dim light from the car interior. I could barely make out dim moonlight at the mine entrance far away.

"Did you drop some money," she asked?

"I don't think so." I looked as she bent to pick up a twenty dollar bill at the bottom of a rockpile. I saw several more behind that rock. We counted them up at $160!

"It ain't mine," I said, wondering how it could have gotten there. Margaret offered a possibility.

"Talk around here is that moonshiners use this place for a drop off spot. Maybe they lost it?"

I began to feel a chill that wasn't the cool mine air. Nobody wanted to cross that bunch.

"We better get out of here," I told her.

"Yeah! Let's go," she said a little nervously.

I put the money in my pants pocket and we dived for the car. In a minute or less, we were gone.

She told me where to turn onto a gravel road toward where she lived. I was right, the place looked pretty rough. We sat in the car for some time talking about the experience and decided we wouldn't say anything to anyone about it. It was a lot of money to us. I knew a man who worked as a millwright then and Union Scale wages for skilled trades barely made $100 a week, take-home pay. She was reluctant but I insisted that she take half of it.

I told her, "You found it. Finders keepers, they say."

That did it, and she tucked four twenties in the front of her dress.

"I better go in. Mom will be awake."

"Yeah. I gotta get home too."

She got out and headed for the door. I waited until she went inside and touched the key, bringing the familiar rumble of the old Ford to life. I eased off the hill where the house was, onto the barely noticeable creek gravel in what was supposed to be their driveway. An old pickup sat off to the side near the house. I drove only semi-conscious of my surroundings to the highway, my head full of the night's happenings. I was 15 miles down the road toward home when I figured out that neither of us had learned a way to contact the other. There had been no phone line going to their house, and I had not given her my number. I thought about it for a long time, considering the danger signals I had felt from her eagerness and from finding the money. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and decided she was an okay kid who was just getting carried away. But I finally decided to let it go, and didn't try to go find her again. College was calling me the next year, and I had my work cut out for me.
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Chapter 5 FLASHBACK, APRIL, 1954

Paul had a plan, a good plan this time that would make him rich. He'd told his parole officer he was going to visit his mother a couple counties north in Indiana, so the creep wouldn;t be dropping in at Paul's old rented house in New Albany for a few days. Friday was his day off from work. Paul took a bus into Lousiville with Dave sitting away from him to look like they were strangers. They got off a couple blocks apart and walked to a burger joint to eat, then down the street to a bar where they killed some time until it was good and dark after 10 PM.

A few days before, Paul had spotted the nearly new pickup in the yard of a construction company. He had learned when the nightly police patrol came by there after 11 PM. The two men rested behind some trash in the alley until they saw the police car drive past. In a few minutes, Dave had the truck unlocked and running quietly. He was a pro at that. The gauge showed almost a full tank of gas, a good thing. They drove with the lights off down the alley, turning them on when they came to the street and moved into the flow of traffic unhurriedly. The truck wouldn't be missed until the company opened at 8:00 AM on Monday. They crossed the Second Street bridge into Indiana and parked in the garage behind Paul's house where they went to work sanding the company name off the doors. They repainted the entire truck wth a dark gray lacquer that dried almost as soon as it hit the surface. Dave was a pretty fair painter, having done a lot of stolen cars in his career. They replaced the license plate with one lifted from a truck 2 towns away. That plate had been replaced with one from another truck in the same town. Paul put a tarp on the back, tied securely over some empty cardboard boxes for a fake load.

It had been a hard sell, but Paul had known what made his cousin Keith tick. Since grade school, Keith had dreamed of being rich and moving to Mexico, lying on the beach with pretty Senoritas. Fourteen years of driving a Brinks truck had not gotten him any closer to his goal. Instead, he'd gotten married and was resigned to his dull life. They hadn't been able to have the children his wife wanted so bad, so she became harder to live with. When she was killed in a car accident, Keith was devastated. They had their problems, but she was all he had. Keith began to drink more.

He'd been drinking beer with Paul one Saturday night, drowning his sorrows and getting tired of listening to Paul talk about what a pain it was to work at the gas station to keep his paroe officer happy. Keith was ready to call it a night when Paul broke out in a big smile.

"I got an idea! It'll take a little time. Come back next week and I can fix us both up! I'll go get busy on it right now. Don't you forget, next Saturday, right here!"

Keith was mystified, and finished his beer after Paul left. He wasn't supposed to drink at all with his job, so he always went out to his home town in Indiana to keep it a secret from anyone at work. Keith was even more depressed the next weekend, so he went drinking at the same bar and saw Paul again, finally remembering his promise to meet him at the bar, keeping the appointment only by accident. Paul bought a cold 6 pack to go and talked Keith into going out driving with him

."You still wanna go to Mexico, huh?"

"Fat chance of that, and you know it." Keith was morose. He sucked on his beer.

"You gotta be rich to really enjoy it down there. Those Senoritas like Yankee dollars. Now. Lookee here." Paul pulled off the county road and fetched an envelope from the glove box, handing it to Keith. "Open it up and look."

It contained a driver's license, birth certificate, Social Security card, a draft card, a hunting license and other papers with the name James Gladstone on them.

"What the heck is this?"

"It's YOU, if you want it to be, a new person to go to Mexico!"


"You'll need it after we rob that truck you drive, so you can go clean away to live in Mexico, like you always wanted to!"

"You're nuts! We can't do that!"

"Yeah we can, and here's how."

Paul did his best sales job, finally convincing Keith to agree to think about it for a week. After another depressing week, Keith agreed to it.

At 7:55 AM, Keith complained of a leg cramp and deviated from their assigned route into a Louisville industrial district and stopped. His partner asked what he thought he was doing? They'd both lose their jobs if they weren't on time at the next stop!

"I'll wreck it if I don't get rid of this cramp!"

"Lemme drive. We gotta be on time!"

"Okay, just a minute."

Keith leaned over grabbing his calf with his right hand with a pained look on his face. The .32 revolver slid into his left hand under his jacket. He straightened up with a groan, putting the little gun to his partner's temple and pulled the trigger. Twice. The older man slumped over. The recently painted pickup pulled in behind the armored truck as Keith slowly got out, moving in a daze, shocked to the core at what he'd just done.

Paul shook him by the arm that still held the gun.

"Snap out of it! Get those doors open now!"

Paul took the pistol and stuck it in his pocket. Keith obeyed and began to move money bags, at least the light ones with bills in them. Paul and Dave got the heavy ones with change in them and the rest of the ones with bills. All 3 of them were sweating when the transfer was complete, the bags now stuffed into the carboard boxes with the canvas tarp tied down over them. Paul shoved Keith an old jacket.

"Take that uniform coat off and put this on," he barked.

Keith got it done and was pushed into the pickup.

"Throw that hat out, too." He did, as Dave twisted wires together and started the truck.

Eight minutes after Keith had stopped the Brinks truck, they were headed north on Second Street. They crossed the bridge into Indiana as the construction boss drove into his lot and noticed his new blue pickup was gone. By the time he had called his partner and learned that it must be stolen, the truck, now painted gray, was 20 miles West into Indiana. As the police took down the theft report, the gray truck entered one deserted tunnel of a limestone quarry.

Dad turned on the radio as Mom was dishing up supper. I was just 8 years old, but I tried to make

sense out of what adults talked about because I had no siblings at home, and school kids aren't real great conversationalists. As the old tube radio warmed up and quit humming, WHAS began to relate the latest news.

"Police reported the robbery of a Brinks' armored truck today, and the shooting of a guard. No names have been released and no suspects named, but it appears to be an inside job. The driver of the truck is missing along with an undetermined amount of cash being transported to and from area banks. The truck was found on a side street with the guard dead in the truck. No more details are available at this time, while the investigation continues...... The weather will be cooler today...."

Paul drove it all the way to the back of the old limestone quarry and turned off the headlights leaving the dash lights on.

"Time to divvy up," he said, smiling as he reached for the door and came back with a snubby .38 pistol. He shot Dave first, because he was an old convict and liable to be more of a problem. Keith just sat there in shock until his turn came. Paul's ears hurt later.

"Sucker," he said looking at Keith's body. "You never were too bright. Guess who is REALLY going to Mexico!"

Paul got out of the truck and fused the charges he had set a few days ago. Quarry experience helped. His old Chevy was a mile down the road when the charges went off, burying the truck, the bodies, and the money beneath a huge pile of rubble. He took his gloves off after throwing the two guns into Blue River when he crossed a bridge, then drove back to the city. Citizens of Milltown decided that the boom they heard must have been one of those "sonic booms" from jets that they talked about on the radio.

He reported to work at the gas station for his night shift. The radio was full of reports about the robbery. He chuckled to himself about that when no customers were around. He locked up at midnight and went to the little bar he liked down by the river. No need to hurry about going anywhere now. He didn't want to draw any suspicion toward himself, because he knew that the cops were at a total loss about the robbery and would look at any ex-cons first. All he'd taken from the loot was a couple rolls of quarters. He knew better than to spend any of the bills because they might trace some numbers, or have them marked somehow. For now, he would keep reporting to his P.O. and let the heat die down. There were no witnesses. It was perfect.

It was time to celebrate a little. He walked into the bar, fingering a roll of quarters in each pocket of his light windbreaker. The bar was noisy. A game was going on the bowling machine by the wall. One guy was drunk and unhappy about his score. He kicked the machine and fell into Paul, then blamed Paul for tripping him.

"Settle down! You're just drunk and you fell, that's all."

"The hell you say!" The drunk slurred his words. "Outa my way, or I'll kick you outa my way!"

Paul tried to steady him, but the guy responded with a wild punch at him. He stepped aside, catching a glancing blow. Paul reached in his pockets and came out with a roll of quarters in each fist. One punch with his loaded fist was all it took to put the guy on the deck. The fight was over,

but the bouncer grabbed Paul to throw him out of the bar.

"Hey! He started that, not ME!"

"You're leavin' buddy. NOW!"

The bouncer cranked his right arm enough to hurt, but Paul brought a left uppercut almost from the floor into the bouncer's chin. Backed up with a roll of quarters, it did him in. His head snapped back and he went down. Paul made for the door, but the barkeep met him with a .38 at gut level.

"Stop right there!"

Paul stopped.

Paul spent the night in the county lockup for drunk and disorderly conduct, even though he had never got a chance to drink one beer. Within a week, he was back in State prison for violating his parole by getting in trouble. A few weeks later, his mother received notice that Paul had died of injuries sustained in a prison brawl.

The robbery investigation wore on for a couple years before finally being relegated to the cold case file with no leads. The men and the money had vanished into thin air. Brinks made up the losses to their customer banks and collected on their insurance for most of those losses. The dead guard's life insurance paid his widow, and the newsmen forgot about it all. Dave had been off parole long enough that nobody worried about the disappearance of an ex-con who'd once ran a chop-shop. The detective assigned to the robbery case retired 3 years later. The quarry became a tax write-off for the stone company that had better resources to exploit.

Two point six million dollars lay buried and forgotten. Nobody went around the quarry, except the occasional teenage couple who wanted some privacy.

Chapter 6 EARLY SPRING, 1964

Some girl I never heard of called me one day and said my girl cousin was her best friend. Okay, so I remembered the cousin. So, this girl needed a date for her Senior Prom in New Albany and my cousin told her to call me, was I interested? Why not? We would meet at my cousin's house and go from there. Seemed kinda strange to me, but whatever, I was game for it. I got the details and we got somewhat acquainted on the phone. It made me wonder about all this because back then girls normally did not ask guys for a date, but I was curious as a cat.

The date went off really well. The girl was very nice, a pretty strawberry blonde and had me stepping and fetching for her, doing my best to be a gentleman all evening. She didn't live all that far from me, so we dated a few more times. I tended to stay out later than my folks liked, so after a date it was always a race home before it got really late. Dad had a habit of coming up with some unpleasant work if I was out too late, and it always had to start at early-dark-thirty, so I didn't get much sleep.

I was running very late after a movie one night, and decided I'd better hurry getting home. Hot rod to the rescue. I flew down the gravel roads from her house and slid sideways into a short cut to a better county road. The short cut was gravel and narrow, going over a ridgetop into the next

valley. I had made it into second gear by the time I topped the ridge and started down the other side. I stepped on the gas and let off to shift into high, but when I hit the clutch, the motor screamed, throttle wide open.

I instantly let out the clutch again. I stepped on the brake, but it had no noticeable effect. The gas pedal was on the floor. I stuck my shoe under it and tried to pull it up, to no avail. The big engine was doing it's thing, roaring down the hill. I hit the brakes again, and felt it slide a little. I looked ahead to the intersection with the valley road, where a 4 foot high dirt bank was topped with a huge tree. Gotta stop before I get there, or I'm gonna die!

The gravel road felt like grease under me. I braked as hard as I dared feeling it start to slide sideways. I looked at that tree again and decided it was now or never. It was getting too close. I hit the brakes for all I was worth and the car slewed sideways, almost full out in second gear. I never saw the speedometer, but I knew it was going near 90 MPH when I lost control. Off the road I went on the left side, where I cleaned fencerow for about a city block before I hit a Hackberry tree that wouldn't break off. I felt the car go airborne and start to roll.

It hit with a sickening crunch. I sort of knew I was upside down, but the seat belt kept me in place. For some reason, the dome light was lit, and I had dropped my cigarette onto the headliner fabric where it was smoking away. I realized that what I heard gurgling was GASOLINE from the car's tank. And I knew that I was going to burn alive if I didn't get that cigarette put out quick. I used my thumb and smashed it. Yeah, it burnt me some, but better that than to roast alive in a flaming car. I was calm as a could be, I thought. In shock, guess.

That problem solved, I resolved to get out of the car and assess the damage. Forgetting that I was upside down, I unbuckled the seat belt and promptly thunked my head a good one on the car's top when I fell. I felt something bang my knee at the same time, but somehow got squirmed around and tried to open the door. It was stuck. Lying on my back, I held the door latch with one hand and somehow kicked at the door enough to get it open. I crawled out into a field of weeds and grass.

After looking the car over, I decided that if we could get it back on it's wheels, it might be driveable. I learned the next day that was not the case. For the moment, I had the problem of how to get home and that was about 10 or 12 miles. Luckily, it was a warm night, so I got started walking. Several vigilant dogs griped about me walking past their house, but I made it unscathed to the next small town about 3 miles down the road. I knocked on the door of a guy I knew there, who didn't appreciate getting woke up at 1:00 AM, but he did take me home. Dad and Mom had a late card party going at home and were awake, but got real upset when I told the tale.

The next day, Dad and I spent rebuilding the flattened fence after a wrecker had hauled the remains of my car home. It hadn't really sunk in yet that my hot rod was totalled. The doorpost in the 4 door body had kept my head from getting smashed, and the seat belt had kept me in place. My only injuries came from when I released the seat belt and fell on my head. The injury to my ego was enormous, though. It took a while to come to terms with the fact that I was now afoot, and would remain so for the foreseeable future. Looking over the old Ford, I found a small piece of gravel wedged into the throttle linkage that held both 4 barrels wide open. And no, it never entered my head to turn the key off going down that hill. I was too busy driving.

I graduated from high school that Spring. Dad found me a summer job to make some college money. Of all places, it turned out to be in the County Seat, at a car dealership. The job was cool. I did grunt work, washing used cars, doing some sanding in the body shop, a little on the grease rack. I like to work on cars anyway. But now I was driving Mom's old one, and my dating was severely curtailed by the 6 day a week job. Life had changed a lot. I began to think more about college and how to pay for it. There wasn't much money around, and I had no idea where to get enough. There was never enough money. Just a little maturity soaked into my head, as I realized I didn't want to wash cars the rest of my life, but I was still in love with cars and the independence they gave me.

Chapter 7 OLD SINS Summer, 1964

Mostly, I washed the cars. When a used car came in on a trade, me and my work buddy Clifford got to clean it up, degreasing the engine, and using their new-fangled air powered pressure washer to clean them inside and out. We got one that was particularly horrendous. It was an old Ford station wagon that some guy had used to haul his coon hounds for hunting. That thing stunk to high heaven, and had dog hair everywhere. We took out the floor mats and the seats, and fire-hosed the inside, then rolled it outside to air out in the sun for a few days and get the smell out.

I had been working on that one day when I took my sack lunch over to the room where they did wheel alignment, wanting to listen and try to learn something from those guys. Shorty said, "Hi there. What're you up to today?"

"Oh. Me an' Cliff are cleaning on that old Ford wagon. That thing is the worst mess we've ever had!"

Shorty laughed. "Yeah, it's bad, all right. But now the WORST one was that Studebaker the Sheriff had. That fool deputy ran it off the road into a corn field and we dug corn stalks out of that thing for DAYS! Had to cut most of it out, they were jammed in there so tight. I think it ruint the car. We never could get it to hold alignment after that. I think they finally sold it. Leastways, it got that fool deputy fired from his job. He was never any account, so good riddance to that one."

I just listened and never said a word. What Shorty and others didn't know wouldn't hurt them a bit.

Grateful that I had gotten away with that escapade, I relaxed until the following Saturday when the Town Marshall always brought in his old blue Chevy for a wash job. Any time he had shown up so far, I had managed to be absent, one way or another, but this Saturday he saw me. I dreaded the sight of him, in that Jackie Gleason style bus driver hat he wore on duty, sure he would recognize me. He did; I'm sure of it.

"You drive that Ford out there, the green and white one?" I nodded, feeling about half safe, since it was Mom's '59, not my old '57 which now graced the junkyard somewhere.

"That Ford pretty fast, is it?"

"No, it's got a six in it."

"Haven't I seen you before?"

"I don't think so."

"Hmmph. Sure seems like I know you from somewhere."

I stood there dumb as a stump until he decided there wasn't anything he could pin on me and left me and Cliff to finish washing his car.

The '57 had been blue and white, painted in the same pattern, and the tail lights were similiar to the '59. I had our school stickers in the back windows of both cars. I know it looked familiar to him, but there wasn't anything he could prove, and we both knew it.

Cliff asked me what was that all about"?

"I ain't got no idea," I said, lying like a rug. Cliff didn't believe me either. I found a resolve in myself to clean up my act, henceforth. Playtime was over for me. I still believe that Town Marshall knew exactly what he was doing, and got the result he wanted from me, too.

The summer went faster after that, it seemed. My thoughts turned to how to finance a year at college. I ended up borrowing what I didn't have. That worked out, and I was off to a whole new set of experiences. I learned even more about being short of money.

Chapter 8 LOVE

It took a couple weeks to find a job the next summer, so between job applications Dad and I did some maintenance around the farm. He figured that I could do a lot of painting, because it was something I could start and stop if a good job turned up. One day we drove to the County Seat where there was a big hardware store to buy paint. Lo, and behold, who came to talk to Dad, but Margaret, looking a lot more grown up now. I was sort of tongue tied, so I took the easy way out and let them talk while I tried to get my head together. I felt a little uncomfortable in old jeans and a Tee shirt.

Dad told her he wanted 5 gallons of good quality outside white paint. She found it for him and gave him a price he liked, so she rang up the sale. We all went to the warehouse to get the paint, where I found myself walking beside her. I did find my tongue and asked how she was doing?

"Pretty good," she said, and smiled with it. "I haven't seen you. Where have you been?"

"Off to college last Fall, now I'm home for the summer and working on the farm until I can find a job. Where do you live now?" I thought I saw more than just a little polite interest on her face.

"I live in town here. Me and another girl share an apartment."

"I'd like to see you again. Are you dating anyone?"

"Not so you would notice. I hope to get some night classes in when I can afford a car. So I don't go out much, trying to save some money."

We got the paint loaded and Dad made himself busy, studiously looking over the contents of the warehouse. I arranged a date with Margaret for the next Saturday evening. Dad saw that I was going toward the car, and lost interest in the warehouse.

"She's a pretty girl," he commented.

"Yeah. I dated her once a couple years ago, but we lost touch. I like her."

By the next week I was driving a dump truck for a local sand and gravel company. Besides sand and gravel, I delivered loads of bagged mortar, plaster, drain tile, or whatever a contractor needed. Hard work, but it paid well. I was used to hard work.

The summer fell into sort of a routine, working hard days through the week, helping on the farm after hours and on Saturdays, then a date with Margaret on Saturday nights. We made it a cheap date, going to a movie or just out for a bite to eat and spent most of the evening getting to know each other a lot better. Soon it was Sunday afternoons, too, driving up to our farm to see how I grew up. She learned that I was a pretty average farm boy, and I learned that she was a very smart, industrious girl. By the end of summer, we had to go our separate ways, but it wasn't easy. I had found a girl who had a sensible head on her shoulders. She was kind and never played the petty games I had come to expect out of girls her age. I liked all that, a whole lot.

We vowed to write to each other, but both of us were afraid it wouldn't happen. But she did write to me, and I wrote back, first tentatively and then we both made an effort to tell what our life was like so we wouldn't be strangers when we got back together. By the end of that school year, we both had enough and decided to marry. We made a deal. She would work to put me through school, then I would return the favor. That Spring we had a simple ceremony and moved her in with me in our family farmhouse. No separate place for us. It was that money thing again. We didn't have a place of our own until that Fall when we rented a small apartment on campus at the university. We joked now and then about going back to that old limestone tunnel to see if there was any more money lying around, but we never did.

We endured my term in college and came out the other side of it with a fierce commitment to each other. No sooner than I had a decent job after graduation, than we were expecting. Life got tough, as we fought through the first years of marriage with school loans to pay off and needing everything all at once. I had my dream of doing design work on cars, but Margaret had her hands full with a new baby, and it was all we could do to keep our heads above water for the next couple years. I vowed to keep my promise and pay her way through college, but it didn't happen until we had 2 kids in school, and things began to get easier. She graduated from IU nursing school as an RN. She had her dream, and I had learned a lot about maturity and responsibility.

I kept at my engineering job, but the auto industry suffered a severe setback when the Arabs decided to cut back on oil shipments to jack the price up. My job looked precarious for months before that settled down. Margaret had a good job by then, so we didn't think we were in any real trouble, but I looked for greener pastures anyway and found a more stable job close to our old home towns. Nurses could find a job anywhere, so that was no problem. It seemed like I was forever trying to outrun a layoff from a car company. My first love was cars, but that was fading fast.

We bought a small farm for a long term investment and I began to stock it with equipment. After all, a small farm was something I understood. Whatever happened to my job prospects, a farm would feed us. Land was still fairly cheap in 1978, so we could afford the 110 acres. A lot of it was forested hills, but there was about 40 acres of good creek bottom and another hilltop field of over 30 acres. With 70 acres of tillable ground, I knew we could make it pay for itself. For the first few years, we would just rent out the tillable ground until I could piece together some used machinery to do it myself. The kids helped a lot, getting the livestock projects going. By the time they were teenagers, they knew the whole valley like their own back yard, and had enough farm experience to take care of the place. Their interests lay elsewhere, however.

As years went by, our kids grew up and went their own ways, Jeff went off to the military for a

career, and Jeanette also served 4 years in the Air Force, then quit to work in the private aircraft industry. By the early 1990's, both kids found good mates and were settled into their lives. Jeff and his wife Sandy were hopping from one Air Force Base to another following his intelligence assignments around the world. Jeanette had married Nathan Tilson, a hometown boy that did steel fabrication for a big construction outfit. Margaret and I began to save and invest for retirement, thinking that life was getting more secure for us, finally. I followed Dad's example and reduced our farm work by renting out some ground for grain, and converting to a small cow-calf beef herd that only needed minimal attention. Margaret and I began to study more about investments, trying to learn enough to keep our savings growing. Life was good.

It was the calm before the storm.



I heard lately that some people's DNA may contain a "warrior gene", and if so, they will have more of a tendency toward violence. Jeff probably has that. It began to show in grade school when his teacher whacked his knuckles with a ruler for writing with his left hand. He hit her back, and I had to make a trip to school to explain the facts of life to the Principal, that if my kids were left handed, then God made them that way and woe be unto he that tries to change it. We came to an understanding.

Jeff was born without a reverse gear. He never did back up from anything that I ever saw. That applied to school work the same as it did to everything else. I've seen him with black eyes from fights, and bloodshot eyes from studying late, but I've never seen him give up. He had less patience for school than he did the great outdoors, preferring to work on the farm or hunt the woods, where he had better than average markmanship. He liked the hands-on sort of thing better than pure intellectual pursuits, and enjoyed the farm shop. So it seemed natural that when he graduated from high school in 1984, he didn't bother to look for a job, and didn't ask us what we thought, but announced that he needed to borrow the truck to go see the Air Force Recruiter.

He was mad when he got home because he had missed a couple questions out of the 150 or so on the ASVAAB test, complaining that he"must have been half asleep". The recruiter was overjoyed with his score and told him he could essentially have any job he wanted. That turned out to be some Intel MOS that he couldn't talk about, but he did write to us from boot camp and AIT, then from some other military schools he attended in succession. He seemed to go through these without complaint. His CO (= drill instructor) at one of the advanced survival training camps in California did an "exit interview", and his last question was, "What are you afraid of?"

Jeff didn't like the CO, not even a little bit. He thought a minute and answered that he wasn't afraid of anything he'd seen in training, nor of what he expected to see on duty. He said was afraid that our nation, and thus his family needed to be defended, and that was why he joined up. Otherwise, he "wasn't afraid of much, and that includes you SIR! Do we understand each other SIR?" The CO nodded, and said, "I think you'll do."

There was more training, at various bases, including one in Texas before he was offered a chance for OCS and ROTC, which he accepted and let the Air Force pay for a BS in Communications at University of Dayton, where Wright Patterson AFB is located. He told some about his general area of work when we went to see the ceremony when he was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. The next couple years he was stationed at Wright Patterson AFB, as close to home as he could get,

but that was too good to last. He soon found a young woman officer there he fell in love with, and promptly married. Their wedding soon after was the last we would see of him for a while.

A year went by when we heard nothing from Jeff personally, but his wife Sandy did write and let us know he was okay, just on remote assignment. He came back to Wright-Pat for a short time and was again sent out TDY to "some remote hellhole", in Sandy's words. There was trouble in several parts of the world at that time, notably in Mogadishu, Somalia and also in the what used to be Yugoslavia. We have no idea where he went, or what he did there.

But when he came home, Sandy wrote that he had some problems sleeping, and he had a horrible temper. Sandy was a pretty easygoing girl from what we had seen, so that worried his Mom and I. Then we got a letter from her that said she couldn't take it anymore. He was too violent. Either he was sleeping too much, or his temper was out of control. She said she cared about him, but she was afraid of him, and he wasn't getting any help from his superiors. His security level was high enough that he wasn't allowed to see a private psychiatrist, either. She filed for a divorce. For the next year, we didn't hear from Jeff, except a short note now and then that he was okay.

The next thing we knew, Jeff was in Italy, doing some commo work while the Bosnian thing was going on in 1995. He even called us now and then, and he sounded almost normal. Almost, not quite. But then he came back stateside and hopped from one base to another, following a superior officer that really liked him and his work. Mostly he was in the Eastern half of the country for a few years, and he did manage to come home for brief furloughs now and then. He seemed like he was strung up tight as a fiddle string, but he had his act together. A weekend on the farm with the cattle and roaming the woods seemed to leave him a lot more calm than when he got there, but a couple days later he was gone again. By 2004, it did not surprise us when he called home to say he was mustering out, taking his 20 and whatever pension they would give him as a Captain.

When he dropped his duffle on our front porch, Margaret greeted him with tears, and so did I. He gave me a hug that hurt my aging bones and a look that was as tearful as it was hard. His eyes were a lot different now. I knew that boy had seen things that nobody ought to see.

A week later, he had bought a really nice RV trailer that was all his Blazer would pull, and drove it to the back of our place where he set up camp not far from an old hand dug well left from the original homestead on our farm. He mostly stayed to himself back there for a long time, just dropping in to give his Mom a rabbit or a few squirrels for the pot. He did go to town now and then, but never on a weekend. I'd see him sitting on the pond bank sometimes, and if I got close he still had that "thousand yard stare" that some military people have.

I asked him one time if he wanted to fence the cattle away from his RV? He said, "Naw. Cows make good neighbors." I was so glad to have him home that I didn't care if he slept with the cows, if that was what he needed to do.


Jeanie is two years younger than Jeff, and has always looked up to her big brother, but had an independent streak a mile wide. At age 10 or so, she had decided she would cut a Christmas tree from the Cedar thicket on the hill out back of the main pasture. I cautioned her not to cut one too big, because they look a lot smaller out there in the wild than they do in the house. She agreed and set off with the small "boy's axe", and was gone for a while. Next thing I saw was her harnessing up one of our old draft horses and leading the mare off into the woods. When she got that tree to the house, it was about 10 feet too tall to set up inside, so we cut a pretty good gate post off the bottom to make it fit. The bottom of that tree looked like a beaver had gnawed on it. I asked if she had any trouble cutting it down? She grinned and said with tongue firmly in cheek, "No, it only took about 5 or 6 licks to get it on the ground!"

Yeah, right! But that was her way. She would do what she set out to do, or bust. Probably, she was related to her brother in that way. And she remembered the lessons she learned. Jeannie was the one who introduced the idea of GIRLS taking a wood shop class in her school. It took a while, but the administration finally chose to see things her way. Like Jeff, the Air Force was her choice, but she had an aptitude for making things, and ended up in Airframe Repair. It was a good time for her, she said, but 4 years was enough. She was discharged as a MSGT after supervising a small shop for the last couple years in the UK, with some TDY to Rhein-Main. She had a few bad relationships with men, and came home single, but with her best friends, an old tom cat and a Cockatoo. The next few years she held several jobs relating to her AF experience, but was constantly bumping her head on job discrimination that favored men. She had enough of that pretty quick and used her GI Bill to get a college degree in Chemistry, which related closely to her lifelong interest in herbs and plant medicine.

She saw an old schoolmate with some regularity, and after some false starts, they decided that they had known each other since 3rd grade, and they still liked each other a lot. That relationship began to bloom and they made a decision to marry. They were both busy and had no interest in a big affair of a wedding, so they got the paperwork done and went to see the County Clerk, an old friend, who married them on their lunch hour. Nathan Tilson truly is the fine fellow she knew he was, and has done his dead level best to make their life together just what they want it to be. I should mention that Nathan is a big guy. He stands a little over 6 feet 5 inches, and wears a size 13 shoe. No fat on him, but he weighs in around 240 pounds in summer, and maybe up to 250 in winter. Except for 4 years in college, he has done hard physical work most of his life and doesn't know his own strength. Whatever he grabs hold of, he expects it to move. He has a degree in wildlife management that fitted him for a job as a Game Warden, but after seeing how law enforcement worked up close, he took a job doing construction and never looked back.

Nathan worked for a construction company doing custom steel fabrication up until late in 2006 when business began to fall off badly. He could see the handwriting on the wall and bailed from his day job. He and his dad had collected enough tools and equipment over the years that he could work at his dad's place at the edge of town and do some steel fab on his own. It didn't take long for him to develop a following of customers. After they married, Jeannie had found her niche as a partner in their shop. She began to do the phone work, some purchasing, a lot of the job layout and setup which took thorough understanding to be really effective. They worked as a team, whether it was grunt work or programming the CNC plasma cutter. Jeannie is only 5 feet 6 inches and has never weighed over 130 pounds with a rock in each hand, so she left the heavy stuff to Nathan. She has some problems with early onset arthritis from too many hours on a rivet gun in the AF, putting new floor decking in C-130's that were promptly scrapped the next year. This did not endear the AF to her and was a big reason she left. But the light shop work was just what she liked, and she had time to work on things like designing a solar heating appliance that could turn into a good product for them.

By 2008, things were going well for them, but the housing downturn was reflected in their business too. They were getting by, but there was not much to spare. Thankfully, they both were adamantly opposed to being in debt, and had a good start on living off the grid. Nathan had bought some forested acreage long before they were married and put up a super-insulated cabin on it. That was a real help when money began to get tight. They both loved living way out in the sticks. In Jeannie's words, she had seen what the business world and modern society had to offer, and she "would rather run barefoot in the woods with the rednecks". Their place was only over a couple big ridges from our old farm. She felt like she was home, and had in fact roamed most of this area on horseback as a kid.

Jeannie got a part time job teaching to help out, and loved the kids, although it didn't look like they were going to have any kids of their own. That didn't matter to them. They fit each other like gloves, and were obviously happy. The marriage was a match made in heaven.


Jeff helped around the farm and was a Godsend. My arthritis was a problem when the weather changed, or if I overdid heavy work. Margaret's nursing job kept her about half frantic with odd shifts sometimes and trying to keep up with the garden and canning food. My engineering job was getting more hectic, and required enough gratuitous overtime on my part to make it hard to keep up with the farm. Jeff found a part time job working at the local computer store. He did mostly bench work that did not require him to deal with customers who would have driven him crazy. It also gave him access to the fastest internet connection around so he could keep up with his old military buddies.

By 2008, Jeff had the fences in good repair and had done some building maintenance at home, and familiarized himself with the operation. Our dozen head of beef cows and their calves only took minimal effort most of the time. In summer, we had hay to put up, and stuck with the small square bales, so that made for some long days. I saved some vacation days for haymaking season, and some for planting and harvest times, but we only raised 10 acres of corn for our own stock feed, so that didn't take long to get done.

I had stayed with old equipment and methods. We did not own a combine, but instead an old ear corn picker and some wire type corn cribs. I did get an elevator setup put together to fill the corn cribs, so that got rid of the shovelling of older days. Our wagons had hydraulic dump beds that enabled us to dump straight into the corn elevator, and thus into the corn cribs with very little labor. It was slower than the picker-sheller combine process, but corn on the ears dried nicely without a propane fueled grain dryer. God did the drying naturally. It worked well for our small operation and the equipment cost stayed low.

Jeff had convinced me to get a hundred chickens last Spring, and 25 feeder pigs. He had put the old hog facilities in order, and had done the vaccinating, worming, and taken over the general care of the hogs. They were growing like mad, and eating like, pigs. We had plenty of corn left from last year's crop, and this promised to make some money. The chickens were slowly being culled out and the culls put in the freezer. We had fresh eggs for the first time in many years.

I had put together a corn sheller and hammermill feed grinder setup that was tractor powered. The sheller required shovelling corn into a small elevator that fed the sheller, but from there on it was all mechanical. Ear corn could be either sent directly to the hammermill for grinding cobs and all for cow feed, or fed into the sheller where the grain was separated from the grain, and the grain ground into meal for feeding pigs or chickens with a protein supplement added in the grinder. The corncobs we ground separately and used them for litter in the chicken house. This was a big improvement over the way we had done things when Jeff was a kid. He figured out the whole works quickly. He got the feed processing taken care of each week whether I was there to help

or not, and that took a load off my mind.

When we shut down the grinding one day in September, I noticed a new dish antenna just peeking above the trees near his RV. Otherwise, his residence was not visible from our house and barn. There was a tall straight antenna sticking up above it. I asked, "What ya got going on with the antennaes?"

"I got satellite internet and basic TV cable. The tall one is a HAM rig. That lets me keep up with what is going on in the world." He grinned a little, something I didn't see very often. "It works really well until a cow decides to scratch on one of the guy cables Then I get some blinking on the digital TV, but it's fine."

"Your water system working okay?"

"Yeah. That old well is only about 20 feet deep, but it must be on one heckuva vein. Even last summer when it was so dry, I never ran out of water. It was worth cleaning it out. The good part is, even if the power goes out, I can get all the water I need with a bucket and a rope. Low tech is reliable, you always said."

That was something I had preached about to the kids, so I grinned back at him.
Jeff decided to gig me about my low tech bias. "You're welcome to come over and use my internet if you get tired of that old dial-up connection."

Our home was 8 miles out of town in a valley with steep wooded hills all around, so any communication with the outside world was problematic. "I may do that sometime. Mostly, I get done what I need at work, but it's nice to know it is there. What's the latest news?"

"Lots of talk about some serious trouble with banks and bad mortgage loans."

"I've been hearing that on the radio. Does that amount to anything you think, or is it just more financial hocus pocus?"

"Sounds serious to me. Lots of people ready to lose their homes when those adjustable rate mortgages go to higher interest rates. Some say it could cause some real problems with banks."

I didn't think much about it until the radio news I heard on the way home from work said that Lehman's investment bank had gone under. There were a lot of terms I didn't understand, but a big bank going broke was simple enough. I went to talk to Jeff. By the time I had browsed his financial sites, he had me convinced that the banks were in deep trouble. We needed to take a look at what this could mean to our investments. Margaret and I needed to talk.

After much discussion, mainly guided by Jeff's latest info, we moved a lot of our savings out of a stock fund and into a money market fund. Any gain there was small, but there was less chance of losing a lot from the stock market crashing. I did more research and suggested putting some money into silver, since it was said to be undervalued, but Margaret was opposed to that, seeing it more as gambling than investing so we left it in the money market account. We left about 1/3 of our stock fund intact, hoping for some growth from that portion, a risk versus reward choice. The finance people were having hissy fits over the "collapse of credit", and the "near meltdown of the financial world", but the only result I saw was that some engineering projects were put on indefinite hold. Apparently, the powers in high places had saved the day, although nobody I knew liked the

idea of Congress voting to bail out a bunch of big banks.

Silver began to go up at a rapid rate, and while I fumed about not investing in it when I wanted to, I recalled a joke a friend of mine pulled one day. He came in to work saying he had lost a lot of money in the commodity market. He had been making money steadily there, so we asked what happened? He said, "Hogs went up 2 dollars a hundredweight and I didn't have any!" Duh. Okay, forget the lost opportunity. Anyone could say something like that AFTER it happened.

The stock market took a big dump after the first of the year, and began to go steadily down from there. My retirement account was looking dismal. I began to watch the markets very closely at work, going in early to check financial sites before our office opened. Things looked more precarious as the next summer rolled around. I convinced Margaret to switch out some of her retirement savings and put them into US Treasury bonds. Poor earnings, but safe, I thought.

Margaret finally agreed to get rid of the remaining stock in her mutual fund savings account and buy silver with it. The stocks were down to half their original value at that point. Silver was going back up, after taking a breather. I convinced Margaret it was time to buy and got in at $12/ounce New York spot price. It more or less climbed steadily.

Jeff brought over a stack of books, several of them pretty thick, and said we needed to have a meeting. He had been studying like a madman for several months on the financial system and decided to dump his stocks right after Lehmans died.

"What's going on here?" Engineers believe in cause and effect. I wanted to know the reasons behind the news.

Jeff said, "That book, 'The Creature from Jekyll Island', tells how the Federal Reserve Bank was created at a secret meeting of powerful people, led by a guy named Warburg from the Rothschild banking fortune in Europe. The Rothschild's controlled the banks in Europe and wanted to dominate the whole world. The founder of that banking fortune was quoted as saying, "Give me control of a country's currency, and I care not who makes the laws". Warburg engineered our Federal Reserve Bank system, and in 1913 the rest of them got it passed through the Congress when there were few members present. Since then, that group of private banks has controlled US currency, not the government. They have been systematically creating booms and depressions since then to loot the United States."

"They did that by getting us off the gold standard so they could cause inflation by prnting more money. Prices don't go up until AFTER those banks have bought stocks, bonds, and other things with their counterfeit money. THEN prices go up, and they essentially have bought the country for nothing!"

I began to understand and said, "Then, with more money around, prices go up for everybody, right?"

"Yep. But it gets worse. When all that money is created, credit is made easy to get, and most people go in debt to buy things. Mortgages as we know them are a comparatively new thing. Personal debt, and government debt have grown to where it's impossible to pay it off now without printing even more money."

"So, then, inflation gets worse," I said.

"Right. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets."

He talked for an hour about things that I dimly understood, but concluded that the world of finance and money (currencies, actually) was unbelievably corrupt and we were headed for a currency crash, eventually.

"What does that mean?", Margaret asked.

"It means that people lose faith in the dollar, and start getting out of anything that is valued in dollars. You might understand it better as really high inflation--prices going up at an unbelievable rate. Nobody knows exactly WHEN this would happen, but with the US so far in debt it is just a matter of time. We probably have some time, because there are a lot of European countries that are in worse shape. They will go down first, but we will be in line right behind them. That might be a year away, or up to 5 or 10 years away. It depends on how long they can patch things together. But when it happens, it will be quick."

I asked what he was doing about this?

Jeff said, "I sold out of stocks and bought silver at $8 an ounce. It was up to $20 today, and bouncing all over the place. Even with the big fees and taxes on the gain, I am up almost 2 to one now. I'm letting it ride. This isn't over by a long shot. There is just no way the US can get itself together with such a debt load and business going downhill fast."

"What would you do in our place?"

"I'd dump every paper investment you have and put it into the farm. Set up to make a living here. If we bought some equipment, we could produce diesel fuel from soybeans or sunflower seed. That will get to be important with oil going sky high."

"We can't sell ALL of our investments. We have to keep something for retirement, something that will pay us an income."

"What if the value of a dollar goes DOWN faster than your investments earn money? Wouldn't it be better to have the farm PRODUCING more income? If the value of dollars goes down, then the prices of corn, soybeans and pork bellies will go UP. It may not be as much as what the dollar loses, but it will be better than getting 4% on a CD."

We talked several times in the next few weeks. Jeff had our attention. In the Fall of 2009, Margaret came home with the news that our local hospital was bankrupt. There were rumors of a scandal of some kind, but the only sure thing was, it was going into receivership. There were rumors that it might be taken over by a hospital in Louisville. The only sure thing was, she had to retire now. We discussed and debated for hours before she decided firmly to take out her 401K in a lump, pay the taxes, and pay off the farm. She was 63, so there was no withdrawal penalty. The problem was, there would be almost nothing left of it after we paid off the farm. The good part, if any, was that she could start drawing Social Security, and we would have no mortgage payment.

For the first time we had to hire an accountant to do our taxes that year. The news kept getting worse. Unemployment was up, a LOT. Every month it got worse. Beef prices weren't all that great, so we talked it over and decided to keep 6 of the heifer calves to increase the breeding herd instead of selling them this year. That sounded like a good plan. Then I was told one day that I no longer had a job. Cars were not selling, credit was almost impossible to get, and they were downsizing the engineering department. I took my last days of vacation and cleaned out my desk. I was retired, too, but I lacked a lot of being ready for it.


Chapter 12 PREPARATIONS November, 2009

"Dad, I'll be gone tomorrow. I've got some business to attend to."

"Okay. You need to take some time off. Do something you enjoy."

" I enjoy the farm. That's why I'm here."

"You know what I mean. Have some fun, whatever suits you."

"Oh, I will. I'm going shopping, but first I gotta sell these trinkets."

Jeff had a canvas gym bag that he was stuffing full of the little brass elephants, flowers, and snake statues he had bought in India. I always thought they were less than attractive, but to each his own. He'd had several whatnot shelves full of the things. I thought the shelves would look better if they were full of books or something. He came back late that night and said he'd be in and out for a few days, shopping for a few things he wanted. "Fine. I can take care of things, no problem."

His old Chevy Blazer disappeared down the lane and I busied myself around the barn. It was late when he got home, and he had some wood boxes piled in the truck. I helped him carry them inside his RV trailer, where they filled most of the living room floor. He opened a couple boxes and took out a couple exotic looking rifles.

"Those must have cost a pretty penny!"

"Yeah, but I got a decent deal on them."

He kept opening boxes until the room was bristling with firearms and military ammo boxes. "You spent a lot of money."

"Yep. I had it to spend, though. Y'know those little brass statues I sold?"

"Yeah, but those couldn't have been worth very much."

Jeff gave a conspiratorial grin. "But Dad. They weren't brass. They were gold!"

I guess my mouth worked like a fish out of water for a while, because he chuckled.

"There is only a few people who know that, so keep it quiet, okay?" I nodded dumbly.

"Let's just say that I made some good deals while I was overseas, okay?"

"Okay. I won't ask any dumb questions. Probably time I went to the house. You enjoy your new toys."

Jeff grinned, "Oh I will. Yeah, I'll enjoy them a lot."

I learned later that the little statues had been PLATED with brass, so they would tarnish and turn a bit green in spots. Since gold is much heavier than brass, they had been made somewhat thinner than the tourist junk they were copied from. Some smuggler in India had gone to a lot of trouble to have them made. Jeff had been sending them home a few at a time whenever he was off in some remote part of the world. Margaret thought they were tacky, but since they came from her son, she hadn't told him that. Souvenirs, he called them, and asked that we keep them for him. They had laid in their shipping boxes in Jeff's old room upstairs for years.

I never got any more of the story about their origin, and he only told me that much to explain why he had needed a plastic dishpan and a bottle of battery acid. He used that to etch the brass off the statues before he sold them, so they would test correctly as .9999 fine gold when assayed. Apparently he knew somebody in a city nearby that could do that on the spot without asking a lot of questions. There must have been 8 or 10 pounds of the things. Curious, I researched on the internet and learned that there are 12 Troy ounces to the pound, so he must have had 100 Troy ounces of gold in that gym bag. He had sold in late November of 2009, when gold spot price was little over $1,200/ounce. So Jeff had a pretty good pile of money laying around. I wondered what he planned to do with it, but it wasn't my business. If he wanted us to know, he would tell us. I had the feeling I might be better off to NOT know what he was doing.

When Jeff dropped in at our house for supper a few days later, he had some ideas. He had never been one to talk much, and even less so after he came home from the AF, but that night he got really chatty, for Jeff, that is.

"Mom, Dad, I been thinking."

"What about?" I asked because he was pretty opaque most of the time.

"Money, investments, and what to do about it now. We're going to see the dollar go down bad. I told you that. It's all based on the idea that oil is traded in dollars and that makes the dollar worth more, like back when the dollar was backed by gold. There isn't any gold standard now, so oil is what backs the dollar."

This was news to me. It sounded really strange. "What has oil got to do with the dollar?"

"Well, a dollar is just paper. It isn't worth anything unless somebody THINKS it is, because it isn't backed by anything. It used to say "silver certificate" on a dollar bill, but now it says "Federal Reserve Note". A note is a DEBT. So we are operating on the value of the Fed's say-so that they OWE us a dollar for each one they print. The only reason people want dollars is because they will buy something. Way back when, just after WWII, the US forced the world to trade in dollars, and oil is the biggest part of that. We fought Gulf War One and Two because Iran wanted to sell oil in OTHER currencies. Had nothing to do with WMD's. If we let Hussein get away with trading oil without using dollars, the value of a dollar would fall like a rock."

Margaret was amazed, She believed her son, but she didn't want to think this was even possible.

"That is hard to believe. You mean we got all those boys killed because of that?"

"Mmm-hmm." Jeff talked around a mouthful of pork chop and green beans, and for once his mother didn't fuss about it.

He swallowed and said, "That's how it is, though. I brought it up because there are some other

countries making noise now about trading between themselves using their own currencies. If very much of that happens, the dollar won't have as much demand and the value will drop. Right now, if you are a German business and want to buy oil, you first have to buy DOLLARS, then pay for the oil with dollars. That keeps the dollar in demand. There's a lot of other things that make a difference in the value of one currency and another, but that is the big thing. And we can't stop all these moves away from the dollar. Eventually, it will happen, so all we can do is be ready for it."

Margaret asked, "What does that mean, to be ready for it? How can you live with a dollar that isn't worth anything?"

"Oh, it will have some value, just a lot less. And the only answer is to get away from using dollars as much as you can."

He had lost me. "How can you do that? You can't buy anything without money?"

"There is a difference between dollars and "Money", Dad. "Money" is anything you can trade for what you need. Dollars are printed pieces of paper. So, you want to have as much of your wealth as possible NOT in dollars. In your case, cattle, feed, seed, hogs, farm equipment, land, and all that is REAL wealth. Money in a bank is depreciating like bananas. You noticed prices going up lately?"

Margaret said, "I have noticed all right. Groceries are up a lot, and the packages are getting smaller. Coffee has gone up a dollar a jar, and meat is outrageous. It's a good thing we raise our own meat. I don't see how city people get along. I grew up poor, and I know what it is to have to scrimp on groceries. That's why I always canned everything we raised. Makes me feel good to see all those jars in the pantry. But we can't raise everything. Coffee, flour, sugar, salt and spices, we always buy. And spices are getting crazy. They want a couple dollars for just a tiny little jar of sage, or rosemary, or bay leaves that I use."

Jeff interrupted. "That's what I'm talking about. There is a whole bunch of internet sites that talk about this. Some of them are pretty crazy, and get into all kinds of end-of-the-world stuff, but I found several that deal with how to raise food, and live with buying less."

I put my oar in the water. "We started out poor as could be, so we know how to live poor. I just don't want to. I planned for a good easy retirement, and that's what I want to do. I worked hard for it and I mean to have it."

Jeff nodded. "Yeah, you got that coming. I want you to arrange things so that the big money people can't rip you off and destroy the value of your savings."

"You mean to buy gold, or silver? I bought some silver a while back at $12 an ounce, and it's been going up."

"Silver and gold are fine, but only after you do everything else you can, like producing food, providing your own water and heat for the house, and a lot of other things. Precious metals are the best hedge I can think of for the long term, but you lose a lot to taxes and dealer profits. And the prices are manipulated by the big money guys, so you are better off to do everything else you can first. Like doing something about this old drafty house. It takes way too much heat. I know we used to heat with wood, but it took a lot of wood. Could you afford a new house?"

Margaret and I looked at each other. She was the financial head of the family so she answered.

"We cashed out our 401K's and have $220,000 in CD's now, but the interest isn't much on those. They are only 6 month CD's and are due to roll over soon. When I cashed out my hospital retirement, we paid off the farm with that and put the little left over in the farm checking account to buy some equipment Alan wanted to make things easier."

"Alan bought silver with part of our 401K money, and gave $11,000 each for 4 bags of US coins, what they call "junk silver" because it isn't any rare collectible coins, just regular change. He said that is up quite a bit, but he wants to hang onto it for a while. We can't spend much on a new house, or we would be broke. From what you have said about the National Debt, we can't count on Social Security to be there forever, or Medicare, either. I don't think we should spend what we have on a house, and wind up without any money."

"Mom, what I am saying is, money won't be worth anything. Prices are going to go up so much that what you have won't buy much."

Margaret looked sick. Finally, she said, "Well, then we are already as good as broke. It's just a matter of time."

Jeff said, "It doesn't have to be that way. The best way to hold onto the VALUE of your money is to SPEND it now, while it is still worth something. I don't mean to just blow it, but buy what you will USE ahead of time. Only things that won't spoil, or go bad for any reason, but everyday stuff that you are going to buy anyway, at some time. Everything from toilet paper to clothing, and supplies like grease and oil, and even diesel and gasoline can be treated to last for years. Just walk around the house and the farm and you will see things to stock up on. Under the kitchen sink is the dishwashing liquid, cleanser, drain cleaner, and steel wool pads. You buy them every month and they keep going up, right? So why not buy enough to last for a long time and save the value of that money?"

"Of course that makes sense," she answered, "But that is a long ways from the cost of building a house."

Jeff was ready for that one. "Houses don't have to cost all that much. Depends on how you do it. If we did most of the work ourselves, it wouldn't cost all that much. Have you ever seen an underground house, Mom?"

"Yes, there's two down the road at Palmyra, and one we pass on Grant Line Road going to New Albany. They aren't ALL underground. They have the front sticking out."

"That's what I'm talking about. I know where there is a good used backhoe that would do the digging. We could get a contractor to do the concrete work and we could do the roof and interior. If you are interested, I'll do some estimating."

"Well, it would be a relief to have a smaller house. This big old barn of a thing is hard to clean and we never use the upstairs. I don't trust the chimneys any more to put a wood stove on them, either. That's why we put in a gas furnace. But what would we do for storage? I use the upstairs bedrooms to store out of season clothes and canned goods. We have all your grandparents' stuff up there, too. I guess a lot of that could be gotten rid of now, but we still need a lot of storage."

I had thought about that while they were talking. "Just dig a bigger hole. If we dug back into the hillside, we could pour a concrete top on it and have a king-sized root cellar, basically, a

basement. It wouldn't cost all that much to do if we are doing most of the work. I think the silver may cover it, if it keeps going up."

"But you only put $44,000 silver. Has it gone up that much?"

"Not yet, but it is on the way. If we pay as we go out of the CD's, by the time we get the house done, silver could be up to $30 an ounce, and it would net us about $90,000."

"There's no guarantee of that and you know it Alan. It can go down as well as up."

"In the short term, yes, but we don't have to sell it when it's down. We can wait for the best price. It's a nest egg, anyway."

Margaret began to see how this would work. Once convinced, she set to work on the process of buying things ahead, and I was astounded at the amount of shopping that one little old lady could get done in a short time. She got memberships at Sam's Club and Costco and had Jeff and I put the camper top on my old pickup. We cleaned up a section of the barn upper level and she began to haul truckloads of stuff in there. Her logic was, if we were going to eventually tear down the old house, she didn't want to have to move the stuff more than once into the new one. What she was buying wouldn't freeze or be otherwise damaged by warehouse type storage. She bought dozens of the biggest plastic totes she could find and had me taking the flatbed utility trailer to get used plastic barrels with lock on lids. She shopped relentlessly and filled it all. She spent a lot of time at Jeff's RV surfing the internet for bargains. That woman knew how to shop, and she did a lot of it.

"ALAN?" I hustled into the dining room so I could hear her better. "What's up?"

"What do you need for the farm? I know Jeff said to get grease and oil, and I know you buy a lot of stuff at the farm store, but there must be some things I can get bought while you two are working on the other things."

"Hmm. You caught me cold on that. I'll think about it and make a list. Right now, I know I'd like to have some barbed wire and woven wire to expand the hog lots. Need some more barbed wire to fence for cattle, too. You can start with that at the farm stores in Corydon. Take the trailer and they will load it for you. I'll use the Massey 165 to take it off with the front loader when you get home. I'd say to get 8 rolls of heavy 47" woven wire, 6" stay, and let's see. A roll of barbed wire is a quarter mile long, and I like to run 5 strands for cattle to be sure we can keep the calves in, so it takes 5 rolls per quarter mile of fence. Get 20 rolls, and that will do several cross fences we need. That's a pretty good load, so if you are doing any other shopping in town, save the fence to pick up last."

"Okay, I need to go to Corydon anyway. I like their Wal Mart better and the traffic isn't so bad as Clarksville. I'll hit the Goodwill down there, too. You need more work clothes the way you tear things up."

I left her there with her shopping lists and took my coffee cup out to see if I could help Jeff getting ready to clear the building site. It would be Monday of next week before the guy that had the backhoe would be home from his trucking job. So, we had most of a week to get ready for it. I thought of something.


"Yeah," he answered from the brush pile we had made.

"How are you going to get that backhoe home?"

"He has a heavy equipment trailer. He's keeping that, because he has a small 'dozer, too, but he said he'd haul it for us. Probably late Monday or early Tuesday."

"Okay. I expect it will want an oil change, and a good going-over, so I think I'll work in the shop tomorrow and get ready for it. It will go in there won't it? It's a 10 foot high door."

"Oh yeah. You can extend the hoe and it is only about 8 or 8 1/2 feet high over the cab. It needs some welding on the front bucket, so I planned on putting it in there. He says the battery is good, and it starts easy. It's old enough that it has glow plugs and ether injection for cold weather. I think it is good to go, but if it needs anything the parts shouldn't be too bad since it's a Case. If it was a John Deere or a Cat, it would take a new mortgage on the farm to rebuild it. I need to talk to another man who had an ad in the paper. He had an old Case hoe that was pretty well junk, but it might be worth getting for parts. And it has a narrow bucket we could use for ditching. I just drove past and looked at it, but I haven't talked to him yet. He got a new one, so at least it was going when he stopped using it."

We were steadily dragging brush while we talked. I figured to burn the brushpile right where we planned on digging the new basement, well away from the old house, and it was closer to the barn, too. That would be an advantage for going to feed in bad weather. It also placed the new house where it would be hidden from the county road by a bend in our long driveway where it wrapped around the hill and through the woods out front. It was early March, so the weather was still unpredictable in southern Indiana. If we got a light rain and then a day with no wind, we could get the brush burned safely and out of the way. Failing that, we could just push it into a gully on the back of the place when it got dry enough to prevent getting stuck.



Jeannie called her Mom and said she and Nathan had not been idle. They had taken on building some big structures for a factory, and had their shop full of parts and pieces, barely able to get around the framework as it grew. They had a deadline for delivery of the frame, and they were on a tight schedule.

"Mom, what I really called for was to tell you that Lynn Schell's Dad died, and she is home on emergency leave for the funeral. I thought Jeff might want to go to the funeral home, since we all rode the school bus together, and Jeff worked for her Dad some, cutting tobacco and putting up hay. Would you tell him for me? I don't have his cell number."

"Hmph. NOBODY has his cell number. Yes, I'll tell him. What time is the viewing?"

"It's tonight and tomorrow, and he'll be buried the next day, Saturday. We're going tonight, and I thought Jeff might be more comfortable if we were there, since he probably doesn't know the rest of her family, except her brothers."

"Yes, he'd like it better with you there. I'll tell him."

Jeannie said, "It will be good to have a break from work, to tell the truth. We have been going at it 12 hours a day without a day off since the first of the year. The pay is good, and we bill them once a month, but we are TIRED!"

"You can't work like that very long, or you'll get so worn down you're liable to get sick."

"I know, but we are SOOO close to paying off everything, and we can do it in another month or so. We have to get this job out anyway by the end of next month. I better go. We'll see you there if you decide to come too. Bye, Mom."

"Bye hon. Love ya."

"Love you too."

Jeff heard the news and said he'd have to get cleaned up quick to make it tonight. Margaret told him, "I have a pot of stew on the stove, so don't you cook anything, just come on over when you are ready and we will eat and run."

He nodded agreement and headed for his RV.

Lynn had run around with our kids all through school, so she had neighbor and friend status with us, although she had been gone in the Army for years. The last I heard she was "playing in the sandbox" in Iraq, working in supply. Her husband drove a truck in the motor pool there. At least he did until an IED took out his truck and killed all on board. Lynn was raising a son by herself, but I had no idea how old he was. She didn't write to us personally, but we got it through the grapevine. She needed all the support she could get, so we would all go tonight, and probably go to the funeral Saturday, too.

It is a small town, so Jeff knew more people than he expected to at the Funeral Home. There were several he knew from school, and more from our farm community. We signed the visitor book and went in as a group. Lynn spied Jeannie with Nathan and came over to us right away, dragging her 8 year old son, Michael, along. The girls, Nathan, and Jeff got caught up on what each other had been doing since they last were in touch. They were all in the same class in school and had been friends ever since. We spoke with her mother and her brothers, paid our respects and bowed out of the group, letting the young people talk. Expecting this, Jeff had driven his Blazer so we could go on home if we chose to leave early, which we did. It was getting late when we saw Jeff's Blazer go past the house.

Jeannie called her Mom the next day and said she had a few minutes, while Nathan was welding up the last setup they had made.

"Boy, Mom you should have seen the looks between Jeff and Lynn last night!"

"Really? I thought Lynn was pretty down."

"Well, she perked right up when they got to talking. Seems they have a lot to talk about. We had to leave to get ready for tomorrow's work, but when we left they were sitting together and deep in conversation. I'm betting that girl has what it takes to get Jeff out of his funk. It looked like Jeff and Michael hit it off, too."

"You think so? It's time he got interested in somebody. All he's done since he came home is

work. He never goes out, unless it is some farm doings, or working at the computer store."

"Oh, yeah. I could see sparks between them, but I'm not sure either one of them knows it yet. They are both pretty torn up. We just need to give them time and see what happens."

"Oh, I do hope so. I'll help if I can. Thanks for telling me."

"Sure Mom. I gotta go. Love ya!"

"Love you too, bye."

The funeral was the usual somber affair, but when it broke up, I saw Lynn talking to Jeff, and later he followed their car out of the lot and didn't get home until late. It came out that Lynn had a month's leave to tie up the family affairs, and was in and out of our place a couple times with Jeff. He got the backhoe in the shop and was working on it when Lynn stopped by one day. He heard her car and came to the house, wiping his hands with a grease rag. Lynn had something on her mind, and typical of her, she just blurted it out.

"Oh, there's Jeff. Hey Jeff, I have to figure out what to do with the farm, because Mom is in poor health and doesn't want to stay there. Billy and Joe both work in Louisville, and don't want anything to do with the place. Oliver Rice has been renting the ground, but he says he can't afford to buy the farm. The house isn't much, so it won't sell the place to city people, and besides, it is so far back here in the boonies. Do you know anyone who would be interested in it? Mom needs the money, since Dad didn't have that much life insurance, and a realtor could take forever to get it sold. Loans are hard to get now, so that won't help."

"Huh. You talked to anyone else in the valley here?"

"No. I found Mom a house in town to rent, and we got her moved in there, but that's all we got done. Joe and Billy have been helping move her after they get off work, but I did most of the running around and settling her stuff in the house. Michael is worn out from all the upset, so I'm looking for some help here."

"Let's have a sit-down with Mom and Dad and see what we can come up with. Mom, can you do something for supper?"

"That's what Moms do best. I'll get something started. Michael, would you like something to drink, or a snack? You come on in the house with your Mom and we can get comfortable."

They all headed into the house while I went to the barn to throw down some hay for the cows into the loafing shed manger. Chili was on the stove by the time I got my boots off and hung up my coat. Things were moving fast. In the time it took to feed the cows, Jeff had agreed to buy the farm. I had no idea how much money he had saved but he hadn't spent much during his military career, preferring to let Uncle Sam support him since his divorce, and he invested well what he had saved. He had money to spare it seemed.

The farm wasn't that much. It was 120 acres, but most of it was forested. There was a part cut off of the road frontage where the State had bought a small valley and built a flood control lake. The only tillable ground was in the creek bottom across the road from the house, a nice 40 acre field that was really good soil. There was a small, irregular pasture behind the house of maybe 6 or 8 acres before the land got to be nearly straight up and down and remained in forest. A small

runoff creek came down past the house on the West side, with the flood control lake on the East side of the house. A very old barn and a few outbuildings were scattered up that small pasture. The best of those were a good metal grain bin and a pole building that housed what little farm equipment remained. Jeff had a place of his own now. I immediately wondered how the living arrangements were going to work out. Margaret said that should have been obvious, but then, men are slow on the uptake of that sort of thing.

A whirlwind courtship followed in the remainder of the month, and Lynn had made arrangements to retire from the Army by the end of July. They made an announcement of their impending wedding to follow her separation from the Army. Jeff was a nervous wreck for the next 4 months, sweating bullets after she went back to Iraq to oversee the removal of a lot of materiel back to the States. We all had our plates full during that time.

Sugar Creek valley is an erosion watershed formed by the last glacier to cover Indiana. Seen from the air, it is in the form of a bushy tree with all the branches coming to end in the main valley that varies from small rivulets in steep hollows of increasing size to the mile wide mouth of the valley where the creek dumps into a branch of the Muskatatuck River. The main valley is only a quarter mile wide where our farm and Lynn's homeplace are located.

The valley road meanders a half mile between the two farms, but it is less than a quarter mile through the woods between them, through the end of another farm. What was once a dirt road connects the our two farms along the ridgetop, so heavily wooded that it is not seen from the air until the leaves are gone in winter. Then, ancient buffalo trails can be seen if snow covers the ground, showing as white lines taking the easy paths along the creeks and up over the hills to eventually focus on a main trail to the Ohio River valley. The hills are actually gulley banks of various sizes, and not over 300 feet high from valley floor to the ridges, but many are too steep to easily climb on foot.

Hardwood forests of Ash, Red Elm, Beeches, Maples, Yellow Poplar, and several varieties of Oaks cover the hillsides. Where fields have been let go back to nature, within 20 or 30 years, the forest is reestablished. The first species to recover the ground are Sumac, Eastern Red Cedar, Dogwood, and numerous viney growths like Catclaw briars, Wild Grapes, Honeysuckle and a profusion of Blackberry and wild Raspberry briars. These new-growth thickets are almost impenetrable on foot to any but the smaller creatures like rabbits, squirrels, grouse, fox, coyote, and the tiny ones like mice and voles. White tailed deer have their own trails through this wilderness. The State of Indiana had bought miles of this marginal land and let it go back to forest. Our farm, and those of Jeannie and Nathan, and Jeff and Lynn, all border that State Forest land on one side or another.

Because of this geography, there are less than 10 people per square mile in this whole end of the county. Access is limited to a few steep roads going up out of the valley to the tablelands beyond. There are no straight roads in this end of the county, since they are either following crooked ridgetops, crooked valleys, or snaking up hillsides to connect those two. The steepness of the terrain caused a lot of flash floods in years past, but the State Conservation Department built a series of flood control lakes in all but the smallest of tributary valleys to alleviate flooding. But to the North in the main river valley, floods do occur each Spring, covering miles of river valley and up to a mile wide. Our farms are well upstream from any possible flooding, but Spring is a time of mud and squishy sod. The winter had been relatively dry with a moderate amount of snow, but once the ground thawed and the rains began, it seemed like your boots would sink in the mud to your knees.

It had rained for days, keeping our excavation work for the new house at a standstill. The rain had the advantage of pointing out our mistakes and necessary changes to accomodate runoff around our new home site. We decided on a series of terraces and small ponds in the feeder gullies to deal with the problem. It was turning into a bigger job than it had looked like from the outset. We proceeded to fell a few selected trees on the hills to make way for the proposed terraces.

But there was nothing we could do with the trees until it dried up enough to get a tractor up there on the hill. We had the dozen or so trees limbed up, cut into logs, and the brush cleared away into piles. We made some of those piles in small gullies to help slow the constant erosion problem. Where the ground was already cleared, I had sown it in Fescue, a tough, heavily rooted grass that held the clay soil admirably. It had the advantage of being hardy in cold weather, and provided pasture in Spring and late Fall. We kept cattle off the hillside pastures in wet weather, to prevent damage to the covering sod.

Jeff and I spent the wet time in the shop, getting equipment ready for the Spring work. My venerable Massey Ferguson 165 diesel tractor had been given an oil change, new filters for oil and fuel, had a worn hydraulic hose replaced, and new tires on the front. The rear tires were only a couple years old and looked like new. The front loader had gotten new hoses and had some welding done on the bucket. Jeff had put new front wheel bearings in it. A tractor with a front loader takes a lot of abuse from the extra weight on the front wheels, requiring more maintenance. The engine only had about 500 hours on a complete rebuild, so it would be good for many years. We had changed the trans-hydraulic fluid, the old stuff oozing out looking like pale mud due to the moisture that condensed in the system. I put this in old milk jugs to set in front of the south shop windows. Over the summer, the sun would warm the oil and the water would settle out to the bottom. The clean oil could then be carefully decanted off the top, and would be like new.

I used some of last year's oil to change the hydraulics in the wood splitter I had built years ago when we heated with firewood. It got a new hydraulic filter and that also went on the shopping list. We added to the list as we did maintenance and now had a long one. When a list got long enough to make a trip worthwhile, Margaret went shopping and came home with my old 3/4 ton GMC loaded down. Jeff had built a new set of shelves along the back wall of the shop to accomodate our new supplies. A barrel of engine oil sat upright on its' new wheeled dolly, and sported a new hand lever pump on top for dispensing. I finally had enough shelving to put away the oil changing pan, and many other things that had been in piles. We had cleaned out an entire bay to allow the backhoe to be kept inside. Thankfully, we had enough good dry weather to get it pressure washed. Now we could go over it with a fine toothed comb and assure it would be ready to work later.

The flatbed trailer was next, since it was getting a workout lately. I replaced a couple bad floor boards, repacked wheel bearings, put in new seals, and gave the whole thing a coat of black paint, then went over the wiring for the lights and got them in shape. It did not have brakes, since it was only a single axle and they were not required. The license plate bracket was always getting banged into things and had to be straightened and welded back in place. The tires were like new, but we checked the pressure and I made a note to get a couple spare tires and wheels for it on the next trip. Out the door it went, and in came the old Massey 135 gas tractor that we used for all the lighter work, of towing wagons, and moving things.

One machine after another made its' way through the shop and went out ready to work and back into the machine shed. We had the old square baler in the shop and found that it needed some new bearings, sprockets and chains to be more reliable, but the prices of the special sprockets

were pretty high. I held off buying those and decided I could modify some cheap standard sprockets to fit. Part of my "hobby shop" collecting over the years had been an old South Bend metal lathe that the factory where I worked had sold as surplus. it didn't take long to bore the sprockets to size, and machine the hubs to fit the baler. I needed a milling machine, I decided, and I would be equipped to make or fix most anything I needed on the farm. I made a note to begin looking for one. There was already a good cutoff bandsaw and a heavy old drill press that would drill up to an inch and a half diameter hole in steel. It was so old that it had a flat belt drive and must have come over on Noah's Ark, but it worked just fine and the price was right.

The long brace to the hitch on the back of the baler had fatigued and cracked, so I unrolled the welding cable and fixed that. After it cooled off, I scrubbed off the slag and burnt paint with a wire brush on the grinder and gave it a coat of matching paint to prevent rust. I put machinery paint on the list, in various colors to match the equipment we had. Paint thinner, brushes, and rags were listed too. Margaret surely had some old rags I could scrounge. That brought me to think about her sewing, so I made a note to ask her is she needed anything in that line.

The shop was fairly easy to heat with the wood stove since we had put some old flat belting along the bottom of the rolling doors to stop up the crack there. Things like that had been let go for too long. Now that it was more comfortable to work in the shop, I would be more likely to do some of these maintenance things. Maybe I should put some doors on the machine shed, too, I thought, to keep the rain and snow from blowing in there. It was worth considering, but the house and farm work had to come first. Maybe I would just have Margaret get the materials and do it later. If things got really hard, people would start to steal things, so it would be good to be able to lock stuff up. Jeff had almost convinced me to put in new fuel tanks underground where the cool even temperature would keep the fuel better and it would be a lot harder to steal with the pump turned off.
I kept having Margaret do the running around and shopping because it gave me more time to work on things and figure out what I needed to stock up. Besides that, if there was a bargain to be found, she would find it. She figured out on her own that we would need some steel Tee posts to do the fencing through some wooded areas where digging postholes was impossible. One day when I sent her to the junkyard with the scrap metal we had accumulated, she came home with the truck bed full of good used Tee posts that she got for 75 cents each! The farm store wanted near $5 for them, so she saved us a good pile of money on that deal.

They were muddy on the bottom where they had been pulled out, so we leaned the against the board fence by the shop. During the Spring rains, God would wash them off for us. The next trip, I had her get a couple gallons of aluminum paint. When the posts got clean and dry, I planned to dunk the bottom ends of them in the paint by putting the paint in a 3 foot piece of PVC pipe with a cap on one end. The top ends still had good paint on them.

I needed some welding supplies. Welding was something I did as a hurried repair most times, and it got ignored until I needed to fix something so we could get back to farming. I made a list of the different types of welding rods, mild steel, high strength, stainless steel, and some Nickel rods for welding cast iron. Another couple tanks of inert gas for the MIG welder went on the list, plus several rolls of welding wire, extra torch tips and cups, a spare stinger and a ground clamp. The torch was next. Mostly we did cutting and brazing with it, so Acetylene gas was my choice instead of propane for fuel gas. Propane was a lot cheaper to use for cutting, but I needed the extra heat of Acetylene. Three bottles of it, plus half a dozen tanks of Oxygen, since they got used in roughly a 2 to one ratio. There might come a time when the gasses were hard to get, so I wanted a stock of them, regardless of the high cost of tanks. Some soapstone for marking, extra goggles

to use with the torch, a spare welding helmet with several glass lenses, a quantity of brazing rods and some borax flux for them all got written down. My old Miller stick welder was still in good shape, and they lasted forever, so I saw no need to spring for a new one. The cooling fan was the only moving part in it, besides the control switches I bought a full set of replacement switches and a new fan. All that only cost about 15% of the price of a new welder.

The steel rack was pretty depleted, so I made a LONG list of what I thought I should have on hand for general use. It was enough to justify a trip to Louisville to pick it up at the wholesale steel supplier. I thought I should go on that trip instead of sending Margaret, since I had more experience around industrial settings. On the same run, I could stop at Fastenal and buy some bulk bolts and nuts. All I had on hand for bolts was a motley collection of stuff salvaged from old machinery, and whatever leftovers from a few projects. That would be a good thing to do while it was still too muddy outside for excavating work. Maybe I should go to the small engine place down there, too, and get some stuff for the chainsaws.

It was hard for me to think of everything I might need on the farm, since normal policy for farmers is to hang onto the money and only buy what is absolutely necessary when you can't do without it. But this was different. With the economy growing worse every day, all businesses were reducing their stocking levels to cut their need for hard-to-get credit. Too many small businesses had already closed. Most parts for farm equipment were not stocked at the dealers now, but had to be ordered.

I found I could order parts from wholesalers the same as they could, and had Margaret on the internet shopping for parts which were mostly cheaper than at the dealer who had to pay for the overhead of his store. It was a worsening cycle. As more people did that, more retail outlets went out of business. That meant that I had to stock the parts that the dealer used to keep, or it could be a problem. When we needed to plant crops, bale hay, or pick corn the weather was always the enemy and you had to "make hay when the sun shines", as the old adage went. An untimely rain would ruin the hay, and it wouldn't wait while a critical part was being shipped in from wherever. That whole situation made the shop very important to keep things running smoothly.



The shop work was caught up and it was still muddy by the end of March. Jeff learned from Lynn what needed the most attention on their old farmhouse, so our attention went to getting it fixed up before she got home. The plumbing had some issues, which came first. The house had a small cellar under it that allowed access to some of the plumbing, but the rest could only be reached in the crawl space. Thankfully, Jeff could crawl around under the house much easier than my creaky joints would allow. I knew more about plumbing than he did, so we made a good team. He elected to replace the sinks and cabinets in both the kitchen and bathroom, and install a new one piece shower stall.

We found new construction leftovers at an indoor flea market complex for all that at quite a saving over retail cost. The gas stove worked well enough and was fairly new, but the fridge had seen better days. Jeff went with a new, more efficient fridge and added a small freezer. We put down new vinyl floor covering in the kitchen and bath, and painted both rooms. The gas furnace was nearly new, so all he did was have another 500 gallon tank installed and filled, tied together in tandem.

Lynn's mother had taken her old washer and dryer to her rental house, so Jeff bought a new set.

We installed them after replacing the shut off valves for the washer. The house had an old hand dug well with a shallow well pump that was as old as the hills. That got taken out and junked, and replaced with a new pump and tank in the cellar. While we were down there, we pressure washed the cellar walls and floor, then gave them a coat of hydraulic cement to water proof it and cleaned out the floor drain. Jeff got some concrete blocks and treated 2" planks that he stacked to make strong shelving for canned food storage. I added a new light and switch while he painted the cellar walls with white waterproofing paint. It began to look shipshape down there.

We added another 6" of insulation in the attic, replaced a couple storm doors, and called it good for now. Otherwise, the house was in pretty good shape except for needing paint. That would have to wait for dry weather. He ordered several truckloads of crushed stone for the driveway, in single axle trucks because the ground was so soft. The driver had to trip the gate and back into the driveway, spreading as he went backward, so he didn't sink in the softened ground. It cost more to use the smaller trucks than it would have by the tri-axle load, but the bigger truck would have sunk to the frame.

He only got enough to get by for now, and would add more later. There was an old Ford 9N tractor that came with the place that we got running and used its' rear mounted grader blade to spread the stone and level it out. A few trips over it with our trucks and it was packing down nicely. It took some shovel work near the pole shed that did garage duty, but it came out to be a good looking job.

We left the thermostat set at 50 degrees to keep the pipes from freezing and buttoned up the house for a while.

The outbuildings needed some attention, too. Jeff crawled around on roofs nailing down loose metal, and I did the same with siding. We had a few dry sunny days the first week of April and got the garage pole building painted with white latex that didn't mind a little residual moisture, then Jeff did the roof with fibered aluminum asphalt coating. The building had a dirt floor that was rutted, so we ordered a truckload of crusher-run stone and shovelled it in to level the floor. After raking it as level as we could get it, we rented a tamping machine and pounded the stone into a passable floor. Concrete would come later, when the ground was solid enough for the heavy truck.

We could get around on the place with the tractor by then, so Jeff hooked up the small Bush Hog mower to the Ford 9N and cleaned up where weeds and small brush was trying to take over around the outbuildings. The grain bin was in good shape, but the machine shed needed the same treatment as the garage. While we were working on that, Jeannie got into the act and made her contribution to Lynn's homecoming and housewarming. She trimmed the Forsythia and Lilac bushes, planted some flowers, and pruned the grape arbor. After Jeff found out what Lynn liked for curtains, Jeannie set to work on that and had the house looking nice. She cleaned the whole house and washed all the new bed linens that Jeff bought. Then, she went grocery shopping for him and filled the cabinets. She and Jeff came up with some cast iron and other basic cookware, mostly inherited from their grandparents. Margaret was glad to get the stuff out of our upstairs. They had the house ready to live in, minus whatever fresh food they would need later.

Jeff did the final touch by hiring a crew to paint the house, and another team to put on a new painted steel roof. It was ready. Now all we needed was a wedding.

Chapter 15 COMPLICATIONS May, 2010

Jeff learned that Lynn had been the object of a typical military SNAFU, and was scheduled to have her tour in Iran extended by 3 months. Those orders had been issued prematurely with a group of other personnel who were designated to complete the withdrawal there. It took the entire month of May and a lot of hassle before the right desk got the right paperwork to understand that she was to be discharged before the date of her scheduled extended tour. Just as Jeff began to breathe a little easier, the TV reported some incidents of violence near her base, and Jeff was fit to be tied before she could get him an email saying she was fine and the base was secure.

Her scheduled transport fight was diverted for some unforeseen reason, so her only option was to fly a military hop on a cargo plane back to Germany. It was less than comfortable, and she had to leave some things behind, but she and Michael finally landed in the US and flew to Wright Patterson to complete her mustering out, spending a month on the base doing minor gaurd duty between medical exams and all the rest of the mess associated with being discharged.

I began to worry about Jeff before he began to get good news from her. If his upset and discomfort were any indication of how he felt about her, it was a solid commitment, indeed. But life did settle down for them as the date in July approached, and they made plans for Jeff to pick them up in Dayton. I reminded Jeff that with all the security measures against terrorism these days, he should plan to leave his everyday carry pistol at home when he went to get her. He looked at me like I had two heads. He didn't say anything, just reached for his wallet and showed me a photo ID card that said "Federal Firearms Permit". I was informed that he could carry a firearm anywhere on US soil, except Washington DC. He would present that to the proper folks and everything would be hunky dory. The boy had a real thing about being separated from his gun. Quoting his old CO, he said, "Like American Express, don't leave home without it". Very few people ever figured out that he had it anyway.

Meanwhile, the economy was still sour despite all the propaganda on the news media about "green shoots" and "job creation measures". John Williams, of Shadowstats website, gave much higher numbers for unemployment and inflation than did the news. Nathan and Jeannie's business began to feel the pinch of the recession--no one dared call it a Depression yet, at least not the mainstream media. The last of the four big machine frames they were to build got cancelled, so they had time on their hands for the first time in a long time. The first of the three they built had finished paying their few debts, though, and the proceeds from the last two put half a year's wages in the bank for them.

They decided to use the time and some of the money to make improvements on the homestead. Nate made a deal with a friend who had a sawmill to cut some timber from their place and take their pay for it in sawed lumber. Hurricane Ike had made a pass through southern Indiana a couple years before, and damaged a lot of buildings. Nate found used metal roofing from one of those and the price was to clean up the site and remove all the old materials. The damaged metal he sold for scrap; the good metal he stacked at home. There were enough treated poles from the large building to build the smaller barn that Nate and Jeannie wanted. The rest of the lumber they needed came from the sawmill deal. All they had to buy new was nails and paint.

At the end of May, they had enough materials at home to build their barn. The lack of business was something to be concerned about, but they had enough to do to keep them busy. They needed some fencing, too.

Lynn had informed Jeff in no uncertain terms that she did NOT need NEW furniture and considered it a waste of money. He insisted that they had to furnish the house somehow, so she directed his attention to Goodwill stores and used furniture stores. The farmhouse had two upstairs rooms, one of which would be Michael's, and one downstairs bedroom for them. He furnished both nicely from a used furniture and appliance store for less than $500. New mattresses and springs were reasonable at a manufacturer's outlet in Jeffersonville.

A nice living room suite showed up at an estate auction. It was raining cats and dogs that day, and the crowd was thin. Prices were low, probably as much due to the poor economy as the weather. Jeff furnished the living room for under $200, complete with tables and lamps. Lynn was party to the selection via emailed photos, and was delighted with the prices. Michael got to choose his bedroom decorations the same way. Jeff made it a point to not send her any pictures of the house and farm. He was saving that as a surprise for her.

The one building on their place we had left alone was the old barn. It had been built with 2" spaces between the siding boards for drying tobacco, and was pretty drafty. Jeff had in mind to keep at least a few cattle that would benefit from better shelter. We talked about the barn and decided it was sound, but needed siding in the worst way. The roof was rusty, too, although he had replaced a couple pieces of missing metal and renailed the rest. It had a big loft and some decrepit stalls that probably had hogs in them last. Jeff had promised to help me with the excavating and building of our house, but he needed to be several places at once, and was wishing he had been born as twins.

"How about this," I began. "There are a lot of men out of work now. Let me ask around and see who might want to put siding on your barn, and paint that roof, huh? If I pay for a crew to do that and you do the dirt moving here, I would come out great, and everything gets done on time. We'll have the place looking great by the time Lynn gets home in a couple weeks." He finally agreed, and we set about it.

I sent Margaret to buy some farm gates and called a man I knew was out of work. Hank would build a new fence around the barn lot, and run some new barbed wire around the pasture behind their house. It would be enough to keep a few cows in grass for the summer, and there was the creek running through it for water. We found a crew of Amish builders that were out of jobs and gave me a good price on the barn work. Jeff ordered the metal siding and the Amish crew showed up the day after it was delivered.

Three days later, the siding was finished and they were painting the roof. They worked Saturday and finished that up. Jeff spent the week on the backhoe and got a huge hole scooped out of the hillside on our place. He dug the drains and we had those placed within a week, with gravel in place over them. I called a contractor that I had known for years, and he had the footers trimmed up and poured within a couple days. He had the forms set and rebar in place two days later and the floor poured the following week. We had to let it set up for a couple weeks before going any farther, but that was okay because we had a corn crop to plant soon and I had to plow twenty acres to get ready for it.

Chapter 16 UNDER CONSTRUCTION June, 2010

My contractor set up steel floor forms of the kind used for multistory office buildings, and had the ceiling poured over the "root cellar" room by the second week of June while Jeff was backfilling the basement walls over the perimeter drains. We decided on a new septic system. Our contractor had that installed and inspected by the end of the month. Meanwhile, I ordered trusses. Jeff and I had them set up with Margaret driving the tractor and loader to lift them into place. I hired the Amish crew again to get the roof sheathing on, add foil faced bubble wrap insulation and lay the painted steel roofing. Jeff and I roughed in the front wall and covered it with sheathing board. By the last week of June, the place was "dried in", as the old carpenters used to say. If we had another monsoon, we could live with it.

Jeff used the backhoe, and I ran the front end loader on the tractor to sculpt the dirt work around the new basement-house and direct the watershed as we had planned. We had just put down grass seed and fertilizer when we got a nice gentle soaking rain. The sun popped out and the hilside began to look green again around the new house. It was entirely empty inside, but that could wait. We did hang the two front doors and install the windows to keep the vermin out until we could get back to it. So far, we were well under our cost estimates, helped immensely by finding doors, windows, trusses, and plywood from a bankrupt contractor sale. It was the second week of June.

I plowed for three days straight and spent two more days disking. The fertilizer spreader came out the next day and I was planting corn the 3rd week of June. It was late to be getting a crop out, but it would be okay. I might be picking corn around Halloween, but I didn't care. This year, I planted open pollinated seed corn. It cost less than the hybrids and you could save your own seed for the following year. The yield was typically less, but the protein content was higher, mostly making up for lower yields if you were feeding it to livestock. I was planting more acreage to get the amount of feed I wanted, but it cost me less for the same amount of feed. We had hay in that field the previous two years that was plowed under and would help feed the corn crop with less fertilizer. By the time I ran all that corn through some hogs and cows, I expected to make a good profit on the operation.

Lynn was discharged on July first. Jeff was there early to pick her up in Dayton, Ohio at Wright Patterson AFB. They were home for a late lunch at our place that day. The Blazer had the top laden with bags and boxes, and more was stacked on a hitch mounted carrier. Jeff said simply, "Let's take a ride. I want to show you something." The three of them piled back into the Blazer and took off.

He pulled into their newly gravelled driveway and stopped, saying simply, "We're home". Lynn's mouth fell open but nothing came out. Probably for the first time in her life, she was speechless. She walked around the house looking at everything that had changed in 4 months and began to cry. Jeff was distraught until he figured out that she liked it.

Michael was agog at the changed place, and said, "Are we really going to LIVE here?"

"Yep, we sure are son." Jeff thought for a minute he was too presumptuous calling him "son", until he got a big hug.

"Well. Let's go inside, okay? And see what you think about it." He unlocked the door and Lynn began to cry again. He held her while Michael raced upstairs to see his room, and came running down again, two steps at a time, to yell, "Mom! You gotta see my room!"

She got a look at their own room on the way and managed to stop crying, but squeezed Jeff's hand tightly as they went upstairs. The window in Michael's back bedroom faced the pasture, lit now by the late afternoon sun. The woods beyond was green with new leaves, and the mowed pasture grass glowed in the sunshine.

"It's PERFECT, Mom!"
Lynn got some words out and said, "Yes. It is perfect."

Jeff said, as sort of an afterthought, "C'mon down and get a look at the kitchen."

Michael said, "I gotta see the bathroom first", and trotted down the stairs again.

They followed more slowly. Jeff told Lynn, "Look things over good and see if we need to go to the grocery, or get anything now."

They heard the toilet flush and then he was interrupted by Michael, bouncing out of the bathroom, saying, "Mom! There's toothpaste, and toothbrushes and soap and towels and everything! It looks like we're already living here."

Jeff told him, "You gotta get your clothes in here yet, and there's other stuff you probably haven't thought of yet. Why don't you go get your stuff out of the truck and start putting it in your room?"

The door banged and he was gone.

Lynn kissed him properly and with a husky voice said, "Thank you Jeff. This was always home, but we were always poor and could never make it look like this. It's... it's good. It's what I always thought it could look like. Michael has been bounced around from one military base to another all his life, and dreamed of having a home that was permanent. He will love you for this."

Jeff said again, "Welcome home."

Lynn began to get back to her normal, mouthy self and said, "You know, when you were an ornery little brat on the school bus, I never thought you'd turn out this good!"

"You grew up pretty nice, too," he told her with a leer, and got a swat on his butt, but there was a grin that came with it.

Lynn decided she could make supper with what was there, and wanted to walk around outside. They helped a struggling Michael get his stuff off the hitch carrier and then they all walked out toward the barn.

Jeff pointed at the far end of the pasture, and said, "We can put half a dozen feeder calves in there for the summer, and make a few bucks this Fall." looked that way but was distracted by the garden enclosed with a 6 foot high wire fence. Plants were up and growing with late peas ready to pick and beans blooming. Sweet corn was about knee high. With a big smile she said "Michael, there's a job for you here if you want to earn an allowance." He got it explained to him that gardens need daily attention and she would show him how it was done. "You'll have plenty of time left for other stuff. You might need some time to go down to your grandparents' place and see what goes on there, too."

Jeff confessed that he didn't have a TV set up yet, but he would move his antenna rig down here soon. "The kid doesn't need a TV out here," Lynn told him.
Jeff said, "Hmm. How about a bike, and a dog, and maybe a fishing pole?"
"Yeah, he could use those. Give him a day or two to get calmed down first. You are going to be one popular guy with him."
"I hope so. He looked so lost the first time we met."
"He'll be fine now. I can tell."
They began to carry things into their new home. Jeff said, "We have a wedding to go to soon, remember?"
"Yeah, I remember. It can wait a day or two."


Chapter 17 DETAILS

Cell phone service was spotty to non-existent in the valley, and Jeff had not subscribed for a land line phone yet. While starting to cook an early breakfast, Lynn said, "Let's go to church this morning. We can't call anybody without phones working. We can catch Reverend Paul after the service and work out when we can get married. It shouldn't be so much trouble, but I guess we have to do it."

They were already thinking alike. Jeff said, "Yeah. We've made the decision and the commitment. That should be enough, but I guess we need the formalities done. What do you have in mind for the wedding?"

"Well. I don't have anything in mind. If it was just up to me, I'd just want me and Michael and you and the Preacher there. But I know Mom will have to come, and your folks, and Jeannie and Nate. That's plenty for me. How about you?"

"I should invite Greg Burns. We go back a long ways, and besides, he's my boss now at the computer store. I'll ask him if he wants to be my Best Man."

"I don't want to deal with the mess of a wedding. The details will drive me nuts."

"Talk to Jeannie. She can put that sort of thing together like a pro."

"Yeah. She can make things happen, all right."

Michael came bumping down the stairs. "I smell bacon! And flowers and grass, or something, too."

Lynn said, "That is just the woods. It always smells like that in the summer. How many eggs can you eat young man?"

"Make me two. I'm hungry. Jeff, can we go look around in the woods today?"

"Later we can. Your Mom says we are going to church today."

He looked a little disappointed, then thought about it. "You mean that little white church down by Grandpa Walter's?"

"That's the one. You can hear Reverend Paul preach today and meet some of those people I've told you about."

"I guess that would be okay."

Lynn said, "It will all be the folks I grew up with. I haven't seen a lot of them for a long time, but most of them knew we were coming back home."

"Did you tell them we were moving here?"

"No, hon, Jeff and I told his folks and your Aunt Jeannie, and they told a couple people and next thing you know, the whole county knows all about it. It's like that in the country."

Lynn plopped eggs on plates while Jeff made toast and buttered it.

Michael looked in the fridge and came out with a gallon of milk, saying, "Where's the glasses?"

Jeff opened an upper cabinet and got him one.

"Mom, what are you going to do now that you aren't in the Air Force any more? Will you get a job?"

"No, I'm staying home. We have a garden to tend, and food to can for winter, and Jeff's going to get some cows. We're going to be farmers."

Michael didn't know all that much about farming, so he asked Jeff, "You have a job at the computer store, don't you?"

"Yes, but I only work there one or two days a week when they need me. I alaready talked to Greg about quitting that. Mostly, I'll be around here, or down at my Dad's for a while. I promised him I'd help build their new house."

"There on the hill behind the old one?"

"Yeah, it has a lot of work to do inside now. Just the outside is done."

"Could I help with that? I can do a lot of things."

"I'm sure you can. Dad will need help putting up hay soon, too."

"What about the cows you are going to get? What do we need to do for them?"

"Well, they need hay and grain for winter, but we will probably get some from Dad since the big field across the road is already planted in soybeans."

"Did you plant the soybeans?"

"No, we rented the ground out to Oliver Rice. He pays us for the use of the ground and he does the work. We might plant that field next year."

"Please pass the jelly, Mom. Those eggs were good. How come they're brown?"

"Because they came from your Grandma's chickens and that kind of chickens lay brown eggs," Jeff told him. "They are called Rhode Island Reds, 'cause they have red feathers, I guess."

"Are we gonna have chickens?"

"Later on we might. We might get some pigs, too."

"Pigs stink, don't they?"

"Only if you keep them in too small a pen. We have a big pig lot fenced in, so they can go outside to do their business and they won't smell bad."

Lynn told Michael, "Go get washed up, and get dressed. I found your good clothes and put them on your bed."

"Okay Mom." He disappeared into the bathroom.

Jeff grinned and said, "He's full of questions, isn't he?"

"Yeah he is. Now I have some help answering some of them." She smiled at the thought.

The little white stucco church was pretty full when they got there. Jeff followed Lynn to a seat halfway down the aisle where people scooted over to make room for them. Windows were open to let a slight breeze in, and brought the scents of growing corn and warm forest inside. The sermon was on "Love thy Neighbor" and made clear who your "Neighbors" were. When the final hymn was sung, and benediction spoken, folks drifted outside to the shade of the huge old trees to talk. Jeff talked to more people that day than he had since he had been home. Lynn and Michael were the center of attention, which suited Jeff just fine, and allowed him to speak with Reverend Paul about their wedding plans. Lynn finally got free so they could all talk about it. Next Saturday was to be the day, and it was to be just family and the few guests, with a reception picnic outdoors at the church, weather permitting.

The next week was full of activity, as Jeannie took Lynn shopping for a dress, went to the bakery and ordered a modest cake, and bought some new clothes for Lynn and Michael both, since they had left most of theirs behind in Iraq. Lynn and Jeff went to the courthouse and got their marriage license, then to the bank to move Lynn's account there. Jeff was surprised at the amount she put into a 6 month CD, but said nothing at the time.

She had seen his look, so when they were back in the Blazer she told him, "When Jack was killed, the Government paid me the $100,000 for death of a spouse. I put that in the CD for Michael, because I had savings enough besides that. We never spent a whole lot overseas. There was nothing much to spend it on. I have almost that much if you add my savings account and some T-Bonds we had. I should have told you sooner, but there wasn't time. We have some money to put in the farm, and get whatever we need. I put $25,000 in checking, because I thought I would need a car. I had to rent one when Dad died. And there will be clothes, food, school expenses this Fall, and who knows what else."

"I thought about buying Mom a house in town, but she isn't in very good health at all, so she might not live long enough to enjoy it. I'm not sure what to do there. It all happened too fast, so we just got her into that place that is close to the hospital in case her heart acts up again. I got her one of those monitor things to wear on her wrist that will call 911 if she needs it. I didn't know what else to do."

After some concentrated shopping, they were on the way through town, when Lynn said, "Go over to Nathan and Jeannie's shop. I need to talk to her."

While Lynn and Jeannie ironed out wedding plans, Jeff and Nathan looked over the solar window box heater that Jeannie had come up with. They had built several prototypes getting the bugs worked out. The latest iteration of the design was on the South wall of the shop, and presently vented to the outside to keep it from overheating the shop. A simple oven thermometer on the outlet showed 160 degrees blowing out of a 4" dryer vent tube. A small fan was industriously blowing out the hot air. A small solar panel sat above the 4 x 8 foot aluminum covered box.

Nathan said, "We had to lay a piece of plywood over half of it to keep the temp down. We would cover it all in summer ordinarily, but I wanted you to see it operating."

"Wow! That thing makes some heat! How does it do in cold weather?"

"Last winter when it was about 20* outside, if the sun was shining, it put out a steady 140* from about 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. It tapered off before and after that, but still put out some heat."

"Does it blow cold air if when it gets dark?"

"Oh no. The solar panel is sized to just start the fan when there is enough sun to make heat. That is adjustable with that resistor there. So, if the sun doesn't shine, the fan doesn't run!"

"Oooh, that is slick!"

"Everybody who sees it puts their hand over the heat vent and feels that hot air, then they say "I want some of these. How soon can you make them? They don't even ask what they cost!"

"That was my thought, too. You've got a winner here."

"Yeah, with the cost of heating going up so fast, we think we will need to make a lot of them. Jeannie's working on finding the best deals on materials now that we've pretty well got the design finished. Right now, it looks like we can sell them for about $400 each and make money at it."

"I wonder if your shop is big enough to handle the business?"

"We thought about that. There are some places available now, with business so bad. We can find some floor space when we need it. But right now, we are making some for ourselves. Once this gets fired up, we might be real short of time, so we want ours already in place."

"Let me know when you are ready to sell me some of these. I'll take enough to do our house."

Nathan chuckled and said, "I'll put you on the list, but it is a long list now and we haven't advertised any. Well, we might could bump you up the list a little, you being relation and all."

Jeff smiled and said, "I'd appreciate that! This looks good."

Lynn and Jeannie came back out of the shop to see where the men got to, and after the normal chit-chat, Jeff and crew were on their way again, this time headed home to put away their purchases from that day.



With the corn in the ground, and the hay not ready yet, I had some time to work on the house. Jeff was busy as a bee, so I didn't bother him about helping. I liked to do finish work alone anyway. My Dad had been a finish carpenter early in his life, and taught me a lot. He prided himself on interior work. When he finished hanging a door, it had better not want to open or close by itself, and he wanted it to fit so that an 8 penny nail would just slide around between the door and the frame. Not easy, I found. And he did it in the days before "pre-hung" doors, making his own doorframes. Using all the benefits of prehung doors and windows, I could get a result that looked almost as good as his.

When we poured the basement, we had some supporting walls poured. The root cellar as we called it, was the same 50 foot length as the house in front of it, and went another 24 feet into the hillside. It had a dividing wall in the center that cut it in half crossways, making 2 rooms 24' x 25'. In each of those were 4 concrete pillars that supported the reinforced 8" concrete slab on top. That was covered with a layer of asphalt waterproofing and a sheet of the latest rubbery plastic membrane that extended down over the side walls. That structure supported the gravel drainage layer and earth fill that covered it.

We had an outdoor entrance to the cellar both for convenience and as an additional escape route, since we planned to use the cellar for a tornado shelter. That door opened toward the inside, so if something fell against it, we could still get out.

On the house portion, there was a chimney at each end, one for a heating stove in the living room and one for a small wood cooking range when we could afford that. We were trying to keep the cost as low as possible, and were getting near the limit we'd set.

The house portion had a conventional roof and a drywall ceiling that I hired done in deference to my stiff joints. I had run a lot of wire in the ceiling before the drywall went up. I planned to add solar panels, so I wired it for a complete separate DC system, with two sets of ceiling light fixtures. The boxes for DC lights had blank covers on them for now, but I had the AC lights in and working. My AC wiring had been inspected and approved, so we had power hooked up to the house now which made working inside easier.

Jeff had done a lot of ditch work, deep into the hillside to run "cool tubes", he called them. This was a series of plastic drain pipes arranged to soak up the natural 55* earth temperature and duct it into the house for summer cooling. All it took was a small box fan to pull in 57 degree air from the tubes that kept the house comfortable even now when it was in the high 80's outside. A wide front overhang on the south outer wall kept the summer sun from directly coming in to the house. We had calculated that overhang to allow the lower winter sun to help warm the house through big picture windows. I had the reflecting curtains drawn over them now to keep more heat out.

A series of windows under the roof overhang could be opened to allow hot air to escape. That would draw fresh cool air in through the "cool tubes" even without the fan operating, just not as fast.

Two bedrooms separated by a single large bathroom were nearest the root cellar in back. The front half of the floor plan was all open, living room, dining area, and kitchen separated only by a breakfast bar, overhead kitchen cabinets, and furniture placement. I had found a closeout on the snap together imitation wood "floating" flooring, and covered the living room and dining area, keeping a couple boxes of it in reserve in case we damaged the floor somehow. The kitchen floor was slate tile, again, found surplus for about 10% of the original price. I had enough of that to make a fireproof floor for where the wood stove would go in the living room. The exposed concrete walls were insulated with foil covered foam board and covered with panelling. I had installed the kitchen cabinets, but we would wait until the last minute to move our appliances from the old house. The laundry was directly behind the kitchen.

All I had left to do was some minor trim work, but that could take a lot of hours, and the hay was ready to cut.

Nate and Jeannie had traded work with a couple neighbors and gotten help framing up their pole barn. They put on the sheathing, metal roof, and siding metal pretty much by themselves. They had two stalls built in with hay mangers, planning for at least one milk cow and maybe a horse. A separate feed and tack room was near the stalls. Two thirds of the floor space was still open for hay storage, and space for some equipment. At present, it had a gravel floor in the open area, and dirt floor in the stalls that would probably stay that way. The gravel they planned to cover with concrete when they could. Rolling doors covered the south facing front side. They planned to install rain gutters on the barn and run them to a cistern soon, since their hilltop location was a poor one for drilling a well. Currently, they had the county public water sysem to supply them.

Most of their resources had gone into making the place energy efficient and completely off grid. What little electric power they used came from four 200 watt solar panels that fed a forklift battery. Their refrgerator ran on LP gas, as did an on-demand water heater.

Chapter 19 THE MEETING

"Gentlemen. We have a problem with liquidity in some of our colleagues's banks in Europe."

"Mr. Chairman, WE don't have a problem. THEY have a problem. And it is not liquidity, it is SOLVENCY, or the lack of it."

"Sir, if our European friends do in fact become insolvent, the market for their collateral instruments will be nil. Then WE have the problem, considering the depth of involvement that domestic banks have in both foreign collaterals and currencies. It is as I said and that is not for debate. What we do about it is the question."

"Congress won't give them a dime. They took so much heat over the bailouts of US banks that many lost their seats. It won't pass again, no matter how, nor what you use to threaten them."

"I don't propose to ask anything of Congress. This is to be kept as an internal matter. What we propose is to advance a line of currency swaps with our partners in Europe to quiet the waters until the problems with Greece and Italy can be resolved. The alternative is, of course, that we allow

our banks to absorb the losses on their instruments as they occur. We don't see that as a viable choice, hence the currency swap."
All fourteen of the other attendees of the meeting stared at the Chairman with hard eyes, but said nothing for a full minute. Finally, one said, "So we are going to allow them to indirectly debase the dollar via a swap for worthless currency to keep this thing afloat for a month or two? Then what? More of the same? You know they aren't going to fix anything. We crash the dollar just so they can kick the can down the road for a couple months?"

"We can see how the effects of our proposal will allow much more time than that for these problems to be resolved. All we are asking is that you vote for a benign swap, recallable at our discretion, as a courtesy to our financial allies in Europe."

One sitting member had enough. "I presume you are using the 'Imperial WE', since you know there isn't a man in this room who agrees with you. Or maybe the WE means you are pregnant, or you have a mouse in your pocket! YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT PUTTING ALL THE RESERVE BANKS IN THE US AT RISK!! 'WE' won't stand for it!"

"Unfortunately, from your viewpoint, the vote is only a formality. It can be dispensed with, since the swap agreement has already been signed by the parties involved."

"So. You pulled rank and did it. You won't get any support from any of us."

"I don't need it. Need I remind you that the controlling interests in our banking system has the final say in these matters? If your reserve status is to remain in place, you will all recognize your position and sign the contracts before you."

No one else said a word. In fact only two members had spoken at all during the meeting. The blood pressure of several members had varied widely during the brief speeches, but they held their tongues. Mostly pale faces signed the formally printed contracts, then stood and exitted the room without a word.

On the walk down the beautifully panelled hallway, the loudest of the complainers said only, "The dollar is doomed. It is only a matter of time now." No one contradicted him.

Lynn, Jeff and Michael carried bags into the house by the armfull. They spent a couple hours sorting and hanging clothing, and putting away some kitchenwares. Lynn pulled out a pitcher of iced tea and poured 3 glasses. They sat around the table drinking.

Lynn said, "I'm tired. I'm going to lay down. I'll get supper after a while."

Jeff looked at Michael and said, "You want to take that walk in the woods now?"

The boy brightened immediately and said, "Yeah! Let's go!"

Jeff looked at Lynn and said, "We'll see you in an hour or so."

She nodded and smiled as they went out the door.

They walked up the barely running creek by the barnyard and followed it up into the hills. It was hard going the last hundred yards as the slope increased. The boy was breathing hard when they got to the top and came out near the neighbor's freshly mown hayfield.

"Our property line is this old fence. The corner is not marked, but it's just across that dirt lane from the end of the fence. You can't see the other corner up here through the woods, but it is over that way," Jeff said, pointing through the woods to the East.

"How big is the farm?"

"Let's go see the other corner on this end. Then we can go back down and see how far it is to the end across the road."

They walked a slightly crooked route through the woods to avoid the major gulley that was the headwaters of the wet-weather creek near the house. On the way, Michael got acquainted with some bluejays who objected loudly to the intrusion of people. Once Jeff point out a bushy tail hanging over a Hickory limb, and a pair of beady eyes on the other side of the limb.

"You can't expect to see a WHOLE squirrel at once, or deer, or any other wild thing. You have to learn to recognize PARTS of them."

Michael began to watch more closely around and above him. As they tramped through a thicket of cedar and thick brush, a burst of feathered fury exploded almost under their feet, and took off like a pair of bullets through the bushes.

"AACK!" Michael yelled in surprise, WHAT was THAT??"

Jeff had jumped involuntarily, too. He laughed and said, "THAT, son, is a pair of Grouse! If you are carrying a shotgun trying to hunt 'em, you mostly don't see 'em, unless you've set your gun against a tree, you're straddling a barbed wire fence, and you've got one foot in the creek. They wait for a time like that to pop up and scare the stuffing right out of you!"

"MAN! They were FAST!"

"Yep, sure are. It keeps 'em alive. There are foxes and coyotes out here that would love to make a meal out of them, so they have to be fast."

"Here's the East corner. Where that big rock is, by the tree. They used to use rocks like that to mark property corners, before people did much fencing."

"So, all that woods from the fence way over there, and over to here is ours?"

"Yes, from here towards the road."

"It's bigger than I ever thought. What do you do with it all?"

"Well, this part is just growing trees. It is too steep to farm, so we leave it in woods and just cut some now and then as we need it for something, like firewood or logs to be sawed into boards. Or, we could sell the logs, but that doesn't bring much right now."

They walked down the steep hill to the bottom, and wandered slowly on past the barn to the house. On the way, Jeff pointed out some plants of interest, Ginseng, Yellowroot, Mayapple, and Poison Ivy--the one to avoid like the plague. They stopped at the house for another cold drink of iced tea, then sat on the front porch drinking it in the shade of two big old Maple trees. Across the county road, Jeff pointed to the far side of their one big field, now knee high with soybeans. "You see that big Sycamore tree by the creek? It's the one with white patches on the trunk on the far side of the creek."

"Yeah, the one that sort of leans over?"

"That's it. It is just barely on our farm. If you sight past the fence line across Sugar Creek, that big tree is almost at the corner of our land. The creek bends toward us so the creek between the field fences is all on us. The fence across the creek is not exactly on the property line because it was too steep on the hillside where the line is to build a fence. They just built it where it made sense for keeping cows in there. It's on the far side of the creek so cows can go there for water. Cows drink a lot of water, so you want to make sure you don't have to carry it to 'em!"

"Are there fish in the creek? We could go fishing there!"

"No, except in the early Spring, when Suckers run up the creek to lay their eggs. Then you cana tack a gig down there and get a bunch of fish in a little while. They aren't very good to eat, though. Full of bones. Mst people try to get them sall and cook them, bones and all. I don't care much for 'em, but some do. There's a lot better fishing in the little lakes and farm ponds. Your Grandpa Walter has 3 ponds on his place where I bet you could catch something."

"I don't have a fishing pole."

"We can fix that. In fact, I saw a couple old cane poles out in the garage. We'd have to get some new line and hooks and all that, though. Looks like you and me need to make a trip to town tomorrow, huh? I need to go anyway and see a man up by the water treatment plant, so we can stop and look at the bait shop on the way. You need to meet old Micah anyway. He has a real interesting bait shop. Now. You go in and get a shower so you are clean enough to eat supper, and to get off any chiggers that might have hitched a ride while we were in the woods, okay?"

"I'll go right now. I don't want any chigger bites."

"And put those clothes in a plastic bag. We don't want chiggers in the whole laundry basket!"


The older mower-conditioner (also called a haybine) I bought at auction three years ago was only an 8 foot cut, but it was in good shape and reliable now. These have crush rollers that partially crush the hay stems and let it dry much faster, resulting in high quality hay because it doesn't have to lay in the sun so long and get bleached out. And it is faster than the old sickle mowers. In one day I had almost half of the hilltop field cut and curing, about 15 acres.

That was a lot of hay bales coming up the next day, so I called in all the help I could find. Jeff was coming over in the afternoon to load wagons off the baler, and Hank would bring a friend of his out to stack in the barn. It looked pretty good this year, having enough rain at the right times to make a heavy second cutting. Alfalfa is really productive, often allowing 3 cuttings a year if there

is enough late rain, and still winter over in good shape. In order to have time to work on the house, I had hired the first cutting done.

Jeff came in our lane with Lynn and Michael in the cab. He was a happy little boy, dragging a half-grown German Shepherd pup by a leash, and by turns, being dragged by the pup. After some confusion, we decided that Lynn, Michael and the pup would stay at the house until Margaret came in with the first load of hay, and would then help unload and stack in the barn. Hank and Rich would do the most of that work, while I drove the tractor and baler. Jeff would ride the wagon behind the baler and stack it on the wagon. Lynn had pitchers of lemonade and iced tea made by the time we got the first load to the barn. She, the boy and the dog walked up to the hay field and delivered some of the cold drinks to Jeff and I.

Michael managed to carry one picnic jug and hang onto the dog. They left our drinks in the insulated jugs and headed down the dirt hill road back to the barn in time to help stack part of the third load. It was going pretty well, getting between 3 and 4 loads an hour of 72 bales each. Margaret was kept pretty busy shuttling wagons and the men in the barn just had time to cool off a little and get something to drink by the time the next load was there. With only minor problems of a few "missed bales" when the baler missed getting one tied properly, we had a productive afternoon.

I planned to cut the rest of the field tomorrow and we would do it all again the day after that. All the workers came to the house and took advantage of the garden hose to wash off the dust and dirt, and get cooled off. Hank and Rich headed home, cash pay in their pockets, as is traditionally done with farm labor each day. I was thankful that we could get good help to put up the hay, since most teenagers wouldn't do it now as they had when I was young. But so many men were out of work that we found help easily. I hated to see so many people out of a steady job, but I was thankful to find help and get the hay up without getting it rained on, which could ruin it, or at least cost a lot of food value by leaching out nutrients. The bank barn was now full, and the pole framed hay barn was getting close to half full, so we would have more than enough to winter our cattle.

Lynn and Jeff loaded the boy and the dog and took off for home. We would all have one day to rest up after the next round of haying before their wedding on Saturday. I let the cattle back into the barn lot pasture where they could get to the pond for water. They had spent the day in the bottom field pasture where the creek was nearly dry, so they were thirsty and came in without any argument. I was getting a little old to be walking all over the farm to herd cattle, so I was glad I didn't have to chase them in. It had been a long day. Sarge was a little slow going up the stairs to Michael's room.

Michael said, "Hay is a lot of work. I'm tired, and Sarge is tired, too."

Lynn asked, "How come you named him Sarge?"

"He looks like that Sargeant that you worked with in Iraq. He's got the same long brown nose."

Lynn laughed at that, "Okay, but we won't write an TELL him that, okay?"

She was glad the boy and the young dog were tired. It made them both a lot easier to manage, and SHE was tired, too. She made a pitcher of Gatorade for them. Everybody was still thirsty.
Jeff had hit the shower first, since he had one of the dirtiest jobs loading the wagon. When he came out, Lynn went in as Michael poured Gatorade.

Jeff asked the boy, "What do you think of hay making?"

"IT's HOT, and it's DUSTY, and a lot of work. But we had fun, and Sarge got to see grandpa's farm. He had to smell everything."

Jeff grinned and said, "That's his job, to learn about the smells that are supposed to be there. That way, when a new smell comes along, he knows to go check it out. There comes your Mom, so it's your turn in the shower."

Michael didn't waste any time getting started. He was itchy all over.

Lynn had time the next day, Wednesday, to try on her wedding dress and work out the final plans for Saturday. Jeff busied himself around town, getting a look at the various car lots for something Lynn might like. They met back at Jeannie and Nathan's shop where he told her about a couple nice cars he'd seen.

Lynn spoke up immediately. "I don't want a car. I thought about it and what we need is a truck, a good heavy pickup. I have driven trucks more than cars in my life and it makes sense. There is just the three of us, so we'll all fit in a pickup, and a car won't make it out of the valley in bad winter weather. You know that. You grew up here. And if we are going to have livestock, we will have to haul feed and stuff, and the Blazer won't do that. I want something with 4 wheel drive, too, a 3/4 ton."

"Well, we can go look around next week. I didn't notice a truck like that, but I was looking at cars. We can call around and save a lot of driving to find something."

"And I want one that runs on gas, because I know how they work and I want to be able to fix it."

Jeff said, "I should have known you'd think that way."

Thursday was still hot and dry, perfect for making hay. The crew had it all figured out now, and things ran smoothly all afternoon. By sundown, the pole barn was full and the baler put in the machine shed, finished for this year. I left the tractor outside, planning to hit it with the pressure washer the next day, and clean the hay chaff out of the radiator with the air compressor.

Friday was a little cloudy, and showers were predicted for the evening, but Saturday was supposed to be clear. I spent the day sweeping off wagons and putting them in the shed, and generally tidying up around the farm while Margaret got some food together for a meal at the wedding the next day. Saturday dawned clear and sunny, last night's summer shower having made the whole world a little brighter green.



The wedding was set for 10 O'clock, to have the church as cool as possible. The small congregation had not provided air conditioning. Reverend Paul Bonner got there early and opened windows and doors to let the cool morning air in, then rested in a pew to work on his short wedding address. Jeannie and Margaret had gone to town early to pick up Lynn's mother Evelyn and get the cake from the bakery, then to the florist's for the white Lilies that would decorate the altar. Margaret's rose bushes provided the ladies' corsages and boutonnieres for the men. Greg and his wife came to the Walter's home to help with the food, then transport it. A small procession of vehicles made their way the scant mile to the church. Sarge, tied to a tree in the shady front yard, whimpered in protest at being left behind.

Michael sat with his grandparents in the front pew, and Nathan and Greg's wife Ann sat across the aisle while Jeffrey, Greg and Jeannie took their places in front of the altar. Reverend Paul came in the side door and stood at the podium as the church organist began to play the Wedding March. Lynn came slowly down the aisle in her satiny off-white sheath dress, lacy veil, and low heels, her bouquet in hand. Jeannie had convinced her to get a haircut and set, then brushed it out for her this morning. She looked more radiant than anyone had ever seen her. Michael stared at his Mom, whom he had seen in army BDU's for most of his life.

Jeff stood at attention, eyes bright and with the best looking smile that anyone had seen on him in years. Reverend Paul spoke the simple ceremony and asked the group to pray for the new couple. They completed their vows quietly, holding hands tightly. Jeff put the ring on her finger and Lynn teared up a little, eyes glistening.

"I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."

Jeff lifted her veil and did his best to kiss her thoroughly. The organ struck up the cheerful notes to signify the end of the ceremony and the new couple lost no time walking back the aisle to the front door, still holding hands tightly. Greg, Nathan, and Michael had handfuls of rice to shower the couple while others took a lot of pictures. Margaret and Evelyn shed some tears, along with a few others in the group. The crowd made their way out to the picnic tables under the huge trees. Greg and his wife, Jeannie and Nathan carried out the cake and the rest of the food.

Jeff said, "This all looks good, and I'm hungry. Let's eat!"

He got agreement from the crowd who proceeded to open food dishes and fill plates. Lynn's plate was as full as the men's, and got teased about keeping her nice figure.

Her retort was, "The farm will take care of that," and ate a good meal with everyone else.

Jeff took off his suit coat, loosened his tie and set about helping Lynn cut the cake. When the pictures had been snapped, she took off the veil and stuffed a piece of cake in Jeff's mouth. He returned the favor, making sure that it smeared a little, then kissed her again, removing some of the cake, amid congratuations from all sides and some remarks like, "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy", and "What's your secret for getting the pretty girl?"

One table had been reserved for gifts. There were kitchenwares, several cards with cash in them, and some household goods. Thanks were offered for the gifts and some banter ensued.

When the party began to wind down, Michael sat with his grandparents. Margaret told him, "So you are going to stay with us tonight, hmm?"

"Yeah. Mom an' Dad said they want some time alone together. That means they want to do all that huggy-kissy stuff. I guess that's okay. Grandpa said we could go fishing today!"

"Yes, and if you catch something, we'll cook it for supper, so you catch all you can."

"I've never caught a fish before, but Grandpa said he would show me how. We're gonna dig some worms he said, for bait."

"Oh, he'll show you how it's done. Let's get the dishes picked up and we can go home and get out of these hot clothes."

While they cleared the tables, Jeff and Lynn found that someone had decorated their Blazer with ribbons, cans tied to the bumper, and white shoe polish messages on the windows. They didn't seem to mind, waved goodbye to the well-wishers and made their exit. Alan went to Reverend Paul and handed him an envelope, shook his hand and thanked him for a nice service before they left. The crowd gone, Reverend Paul closed up the church, leaving the flowers for tomorrow's service.

Michael caught 3 sunfish and a bluegill, and was declared a fisherman. Sarge decided it was too hot to play and spent the afternoon sleeping in the shade on the pond bank.

Reverend Paul introduced the new couple as man and wife the next morning at Sunday services. Michael got to brag about his fish to his new friends Trent and Britney.


Monday morning Jeff asked if Lynn was ready to go shopping for a truck?

"No time like the present, I guess," She said.

"Do I gotta go Dad?" Michael was less than enthused about the idea.

"I think you should. You never know, we might find some transportation for you, too. I was thinking that a kid can't get around very well out here without a bike. What do you think?"

That put a whole different outlook on the prospects of the trip, so Michael was now in favor of going.

A tour of the local used car dealers turned up nothing of interest, so Lynn said, "Let's go look at the Ford dealer. I didn't want to buy a brand new one, but there isn't much to look at so far."

Jeff dutifully drove across town and parked on a side street near the Ford lot. Lynn glanced at the price sticker on the first pickup they came to, then did a double take.

"No. You gotta be kiddin' me. $49,000 for a PICKUP? That's what it says."

She stood there for a minute and didn't say anything. A salesman, spotted them as customers and came right over, a big smile pasted on his face.

"What can I show you folks? Like to see any special truck today?"

Lynn looked him dead in the eyes and said. "I saw the price on that one. That's all I need to see here. Let's go Jeff."

The salesman, loathe to let one of the few customers he saw get away, followed them a few steps and said, "We have a wide variety of models and pricing. Let me show you something else."

Lynn stopped dead in her tracks and said, "I don't want to see anything else. If that truck costs FORTY NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS, then I can't afford anything you have. I've seen pretty nice little HOUSES for less money!"

She grabbed Michael by the hand and started off, taking big steps. Jeff didn't say anything, He just turned and went along with her.

"Surely there is something, maybe a smaller truck like a Ranger..." His voice trailed off as he found himself talking to the backs of the departing family.

Lynn slammed the door on the Blazer a little harder than was really necessary. When Michael was settled in the back seat, and Jeff got behind the wheel, she finally said, "I guess I'm out of touch with prices. I had no idea that a new truck would cost that much."

"It's the money, Lynn. The dollar just isn't worth what it used to be. Prices are up on everything."

"I knew things were going up, but I guess we were pretty insulated from it in the military. But the PX prices were going up, too. Thing is, we didn't need to buy much. It's not reasonable to try to own a vehicle in a war zone, so I hadn't even seen car prices in ages. I guess my savings isn't as big as I thought it was."

Jeff sighed inwardly, relieved that she had figured that out on her own. It saved him the task of trying to get her to understand some things. Then he had a thought. "I know a guy out south of town we should go see."

Lynn didn't say anything, but just sat there thinking hard and not liking what she was coming up with.

"I'm going to see this old mechanic I know. He's retired, but he still buys old trucks and fixes them up to sell, maybe one a year. I don't know what he might have, but it's worth a look."

Jeff drove out of town on the highway and turned off at a county road that forked to the west. They pulled into the driveway of a neat little house with a big metal building in back. Jeff got out and greeted the white headed man who came out of the building, wiping his hands with a shop towel.

"Hello, Randy. We're looking for a pickup for the farm and wondered if you have anything to sell?"

"I got a nice one, but it's not quite finished yet. Needs some bumpers and I was gonna put a hitch on it yet, and mebbe a winch I got laying around. C'mon in."

Inside was a dark green 1994 Ford pickup, gleaming with new paint, new tires, new interior and generally looking new all over.

"This was my brother's truck. He lives in New Albany and doesn't put on a lot of miles, but it had some rust and needed a going over. I pulled the body off, sandblasted the frame, painted it, and built it back from there. It has new brakes, fuel pump and lines, all new rubber parts, and a lot more. I can have it done tonight."

Lynn drove it, and made the deal for $7,200.

Randy said, "You can buy a '94 for half that, but it won't be half the truck. It has a 300 cubic inch six cylinder in it now from a dump truck that is not computerized. Forged steel crank, better exhaust, adjustable carburetor, and point ignition with a hot racing coil. It will start when nothing else does. And I did a blueprint rebuild on it."

They got the paperwork done the next day at the license branch..

Lynn was pleased as could be with her truck, but still thinking about the prices of new ones. She told Jeff, "It's hard for me to catch up to what is going on with prices. I want to do more of the shopping and go with you if you are buying something. It bothers me that I was so far out of it on the cost of a new truck. I had looked at house prices when Mom moved in town, and they didn't seem all that much higher."

"Houses are actually down quite a bit from 3 or 4 years ago, after the real estate bubble popped. But everything else has kept going up."

"It makes my pension seem a lot smaller."

"Yeah, mine too. But we have both incomes, and we don't have any debts, so we are far ahead of most people. The bad part is, our incomes aren't going up, but prices are. That's why I want to get something going on the farm. We will need to keep earning some money to stay even. And that's why Jeannie and I put the garden in. Groceries are expensive and getting worse. It was too late this year to get any livestock going here, and the cropland was already rented, but we can get some things going next year. Probably tobacco, and I'll see about using Dad's equipment to put a few acres of corn in. When the soybeans come off soon, I want to get that plowed this Fall and put in some pasture. If I fix the cross fence in that 40 acres, we can run the cattle out there and buy hay from Dad. We should be able to make a fair amount on this place."

"What is worrying me is the money I have in CD's. They aren't earning squat. Interest rates are so low that it's not keeping up with prices."

"I was going to say something about that. I know you have that earmarked for Michael, but the way things are going, it is actually losing money sitting in those CD's. You need to put that money in something that will hold it's value, or gain some beyond inflation."

"Your Dad said something about having some silver that is going up. I thought about that today."

"Silver is an iffy deal. The market for gold and silver is manipulated by the big banks and investment outfits, and it can go crazy real quick, up or down. You can make a buck on it, but you have to stay right on top of it every day and understand what is going on. I had some gold and sold it out to buy this place. Farmland looks like a much better investment to me now. Real estate is the only thing I know of that is going down as much as the dollar right now. Of course, you have to keep it working because there are property taxes and upkeep."

"Hmm. I don't know. I'll think about it."

Jeff found time to get the land line phone hooked up the next day, so they could communicate with the outside world again. Their first call was bad news. Margaret asked to talk to Lynn, and told her she had gotten a call from the hospital, who said her mother was in critical condition. She had gotten the call because they couldn't reach Lynn on her cell phone, and they didn't have the new land line number yet. Fortunately, the duty nurse was one who was a friend of Margaret's and knew she could reach Lynn through her. When Lynn got the message, they all jumped into the Blazer and headed for town. They found her mother in intensive care. She'd had a massive heart attack and had just been able to push the button on her emergency monitor. The EMT's had found her on the floor and unresponsive. IV's had been started and emergency measures taken on the 6 block trip to the hospital.

Lynn held her mother's hand while the heart monitor softly beeped. She knew when the beeping stopped and the alarm went off at the nurse's station that it was over. She had seen it happen too any times in Iraq. Jeff sat with her while she said her silent goodbye to her Mom. Finally, she stood and held onto Jeff. Silently they walked to the waiting area down the hall to tell Michael what happened. He hadn't known his grandmother very well, and didn't feel the loss as keenly as if they had been close, but seeing his Mom crying weighed heavily on him, and he cried with her.

The memorial service at the church was held the following Sunday afternoon. Evelyn had asked to be cremated and have her ashes taken home to the farm with her husband's. The congregation offered their sympathy as best they could. Lynn, Jeff and Michael went home to the farm and scattered her ashes over the garden she loved. Margaret and Alan dropped by later with some food left by the the church members, adding some of their own. At least Lynn wouldn't have to cook for a few days. Billy and Joe and their wives were there to share their grief. After supper they made plans to meet the following Saturday to begin to deal with their mother's estate. Michael and Sarge went for a walk behind the house after supper. They went to bed without prompting that night.

What little furniture and personal effects Evelyn had were shared among Lynn and her brothers, some of it, unwanted, went to Goodwill as a donation. Lynn's sister, Julie, was somewhere in the Mideast in the Army the last she had heard, so they would have to handle this without her and settle up later. Lynn knew something about estate planning and had put her mother's CD's jointly in the children's names and her mother's name. There was no estate to probate in court, only the matter of meeting at the bank to cash out the CD's when they matured a few weeks later.

Jeff had paid her mother $180,000 for the farm, as appraised by the realtor who later handled the transaction. That money was now evenly divided among the four heirs. It was less than the amount subject to estate taxes. Lynn had given this some thought and told the bank to put it in her passbook savings account. On the way home, she asked Jeff if he knew what the deal was

with the old farm located between their's and his parents' place?

"As far as I know, old Mr. Wilson's daughter owns it. Oliver Rice has the bottom field rented; he told me that. Carol, the daughter, lives in Indianapolis and would just as soon be rid of it, I think. In fact, they had it listed with a realtor last year, but it didn't sell. The house is no good, so it wouldn't finance very well."

"I wonder what it would take to buy that? I'm thinking that would make sense to buy and put it in trust for Michael, with us as joint trustees. You know, the "living trust" thing."

"That could work. There's an old sawmill on the place, you know. Abner what's-his-name ran that back ages ago. I don't know if it would be any good now, though. Probably wouldn't affect the price much. I'll ask Oliver about getting in touch with her."

Carol was overjoyed at someone being interested in the old farm, and priced the 120 acres at $140,000. Since only about 30 acres was tillable, the pasture land was marginal, and the rest in cut-over woods wasn't worth all that much. Lynn made a counter offer of $120,000 and Carol accepted it. A local realtor handled the closing so that Carol only had to make one trip down from Indianapolis.

Lynn did some accounting. "Jeff! C'mere."

"What's up?"

"I added things up. I cashed those CD's of Michael's since they had the lowest interest rate, and got the rest out of checking to pay for the Wilson place. That left about $4,000 in checking. The truck wiped out my passbook savings account. I still have Mom's CD's, that's $45,000, and the $60,000 in T-Bonds. Our pensions are more than enough to live on for now. I want to keep that $4,000 in checking. What's the best thing to do with $105,000? What can we do with the Wilson place to make it pay?"

"Mmmm. That's a tall order. I need to look at that sawmill, if I can get to it through the briars, and see if it is just scrap iron, or if it is worth fixing up. I think it might be, if the roof hasn't gone bad. The extra ground will make it possible to put in a hay crop there and not need much attention. In the Spring when there is water running, we could run some cattle behind the sawmill in that pasture. If we have hogs, I want them closer to the house to oversee. That old 9N Ford tractor is pretty tired. We'll need something better to do much plowing. I don't want to get into no-till planting because I don't want all those chemicals in the ground. That means plowing and cultivation. I need to think about what this would cost, but it shouldn't be that much. We need to go to Kruer's consignment auction up at Greenville and see what farm equipmnt if bringing."

Lynn said, "There's a well on the place, right? We could set up water for cattle from that if we had to."

They talked late into the night, making plans.


Chapter 23 MOVING IN September, 2010

Margaret and I set about the task of moving to the new house. We moved all the upstairs storage items first, which resulted in trips to the county landfill and the Goodwill donation box. It is amazing how much useless junk a couple can collect in 40-some years of marriage. She made new curtains while her sewing machine was still set up, in between fits of canning late green beans and some apples. The canning had been going on for a while now, but she wisely had me carry the new jars of food to the root cellar room of the new house. While was at it, I carried a lot of leftover food from last year, too. I got tired of making a lot of trips and backed the truck up to the porch of the old house. We loaded all that was left of the canned food, both home canned and store bought, and one more trip got it in place.

We had two sets of bedroom furniture made by my grandfather, so it was simple enough to move the spare set into our second bedroom at the new house so we could sleep in our regular bed until the last minute. We did that sort of thing as much as possible, but the day came when we had to move the kitchen stove and the fridge. That night, we spent in the new house. Margaret coined a saying, "Home is where the stove is". As expected, I had to fetch a lot of things for the next few days until we were established in the new place. Getting used to the new floor plan took longer.

There was no heating set up for the new place yet. Although we had a shed full of dry firewood, Nathan hadn't finished building our new heating stove. Their business had picked up some, and they were working long days now. It was a copy of a good box stove design sold for years by Timberline Stove Company, but he was making it more durable with heavier material. We found that the house was almost too warm with only the sun heating it through the front windows. Several sunny days had us closing the reflective curtains and opening the roof vents to let out the excess. Nathan and Jeannie delivered the new stove the last week of September when we had some really chilly nights, but there was no need to fire it up. It was cool in the house when we got up, but almost too warm after cooking breakfast. The thick insulation made one heck of a difference from our old house with its' leaky windows and doors.

Grass was pretty well established around the new house and on the terraces above it. I thought it looked a little strange to see grass growing behind the roof, but from the front it, the normal pitched roof looked like any other house. Margaret said something about growing a garden on the roof of the root cellar, and I wasn't real sure whether she was joking or not. The first of the Fall rains showed that our landscaping had been effective at directing the runoff water. The corn crop would be late this year, so we had time to refine our living patterns.

We were beginning to live like retired folks and it made me feel lazy, so I called Jeff and asked if he needed help with anything? He didn't disappoint me. He was trying to get the fencing patched up before bad weather so he could get some cattle next Spring. That included the Wilson farm they had bought, which was in really bad shape. The small barn there was pretty good, except for the dirt floor and needing some paint on the roof, that he had tackled first. The floor would have to wait until later to decide what wanted to be concrete and what was okay as-is.

I helped him string a lot of barbed wire for a couple weeks, until he called a halt to that in favor of beginning work on a pond for livestock water. He hoped to have cattle running on that place by next Spring when the grass got ready. He said that this winter he would sow some white clover seed over the old pasture to improve the feed value and add nitrogen to the soil at the same time, an old practice I learned from my Dad.

A backhoe is not usually the best choice for digging a pond, but it isn't bad. He began by using the little Ford tractor and Bush Hog mower to clear the ground over a wide area around the new pond location. Then he used the backhoe bucket to scrape all the mess into a pile down stream of the pond. He had located the pond at the bottom of a steep hollow that drained a large section of woods, expecting that erosion would fill the pond with dirt over a period of years, whereupon, he would have more pasture and he'd dig another pond down stream. This would reclaim a lot of eroded land.

In a week, he had a pond scooped out that was about half an acre in extent. He used the old tractor and disc that came with his place to smooth out the ground around it and make a seedbed for the Fescue grass he sowed next. He had to buy some straw to cover the seed, but had the pond banks turning green after a couple rains and some minor patchwork.

Jeannie had come out to help Lynn get the last of her garden canned, and Michael took a hand in that, too. He had a personal investment in the garden of many hours of weeding. When he and his Mom went to the grocery, she pointed out the prices on vegetables like they had canned showing that this was all worth doing.

"Mom, it's worth doing anyway. The store stuff doesn't taste as good as ours."

She told him to read the ingredients on the label of a can of vegetables. He had trouble pronouncing several items, and asked what they were.

"It's some chemicals they add for different reasons. Some of them are preservatives and some are to make it a pretty color, and they add a lot of salt, too, whether you want it or not."

Michael told her, "If I don't know what it is, I don't want to eat it."

Lynn agreed with him.

Lynn and Jeannie shared the canned food from the garden, having plenty for all. Because of their business work, Jeannie and Nate didn't always have time to work on a garden when it needed it, so they were willing to do a lot of work on it when they could to have a portion. It worked out well. Our contribution to the family vittles was a big crop of potatoes, onions, squash, and sweet corn, since those took a lot of room to grow, and our garden was bigger. Our new root cellar had enough room to store it all, so the kids picked up enough to last a while when they came by.

I had time to take Michael with me to the woods to gather hickory nuts and walnuts. We could ride the tractor to the hilltop field and take a lot of buckets on the wagon. At the far edge of that field were several walnut trees so we gathered a lot of them in buckets and poured them into the wagon. There were fewer hickory nuts, so we kept them in the buckets and hauled the whole works to the house. We put the hickory nuts in the barn to dry so the hulls would come off easier, and scattered the walnuts in the driveway for their hulls to rot and get crumbled off by the normal traffic.


Some company called MF Global went belly up and those who had money in supposedly secure investment accounts with them had lost it all. This involved a lot of farmers who had made futures contracts to lock in prices for their crops and cattle. This bankrupted some ranchers, among others. There was debate on the news as to whether the Federal Reserve Bank would introduce another round of "Quantitative Easing", an officious sounding name for creating money out of thin air and giving it to their member banks. That had the effect of more inflation in commodities some time in the future when that money got invested there.

The price of silver and gold jiggled upward in response. It was widely speculated that JP Morgan had such a large share of the silver market that they could move silver prices by themselves, usually by selling "short contracts", a promise of delivery in the future at a price set today. This tended to lower the price of silver by creating an articifial "supply". There was a lot of speculation that the Fed was funding JP Morgan's silver shenanigans to keep the silver price down. If silver and gold went too high the dollar would look really bad. I had to ask a lot of questions about these things, and Jeff could explain a lot of it. I finally began to understand better.

The more I understood, the more I realized how crooked all these investment games were. I resolved to keep away from paper investments of any sort. The silver we owned was the real thing, and I did not keep it in a bank, either. Only the family even knew we had it, so it wasn't a big problem to keep it out of sight and secure. I vowed to dump the stuff back on the market when I thought the time was right. For the moment, everything looked like it would go up for some time to come yet, but I watched it every day for the unexpected. Some advocated keeping gold and silver for the long term, thinking it would replace cash when the dollar failed. Maybe so, but I thought the government would mess around with it if the dollar looked too bad. Such things had happened before. I decided I liked investments that I was more familiar with, like cattle, grain, and other tangible things.

Margaret agreed with my view and helped me go through our inventory of goods to figure out what we still needed to collect. I had begun to carry a notepad and a pencil in my shirt pocket when we embarked on this idea. The lists I made were fewer now, but no less important. When we were working on the house, I noticed the price of nails was going up, so I bought a goodly supply of the sizes we used around the farm. That had come out to be as good an investment as the silver, and I didn't have to sell the nails to benefit from it. I would use the nails as needed, and not have to worry about the price of them.

We didn't make a big spread sheet listing all our stocks of things. We just paid attention to what we used on a daily basis and made notes. If we didn't have much of some certain item, and we used it regularly, we bought some extra when we could find the best possible price on it. This fit with my old management philosophy from my years in the corporate world. Back then, some writer in a management magazine called this approach, "MBWA", meaning Management By Walking Around. Simple, and effective. I liked that.

The one thing I had not figured out was how to deal with high oil prices. A couple years ago, in 2008, crude oil had hit a high of $147 a barrel, and gasoline shot up to over $5.00 a gallon in a of couple months. It came back down again, but to my knowledge, nobody was making any more crude oil. The more we pumped out of the ground, the less there was left down there. I didn't think we would come anywhere near running out of oil in my lifetime, but that didn't mean we couldn't get into another price squeeze like back in '08.

And those folks who had a lot of crude oil in their countries, were not only aware of our trick of printing more dollars to buy it with, but they weren't what you would call our best friends, either. The more money the US printed, the higher the oil prices would go. Oh, the price would bounce around a lot, for many reasons, but the trend was clear enough. The bottom line was, the price would go up by fits and starts and only those who could afford the fuel would get it. The rest of us would make do with less, or do without.

It was one thing to buy enough nails to last me a lifetime, but gasoline doesn't store nearly as well or as cheaply as nails. Under the best conditions and if you add some expensive chemcals to it, you could probably get it to still be useful for a couple years or even a little more. But diesel fuel and gasoline both go bad after a long enough time, and besides, it is dangerous to have large amounts of it around. There were some alternatives to using oil products, but I didn't care much for any of them. It was a knotty problem and it wasn't going to go away. It deserved more thought.

One obvious thought about the rising cost of energy was that if you could use LESS of it, you saved money. Few of us have much of a background for that. The whole 20th century was devoted to figuring out how to use MORE energy, because that meant we had to do less work ourselves. To use less energy, you can either simply do without some of it, like driving fewer trips, or you could try to use energy more efficiently, as in driving a vehicle that gets better mileage. Better yet, do both. The best is to figure out some way to get what you want without using any energy, or at least not the expensive stuff like oil, gas or electricity.

I had been thinking about all this for a long time, so it was not a hard sell to get me interested in a new more efficient home. It was a cost/benefit decision we made to build the house. On heating costs alone, it would save us 2 or 3 thousand dollars a year, and more if the price of LP gas kept going up. Still, that wasn't enough to make me decide to build the new house. We spent about $120,000 on it, and at $3,000 a year savings, it would take 40 years to pay that off, not counting interest on the money. I probably wouldn't live to be 106 years old to see that, but there were other benefits that made it worthwhile. For one thing, the price of LP wouldn't stay the same. It would easily double in the next 10 years, or worse. Also, the old house was at the point of needing a lot of work. Why put half the amount in the old house and still have an old house? Part of my thinking was looking ahead for our children. I would rather leave them a GOOD house as part of our estate, than an old wreck that needed to be torn down. We needed a root cellar anyway. And the new house was a storm shelter. The old root cellar had collapsed and we filled it in. These reasons were enough to make the choice. These things are not simple, and never will be.

Some wise guy said the way you eat an elephant is, ONE BITE AT A TIME. I looked at the energy problem that way. Anything I could do to whittle down the amount of energy I use would help, if it didn't have some other kind of big cost, like too much labor, or too much capital investment cost. That is why we had no means of heating in the new house except the wood stove. We had ended the LP gas heat once and for all. When Margaret and I both retired, we suddenly did very little driving, which was a big energy saver.

When we began to garden more intensely, we saved trips to the grocery, and some of the indirect cost of energy used to produce and transport the grocery store food. We ate better, healthier food and would probably be sick less because of it. With Margaret home all the time, she could use the clotheslines instead of the gas dryer. We were getting better at the energy thing, but there was a lot of room for improvement. It was a challenge worthy of someone who still thought of himself as an engineer.

What really bugged me was, if and when the dollar crashed and became worth a lot less, then the cost of imported oil, and the manufatured products made using it, could go to unbelievable heights. That could be a game stopper. Like $400 a barrel oil, $15 gas, $18 diesel, double the price for tires, unaffordable plastic products, and very expensive food. It would kill the country.


Chapter 25 THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THINGS October, 2010

Our hay had done exceptionally well this year, making 3,200 bales from the 30 acres. A cow will eat about 30 pounds of hay, or about half a bale per day. The winters had been warmer lately, allowing us to graze until well into November before we had to feed any hay, and the pasture was greening up and ready to graze again by mid-March. That meant we fed hay for about 4 months, with a little grain for gestating cows and finishing beef right before they were sold. Our hay crop would feed 50 head through the winter with a little margin for safety. We had 24 cows, plus last year's 24 calves, now finishing for sale as feeder calves at around 700 to 800 pounds. We also had this year's 23 calves, having lost one to coyotes at birth. And, of course, there was the bull. He was still young, but he ate like 2 cows. Nonetheless, we had more than enough hay to winter the lot of them if we chose, or we could sell up to 24 feeder calves.

If we sold all the calves at an average weight of 750 pounds, with the current price for prime feeder cattle at around $108/hundred pounds, that would gross about $18,630. Farm profits are taxable as income, but that was not all profit. There are the common expenses of fuel and maintenance, and this year's maintenance had been pretty high, since I had rebuilt the haybine and done a lot of work on other equipment. The backhoe was a farm expense, to be amortized over it's expected life, but the repairs to it were deductible this year. Vet bills and hired transport to ship cattle to market, sale barn fees, farm work clothing, fencing repairs, it all added up to make farming an expensive operation. Still, with all the deductions, we would show a taxable profit of over $6,000 if we sold all the cattle. I began to consider the alternatives.

Jeff wanted to start running some beef on his place. If I wintered over the 11 heifer calves and sold them to him next Spring, he would need to find a bull or use the artificial breeding service, but that would get him a fine start on a herd. And he wouldn't have to deal with a bunch of neurotic calves that had been shipped halfway across the country by truck and came in with scours (postnatal bacterial or viral diarrhea), and Lord-only-knows what other problems. We could drive them right down the county road to his place, too, since there were fences on both sides all the way.

I asked Jeff about this and he was delighted with the idea. It was about the size herd their place could handle, and he knew they were top quality Angus with excellent bloodlines. Southern Indiana normally gets about 40" to 44" of rainfall a year, more than twice the amount in states farther West that graze a lot of cattle. That made pastures and hay ground very productive, so the result was, we could feed about 2 cows per acre here. So, 11 head was about right for Jeff's place, if he got some fencing done to allow grazing his creek bottom fields. As he got the Wilson place in better shape, he could double that.

But there were several reasons to avoid pushing it to the limits. A dry year, or even a dry period in late summer, could reduce your farm's carrying capacity by half. Market prices varied all over the place, so it was wise to not be in a position that you had to sell cattle. If you had feed and water for them, it would allow you to expand your herd when others had to sell at low prices. That

had happened in Texas over the past couple years, when a severe drought caused ranchers to sell off their herds, and dropped the price of beef temporarily. We were benefitting now from the ensuing scarcity of beef that had driven the price up. A good time to sell, if you had them, but a poor time to buy. Jeff would be paying my cost for the calves, so he was getting a heckuva deal. My tax bill wouldn't be near so high, either.

I decided that I would keep the 13 steers and feed them out for finished beef by next Spring. That would put that income on NEXT year's taxes, and be an advantage. Thankfully, we didn't need the money now, so we didn't have to sell. There was no farm mortgage hanging over our head, no new truck payments, or anything of the sort. We could afford to keep the whole lot of the cattle for pets, if we wanted to. That gave us a great advantage in the business. Younger farmers with big payments due were not in such good shape. They had to pray for favorable seasons and market prices to keep from going under. Jeff was getting a good start because he had saved his money, made good investments, and didn't overreach what he could afford as he got started. He would need more farm equipment, but I could help there by loaning what he needed for a while.

Used farm machinery prices were high, Jeff found. Hard times and tight credit made it difficult for farmers to finance new machinery, so the used stuff was the next best choice. Competition at the consignment auction was fierce. Jeff and Lynn watched all day, but bought nothing. Michael was intrigued with all the machines and had a great time. He asked endless questions about what each machine was for, and why it was that way. It got to be wearing as the day went on. Jeff thought he spotted the same guy bidding up prices, then dropping out when the bids slowed down. Sure enough, he caught him at it. He probably worked for the auctioneer. It was called being a "shill", and hated by auction goers, but it was legal as long as he followed the rules. Jeff lost interest at that point and called it a day. They ate at the food stand, paying overmuch for burnt Bratwurst and stale coffee. Lynn got an update on what farming costs were now, and her frugal self was thinking hard about how to get the most for every dollar. They all climbed in to her pickup for the ride home.

The next auction they attended had better results. An old couple was retiring from farming, and selling out. There wasn't a lot of equipment there, but it was sound stuff. The big draw for this auction was the land that was being fought over by a couple of the neighboring farmers. The house and outbuildings sold separately, with 5 acres attached, and also had several active bidders, mostly looking like city types. The farm equipment sold last, and the bidding was lethargic.

Most of the big money bidders had already lost interest after the land and house properties had sold. A gaggle of mostly older women hung around the household goods, and only a few men gathered around the farm equipment. It was mostly older machinery, and did not appeal to the bigger farmers. Jeff bought an excellent smaller grinder-mixer for grinding feed, and 2 good flat bed farm wagons at a decent price. The wood beds on those were decrepit and kept the prices down. Jeff knew that he and his Dad could build new hay beds for them and come out good on the deal.

Lynn hung around the house where a second auctioneer, less skilled than the other one, was selling the household stuff. To her surprise, the canning jars all came to her for less than half the price of new ones. She bought a lard rendering kettle cheap that the antique dealers must have missed, and then had to pay more than she wanted to for the lard press. She bought a good axe for $2. Apparently, there was nobody here who knew what they were good for. She bought a bundled lot of old hand tools for $9, after the auctioneer, desperate for a starting bid, had kept

adding things to the pile.

At the end of the day, she had her truck bed piled high with her purchases and had spent less than $50 on the lot of it. Some of the jars had to go into the Blazer. They had both driven that day, anticipating having to tow more than one wagon home. As it turned out, she towed one wagon with the Blazer and Jeff drove her truck to tow the hammermill home. They had to make another trip for the second wagon, not willing to risk towing more than one at a time for the long trip home.

Once the two wagons were home, Jeff took his newly purchased chainsaw to the beds and cut them into small enough pieces that he could pile them up and burn them. He had removed and saved the hold down U-bolts to mount a new bed when he got around to it. Each wagon frame, or "gear", he towed separately to a fellow who did sandblasting and had them both cleaned down to the bare metal, and sprayed with primer paint. This guy did a booming business with his service, and did the primer painting to prevent the raw metal from rusting instantly. He paid $180 apiece for this, and had some nice looking wagons. He'd paid $700 for the two of them, so now he had good frames for $530 each. He had seen worse looking wagon gear sell for over $800. and these had good tires on them, too. He put a good coat of machinery enamel on each of them and stowed them in the old barn for now. The hammermill filled the last of the space in the machinery shed, so he would have to add on to it. He wasn't finished buying equipment by a long shot and he refused to spend good money on machinery then let it set out in the weather.

Meanwhile, Lynn and Michael had been washing canning jars for two days and had them all shining with new lids on them and stored away upstairs in the spare bedroom. Since Jeff was so busy, they figured out how to make some sturdy wood shelves for them. Next year, she planned to have a bigger garden.
The old 9N Ford and Bush Hog took something of a beating when Jeff mowed around the old sawmill, cutting bushes, briars, and tall weeds. Some junk had been left laying around that raised Cain with the mower, but he spotted the worst of it before he hit it. He had not seen the barbed wire buried in the grass. He saw something come rippling through the grass, and couldn't figure out what it was for a minute. By the time he shut the mower off, 50 feet or more of barbed wire had been power-wrapped tightly around the mower shaft. So, he spent the rest of that afternoon and part of the next day cutting out a big wad of wire with bolt cutters and pliers. The next day, he used the chainsaw to cut some small saplings that had grown up around the sawmill and made a brush pile to burn later.

The old metal roof had leaked on the end where the log deck was, and ruined some of the roof framing, but little else. The mill itself was intact, but rusty as could be. He nailed a temporary patch over the bad roof, good enough to last the winter. Since there was no electricity on this farm, Jeff went to town and bought a good 3500 watt generator with a Honda engine and some gas cans. Then he went to the hardware store and got an angle grinder, some wire cup brushes, and a dust respirator.

He spent a couple days and wore out several wire brushes, but he got the worst of the rust off the sawmill shafts and other hardware. He changed oil in the old Ford tractor and took the jug of dirty oil to the sawmill where he poured and brushed it on every piece of metal he could find, and left it to soak a while. At least it LOOKED like a sawmill now. He had all the leftover junk piled to one side and had Michael carry out all the old wood scraps to the burn pile. It was an impressive pile by then. After a gentle, soaking rain, he changed oil in the pickup and the Blazer, and poured the used oil over the pile. It burned nicely, and the next day, all that was left was a soft layer of ashes.

All the workings of the mill were rusted and stuck, so Jeff bought a propane weed burner torch and heated parts, then poured more used oil on them. Some thumping with scraps of heavy lumber, and things began to loosen up and move like they were supposed to. Everything seemed to be functional again. The log carriage wheels had seen better days, so he found a solid timber in the shed, rolled the carriage under it and used his Dad's chain hoist to lift it and turn it upside down. A day of wrenching on it got it apart in pieces he could load in the pickup. Next, he removed all 3 head blocks that held the logs in place and loaded them. The first stop for this load was at the sandblaster's.

When that guy was finished, he took the pile to his Dad's shop and they ordered some bronze to make bushings, new bolts, and steel to replace some things. It took both Jeff and his Dad to get the 60" diameter saw blade dismounted, using a pair of heavy hammers to loosen the big arbor nut. The blade was taken to a shop in Indianapolis for rebuilding. A week later it was back and stored in the barn until the rest of the mill could be finished, along with some spare insert teeth for the saw blade.

The engine for the sawmill was a very old Chevy 6 cylinder that had mouse-chewed wiring and rust all over. It was stuck inside, so Jeff unbolted it and removed the clutch housing to save, then junked the engine. He found a replacement at the same junkyard in an old truck that ran pretty well and put it in place using a boom pole on his Dad's tractor. It was close to finished, but it was time to pick corn, so everything else had to wait. Jeff was pleased. He had spent less than $2,000 refurbishing the sawmill. He would have to find somebody that could show him how to use it soon, since he had zero experience at that. Like most sawmill sheds, this one was mostly open on the sides, so he threw some tarps over the important parts to keep off blowing rain and let the project rest for a while.

We hadn't had any rain to speak of yet, although there had been some cool mornings that were cloudy. It turned warm and sunny for a few days and that dried the corn enough to pick. It wouldn't be dry enough to shell with a combine, but that was an advantage of using an ear corn picker. You could get started sooner while it was still a little on the damp side, because in the crib, the ears left enough spaces for air to circulate and dry the corn.

My old picker was a 2-row pull type, a real antique by today's standards. It did work very well and we had it in good shape. The 20 acres went pretty fast, all considered. The open pollinated corn was very tall compared to modern hybrids, and prone to falling over where the picker could not reach it, but it was still standing well enough. It didn't take long to fill a 70 bushel wagon, so Margaret and Lynn did a lot of shuttling of wagons. Jeff manned the wagon dumping operation and ran the elevator to the corn cribs. As a crib was filled, he had to have some help to shift the rig to the next one, but it didn't take long. I estimated that we were getting over 80 bushels per acre, a good yield for this variety. The hybrids I had planted in the past would get 140 bushels per acre on this ground, but they wanted a LOT of fertilizer to achieve that, and fertilizer was getting much more expensive.

I had planted 20 acres instead of my normal 10 or 12 acres, to get the 1500 bushels we planned on. It looked like we were going to meet or exceed that. The third day of picking, we had our three 500 bushel wire corn cribs filled when Margaret took in the last wagon load, and it was heaped with corn so that we lost a few ears on the way. We decided to just leave that on the wagon and back it in the machine shed. I was very happy with the corn yield, considering that I had used a lot less fertilizer, and I expected the feed value to be better than the hybrid corn, using fewer bushels to produce the same amount of beef or pork. Since I could save seed from our

crop, it meant I didn't have to spend close to $100 an acre for seed next year, either. It was a money making deal. If I had been selling it on the market, not so much, since I would get no premium for the higher protein content. I planned to feed all of it.

Jeff got back to his sawmill project, and had the engine running and the all the machinery functioning like it should. He cut a couple medium size Poplar trees into logs and decided to try his hand at sawing. He had been told that the saw blade was hammered into a slight dish shape, so that when run at the proper RPM, the centrifugal force would actually stretch the outer part of the blade and make it flat. If this wasn't done, the blade would still stretch at the outside and get as floppy as an old hat brim, the vibration making it impossible to saw with it. So, he had to find the "sweet spot" in the throttle setting to make it run right.

For being his first time, Jeff thought he did pretty well. He'd seen sawmills operate, so he had the basic idea, but he was very slow at it. Even so, he cut enough Poplar boards to put siding on most of the sawmill shed. The engine had a truck sized alternator, so he hooked a pair of truck batteries in parallel to it, and bought an inverter to make AC power off the batteries. Then, he wired some overhead lights in the building. If the engine was running, they would not run the batteries down at all, and the batteries had enough juice to have lights for an hour or two and still be able to start the engine.

It was time to find a sawyer to get this rig to make some money. But he had one more thing to finish first, an outhouse. There were no other facilities on the old farm, so he went inside the edge of the woods out of sight and dug a hole with the backhoe. He framed an all wood outhouse up on oak runners and slid it over the hole. He was ready for business, so he started cutting logs and snaking them in with his Dad's tractor.

A week later at the feed and seed store in town, he mentioned that he had a sawmill ready to run and was looking for a sawyer. Someone gave him a name, but that man already had a job. He gave Jeff another man's name which proved to be available. With the housing crash, few new homes were being built, so the need for hardwoods to make cabinets, flooring and furniture was less. Many sawmills had shut down until business picked up again, so people were available. Lonnie Martin was as good as his word, and showed up the next Monday morning with a helper he knew. They agreed on wages, significantly lower than they had been paid when times were better. Lonnie had some ideas to make things work easier, and the 3 of them made a few changes to the log deck and the off-bearing table. By the second day, things were going pretty well and Jeff was back to cutting logs to keep them busy. Lynn contributed a propane Coleman stove she bought new for the purpose, a percolator, a water jug and coffee. She was much appreciated for that, and for lunches. The men set to work like they wanted to do it.

Jeff's first order was enough Poplar one inch boards to finish vertical siding the sawmill shed for colder weather, then some thin strips to cover the cracks between boards when the green lumber shrunk as it dried out. They cut rafters and sheathing boards to replace those on the damaged roof, then cut enough more Poplar siding boards and framing lumber to extend his machine shed another 48 feet. They cut 1" square sticks for air-drying spacers and stacked that lumber outside to dry.

Then Jeff cut some Red Oak and had them saw enough material to make new beds for 3 hay wagons. The farm had come with one old wagon that also needed a new bed. While he was cutting oak, he had them saw a stack of material to do some new stalls in his old barn, new flooring for the barn loft, and 5,000 tobacco sticks, four feet long and 1" square. He wouldn't need that many for what he planned to grow, but he was sure he could sell them to tobacco farmers. They sawed a pickup load of tomato stakes and another of bean poles that he planned to either wholesale to the local hardware store, or sell himself at the Farmers Market next Spring.

By the middle of November, they had built a small office building for the sawmill, close to the county road. He put a cheap wood stove in there that they fired with cut up slab wood from the sawmill. After covering the wood siding with metal, they had a good place to eat lunch and warm up in cold weather. The stacks of sawed lumber were growing alongside the lane to the sawmill, and attracted attention from local farmers who had some orders for sawing. Most provided their own logs and delivered them. Jeff cut some timber for those who didn't have their own and soon had enough business locally to pay his help and earn back a good part of his expenses to that point. And, he got essentially free lumber for his farm projects. When the weather turned very cold in January, he laid off his helpers and called it quits for the winter. If business justified it, he would start up again after his Spring farm work was done.

Jeff spent most of the winter using his lumber and got the machine shed addition completed. Michael got an introduction to carpentry, then wagon building as the winter progressed. By late winter, they had 3 like-new wagons in their brand new machine shed, and were working on the barn. Michael even suckered his friend Trent into spending a weekend at our place, and did a job worthy of Tom Sawyer by getting him to help lay flooring in the barn loft.

Margaret figured out that before the end of the year, we needed to buy a newer tractor and maybe some other equipment to keep our farm taxes down for this year. It was good business to plan that sort of thing to stay out of a high tax bracket, since we needed to replace equipment anyway. A local implement dealer was going out of business, and had some good used equipment. I bought a somewhat larger tractor, a newer model Massey Fergusson with a bigger loader bucket and front wheel assist (=4WD), and sold Jeff my MF165 and loader. That ate our farm profits for this year, so Margaret was happy for the tax deduction, and Jeff and I were both pleased. We had used up most of our available money, but we were in good shape for the year to come.


Chapter 26 GATHERING OF THE CLANS December, 2010

I was skinning a deer hanging in the machine shed when I heard two shots in the hilltop field. One had that distinctive sound that muzzleloaders make, but the other I was pretty sure was a shotgun. Before I had washed the hair off of me and the deer carcass, Nathan came driving his truck in the lane with Jeannie riding shotgun, literally, with her shotgun leaned over her shoulder. They stopped for just a minute to say they were headed to the State check-in station at Micah's bait shop, then they would be back to hang their deer for a couple days before taking them apart. We made a habit of doing the butchering all at our place, where we had a good place set up in one end of the shop. We moved the workbench to the middle of the floor over the floor drain, covered the bench top with plastic, and set to work cutting and wrapping meat, be it deer, pig, cow, or whatever. We had to carry water in buckets, but the place could be warmed up fast by the wood stove, and all the mess was either carried out to bury, or washed down the drain. The only thing that went into the house was packaged meat to go in the freezer. I had made a box to hold big rolls of Saran wrap and freezer paper with a place for hanging a couple rolls of tape on the end of it. I gave up on the so-called freezer tape years ago. We use duct tape exclusively. It stuck securely and stayed on. Taping packages was the kid's job, if we had a kid handy. We'd been doing this for a long time.

We were making sausage out of the entire deer this year. I had bought some cheap, really fatty bacon to grind in with it, since deer has almost no fat, and we liked the flavor better. Margaret had a seasoning mix all worked out, of red pepper, sage, salt, and whatever mystery ingredients she had conjured up. I think it had some Rosemary and a couple other herbs in it. Everything but the salt came from her herb garden.

I split the carcass by chopping the ribs next to the backbone with an axe, then cut the hind quarters off by separating them at the hip socket with the skinning knife. One quarter at a time, I carried them into the shop and laid them on the table, then went back to get the rest. I carefully cut away all the shiney pale blue looking material on the surface of the meat, which some said helped remove the "gamey" taste. Margaret showed up with a couple big dishpans and began to cut the meat off the bones and into chunks the size of a quarter. I took the meat grinder from one of the dishpans she'd brought and clamped it to the table, then went back in to get the thawed fat bacon. I began to crank the meat grinder as I stuffed alternate chunks of deer and bacon into the hopper with the coarse cutter on the grinder.

A couple hours later, we had the meat all boned out and coarse ground. Margaret spread the seasoning mix over the two pans and we mixed it in thoroughly with our hands. Satisfied with that, I began the second grinding using the fine blade and put the stuffer nozzle over the end of the machine. Margaret fetched the sausage casings from the fridge in the house. She put one end of a casing over the stuffer spout and slid the rest of the 8 foot long piece on the spout like a very wrinkled sock. When she had it all on the spout, she pulled enough off to tie a knot in the end and I began cranking. Finely ground meat squirted out the spout and into the casing. Margaret guided it straight out and into a waiting dishpan. About every foot, she gave the casing a twist to make sausage links. We worked for another hour to get it all stuffed, working slowly. I was carrying the dishpans out to the smoker when Nathan and Jeannie drove in again. I would start a fire in it later.

Margaret came out with her load of tools to wash up and headed for the kitchen. Nathan backed under the edge of the machine shed and proceeded to hang their two deer, a couple of fat does. I knew they would let them hang for a while to improve the flavor. I asked Jeannie when they planned to butcher them?

"This is Wednesday, so how about Saturday? It's supposed to be cold enough to keep them all right."

"Okay, we'll try to have everything ready for it. If it gets cold enough they would freeze, I'll carry them into the shop. Had you been hunting long?"

"No! We had just sat down on some stumps when the whole herd came strolling out of the woods into the hay field, like they had no care in the world. We looked at each other and nodded, meaning that as soon as one of us shot, the other would shoot right away. We dropped two of them and they didn't even twitch. That was good, because I don't like meat from a scared deer. I think it is full of adrenaline or something and tastes terrible. These should be good."

It was not quite noon yet, but I asked if they would stay for something to eat?

"Yeah, we can stay a while, right hon?"

Nathan said, "Yeah. For once, we're not in any hurry today."

He had the second carcass hung up on the hooks we left there, and climbed down out of the truck bed. We all headed to the house to help Margaret clean up and start something for lunch. I got the broom we use on the front patio and helped sweep deer hair off their clothes before we went inside.

As we worked in the kitchen, I asked, "How's the solar heater project coming?"

Jeannie said, "Oh, we have orders from here to NEXT Christmas! We cleared out a big space in Jerry's barn loft and we're putting them together up there. We hired Hank and a guy he knows to help. Nathan saws the foam board parts and I cut and bend the black anodized aluminum, and we use the forklift to get it all up in the loft. That old barn is huge! Then the guys start assembling. With all of us going at it, we can build about 10 or 12 of them a day now, but we can get better at it."

Nathan put in that they were waiting on materials before they could do any more. A shipment was due in a couple days from the aluminum supplier down South and they had a big load of the foam board to be delivered by the lumber company.

"It's the fans that are going to hold us back on shipping out finished heaters now. They are back-ordered and aren't due for 2 to 3 weeks yet," Nathan said. "We will sell them without fans and solar panels, too, but only a few customers want them that way. The western County School District is buying twenty like that to put on the roof and will hook them up to their own blower system. We made them sign a liability release on performance because of that, but they have a guy who says he knows how to make it work. If that works as well as they think it will, they want twenty more!"

I said, "That's a lot of heat boxes!"

Jeannie said, "It's a lot of school building. Forty of them only goes about half way down one side of the roof. If this project works out well for them, we could see an order for a lot more. but we have the market locked up, at least for a while, because we have kept the cost down and we don't use any paint in the air passages. Paint will stink forever, if it is getting hot, so we went with anodizing. So we don't have anything in it that could bother anyone with breathing problems. Our box sells for $220 with no fan. Add $140 for the fan and solar panel. That is $360, and it is automatic operation. People love that. We can cut the price to $330 if we have a big quantity order and still make about $130 each. Customer pays the shipping any way they want to do it, most often in the back of somebody's pickup truck. They are 4' x 8', so they fit in a pickup."

I said, "Sounds like you have it going on!"
Nathan nodded and said, "We sold and shipped 122 boxes last month, and it would have been more, but we ran out of stuff. That is $15,860 gross profit. The only thing that comes off that number is overhead of maybe $300 a month. Labor is already off that number. We think we can build another couple thousand of them before we saturate this area. And we haven't done ANY advertising. They sell themselves, by word of mouth."

Jeannie said, "You know what they say, that nothing lasts forever. Well, this won't last long, because we will soon have the whole area saturated. But by that time, we won't NEED to make any more. We can sit a while and think up the next thing we want to make. Or maybe we'll just go fishin'. We're tired."

Lunch was ready so we sat down to eat. The conversation drifted to other energy topics, and I expressed my concerns about the rising cost of all kinds of energy.
Nathan said, "That's what is driving our business now. People are fed up with it and willing to do something about it. That has people beatin' the door down to get our box heaters."

Margaret asked, "How many would we be able to use?"

Nathan wrinkled his face and said, "As tight as this place is? I'd say any more than 6 of them would run you out of here. I'd start with four and see what happens, then decide. But I think 6 would be the top, unless you want them to sit there idle most of the time, and it still wouldn't get you any advantage on dark days. Now bear in mind that this is only going to work when the sun shines, so you will still need the wood stove, just not nearly as much."

Jeannie said apologetically, "We'll get to you as fast as we can , but we have promises out there from a year ago. We will be catching up for a while yet."

"Don't worry about us," I said. "We don't have any real crying need for them, as you well know. Cover your orders as they come in. It's just good business." Margaret co-signed that and made them promise to do so.

"Well, while we are waiting on materials, we are getting the barn done! It's looking good. You should come over and see it!" Jeannie was happy about that. Her country heritage was showing.

I asked, "How are you planning to process the deer?"

Nathan said, "We want to avoid freezing any of it if we can, because we don't have a freezer at home. Not enough solar power. We still have the old freezer at the shop at Dad's, but we're trying to use all that up and get away from using it altogether. So we're going to make at least half of it into sausage, and smoke the heck out of it. It should keep through the winter, at least that way. I'm not sure about the rest. Jeannie wants to can some of it. I might make some jerky, too. We'll decide by Saturday."

"We still have 4 hogs and a steer to butcher later on," I reminded them.

Jeannie said, "We'll have to get some more canning jars before that. We're going to cure most of the pork, but our part of the beef will have to be canned this year. We will get some more solar power up so that next year we can have a freezer for beef, but that takes time. Nathan is going to build a wind generator to help out when it's cloudy, but we just don't have the time right now."

Nathan added, "We have to get some trees out of the way before we put up that windmill, to get them out of the wind path. That is on hold now because Jeff is busy with getting ready for cattle, and he doesn't have a way to haul logs to his place yet. We need some lumber sawed to do a lot of work around the place, so we might as well use the timber for that. It will all get done sometime. It's just going to take a while."

Margaret nodded and said, "Yes, that's how it goes. Everything is waiting on something else to get finished first."

Chapter 27 WIRED December, 2010

Since Jeff got married, he had little time for playing around on the internet, so, feeling a little in the dark, I signed up for satellite internet and bought a new computer. Jeff gave me some sites to look up, and I fumbled around searching and found some farm news sites and farm market reports. The morning radio news was obsolete for me then, since I could surf the 'net (I was learning these new terms) anytime, even when I woke up early and was still soaking up my first cup of coffee.

One site led to another, so I soon had a list of favorites that let me easily click through the latest happenings. Margaret complained that I was loading up "her" new computer with a lot of farm stuff, so it wasn't long before I took the simple route and bought her one of her own. She could read all the latest medical breakthroughs, the cooking and gardening sites without interference from me. Over breakfast one morning she began to tell me about the "Homesteading Forums" she liked so well. She had been reading them for a while and bugging me to look at them. I finally gave in and browsed through some of them. One had a fiction section that looked interesting. I read a couple tales about these "Preppers" and how they weathered some grave emergencies, seeing myself and our family by comparison as I read along. Those stories sounded very plausible to me. Too much so, with what I had read on the news sites. It was a wake up call for me. I talked to Margaret about it, and it turned out she was way ahead of me, as usual.

True to her nature, she was most concerned about feeding the family and meeting our medical needs. She soon had boxes of medical supplies in the root cellar room tucked in amongst a vast amount of canned food and kitchen supplies. It was normal for us to have Margaret fuss over any family member that had any sort of illness or injury. We were all used to her grabbing her stethoscope and thermometer at the least sign of a cold. So it was to be expected that she took this ball and ran with it. Before the end of the year, she had the UPS guy delivering a lot of vet supplies, fish antibiotics, vitamin supplements, herbal medicines, and more.

We talked about the many issues discussed on the forums, and decided that our family members were in good shape for food, medical needs (nobody had any real problems), and had a source of income with the farms and businesses. From Jeff's prompting a few years ago, I had begun to operate differently with our money situation, and thought I had it covered pretty well. Now I learned that in the event of a currency crisis, the normal conduct of banking and finance could come to a halt in short order. I read about how close we had come to a "financial meltdown" in 2008. Nothing had really been fixed since that credit fiasco, but had just been papered over with a lot of promises and shady accounting.

If anything, the US and other countries, especially Europe, was in worse shape than before. I had just read something about Greece being ready to default on its' government bonds, but a rescue was being planned, etc.. Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal were pretty shaky, and the UK wasn't much better. Japan had been devasted by the earthquake and tsunami, and was already deep in debt. Now they were short of electrical power to operate factories, making any recovery harder. The world did not look to be stable, and I had been mostly ignoring all that since it was far away. Globalism had not been on my radar. There was some noise about Iran trying to make nukes, and Israel threatening them. Time for me to get up to speed here.

Some quick thinking on my part made me realize that we were vulnerable in several ways. One fiction tale I read told about banks being closed due some plague that was highly contagious, and that resulted in groceries running out of food and gas stations being out of fuel in a matter of days.

It was clear enough that anything that messed up the money and credit system could shut down everything else. It was too much to take in all at once. I needed to think about this.

I let the whole prepping thing lay in the back of my mind for a few days and just fed the cattle, hauled a few loads of manure out of the feeding shed, and did other normal farm chores. I found myself thinking about what it would mean to be essentially cut off from the modern world for a time. It wouldn't go away. If the banking system did not function, credit would be gone. Credit is what greases the wheels of commerce. Our farm operated on credit for most of our lives. Gas stations, groceries, the hardware store, all of retail business used credit to get things shipped to them without waiting for a check to go through the mail and then clear the banks. Huh. Nobody would be taking checks, either, if the banks weren't open. No telling how long that could last. Surely the government would do something to get things going again. Then I thought about Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. What a mess they made of that. Don't count on any help there.

The prepper sites said to have a year or more of food and water on hand. We had lived like that most of our lives farming, but we depended on outside supplies of fuel, seed, fertilizer, repair parts, and a whole host of other things to keep the farm running. I had thought about this all before when Jeff brought it up, but we had gotten busy with family and farm matters and I forgot about it. Nothing had changed in our day to day life. I could still use a credit card if I wanted to and buy whatever I wanted, although we used mostly cash and checks. Most people lived on credit cards alone. What if one day credit cards didn't work? And if the food stamp cards didn't work? Atlanta, Georgia had a hiccup in their food stamp payments last year, and they had protesters in the streets the next day. That got straightened out, but if it did NOT get fixed, those people would be hungry in a day or two.

I began to really GET IT now. What Jeff had said was all the same things, but it didn't soak into my head like it should have. At that time, I had been thinking about retirement in a normal way. If the currency failed, nothing would be normal for a long time. Jeff. Yeah, he was busy as he could be, and Lynn and the boy were working hard, too. They were trying to build a farm and a business in a year, it seemed. That was about impossible, but they did have a darn good start at it.

Nathan and Jeannie had been telling me for years that alternative energy was really important, that the cost of oil and gas would keep going up. I had never considered that energy could get so expensive that we couldn't afford it. Or, that there could be a supply distruption. If trucks didn't run, we would be in trouble the next day. That was something we had better work on. We had to be able to farm to make a living, particularly if Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and all that failed. It was running all on borrowed money NOW. That wouldn't last. My head hurt.

Okay, I told myself. Treat it like any other problem you have ever dealt with in engineering. Find the specific issues and deal with them. I needed to talk to Jeff. All of a sudden, I felt like the dumb kid in class that was way behind everyone else. I could fix that. I had to.



That was what a humorist writer called it when he had some bad moments out hunting and got lost, in the woods. That seemed to fit how I felt. I went down to Jeff's and found him painting on the new machine shed they built. I launched into all my worries all at once.

Jeff said, "Hold it! Hold on a minute Dad. I can't answer all that at once. Like you always said, one thing at a time."
I had been firing questions at him by the handful, having worked myself up into a mental panic state. Right. Calm down and analyze this.

He said, "Settle down. You and Mom are in pretty good shape. Let's get a handle on what is okay as it is, and then talk about what needs to be done."

"You've thought about this a lot haven't you?"

He nodded, and said, "Yeah. My main worry was how was I going to get Lynn up to speed, but she has it pretty well figured out now. I couldn't tell her something she wasn't ready to hear, so I had to wait until she came around. You too. You got the important stuff right away, so I wasn't so worried about you and Mom. Jeannie and Nate are doing good, too. If the world as we know it quit working today, they wouldn't notice it for quite a while, they are so insulated from "business as usual".

"Their business would come to a stop if money didn't work."

"That's right, but their business is a means to an end. They put every dime into making their life bulletproof. They're in pretty good shape."

"Okay. There are a few big things that really worry me. One. Fuel will stop being available if the currency crashes."

"Maybe, maybe not. Oh, we might have some trouble for a while, it depends on how messy it gets, like if the banks shut down. But most likely, the government and the big banks will just shut it down for a long weekend. Then, come Monday morning, you get the news that the dollar has been devalued for some bogus reason, like "to improve our export economy", when the real reason is, nobody will accept the dollar at the old exchange rate. But first, you will see the prices of commodities go up a lot, like the price of oil could hit a new high, and everything imported would soon cost a lot more. The rub will come when nobody will buy our Treasury Bonds, and other countries start selling them in a panic, like is happening in Greece right now, or will be soon. Their credit rating is crap. Watch what happens in Greece, then in Italy, Spain and Portugal. They will go first."

"I've been reading about them on the internet. It doesn't make the TV news much."

"No, and it won't until it is too late. But what you see over there now is probably what we have coming up. Everything we see now, but on steroids. Unemployment going crazy, businesses closing, food inflation, riots, and all that. It probably won't be an overnight thing. That's Hollywood movie stuff, where they have to cram the whole tale into a 90 minute film. This is reality, and it takes a lot longer. It is so slow you begin to think nothing is going to happen, but it IS happening, NOW. It is just slow. We should have some time yet to get our act together. Maybe a year or two, maybe 5 years. Or, if somebody panics in the finance world, it could be sooner, but I doubt

it. That doesn't mean we shouldn't hurry. We need to do all we can to be in a good position. Make every nickel we spend count two or three times, and learn to live on what we can produce."

"We can't produce fuel and electricity, at least not enough to farm with. I've thought about getting some solar panels, but after studying it, they just cost too much for the amount of power you get. No way I could afford enough of them to run our place."

"I think you could, but you would have to change how you do a lot of things to save power. For fuel, have you ever heard of Wood Gas?"

"You mean making gas by cooking wood, like they did in World War Two? They ran gasoline engines on that in England and in Australia that I read about."

"Yep. It works, but it isn't real easy to do for the long term. You have to clean up the gas really well or it will corrode the heck out of your engine parts. Got too many impurities in it. But it IS possible. It is easier to do for a stationary engine, like my sawmill, or an engine to run a feed grinder. That is one reason why I wanted the Wilson place. It is mostly woods, and the sawmill is part of the plan for cutting up wood to use for fuel to run a tractor and maybe a truck. The other thing is farm raised diesel."

"Soybeans will work, although other crops have more oil in them. Soybeans would be a good choice for us since we can feed the left over meal as a protein supplement to livestock. That solves two problems for us. I've been meaning to talk to you about doing that. We only need one rig to make diesel fuel for all of us, so it makes sense to do it together. And, if things hold together, we just have a competitive advantage with cheap fuel. I looked up some sources for the screw presses and processing equipment. The big problem is we don't have a combine to harvest the beans right now, and that is a big item. I'm thinking that we should plan to work a deal with other farmers to swap fuel for combining beans, or something like that."

I had been thinking a mile a minute as he talked. It looked possible. If we just had enough time and money to make it all happen. I read more on the Prepping forums and found they had a name for my outlook in the past. They called it "normalcy bias". The sun came up this morning, so it will come up tomorrow morning. Affordable gasoline is available now, so it will be next month and next year. Wrong.

I was serious about this now. I Googled like a maniac, read until I got eyestrain and decided I needed new glasses anyway, so that was first on my new list. Here I had been feeling all warm and fuzzy and a little smug thinking we were ahead of the game. So much for that. My new sources told about how to prepare for any calamity imaginable. I didn't see that as achievable, or even sensible. I think adaptability is more likely to work for the average person, if they have the basics covered. The prepper websites seemed to agree that the basics were water, food, shelter, and the ability to defend what you have. Some people took that defense thing to crazy extremes. I decided that those were a bunch of gun nuts just looking for an excuse to buy more. Not for me. My shotgun, varmint rifle, and .22 would probably take care of any need I had in that direction. I probably should buy some extra ammunition. Jeff would say I needed a hand gun. Maybe we should get a dog, too.

As they say about real estate in general, the 3 most important things are location, location, and location. Ours was pretty good, I thought. Our place is 8 miles out of our little county seat town, and really rural. We are about as far out in the sticks as you can get in Indiana. It is an hour's

drive to a big city, Louisville, KY, and we are on the North side of the Ohio river. If they have problems in Louisville, we will almost assuredly be ignored. I didn't foresee any big social problems where we live. Some petty thievery, yes. Gangs of wandering Mutant Zombie Bikers? No. More likely to have a pack of dogs that got dropped off out here when somebody couldn't feed 'em anymore. My assessment of our likely problems, in rough order of importance was: some form of money or income, fuels, electricity, manufactured items and parts, health issues, and some farm supplies.

I wasn't too worried about food. If anyone goes hungry on a farm, it's their own fault. I decided I should order more open pollinated seeds for the garden, and probably buy some extra farm seed, too. But we could make it for food.

Water was not a problem for us. There were 2 hand dug wells on our farm and Jeff and Lynn had one too. We could get good water with a bucket and a rope. We had ponds and a creek for stock water, as Jeff did, also. Jeannie and Nathan were going to build a pond and put in a cistern. We could all probably use hand well pumps, but that was easy enough to do.

We had wood heat, as did Nathan and Jeannie. Jeff hadn't said anything about it, but I bet that was on his list, too.

If we could sell livestock and grain, we had income. But that required fuel and other things. I put energy at the top of my list. We kept enough fuel on hand to do a year's worth of farming, just because it made sense to buy it when we could get the best price and fill our tanks. Since Jeff had first talked about this, I had kept our tanks pretty well full. Stored fuel would buy us some time to work out other answers, but we needed long term answers. I would get on the soy diesel and wood gas ideas and see what I could do with them. We all had a lot of trees.

It occurred to me that people had farmed before diesel fuel. Would it make any sense to think about horses? The Amish did it that way. But horses could not run a combine. Even the Amish used diesel engines to run their threshing machines and a lot of gasoline engines to pump water, run the washing machine, corn shellers, and other stuff. There were no easy answers that I could see. Like Jeff said, I needed to look at this one thing at a time.

Meanwhile, I noticed that the price of silver had started up again. I hoped it would continue, because it looked like we were going to need the money. We had spent our reserves down kind of low. But we had beef on the hoof we could sell, Social Security coming in, and we could get by with very little money, if necessary. I needed to plan carefully, but it looked like the first thing to do was figure out how Jeannie and Nathan got by using only a few solar panels for electricity. We needed to talk about that.

Chapter Twenty Nine ENERGY ANSWERS

I had researched solar energy again, and came to the same conclusion. It's expensive. Then I looked at what Jeff said about changing how we do things and taking it one thing at a time. What was really important to us to run on electricity? Lights. Refrigeration. And a freezer. I did not want to live without a freezer if I could help it. Radios, TV, phones and whatever communications. The internet was important, as long as it worked. After adding up the wattage I thought we would need for those things, it looked like it was feasible to power them with solar panels. We should replace the fridge to get one of the energy efficient ones that used less power. The prices of panels had come down a lot this past year. But batteries had gone up, so it was a wash. Still, we could do it. Oh yeah, the word "wash" made me think of the washing machine. Better have that running, or I'd be in trouble with Margaret. This would run into some money, for sure.

How about my farm shop? I had not really looked at electric power when we started our prepping last year. Lights in the shop could be dealt with to a great degree by putting in more windows on the south side of the shop. I didn't work out there at night anyway. The big users here were the hand power tools and the welder. No way could we run a welder on solar power. You could run a welder on gasoline, though, and we kept a tank of gasoline. I would look at a gas powered welder like they used for portable work on construction and such. A quick internet search showed that they were actually generators, and had outlets on them to run a grinder. That would work. Looks like I needed to find a gasoline powered welder.

For smaller power tools I should probably have a small generator that wouldn't use as much gas as the welder. That would run the drill press, metal lathe, and bandsaw, too. I still needed a milling machine, though. Most of what I did out there was mechanic work, which was all manual tools. No problem there. Looks like it wouldn't be too hard to get the shop fixed up, but it looked like it was going to take some money.

The big item for farm energy use was the tractors. Tractor power did all the tillage work, moved all the heavy loads, baled hay, and ground the feed. It looked very much like we needed the soy-diesel setup. THAT would cost a fair amount. I needed to dig into that and find out just how much it would cost.

Okay, the only thing left was transportation. I supposed that if the world went to hell in a handbasket, we shouldn't be trying to drive very much. We'd be safer at home, if there were some social chaos. We would need to be able to use a truck some, to haul home whatever we needed to buy, but those trips should be minimal. And we could double up trips with the kids. Again, stored fuel was the easiest. Unless this upcoming mess lasted a very long time, we should be able to get by for a year or two with what I had figured out so far. It was the place to start, anyway.

Getting a small generator was easy enough, and readily available, so I would begin with that. Then, I would work on getting a solar electric system figured out. Those two items, and keeping the fuel tanks topped off would cover a lot of bases for us. I checked the price of silver again, and it was down from around $30 to about $28 an ounce. Hmm. Maybe it would go up again before we really needed it to buy a solar system and a welder that cost $3,000 or more.

Jeff had been debating about buying a log truck to move logs to his sawmill, but he doubted if there was enough of a market for sawed lumber to make it pay. For the moment, he tabled the decision and cut some 4" x 4" Oak timbers to lay crosswise of his wagon beds. Those "bolsters" would protect the wagon floors and allow hauling a modest load of logs. This was looking like a local operation for now, there not being much of a commercial market. Even the small pallet-making mills were only running part time, he'd heard. Still, he had seen some local farm business. Farmers were trying to save money by using their own timber for building needs. The old style plank-sided construction was far stronger than the metal sided pole buildings so popular recently. If the economy got worse, he thought even that business could die off, so he didn't want to stick his neck out now. What money they had needed to go into things they were sure would pay off.

The winter had been mild, so he, Lynn, and Michael had been able to do a lot of building work. As soon as Lynn finished canning and freezing the deer she'd shot and a hind quarter of beef they helped his Dad butcher, she was available to help Jeff. Lynn was a strong young woman, of 5 ft. 8 in. and a solid 140 pounds. Her life had been active since she was a child and kept her in shape. Jeff was an inch over 6 feet tall, thin and wiry at 170 pounds, and a lot stronger than he looked for the same reasons as his wife. Neither of them was overly muscled, but they could work hard and go at it all day. That was something Jeff admired about his wife, beyond her femininity. Michael had hit a growth spurt last Fall and was tall for 11 years old at 5 ft. 1 in. and 94 pounds. He had outgrown all his clothes since last summer. He was still getting used to his new height, but he was a pretty strong kid. Working together, they could accomplish a lot, and they had.

Michael had carried out a lot of wood slabs from the sawmill and covered the muddy lane leading to it. Jeff thought that was better than gravel, since they might want to plow that ground and plant it someday. Gravel mixed in the dirt would be impossible to get rid of, but the wood slabs would rot over time and improve the ground. Michael had helped with the buthchering, wrapped meat, seen how it was cut, and kept the fire tended in the smoker, one of Nate's creations, when they did the hams and bacon. When it was warm enough this past winter, Michael helped paint the new machine shed and build new stalls in the barn. He was gaining confidence in what he could do with tools and learning about life in the country.


hapter 30 GEARING UP THE FARM February, 2011

Saturday morning, Jeff's family sat at breakfast, with Sarge keeping a watchful eye for anything that might get dropped on the floor to eat. He had been taught to not beg at the table, but he watched and waited for his turn after they ate. A small calico kitten wandered around the kitchen floor, begging brazenly. Patches, Michael had named her. She had turned up along the road one sunny day and Lynn promptly adopted her. People were always dropping unwanted cats and dogs off in the country, probably unaware that most of them would starve, or be prey for coyotes. Those that found a home were lucky, indeed. Patches had a big round tummy and was growing fast. Sarge seemed to think it was his job to keep a watch on her, as the junior member of his pack. Patches was happy to be around the big dog, and considered him a guardian, hiding among his legs if she got scared of anything.

"Get down cat. I'll feed you later," Lynn said, then resumed their conversation. "If we're going to have hogs, we need some way to haul 'em home and to market later. You could make stock racks for my truck."
"I thought about that. When I get to sawing again, I'll cut some small, second-growth white oak to make them. It's tough as nails. I need to saw out enough for a big corn crib, too. That has to be done before we pick corn this Fall. The grain bin is still good, but, only for shelled corn. I plan to use it for soybeans later, when we get to that. I need some stuff to fix up that tobacco barn on the Wilson place, too."

Jeff reflected absently that people here tend to "name" places for a previous owner, so everyone around knows what they are talking about. They even give directions using landmarks that ceased to exist 20 or more years ago. Go figure...

Lynn asked, "Where do you have in mind for the corn crib? Behind the barn, I suppose. Should be close to the barn to be handy."

"Uh-huh. Probably along the edge of the clearing at the foot of the hill. On the west side, away from the creek where it will get more sun to dry the corn. There's a good breeze there, morning and evening, and that will help too. I've got in mind an old fashioned double crib. Two long narrow corn cribs, covered with a common roof. I need to buy the roofing metal soon, because the price is going up fast. Anyway, I'll leave a driveway through between the 2 cribs so we can pull a wagon in there to unload it, or just get it out of the rain. That's an old way of doing it, but it always worked good when everybody used ear type corn pickers."

Lynn was thinking. "We have water to the barn that you ran from the new pond. With it all underground, and a freezeless faucet, it should be good all winter. But we'll need concrete in the barn and a pad outside so we can clean it all easy. I like feeding them inside, because it keeps them familiar with you and more easy to handle. While they are small, we can shut them in the barn at night to keep coyotes out, too. Sarge will help with that, I bet."

Hearing his name, Sarge looked up, hopeful of a handout. Lynn got up and filled his dish with dog food, then added the leftover grits from breakfast. He was nearly a full grown dog now, about a year old, but still long and lanky. When he gained some weight, he would probably go well over 100 pounds. He was eating like a horse, doing his best to gain that weight. Lynn filled the cat's dish with kitty crumbles and added some milk. She, too, ate with gusto, and after a visit to the litter box, was soon fast asleep in her bed by the old kitchen chimney. Sarge drank about a quart of water from his small bucket and went to the door. Michael let him out, grabbed his coat off the hook by the door, and followed to see what doggy business he had in mind.

Jeff was thinking out loud. "I'm thinking the two corn cribs, each 6 feet wide, so the air can get through them, about 8 feet high on the outside, and 10 feet high on the driveway side where the roof slopes up. I think Dad said one crib like that 30 feet long would hold about 500 bushels, so 2 would be 1,000. I'll have to ask him again. It takes a lot of narrow slats to side them, so it will take a while to saw out that much material. I'm planning on putting out 10 acres of that open pollinated corn, and hoping for 800 bushels. If we get those 11 head of cattle down here after the grass gets up, they can live on pasture until Fall and we will have corn and hay for winter. We shouldn't get any hogs until next Spring, so we know how much feed we have and can judge how many feeder pigs to buy."

"So, we've got all summer to get the hog operation ready. Okay, then we could put out some tobacco this year, maybe. There's that spot where you burned all the brush behind the sawmill. We could start plants in there. Dad used to burn off a spot for a plant bed, and said the ashes were good for the plants."

"I remember that. I don't know if I can still buy the "canvas" to cover the plant beds, or not. It's actually just heavy cheesecloth, with tarp eyes around the edges. Tobacco farmers are starting plants in floating styrofoam trays now, set in a tank full of liquid fertilizer. I'll have to check into that. I think the old "tobacco base" system for government price support has either changed, or it is gone now. I have a lot of questions. I'll go see the county agent. They used to post tobacco-base rentals there. I've been away from farming too long!"

"We'll figure it out. For now, we need to be going to auctions. You said you wanted to a plow and a disc, and I was thinking about hand tools. There is nothing left here like that. We need another axe, corn shovels, pitchforks, all kinds of things."

"Dad said his 3 bottom plow goes with the tractor deal, but I haven't gone after it yet. But I do need a disc, a corn sheller, and a corn planter. That old one in the shed is pretty well junk, and it is just a 2-row. That 165 Massey will handle a 4-row planter and that saves a lot of trips across the field. I'd like to have some hay equipment, too, but that costs a fortune. We may have to borrow Dad's stuff this year."

"I'd like to have all our own stuff, but that makes sense. You work it out with him. I'll check the paper for sales coming up."
Jeff nodded, "I think we'll get by pretty cheap on this old stuff, if they haven't junked it all out yet. With scrap metal prices over $200 a ton, a lot of the old machinery is getting sold for junk."

Michael and Sarge came back in and asked, "What are we doing today, Dad?"
"Cutting timber, it looks like. The ground still frozen?"
"Yeah! it's COLD out!"
"We need to cut some Oak trees, about 3,000 board feet, or a little more to build that corn crib. There's some up on the hill above the sawmill."
"Okay. Looks like I'll be dragging brush today, huh?"

"JEFF!" Lynn saw him and Michael headed for the machine shed.
"What's up?"
"You might want to see this auction ad before you run off to the woods. They've got a corn picker like your Dad's, and some other old stuff."
"I'm coming."
Back in the house, they looked over the auction ad, and decided to go. They quickly got their cold weather gear on and headed out to the truck. It was still early enough to get there at the start of it, since it was only about 8 miles away. Another old farmer was retiring. With nobody to take over the operation, he was selling out. The corn picker looked to be in especially good shape. Jeff learned that the man had bought a combine and got into doing work for other farmers with it,so the old pull type machine had set in the shed for the last forty some years. The tires had obviously been flat and aired up just so they could move it outside for the sale, but otherwise it looked like it was nearly new. The tires were about halfway flat again. There was a collection of spare gathering chains and other parts for the picker arranged on a wagon with miscellaneous junk for sale. The picker looked pretty dusty and rusty on the bare metal parts, but it wasn't really damaged, just rusty from sitting so long. Nobody seemed to be paying much attention to it.

All the little stuff sold first, saving the bigger machinery until last to hold the crowd there. The real estate would sell at 12 noon, sharp, then they would go back to the rest. Household items, junk from the farm sheds, box-lots of things from the attic, and a host of small farm tools sold in roughly that order. Lynn got more canning jars, a set of galvanized wash tubs on a stand, and a Maytag wringer washing machine that looked like brand new. Jeff asked her what in the world she wanted with that thing? "I grew up using one. It uses a lot less water, and I had to carry the water back then. If things go like we expect, this will make life a lot easier. Jeannie already has one, and Nathan bought a couple old ones for parts, since they don't make them anymore. Your Mom wants one, too. They can be run with a gas engine, if you don't have electricity. Some of them came with gas engines."

Jeff bought a pick, a mattock, 2 old axes, a pair of stab-'n-grab post hole diggers, a spud bar for digging out rocks, some wood splitting wedges, a sledge hammer, and a couple crowbars. The lot cost him about the price of a new axe--34 bucks. He bought a couple box-lots and thought he got a treasure trove, of farrier tools for horseshoeing, fence pliers, auger bits and a brace to turn them, and a host of nuts and bolts salvaged from old machinery. There were hand carpenter tools in a wood box that all looked rusty. They were comparatively new, so the antique buyers passed on them and Jeff got the box for $16. They had spent about $300 so far. Lynn was keeping track.

The disc was worn, but in decent shape. It was an early drag-type "wheel disc", with hydraulic lift to allow transport on the road on rubber tires. The tires weren't much to look at, but they were holding air, and the hydraulic hoses were new. Somebody else had eyes on the disc, but after Jeff hiked the price by $100 a couple times, one guy dropped out. The other bidder hung on a while, but Jeff bought it for what he thought was reasonable. The corn picker went better for him. The only other bidder appeared to be a junk dealer, so when the price got over the amount he could pay and make any money selling it for scrap, Jeff got it, at $450. He would have to do something about the tires before he could pull it home. He checked it after the auction and figured out his 4-way lug wrench in the truck would fit, so he used the jack from the truck and removed both wheels, blocking up the machine with some junk wood the farm owner gave him to use.

They made it to the tire shop in time to get new inner tubes put in both tires and remounted. He had brought some tools from home and got the tongue swung over for transport, but the picker still had to run almost in the ditch to keep from being in the oncoming traffic lane. It was a nerve wracking trip home. It was late that night when Jeff finally got the corn picker home, having travelled the back roads all the way and mostly in second gear, keeping his speed down. Lynn went ahead of him in the Blazer with the 4-way flashers on to warn traffic of the wide thing behind her.

It wouldn't fit in the machine shed, since the elevator in back was too tall, so it got parked in the barn driveway. It barely left room to walk past it on either side, but it was in the dry. The disc was too heavy to drag with the truck, so he would have to drive the tractor to get it. It would have to wait for a warmer day before he drove 16 miles round trip on the tractor with no cab.

Chapter 31 CAREFUL PREP SPENDING February, 2011

We had a comfortable level of money in our checking account, since savings accounts were paying next to nothing for interest, we thought it was better to have the easier access of checking, and above a minimum balance, the account was not only free, but paid 1/2%. Good for the moment, and we could change it anytime. That meant we really didn't want to make any big purchases for now, keeping enough on hand to cover most emergencies and a couple credit cards beyond that for only internet shopping, or a crisis. We had money coming in from Social Security that was more than enough to live on, and we could sell cattle if we thought it necessary. The cattle were better than money in the bank, since the cattle were gaining value a lot faster.

In fact, I had about as much cash at home as we had in the checking account, because Jeff and I concluded that banks were just not all that safe. There could well be a "bank holiday" in our future, if, or when a dollar crisis came along. People would take dollars from force of habit until they were proven to be not worth much. So, I watched the finance news avidly on the internet and kept a close eye on what money we had and where. We had enough for me to feel safe enough to buy a few things. There was a nice little generator on sale for $549, a Generac 3250

watt unit that was supposed to run 12 1/2 hours on 4 gallons of gas at half power, about what I would use in the shop. It would cover emergency needs for the house, in a pinch. I ordered one over the phone, and was told it would ship this week, but since the company was in Minnesota, it might be week or more before I saw it. While I was waiting on that, I went shopping in the city.

The best deal I could find on fuel preservative was STA-BIL, at Tractor Supply, a little under 40 bucks a gallon, which would treat 320 gallons of gasoline. I bought a box of 4 gallons. I bought another box of the diesel variety for the same money. We had 500 gallon tanks each for gasoline and diesel. I bought off-road diesel only, because we had no diesel road vehicles, and saved the road-tax difference. Margaret called and had the tanks topped off with a couple hundred gallons of gas and a little over 100 gallons of diesel. Buying in the winter made sure I got the stuff that was blended for cold weather and could be used all year.

The only appliance we had using LP gas was the kitchen stove, but I had bought outright a used and refurbished 500 gallon LP tank. That meant we had enough LP gas to run the kitchen for 4 or 5 years at least. I got that topped off, too. By owning my own tank, I could shop around for the best price. If I had "leased" a tank from the gas company, they had a monopoly on filling it, since that was part of the lease contract. Gasoline cost me $2.69 for 210 gallons, or $564. The diesel was $2.98 x 112 gallons, or $334. I got 122 gallons of LP at $1.99, or $243. The Stabil, 8 gallons total at $39.90 came to about $320. There was no sales tax on the diesel, but 7% on the rest so that was $79. My grand total for fuel was $1540. If we were frugal with it, those tanks should last for a very long time, possibly 3 years or more. Our normal usage for gasoline was a lot higher, so that tank would get rotated more often and keep the gasoline fresh. I thought I had this in pretty good shape for now.

Although I was being careful here, I had just spent over $2,100. Stocking up could be expensive.

Margaret had her list, too. She got online and ordered some herbs and seasonings from Monterey Bay Spice company, and found the best price she could on an All American pressure canner, the big tall one. She said it was expensive, but it would outlast us and probably our kids. Then, she went to eBay and found a wholesale source for canning lids. I don't know how many she got, but the UPS guy had an armload when they came in.

In planning for our solar electric system, I came to re-think the problem of pumping water. That takes a lot of electrical power, and it is a hard one to get around. I really didn't want everything dependent on the solar system, either. Everything breaks, it is just a matter of time. My industrial experience had taught me that. The cost for enough extra solar capactiy to pump our water was in the thousands of dollars. While we loved our well water, I was not fond of bailing it out with a bucket, either. I resolved to first put a new hand pump on both of our hand dug wells, since that would work just fine, and it was a cheap, reliable solution for emergency water supply.

But pumping isn't a lot of fun either, and the older I get, the more I try to avoid work of that sort. Jeff had a hand pump on his well, and a pond that was uphill from their barn, so he had gravity flow water to the barn. I really loved that concept, but I didn't want to drink pond water. Jeannie and Nate said they were going to put in a cistern, which was cheap enough if you did the work yourself, and we had the family backhoe. I needed to learn how to operate that thing anyway. Come Spring, I decided to learn backhoe operation by digging us a hole for a cistern. Our big old barn roof was just sitting there already, so it might as well be collecting water for us. That meant some ditch work to get it to the house, but gravity works reliably, and the barn was about 20 feet uphill from the house. If I did it just right, we could have gravity flow water to the house from a cistern. I made some notes and decided that the first nice day, I would do a site survey and try to get this planned out.

I said something to Margaret about this and that I would need concrete blocks to build it. She asked how many, so did a quick estimate of around 500 blocks to do a cistern 8 feet deep, and 12 feet x 16 feet. I would need about 100 cinder blocks for a central filter wall, besides that. She went to digging on the computer and I went about my business. Later that day, she had found a guy on Craigslist that had a lot of blocks he wanted to give away, you come and get them. He had torn down a garage and was going to build on the site, so they had to go. The next day, I had the utility trailer behind my pickup and Jeff brought his truck too. Together, we could haul about 500 blocks, if we loaded everything to the max.

It was about 20 miles one way, so we wanted to get it in a couple of trips. It was a big garage. We made 4 trips and came home with around 1,000 blocks. I worried a little about the heavy loads, but it came out okay. What the heck, they were free, except for hauling. I could spend some cool Spring days out there with a brick hammer and a chisel to clean the old mortar off them, and save around a dollar apiece. Not the best money I ever made, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, as Granddad used to say. We were not poor by any means, but saving a buck was sometimes easier than making a buck. The good part was, they weren't muddy and had not been painted, so the mortar would clean of nicely and stick together well when we laid them. I found some old rebar at the junkyard that would help with this project, too.

I would need something to form the top of the cistern when we poured that, so Jeff said he would saw me some lumber and timbers for posts. That would be the strong part of the concrete form, and I could cover it with a sheet of plastic to keep it from leaking, and make the forms come off easy. Sounded like a plan to me. All that form material would have to come out of the cistern later, so I set to work figuring out how to make it knock down easily. Maybe Jeannie and Nathan could reuse the stuff to make their cistern. With all the ditches I would have to dig, I was sure glad Jeff got that other old backhoe and narrow bucket. We had already used a few parts from it, too. Presently, it resided att he edge of the woods near a gulley. When we decided it was of no further use, we would use the good backhoe to load what was left and sell it for scrap metal. I had been robbing parts off it already and putting them away in the shop on those heavy shelves that Jeff built for me.

Rocky Hill Bait Shop was doing just fine. Micah Sumpter had tried a few other business ventures, but this one was what he loved and did much better. He'd begun by rebuilding a defunct gas station, and added to it over the years. Now, the various additions and sheds sprawled comfortably on the knoll along the highway known as Rocky Hill. It was a part time thing to start with, having only live bait for sale and a few other odds and ends. The location was good, being on the road to the state lakes down in Sugar Creek Hollow. Over the past 15 years, he'd expanded to a full line of live and artificial bait, lots of fishing gear, new and used guns, ammunition, hunting bows and all their trappings, deer stands, deer scent and what-all that a hunter or fisherman might decide he could not live without. He did not sell beer or liquor, but he did have ice, soda pop, milk, and some camping needs in season.

I hadn't seen Micah in a while, so I stopped on the way home one day after cashing my Social Security check to see what new stuff he had to offer. I wanted some rifle shells, and he was as cheap as anyone. He had a prodigious display of ammo behind the counter.

"Hello Alan! Haven't seen you for a 'coon's age! What c'n I de fer ya today?"

"Well, I want a coupla bricks of .22's to start with, the Remington's there. My 10-22 likes those. And I need some .223 for my varmint rifle. Can I get a price break on some quantity of it? The 20-round boxes are near a buck a shot and I want enough for some coyote medicine. We got more coyotes than we really need down in the valley."

"They've all gone up quite a bit. My cost is over double what it was when I opened up here. But I can do a little better on a 1,000 round case of the FMJ .223. It's imported stuff, but everybody seems to like it."

"That'll do. And I guess I ought to get some 12 gauge deer slugs and #00 buck. I can carry my old pump gun on the tractor and make 'em live hard with that."

"How many of the shotgun shells?"

"Mmm. Give me 50 rounds of slugs and 50 of #00. That ought to do it for now."

"Anything else I an do ya for? I got in some nice guns as trade-ins lately. There's a real nice old Ruger bolt action .308 there with the heavy barrel, several shotguns, and some nice pistols in the case. I bought some of those used here lately. It seems so many people are out of work that they are selling stuff just to get by. I hate to take advantage of people, but if they make me an offer good enough, I hate to pass it up."

"You never treat anybody wrong. That's why folks keep coming back, Micah."

"Well, what I do on those used guns that I bought like that, I tell 'em if they come back an' I haven't sold it yet, they can buy it back for 20% over what I gave 'em for it, and keep a record of it. I've had a few did buy 'em back, and said they was real glad they could, 'cause it got 'em through a hard spot. I want to treat people right, but I gotta make a little something for my time, y'know?"

"That sounds more than fair to me. Beats the heck out of what the pawn shops do to people, or those payday loan sharks. How you fixed for beef, Micah?"

"You got one to sell?"

"Yep. Your choice, and I'll haul it to you or to the locker plant for butchering. You get the weigh ticket and give me market price that day for it. I don't have to pay the sale barn fee, and you don't either, and you know what you're getting is good beef."

"I ain't got room for a whole beef right now, but I can make room in about a month. That be all right?"

"Fine with me. Just give me a call and we'll work it out."

"Okay. You want me to just keep this sale today on the books and we'll settle up after the beef deal is done?"

"Suits me fine, if it suits you."

Micah grinned, and I knew he had already figured out how to make all this work to his advantage somehow. I went looking in the pistol case. "Jeff says I need a carry gun."

"He's right. Things are gettin' a little dicey in places. We ain't had any trouble around here, but if

you go to the city, it's real different down there. What sort of thing d'you like?"

"I'm as old fashioned as they come. I want a revolver. I'm old and slow anyway, and by the time I figured out how make one of those new automatics go "bang", somebody would have already shot me."

He showed me an old Smith and Wesson model 60, a tiny 5 shot .38 Special. It seemed a little small in my hand, so I asked to see another one. I decided on a small frame Smith .357 with a 4" barrel. It was bit large to be carried concealed, but that wasn't what I had in mind. I COULD conceal it, I thought, with the right clothing. And it was big enough to be pretty sure I only had to hit the target once. The longer barrel would make hitting the target a lot more likely, too. He had a shoulder rig that went with it, and adjusted it to fit. I thought I could live with that, it being less in my way than on my belt. He made a price and we agreed on it. He threw in a couple boxes of .357 ammo with it. He must have bought that gun for a song. I got 10 boxes of .38 Special wadcutter ammo for practice, too, because I thought Margaret should do some practice with it, too.

"How much for that Ruger .308?"

"I got $325 on it, but I can take $295. You're a good customer and never give me a hard time like so many of 'em do. I bought it right, and it's a real good rifle. That scope on it costs a big part of that price. It's a Redfield 6 power, and it's real clear. You c'n reach out an' touch a coyote a LONG ways with that."

"What does ammo cost for that?"

"I got some import stuff that is reasonable. But if you want very much, you should let me order it in by the case, and save about 15%."

"Okay, let's do that. Give me the rifle, and 5 boxes of that import ammo, then order a case of it. That's going to be all I can handle today, so add this up before you get me to buy anything else."

Micah grinned and started adding. I didn't faint, but it was a lot more than I expected. "You're giving me heart palpitations, Micah!"

"Now, you know better than to go buyin' guns with a weak heart!"

"Yeah. I oughta known better." We smiled at each other and shook hands on the deal. I paid him in money for what we thought the difference would be, and we loaded it all in my truck.

'Hey, thanks a lot Alan! You don't come in real often, but you always make me glad to see ya!"

I just shook my head at him and got in the truck. The teasing was all part of what he sold, and made him popular. And like me, everyone felt good about their deals when they left Micah. By the time we settled accounts, I wouldn't owe him all that much in money.

Margaret seldom questioned anything I bought, but the pickup full of guns and ammo got her attention. She helped me carry it all inside and then asked, "You must think we need these, or you wouldn't have bought them. What's on your mind?"

"Well, I'm seeing a lot of people that are about stressed to the max right now. They are holding their lives together, but they have gone to great lengths to do that. Some have moved in with their parents or friends because they can't pay the rent. The second hand stores are doing a big business. I see a lot of old ratty looking cars on the road. We've both seen a lot of foreclosure notices in empty houses. It's getting really hard out there. It won't take a lot more before some people start to do desperate things. I want to be ready."

"I've been wondering about that sort of thing. I've heard about more burglaries and break-ins lately on the news. That is mostly in Louisville, but some GIRL asked for change for a twenty and when the attendant pulled his money out, she grabbed his whole wad of money and ran off. She could run pretty fast, because he chased her and she got away. I've never heard of such a thing around here before."

"The building contractors are having copper wire stripped out of houses as fast as they put it in. One guy had to get his new house wired the third time, and that was last summer. I think we need to tighten up on how we do things around home."

"Me too. For one thing, we need some gates across the lane. It would slow people down, and make it harder to slip in here at night to steal something."

"Right. And I want the electric fence on top of the gates, too. Give 'em a little something to think about if they grab it in the dark."

Margaret said, "I want a dog. Michael's dog is great. Nobody can drive in there without they know about it. And he's sensible, too. He doesn't just bark at everything. But if it is something, or somebody that doesn't belong there, Sarge will tell them. And he is devoted to that boy. I wouldn't dare lay a hand on Michael if Sarge is around."

"Yes, German Shepherds are like that. They bond with a person and they are loyal from then on, but you need to get them young. They don't change their mind very easy about who they call boss."

"I'll talk to Lynn about where they got Sarge. I should have done that before now."

It took a couple weeks for her to find the dog she wanted, and it turned out to be 2 dogs, the last 2 litter mates from the same breeder that produced Sarge. They came from the next litter after Sarge, and the breeder said they were quitting. People were not spending money on good quality dogs now like they had up until a couple years ago. These dogs were almost 6 months old, and half grown and had not sold yet. Margaret got the pair of females for a lot less than the rest of the litter had sold for, because the market for them had dried up, the breeder said. The woman told Margaret that they had bonded to her, so they would probably accept Margaret easier than me, but they were still young enough to work out okay she thought.

She gave explicit instructions on how to teach them some basic things. For the first month or, preferrably, two months, "wear the dog" she said. Put him on a leash and tie it to your belt. Take him EVERYWHERE with you. If you want them to bond to both of you, trade dogs on a daily basis. That would be better on a farm,so they get to know both the household routine and the outdoor routine."

Margaret had asked if they should be outside dogs, or not?

"What is the most valuable thing on the farm? The PEOPLE, right? So keep them with the people. Let them out if they want out, because they will naturally claim the farm territory as belonging to their 'pack'. You have to establish that you and your husband are the pack leaders--the Alpha dogs. They will decide which of you is THE 'Alpha dog', but you have to be sure they know that they rank lower than the people in the family 'pack', or they will try to be pack leaders themselves. It sounds more complicated than it is to get it done. Train them by letting them WATCH you eat, every meal. The people eat first, and then the dogs eat, and not a bite before you are finished, either. That tells them their rank in the pack. They will boss the cattle around, but they won't be aggressive about it unless you let them."

"During this training period, teach them to obey simple verbal commands by showing them physically what you want done. They already know 'sit', 'stay', 'heel', 'come', and a lot more. But you will have to start over with all that, because you are not yet their 'pack' and they will ignore you. Once the rank is established, they will remember those commands, but you will have to enforce them for a while, by pushing their butt down on the floor when you say 'sit'. It shouldn't take long. If you have a problem, call me. Oh, and NEVER take any crap off a dog. I mean that you don't accept bad behavior. Correcting them to do it right is enough, but you must be consistent, every time, or they will take advantage of your lapse in discipline, and you will have an unruly dog."

After a month, the dogs were acting like pros. The good advice made all the difference in the world. As my Dad once told me that to teach a dog anything, first you have to know more than the dog. So true.


Knuckle Dragger
I see Kaij has been off poaching writers again :)

When I saw your post it was grounds for being absolutely tickled.



Chapter 32 SPRING IS COMING March, 2011

Lynn said, "I gave up on the tobacco canvas thing. It looks like everybody uses the styrofoam trays now. I ordered a big batch of trays, the ones with bigger pockets so we can get bigger plants. They'll be here in a week, so I have time to go get some potting soil and a roll of clear plastic to make a temporary greenhouse and line the box for the water and fertilizer."
"What about the fertilizer? I think they use a liquid of some kind."
"The fertilizer place has that. It doesn't take much, but it's expensive. They've got it in stock. I found this website that tells all about it. It looks like we need room for 40 trays to plant an acre. That comes out to about a 9 ft. x 12 ft. tank to set them in, so you need to make the tank that big and a greenhouse coverered with plastic over it. You want 6" of water in the tank, so most people dig a hole just deep enough to make the tank about 8" deep, and make wood sides in that and back them up with tamped in dirt so the water doesn't make them bow out. It has to be level, so the water level is even, then lay a double thickness of black plastic in it to hold the water."

Jeff was listening closely, then said, "I talked to a guy who said it helps to dig out the dirt deeper and put a layer of horse manure in first, then cover it with dirt, tamp it down and level it. The manure starts composting and heats the ground up. You have to do that early, because it will get really hot, then when it start to cool down slowly. If I do it that way, I can just put the water in there and check the temperature. He said to give it a couple weeks to heat and start to cool down. If you don't do that, the ground is so cold it will take the plants a lot longer to come up. Timing is everything here. I have to talk to him again about when to start this."

"I'll get a roll of black plastic, too, and pick up the fertilizer. I thought I'd go to the car wash in town and beg a few empty plastic barrels that his soap comes in. I can wash those out to use for mixing the liquid fertilizer. I thought we might as well start some garden plants in there, too, so I got extra trays. Let's go for about 9 ft. x 16 feet. If we start some extra garden plants, we could sell them at the farmer's market."

Michael joined in. "I want to join the 4-H club. They have a meeting once a week and that way I get to see my friends after school is out. At least, up to Fair time. I want to grow some garden vegetables for a 4-H project this year and enter them in the County Fair. Can I do that?"

"Sure, you MAY do that. I know you CAN do it because you helped in the garden last year."

"GREAT! I'll call the leader and tell him I want to join. I got his number from Trent."
Michael went off to take care of that, while we continued our planning.

Jeff said, "It would be easier to level that tank bottom if I put some sand in there. That would hold the heat, too. We better go to the quarry and buy a ton of sand. Wait a minute! Dad is going to build a cistern out of those blocks we got. He'll need sand to mix mortar, so we can just get a dump truck load dumped at his place. Put down some of that black plastic to dump it on so it doesn't get mixed in the dirt and grass, and then cover it with the plastic to keep it from getting rained on and washed away. We can just use his front loader to get some of it in your truck."

"Okay, looks like a trip to town. I'll make a list." Lynn looked around the kitchen and started making a grocery list.

Lynn had discovered Shadowstats website, and said inflation was a real concern. Jeff agreed that they should buy whatever they would use and stock up on those things before the prices got higher. He had noted that the price of motor oil was going up at Tractor Supply, so he bought four 5 gallon buckets of trans-hydraulic oil and two boxes of grease tubes, 12 to a box. The motor oil he could get cheaper at Wal Mart, where he'd seen 5 gallon buckets of Shell Rotella 15W-40 for $44.95. That was good for the tractors and both of their vehicles. But Auto Zone had the deal on oil filters, so he got all he could there on sale and even found some that worked on both tractors. He'd spent some time figuring out which filters would fit what. It didn't matter what the filter was specified for, if the threads fit and the seal was the right diameter. The longer the filter, the better, since it had more paper area in it, so he got the longest ones that would fit. While he was at Auto Zone, he picked up 2 extra sets of spark plugs for everything, and a set of new plug wires for the Blazer that was getting some age on it.

The fertilizer company also sold tobacco seed, where they went with the hybrid variety the owner reccomended. He sold them a couple 5 gallon buckets of liquid fertilizer, enough to last for a couple years. From there, they stopped at the hardware store that had gardening supplies and bought a dozen bags of potting soil, a large quantity of garden seeds, and Lynn bought a few cans of lye. Jeff asked what that was for?

"Soap. Mom used to make soap, and I think I still remember how to do it. I found a website that has it all, so I'm going to make enough to last a year while the weather is still cool enough to make the fat set up after I clean it. No more buying soap. Don't worry, I'll put some smell-good in it, so you'll like it!"

Jeff said, "Mom is making soap, too. Get with her if you want. She always made soap when we were kids, but she had gotten away from it when her job got so hectic."

Next stop was the grocery, where Lynn bought a couple dozen bars of Fels-Naptha soap. Jeff said, "I thought you said you weren't going to buy soap?"
"This is for making laundry soap. I need some borax and washing soda, too. They have the borax here, but I'll have to go to The Jay Cee store to get the washing soda. I've seen it there."
Michael lugged over a big bag of dog food to the cart and went back for kitten chow. Lynn found butter for $1.69 on sale and bought the limit of 10 pounds. "It freezes well, so I'll check out with this, and you go back and get another 10 pounds and check out separately. You might as well get some of those pinto beans they have in bulk, too, at 79 cents a pound. They will keep for ages if we vacuum seal them with the Food Saver."

"Okay, go it."

The truck was getting full, and they were finished with their lists, so they headed for home. On the way, Jeff stopped at Micah's bait shop to buy some ammunition. Michael wandered around in there goggle-eyed, looking over the hunting and fishing gear. He loved the place.

"Hey, Dad?" Michael asked quietly, "Is there any chance I could have a .22 rifle? I can be safe with it. Grandpa has been telling me all about how to handle a gun. I'd like to hunt squirrels this year, and do some target practice."

"I'll have to check you out on it, and we'd have to work together shooting for a while. That's a big responsibility to own a rifle, you know."

"I know. Grandpa keeps telling me about watching what is behind where he shoots, and having a backstop to make sure the bullet doesn't go hit something it shouldn't, and keeping the gun on safety, and on and on. I think I can take be safe and care of it all right."

"I'll be the judge of that, but it sounds like you have the right ideas. Let's go see what Micah has."

Micah had been studiously ignoring that conversation, showing Lynn his good deals on fishing tackle. When Jeff asked about a .22 for Michael, he acted surprised.
"Why yeah, I got several .22's that you might like."

They left with a nearly new Marlin semi-auto .22 that was a little on the small side for an adult, but just right for the boy. Jeff bought 2 bricks of .22 ammunition and a cleaning kit, and said they were going to practice some with it.

Michael grinned all the way home. After a few Sunday afternoons of target practice, Michael was getting pretty good with it. He understood the limitations of open sights right away, and decided that he wanted a scope on his rifle before squirrel season, but he would wait on that. He didn't want to ask for too much at once. The next time he was at his grandparent's, he talked Alan into helping him make a wood gun rack to hang on the wall in his room. They made one with hangers for 4 guns, so Michael had a good place to keep his fishing poles, too.

"Aaaah. It's nice to take a break," Jeannie said. "No orders for heat boxes, no deliveries to worry about, and nothing we HAVE to do right now. And it's Saturday." She finished cleaning up after breakfast and put the dishes in the sink to soak.

"LIKE IT! LIKE IT! LIKE IT!" Sidney, their 15 year old Cockatoo was voicing her opinion. She bounced up and down on her favorite perch in the huge cage where she lived most of the time. She mumbled something else, but Jeannie didn't catch it. "What was that Sid?"
"TV on. Batman! Batman!"
"Okay, I'll turn your TV on." Sid had a few programs she really liked, and had figured out that it was really play-acting, not real violence in the shows, but sat there engrossed, beak open and eyes rivetted to the tube while Batman and Robin had their adventures. If they got in some real

trouble, Sidney let out a loud SQUACK! She was about as intelligent as a 3 or 4 year old human, but she had 15 years of learning, too. One of her favorite programs was Mr. Rogers. It seemed like she remembered everything she saw on there, and she had remarkable mechanical skills.

Sidney stayed in her cage because she liked it there and felt secure. She could unlock it and get out anytime she liked, and had done so many times. When this became a problem once, Jeannie resorted to putting a C-clamp on the door, with the handle out where Sid couldn't reach it. Sid thought about it for a day, then chewed a perch in two, hung on the side of the cage and used her beak to hold the stick like a crowbar, then pried on the litter tray to slide it out at the bottom. That left a bird-sized opening. Jeannie came in to start lunch one day and found Sidney strutting around on the kitchen table, proud as she could be of her escape. Once she had been properly admired, she hopped right back in the cage and stayed there. Until she wanted out again.

Nathan agreed, "Yeah, I was about done in. I hope that other machine frame doesn't get put back on the schedule, but I'm afraid it will. Their sales always pick up in the Spring, so we can look forward to another 5 or 6 weeks of hell with that order when it shows up. Matt, the engineer said he thought it might be in next month's budget."

"Oh crap. I should be glad of it, I guess, but I'm just not. We have money ahead, we're out of debt, and we can live on the $28,000 or so we have for 3 or 4 years if we wanted to. I'm ready for fishin' season, and mushroom hunting and going to play with Michael. I bet he hasn't been mushroom hunting yet! I'll ask Lynn. I'll drag his military brat butt all over these hills and make a country kid out of him yet. Well, he's not a brat, but all he's ever known is army bases. It will be a while yet before mushrooms come up. Maybe I can think of another excuse to take him wandering."

"We still have a bunch of parts for that race car builder to get out," Nathan reminded her.

"Yeah, I know, but it isn't due for a while yet. I guess I have cabin fever, or Spring Fever early, or something. I want to just take a few days and do what WE want to do."

Buster, their Rottweiller, went politely to the door indicating that he needed to take a walk. Nathan went to let him out, thinking. A couple cats darted between Buster's legs and hightailed it out the door and into the woods.
"Hmm. How about we get the chores caught up around home and go see what Jeff and Lynn are up to?"

"Okay! I want to shoot with that boy, and Lynn and I have some catching up to do. You and Jeff are workaholics. You can go play at the sawmill, or something."

A short time later they had their animals set for the day and piled into the old Dodge half ton truck and were off. The drive to Jeff and Lynn's was only a little over a mile and a half, so they took their time, looking at the first bits of green peeking through the dull winter browns in the forested hills. The gravel road wound down a very steep hill, dropping almost 400 feet to the valley below. Once out in the open creek bottom, the fields were still brown with leftover corn and soybean stubble. Most of the fields showed the wet evidence of recent rains. It would be a couple months before they dried out enough to farm. The gravel road felt a little squishy as they drove.

"I don't know where Jeff got to, Nathan. He and Michael took off with the chainsaw a while ago," Lynn said. "It will fire up and you can tell where he is. I think he was going to cut oak back of the sawmill."

Nathan said, "Okay, I'll go take a look." He put his old western hat back on and disappeared.
"So, what are you up to today?" Jeannie asked Lynn.

"Oh, I put a load in to wash, but nothing special. I want to get some seeds started as soon as Jeff gets his greenhouse up for tobacco plants."

"Yeah, I'm going to start some in pots pretty soon. We don't have a good garden spot worked up yet, since last year was taken up with getting the logging finished so we can put that windmill up. Nathan's going to do that when the ground gets dry enough. Said he would borrow the backhoe and dig out for our cistern, too."

Lynn nodded, "This is the year for cisterns. Your dad plans to build one, and Jeff is thinking about it. Those two got their heads together and are determined to have water in the house without pumping it."

"I don't think we can do that. The house is on about the highest place around, so it is uphill from everywhere."

Lynn said, "I was planning to grow a big garden this year and can a lot of food, but canning jars have gone up 2 dollars since last year. I still need some more."

"You could dry some veggies for soups and stews and things. That saves a lot of jars."

"I don't have any good way to dry things. There is the porch roof that is on the South side, but the bugs get all over everything, even covered with screens. I would like one of those electric dryers, but we want to get away from electric things."

"You could build a solar dryer. It's not hard."

"YOU could build a solar dryer. This is ME, we're talking about here, with the mechanical ability of a tomato plant. I can do big stuff. like when we worked on the barn, but you're the inventor of the clan."

"Okay, I'll think about it. It should be easy, with one of our heat boxes, just add some screens in a box and hook it up. Yeah, say! That's a great idea, Lynn! We could sell that! I could come up with a food dryer to use the solar heat boxes in summer. Make it a kit to add on. Everybody who bought a heat box could dry food then! Thanks, that's a lovely idea!"

"You thought of it. I just said I needed one."

"The need has to come first. Then, it's just a problem to solve, a matter of how you get there."
"Okay, I want one. I know it will work, as hot as those things get. You let me know what it costs and I'll pay you now for it."

"Can't tell you until we build one. Then, we'll figure out how to make it as cheap as we can and still be durable. I feel better now. I've got something to work on that I LIKE."

"You're a mess!" Jeannie looked at Nathan as he scraped mud off his boots. She shook her head and giggled. "You and Jeff have been playing in the mud again."

Nathan looked at her with one eye and said, "I wouldn't call it playing. We drug up a big gob of logs to the sawmill so he can get started out there while it's still too early to farm. We made some ruts, but not too bad. It's good thing he wrapped log chains around the tractor tires, though. You think I'm a mess, you oughta see Michael!"

"You need to go walk in the creek for a ways," she joked.

"I think a puddle will do it," he returned.

Lynn rolled her eyes, "That boy can get muddy when it's dry out."

Jeannie looked out, "Oops, there he comes. Looks like we'll have to DRAG him in the creek."

Sarge was trotting alongside, tail high in the air, tongue lolling out one side of his mouth, happy as a clam, and about as wet and muddy, too.

"Hi Aunt Jeannie! I fell down hooking up a log chain. Sarge came to help and we both fell down."

"You stay out there young man and I'll get you some clean clothes. You're going to change on the porch. That mess is not coming in the house! And you wipe that dog off, too. Take him for a walk in the creek, like Jeannie said."

Michael didn't mind. He'd had a fun day.

"Margaret, I wouldn't try to wash today. They're predicting rain again this afternoon, and more on the way."

"I'm going to wash anyway. I hate to get too far behind, and if more is coming, it will be too long to wait."

"Well, you'd better be ready to bring the clothes in off the line when this starts. It's supposed to be a pretty strong storm."

She loaded clothes in the machine and pushed the start button to make it fill up. I looked at the computer again,and noticed that silver was up around $35 again, and had been hanging around that number for a week or so. Looked to me like it was on the way up, but what did I know? I made instant coffee in the microwave and got the skillet out to fry some bacon and eggs while she was busy.

She bounced up after breakfast to take that load of clothes out and start another one. Three loads were on the clotheslines by 8:00 AM, and a breeze picked up making them flap a little, I noticed when I went out to do the morning feeding. There had been some coyotes yipping the past few warm nights, getting a head start on breeding season, it sounded like, so I had begun to make a habit of wearing the shoulder holster to carry the .357. I had done some practicing and gotten good enough to satisfy me. If I could find anything to rest my arm on, I had a good chance of hitting something as big as a coyote out to 40 or 50 yards.

The cattle were bunched in the feeding shed, tails to the wind. That should have been a clear weather signal to me, but I ignored it and fed as usual and went to work in the shop. I wanted to do maintenance on the chainsaw, figuring that Spring storms would bring down some tree limbs on

the fences like they normally did.

By lunchtime, the wind had picked up quite a bit and blown a few clothes off the line. The grass was up and green so they didn't get dirty again, but Margaret wasn't happy about it. I helped as she began to take the wet clothes in the house, and strung lines across the whole South side in front of the windows. It was cool in the house anyway, so I started a fire in the wood stove to warm it up and speed the drying. The TV was yapping something about storm warnings, but we seldom paid much attention. An underground house is pretty storm-proof. The wind gusted hard a couple times and the stove burped out some smoke, a rare occurrence. I took a look outside, since it was darkening noticeably.

The south wasn't dark, so I went out on the patio and saw the very dark clouds to the West where the wind was coming from now. Some big drops of rain hit me in the face, so I retreated indoors. The rain came up fast and was soon blowing sideways past the front windows. We got a lot of static on the TV so I turned it off. Some lightening flashed and I remembered to unplug the computers and the microwave. Just about noon, the lights went out. We could see well enough, so I didn't dig out the camping lantern yet. Power outages were common out here on the end of the electric lines. We were used to it. Margaret made coffee on the gas stove and we sat down to watch the storm. The dogs, Bonnie and Babe, lay at our feet, happy to be inside today. When the thunder and lightning got closer, they moved back away from the windows and nearer to the stove. They could sleep for hours, baking beside that wood stove.

I could just see the creek through the downpour, rolling and frothing with runoff water turned brown by the soil it had washed out from the higher places. Dead leaves and small limbs went blowing past the house from the woods a hundred yards to the West. I could see trees bending way over in the wind on the ridge on the South edge of our place. A few cracked and fell, probably old dead ones, I thought, but then a stronger gust took a few of the tall thin ones all the way over to the ground. I began to worry about the barn roof.

The storm slowly blew itself out, the only damage I could see when the sky lightened some was a bunch of limbs in the lane I'd have to clear out, and a few tall trees blown over. By sundown, I half expected the power to come back on, having been a couple hours since the storm was over, but it did not. I had gone to a truck stop and bought a nice little 12 volt TV, getting ready for my solar power project. It would run on 8 D cell batteries for quite a while. I unhooked the cable from the big TV and turned it on. I got the "NO SIGNAL" note on a blue screen. Crap.

I tried the battery powered radio and had better success, albeit with a generous amount of static. There was a lot of talk about power outages all over Louisville, and in southern Indiana. No prognosis yet on when it could be restored, but "Crews are working hard to clean up storm damage and take care of downed power lines. Stay away from any downed wires, etc., etc." Then they said something about a damaged substation in Indiana, but I didn't catch it all.

"Sounds like we could be out of electricity for a while," I told Margaret. "Better not open the fridge and freezer any more than necessary. If it goes on until morning, I'll start the generator and run them for a while."

"It's just the freezer I would worry about. The stuff in the fridge we will use up before it goes bad."


"I was just thinking that if this takes a while to fix, I'll wish I had put that hand water pump on the well by now. I can use a bucket, but that sucks."

"We've done that for years, so don't get mad at yourself."

"I know, but it chaps my butt just the same because I'd already thought of it and could have had it done."

We ate supper by candle light, but not because it was romantic. Still, if SHE liked it, well there were advantages. I went out and put down some more hay for the cattle and then we decided to go to bed early.

Jeff was griping too. He had forgotten to get the kerosene lamps he had planned to buy. He improvised with a short piece of cotton clothesline rope stuck into a china gravy boat half filled with vegetable oil. It made light, but it smoked something awful. He fiddled with the wick until he got it working fairly well. It was just barely better than eating supper in the dark. They had flashlights, but he wanted to save them for portable light. Jeff didn't want to start the generator, and he only had two extension cords. One was long enough and very heavy, but it only had one outlet. The other one had a three way outlet on the end, but it was a light gauge wire.

Michael thought it was a great adventure. Sarge went to sleep, right after supper. Patches, now about a half-size cat, found her way around easily, but had to dodge the clumsy people. She went to her bed by the old chimney to stay out of their way. She would wait to eat supper. She wasn't hungry, and Sarge wouldn't eat her food. He thought it stunk something awful.

Lynn and Jeff went to bed early, but not before they had each made a shopping list for tomorrow.

Sidney squacked about something and Nate went to see what was upsetting the bird. The TV showed some roofs blown off buildings and trees down in the streets in the city. Sidney didn't like storms anyway, and sulked in the corner of her cage when they came along, hiding behind a piece of blanket that hung there around a perch so she could sleep late if she chose to. The TV pictures were disturbing to her, and she made that plain.
"I guess this storm knocked the power out for a lot of folks," Nathan said.

"Huh," Jeannie went to the back door where they could see for miles over the valley. "Nope. No lights out there."

They hadn't noticed the power outage because they didn't have utility power anyway.
Jeannie went to talk to Sidney. "It's okay. Those folks are all right. They just have a mess to clean up. You know how that works."

Sidney knew. She mumbled something about "trouble", and paced back and forth on her perch.
Buster was sound asleep, not caring in the least about who had lights, or not.

Morning dawned gray, but with only a light wind from the West, and promising more rain to come. I did the feeding after breakfast, and went to the shop to get the generator going. I ratted around a while before I collected all the extension cords I could find. I had a good one that was 100 feet long, but it would barely reach into the house through the kitchen window with the generator in the shop. I was afraid to leave the generator outside in case it began raining again. Rain and electricity don't mix well.

I started the engine and let it warm up for a couple minutes, then carried an armload of cords into the house. Luckily, I had made the 1oo ft. cord and put a 2 duplex outlets on the end in a metal box, since I hate having to plug and unplug things in the shop. I got the freezer going first, then the fridge, and finally ran a cord to the microwave. Margaret moved a table lamp from the living room to the kitchen counter and plugged it into the remaining outlet. She propped the the outlet box on top of an oatmeal package. "In case it rains, I don't want water blowing in the window on that," she said. We could barely hear the generator in the house, with the shop door partly closed, so that was tolerable. I sat down to make a shopping list.

Hand water pump
150 ft. extension cord
Kerosene lamps (batteries don't last all that long, and the radio said this could last a while)
Percolator (Margaret had made "cowboy coffee" in a pan on the stove, and it upset my stomach)
Galvanized bucket (the only buckets I had on the farm were plastic, and I was afraid the bail might come off and leave it in the well)
Batteries--for everything.
Milk and Butter (these would run out if the stores didn't have power pretty quickly)
A better flashlight

Margaret had a list, too. She wanted a camper's chemical toilet, because she didn't see me carrying enough water to flush the John as often as she would want it done. I had no idea where to find that. And she had a grocery list, mostly fresh items that she thought would run out soon if the stores didn't have refrigeration.
"We'd better get going if we want to find any of this," Margaret said. "Everybody in town is going to want the same things."

"Yep, let's go."

Nathan and Jeannie deicded to sleep late. The dog and cats woke them up for a trip outside, but they went back to bed. They had a late breakfast and turned the TV on to check the news.
"This substation was a major distribution point for some small Indiana towns, causing some major problems. There is only one gas station in the County Seat that is able to pump gas, because they have a generator to power the pumps. Others are trying to get generators as fast as they can, but it will take a day or two. Grocery stores in town have generator backups for this sort of emergency, but they have limited fuel, as does the hospital..."

Jeanne said, "I'm glad we aren't in the middle of all that. The stop lights don't even work. Did you see that? People are behaving pretty well now, but I bet that doesn't last long if this keeps up. Do you think we should go check on Mom and Dad?"

"Your Dad bought a generator lately, and he will find ways to get things done. I'm sure of that. Jeff has one, too, but I don't know how well fixed they are for other things. Jeff and Lynn are pretty capable sorts, though. I don't see them having any big problems. I'm not worried about any of them, but if they need something they'll get hold of us."

Jeff and family were were out the door bright and early, headed for town. He had the forethought to stick the chainsaw in the truck toolbox, and already had a long log chain in there and an axe. He had used most of the gas in the saw clearing trees and big limbs from the road by the time they got to town. Lynn noticed as they went past Micah's bait shop, that he had lights in it. Traffic in town was slow and careful, with no traffic lights working. The major intersections had city police officers and deputy sheriff's flagging traffic, which, if anything, slowed things down. The unattended back streets moved a lot faster.

They went first to their favorite hardware store, owned by Clarence Wills, an old family friend. He was past 70 years old, a retired farmer who catered to the Amish crowd, and had all manner of interesting things, besides the big garden shop that made him locally famous. There were a few lights on in the store and a big crowd inside. Clarence's wife was helping check people out, and they had two helper's who were busy as bees. It turned out that he was one of the few stores in town who was taking credit cards, since he still used the old paper ticket machine instead of the new electronic ones. His cash register was electronic, but he had a generator running in back and it was powering the register and his inventory computer. Clarence was too greedy to let a little thing like a power outage slow down his sales.

Lynn got two kerosene lamps first, and a couple big bottles of lamp oil. Jeff toted up a load of pipe, fittings, and a small "pitcher pump". He paid for what they had and Michael helped carry it out to the truck, then went back for another batch of things. There were so many people in there that a cumbersome load like that was badly in the way. Lynn got a stovetop coffee percolator, and was looking around the housewares while Jeff got a battery powered lantern and a couple more flashlights. He went to the electrical section and chose 2 long extension cords with double outlets on them. Lynn came back with a couple boxes of candles some candle holders. There weren't many left, she'd noticed. Jeff had a big package of batteries for the flashlights. When they checked out, they put all the small stuff in the truck toolbox and locked it, then headed for the grocery.

Ice, ice chests, lunch meat, bread, milk, eggs and butter were going fast. They got bread and milk, but Jeff knew he could run the fridge so they didn't need an emergency ice chest. Lynn picked up a couple boxes of powdered milk, in case the milk supply ran out. Alan and Margaret had chickens, and she had butter in the freezer. She began to think about a milk cow. Michael could go through a lot of milk. They stuck the bags in the truck bed and headed for home.

I had pretty good luck going to town, since someone had cleared the limbs and trees off the road. When we got to the hardware store, we felt fortunate that they had not run out of extension cords and kerosene lamps. Margaret got he last of the lamp oil in small bottles. All the big bottles were gone. We could have gotten kerosene at the one operating gas station, but there was quite a line there. Besides that, kerosene can get pretty smelly. They had candles, so we got a box of those, and one candle holder. I made sure that we got a percolator, and bought a 2 cell and a 4 cell Maglite, the D battery size. They are pretty tough and can reach out a long ways. A 3 gallon galvanized steel bucket and a package of batteries finished off what we needed for now.

When we went to check out, Clarence said, "Your boy was in and got a lot of the same things earlier. I guess you all got generators."

"Yeah, we both got one. Say, you have any idea where I can find a chemical toilet? I'm having to carry water."

"Hmm. No, I don't, unless it would be one of the RV places in the city, maybe."

"I was afraid of that. Okay, I guess this will do it for now."

We loaded our stuff and went to the grocery for more instant coffee (we had a couple cans of ground coffee for the electric pot), milk, and butter, and some salad greens. The groceries were a madhouse, with the clerks beginning to look hassled and customers impatient when they learned they were out of styrofoam coolers. We got out of there as fast as we could and headed for the Wal Mart in the next county over.

There weren 't any lights on anywhere until we got more than 10 miles down the highway. We didn't find a chemical toilet, but we did find a bucket toilet, with a reasonable seat and disposable bags. I bought a lot of bags.


hapter 33 AFTERMATH OF THE STORM March, 2011

By the third day of carrying water with a bucket, I was tired of that and resolved to do something to improve matters. I had learned several things, for one, carrying a bucket wasn't nearly as bad as pulling it out of the old well with a bucket and a rope. I realized how much of an improvement the old crank and windlass things were after I dropped my rope in the well and spent an hour fishing it out again. And if you drag the bucket against the side of the well dragging it up, you get bugs and whatnot in the water. My standards for drinking water were lowered somewhat after having to fight this process.

I wanted a hand pump as soon as possible. Clarence didn't have the tall hand pumps at the hardware store. He only kept the small pitcher pumps that have the pump cylinder mechanism inside them. The well near our house was over 20 feet deep, and it was about 12 feet to water level, about the limit for a pitcher pump. The tall pumps operate a separate cylinder that is on the bottom end of a pipe down in the water, enabling it to pump from much greater depths. I had no idea where to find one, or I'd have one already in place. I told Margaret what I wanted and she got to work on internet when I had the generator running. At least our satellite-based internet still worked.

She is like a bulldog for tenacity on such a problem, so when she told me the outrageous prices for a new hand well pump, I decided there had to be another way. Maybe there were still some antiques around. Every farm in the state had one of those when I was a kid, so there must be a few that survived. I needed to see Jim Nichols. He had the biggest collection of rusty antiques in the county, and sold what he could as a part time retirement business.

But the biggest thorn in my side at the moment was the lack of a toilet. Why had I torn down the old outhouse? DUMB move on my part. I was mentally kicking myself for several things that were obvious to me now, with 20/20 hindsight. I had no idea about any regulations about outhouses, but I was probably going to have one and be quiet about it. I DID have a plan for taking care of the water situation, once and for all time. A cistern located uphill from the house would take care of that, and gravity flow from that cistern would be slow, but it would fill the toilet. I was wishing I had that finished now, with every bucket of water I carried into the house. We were learning to get along with much less water than when it came freely out of the faucets.

Lights and the refrigerator and freezer were working with the generator, but that was not a long term answer. We were using about 4 gallons of gas a day to keep that going, and that was expensive. Margaret had already decided that she would can a lot of meat in the future to reduce our reliance on the freezer. Jeanie did that, and it worked fine for them. The microwave, we could do without. We knew that all along, but it was a convenience and we were spoiled by it.

The other thing that we needed electricity for was a washing machine. A clothes dryer we could do without, but there was not going to be any hand washing of clothing. I had been informed of that. Margaret had already been searching for a wringer machine that would use both less water and less electricity. But electricity made at home by any method I knew about was going to be expensive. I suppose that expensive is relative to your needs. When I was carrying water, it didn't seem that bad to spend some money on a cistern. And when I was trying to read by a kerosene lamp, solar energy looked positively cheap. All I had to do was find $10,000 to $20,000 to make it happen. There were several places I could think of to spend that much money, and not that many places to get it.

Later on, we heard that the small County Hospital had no problem keeping their services going, because they had a generator that ran on natural gas and it performed flawlessly. Two discount grocery stores without any emergency power were in trouble quickly, unable to save their refrigerated foods. Worse than that, they couldn't operate their checkouts so the dimwitted managers decided to just lock the doors. It was a real mess later. One store manager had the good sense to at least throw out the refri foods right away. A lot of that got carried off down the back alley, by those who needed it. The stray dogs, cats, and a few skunks and raccoons got the rest. The other store manager left it all locked inside for the 2 days that the town was without power, then had a rotten mess to deal with when they tried to reopen. In both cases, the trash pickup people were not happy about the mess.

Two other larger grocery stores had diesel generators, but ran low on fuel. They kept one going with 5 gallon cans of diesel fuel until they found a farmer who had a fuel tank in his pickup with a 12 volt pump. He moved fuel to both stores until they could contact their regular fuel supplier, once phone service was restored.

The biggest problem for most people was the banks being closed, and most businesses being either closed or unable to process credit cards. The lack of change was a problem at those stores who remained open, since they could not make their daily trip to the banks to get change, and their volume of business had increased for lack of competition. Price gouging did not seem to be a problem, since there were open businesses in other towns not that far away. The first day, that was not widely known, and caused a certain amount of panic. In thinking this over, it was clear to me that if we had a widespread emergency, we were all in trouble.

Our power came back on late the 6th day, long after the substation had been repaired with a new tranformer and other work. Our remote lines were branches that got the least priority and had a lot of damage due to "wind shear", whatever that is, causing 70 to 80 MPH lateral winds that took down a lot of trees and the power lines near them.

By the second day of the outage, Jeff had also found a bucket toilet for temporary use, then had diverted some lumber from other projects to constructing an outhouse. He didn't dig much of a pit, since he was doing it with a shovel and he was in a hurry, but it was ready for use the second evening, having borrowed the toilet seat from the house bathroom. Three days later, he dug another small pit and drug the outhouse over it, then covered the first pit with dirt. It wasn't a perfect answer but it was fairly sanitary, if a bit chilly on a cool morning.

The pitcher pump worked pretty well, since the it wasn't very far down to water (he had checked it with a long board), and he added a foot valve on the bottom of the pipe to help the pump hold its' prime. He knew that any hand pump must have water in it to work effectively. The valve on the bottom kept water in the pipe for a long time before it leaked back into the well. It was a cheap and effective solution that would be durable. If they didn't use the pump for a few days, they might have to go to the creek to get enough water to prime the pump, but that was doable.

It got pretty chilly in the house with the furnace not working. It was fueled with LP gas, but it required power to run the electrical controls and the fan that distributed the hot air. So, no power, no heat. Jeff refused to risk using the old chimneys in the house for a wood stove, because he knew they had cracks in them. Lynn agreed. They got by with extra blankets at night, and hanging a blanket over the kitchen door so they could let the gas oven warm that one room a little. They wore a lot of heavier clothing. Thankfully, it wasn't that cold outside, getting down in the 30's at night, but up around 60 in the middle of the day. More rain toward the end of that week made it more miserable from the dampness.

An outdoor wood furnace would solve the chimney problem, but would have the same problem of needing power to run a blower to get heat moved into the house. And they were not cheap. The ones that used hot water cost even more and needed power to run a water pump to move the heat indoors. They finally decided on building new chimneys, which probably meant removing the old ones and that would be a real mess, besides a lot of work. It would allow the use of an indoor wood stove, the cheapest answer and one that needed no electricity. Their home insurance would undoubtedly go up, but their cost for LP gas would go down dramatically. It looked like the best solution, overall.

The kerosene lamps worked just fine, with a minimum of odor using the more highly refined lamp oil, but Jeff was convinced that he wanted solar powered lights. That would be a problem, because their house was shaded for a lot of the day. He began to look for a suitable location for solar panels somewhere close to the house. That would surely mean cutting a lot of trees on the steep hillside north of the house, but he had to work out how to keep that hillside from eroding away after he cut the trees. It wasn't going to be easy. And he didn't want to spend any more than necessary on it, either. Their savings were getting used up at an alarming rate. He needed to talk to his Dad about solar power, having had some discussion about it before. Jeff thought wryly that they had just as well spend the money they had, because the longer they kept it, the less it would buy. Weighing that against the need for so many things for the farm and ongoing expenses made his head hurt. Everything was going up except their income.

His first priority had to be getting some crops in the ground this year for farm income. And after that, of course, everything else came first.

Things were quiet in the house as Jeannie fired up the wood cooking range and made dinner. It almost got too warm in the super-insulated house, so they had the front and back doors opened. Nathan asked, "Did you hear what Dave said about the city water?"

"No. What about it?" Jeannie took dinner rolls from the oven and bumped the oven door shut with her leg.

"They were out of power, too, you know. The only thing that kept the city water going was what was stored in the towers, and that wouldn't last long. They had to jump through some hoops to get the pumps going again. They got one pump running on a generator they borrowed from the City of New Albany, until they could get the power lines put back up. I guess it was a near thing. If the pump station goes down, the whole county is out of water in a day or less."

Jeannie made a face as she said, "And water is the one thing we haven't quite solved here. We'd better get that cistern going PDQ."

"What's that mean?"

"Oh. PDQ is Pretty Darn Quick. Something Dad used to say a lot."

"Well, we did get the gutters up on the barn. I suppose we could put a couple barrels under the downspouts for now and just let 'em run over when they get full. That would beat being out of water."

Sidney was listening avidly, and looked concerned. She put in her opinion. "Water! Like Water!"
Jeannie reassured Sidney. "We have water. Nate's going to put a barrel by the barn roof catch water when it rains. You'll have plenty of water."

Sid looked somewhat mollified, since she trusted Nathan a lot. After all, Nathan had gotten her the TV with a battery and her VERY OWN solar panel! She still liked to go outside to see the solar panel and watch the meter on it that showed it was making electricity. There were hawks and owls outside, so she kept a wary eye on the sky, but if she was riding on someone's shoulder she felt better.

Buster growled so low that you had to listen close to hear him. He srtood and went on alert, pointing at the door. Someone was coming up their lane. His hackles stood up until he looked out the door and saw a familiar truck, then he relaxed, his ears perked up and he his tongue hung out in a doggy smile as he saw their neighbor get out.
Jeannie asked, "Buster, is it John?"

The dog turned to her and gave a smile with a tail wag, then looked back at the door. John Avery, their neighbor from across the road knocked.
"Come on in John! You have supper yet?"

"Oh, I didn't come to eat. Just checkin' to make sure you all are doin' okay. I guess the power bein' out didn't bother you much, huh?"

Nathan said, "Come on in John. Have a seat. You want a cup of coffee or somethin'?"

"Coffee would be good. We ate a while ago."

Jeannie got a cup and filled it from the pot on the stove, then asked, "How'd you all make it?"

"Oh, we're fine. Susie's cookin' on the Coleman stove, an' we had the wood stove in already, so we just used the little generator to run the 'frigerator and have some lights at night. When we get the place finished, we want some solar panels to get rid of the generator. I need to get with you Nathan, 'bout that."

"Any time John. We'll go over what you plan to run on 'em and figure it out."

"We should have the money soon. We just sold our old house, did I tell ya?"

"No! That's good news!" Nathan was happy for his friend.

"Yeah, we were goin' to close on it this week before the crap hit the fan. Now it will be another week, but the bank an' all says it's a done deal. So we should have the money soon, an' we can finish up the new place."

Jeannie was happy to hear it, too. "Great! I bet Susie is happy about that."

"Yeah, it's a big relief, if ya wanna know the truth. We were worried about how long it would take to sell it, and we can't really afford to finish this place without that money. At least it's done. Now I can think about getting the more expensive stuff done."

Jeannie said, "I need to get over to see Susie, and see what she has going for the garden this year."

John grinned and said, "I wanted a country girl, an' I got one! She'll have the whole 30 acres planted if I let her. It looks like the grapes we put in last year are starting to bud out, so I guess they made it through the winter."

Nathan asked, "How many did you set out? I know it was a bunch."

"I had 216 starts from cuttings last spring, but only about 150 of 'em made it through the summer. Now it looks like most of 'em are budding out. If I get 100 to survive, I'll be tickled, but I really think it will be more than that. I'll go help trim that vineyard again this year and get that many more. I'd like to get at least 500 or 600 going. That would be enough to start making wine at a decent volume. But to start with, I got a handshake deal to sell to that guy with the vineyard. This has gotta pay for itself as we go."

Jeannie said, "Sounds like it will. Do the grapes like it there?"

"Yeah! They grew a lot this first year. I did my homework, an' had the soil tested at Purdue.
they said you couldn't find more perfect soil for grapes. I just have to get 'em rooted good, and they'll be okay. If this goes good, I'll keep adding each year. All the place is good for grapes, except that wet spot, and I'm puttin' a pond in there to raise catfish like Al's doin'. The ground ain't fit to farm for grain, so we're lookin' at how to make the most out of it."

"I think you're going to do well at this John," Nathan said.

"I got to do something. Since that car hit me, I can't do heavy work anymore, an' from what I can tell, the guvmint is going' broke, so that disability check won't last. I can't do that high construction anymore, at least not fer a livin', but I can crawl around on the ground and work the grapes. As long as I don't hit it too hard, I can get through most of a day at that, but not EVER' day. It's somethin', anyway."

After the power came back on, I stopped to see Jim Nichols one day and asked about a hand pump. It was nice sunny day, so Jim was outside puttering around. He had his beat up old felt hat on and his usual 4 days growth of whiskers, but he always had a smile for folks.
"Yeah, I got two 'er three of 'em around here som'ere's. Down in that old truck body, I think it is. You want a yard decoration, or does it need to work?"

"I want one to use. I had to dip water with a bucket while the power was out, and I got real tired of it."

"Heh, heh, yeah, that would do it! Here's one, and the handle fer that one is back there. Wait a minute, this is the best of the lot, and I got the cylinder, too, an' I think it's still good. There it is."
He was climbing over a pile of what looked like junk, but on closer inspection proved to be some very worthwhile antiques. We got the culprit dragged outside where we could see better.

"How much is it worth, Jim?"

"You tell me! I ain't got a whole lot in it, if I 'member right."

"I hate to put a price on another man's stuff."

"Oh, would forty dollars be okay? Now if it aint' no good, er you dont like it, you can bring it back!"

"That's cheap enough, Jim."

"Well, if you're happy, I am. Let's load 'er up."
I paid him and thanked him as I left.

I spent the next whole day getting the pump cylinder apart, it being rusted tight. But when I did, I found that the inside was brass lined and only showed some green tarnish on the surface. Some rubbing with steel wool took that off, and it looked good. The leather seals on the piston were shot, of course, so now that I could see what I had, I went to Clarence's Hardware store and sure enough, he had leathers to fit it. While I was there, I got pipe and fittings and a can of paint for the pump and cylinder. I spent a week at it, but got it looking and working like new again.

Next was some way to mount it on the well top. I found a scrap of 1/2" steel plate at the junkyard and torched a hole to fit the pump base. I added some stainless steel bolts to mount the pump, welding the heads on from the bottom side, so I wouldn't drop them down the well. I gave the plate a couple coats of good aluminum paint and sat it on the well top, propping it up level with some small stones. Then I tucked mortar under the plate to seal it up against the top of the well casing stones. Next was a concrete form of wood, a box a few inches bigger than the steel plate. The box I filled with hand mixed concrete and let it set up hard. A few days later, I set the pump in place and tightened the nuts. It took a couple dozen strokes of the handle to get it going, but it pumped water like a new one. I hung my new galvanized bucket on the spout and walked away proud as a kid with a new pup.

I had less than $100 in the whole project. Margaret had found that a new brass lined cylinder cost over $300, and you could pay several hundred for a pump. I would still do the cistern project, but what Grandad told me was if I wanted to make sure my pants stay up, better wear a belt AND suspenders. Two good answers beat one anytime.

Later that night, I checked the price and found that silver had gone up to around $38. Maybe there was hope for our solar project yet.

Chapter 34 SOLAR POWER AND MORE April, 2011

Business was slow to non-existent for Nathan and Jeannie's shop. The general economy was reported to be improving, but we didn't see it. Factories in the county had people laid off and most construction had come to a halt. Part of that was the wet weather, but mostly it was the economy, if I had it right. Nathan decided it was a good time to work at home.

It was still too wet to plow, and would be for some time to come, but Nathan decided their place was dry enough to do some digging for a cistern. He drove the old backhoe up the hill and got busy. They had a friend haul a small load of mixed sand and gravel out so they could mix concrete, it being far too soft for a big concrete truck. Within a week, they were laying the used

concrete blocks, hauling them a few at a time from our farm. The weather was rainy, so he and Jeannie built a tent over the open hole, using a big tarp and stakes to keep muddy water out. Jeff had the lumber to build forms, so we all helped get that done and were ready to pour the top. We put some concrete reinforcing mesh in the top form and rested for a day.

When we began to mix for the top slab, the whole family turned out to keep the mixer going. If we waited too long between batches, we were afraid that each pour would not bond properly to the last one. We worked from one end toward the other, and it was late when we finished. Nate had formed two 24" square openings into the top, one on either side of the cistern so he could access both halves, divided by the central cinder block filter wall. When it all set up in about a month, those openings would let us get inside to remove the posts and forms under the "ceiling". While it was curing, he worked on digging a pond on the slope south of the house. During a week of slogging around in the wet ground, he had almost gotten stuck and had to use the bucket and hoe to pull the rig loose. But he got it finished, even if it looked a little rough. The moist clay was packed hard, so the pond dam should be sealed really well. Deeper in the ground it was dryer, so he could sit the backhoe in the bottom of the pond and dig it deeper, piling the dirt on top of the dam where he tamped it into place with the hoe, and got pretty good at that.

Nathan had removed the topsoil from the pond area and piled it. Now, he did his best to put that topsoil back on the top and sides of the dam and level it, with several of us helping with shovels and rakes. We finished up by seeding the pond banks with Fescue and fertilizer, then I hauled a few bales of old hay in and scattered it for mulch over the seed. Nathan backed the muddy backhoe out of the pond, raking the bottom flat as he went, then using the hoe and bucket to help lift the machine out and onto solid ground. Rains were predicted, so we left the backhoe sit out in the open to get washed off.

Jeff began to work in the sawmill again to finish out what he needed for their work. He was good enough at running the mill now to not need to hire help, unless he had a big order. I went back to feeding cattle until the rains let up. A couple weeks later, I drove the backhoe home again and noticed a hydraulic leak when I parked it in the shop. I attended to that while it was still wet outside. Our farm would take longer to dry out than the hilltop where Nathan and Jeannie lived, so I resigned myself to inside work for a while and caught up on the equipment maintenance.

I had been checking the price of silver for several weeks, as it went up by fits and starts, the graph jiggling a little each day, but trending upward. By the third week of April, I got cold feet about it and decided it was time to sell out. The spot market was a few cents over $46 the day I went to Louisville with Jeff along to ride shotgun, and help carry the heavy bags into the Louisville Numismatic Exchange, an old established dealer. They actually paid me 80 cents over the spot price, which astounded me. The old man told me that the actual metal was so scarce that people were paying a premium for the physical metal above the "paper price" of contracts for future delivery. He called it "backwardation", and said it was very unusual. He went to their massive vault and gave us a couple bags of cash that he counted with their machine.

I was delighted with the sale, but nervous as could be carrying all that money in the city. I was really glad to have Jeff along. We wasted no time getting out of Louisville and back safe in our little country town, where I made the biggest cash deposit of my life. The 4 bags that I had paid $11,000 each for had sold at $31,625 each, for a total of $126,500. It was a bit unnerving to handle that much cash. With the bank's help, I immediately filled out an estimated tax form on the gain of $82,500. I would owe $23,100 tax, a special 28% tax levied on the sale of precious metals. Whatever. I had the bank make out a cashier's check for the amount to the IRS and went to the Post Office where I mailed it Return Receipt, and all the other sureties they had to offer. Our net on the sale was $103,400. Solar power, here we come, I thought.

Just for grins, I watched the silver market for the next several weeks, to see if I had sold prematurely and missed an even bigger profit. It went up to around $48 spot price a few days later, then dropped dramatically, and then kept falling slowly over the next several months. Looked like I had done good. I forgot about it. That adventure was over, and I vowed never to get involved in such a nerve wracking speculation again. I had things to do with that money, and the sooner the better.

With our finances back in a healthy state, I chose solar power items and had Margaret do the research for price and delivery. The panels were big and were shipped by truck freight, so I had them delivered to Nathan and Jeannie's shop at the edge of town. They had a forklift to unload the pallets. Jeff and I had combined orders to save on freight, so we unloaded 2 pallets, each with a dozen 200 watt, 18 volt panels. The price had been dropping steadily as the economy slowed, so we got the advantage of that and got them for $1.58 per watt, or $316 per panel, about half what they cost a couple years previously. Still, that pile of panels cost $7,900, counting the freight. We got 12 for our place, Jeff and Lynn had bought 8, and Nate and Jeannie got the other 4. That put them up to 8 panels, too. Over the next few days, the panels got moved to their respective owners and we settled up on the cost.

Jeff and I each ordered MPPT charge controllers from Northern Arizona Wind and Sun, and a host of small items, battery temp sensors, cabling and connectors, battery disconnects, and boxes of other stuff. These charge controllers would allow us to wire some panels in parallel, running 36 volts into the charge controller where it would do its' magic and make it into what was needed to charge 12 volt batteries. That meant smaller wire from the panels to the house, and less voltage (power) loss. They processed the power differently and avoided the losses of older controllers that wasted excess voltage as heat. Ebay provided a source for stranded welding cable at the best price Margaret could find. The UPS guy complained about the heavy boxes, all delivered to our place. I spent the next month getting the electrical boxes and terminals I needed locally for hooking all this together.

Our house was built on a south facing hillside, so by going uphill slightly, I had a good spot to get full sun. Here I put in a series of three 6" steel pipe posts with homemade mounts for the panels. I made the mounts adjustable for angle and swivel to the optimum placement, but decided to forego moving the panels with the sun, called "tracking", since the 20% or so gain in sun was not worth me trying to maintain the monkey-motion needed to do that. Some people do that, and I wouldn't argue with them about it. I was just going by my old rule of simple is less trouble in the long run. I learned more about how to properly ground panels and the whole system than I ever wanted to know, but after a month of hassles, got the things functional. I had wired the house for 12 volt lights when we built it, so it was fairly simple to install the extra fixtures and 12 volt CDL lamps. We kept the AC utility power on for a couple months, but found after a few weeks that we didn't need it at all. I called the utility company and told them to pull the plug.

Jeff and I had both ordered forklift batteries through an outlet in Louisville, and went to pick them up, since freight was very expensive. We each used straps and the tractor front loaders to place these in their semi-underground shelters of concrete blocks near our homes. Jeff had some more clearing work to do before his posts could be set in the ground in concrete, but we had the mounts already completed in my shop. He had it all going before it was time to plow, though.

Both families had a learning curve, getting used to living with only solar power, with a generator for backup. Margaret had found a wringer washing machine at an auction and was using it already, which cut the power use for that by half or more over the automatic machine. And she like having control over how long she washed certain clothes. She could leave my dirty work clothes in until she was satisfied they were clean. Lynn liked her wringer machine, too, but Jeff and I knew that nothing lasts forever, so we kept an eye out for spare machines to use for repair parts as needed. He found a couple old ones from friends of his, so we took them apart and stowed the parts on shelves in my shop.

We had more than enough power to run our new small freezer, refrigerator, the fan for the "cool tubes" in hot weather, and what lights and other things we used. We kept our use minimal, and I bought a new smaller generator to power some things in the shop. I found a good used gasoline powered Miller 200 Amp welder for $600, that needed minor repair and got that fixed for another $200. When I added up the total, we had come in under budget for the whole project at a $15,300. The cheap welder helped a lot on the savings, so I splurged and got new 100 ft. welding cables for it. That was another $400, but worth it to not have to move that heavy beast. I could pick it up with the front loader and haul it in my pickup, but I wouldn't do that unless I absolutely had to. It weighed probably 600 pounds. Jeff simply planned to bring his welding jobs to my shop.

I looked over my steel rack and made a list of what I felt was needed to refill it, then ordered the stuff and had it delivered to Nathan and Jeannie's shop, much easier than a trip to the city for the cost. I probably overdid the order, spending another $4,500, but better have it and not need it than the other way around. The steel wouldn't spoil, if I kept it dry and wiped on some used oil as we stored it away to prevent rust. The dollar was buying less every day, as I found out when we bought the steel. The price had nearly doubled since I last bought any, from an average of 55 cents per pound to 92 cents per pound. I wondered if I bought enough.

I still didn't have an alternative water system, but that wasn't far off. I had to get some crops in first, though. I wanted to get some soybeans in this year so Jeff and I could get going on biodiesel fuel. I sicced Margaret on getting the screw press and processing equipment. I figure she needed something to do, being retired and all. When I said that, she got a little huffy until I convinced her it was a joke.


apter 35 SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME May, 2011

The cattle did a little cutting up along the way as we all spread out in the county road behind them, herding them slowly toward Jeff's place. It was Springtime, the grass was tender and bright green, so they were feeling good. A few would stop along the roadside to eat a few bites, then we crowded them out into the road again and they would trot a few steps, one swishing her tail and bucking a couple times before she trotted again. We made our way between the roadside fences to the roadblock we'd set up with my truck and Lynn's. An extra farm gate finished the roadblock and directed the cattle to the pasture gate behind their house and barn. Michael had been stationed at the road block to advise any traffic of our cattle drive. It was less than half a mile, so it only took a few minutes to get there.

While we pushed the cows through the barnyard and toward the pasture, Michael had started his Mom's truck and backed it into the driveway. He was a growing boy and could reach the pedals just fine. Sarge left Michael's post when the truck started and loped over to help herd the cattle. He encouraged a laggard who had stopped to eat the tall grass in the barnyard, and we had them all in the pasture. The gate closed and we all relaxed some now that the cattle were secured. They were all pretty tame, but fiesty with the Spring weather and seeing new territory. A couple of them ran out into the pasture to look over their new home, then dropped their heads and began to eat with the rest. It didn't seem to matter to a cow just where they were, as much as the quality of the grass they found. Some Ladino Clover was peeking up through the Timothy and they loved it.

Michael had started my truck and got it in the driveway, so he had the road clear again. Jeff rattled a couple feed buckets together and most of the cows looked at him. He tossed a few ears of corn into the pasture by the gate, to let them know where they would be fed. It took a while, but one after another, most of the cattle came up to eat some grain. Satisfied he could get them to come up when he wanted to, Jeff put the buckets away and we went to the house for cold drinks.

I was putting in 10 acres of corn and 20 acres of soybeans this year, so I had more plowing to do. An untimely rain interrupted that for a couple days, so I spent the time in the shop building a trailer for that heavy gas-powered welder. It would be easier to move around when we wanted to, and by putting a farm type hitch on it and the orange slow moving vehicle sign, I could tow it to either of the kids' places without licensing it as a trailer. The mobile home dealer in town had some leftover axles cheap, which worked out admirably. When I got the welder set on it and bolted down, I gave it a coat of farm implement enamel with a brush and called it a good job. I left it in the shop for now, but planned to build a small shed for it on the side of the shop to keep the exhaust fumes outside. Moving it would be as simple as backing the truck or tractor up to it and dropping in the hitch pin.

Jeff was plowing, too. He had in mind to put in an acre of tobacco and 10 acres of corn for supplementing the cattle's hay next winter and to feed out some pigs next year. Lynn had said that their tobacco plants were up and doing fine in the trays, so the ground had to be ready for them. Farming requires some planning ahead.

Michael was on the computer this Friday evening, taking advantage of the chance, since his parents had gone grocery shopping and no one else was on it. He searched eBay for a while, and was reading a gardening forum when Sarge came awake at his feet and stood at alert, looking out the open window. Sarge ran to the door, hackles up, and scratched frantically, whining. Michael heard the high pitched YIP, YIP's outside. Coyotes, he thought, and let Sarge out. Michael grabbed his Dad's Maglite and his own .22 and ran after the dog. Sarge was running like a bullet for the back pasture.

Michael followed and shined the light into the field. A dozen or more coyotes had the cattle all bunched up and were circling them. One would dart toward a cow and get it's attention, as another tried to grab at its' hind leg. One cow caught a coyote with a solid kick to the head, and rolled it over a couple times. That one lost interest and backed away, not looking so healthy now. Sarge hit the first one he came to like a train and knocked him over, then had him by the throat. Michael's light shone on others between the cattle and the woods where he had a clean shot, but missed the first time. Realizing then that the coyote was moving, he aimed at the head and got the next one in the side with two quick shots. He heard Sarge yelp and took one more shot, hitting a second one before he swung the light to where Sarge was having it out with one coyote while another attacked him from behind. Afraid of hitting his dog or a cow, Michael ran closer and shot the one that had Sarge by a hind leg. It was hit in the head and fell, still struggling. The other coyotes were headed for the woods now, so Michael emptied the rifle at the departing shapes, one getting hit in the hindquarters. It fell and struggled to get up, but then got away, running on 3 legs. Sarge was still snarling and chewing on the one he had by the throat, his second kill.

That last one was dead, but Sarge wasn't finished with him. Michael yelled at him and finally convinced the dog to let go. There was blood all over the dog, and he limped as he came to Michael, keeping a wary eye on the now still coyote on the ground. Headlights lit the pasture for a second, as his parents turned in the driveway. Michael waved the flashlight in their direction and called his Dad. Jeff dived out of the truck at he sight of the bloody dog and drew his pistol as he ran toward his son. Lynn was close behind, carrying the .30-30 they kept behind the seat of the truck.

They all met amid shouts to each other about what happened, and the tale came out. Michael was scared his dog was hurt badly, and Jeff and Lynn were scared the boy was hurt, but in a matter of seconds they established that the dog was the only one injured. They made their way to the house where they could check over the dog. Michael hugged the dog, but got growled at when he hit an injury. Lynn was ready to shoot the dog, until they all calmed down a little. Michael had blood on his clothes from hugging the dog who had a lot of blood on him. Sarge was limping heavily, and looking over his shoulder at the woods when they got to the back porch and Jeff turned on the porch light.

Jeff looked over the dog and found a cut on his shoulder bleeding a little and another one low on his hind leg. Neither looked too serious. Michael pumped some water in a bucket and the dog drank greedily. When he finished, Lynn had gotten an old towel from the kitchen and dunked it in the water to wipe blood off the dog. It was mostly on the surface of his shedding coat, and came off easily. Jeff looked him over and said, "Looks to me like he did a lot more damage than was done to him. That's mostly coyote blood, because he's not bleeding anywhere near that much."
Michael said, "Yeah! He killed two of 'em Dad! I got the one that bit his leg, and I shot 3 others that died, but another one I shot got away."

Lynn told Michael to get cleaned up, because the sight of the blood on him was unnerving her. He went in and changed his shirt, then at his mother's direction, put the bloody shirt into the sink to soak in cold water. Sarge was wiped down and let in the house, limping badly. Michael went upstairs and got the old blanket that the dog slept on and brought it down to the kitchen. Sarge gratefully laid down on it, staring at the back door with a bloodthirsty look, some remaining drying blood on his snout making him look pretty fierce. They all heard some faraway yips in the woods and Sarge gave a growl the likes of which they had never heard from him before. He finally laid quietly and licked his sore places.

Jeff watched him attend to his cuts and said, "We could put some ointment on the cuts, but he'd lick it right off. Better to let him alone to tend to them himself. Neither of them are deep enough to need stitches. I'll see the vet tomorrow and get some antibiotics for him. I should have some on hand anyway. He's had his shots, so he's not in any danger there."

"Dad, I want a bigger rifle," Michael announced. I shot 4 of them and one got away. I don't want any of 'em getting away next time. I want to kill all of 'em!"

"Calm down," Lynn said, "They're gone now."

"No they're not. They're just hiding in the woods. They'll come out again, and I want to kill 'em. The .22 isn't big enough. I hit 'em but they didn't die right away. I want a bigger rifle. They hurt Sarge, and we are going to kill ALL of 'em! He can find 'em, and I can shoot 'em, and that's what we're going to do!"

Jeff said, "The first thing is to get you calmed down some, and then get Sarge healed up. Then we can go look at some better medicine for coyotes."

Lynn said, "Michael, settle down now. We'll talk about this later. You and Sarge get ready for bed. We'll get the groceries put away and I'll get some hot chocolate going.
Jeff told her to start the hot chocolate and he would get the groceries. Soon they were all in a better frame of mind. Doing simple things like putting food away had its' therapeutic effect, and the hot chocolate helped, too. In an hour, they were all in bed, Sarge having gamely limped up the stairs to Michael's room, so Michael got his blanket from the kitchen and they tucked in for the night. Sarge had some dreams that woke Michael a couple times with his low growls, but the boy spoke to him and he went back to sleep.

A week later, Jeff woke early in the morning, made some instant coffee and turned on the computer. He checked the farm market sites, and then the financials. Zerohedge, a financial trader's site, had several worrying articles. One said that a US rating agency was talking about downgrading the credit rating of the US from AAA to AA because of the burgeoning National Debt. He had previously seen several reports that China was unhappy with US debt and the increasing money supply that was eroding the value of the US dollar. Today, there was a piece about China buying up commodities of many kinds, even some farmland and mining properties in other countries, all while they were selling US securities to pay for them. The numbers were big. There was talk about what would happen if China decided to dump US Treasury Bonds, and speculation that it could cause the dollar to crash. Others said China would not do anything to damage the lucrative US market for Chinese goods. That debate raged on.

Meanwhile, other articles debated how much more "Quantitative Easing" the Federal Reserve Bank would do to bail out banks and goose the economy. Jeff had decided that this was even simpler than printing money. The Fed just made digital entries in various accounts, with other entries that supposedly "laundered" the newly created cash they had "lent into existence" by creating loans to their favorite banks. The collateral for those "loans" was garbage left over from the housing boom and bust. It was money created from thin air, and everyone knew it. It was just a matter of time before that money found its' way into the commodity markets and caused real goods to rise in price.

Jeff cussed under his breath, and Lynn heard him. "What's got you going this morning?"

"Just what we need! Dilute the value of the dollar, when people are hard up already. It never did work, it just put the problem off until later. I better talk to Dad about his money. We will get a big round of inflation from this, and it's is going to hurt savers the worst."

"Then we better do something too. We still have some money in the bank."

"Yeah, I'm thinking about it. We have to keep enough to take care of farm expenses, and some for emergencies, but we had better get some things done, ASAP."

Michael and Sarge came down the stairs, Sarge not limping nearly so badly now. Lynn looked out and said, "We had a shower of rain last night. The yard is a little muddy by the driveway."

Jeff answered, "Yeah, doesn't look like I can disc that ground today. We'll find something else to do."
The kitchen filled with the wonderful smells of bacon frying, hot coffee, and toast.

When breakfast was over and Sarge and Patches fed, Jeff asked the boy, "You want to go shopping today? We need to go see Micah about some things."

The boy's face lit up as he said, "Yeah! When are we going?"

"As soon as we check the cattle, and get ready, I guess. Hon', do you want to go?"

"I'd better, to keep you two under control. It's not safe to let you run loose in that bait shop."

Jeff pretended to pout. "I'm responsible, and you know it. You're hurting my feelings!"

"You'll live over that." She turned to Michael and said, "Jeff says that we are going to have more inflation. They are printing too much money and that will make prices go up. You need to think about what to do with that money from the military dependents' checks. There's about $6,500 in your account now, I think."

Michael responded instantly. "I know what I want. I want a varmint rifle. And a dirt bike would be good."

Lynn shook her head. "I don't know which has the best chance of getting you hurt. Either one alone is bad enough, but both, I don't know. What do you think, Jeff?"

Jeff thought a minute. "Let's do one thing at a time. Let's go see Micah today, and we can get into other things later."

In a few minutes the meal was cleaned up and they were on their way.

Micah was delighted to see them. None of the Walter's ever stopped to just look around. If they came in, they had something in mind they seriously wanted to buy. And they were easy to get along with, too.
"Hi there! What can I do fer ya today, folks?"

Michael said, "I want a varmint rifle. Something to kill coyotes."

It wasn't long before the story was told, and Micah looked at Michael with a lot more respect. He had a little trouble figuring out how to say just what he was thinking. Finally, he said, "Sounds to me like you did pretty good with that .22 of yours. I don't know many full growed men who could hit 4 coyotes before they run off. That was sumthin'."

Michael took a few seconds to absorb the praise.
Jeff said, "I think they really got his dander up when they went to chewin' on his dog."

Michael said, "That won't happen any more if I can help it. Sarge did his part, so I had to help him."

Micah looked at Jeff and asked, "You got anything in mind?" He was looking at the boy who weighed maybe 100 pounds, tall for his age and skinny. The boy would not be able to handle a man size rifle until he grew some more.

"Well, Michael has some money that he has saved, and we are expecting prices to keep going up, so I was thinking that we should get him something his size for now, and something he will grow into. Have you got one of those Marlin saddle guns in .357? That might fit him now, and it's got a lot more thump than his .22."

"Yeah, I got a pretty nice used one. It's got some blue wore off where the old man carried it in a scabbard on a mule huntin' 'coons. But he never shot it much. Killed a fair number of 'coons and coyotes though. They'd see coyote at night when they were out ridin' after the dogs, and he hated 'em like sin, I guess. He had his 'coon light mounted on it with some brackets. Had to get a special scabbard to make room fer the light. That goes with it. I'll show ya."

Micah fetched the rifle from the end of the rack, and said, "I don't get much call for such a rig, but it might just be what the doctor ordered fer you."

Michael took the rifle, finding it a little heavier than he expected, with the heavy long flashlight attached. He pointed it at the floor and worked the lever action open, his parents watching closely.

"Okay. It's empty, so it's safe," Michael said. He walked to the screen door in the back and outside where he closed the action and sighted over it toward the dirt bank behind the parking lot. He let it down and carried it back in the shop pointed straight up, and handed it back to Micah. "I could use it, but it's pretty heavy. Can you take the light off?"

"Yeah, it comes right off like this," Micah said, and unsnapped the brackets. "You wanna try it that way?"

"Yes. Can I shoot it?" Michael knew there was a 50 yard trial range behind the shop.

"Sure! I'll get some shells."
He came back with a box of .38 special ammo and 4 sets of ear muffs and passed them out.
Micah stuck a target up on battered frame and came back. "Okay, you c'n load 'er up now."

Michael laid the rifle on the wooden shooting bench and began to tuck shells into the side slot. "Dang! How many does this thing hold?"

"I disremember, but I think it's about a dozen .357 shells, but those .38 Special are shorter, so it holds mebbe 15 or so of them. It shoots either one, and the .38's are cheaper to practice with."
Michael pointed the gun downrange and everyone put their muffs on. He laid the rifle on the bench rest and began to fire. He shot 3 times and stopped, leaving the lever down and the gun open. He laid the rifle on the bench and looked at his target through the spotting scope. The shot were grouped in a 2" triangle, about 3" below center.

"Not bad fer a first time," Micah commented.

Michael sat down again and shot 3 more, this time all centered but still about a 1 1/2" triangle, with 2 closer together. Michael looked through the spotting scope and smiled. "It doesn't kick too much. How much is it?"

Jeff thought Micah's price was more than fair, and told him so. "Let's look at some other things," Jeff said, "But first, empty that gun, son."

Michael worked the lever until no more cartidges came out, laid it on the bench and picked up the cartidges to put back in the box. They gathered all the things and went back inside.
Jeff told Micah, "I'm thinking he'd want a longer range rifle when he grows into it. What do you have for that?"
From an assortment of .243, .308, .30-06, .270's and others, Jeff asked to look at a Remington 700 BDL in .223. It had a Redfield 6X scope on it, and looked like new.

Michael said, "That looks just like Grandpa's rifle!"

Micah said, "Well it IS just like his, except it shoots a diff'rent shell. I sold yer grandpa that rifle, and the same guy had this'n. He died last year and his widder sold me all his guns. He had 'em both glass bedded and the trigger works polished by that guy over south of town. They are 15 or 16 years old, I think, but I don't think they got shot much."

Jeff looked the rifle over and saw no marks on it whatever. He opened the bolt and the carrier plate had no blue worn off the top. Very few rounds had gone through this gun. He removed the bolt and looked down the bore, seeing a mirror finish. "How much?"

"I give her a good price fer those, but I can go three hundred off list price for the gun and the scope."

"Sold. Now let's talk about a shotgun, in 20 gauge."

They bought a Mossberg 20 gauge pump shotgun with a modified choke barrel. It was a Plain Jane gun with a fairly short stock that had been ordered by a woman and never picked up.

"While we're here, do you have Ruger .22 pistol?"

"Just one, an' it's old, too. It's heavy, cuz it's the long bull barrel, 8 7/8" and it come from the same man as the rifles did."

He pulled out the wood box lined with felt and opened it. Inside was a pristine gun with 4 ruger magazines.
"He was a wood worker an' he made the box. It's got a holster, too, but it don't fit in the box."

"I want to shoot that, Dad."

Micah said, "Go right ahead. Take it out to the range and see how you like it!"

As they assembled everything to go back out, Michael went ahead and laid the box on the bench. Micah said to Jeff and Lynn, "That boy knows good manners with guns."

Jeff nodded. "Yep. We worked on him hard the past few months, and his Granddad did too. I think he's pretty safe with them, but we will have some rules about when and how they get used. We'll watch him close, but Dad has drilled him pretty hard."

Micah handed the boy a box of .22 cartridges and offered to show him how to load it. "I think I can do it. It works like your rifle, doesn't it Dad?"

"Yes, you slide the rounds in from the front like that. That's right. Now, here's how the safety works. He ran through the operation of the pistol and had Michael do it several times, then reminded him that a pistol required more attention to keep it in a safe direction, because it was so short. Michael nodded.

"Okay, we're ready. Go ahead and load it."

Michael sat down and stuck the magazine in the pistol, looked to see where every one was, and then worked the slide to load it. He aimed at the target, holding in both hands, with the pistol butt on the bench. He shot once and put the safety on, laid it down and looked through the spotting scope. He shot another 4 times and put it on safety. He looked at the group through the scope and then went back to shooting until the magazine was empty.

"Now, push the release and let the magazine out, and clear the action," Jeff told him. Michael complied and laid the gun down. They all walked downrange to look at the target and were surprised to see all the shots in a group the size of a dime.

Jeff grinned and Lynnn said, "Where did you learn to shoot like THAT?"

"Grandpa has been teaching me," Michael said proudly. "His gun is different and it's a lot louder, but I can shoot it pretty good. It kicks too much, though. I like this a lot better!"

Lynn looked at Jeff and said, "Well, it looks like he had a good teacher."

Micah was impressed. He said, "Yer folks are right about all the safety things. Now you listen to 'em and be sure you pay attention. I don't ever want to hear about any accidents, okay?"

Michael said soberly, "I will. Grandpa says there isn't room for ANY mistakes, because it can get someone killed."

"That's right. So, you do what he says."

Jeff and Lynn got busy choosing ammunition and had quite a load by the time it was all in the Blazer. Jeff told Micah, "Be on the lookout for some reloading stuff for the 20 gauge and the .357. The .223 is cheap enough to buy new, but I think those are worth reloading."

"I'll do that! Now you folks take care, and thanks a lot for the business!"

The family got in the truck and pulled out of the parking lot. On the road home, Jeff said, "First rule here with these guns is, you don't shoot them on your own until we have had a lot of range time, okay?"
Lynn looked at her son in the back seat to see his reaction to that
"Yes, Dad. I thought you'd say that. I won't mess with them unless you or Mom is there."
Michael didn't look discouraged about that at all. He was all smiles.


Chapter 36 INSIGHTS Late May, 2011

Planting row crops like corn or soybeans is a deeply philosophical activity. There is nothing to do but sit there on the tractor seat and keep following the little groove in the dirt left by the row marker on the last round. Your brain shifts into neutral and flights of fantasy are common. You have to drive fairly slow with an old planter like mine, so it takes time. The only diversion is when I have to stop after a few rounds to refill with fertilizer, or less often with seed. Then I'm off again for another 20 minutes of boring driving.

My mind went to what Jeff had been saying about more inflation coming. He had given me a well reasoned explanation of how this all worked, but when I tried I couldn't remember all of it and got bogged down with missing information. One thing I saw clearly was that the more money there was in circulation, the less it would be worth. Jeff's summation was, "too much money chasing too few goods". That made a lot of sense. He said it would take a while for the money the central banks were printing to reach the retail level, so we had some time. But the LAST round of "Quantitative Easing" was still having its' effect, so we would see more or less continuous rising prices. Being an engineer, first, last and always, my mind immediately cut to the chase and asked, "Okay, if that is the problem, what can I do to deal with it?"

I stopped to refill with fertilizer. If I did that every 6 rounds, I never ran out in the boxes. I dodged the acrid dust as I poured the granules in, smashed the bag flat and put it back on the wagon under a full bag to keep the breeze from blowing it across the field. The seed boxes were still half full, but I topped them off anyway and got back on to do it again. I spun the wheel sharply using the steering knob, hit the left wheel brake and turned it on a dime to line up for the next 2 rows. This old 2-row planter was slow, but very reliable. It seldom missed dropping a grain, and planted very evenly spaced, a matter of the notched mechanical plates that were geared to the wheels.

The sun was warm on my back, and the engine purred along. Soon I was back in that vegetative mental state. What to do with our savings now? We had a quite a bit left from the silver sale, only having spent about $21,000 on the solar system, portable welder, and other things. Our bank balances, adding up checking and passbook savings came to around $88,000. If we left it there, inflation would eat it. Groceries had gone up 20% to 30% in the past year. I was too afraid of the market manipulation in silver, gold, and even worse in stocks and bonds to invest in anything like that. We had to keep some money liquid for normal farm operating expenses, but that was less than $10,000 a year normally. Last year Jeff had said to put money in the farm for feed, seed, machinery and parts. We did that, and now had to figure out what to do with the surplus. We were too old to be starting a new business venture, but should be saving money for our old age. If we saved, it inflated away. AAGH! My mind was going in circles.

Okay, then I'll just have to stay in business and keep MAKING money. It was the only thing that made any sense to me. It wasn't what I wanted to do, but the alternatives were all bad. But the things that paid the best were those that supplied our needs directly, without having to buy supplies, sell what we produced, then buy what we really needed and get taxed several times on each transction. That is what made the garden such a good deal. We grew it, we ate it. No middlemen to take a rake-off in the process. So. What was left that we could produce for ourselves?

The solar system was more than adequate for our needs. We could add to it, but that got complicated and we were doing fine with it. We had water, and would have a much better system of it when I got the cistern finished. I never planned to pump water with solar electricity; it just took too much power. I had been running the generator twice a day to fill the pressure tank and a couple buckets by the sink. It was a hassle but we were getting by and that would end when we got the gravity flow deal set up. That rquired much larger pipes to get a decent flow rate, so I should go ahead and buy all that plumbing now. I stopped at the end of the field and made a note in my shirt pocket filing system. Pick up the row marker by its' rope, hit the hydraulic lever to lift he planter, hit the left brake and spin the tractor around, drop the planter, throw out the marker on the other side, and I was off again.

I used the hand well pump pretty regularly, since it was there. It took care of outdoor hand washing, watering plants as we set them out, and watering Bonnie and Babe. Two big dogs can drink a lot of water, so I just left a bucket under the pump and pumped it full whenever I went past it. They were inseparable, and were hanging out with Margaret today as she set out some tomatoes, peppers, and cabbage plants. Both dogs had followed me out to the field this morning, but after they watched for awhile they got bored with it and went back to the house.

We had food, lots of it. We raised beef and butchered one when needed, likewise, pork. Our laying hens were on their second year, so Margaret had bought 100 chicks this year and they were pretty well feathered out now. We had them in a temporary pen in the machine shed, not wanting to mix old and young chickens since that could be a problem of competition. That meant I was carrying water to them every day to fill a couple 5 gallon waterers, but that wouldn't last much longer. By late summer, those old hens would get canned up for soup stock and meat for making chicken salad. I'd clean and disinfect the chicken house to get rid of any lice or other pests, then put the new batch in there and clean out the temporary pen. Hmm. A second chicken brooder house would be an asset. I made a note of that. I should buy some metal roofing and hardware for building that. I could cut a few logs and have Jeff saw it up this summer. I needed to cut some firewood anyway. That building wouldn't cost much.

Let's see, we had fruit on the farm. There was an old orchard with apples and pears back by the old homesite that I kept in shape. We could use some new trees there, so I wrote that down--semi dwarfs that would bear pretty quick. We had blackberries by the bucketfull growing in the fencerows and along the edge of the woods. Margaret kept a strawberry patch going, transplanting the runners every couple years to a new spot. It would be nice to have some cherry trees, or maybe the bush variety that grew so fast. I wrote that down. My memory wasn't what it used to be.

I was close to finishing up planting soybeans, so I had to concentrate on the little triangular patch at the edge of the field. Soon I was on the way to the barn lot with the planter. I stopped at the hand pump and dumped over the empty fertilizer boxes and tossed a bucket of water in each one to wash out the corrosive dust. I unhooked the planter and left it in the sun to dry, then returned to the field to get the wagon I had used to haul seed and fertilizer, then went back to the barn with it to put away the leftovers. The wagon got soused with water to wash off the fertilizer dust, and left to dry. I went to see what Margaret was up to.

"You can help cut potato seed if you aren't doing anything else," she informed me
"That sounds better than some other things I can think of. Let me get a cup of coffee and I'll join you."

I returned with a steaming cup and a paring knife to sit beside her on the patio.
"It's plenty warm out here today," I commented.

"It sure is. We need a shady porch for this kind of thing."

"I don't see a good place to put a porch on an underground house, or I'd be having one."

"How about a gazebo over toward the garden? There's always something to do with garden stuff out there, and the pump is close to wash things off."

"That makes sense. The dogs will be underfoot there in hot weather if it's shady."

"They're always underfoot no matter where I am. Won't make any difference."

At the moment they were under one of the big trees beside the house, up on a little higher ground where they could see the whole place if they got one eye open.

"I've been thinking about what to do with our money. Jeff says we'll see more inflation and it could get pretty bad in a year or two. If we leave it in the bank we're losing money because prices go up faster than the paltry interest rate. Need to spend it on what we will use, I think, at least some of it."

"I could use something better to drive. I love my old Subaru, and it has got me around even in the worst weather, but it's old and you said it needed some work."

"Yeah, it's probably time to trade it off. You thought about what you might want instead?"

"Well, something that gets good gas mileage, and it should be 4 wheel drive like the Subabru.
Since I retired, I seem to be hauling a lot of things, and I don't like your truck. It's too big and hard to park. I was thinking about one of those little trucks, maybe a Toyota. Lynn likes her truck, but that thing is huge like yours."

"We can go look around and see what's available."

"I've been looking around on the internet. There's a couple used car sites that individuals advertise on. I think I can find something there, because there are so many more to chose from than a car lot. If that suits you, I'll get serious about looking."

"Fine by me. Might look for a newer truck for me, too. You know about what I'd want, pretty much like my old GMC, but younger."

We got the late potatoes planted and went on with our separate jobs. She cleaned up the gardening tools and began to work on cooking while I brushed some oil on the planter parts that were likely to rust, then put it and the wagon in the machine shed. After supper, Michael and Sarge came walking in through the back pasture carrying the new rifle I'd heard about. He'd come the short way through the woods, but I hadn't heard any shots so the coyotes must be keeping their distance.

We killed some time that evening at the picnic table shooting across our pasture at a newspaper hung on the barbed wire fence. Some might worry about letting their kids roam the woods alone, but with that dog along and his rifle, I had no doubts about his safety. I did drive him home later, since it was getting dark.

Jeff and I talked a little about how to invest money before I went back home. We concluded that if we could find somebody who was already into making biodiesel, we should work something out with them, since that looked to be better done as a big operation. For myself, it made sense to just get another diesel tank and buy some before the priice went up too much. Jeff had already done so, but I hadn't seen it and learned that was because it was underground. I had read on the news sites that Iran was getting some guff about their nuclear program. That made me think that more diesel storage was a very good idea, because any time the wind blew the wrong way in the Mideast, the price of oil went up.

I had a pretty good list of things to work on for what to do with our savings. It took some serious thinking. Any fool can spend money, but if you wanted to get the most out of it, it took time and planning.

Chapter 37 WHERE WE GO SHOPPING June, 2011

Our grain crops were up and growing, hay was getting taller, and the garden was growing madly. I spent a lot of time with the tractor and cultivator keeping the weeds at bay. Long ago, I had begun the practice of using the corn planter to lay off rows in the garden so I could use the culivator on the tractor to keep most of the weeds out of it. It took a lot more ground, but we had plenty of room. Half an acre for garden out of 110 acres doesn't seem like that much. Hoeing was thus restricted to working between plants in the rows. We could get over the garden with hoes in a day, some in the morning and the rest after the sun got low in the evening and spend the heat of the summer days doing something else. We had some potato bugs, but otherwise no big problem this year. I got the Rotenone dust out and fed them a liberal dose while the dew was on one morning so it would stick to the leaves.

I put my stuff away and washed up outside, then went in for mid-morning coffee. Margaret had found a truck she liked up in Columbus, Indiana, about 50 miles away. The owner worked 3rd shift and would be home this afternoon she said, so we planned the trip. She had lunch fixed to take along, because neither of us was fond of fast food. Home cured ham sandwiches, a covered plastic bowl with sliced tomatoes (she had two plants she had started in February), some of her homemade bread and a big jug of iced tea were put in the back of my truck in the tool box. There was a nice rest park on I-65 near Columbus where we planned a picnic for lunch. I picked up cash from our hidey hole in the root cellar room, and off we went.

It wasn't a Toyota she'd found, it was a 2001 Chevy S-10 ZR-2 that was 4WD. It had an extended cab, but a short box, so it wasn't all that long and she liked the extended cab. It also had a fiberglass bed cover that locked. She thought that would be great for grocery shopping in bad weather. It had the 4 cylinder engine and 5 speed, so we thought it should get decent gas mileage. It was hard to tell about condition from photos online, but the truck was pretty nice, with only a few small dings in it and some rock chips. The great thing was the low mileage. It showed 62,000 miles and this truck was 10 years old! The owner lived in town, and drove to work at a local factory, which made that mileage reasonable. At least, he drove it until he got laid off, and had no luck finding another decent job. His 3rd shift job was as a night watchman that paid minimum wage, so they had decided to sell his truck and become a one car family to get some cash.

She drove it, she loved it, and we made a deal. We drove to the local license branch and did the paperwork and got a temporary tag for it. When we had paid the sales tax and license and title fees, she drove it home for a grand total of $5,600, about $1,200 below the going price for this model. The truck was in very good condition and had no issues that I could find. It did need a set of tires, badly. The owner told me to change the oxygen sensors soon, because they were due. This one had 2, and they cost about $100 total. Over the next couple weeks, Margaret feel deeper in love with the truck, as she found she was getting 26 MPG driving the country roads and some highway travel. She put an ad up on the bulletin board of the Family Kitchen restaurant in town to sell the Subaru, and it was gone in 3 days, for $1,800. We had gone from a vehicle that had 180,000 miles on it to one with 1/3 of that for under $4,000. Okay, I spent another $400 on tires. No problem. My wife was happy, so I was happy.

Finding a truck for me was a lot more trouble. I despise buying vehicles. I don't like to haggle. I don't like car dealers, either. If they can get you to pay the sticker price, they will. If not, they will dicker down to some minimum price. To me, that means they are trying their best to steal that difference in price from you. I don't think they have much more claim to high morals than a thief with a gun. Maybe I'm being too harsh on them, but that's what it feels like to me. In my mind, they rank right up there with investment banks, politicians and other lawyers. I don't begrudge anyone making a living, but I don't want them to make ALL it from me.

I didn't want anything close to a new truck, because they had so many electronics on them they cost a fortune to repair. I got a 2003 and it was still full of electronics. We found it 60 miles north of us, this time at a car dealer, but big trucks were not selling very well, and he was ready to haggle, so I decided that if I had to do this, I would do my best at it. I paid $9,500 for it, a Ford F250 Super Duty 4WD, with standard cab, the tow package and 351 V8 gas engine. The good part was, it only had 72,000 miles on it. The dealer had serviced it, and it had fairly good rubber on it. I talked him out a used 2" ball hitch for the receiver, too, and made him fill it with gas since we had so far to go home. He didn't like me very much when we left, but that's okay, I didn't like him either.

I knew it was something of a gas hog, but I didn't drive a truck very much. Unless we were going to haul a load, this one would stay home. And it would haul a load if we needed to. It came with one of those removeable hitches for a gooseneck trailer, and a receiver hitch, as well. New, this truck would cost a fortune, but I had vowed to never buy a new vihicle again. Let someone else take the hit for all that depreciation. I was some surprised after a few 50 mile trips to find that it got about 18 MPG, but then, being an old man, I drive like an old man and that helps.

I put it to work right away, hauling home a bunch of pipe, a load of sand and some bags of mortar to begin work on our cistern. Building that cistern kept me off the streets and out of the bars for the next 3 weeks. When that messy work was finished, I paid Michael 20 bucks to pressure wash and wax my "new" truck for me, and he did a nice job of it. Then he made another $20 doing my old GMC, inside and out wash job, but no wax. The rust didn't need it. It did look a lot better. Margaret got busy putting up ads around town to sell it. I stocked up on filters for my new/old truck, and changed some sensors on it, too. It needed shocks, but that could wait until I got the hay in.

When Nathan and Jeannie came over to help with the hay, we made a deal on the old GMC. He liked the drive train, a 292 six cylinder and granny gear 4 speed, and said he wasn't busy in the shop so he would get busy doing a restore on it while his old Dodge was still running. The next time I saw it was in their shop, and it was spread all over the place.

Lynn got a call from Micah one day who told her that he had found some reloading stuff they should come look at.

Small gun shops like Michah's couldn't afford to stock everything, even used items. Credit to buy inventory was hard to get now. Worse, with demand dropping, borrowing a lot to finance things you may not sell fast enough was a short road to bankruptcy. So they had begun to cooperate like realtors, forming a network that agreed to help each other and split the profit on slow moving items. It did not include the most popular things, but it did help satisfy demand and keep them in business, the originating shop always being the seller of record to satisfy legal requirements. The buyer was simply directed to the shop where he could get what he wanted, and a phone call netted a finder's fee for whoever found the customer. It didn't always work out, but this time it did.

Micah's finds were at two shops, one in Bedford, and another near Columbus. Each had emailed photos and prices to Micah who printed them out for Jeff and convinced him it was worth the trips to check them out. The first one had the the old shotshell reloader, a cheap old MEC brand, but in good working condition with 20 gauge tooling. It came with several bags of plastic shot cup wads, a couple bags of #6 shot, several hundred primers, 3 pounds of 700X powder, and a big garbage bag full of empty shells. There were a lot of odds and ends of tooling in the box. Later, Jeff figured out it was a vast assortment of bushings and slide bars for powder and shot dispensing, and a complete set of tooling for 12 guage shells, as well.

The other dealer had an slightly rusty RCBS Rockchucker press that came in a box with an assortment of old dies, a powder scale, measures, and other odds and ends at a lot price just over what a new press alone would cost. He had also offered a 20mm ammo can full of .357 brass for a separate price. Other calibers had become more popular now, so the price was reasonable. Jeff bought a 2 pounds of Herco powder, and the small pistol primers. He had one box of 100 jacketted hollow point bullets, and 500 cast lead bullets for practice loads.

Jeff went back to Micah's shop and complimented him on his thoroughness, getting them set up to reload for a modest cost. He bought a new reloading manual from Micah at retail price, and had him order more shotshell primers. There were a few other things Jeff thought they would want, but he'd look into that later.

After talking to Micah and doing some research on the net, Jeff thought it would be okay to let Michael reload the shotgun shells with direct supervision, but he took the whole box of centerfire reloading equipment to his Dad who had a .357 revolver, and worked out a deal. He gave the equipment to Alan in exchange for doing some reloading for them. He knew that Alan had the temperament for the more exacting process. It would be a good winter pastime for him. Alan was beaming a smile when he left, looking over his new toys.

Jeff had too much to do right now. The crops were laid by for a while, but he already had the old 9N Ford tractor torn down and was in the process of rebuilding the engine and doing other repairs on it.

When Jeff left the box of reloading equipment, I saw it needed attention to stop the rust on it and farm matters were pressing. I put the whole works in a plastic tote and poured enough oil in it to cover it all, then put the lid on. I would deal with it later. I did take the time to look over what dies were there, and found a set for .223, .308, .44 Special/.44 Mag, .45 ACP (Jeff had one, so he would like that), and some more obscure ones like .32-20 and .35 Remington. There were dies for .222, .270, and .30-06, but none for the newer favorites like .22-250, 6mm Mag, or .300 Winchester Mag. I deduced that this came from an old fellow, probably a shop owner at one time. No way to know for certain, but it looked like they had stopped getting new stuff about 30 years ago. The press might even be that old. There were some old Lyman bullet molds in there, too, for .38 and .45, and one for .30 caliber, plus some more I didn't look at. There was a pair of handles for the molds and a lead ladle, and some odd parts I didn't recognize right off, and old Allen wrenches and such. It looked like someone had just raked off the shelves from some old guy's reloading bench. The powder scale and a case trimmer I took to the house for closer inspection, after spraying them down with LPS. I left them on the patio until the stink died down some, them put them in plastic bags before stashing them in the storage room. I had never done any reloading, but a friend of mine had for years, and I watched while we visited a few times, so I had a lot to learn about this.

Just now, we had things to do on the farm, and I still had some things to buy. I wanted a big fuel tank, and I did not like the idea of burying it. All tanks leak eventually. I knew this for a fact. The gas stations had to dig one up after 20 or 30 years, and now there were big fines to pay if one leaked, and they had to dig out the polluted dirt. Not for me. So, I was trying to figure out where to put more diesel storage, and if possible have it out of sight yet accessible. It couldn't be in a building, but nothing said it couldn't be behind a wall out of sight. I had to think on it.

I came in from cultivating the corn and soybeans, another mindless task, and sat down in the shade of the big trees in the side yard with a tall glass of iced tea. The phone rang, naturally. I answered it, since Margaret was down at Lynn's.
Nathan was on the line and asked, "Are you still in the market for a milling machine?"
"Yeah, I haven't had much time to look for one, though."

"Since we incorporated our shop, we got on everybody's mailing list, so I get these auction flyers. It's industrial auctions, where factories and machine shops are going out of business. There seems to be a lot of that going around these days. Anyway, there's an auction in Scottsburg next Thursday, and they have 4 mills listed. They don't look junky, but they ain't new, either.
There's some real nice other stuff there you might want. They have a magnetic base drill I could use, so I'm going. You wanna ride along?"

"Hmm. That sounds okay to me. You got any idea what they might sell for?"

"Well, not really. But you can look on eBay and see what they are going for there. Here's the brands and model numbers. You got a pencil?"

"Just a sec. Okay, go ahead."

I dutifully checked out the sort of thing they had for sale, and decided I could afford one. Vertical mills could be any price, but the Bridgeports and imitations of them ran from about $1,200 up to well over $20,000 if they were near new and had digital readouts and all the bells and whistles. I would be comfortable spending a 2 or 3 thousand dollars on one in useful condition. Then, there was the tooling to go with them, which could cost more than the machine. I did some window shopping on eBay to get a feel for what that stuff cost, too. I planned to take the checkbook and spend up to maybe $5,000. We set up the trip to get there early, so we could be ready to bid. Nate said those industrial auctioneers don't waste any time, so you REALLY had to be on your toes.

He was right. Three small lots were sold before I got a chance to bid on them. The mag drill sold pretty early, and Nathan snatched it up for $150. He whispered in my ear that the drill sold for around $2500 new, so if other things went that cheap, I'd better get busy and buy some stuff. I did. Typical of auctions, the small lot things went first, small cardboard boxes of drill chucks, machine collets, clamp sets, taps, drills and other cutting tools. I bought 18 or twenty boxes that mostly went for under $20 each. By the time they got to the milling machines, I had bought a really nice 6" mill vise, a 12" rotary table, some angle plates and 5 boxes of milling cutters. I had spent about $450 so far, which was dirt cheap--the vise alone cost $500 new. I let the first milling machine go, since it had the shorter model table. It went for $900, and I thought that was really cheap, but I wanted one with the 42" table. I bought the third out of 4 that sold, reckoning that I'd let other bidders fight over the first two and the strategy paid off. Only two others bid against me, and let me have it for $1,200. I thought it was the best of the 4 machines, too. We had checked them out and found that one had fewer dings and less wear on it.

We watched the CNC machines sell. The first one had brisk bidding up to about 1/3 of retail price and then stopped dead. The second one sold about the same way. The 3rd one didn't sell, because it didn't get to the reserve bid price, and likewise with 2 other costly machines. Apparently, nobody was spending much on industrial equipment now. I knew a lot of the machine shop owners in the area, and there were only 2 at the sale. Two others I didn't know had bought the CNC stuff, and everyone else there seemed to either be farmers or metal scrap dealers. This could be my chance to get things really cheap, I thought.

The auctioneer moved to the inspection and precision tools next, where I bought a few things that were too good to pass up. Then, they went to another building to sell a couple stamping presses. They went to the scrap dealers, for about $80 a ton. That building had their stamping die shop in it, and my attention went to a very nice old surface grinder that nobody seemed interested in. A scrap dealer I knew bid it up to $80 and quit. I bought it for $85. It was still wired up and I had turned it on earlier. It ran smooth and quietly like it should. Less than a dozen people were following the auctioneer now. I saw a farmer acquaintance buy a huge old metal lathe for $800. These were fire sale prices.

When it was over, one of the riggers there to move machinery wasn't getting any business, since two of the bigger buyers had brought their own means to haul machines. I got my mill and grinder moved home and set on the floor for a total of $400. I don't think that paid much more than expenses for the mover, since he had an employee with him and a big truck, a low trailer, and a forklift on it, but he set the price. I had spent $2,135 and bought two very good machines that cost about $35,000 new. The machine shop business must be going straight down the drain, I thought. I learned later that I was right. Nathan looked thrugh his pile of old auction flyers and counted 5 factories and 23 machine shops within 60 miles that had bankrupted and sold out just this year alone. There was one from a bankrupted machinery dealer in Chicago, too, something I had never seen in over 40 years in industry. Most of Indiana used to be called part of the "Rust Belt", where many factories were located. Now, they were closing in droves and truly becoming simply rust. No wonder unemployment was high. Those jobs were not coming back any time soon, because a lot of the machinery was being scrapped out and the metal sold to China.

I recalled that over the past several years, our town had lost a wood cabinet factory, a furniture factory, and a garden implement factory, totalling over 600 jobs. One commercial sawmill had shut down, and 2 pallet makers had closed, so a lot of loggers were out of work. The remaining two factories in town had both downsized. One of those made car parts and lost about 35 jobs out of 300. The other made parts for lawn and garden equipment and had been reduced by 80% or more, losing close to 200 jobs.

I had not really thought about how many good jobs had gone, because it happened a little at a time. But I had seen more foreclosed homes and closed retail businesses. Our economy was pretty sick. I hoped I was making the right decisions spending what money we had.

A couple months ago when the earthquake and tsunami in Japan trashed their nuclear power plants, we had no idea it would impact us in Indiana, but it has. It seems I can't get our old computer fixed, because Japan doesn't have enough electricity to run their factories, so there are no parts available. I didn't grieve too much, since we could buy a new laptop far cheaper now, and it had much more memory plus all kinds of other feature upgrades. The best part was, it would run on 12 volts directly, and save a lot of that expensive solar power for us. Don't get me wrong about this, because I think buying any sort of new electronics is a major pain. I don't really know what I'm getting, I can't fix it if it breaks, and I have no idea how it works. But it is the only sensible way to get news now, among other things.

So, I bit the bullet and got a new HP laptop, a midrange model, and paid a good penny for it. After I took the battery out of it and hooked it to our 12 volt supply, my Doc Wattson* meter said it was using 24 watts of power! That beat the socks off our old tower style unit that gobbled 150 watts. It was a lot faster, too, but our satellite connection speed still limited the performance online. I got a new HP printer, too, but it was a power hog in use. The good part was, we didn't print very much, and we could do it mostly on sunny days so it didn't drain the battery bank. This technical upgrade for us had many advantages, but it still cost me $1,400, including all the software we bought. With any luck, this one should be good for a few years. I sighed and resigned myself to computers being a high maintenance item.


Chapter 38 BUILDING THINGS July, 2011

Jeff sawed steadily for almost a week with Lynn offbearing the lumber as it was cut. He was replacing some lumber for himself that had been diverted to other uses, doing a custom job for a neighbor, and sawing the few logs I had taken him. I hauled my share home with the tractor and wagon, and began the gazebo first, since I was under orders for that. We elected to leave the oak unfinished and laid a floor of red concrete paving blocks over sand and 4 layers of black plastic to keep weeds from growing in the cracks. I could always pour concrete over it if that seemed to be a better answer, and this went fast. The roof was green painted metal and high enough to let a good breeze go through. I put a layer of crushed stone around the water pump on the well to keep the mud down there, and laid a path to the gazebo with it, too. It may grow some grass in the gravel, but it wouldn't get muddy and I could mow over it. Any time the yard fence needed work, I moved it closer to the house, so the cows ate the grass and I had less to mow.

As soon as I got the gazebo finished, we moved the picnic table in there and had the family over for a 4th of July cookout. I grilled some barbecued pork ribs and chicken, and baked early potatoes wrapped in foil in the coals along with some sweet corn cooked in the shucks. Margaret does make some killer barbecue sauce. The women had iced tea and lemonade, coleslaw from new young cabbage with homemade mayo using our own eggs. We had some ice cream for desert but everyone was too full to eat it for a couple hours after the meal. Michael had his buddy Trent over to eat with us and to show off his marksmanship, making appropriate noise for the 4th. Sarge came down with his folks and joined our dogs in a game of takeaway the bone when we gave them the leftover rib bones. We adults sat in the shade and held our bellies for a while, sipping cold drinks and discussed how to solve all the world's problems before dark. To coin a cliche', a good time was had by all.

All good holidays come to an end, as did this one. Soon I was back in the very hot sun laying out the concrete forms to pour a floor for our new chicken brooder house. I didn't have Nathan and Jeannie's youthful ambition to run a concrete mixer, so the next day I called the Ready-Mix truck. I got some anchor bolts set into the wet concrete and called it a day. It was too hot for an old guy to be doing a lot out in the sun. I went to the shop and got acquainted with my milling machine. It wanted a new drive belt and some cleaning and oiling, but otherwise was just fine. Both machines I bought had 3 phase motors, so I had ordered a solid state converter to allow running them with my single phase generator. I got that wired in and made sure everything ran right. I had ordered some grinding wheels for the surface grinder, and a fixture to sharpen milling cutters. I got those unpacked and put in place. This winter I could get deeper involved with that.

I wanted to give the concrete a couple weeks to harden before I would start the carpentry work, so in the meantime, we put up the second hay cutting. Jeff and Lynn had been busy building their corn cribs, so we didn't see much of them. Jeannie had said on the 4th that Nate was well begun with work on my old truck, now theirs. She was doing the body work, since she was the sheet metal expert. He had the engine block and head back from the auto machine shop and was building the engine back. The frame had been towed to the sandblast guy down the road from their shop and cleaned to the bone. It sat now with new primer and paint, new shocks and brakes, and was ready for the body to be set back in place, but Nate wanted to put the engine and tranny back in first.

That young man was a worker. He wanted to get the truck back together in case they got more work into their shop, so he was working day and night on it. Two capable people can get a lot done, working 12 hours a day for 3 weeks and subbing out the big stuff. Jeannie even had the tires all dismounted and the wheels sandblasted and repainted 3 coats. It was going to be like a new truck when they got finished. She said the haymaking was a nice break from work! Huh. Remind me to never try to restore a truck if haymaking is easier.

Last month, Margaret had sold the old Subaru and used the money to treat herself to a new sewing machine, a Janome treadle machine with all the goodies. I got appointed to mount it in the cabinet of her old Singer she had found at an auction. Now she was taking breaks in the cool house during the heat of the days, and getting acquainted with it. Mornings and evenings we did the garden work when it was cooler. Indiana temperatures don't seem all that high, but the humidity is murder, so we tried to not overdo it in the heat. I stayed with that plan when I began building the chicken brooder house, getting up early to use the cooler mornings.

It took both of us to get the wall frames set up, but from there on I could do the rest. I had a roof on it and all the siding before we got the first rain shower on it. I still had to cut out the windows and install a door, but the worst of it was over. It was pretty well buttoned up by the end of the month. I planned to let the green lumber cure in place for another month before I put strips on the cracks in the vertical plank siding. I didn't plan to paint it until next year so it would be good and dry, but it was close now. Yellow Poplar siding dries fast in the sun. On the next run we made to Rural King, I got a 5 gallon bucket of white barn and fence paint for it. There was a little trim work to do yet, but I went ahead and put the new batch of chickens in it by the end of July. They wanted outside in the worst way, so I proceeded to run the connecting fences to the other chicken lot. Fencing is another job best left for cooler weather , but at least I had gotten the posts set back in the early summer when the ground was softer. The birds loved their new home. It was time to start culling the roosters out and can the meat. That could wait a few days. So could cleaning the chicken manure out of the machine shed where they had been. I still hadn't hauled the manure out of the cattle's loafing shed this year. Shoulda done that back before crops went in. Oh well. I'd get to it this Fall. We were tired.

I spent the next couple days cleaning up the construction mess, chainsawing the scraps to fit in the wood stove, and hauling off some trash to the gulley I was trying to fill in on the back of the place. Margaret enjoyed breaking green beans and cutting corn off the cob in the shade of the gazebo. The pressure canner ran for days. She moved the canner out to the gazebo and had bought a gas hotplate burner for it that ran on a 20 pound gas bottle. It kept the house a lot cooler without running the cool tube fan so much. The canner scarcely got a break before we were canning chicken. I selected the two best looking roosters and kept them. I wanted fertile eggs, just in case there came a time when baby chicks were not available.

We said we were retired, but we never worked harder in our lives.

John William's website, Shadowstats gave the unemployment rate at 23% and inching upwards, and the inflation rate at around 7%. His inflation rate is measured like the official rate used to be, using prices of a "basket of goods" that still included housing and fuels. We saw higher increases than that in grocery prices, and were thankful we produced so much of our own food. The Dollar Index was at 76 and still sliding lower. That made all the imported foods go ever higher as the dollar bought less abroad. We noticed that other folks' grocery carts had less in them than normal, but many people, especially the younger ones, still bought a lot of convenience foods at high prices. Then we saw them at the gas station putting 5 bucks worth in their SUV's.

Wages were not going up. The general public was being slow-cooked by inflation. Times were getting tougher, but too many people didn't seem to know how to deal with it.

Jeff, Lynn and Michael had their corn cribs framed up and under roof by the time the County Fair came around. Michael had some very nice vegetables to enter in the 4-H club exhibits. He had tended them carefully and been to all the club meetings, but was pretty lackadaisical about filling in his project record books. Lynn had to get on him several times to assure he had the records ready to turn in on time. He came home from the fair with a couple blue ribbons for his efforts and was pleased as could be.

Michael had been really good help at home, so Lynn thought he deserved to have a couple days at the Fair with his friends, some of whom had livestock there and were sleeping in the livestock show barns. Michael got to spend a night with Trent and his pigs, and learned about washing pigs and keeping them clean for the judging. He had a grand time, but declared that pigs were not his favorite critters. When they got back to work on the corn crib, he asked his Dad if they were going to have pigs, and after learning that Jeff planned on it, he had less interest in the corn crib. It was, after all, intended to hold feed for pigs. He did, however, want to learn about carpentry work, so he applied himself to learning how to drive nails in the tough hardwood. There were a lot of nails to drive, so he got plenty of practice.

Chapter 39 AUCTION DAY August, 2011

The consignment farm equipment auction had an ad in the paper that Jeff and I both noticed. It was a regular thing, held 4 or 5 times a year. He called me and asked if I wanted to go scout what they had to offer on Friday evening before the sale on Saturday. We drove over there and looked for an hour or so as some latecomers unloaded things to sell and got checked in and had their stuff tagged. We walked down the rows of machinery and miscellaneous junk. It seemed like people must be getting hard up for money, because too much of it looked like it had been dragged out of the fencerows, and still had the mud and a few weeds on it to prove it. Anything they thought would bring a dollar was up for grabs.

We saw some decent machines, though, and looked them over good. Jeff wanted an elevator for ear corn, and a corn sheller. Both were pretty much antiques now that everyone was handling shelled corn from combines, but we found two of each. One elevator had seen better days, but the other was pretty good. Both corn shellers had a lot of rust, but one looked to be solid. They were the same brand, so Jeff made a note of that. It was stuck, however, so we didn't attempt to free the main shaft, hoping that would make it sell cheap. Jeff would have to put 2 new bearings in it no matter what, since these things are so old, so he planned on that. The fan looked okay, and the sheet metal was sound. On down the way were some homemade wagons, mostly junk with a fresh coat of sloppy paint that didn't disguise the poor condition. We walked on.

There were the usual 3 wagons full of old rusty socket wrenches, busted log chains, dented buckets of old hardware, rotten gasoline hoses, and old barbeque grills. The next wagon had a big pile of imported Chinese junk tools. There were a couple piles of well used tires, a stock water tank that had an obvious crack at the bottom seam, and a whole row of old fuel tank stands. Beyond those were 2 round fuel tanks, 300 gallon size, that interested me. Rust was the issue here. I lifted the lids and smelled diesel pretty strong in both of them. If they had been in use, the diesel would prevent rust on the inside. I found a stick and poked it in the filler hole, rubbing it around on the inside. I didn't see any big rust flakes on the stick, so I put them down as a possible.

Jeff wanted to see a hay rake in the 3rd row, so we walked down the gravelled hill to it and had a look. It was the large wheel variety that typically went for less money than the beater bar style. The rake tines on the wheels had some damage, and several were broken off. The bearings in the wheels were loose and dry, not having had any grease in a long time. I told Jeff I could make bronze bearings for it if the price was right, and he couldn't find originals to fix it. He nodded and said it would have to go pretty cheap to be worth fooling with, and I agreed.

In the back row by the fence were the tractors that we passed by without interest, then walked on through the lawn mower and ATV section. Nothing outstanding there, so we had a look up front at the tillage equipment, where I found a good looking 12 foot disc cultivator, an old John Deere, that had been sitting in the weeds for a while. The cultivator discs were rusted where it had been sitting a couple inches in the mud, but otherwise it looked usable. The hydraulic hoses were old and dry looking, but the bald tires were holding air and it was lifted up, showing that the hydraulic lift worked. I wanted a bigger disc, so I wrote down the tag number.

It was getting dark, so we made for the truck and headed home, planning our strategies for the next day.

Jeff bought both elevators for a total of $670, the better corn sheller for $260, and I got the 2 fuel tanks at $80 each, all cheap. There just didn't seem to be any money at this sale. Last year, things had gone a lot higher and the crowd had been bigger. This time, most of the crowd was either hanging around the small stuff on the wagons, or eating at the food concession. When bidding got around to the disc, I figured I had done well enough to bid higher if necessary to get it. But bidding went slow for a long time on it, starting at $400, which it would bring for scrap iron, then inching up by $50, then $25 increments to $850. One guy was still hanging in there. I let him think he had it, and when the auctioneer called "GOING TWICE!", I bid $900 and the other guy quit. That was cheap enough for it, and the auctioneer was not happy with me. He had hoped to do his usual nickel-and-dime bids to get it up higher to boost his commission, of course.

I hung around long enough to buy a couple of the fuel tank stands, both in poor condition, for $25 each, on a "Your Choice of the Lot" bid. We ate at the food stand and waited for some of the crowd to leave before trying to load out. I saw a couple equipment dealer trucks load up the same tractors I had seen there last year, and they still took them home unsold. Looked like they didn't do too well today. Once the lanes opened up a little, I drug in my truck and small trailer, and loaded both tanks in the truck bed on end, and both stands on the trailer, with some difficulty. Jeff got the fellow with the high-lift to load his corn sheller in his truck and backed up to the better elevator that had air in the tires. I let him go out first, and followed him home on the back roads with my 4-way flashers going. We got home well before dark with no problems and considered it a very good day.

Jeff said he'd take the tires and wheels off the good elevator and use them to bring the other one home later. That gave him time to hunt for some good tires and still get them moved fast. He was planning to part out that one anyway to keep his better one going. It would be a job to get the old one taken apart, but he said he had a boy that need some wrench experience, and it would store better in a pile in the machine shed.

This haul had Jeff in pretty good shape for handling his corn and the ground feed he would make with it, already having found a grinder/mixer last year. The equipment was all old, but serviceable, and with his small operation he wouldn't wear it out any time soon. The bigger disc meant that I could cover ground faster and make better use of the bigger tractor I had now. He had used my hay rake for this year, so he had all winter to get this old one in shape. It gave us more flexibility to be able to each have our own machinery. He would still use my haybine to cut his crop, but they cost far too much for his small acreage so that made sense. He had an old sickle mower that came with the farm if he needed to use it to cut hay, as a backup plan. Overall, we were both in pretty good shape now. Jeff had the 9N Ford tractor engine back together so he could use it now, and was doing small preventative repairs as he had time to get it in top shape. By working together, we had enough equipment between us to handle things in difficult weather, and cover any breakdowns. That was a good feeling for both of us.

Michael got enough wrench experience over the rest of the month to qualify him for farm mechanic work, and Jeff got the corn sheller in shape with new bearings, sandblasting, and two coats of paint. It was ready to rock and roll when he needed feed. The temperatures had been in the 90's, with humidity to match, so working in the shade was a big help. He found a parts supplier on line that provided new bearings and teeth for the hay rake, then Michael got some painting experience, too. Just over a year ago, Jeff's place had been a real mess, but now it looked like a good operating farm. It was as fast a transition as I had ever seen. True, he had the money to put in it, but he had done a vast amount of work to get there. It showed on him. He was a lot leaner than last year, and he looked tired a lot. I'd put a bug in Lynn's ear to try to get him to back off a little. It as almost time to cut tobacco, but maybe he could have a couple easier weeks before that.


Chapter 40 HARVEST BEGINS September, 2011

July and August had been very dry, after record setting early rainfalls in the Spring and early summer. It had been difficult to get hay in between downpours, and erosion had been a problem in places. But our soybeans and corn had done very well, and the dry weather had the beans crispy dry, ready for the combine. Oliver Rice had agreed to run our beans when he was in the neighborhood, since he had the adjacent farms rented, and most of the ground on down the valley. He finished the beans on two farms in the West fork of the upper valley and came to ours late one evening. We had no grain wagons, so he brought 4 of his to shuttle the beans to Jeff's bin as he worked.

Oliver was there early, fueling the combine from the tank on his pickup, and greasing everything while he waited for the sun to burn off the last of what little dew there was on the field. "Looks like these beans are dry enough so they'll keep without heating in the bin. It's all dry this year. At least that meant I don't have to run the grain dryer so far on any of mine. Saves a lot of money, not burning all that gas."

"That's good for us, too. There is still some gas in the tank on Jeff's place from 2 years ago, but I'm thankful we don't have to buy more."

"Yeah, LP went up 20 cents again, just in time for harvest. The Co-op quoted me $2.19 a gallon a while back, but I ain't buyin' any until I know I will need it. Things are pretty tight this year. I'm hauling everything I get in the valley here to the elevator anyway, since I'm filling a contract for 10,000 bushels I made last Spring when it so wet and I locked in at a good price. That's going to save my butt this year, 'cause the bank said they won't loan me any money above operating expenses."

"I'd heard that credit is really tight now."

"Tight ain't the word for it. I been doin' business with that bank for 25 years on signature notes, and now they make me use some CD's to back my operating loans. I showed 'em I was making over 20% return on investment this Spring and they said they can't loan money on less than 30%! It sure plays hell with my business this year." He wagged his head with a bitter expression on his face.

"Sounds like you are going to come out of it, though," I said.

"Oh, I can make it this year, but this old combine is about shot. I priced a new one and it just ain't happening. The money just ain't there. The metal is gettin' mighty thin in places on this one, so I'll have to spend the winter workin' on it to be able to farm next year. After that, I dunno. These old gravity wagons are wore out, too. I'd love to have a couple of the new big ones, but a used 300 bushel wagon is over $5,000."

"I heard other people saying the same things. That guy up at Brownstown that's so big in farming, I heard he was in trouble this year."

"Johnson? Yeah, he ain't goin' to make it. The bank done took back that second new combine of his, 'cause he couldn't make the payment on it, instead of rollin' the note like they always done. He said now he can't harvest all he's got out this year. That was a stupid move by the bank. But nobody ever accused a banker of havin' any sense."

"I hope he can get through it somehow. Maybe get help from those other big guys up around Seymour?"

" I think they're all in the same shape. Runnin' like a hamster on a wheel, gettin' nowhere. Farmin' now is a money game, an' if you ain't big in the money, you ain't goin' to make it. I think I may cash it in after this year, if I can come out with a whole skin. Depends on how things go. I've got enough corn contracted to cover the payments, an' I know the corn did good, some over 175 bushels an acre, according to the survey guy that estimated it. But it takes 130 bushels to cover expenses. I paid $165 a bag for seed corn this year, and that is 50 pounds, not a 56 pound bushel bag like it used to be. Won't quite plant 2 acres a bag. Fertilizer went nuts last Spring, they say because of the price of potash from Canada, but anyway it's makin' it a hard go to make a buck on corn. The chemicals are high as the moon, too, and you can't skimp on them doin' no-till, or you'll pay for it with weeds cuttin' your yields. There just ain't no slack in it now."

Jeff showed up with his tractor to ferry wagons, and hitched up to the first one.

"Dad, I got the auger checked out and ready," he said. "If you move wagons, too, I think we can keep up with him."

Oliver started the big combine and began to cut beans. After one trip around the field, he dumped his bin and was off again, having half filled the grain hopper wagon. The second round yielded more, being away from the fencerow, so he finished filling the first wagon and Jeff took off with it. That 16 foot grain head cut a big swath. Jeff wasn't back yet with his wagon when I took off, so on the third round Oliver dumped into one of the other wagons sitting there. I met Jeff halfway to his place and waved as we passed. He hurried on.

By the time Oliver had finished the 10 acres, 3 of the wagons were full and I was just returning with the 4th one as Jeff left the field with a full one. Harvesting the beans had only taken a couple of hours. Oliver shut down and began to go over his combine, greasing again, topping off his fuel and checking for any problems.

"Looks like you did good," he said. "I tried to put right at 100 bushel to the wagon to keep track, so you got right at 600 bushel off this. Looks like this field is about 10 acres, ain't it?"

"That's what we call it. I think that's right. That's 60 bushels an acre. Better than I hoped for."

"I bet you made money on it, too, since you're plowing and cultivating instead of no-till and saved the spray cost. You small farmers are prob'ly makin ' more than I am. I handle a lot of money, but I don't get to keep much of it."

"Well, plowin' ain't free, but yeah, I think I did all right. We're not going to sell them anyhow. I'm looking into biodiesel, but I'm not sure yet if we'll do that."

"I'd have liked to do that, but I can't get the money, and I'm not sure it would pay enough, unless I could find a good market for the soybean meal. The feed companies try to keep a lock on that, so they can make the money on it. You'd likely have to feed the soybean meal to make out at it."
"That's how we saw it. I have to look at it a little more. If we can make it work on paper, we'll see, but I think we are too small to make it work out."

Oliver was under the combine and not happy.
"This thing is leaking. That cover is wore through on the auger. You got a welder, don't you?"

"Yeah, just got a new MIG last week, and I've got the stick welder."

"This is sheet metal, so it's a MIG job. Take a look at this and see if you think you could fix it. I'll pay you whatever you want for it. I don't want to have to take the part off and go to town. It'll kill the rest of the day."

A quick look showed the metal had worn thin and finally had a crack big enough to let grain leak out. Oliver drove the rig up near my shop and we set to work. I found a scrap of old sheet metal and got him ready to go again in less than an hour. He took some off his bill for the combining and I paid him in money.

"Thanks for fixing that. Saved me a lot of time. And thanks for paying me now. I won't keep the money long, though. I'll go to town for lunch and get the diesel tank filled and that will take care of the money right there."

I watched him drive the combine out and thought about what he'd said about the big farmers. They were operating on a pretty skinny margin of profit. If anything went wrong, they had a big problem.

Later that month, a local branch of an area bank got in trouble with some shaky investments they had made which took their cash reserves below the Federally mandated level. They began to call in loans, a stipulation that was in most mortgages and loans but hadn't been used for decades. The bank was up against the wall, so their customers got sacrificed on the altar of banking survival. Thankfully, Oliver didn't do business there, I learned later, but many other farmers did. Among them were two of the farms in our valley. They were small farms who rented ground to Oliver. The owners had mortgages that were called in and, unable to pay off the entire balance and likewise unable to find other financing, the foreclosure axe fell and the owners were evicted before we even heard about it. They had been current with their payments, but that meant nothing when the bank called in the loan. The first indication we saw was a moving van leaving one morning and a paper pasted on the front window, now barren of curtains.

Neither of the families had been farmers, but ordinary working couples who were buying the properties like they would have bought a home. With two incomes per family, they had been in good shape to do that. Few people even realized that their mortgages were "callable", but most were. Now, with the bank being the court decreed owners, Oliver's cash rent payments went to those banks instead of the original buyers. He explained this to me one day when I saw him at the feed store where I was buying vet supplies. We both shook our heads at what we saw as gross injustice.

"That ain't the only ones that got hit, either," Oliver said. "There's a couple building contractors that lost homes they had built with buyers waiting, but they still had construction loans on them and those guys are bankrupt now. There's some houses in town and several in the country that's gone, too. I heard that when some guys were talking down at the restaurant this morning. That's going to hurt this county. It killed some jobs with those contractors and who knows what other miseries. It makes me think I don't want to be in debt anymore. I'm goin' to look at how I can cash out and retire early. I'm gettin' too old to start over. I think we could make it just working the home place for a couple years until I turn 62 and could start Social Security. If I can get some stuff sold, I'll be doin' that. To hell with a bunch of banker snakes! I ain't never been late on a payment in my life, and I ain't goin' to give 'em the chance to do that to me!"

I was never so glad that we had made it a priority to get out of debt. We saw some odd things happen in the weeks to follow. One thing was, the sign on that bank had a new name on it, having been taken over by a larger bank. From what I heard by the grapevine, local farmers and business people would not have anything to do with them. They subsisted on individuals who liked their new low mortgage rates, and free checking accounts, I suppose.

Our bank announced out of the blue that they were changing their name. The rumour on the street, presumably from an employee, was that they had merged with another bank in Indianapolis and "needed a new name to better reflect who we are". We had some trouble getting some big checks cleared there in the past year, so Margaret and I smelled a rat and closed our accounts there. We moved them to a smaller bank that we knew was locally owned and in much more sound condition, in fact, they had the best rating of any in town, according to an internet rating service.

We resolved to only keep enough money in the bank to pay certain bills as they came due, and kept more cash at home. We didn't keep all of it in the same place, either. Our old bank was still okay are far as we knew, but we felt a lot more comfortable. Some folks wouldn't be comfortable with keeping a lot of cash at home, but if we kept our mouths shut, who was to know it was there? We were both raised on horror stories from the Great Depression of the 1930's and had an innate distrust of banks. What we were seeing happen now sounded too much like what our grandparents had told us about.

We had other things to think about, too. Jeff said he was going to start cutting tobacco and would need all the help he could get.


Chapter 41 THE HARVEST GOES ON October, 2011

"Kids don't want to work any more," Jeff complained. " I called everybody I knew and couldn't find a kid that even knew what cutting tobacco meant. Hank will be out in little while with his friend Rich. They haven't cut before, so I told 'em I'd pay 'em by the stick, and they were all right with that."

I told Jeff I couldn't begin to keep up with him in the patch at my age, but I'd do what I could.

"That's fine. I'm glad to have somebody out here that knows what we're doing. You can show Michael how it works, and in a year or two, he'll be good help. He's just not quite big enough yet to do this all day. Lynn has cut before, although it was a long time ago. She's coming out for a while, but said she may not be able to hang in there all day. It is hot out here today."

"Oh, we'll get it done," I told him. "It might take another day, but I doubt it. Depends on how much we try to hang in the barn today."

'I'm not going to try to hang any today. I'll be glad to just get it cut. There isn't any rain due until next week. As long as we get it in before it rains and gets mud splashed on it, we're fine. Me and Lynn can hang it in a day or two. We don't have to hang it all the way to the top tiers because that barn was built for a lot more than one acre."

"I can hand it up off the wagon, so if you two can get up on the tier poles, we can go 3 tiers easily."

"You'll get all the dirt and worms falling on you," he laughed.

"I can stand that better than falling off a tier pole from 12 feet up," I told him. "That's why I quit tobacco a few years back."

Jeff got serious and said, "I'd sure appreciate the help if you are willing to do it. Saves me money and you know how to handle it without tearing it up."

"Be glad to help. You got knives and spears for all of us today?"

"Yeah, we found enough in the old barn. They were rusty as all get out, but I took a wire wheel to 'em and got it cleaned off. I sharpened everything, but I brought a file out in case we need it. There's a hammer in my truck to drive sticks with. Michael, if you'll drive the truck for me, I'll scatter sticks down the outside row so we can get started. There comes Hank and Rich, so we'd better get going."

Michael crept the truck alongside the tobacco, idling in low gear so Jeff could drop bundles of sticks, one about every 10 or 12 feet. There were 100 sticks to the bundle, and Jeff had set about 7,000 plants in the acre patch, so we needed about 70 to 80 bundles of sticks. They started back on the other side of the patch doing the same and ran out of sticks, so they went back to the barn for another truck load. There were only 36 rows of tobacco, but they were 200 yards long on the edge of the field, the rest of which was in hay. Lynn had come out and we were already cutting when Hank and Rich showed up. I spent some time showing them how this worked.

"Drive your stick at a slight angle toward you. That will make it easier for the stalks to lay on the ground when they are on there. Put your spear cone on top of the stick, and you're ready. Now grab the knife with your thumb through the leather loop so you don't drop it, hold the stalk in the middle with the other hand like this, being careful not to break off any leaves. Stand with your opposing foot behind you so when you swing the knife it can't hit that leg. It's sharp enough to cut you bad, so be careful! Swing the knife fast, but not hard. Let the momentum do the work. Cut the stalk low, so you don't damage the bottom leaves, like so." I chopped off the stalk, still holding with my left hand halfway up.

"That spear will go right through your hand, so let's not have any of that, okay? We don't care how long this takes, but we don't want anybody hurt today. Just hold the bottom of the stalk with your right hand at the butt, then set it on the spear about 6" up from the cut end. Your thumb in the loop will keep you from dropping your knife. Roll the stalk until you are sure the spear point is in the center of the stalk, and push down with a jerk."

We heard the familiar crunching sound of the stalk splitting over the spear, and I slid it toward the bottom of the upright stick.

"Leave the first stalk about a foot off the ground. That will help keep your stick from toppling over. Now, cut another stalk and do the same, but this time, swing the stalk away from you to keep the stick from falling sideways. They should form a Vee about 2 feet apart. Push the second stalk almost down to the first one. Now your stick is stable. Keep alternating which way you angle the stalks and stop when you have 6 or 7 on the stick. We want enough room on the stick to let the stalks be separated for air flow in the barn."

They two men made a good effort at it, and were careful not to hurt themselves or the plants. After they cut a few stalks, both stopped to watch me do it for a minute and tried again. Rich had a stalk off center on his spear and it split out to the butt end, falling off the stick.

"HMPH! Guess I ruined that one."

"No you didn't," I told him. "Try it again, only roll it until you are at the center of what you have left of the stalk, and put it on the spear point a little farther from the butt this time."

His next try was successful. After we had gone a dozen yards, they were getting the hang of it. Each of us were cutting 2 rows, to give working room between each of us. Michael got schooled by his Dad for a while and then cut a few stalks with Jeff watching closely. Then Jeff sent him to me to work a while under supervision. I was glad for a break by then.

Lynn was cutting 2 rows like she knew how this worked, and Jeff bent into it as well, easily outdistancing the rest of us. The 4 of us cutting were taking 8 rows as we went, so we made progress, but Rich, Hank and I were slow. I was taking turns with Michael, and after a while we began to pull ahead of the other two. Jeff and Lynn were far ahead of us when my old GMC pulled into the field, sporting brand new red paint. Jeannie hopped out and Nathan unfolded his 6 foot 6 inch frame from the cab and headed our way.

"Heard you needed some help today, Jeff," he yelled across the field. "Got some more knives and spears?"

Jeff looked up, sweating profusely, and said, "You can have mine!"

Jeff and Lynn came back our way and Lynn said, "Yeah, Jeanie, you can have mine, too! Naw, we got more in the truck. Speakin' of trucks, where'd you get the new truck?"

Jeannie said, "You know as well as us that it's Dad's old GMC, but it does look better, doesn't it?"

Nathan and Jeannie were rightfully proud of the job they had done, and indeed it sounded like a new truck when they drove it in. Not a squeak nor a rattle anywhere, just the quiet purr of the engine.

Nathan smiled at the compliment and said, "Well, I'd sell it if you wanna pay new price for it. What? No takers? I guess we'll just have to keep it then."

Jeannie and Nathan had both cut a lot of tobacco growing up. Lynn fetched them some knives and spears. They shared a hammer to drive sticks and got busy. While some of us took breaks in the shade and got some cold drinks, others kept cutting. Before lunch time, we had cut 14 rows across the field and were well started on 14 more. We took a long lunch of cold sandwiches, a fresh salad and plenty of cold drinks, then rested a while in the shade to let it digest. Hank and Rich were just about keeping up with the rest of us now. Michael and I took frequent breaks and helped scatter sticks for the others. By 4:00 it was all cut and wilting satisfactorily. Hank and Rich agreed to come back the next day to load it on wagons for hauling to the barn.

The next say, Michael drove the tractor pulling wagons to give his sore muscles a break. I used some liniment on mine and took my place on the wagons in the barn, handing up the heavy sticks of tobacco to Lynn above me, who in turn, handed them up to Jeff two tiers above her. As the upper tiers filled, things went faster with two people on the bottom tiers of poles. Nathan and Jeannie took positions passing sticks along the tiers to fill the ends, then Nathan gave me a break while he handed up sticks with both hands to those above him. We had it all hung by midafternoon, and all of us extra hands were on our way home.

Only Hank and Rich were paid with money. Within the family, Jeannie and Nate would get paid this winter when we butchered beef and pork, and took home a freezer full. Jeannie helped Margaret can our garden produce for a share of the take, and Jeff and I traded farm work as needed to make things work out. Lots of things changed hands among us without any money involved. Nathan gave us a hand with some metal work now and then, and if he needed a hand in the shop, he would get it.

We had 3 or 4 weeks to do some less strenuous work before corn picking began. When the corn was safely in he cribs, it wouldn't be long until the tobacco was ready for stripping off the leaves to go to market sometime in December.

I decided that this would be my last chance to haul manure, and cleaned the loafing shed using the front loader on the tractor. The first couple loads I scattered on the now cleared garden, then took the rest to the soybean field where I intended to plant corn next year. The soybeans were nitrgen fixers, that took nitrogen from the air and stored it in nodules on the roots, enriching the ground. The manure would also provide nutrients and greatly reduce my need for fertilizer on the corn crop.

My manure spreader was small enough that the old MF 135 could pull it. That saved a lot of hitching and unhitching, because I could get off one tractor and load with the other. I put a topping of chicken manure from the machine shed and then the empty hen house on several loads until that was finished. It took a long afternoon to get all I could out of the loafing shed with the loader, so I put off the hand work with a pitchfork and scoop shovel until the next day. The cows stood in the shade of Red Cedar trees nearby and watched complacently while I cleaned their shed. Cows seldom get excited about anything, unless it involves food or a bodily threat to them.

The first of some light rain showers came the next day, watering the manure nutrients into the soil. When that dried up a bit, I would run over the ground with the disc to incorporate the manure into the soil somewhat and cut up the bean stubble, making it easier to plow down next Spring. I pressure washed the manure spreader and left it out in the rain for a rinse. Later in the week when it was well dried, I put some fresh paint on the worst of the rusty parts. The adjustment to take up wear in the bed chain was just about maxxed out. I'd have to loosen it all the way and remove some links the next time I used it. I needed to replace the spreader, but I had some time to find one.

Margaret yelled at me to come to the phone. I had never found it necessary to get a cell phone, so my life was pretty peaceful as long as I was out of earshot of the house. Instead, I carried a multitool with good pliers on my belt, and a small flashlight. They had both been far more beneficial to me. Oliver was on the line, and asked if I was interested in any equipment he had, since he was selling out as soon as corn harvest was over. He had found a buyer for his second farm, and would only be keeping his home farm of 80 acres. I agreed to go look at what he had the next day. He would be doing maintenance at home for the day and would be right there with all the equipment.

I called Jeff and told him what Oliver had said. The only thing we could think of we might need were his gravity wagons to use for soybeans. They wouldn't be useful to us unless we also got a combine, a major investment. Oliver's combine was much too large for our small acreages, and besides, he said plainly that it was pretty well worn out. We would have to look elsewhere if we wanted to get into that. We agreed that all we needed was one of the old pull type combines that were common 50 years ago and driven by the tractor PTO. Any of the self-propelled ones that came later were too big and too much maintenance for only 20 to 30 acres a year. The problem was finding one in good condition, then being able to find parts to keep it running. Jeff suggested looking at the big Amish auction at Montgomery, Indiana next Spring if we hadn't found one by then. If we could get this going, we could grow winter wheat and improve our crop rotations, besides having the wheat for our own use. We both liked that idea.

Meanwhile, we were both trying to decide if we should get into the biodiesel thing or not. If it could be done on a suitable scale, it might make sense. All the heavy farm work was done with diesel fuel in the bigger tractors.

Oliver's home farm was on the high tableland along the highway, so we enjoyed the leisurely drive through part of the forestry up the big hill and out of our valley. The hardwoods were starting to turn colors after a recent light frost, the Maples fiery orange on top, blazing red Sumac, and warm browns on the Oaks and Hickories. The Poplars had lost a lot of their leaves, but some bright sunny yellow ones remained. Most of the lower part of the trees was still green, making a beautiful contrast. Jeff was relaxed, slumped in the seat watching the scenery as I drove slowly through the winding gravel road on the ridgetop to relish the sights and smells of Indian Summer on the warm Fall morning. It was little disappointing to reach the open highway.

We found Oliver high on top of his combine when I drove in, changing the air filter on the engine. He had blown out the screen over it with an air hose, and dust was everywhere. A light breeze through the open rolling doors of the machine shed slowly moved the dust cloud outside. There was a hose from the engine oil drain down to the floor where a 5 gallon bucket collected the dirty engine oil.

"Hi Alan! Hello Jeff! I gotta start running corn this week. It's dry enough and no telling when the rains will start in earnest, so I'm gettin' ready," He said. Oliver climbed down the attached ladder by the cab and came our way, wiping his hands on a shop rag.
"You can just look around and see what you might be inter'sted in. I'm keeping the old John Deere 3020, and a few other things. Just enough to run some hay and a few feeder steers here at home. All the grain equipment is fer sale."
I told him, "Okay, we'll look around. You go ahead and do your work. We'll come see you if we need to." He nodded and we walked outside. Jeff and I had a look at the gravity wagons, old Killbros hoppers on good wagon gear. They had the expected amount of rust and dents, but nothing bad. We had used these with our beans and found the discharge gates worked okay, although they could use some work. The tires were all worn, but not weather cracked too bad.

Jeff wandered over to an old set of 4 row cultivators, John Deere toolbar style that was 3 point hitch mount. They were rusty and hadn't been used for a long time. Just beyond that was a 4 row planter to match, clearly what Oliver had used when he just had the 3020 John Deere tractor. Jeff was interested because his Massey 165 was about the same size tractor and would handle those. That would let him get the work done twice a fast so he could easily raise a lot more corn and soybeans, I thought.

We walked around Oliver's big grain truck and back in where he was working. I asked him, "Have you decided what you want for your gravity wagons?"

"I'll be using them 'till I get done this year, but I was thinkin' $1,200 apiece. I've seen 'em go higher, but mostly lower than that. How many would you want?"

Jeff and I looked at each other and I said, "how much for all 4 of them?"

Oliver thought for a minute, then said, "If you want all of 'em, that saves some trouble, so $4,000 for the lot. How's that sound?"

"Deal. When you get finished this year, give one of us a call," I told him.

Jeff said, "I was looking at the old 4-row stuff out there, the planter and cultivator."

Oliver said, "They wouldn't bring much at a sale. Ever'body wants bigger stuff now. I got plates for the planter, and the fertilizer boxes are in here somewhere. They look worse than they are, really. I parked 'em on some timbers so they didn't sink down in the mud and rust away. Would they be worth $400 apiece?"

"Would be to me. If you want to dig out the parts, I'll pay you and come get 'em."

"Okay. I got some extra shovels and bolts and such, I think, fer the cultivator. There's a couple extra planter shoes back there in the old corn crib, too. I'll dig out what parts I can find and give you the pile for that."

"Good deal," Jeff told him and they shook hands on it.

"Give me a couple days to look fer the stuff, but you can come get the cultivator and planter anytime."

On the way home I asked Jeff, "You planning to rent some ground and get a bigger operation going?"

"I might rent some, but not a lot. I just wanted to be able to get done faster. That will give me time to do other things, like more sawing, if there's enough business. He's right. There's a lot of life left in that equipment. It has just sat outside and got to looking rough. If I put a couple wagons in the old tobacco barn, I'll have room to get these in my machine shed and get 'em cleaned up this winter. I want to get that stuff home before bad weather, and it's time for us to pick corn, so I better go back today and move this stuff home. Nice day for a tractor ride, anyway."

I agreed that it was a beautiful day for that. It would take 2 trips, since both implements mount on the 3 point hitch. They would take up more than one lane on the road, so I offered to drive in front of him to head off traffic on the narrow county roads. I took Jeff home to eat lunch and get his tractor, and went home for my own lunch. We'd meet at our place and go from there. We had good luck and both made it home in time for supper. I spent the evening greasing the corn picker and checking it over for chain adjustments and anything else that might need attention.

The next day was Wednesday when I began to pick corn. Margaret shuttled wagons until they were all full, then I took a break to help her unload them into the elevator. The weather forecast said we had a couple weeks of clear weather coming, so we didn't have to hurry. I got over about 3 acres that day and we got it all in the crib, then moved the elevator to the next crib so we would be ready to start again in the morning. By Friday evening, the corn was all in the cribs and we had things put away. I could hear Oliver's combine running in the far distance all day and late into the night as he harvested the big creek bottom fields on down the valley. When we shut down during the day that week, I could hear Jeff's outfit going the other direction up the valley, but he finished about the same time I did.

The diesel tanks I had bought at the sale a while back were still sitting upended on some boards out by the machine shed, and the stands were still on the trailer where I'd left it beside them. Terry Sharp had been laid off early this year from his construction job driving heavy equipment. He had acquired a sandblast rig some years ago, and did that in the off season to supplement his income, but this year he had been off work since mid-summer. I loaded the tanks again, hitched the trailer and took the whole works to Terry to clean up. He was glad to get the work and I was happy to get them cleaned right. I stayed and watched him suit up like a fireman going into a burning building, with helmet, hood, and rubber suit. It had to hot in that thing.

He had the small diesel engine warmed up and got a firm hold on the big hose. When he pushed the button to start the sandblast, I was 40 feet away and still got sand peppering me. I backed off a little farther and watched as he cleaned all he could see of both tanks and stands. He shut it off and waved me over to him, removing his hood and helmet. "Can you help me turn these over? I need to get the bottom sides of everything."
"Sure. All the way over, right?" He nodded and I noticed his dark curly hair was wet with sweat, plastered to his head. We go the four items turned over and he started again, hitting all the nooks and crannies he couldn't see from the other side. In a few minutes he had it all down to bare metal leavng a dull frosty gray color all over. Terry peeled off his rubber suit and sat down on the trailer, hot and tired. His shirt was soaked with sweat. I commented that this was a really hot job.

"It sure is! I can't do it in hot weather anymore. I used to, but I just can't take the heat now. Guess I'm gettin' old, huh?"

"Not as old as me, but I don't think I'd want to do that in any weather."

"Oh, it ain't really hard work. I've done a lot worse. It's not bad, really, if there is any air moving, but today is so still I got hot. I knew a guy who did sandblast on them big city water tanks, an' he was hangin' from a couple ropes all day doin' this! I think he musta stayed drunk, er sumthin', 'cause I don't know anybody that would volunteer to do that otherwise. Well, enough of that. You want me to shoot some primer on these? I got the gun set up, so all I gotta do is pour the paint in it."

"That sounds like a fine idea to me."

"It dries real fast, so you can take 'em right on home when I get done."

"Good! Go for it!"

Terry brought out his paint gun and filled it with diluted paint. He plugged in the smaller air hose for the spray gun and donned a filter mask. The painting went faster than the sandblasting. He washed out his spray gun and put things away while we waited for the paint to dry. I asked him what I owed him.

"Oh, I don't know, I used about 500 pounds of sand, an' a quart of paint, an' the time--how long did this take, do you know?"

"I got here about 1:00 o'clock, and it's 3:30 now, so that's two hours and a half."

"That sounds right. Okay, I got about 60 bucks in materials, and I get $30 an hour for the work, so that would be $75. Would $135 be all right?"

"I don't think that's enough. How about $150?" I handed him the money. "You earned every cent of it."

"Thanks. I appreciate the business. If you got any more work, give me a call. Me or my wife is most always around."

"Okay. Jeff might have some work coming up. I'm not sure. But he bought some old equipment that needs it, I think."

"I'd love to do it, so you send him around."

"Oh yeah. We bought some gravity wagons, and we'll get them home pretty soon. What would you want to do one of those, or four of them?"

"FOUR of them? Sheese. I dunno. Let's go by time and material, and neither one of us will get hurt, okay? If I give you a price now I'd have to go high on it to make sure I'm covered. So we'll both come out better that way."

"Suits me fine. I can get them home in a couple days. When do you want them?"

"Huh, for that much, I have to go get a truckload of sand down at the river. Uh, How about I call you when I get back with the sand, prolly day after tomorrow?"

"Okay, you let me know."

Two days later, I picked up two of the wagons and made the slow trip to town. I dropped them off at Terry's and he was ready to go to work. Jeff followed me in with the other two. I spent the next few days getting a heavy coat of white rust inhibitor paint on the fuel tanks and stands with a brush. I cut the stands down to where the tanks were only 8" off the ground, planning to use a fuel pump on them. If I disconnected the fuel pump, it would be hard to steal anything out of them. I had just come up with that idea, so I planned to do my other tanks that way as well. We had missed a little gasoline out of the farm tank a few times, probably some neighborhood kid who couldn't afford gas to run around. If I made it hard to get out, we were less likely to lose any that way.

I had just finished mounting the 2 tanks on the old concrete slab where an old garage used to be, when Terry called and said the wagons were finished. Jeff and I picked them up and paid him $450 apiece, and thanked him for his work. Jeff thought he'd done a fine job for a reasonable price, and told Terry he'd bring the cultivator and planter to him sometime soon.

Michael got to earn some money from me painting wagons as soon as he'd finished the two that Jeff had. We both had them under roof, so he could paint even if it was rainy weather. He got a lot of paint on himself, but he did a pretty good job. Now that he had some mad money, he told his folks he wanted to go to the army surplus store. He wanted some camping gear. He got some great deals, because the surplus store was going out of business, and they had everything marked down. Lynn went along and found some that she could buy clothing for farm work cheaper than she could find it anywhere except the Goodwill Store, and this was much more durable stuff she knew. Michael was tickled pink with a brand new small frame ALICE pack and web gear to match. He also had 2 shelter halves and the kit of stakes, mess kit, and entrenching tool. Jeff found a few items for himself, and they all got a big pile of the wool socks for winter wear. Lynn got herself enough fatigues to last a while, and they found good leather boots for her and Jeff. Michael couldn't find much clothing that fit him at the moment, but Lynn got him a couple suits of fatigues he would grow into soon.

They came home with the Blazer stuffed to the top.


Chapter 42 WINTER IS COMING November, 2011

Our woodpile wasn't as big as I'd like. We probably had enough to do the winter, but I like to have extra of everything. The underground house took very little heat, but it takes a while for wood to dry thoroughly. I like to leave it at least 6 months, after it is split and under cover. A full year is better. So, it was time for me to get some cut. I learned a long time ago that I don't like to handle firewood, or anything else, any more than necessary. I just couldn't understand the people who cut and split firewood in their own woods, then load on a truck or wagon, haul it to the house, unload it, and then carry it inside and stack it in a woodshed. That is a lot of times to handle the same stick of wood.

I liked to cut a tree, trim the brush off and pile it, then drag the whole thing to the woodshed with the tractor. I cut it into blocks there, split it there, and throw it ONE TIME into the woodshed. Stack it and I'm done. Saves half the work and a lot of time, too.

My old chainsaw was big and heavy, but it had a 20" bar so it would cut anything on the farm. I had a little one, too, that is light and handy for trimming off little limbs and cuts up to the size of a soda can, but when it gets bigger than that, I want the old workhorse saw. So, I take both when I go to the woods. Use the right tool for the job, sort of thing. I have an really old 3 pound metal coffee can that has all the little things in it--files, bar and plug wrench, spare chain, extra spark plugs, a quart of bar oil, and that funky little grease gun for greasing the end of the chain bar. One trip gets both saws on the carry platform, another trip gets that old coffee can and a gas can, the 3rd trip gets the axe, a maul and a couple wedges in case I get the saw stuck in something.

I've always worn safety glasses when I use a chainsaw, and always wears earplugs, heavy boots and leather gloves. That's it. You follow all the politically correct safety things--face shields, leather chaps, helmet, and all the rest. I've been doing this for something over 50 years and still have all my body parts. I don't reccomend you do as I do, but this works for me.

That carry platform is just a box with only 3 sides I built, about 4 feet square that fit the 3 point hitch on the small tractor. It was as handy as a pocket on a shirt. It would haul all you need to do all sorts of farm chores, like cutting firewood, building fence, or hauling tools to where your machine is broken down. Pull 3 pins and it sits there until you come get it, while you use the tractor to stretch fence, drag logs, or whatever else.

I drove the old MF 135 with my saw stuff back to the far back end of the farm where there were some trees damaged by the last windstorm. Better to cut them now than let them fall on the fence later. It took careful planning, but I dropped several trees in, or near, a gulley I wanted to fill in. All the brush got piled in the gulley, the bigger limbs cut into manageable lengths, and the logs cut loose. Time for lunch. I hooked a chain to the log nearest the way out of the woods, backed up close to it and tied it to the drawbar. By lifting the 3 point hitch, the end of the log was slightly off the ground so it would not dig in and make a furrow. The weight gave the small tractor more traction and I was off to the house pulling it easily. I dragged it up as close to the wood shed as possible, leaving room for more, and went in to eat.

That evening, I had 7 small to medium size logs, all over 25 feet long by the woodshed. I was tired, so the large limbs and poles from the treetops would have to wait for another day. There was enough wood here to make 4 or 5 ricks (face cords = 4' x 8' stack, of stove-length pieces) and that would probably do us for another winter. The supply of dry wood we already had would last most of the winter, so this would have time to dry by late in the winter if we needed it. I could cut these logs into firewood lengths and split them at my leisure, and stack them away. I took that half a day at a time over the next week and had it all in the shed. The hydraulic wood splitter helped a lot.

It was time to take it a little easier and have some fun. I didn't think Michael had been rabbit hunting yet. Jeff hadn't said anythiing about stripping tobacco yet, so it probably wasn't ready. I called and asked Lynn about hunting and she approved. We'd have to do some target work with him first, though, to get him used to that new shotgun of his.

Margaret told me the scrap pile outside my shop had grown to the point she thought it was reproducing at night. That was a gentle hint to clean up my mess. We planned to go hunting tomorrow, so this morning I began loading the junk in my truck. There was a very old manure spreader at the edge of the gulley where we disposed of trash. It was only a hulk of old metal now, the wooden parts long since rotted away. It would roll, so I hitched the truck to it and towed it to the shop where I lit the cutting torch to take it apart. I wanted to save the steel angles in the frame, the axle shaft, the seat, and the tongue, so I cut those free and put them on the outdoor steel rack I built for my "good junk". When the big steel wheels, chain sprockets, brackets and odd parts were loaded, the bed lowered some from the weight. I gathered my pile of "junk-junk" (useless for any purpose I could imagine) and piled it on the truck. It was a pretty heavy load. I thought maybe it would be worth the gas money and maybe buy my lunch. I had heard that scrap metal prices were up. I had bought things at the junkyard for years, but hadn't sold them any scrap for ages, so I wasn't sure what they were paying.

I drove across the scales at the scrapyard and watched until Joe read the weight and waved me on. One of the yard men waved at me and pointed where he wanted me to unload, so I backed up to that pile.
He came over to help and said, "Not buyin' today, huh?"

"Not unless you got some gold bricks for sale, or something else I can't live without."

"Nah, fresh outa gold today. Got some nice steel fence posts over there, though. I piled 'em up by the fence."

"I'll take a look at those." We worked carefully with the heavy steel, and both wore gloves for safety.

"Okay! Looks like we got 'er! Just drive up on the scales and Joe'll pay yuh."

"Good. I'll come back and look at those steel posts in a minute."

I did as he said, and when he waved at me, I got out of the truck and went inside. Joe laid my weigh-ticket on the desk and began to count out 20 dollar bills. When he got to $300 he had my attention. I kept quiet until he finished, with $441.60. I couldn't believe that was right, and said so.
"Naw, that's right. 3,680 pounds is 1.84 tons. Times $240 a ton is $441.60. Was you thinkin' you had more than that?"

"Oh, no! I had no idea scrap was that high! The last I knew it was around $150. Wow! It's really gone up!"

"Yeah, the Chinese buy it as fast as we can get it on a barge in Louisville. That's why there ain't much layin' around out there in the yard. I been crushin' it and sellin' it as fast as we can get it out of here. Mighta sold too soon. It went up again this week."

"Hmm. What do you want for steel fence posts? I seen some out there."

"I'll take a buck an' a half. That's a little better than scrap price, but not a lot."

"Okay. I'll go see what I can find and come back in. You'll probably get some of this money back today." Joe grinned as I went out to prospect in the yard.

He had half a truckload of steel posts, some of them slightly bent, some a little rusty, but not too bad. The yard man helped me load them and said they came in right after that bad windstorm we had a while back. There was also a stack of pretty good metal roofing off the side, so I asked about that.
The yard man said, "He gits $2 a sheet fer that. It's purty good, too. No rust showin' and none of it's broke 'er bent up. You want some?"

I did some quick math in my head. The sheets were 2 feet wide by 12 and 14 feet long. Some ends were damaged a little, so if I figured 12 feet long for all of it, 4 sheets of it would cover 8' x 12' = 96 square feet. A "square" of roofing is 100 square feet, so that was close enough for estimating. 8 bucks a "square" was a heckuva deal. New roofing cost me over $50/square last summer for the hen house.

I told him, "Let's load it up."

"How many sheets?"

"I'll take the pile."

I bought 64 sheets of roofing and and 67 steel fence posts. I paid Joe $228.50, much to his delight.

New steel fence posts were selling for $4 each for 6 1/2 ft. length. Some of these were 7 ft., but most were 6 1/2 ft. So, just the posts would have cost me $268, and I figured I had about 16 squares of roofing at $50 was $800 new price. I was going home with what would have cost me over $1,000 downtown, AND I still had over 200 bucks in money left over. This had been a good day. I needed to do more business at the junkyard, I thought. I made a mental note to stop there and window shop more often.

On the way out of town, I stopped at Clarence's hardware store and inquired about the price of roofing nails. Yep, they were high as a cat's back. I bought a 50 pound box of those and also got a box each of 8d and 16d common nails, the most useful for me around the farm. They weren't getting any cheaper.

Margaret saw the load in the truck when I got home and said I needed to be supervised when I went to the junkyard, or I'd haul home more than I took in. I gave her the figures on how I came out today, and she reconsidered.

Jeff drove Michael down the next day to go hunting because if he had walked Sarge would have come along, and Sarge was not a hunting dog. He'd have a lot of fun in the woods, but he would drive all the game away from us. Jeff and Lynn had some sawing to do for his neighbor up the valley, Scott Barger, who was Trent's father. I learned that Scott was going to build a new farrowing house and begin breeding more hogs. Jeff hurried home.

Michael and I walked opposite sides of the creek, heading down stream. I had impressed upon him the rule for us to stay even with each other, neither one getting ahead nor behind so that if we swung around to shoot at a rabbit, we wouldn't be aiming at the other person. He'd done very well shooting at newpaper targets, and learned the range of his gun and the shot pattern size. He was a good instinctive shooter, so I thought he would do well in the field. He carried his gun with the safety on, and at low-ready position as I'd told him.

I jumped up a rabbit that ran across in front of me, hopped over the tiny stream and ran in front of Michael. He called, "Mine" as I'd taught him, and swung the gun with the rabbit. The gun popped and the bunny fell. He grinned big at me and then remembered to shuck his gun and put it back on safety, holding it pointed down in the process. He picked up the rabbit and stuffed it in the game bag over his shoulder, actually a pouch he'd found at the surplus store.

I jumped another one that ran my way, and called it. I let it run a little farther out because my old 870 Remington had a full choke barrel, and I didn't want to tear it up with a close shot. I felt a little creaky in the shoulders, but got the gun swung to lead him just enough, and dropped him. I picked him up and stuffed him in the pouch in the back of my hunting coat, then continued down the little creek. I was pleased to see that Michael was waiting on me to resume walking, and glanced at me regularly to be sure of my position. In the next 300 yards, we jumped 2 more rabbits on Michael's side. He missed the first one, but got the second.

We hunted to the end of the creek by the side road that went past our farm on the West side. We agreed to call it quits for the day, unloaded our guns and pocketted the shells. We walked back to the house along the county road, tired of the harder walking in the corn stubble fields. Micheal was proud as could be that he had gotten more rabbits than I did. I was more proud that he'd handled his gun safely, and told him so. When we reached the garden, I showed him the easy way to clean a rabbit, opening the abdominal cavity from rear to front with just the tip of his knife, then holding it by the head and hind legs, cavity outward, give the carcass a sharp swing to one side and all the innards were slung out. We picked up the liver before discarding it, to look for spots or abnomality of any kind, but it looked healthy. I showed him how to trim loose the hide from the hind legs, peel it off each one, then holding the hind legs in one hand, gather the hide at the tail end and pull it off over his head like unrolling a sock. Then, it was a matter of cutting off the head to free the whole hide. I showed him how to break off all four feet and cut them loose.

His first one had some hair stuck on the carcass, but he improved with his second one. We went to the hand pump and filled the bucket to wash our hands and rinse the meat free of loose hairs. After they were as clean as we could get them, we rinsed the bucket and left them in clean water while he found a shovel so we could bury the offal deep in the garden. I told him I didn't want to leave it around in the open to attract coyotes. Our hands were cold as ice by now, so we took the bucket and headed for the house to warm up. Just as I got to the door, I heard a truck coming and looked back down the lane. I thought it looked like Rich Hammond's old truck. We gave Margaret the rabbits to cut up and put to soak in salt water. She had kept our dogs in the house until we returned, but now ran them outside so they wouldn't be a bother to her. I took the bucket and went back out to see what Rich wanted.

He got out and said, "Hello, Mr. Walter."

"Call me Alan. Mr. Walter was my Dad, and he's gone now."

"Okay, Alan then. I need work something awful. I was hoping you or Jeff, or somebody had something I could do."

"I can probably find something for you to do. You've always been good help when you and Hank worked for us before."

"Well, Hank found a job, a part time job working for that big farm up north of town that raises all the turkeys. But I haven't been able to find anything since we were out here last cutting tobacco."

"Mmm, that's bad. You want to build fence? I've got some to do, up until the ground freezes anyway."

"I don't care what it is. We're behind on our rent and are gonna get kicked out, and I've gotta put food on the table."

"Hmm. Well, come in and let's get some lunch and talk about this."

Margaret had a skillet hot and was frying rabbit. Michael knew Rich from working with him and said Hi to him as we sat down at the table. Rich wasn't shy about describing his situation. He was 2 months behind in his rent and would be evicted within a week. His unemployment had run out last summer before he worked for us.

"I got nowhere to go Mr., er, Alan. I've gotta find a place to stay, too. Cindy can't find any work either, and she has our boy to take care of. Groceries are getting kinda thin at home and I've gotta do something."

Margaret and I looked at each other, one of those things an old married couple can do to read each other without saying anything. She knew Cindy somewhat, and liked her. I knew what Margaret thought about this.

All she had to say was, "Michael, would you get the mashed potatoes for me?" When Michael's head was turned the other way, I looked over Rich's shoulder at her and she mouthed silently at me, "Do something for him!"

"How long do you have yet in your place? A few days maybe?"

"The man said we have to be out by Saturday. So I got 6 days, countin' today."

"Okay. Here's two hundred dollars. You stop at the grocery on the way home today, fill up the truck with gas, and we'll get you to work here tomorrow. I have an idea about a place for you to stay, but I have to work out the details. Will that take care of it for today?"

"Oh, man I really appreciate this. I'll do you a good job, and pay you back. We really don't have much left, and..."

I interrupted him and said, "I know your work, and I take you at your word. Eat up, and we'll take care of the rest tomorrow."

Margaret had the same idea that I did. After Rich left and I'd taken Michael home, she had a speech ready for me.

"We can't let those poor people get thrown out in the street, Alan. We have a perfectly good house just sitting there, and I'm not going to stand by and see that happen. He's a good man, and you know you could use the help, and..."

"Hold it, I know, I know. That's what I was thinking. I just wanted to be sure we're on the same page here. We'd have to do something about heat in the old house, because the gas is pretty expensive, but I think there's enough gas in the tank to last until we could get a new chimney put in and a wood stove. I don't know what would be fair to pay him, but we can work that out. Jeff needs some help in the sawmill right now, too, I think. I believe that amongst us, we can keep them going."

Margaret wasn't finished talking. "I bet the reason he drove all the way out here was because he doesn't have a phone. And it sounded like he was short of food, too. We could surely keep them fed, with what all we have stored up there's enough for us, and them, and more."

"Okay, we'll talk it over tomorrow with him, but I'm thinking something like this. We get the electricity turned back on for the old house, get the furnace going, and I'll get the water going in there again. That's just a matter of the valves, but I don't want it to freeze before we have heat in the house. I'll have Rich help do the work and we'll put up a new chimney, probably a stainless steel one that we can run up through the middle of the house. That will go up fast, and we'll get a woodstove in there pronto. After we get them setlled in, how about he works for us for maybe 3 days a week, 2 days to pay the rent, and one day for cash. That way, if Jeff can hire him for a day or two a week, we can keep him going. He should go see Scott Barger, too, because he's building a hog barn. That should get Rich going again."

Margaret smiled, then leaned over the table and gave me a peck on the cheek. "I thought you'd see things my way!"

The next morning I got Rich started driving steel fence posts along the county road. Our field out there had never been fenced and it would give me some options about running cattle out there. I went to town and paid the hookup fee again to have the power turned back on in the old house. They came out that afternoon, since I crowded them about it. By the time Rich came in from work, I had the furnace going and the water turned on again. Margaret and I presented the deal to him. Rich had tears in his eyes, when we shook hands on the deal.

For 2 ten hour days of work per week, he got his rent with the electric and water furnished. After we got the chimney put in, he would have to cut his own firewood and buy gas for the kitchen stove. They got the old garden spot to use. I would hire him one day a week for $10 an hour, his choice of how many hours he wanted to put in. That meant he had 3 days a week to work for other people as he saw fit. We would have to work out what days he worked where, but farming is pretty flexible that way.

Jeff had said he could use him now at the sawmill or cutting timber a couple days a week. Rich was speechless, but nodded his acceptance. I told him to start moving their stuff out to the house when he came to work the next day. There wasn't a lot of it. They got it all in two trips. We'd left our old fridge and freezer in the house, but taken the gas stove, so we set them up with a Coleman stove until we could find another one. Margaret had me move her old automatic washing machine back to the old house when she'd gotten her wringer machine, so I hooked that back up. I found a used gas stove at the appliance repair store in town and had it in by the end of the week. We had new neighbor's. Margaret saw to it that the kitchen cabinets were stocked with plenty of food in them before Cindy got a look at them.

Jeff was glad to have Rich to help, since Lynn hadn't been feeling well lately. Had some kind a tummy bug she said.

Margaret learned that the little boy's name was Jonah, and he was almost 5 years old. He told her so himself. And he loved dogs. Bonnie and Babe had found a new "puppy" in their pack, and adopted him immediately. He got rolled around some by the energetic Shepherds, and loved every minute of it. Cindy acted like she had died and gone to heaven, a country girl who had seen some hard times and was relieved to be out of town again.

She was 32 and Rich was 36, and they had met when they were both taking classes at the Indiana University extension in New Albany. She had to drop out when her savings ran out, and he had been working construction and had to work too much overtime to attend. After they married, things went great for a while, but when the housing bust came along, he lost his carpentry job. She had been working at Wal Mart, but got her hours cut to where her pay would barely cover gas money. She'd taken a job in our town at the grocery, but got laid off last year.

Richard had been out of a steady job since the housing crash. He had picked up a few months work seasonally, but that ran out some time ago. He was a local boy and had grown up in town, working odd jobs as a kid and then getting hired as a laborer for the construction company. He had learned enough to be getting paid as a non-union carpenter.

Cindy was grateful for a place to land on their feet and try to regroup after being so close to being homeless. She was in her element on the farm, having grown up south of town on a cattle farm. She insisted on taking care of the chickens, so my wife agreed. Margaret said she was getting a little stiff on cold mornings when she went outside. Cindy said it got boring spending the entire day with a 5 year old. Margaret told her she could use our computer anytime nobody else was on it and Cindy took her up on it. Margaret was concerned about Cindy driving their old pickup to town in bad weather, because it didn't look all that reliable, so she picked up a $10 Tracphone at the Dollar General Store and searched the net for bargain deals on minutes for it. She presented it to Cindy as pay for helping with the chores around home.

Rich was working steadily now, if not at the same job all the time. The first thing we did was get a new triple wall stainless steel chimney installed in the old house. It went pretty easily, and Jeff's carpentry experience paid off doing it. I found a suitable wood stove at a dealer in New Albany and had Margaret go pick it up. I had enough wood cut ahead that we could share some for now. They shut off the upstairs entirely and we put some plastic over the tall old leaky windows, like we had been doing for years. There was still about 15% left in the 500 gallon LP tank, and with only the water heater and kitchen stove using it, that should last a long time.

We got our front field fenced before the weather got too nasty. Jeff spent 3 days a week at Jeff's, off-bearing boards in the sawmill until Jeff got Scott's order finished. Jeff sent a truckload of sawmill slabs home with Rich to help out on the firewood supply. We cut that up with my old chainsaw, and stacked it on the front porch out of the rain. By then, it was time to strip tobacco, so Rich learned to climb tier poles in the tobacco barn and pass down the sticks to Jeff who stacked them on a wagon bed and removed the sticks.

When Michael got home from school, his job was to count the sticks out into bundles of 100, and tie them up again with hay twine. Lynn seemed to be over her stomach problem, so Jeff figured that he and Lynn could strip the tobacco. Both had done it before as kids. After he and Rich had a wagon load taken down, Rich went to work for Scott Barger building the hog house and farrowing crates inside it.

The first day stripping tobacco went really well. They had the bale press full by dark and set the jack over the press to compact the leaves. The next morning, Lynn was sick as a dog again. Jeff insisted she go to the woman doctor she liked and find out what the trouble was, so he drove her to the clinic. Lynn came out with an odd expression on her face, a little vacant looking, Jeff thought.

She said, "Well, it's not an infection like you thought."

"Did she tell you what it could be?"

"Yep. I'm pregnant."

"Huh? Did you say you're pregnant?"

"Sure did. She did an EPT, so she's pretty sure. I'd had some heavy spotting a couple months ago, but it that wasn't unusual. I didn't think anything about it. It went away and didn't come back so, no problem. Apparently, that's when I got pregnant. It's something of a shock, and I didn't feel good to start with today."

"But, You didn't think you could get pregnant again!"

"That's what the military doctor said when I quit ovulating, that he thought I had gone through early menopause, but she says it was probably stress that kept me from ovulating. I was in a war zone, and then lost my husband, and then Dad and Mom died, and then we got married, and it just kept going. She said that I just got over the stressed times and then nature took its' course again."

Jeff grinned from ear to ear. "We're going to have a baby! For real!" He gave her a hug and asked her if she felt any better.

"She said it was common to have morning sickness, maybe more so since I'm older. I told her I was fine with Michael, but she said not to worry about it. She did say that the tobacco could have caused it today, and that it wasn't good for the baby since it gets absorbed through the skin. That's the bad part. You'll have to get somebody to help with stripping it, because I'm supposed to stay away from it. I do feel some better now, and I'm thinking that I had a reaction to tobacco today."

"Well, I'm happy about it. I hope you are, too," Jeff said.

"I know I'll be happy about it when the shock wears off. There is just so much to think about. I'm 45 years old, and that means a pregnancy is more risky. Give me some time to let this sink in, and I'll be fine. Right now I want to go home. I'm getting hungry."

"Well, that's a good sign. Let's go." Jeff held her hand as they walked to the Blazer.

Since they had Scott's barn framed up, Scott and Trent could work on the siding. Rich and I spent the next 3 days cutting firewood. That filled up our supply to where we had our woodshed full. We had to stack a couple ricks outside under some sheets of roofing metal that we anchored down with big chunks of firewood so the wind couldn't blow it off. He had the next three days off, so I loaned him my old saw and pointed him at some deadfalls that should be pretty dry. He came in with his truck loaded a couple times each day, and used my splitter to get it busted up and then we covered it with tin. He had a pretty respectable woodpile behind the house now. That was a good thing because we got our first snow of the year the next day. It wasn't very cold out, so the snow was wet and heavy, but it would have made wood cutting a mess. Jeff needed him to strip tobacco now, so Rich went back to work there. So far, he had only had Sundays off besides the 3 days this week. I noticed that he didn't look quite so stressed now.


Jeff had given his Mom the big news. Lynn stood there looking a little embarrassed, but smiling.

"How'd that happen? Uh..... I didn't say that. You mean, it's a surprise? You didn't plan on it?"

"OH! It's a surprise, all right. Nobody was as surprised as Lynn," Jeff said.

"Oh, my word! We're going to actually have a grandchild."

"Yep. That's what they call it." Jeff was having a ball with this. I hadn't seen him look so happy since the day they got married.

"What does Michael think of this?"

"Ask him."

Margaret looked at Michael who had been standing behind his mother.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, "I think it'll be neat to have a baby brother or sister. I bet it's gonna be a lot of trouble, though."

Lynn said with feeling, "You got that right."

Margaret looked Lynn in the eye and said, "Are you okay? I mean, do you feel all right?"

Lynn didn't look all that chipper, but said, "I'm having some morning sickness, but it's getting better."

Margaret gave her wide smile and a big hug. "Congratulations! I just know it will all be fine, and you'll love it to pieces."

Lynn said, "Thanks. I did have to quit working on the tobacco, since the doctor said that could make the baby sick, but otherwise, I'm doing fine."

"I have to tell Jeannie," Margaret said, grabbing the phone. "She'll flip out."

Jeff went to the kitchen and started assembling himself a cup of coffee. He knew this conversation could last a while. Just then, Cindy popped in the door, with Jonah right behind her.

"Here's the eggs.... What's up? Why all the strange looks?"

Jeff grinned as Lynn made her announcement. Cindy squeaked out, "Oh! That's GREAT! When's it due?"

"We don't know exactly, but I'm probably about 6 or 8 weeks along now. That puts it in August. I'm not looking forward to being 9 months pregnant in August."

Cindy said, "Oh we'll help you all we can. You can take it easy."

Lynn made a wry face and said, "I think I'll have to do this myself."

Cindy giggled and they both cracked up.
Jonah looked at them all like they had lost their minds. Finally, he asked Cindy, "Mom, why's ever'body so excited?"

Cindy explained that Lynn just found out she was going to have a baby. Jonah thought about this for a minute and then he had a lot of questions that kept Cindy busy for a few minutes.

"YES! THAT'S WHAT I SAID! Yes, isn't it wonderful? Here. You can talk to her."

Margaret handed the phone to Lynn, who went into the living room and sat down where she could hear better.

Jeff and I went outside while the hen party was in progress. I congratulated him and shook his hand. Jeff said thanks and we wandered out toward the shop. He said, "I'm gonna have to hit it a little harder, to make sure we have a good living now."

I nodded and told him, "I do too. I've got to make this deal with Rich and Cindy work out. That means making the farm pay a little better if I can. I think I'm going to get a biodiesel setup and go for it."

Jeff looked up at that and said, "Yeah. You could do that with Rich to help, and make a bigger deal out of it. I'm thinking about buying a bigger combine than we talked about, and renting some ground down here in the valley, now that Oliver is going to quit. I have to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew here, but I think I can make it work. Scott is going to need a lot of feed supplement for those hogs he's gonna get. We might make this all work out local here, if we're careful."


Chapter 43 HUNTING SEASON November, 2011

Margaret was on the computer checking our bank statement. She did that on the 10th of the month as soon as it was posted on the site. That made me think of something. "Hey, would you check something for me?"

"What's that?"

"When does Deer Season start? I know it's pretty soon. I heard some guys talking about it, but I want to be ready the first day of gun season."

"What do I look for?"

"Try Indiana DNR's site."

She clicked away for a minute and came up with it. "Okay, we have Archery, October 1 to November 27, and Firearms, November 12 to 27, and Muzzleloader.."

"That's it! Firearms. The 12th you said?"

"Yeah, 12th through the 27th."

"That's only 2 days away. I need to get a deer tag in case I have one run over onto the neighbor's ground. I can shoot one on our place and put a farm tag on it, but I 'd rather be safe than sorry."

"A farm tag?"

"Yeah, I did that last year, remember? Just write your name and address on a piece of paper and write 'Farm Kill' on it. You tie to the deer's leg, and check the deer in at a check station, like Michah's. I don't know if you can take more than one on a farm tag, but you can if you buy a hunting license. I'll check and see how many later. I need to go to Micah's and get my tag."

"We don't need the meat. Why are you going hunting?"

"I thought we could keep it our freezer and if Rich and Cindy need some meat, we'll have it to make the beef go farther. I can't give it to them, I don't think. I don't know the rules exactly. But if we keep it, we're good."

"Is Rich going hunting?"

"I haven't asked him. I will."

We were planning on cutting some timber today, so I went over to talk to Rich. He came out on the back porch with a bucket of ashes they had cleaned out of their stove, and walked toward the old garden to scatter them. Most of the snow had melted off, but some patches remained. He used a tin can to dip out ashes and scatter them thinly, darkening the snow. "Hey, Alan, how're ya doin"? I'll be ready to go in a minute."

"No hurry. I was wondering if you're going deer hunting this year? There's way more than we need up there in the top hay field eating our hay."

"Yeah, I want to go. I didn't know when I could, though."

"Anytime you want, as far as I'm concerned. I just had Margaret check and gun season opens day after tomorrow. Got your tags yet?"

"No. We were goin' to town shopping in a day or two, so I thought I'd stop at the Bait Shop then. I need to buy some deer slugs. Say, do you know who has been going up to that top field? I saw some tire tracks on the hill lane when I cut wood last week."

"Nobody that I know of. Maybe Jeff went up there for something, scouting deer maybe."

"Wasn't him. Their truck has those tractor tread tires. These were wider and had a different tread."

"Let's go look over there. I wanted to cut some of that Poplar along the bottom of that hill anyway."

We loaded axes, chainsaws, and all the rest in my truck and drove out to the county road. I turned at the corner of our cornfield onto the road that was our border on the West side of the farm. The lane up the hill took off from there, beginning as an old driveway from when there was once a farmhouse here. It had burned down years ago before we bought the place. Once we got past the old home site, the gravel ran out. The dirt lane ahead had plain tracks going up the hill. We discouraged kids and their dirt bikes from travelling on the dirt hill road because it was prone to erosion. I had to go up there a couple times a year with a shovel and make little crossways trenches to shoot the rainwater off to the side. Otherwise, it would run right down the tire tracks and wash out a ditch before the next Spring rains were over.

"Yeah, there's tracks here all right. Let's see where they go."

I drove up to where I planned to cut trees and parked. We walked up the slightly muddy hill, where melting snow had softened it. Fallen leaves covered the lane in most places, but we saw tracks in the bare spots. Water had softened the tire tracks, too, making them look older near the bottom of the lane, but as we wound around the hillside toward the top, the higher we went, the clearer they got. Someone had driven up here not too long ago. We found where they parked, farther along the edge of the field. Boot tracks showed here and there.

"Looks to me like somebody has been scouting deer up here," Rich said.

"Yeah, and I don't know who it is. It wasn't Nathan and Jeannie, because I know theri tracks and they have new tires. These tires are worn. I'd like to know who it was. I don't want the road cut up because it will wash out and it's a big job to fix it. I had to hire a 'dozer the last time we worked on it, and it's expensive."

The hills were wooded so none of the lane, nor the field was visible from our house. We pretty much ignored the field until hay time.

I told Rich, "I guess I better get some No Trespassing signs and put 'em up. Anybody we know who wants to hunt up here will ask us and we'll okay it. They all know to take care of the road."

"We could just put up a gate at the county road," Rich suggested. "When I set the corner posts, I left a 20 foot gap, so a couple ten foot gates would do it."

I nodded. "Maybe that would be best. Never needed it before, but I don't want just anybody running around up here."

We walked back down the long lane and got busy cutting Poplar trees. Rich was getting pretty good with an axe and trimmed up the small brush from the tops. I used my little saw to cut poles from the upper limbs, while he piled brush in a gulley. We had a pretty good load of poles in the truck and several logs cut by lunch time. They weren't big trees, but they had grown in a dense woods and were tall and straight. I got at least two 16 foot logs from each one. A couple made three 12 foot logs each. We'd have to bring the tractor back to snake the logs out of the woods to the clearing by the old home site for loading. After lunch, I would bring the tractor here and one of Jeff's log wagons.

That afternoon I cut a couple heavy poles from 6" diameter trees and notched them on the end like a rafter. I laid these on the side of the wagon like a pair of ramps. We tied a chain to the wagon frame, threw it over the bed to the other side, then down between the poles. I kept hooking on more chains until I had enough to roll a log over it with a cant hook. The chain then went around the log and back over the wagon to the tractor. Rich drove the tractor slowly and the log was rolled up the skid poles and onto the wagon bed, stopped by chock blocks before it fell off the other side. It was the poor man's way of loading logs, but it had worked since wagons were invented. Once we had a reasonable load, I pulled it with the truck down to Jeff's sawmill, while Rich used the tractor to skid out more logs for the next load. By evening, we had 2 loads at the sawmill, and another ready to load up.

We finished early the next day and I went to town to buy some gates. Rich and I had them hung that evening with a "No Hunting or Trespassing" sign big enough to see at a distance. I wrapped a short piece of chain around to tie them together, and secured it with a bolt through the ends. I tighened it pretty hard. We always carried tools with us, but hunters and trespassers generally did not. I didn't have to worry with locks that freeze up, nor lost keys, either. The fence was 47" woven wire with a barbed wire on both sides of the posts on top. That made it pretty miserable to try to climb over it. It looked like a pretty secure job to me.

I had forgotten something. I usually turn one gate hinge upside down to prevent lifting the gate off its' hinges, since they are L shaped, that was easy to do. Not a problem with cattle, only trespassers. Well, they did that, and we found the gates lying beside the lane, and new tracks going up the hill the next day. They must be doing this at night, I thought. We put the gates back up and turned the top hinges over so they couldn't be lifted off. Maybe we could hunt in peace. The next morning was opening day for deer season. I had one more trick up my sleeve. I spent a couple hours driving nails and when the project was done, I called and told all the family and friends to NOT walk in that lane up the hill.

Rich, Jeff, Michael, and Nathan were all in place in our spots along one side of the hayfield the next morning before daylight. It was dead silent in the woods, with a cold wet fog hanging in the air. Just at dawn, I heard some ruckus down the hill, so I stepped out in to the field where I could be seen by everyone and waved for them to follow me. We made our way toward the upper end of the lane as half a dozen deer walked out of the woods on the other side of the field and watched us go. They put their heads down and resumed eating.

Nathan and Jeff stepped off the lane about 30 yards to each side. We continued down the hill and around the bend until we could see the Jeep sitting in the lane. Three men in hunting garb were outside the Jeep cussing up a storm at its' 4 flat tires. Beyond them were the gates standing wide open. I approached in plain sight, shotgun in the crook of my arm, pointed down. Rich and Micahel were nowhere to be seen, although I spotted Nathan as he stepped behind a big tree ahead of me. Jeff had disappeared. I called out to the Jeep, "Need a hand there?"

"What!? Somebody put a D_ _ _ board fulla nails in the road and my tires are ruined!"

"That would be me. Sorry 'bout your luck, but you're on my farm and you ain't supposed to be."

"You got no right to do that! This is State Forest, an' we can hunt here!"

"NO! It is NOT State Forest. They don't fence their land and put up No Trespassing signs. I do. Time for you boys to go."

One of them cussed a stream while the one on the driver's side reached into the Jeep and grabbed at his shotgun. Nathan stepped out from behind his tree with his shotgun pointed at the guy's butt, and said, "You pick that gun up an' it'll be the dumbest thing you did today!"

Shotguns suddenly appeared from behind several trees with the accompanying KA-CHUNK sound that every one recognizes. The guy backed slowly out of his Jeep, hands in the air.

"Now, Butthead, git yer sorry behind on down the road!"


"YOU are the only BUTT around here. Head for the road. NOW!!"

The guy decided that wisdom was the better part of valor and he started walking. The other two followed him, walking with hands out to their sides, trying hard to look non-threatening.
I called after them.

"When you get to town, you can talk to the County Sheriff about where to find your truck. I'll call him and I expect he will have a wrecker come and get it. It'll most likely be in his impound lot. It's about 8 mile to town, so if you hurry, you might get there by the time the wrecker does."

Actually, it was Nathan who called the Sheriff. They had gone to school together, and were both members of the same men's lodge in town. We waited about 40 minutes until a rollback truck showed up. I knew the owner.

"Hi Chet!"

"Hello, Alan, what's goin' on ? Caught ya some trespassers?" He grinned as he said that, obviously knowing the story.

"Yeah, sure did. You gonna get this junk outa here?"

'Yep! The Sheriff thought it was hoot! Got Jefferson County, Kentucky plates on it. Yep, that's what he said. Half the trouble the Sheriff runs into is guys from over in Louisville, and he don't like 'em, not even a little bit!"

Chet looked in the Jeep and the keys were still in it. "Well, that was handy for 'em to leave the keys in it. Say, Alan. Sheriff said to make sure you didn't leave nuthin' of YOURS in this vehicle when I pick it up. Like your shotguns there, an' all them shells in the back seat, an' prob'ly you left that gas can on the bumper. Looks like you left a lot of YOUR stuff in there. Shouldn't leave it layin' around like that, so you get it all and take it on home. Okay?"

He gave me a real pointed look. "I got my orders from the Sheriff, okay? He don't want no extra paperwork to do, y'hear?"

It didn't seem right to me, but it looked like the Sheriff had already figured out how he was going to deal with this bunch. If we didn't take the stuff, the Sheriff would and give it out to his friends. It looked like I was on his list of friends today. Jeff and I unloaded the guns from the Jeep and laid the stuff in a pile to the side on the grass.

Chet rummaged through the Jeep and found a .38 revolver in the glove box. He handed it to me and said, "You missed one."

Chet tipped the truck bed back and ran out the winch cable. He hooked it up and put the gear lever in neutral, then engaged the winch. The Jeep rolled back over the now partly exposed 12" wide, 12 foot long boards that I had studded with long nails. I had covered them with dry leaves, but some of the leaves were gone now. As the winch pulled in slowly, the tires ran back over the nails, puncturing the tires about 40 more times apiece. He chuckled as the last of the air hissed out of the tires.

"Looks like them boys need some new tires! This is gonna be expensive for 'em. I'd say they'll get a fine for trespass, an' there'll be my wrecker bill an' storage fee in the impound lot, yeah, I'd say if they get by with under a thousand dollars, countin' the tires, they'll be lucky! I don't think they'll be back. The Sheriff sent this complaint form for you to sign here."

I signed the form and handed it back to him. After Chet left with the Jeep, I picked up the nail boards and turned them over, nails pointed down, beside the lane.

"Mebbe I ought to just put these up in case I need 'em again," I told Rich.

He grinned about the whole idea of our local version of country justice and said he thought I should keep the boards. We looked over the collection of stuff that came out of the Jeep. There were two 12 gauge Mossberg shotguns, cheap ones, and a nice Remington 1200 semi automatic shotgun. There was a worn Winchester lever action .30-30, and the Taurus .38 pistol, plus an assortment of ammunition for it all. Nathan had walked trough the woods to our house and came back with his truck. We loaded the nail boards, guns and all in it, then we got in with him, some of us in the truck bed. It was too late to do any more hunting today. As he drove out the lane, he stopped so I could fasten the gates again. The chain had been cut with bolt cutters, but there was enough of it left to do the job.

At home, I asked Rich what he had in the way of guns? "Just my shotgun. I never had anything else."

"Well, you might need some other things. Here, you take these."

I gave him the .30-30, the .38, and a pump shotgun. The other 12 gauge pump I gave to Michael, and gave Nathan the Remington 1200, knowing pretty much what everybody would appreciate the most. I handed out the ammunition to match. After having some coffee in the house to wind down from the adventure, we all went our separate ways for the day.

Rich and I went back to cutting logs. I had in mind that we would need a building to house our biodiesel setup, and it was already on order. We cut the biggest Red Cedars we could find that day for posts to make a pole building. We trimmed up the logs and topped them at 16 feet, except for 4 that we made 20 feet long. That would work for a building 12 feet at the eaves and 16 feet tall at the roof peak. If it didn't get too cold this winter, we might get it built. The next day, we loaded up the cedars and took them to Jeff to saw into 6" square posts. It would be a while before he got to it, because he needed to finish stripping tobacco now.

Rich got two nice does to fill his tags a few days later, so I didn't bother to hunt any more. Nathan and Jeannie each got themselves a fat doe. Lynn did the hunting for their family, then cut up the big buck she got. She and Michael put it in the freezer while Jeff and Rich stripped tobacco.


Chapter 44 FARM INCOME, Late November, 2011

We had spent a lot of money this year on a pair of trucks, solar energy, so our savings account was reduced. That was what we planned to do, but we also needed ongoing income. The farm business had bought equipment, so that account was down pretty low, and I had just spent $12,000 on biodiesel equipment. That included the Chinese 3 ton per day screw press, a filter press to clean the oil, the processing tank setup, and enough methanol and sodium hydroxide to hopefully do what soybeans I had raised last year plus a lot more. With that much in expenses, the farm could sell some cattle now and not show too big a profit for the year. The expenses for raising the soybeans and corn would come off our taxes this year, but they would not be sold for direct income, instead being pressed for oil and fed to livestock. Farming is made far too complicated by the tax considerations.

I called a farmer south of town who bought feeder calves from me pretty regularly, and told him I had 24 feeders that would run about 600 to 650 pounds ready to sell. He came and looked them over, and offered me market price for the day he picked them up, plus he would haul them to his farm and do the weighing at the junkyard scales on the way. We shook hands on it and a week later he was finished. The price that day was $144.50/hundred pounds, which was about as high as I'd seen it this year. He gave me the weigh tickets for 15,120 lbs. of cattle. We both did the math: $1.445 per pound X 15,120 pounds = $21,848.40. He wrote me a check for that amount, I thanked him and I went to the bank with it. The equipment I'd bought would be depreciated over a period of years, but with what directly deductible expenses we had for things like fuel, seed, fertilizer and maintenance, we wouldn't show a big taxable profit, and now the farm account had some money in it again.

One of the advantages of buying older machinery was that I could do extensive repairs the first year I owned it and that was all a first year deduction. The machine cost was lower, so there was less to amortize as depreciation, but that meant it was far less out of pocket cost, too. Our little farming operation wasn't big enough to get into many of the farm "programs" for rebates from the government. We offset that by not having the huge investment in land and machinery, and thus no big interest on loans. Overall, the big corporate farms undoubtedly made a better return on investment than we did, but our business had no debt so we were far more secure. They were basically one bad season and one missed payment from bankruptcy and wholly dependent on continuing credit for operating money. We were not. I guess the government classified us as "hobby" farmers. I don't care what people call me, as long as they call me on time for meals, and they don't mess in my business.

Jeff had contracted with a big name tobacco company in Louisville for 2,500 pounds of tobacco to be sold at $2.29/pound. When they delivered it, he actually had 2,758 pounds. He got the $2.29 for the first 2,500 pounds and $1.86/lb. for the balance of 258 pounds. That made his check $5,777.08. He had been sawing a fair amount of lumber, and his expenses for that were mostly labor and minor repairs. He said he had made about $8,200 on that this year after expenses. That wasn't a lot of cash income, but he still had close to 1,000 bushels of high protein corn that he valued above the market price of $6.01/bushel, since he was going to feed it to livestock and make more money with it. Jeff had 11 head of beef that were growing nicely, too. By next Spring, they would be worth somewhere around $1.08/pound and weigh about 1,100 pounds each. That meant he would then have about $13,000 worth of cattle, whether he chose to sell them, or keep them for breeding stock. Farming has some big paydays, but they are few and far between.

The tobacco was "cured" by simply air drying it in the barn, out of the sun where it would attain the golden brown color of dry Burley after about 2 to 3 months. That was not a finished product for smoking or chewing, the rest of the curing process being a tightly secretted mystery by the tobacco companies. It was well known, however, that they steamed it at near 100% humidity for at least a couple weeks at up to 140 degrees F. That made chemical changes in the tobacco that produced a milder product. The rest of what went on in those factories was a trade secret that even the government had not been able to penetrate, to my knowledge.

Jeff wasn't really pleased with the setup for selling tobacco, now that the government had gotten out of the picture with its' price support program. The tobacco companies basically had a monopoly on setting the market price. He told me he planned to contract 2 acres next year, but he wasn't sure he would continue after that. There was a lot of foreign competition, with tobacco coming in from Central and South America, and other countries that had dropped the price from what he thought it should be. It would be a good way to kick start his farming operation with some fast money, but it looked like a dying industry in the US. When I went to pick up my lumber, I asked Jeff what he had in mind beyond tobacco and cattle.

He said, "I'm going to look at raising some vegetables for the cannery, probably some plants for the garden market, like sweet potatoes and cabbage and peppers. We have the tobacco plant trays, and if I'm not growing tobacco, I can grow vegetable plants just as easy for the local market."

I told him, "When I was a kid, they said about farming you had to "get big or get out". That brought on all the big equipment, the huge acreages, and the huge debt. That is going to a tough way to survive when credit got really tight. Looks to me like only the biggest will survive, and they will be owned by big corporations with farm managers, not owner-operators.

Jeff said, "Right. But I'm convinced that us small guys can make it just fine, if we stay out of debt, sell locally, and stay in several niche markets. The big companies can't do that. When the price of oil goes way up, the big growers have a problem."

I agreed. "If the price of oil goes way up, we ALL have a problem."

Jeff said, "Yes, we do. The good part is, us little guys are a lot faster on our feet. We can change what we are doing to suit what is needed and do it for the next growing season. I can see that being how we survive. If oil goes to $250 a barrel, gas is $9.50 a gallon, diesel is $11.00 a gallon, then how are they going to ship Mexican grown tomatoes to our stores? We can grow tomatoes and kick their butts out of the local market with a better, vine-ripened product. They simply cannot do that."

"You thinking about a greenhouse?"

He nodded and said, "But not right away. Only WHEN it is the thing to do. It is a labor intensive operation, but I don't think I'd have any trouble finding help under those circumstances. Unemployment is high enough now that we can get all the labor we want at a reasonable rate. We just have to have our planning done, and done well."

I said, "I need to find some ways to diversify myself, but at my age I can't see getting into something labor intensive. I'll kick this around, because I like the idea of local marketting. It cuts out a lot of middlemen and we get to keep a lot of the difference in money. And, the nearer to a finished product you can sell, the better. If you grow wheat, sell bread, I was told. For you, that could mean selling planed, dried lumber, or even furniture or hardwood flooring."

Jeff grinned, "I've been looking at planers!"

"I gotta go. Margaret will wonder what happened to me." I waved goodbye and headed for home.

Trent had done his share of driving nails on the hog barn. He had one thumb that was a dark purple to prove it. They had the sheathing boards all nailed on the outside now, laid on at 45 degrees to brace the building. Scott Barger's father had been an old carpenter and taught him to do it that way to make the structure stronger. It meant a lot of end cutting, but it worked. Today, Rich was helping them put roofing felt, aka, tar paper, over the sheathing before they put metal siding on. This would make the building nearly air tight and easier to heat when sows were having pigs. Trent's job today was picking up all the cut off board ends and stacking them in the wood shed.

The building was 32 ft. x 40 ft. with a concrete floor sloped to the center, and toward one end, so water would drain out of the farrowing crates along one wall and larger pens on the other wall. It then ran down a grated gutter in the center and out the door at one end. That gutter drained into an underground holding tank of concrete outside the back door. Scott had a liquid manure spreader that could pump out the tank and spread the manure on his fields. A feeding aisle ran the full length on each outer wall at the head end of the rows of pens and farrowing crates.

The crates were built to have just enough room for the sow to stand or lay down, but too narrow for her to turn around. Each side was raised 12" off the floor so little pigs could get under it, allowing them to reach their mother and nurse, but giving them some place to get out of her way when she laid down. Heat lamps were provided above the small areas outside where the sow was, to entice the baby pigs to sleep there. That greatly reduced the number of baby pigs squashed by the sows during the first week after they were born. Once the pigs were a 5 to 7 days old, sow and baby pigs were moved to open pens on the opposite side, where the sow had freedom to move around, but rails were provided inside the pens to keep an old sow from flopping down and mashing baby pigs between herself and the pen fence.

Metal crates and fence panels were made to build a hog facility, but Scott had been building his own out of oak since he was a kid on this farm. The oak didn't rot as fast as the metal stuff rusted away, so he didn't have to replace it so often. And, it was cheaper to build it all with homegrown lumber. It meant a lot of detail carpenter work, so he would have Rich help build all the gates and fence panels. He was in a hurry, because he had 6 sows bred that would farrow in a few weeks. The weather was getting colder, so he had a wood stove made with a barrel kit already set up in the center of the building and a metal chimney in place.

Rich had built a trap door near the roof and installed a metal feed chute under it inside the building, where Scott could auger feed directly from his grinder-mixer into an indoor feed bin. Scott had a freezeless faucet in the building with enough hose to reach all the pens for watering and washing out. They didn't have the bin for ground corncob litter built yet, but that could wait. Scott doubted if they could get everything completed before he had to use the building. Mother nature would not wait. When the sows decided it was time to have pigs, it would happen, so he had to be ready. They had been working 12 hours a day for several days to meet their deadline. Doors and windows had been installed, and the tar paper went on fast. After lunch they were putting up metal siding. Trent learned to hold roofing nails with pliers to prevent mashed fingers. There was a lot of cutting and fitting to be done around windows and doors, so they did not finish by evening, but probably would the next day.

Rich knew this job would soon be over, but he was glad for the money while it lasted. They had some money ahead now, so if he didn't work for a while in the winter, they would be all right. He was relieved that even if he had no work beyond one day's pay a week from Alan, they had a place to live, they had free heat in the house, and enough LP gas to last the winter. Their freezer was full and the pantry was stocked. He had thought about trying to find a higher paying job, but the numbers just wouldn't work out unless he could make at least $15 to $20 an hour and have steady work. That was nearly impossible in today's job market. This was a good long term deal for them, and he knew it. Rich wasn't planning on changing it anytime soon. Alan even let him use his shop to fix up his old truck. At first he sort of felt like he had the role of a sharecropper, but it wasn't so. He had a chance to better himself, and he was going to make use of it.

Since Scott was keeping Rich busy for a few days, I tried to plan enough work for when Rich would spend several days working for me later. I had Margaret help me lay out the pole building we were going to build, and I got busy with the small tractor and post hole auger digging holes for the framing posts. The sawed Cedar posts were still on the wagon, so I moved it in near the holes. I had another wagon load of lumber parked in the machine shed, so when Rich got free to work here, we could take off and go with the construction. Thankfully, the weather wasn't too bad yet, staying in the high 40's during the day, and down in the low 30's at night. Unless we got an Alberta Clipper coming our way, we should be able to work on the building for the next several weeks.


Chapter 45 THANKSGIVING Late November 2011

The clan gathered at Rich and Cindy's house for Thanksgiving Dinner, since it had the biggest dining room, and they were like family now. Lynn was over her morning sickness, and back to her normal robust self, now showing that beautiful glow that only pregnant women can have. She was happy to report that she was back to helping Jeff in the sawmill. Jeff had gotten rested up some and looked good, too. Michael had been growing steadily and had some new clothes, since his old ones didn't fit now. Nathan and Jeannie showed up looking happy, because they had just gotten their windmill installed and operating. Jonah was glad to have Michael visit, and kept a running stream of talk going. Cindy looked a little nervous, like maybe she thought this should be strictly a family deal, but the other women got that under control and pitched in with the cooking.

Michael was proud to have HIS sweet potatoes on the menu. Cindy was serving some vegetables she had helped can last Fall. There was ham we had cured last year, and dinner rolls Margaret baked, fresh and hot from the oven. We said Grace, and went around the table with the prayer, letting each one give thanks for their personal blessings this year. It was a touching time as we shared our gratitude with each other, and brought us closer together. The mood became warmer as we ate and talked. We all seemed to be more relaxed, more personal in our conversation, and easygoing smiles were all around.

After the pumpkin pie (from Michael's pumpkins), we all helped clear the table to take the load off the women, carry out scraps to the dogs waiting on the porch, and get the mess cleaned up. Conversations turned to what was on our minds at the moment, the women talking to Lynn about her pregnancy, Michael involved with both Jonah and the men's talk.

We menfolk talked about what we had in the works. Nathan and Jeannie had more solar box heaters to build, now that it had turned colder and they had some pallet racks to build for the Ford plant in Louisville. It seemed that during the sharp contraction of the auto industry, several suppliers had gone bankrupt. Ford couldn't buy pallet racks to fit what they already had installed in their factory warehouse, because the vendor no longer existed. Nathan and Jeannie's versatile shop processes could build them efficiently, although not as fast as the original supplier. Ford would wait, because they had no choice, and they would pay without their usual 90 day delay if they wanted the parts. So, there was enough work to keep the shop going until year's end.

Rich was finished at Scott's place, so he and I were starting work on the pole building for the biodiesel operation. We had the poles set and temporarily braced, and had just poured the concrete floor. It would go faster from here, and the materials were all on site to do it. The new screw press with it's 14 HP diesel engine had arrived by truck, soon followed by the filter press and the chemical processing equipment. The methanol, sodium hydroxide, and hydrochloric acid (a neutralizer for the sodium hydroxide) were so expensive to ship as hazardous materials, that we elected to go pick them up in Louisville, but it was all here and secure in the machine shed.

As long as we didn't have terrible weather, we should have the building up before Christmas. Production would wait for warmer weather, because the close temperature control needed in the processing being easier in warm weather. I had storage for the finished product, up to 600 gallons in the 2 tanks I'd bought, now partly filled with fuel to prevent rust inside. I needed to come up with a better way to handle barrels of chemicals, but I had an idea.

Jeff had worked the wrinkles out of his feed grinding operation for the cattle, and was nearly ready to buy some feeder pigs when Scott's first batch was ready. The tobacco barn was cleaned out, so Jeff was going to use it to store sawed lumber after it air dried and build a stock for ready sale. His concern now was finding a suitable combine in time for next year's harvest. He hoped to find one in time to go over it and get it in shape before next season. He was going to a machinery auction in December to bid on a planer-moulder that could plane 4 sides of a board in 2 passes, one to rough size and one to finish it. That meant he would need an addition on the sawmill building, and good storage for his finished lumber. He would think about kiln drying if this much of it worked out okay.

Michael was enthused about the Farmer's Market in town where he had sold tomato stakes, green peppers, and fresh tomatoes last summer. He planned to raise an acre of sweet corn for sale there next summer. He had learned that he could stagger the planting dates and have a supply over a longer period. He also thought that pumpkins would be a good thing to raise and sell to the local supermarket. He wanted to win Grand Champion at the County Fair this year with something, so he could go to the State Fair with it. He had been researching how to feed pumpkins to grow the giant ones.

Rich was interested in the biodiesel process and had been researching it. He thought we had a market for all we could make, for local farmers to blend up to 20% with normal diesel fuel. On paper, it looked like we could make money on this, but he and I were trying to figure out how to sell all the soybean meal we would make doing this. We still had to come up with a way to store, package, and sell over 5,000 lbs. of soybean meal for the beans we had on hand. We had some ideas, though.

Cindy had not been idle. She had found a used computer and was networked to ours so she had internet access. She had been looking at eBay sales and learning the process. So far, she had made and sold some homemade soaps, and had orders for more than she could make. She wanted to get into something less labor intensive, though.

Jeannie had the food dryer figured out, and had built a prototype. It was working when the temps were above 40 degrees outside. She planned to have it ready for production next summer, but meanwhile they had all they could do with the solar box heaters and pallet racks.

I commented that we were all doing well compared to many. What I had been reading about the economy was disheartening. The US dollar had risen in value, but that was only because of so many fears about European countries. Prices were still rising on most goods at the wholesale level, so retailers were in a double bind, costs rising, yet unable to raise prices due to high unemployment.

We didn't talk much about our worries and concerns, but we all had them. Margaret had been talking about estate planning, and how we could assure that our kids got their inheritance from us when the time came, but with the least possible taxes and other problems. I let her worry about it, mostly. She was very good at that sort of thing.

Chapter 46 WINTER SETS IN, December, 2011

Rich and I had the last of the metal on the pole building, so this morning we were working on the two big hinged doors when I went outside to get some lumber off the wagon. Fat, fluffy flakes of snow were drifting down slowly, the air still and not all that cold. They were melting on the stack of lumber, leaving wet spots.

"Hey Rich, we better get this wagon inside. The sky is getting darker, and it's snowing."

He walked out to look. "Yeah, looks like it will last a while, too. I'll move things out of the way and you can back it inside."

He went in and began moving sawhorses, lumber, and tools. I started the old Massey 135 and worked on getting it in position to back inside. The old wagon had a lot of slack in the tongue and steering mechanism, so it always took some guess work to keep it going where you wanted backing up. It wasn't a perfect job, but I didn't hit anything getting it inside. Rich set some lumber scraps for wheel chocks behind it and I unhooked the tractor. I drove the tractor over to the machine shed and got it inside. No point in having the seat full of snow when I needed it again.

He pushed and I steered the tongue to get the wagon all the way to the back of the building. We stuck some wood scraps under the front wheels to make sure it stayed there, although the concrete floor was level. I lifted the tongue all the way up vertical and laid it back on the wagon so we didn't trip over it. Outside, a light wind started, sending the snowflakes away from the door opening. It began to snow harder, and the temperature dropped quickly. As we worked on building the doors, the snow was beginning to stick on the ground outside. By the time we stopped for lunch, wet snow had covered the ground and was now about 3 or 4 inches deep. It had gotten colder, too.

I stomped the snow off my boots outside and went in the house. Margaret had the TV on and a pot of soup on the stove.

"They have a winter storm advisory today," she said. "Supposed to get 4 to 6 inches in Louisville. We always get more, so I expect it will get deep."

"Yeah. It hasn't let up all morning. I'm glad we got the building closed in before this, or it would stop us from working. What smells good in here?"

"Vegetable beef soup, and I'm making grilled cheese sandwiches. If you're going to be working outside, you need some hot food in you."

"I'm ready for it. Let's eat."

We were finishing off the meal when the phone rang. Margaret said it was Lynn.

"Uh-huh. I know, we're supposed to get 6" or more."

"Okay, I wanted to go in town anyway. I'll get milk for you. I'll ask Cindy, too. Okay, bye."

"Lynn wants a couple gallons of milk when I go to town, so I'll see what CIndy needs and get that, too. She may want to ride along. I want to get to the bank and cash our Social Security checks, then go pay the phone and internet bills. I don't mind driving on fresh snow, but after people get it rolled down hard it gets slick, especially on the hill up out of the valley."

"Yeah, you know how the County Road Department is. They use solar snow removal technology. Their philosophy is, God put it there, so He can melt it off."

"I'll walk over and see Cindy. Love ya!"

I got a kiss on the cheek and she grabbed a coat and went out. I finished my coffee and took my time getting back to the job. It was getting deeper out there, so I went to the machine shed and got a corn shovel. I spent a little time getting the snow off the patio, then walked to the new building about 80 yards away. There was a light cover of snow inside the door opening for a short way, so I cleaned that out. I saw Rich cleaning off his front porch and steps, just as the women and Jonah came out, bundled up against the falling temperature. They went to the long machine shed that doubled as our garage and backed the S-10 out. It spun a little and she stopped to lock in the 4WD, then took off. Rich joined me as they drove away, leaving a slight rooster tail of snow from the deep tire treads. The snow was probably 8" deep now.

Rich asked, "Do you want to put the blade on the 135 and do the lane?"

"Probably a good idea. If we get much more, it will be a mess. Driving on it packs it down in the tracks and makes hard ridges that can slide you off in the ditch. It takes it forever to melt off, too, once it is packed hard."

We got the blade mounted on the 3 point hitch in short order, and Rich took off with it. The snow was wet, just the sort to make hard, heavy snowballs. I took the corn scoop to the barn and shovelled away from the doors on the upper side where we stored some hay and the ground feed for the cattle below on the basement level. The open basement had a loafing shed attached to shelter the cattle and they could go inside the barn basement if it got really cold out. Feeding was a simple matter of dropping hay and grain through trap doors directly into the mangers below. I didn't want the upper doors getting frozen shut, so I cleared the snow away from them. It would probably get cold enough to freeze this all hard tonight, and frozen doors are no fun at all.

The lane was cleared and Jeff was making the second round on our driveway circle by the houses. He soon finished and rejoined me in the new building, stomping off wet snow as he came in.

"Still coming down pretty good. My tracks are already dusted over. Might want to do that again later if it keeps up."

I agreed. "See what it looks like by supper time and decide."

He nodded and we got back to buidling doors. We had them both hung and a temporary wire hook on them when Margeret and Cindy got home.

Margaret said, "Boy! It's a mess in town!"

Cindy co-signed that. "They have pickups with snowplows clearing the parking lots, and they are making big piles everywhere. It's soft and wet, so it's pretty sloppy on the streets. They put down that salt spray stuff, so as soon as they plow the streets, what's left melts and traffic sprays it all over. Good thing we wore old clothes and boots!"

Margaret said, "We went down to Jeff's and gave Lynn her milk. She said that boy can drink a gallon in a couple days. She wants a cow. Jeff got plenty of hay off the Wilson place this year, and they have the barn ready with a milking stall."

Cindy said, "I told her we would buy some milk from her if they get one. Rich drinks a lot and Jonah drinks more all the time. Lynn was interested when I brought up making cheese, too. I think she's serious about a cow. She likes milk and said she's going to nurse the baby when it comes, so having plenty of milk would be good for her."

I said, "Tell her to talk to Perkins down South of town. He milks about 200 head, and always has some heifers."

The women unloaded their grocery bags and trudged off through the snow to the house. Rich and I carried some of the bags and followed them. It was getting too dark to see real well in the building, since the clouds were heavy and there were only 4 small windows on the South side. I went inside and called a man in New Albany that did spray foam insulation. He would be glad to come out and give me a quote for the new building. I told him it would be a few days before he could start, because we had to do some wiring. He suggested we wait until he had done the foam to put in wiring, so it would be on the surface and accessible. After thinking a minute, I agreed. He'd be out tomorrow. I told him it was slick and hilly out here.

He laughed and said, "Yes. I know. My sister lives out your way!"

It's a small world, I told him.

He showed up the next morning and gave me a price of $3,200 to do the job. He suggested that we frame boxes out around the windows and doors so foam would not get where it did not belong. That allowed for putting up inside wall covering later if we chose. He also said he could do the big entrance doors if we framed around the edges of them to contain it. Rich and I thought we could have the carpentry done in a day or two, so he would come back the first of next week. I hadn't spent all that much on the building so far, since we used all farm-cut lumber and poles, and the siding was the stuff I got at the junkyard. Only the metal roofing was bought new, plus the nails and some hardware. The windows, a 3 foot entrance door, and some odd size plywood we used for the ceiling came from the flea market in Jeffersonville at less than half of new price. I'd have less than $6,000 in the whole project, including what I paid Rich for labor and Jeff for sawing.

When the foam was finished, the building got very quiet inside and there were no drafts of cold air anywhere. The snow had pretty much melted away, except on the North facing hillsides, so we were back to working in mud around the farm. I left the windows and the doors propped open for a couple weeks to let the odor from the curing foam blow away. It wasn't all that smelly, the man told me, because they didn't use the obnoxious gases now to make it expand like they used to. Still, I didn't want to breathe it, so we let it air out. I could still smell a faint odor a couple weeks later, but it wasn't bad. RIch and I moved the Biodiesel equipment inside and closed it up for a while. When the weather warmed up, I would do some wiring for lights off our solar system, and get the new equipment mounted and the plumbing done.

Meanwhile, Rich worked a few days for Scott Barger finishing up details in the farrowing house, and some outside pens. Then Rich and I were cutting logs again. I wanted to repair and extend my hog operation, too. If we were going to have all that soybean meal, I might as well feed some of it to some hogs and make money on it. If all went well, our income would be a lot better next year, and my work load would go down with the building projects finished and Rich helping. That would be good, because I wasn't as energetic as I had been 30 years ago and prices for everything kept going up.

Rich had some free time after Scott's work was finished, and put his truck in the shop to do some work on it. The old Ford got new brakes, a new clutch, some fuel lines and a tune up. He'd found a good seat at the junkyard in a later model wreck and put that in. He replaced the side mirrors with bigger ones, and did some straightening and welding on the rear bumper. He got some paint on the bumper and touched up a couple other places. He had more in mind to do, but Christmas was coming and he had things to do at home. Meanwhile, Cindy had been doing a lot of sewing. Jonah was growing and Rich's work clothes needed repair. She made some nice things for herself, and some Christmas presents, too.

Joel Perkins answered the phone from the milkhouse. He spent a lot of time there. The woman asked about buying a dairy cow.

"No, we don't have any Jerseys. We have Holsteins and Guernseys, and some crosses. I've got a couple young Guernsey heifers that are on the small side you might be interested in. I was going to cull them out anyway, since we are lookin' for high poundage of milk, and they probably don't perform up to commercial dairy standards. Don't get me wrong, they are good cows, just not record volume producers. Their butterfat would probably be high enough to suit you if you're lookin' to make butter an' cheese, though."

"How much? Oh either one of them will probably give you way more milk than a Jersey, prob'ly between 3 an' 4 gallons at a milkin', once you wean the calf."

"Yeah, this is their second calves, so they are goin' on 4 years old."

"Well, I hadn't thought about a price. One of those should be worth better than beef price, but they ain't premium dairy cows. They'll go about 950 or 1,000 pounds, an' beef is goin' about $1.05 or better, so how about you come look at 'em an' pick one, an' I'll say $1.10 a pound, an' the calf goes with her. I got 'em separated, and was goin' to sell 'em as a cow-calf pair, but hadn't got it advertised yet."

"Yeah, they were both bred to a Gurnsey. I use ABS so we can keep good records of when they were bred an' get the best breeding stock that way. The calves are top notch stuff, and the cows are pretty good."

"Okay, tomorrow would be fine. Come about this time an' I'll be in the milk barn. Here's how you get here...."

Lynn was delighted. She was going to get herself a cow! She went to talk to Jeff who was reading on the computer. After some discussion, they decided that it made sense for Michael to buy the cow. He would actually own it, and it would be a productive investment of his surviving-dependent money from the Army. Michael had already expresssed enthusiasm for a milk cow. Jeff thought about hauling a cow and calf in their pickup, and decided that if they weren't too big, they would both fit all right. He would be extra careful driving.

Michael couldn't wait to see the cows. He had spent the night at a friend's home who had a dairy farm, and had been lobbying his Mom to get a cow ever since then. He volunteered to do the milking, even though it meant getting up a lot earlier. He would find out that it was hard on your hands until you developed the grip muscles for it.

Three days later, their chosen cow was in residence and seemed to be calmed down pretty well. The beef cattle kept her company, although they kept her separated for now. She had the barnyard to graze in right across the fence from the others in the pasture, and seemed contented. Lynn and Michael spent a lot of time in the barn with her for the first couple days to get her acquainted with them. Noel had not been milking her, but letting the calf take all she produced. The third day they decided to pen the calf away from her for the night and get part of the morning milk. She was pretty skittish about being separated, but she calmed down. The next morning, They milked her, somewhat awkwardly, but Lynn had done it as a kid and knew how. Her hands and arms complained about it, but she and Michael took turns and they got 2 gallons of milk, then let the calf have the rest.

The refrigerator all of a sudden looked very small, with the prospect of getting 2 gallons of milk every morning. Lynn set out for town in the truck, stock racks still in place. She visited the appliance repair man on South Main Street and came home with a good used fridge tied to the stock rack. They decided it could live in the pantry behind the kitchen and shuffled things around in there to make it fit.

Lynn had already acquired new milk buckets, a milk filter funnel, some disinfectant udder wash, teat dip solution, a salt mineral block, and 2 dozen half gallon canning jars to store milk. She had a churn ordered from someone on eBay, but would have to make do with shaking a jar of cream for their first butter churning. After doing that once, she prayed for the churn to get there fast.

Lynn took 4 half gallons of milk down to Margaret and Cindy a day later. Margaret told her, "You know you can't sell milk without being pasteurized, inspected, cow being tested and all that, right?"

Lynn looked at her and said, "What they don't know won't hurt 'em, so we ain't tellin'. Anybody asks about the new cow, we tell 'em Michael is going to raise calves out of her to sell. We use what milk we want and let the calf have the rest until we get some pigs. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

"I still wouldn't advertise that you are using the milk. Some do-gooder will be sure to call the child services and say you are feeding unsterilized milk to your kid and raise Billy Hell about it. Better not say anything about milking her at all."

"Ain't that a heckuva note! Our cow has been tested, vaccinated for everything, and our milkin goperation is a whole lot cleaner than that commercial dairy where we got her! Why can't people mind their own business? If people get hungry enough, they'd be glad enough to drink that milk! But you're right, I know. We'll just keep it quiet. You got that Michael?"

He had been listening with rapt attention. "Yeah, I got it. I'm not sayin' anything to anybody."

"Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I'm going to start making cheese pretty soon. Cottage cheese first, then get into some Farmer's cheese and learn from there. We should have plenty of milk to do that. If we take 2 gallons a day, that's 14 gallons a week. We might drink 2 gallons a week, and you and Cindy might use a gallon a week each. That's 4 gallons, maybe 5. I can skim enough cream off that 5 gallons to make a couple pounds of butter a week, too. So I have to do something with 10 gallons of milk a week, and that means cheese. I don't have to do it right now, because Jeff is getting 20 feeder pigs this week, so we can give them some of it. We can make this work out."

We had a white Christmas, just barely. Snow mostly covered the ground enough for Cindy to convince Jonah that Santa Claus wouldn't have any trouble with his sleigh landing. We had decided long ago to get rid of as much of the commercial aspects of the holiday as we could and emphasize the religious origin. Our family gave each other only small gifts, then had a long day together after the morning worship service at church.

Neither Rich nor Cindy had any family left in the area. His parents had moved to Florida when they retired, and Cindy's had both been lost in a car accident several years ago, and their siblings were scattered across the country like many families. So, for them it made sense to celebrate the holiday with friends and neighbors. We didn't really see each other in the role of employer/employee most of the time, since we were working toward common goals every day. Jonah had begun to call us Grandma and Grandpa Walter and we went right along with it.

The family had all pitched in and provided Christmas dinner, then did the clean up at Rich and Cindy's so they wouldn't be stuck with a mess. Margaret and I sat drinking coffee after breakfast the next day, talking about the gathering
She said, "I liked the spirit of the whole thing. Lynn's gifts of cheeses were much appreciated, and Cindy's homemade soaps were, too. Nathan and Jeannie's homemade wine was a hit. I didn't know that his folks had all those grapes in the back yard, did you?"

"I guess I had seen them behind the shop and ignored them."

"Jonah had a fine time. Jeannie got the educational thing going for his gifts, and he had a great time with them."

"I think it was important that nobody had to bust their budget to buy a bunch of stuff. It gets rid of that nasty competitive thing of giving more than somebody else. It takes a lot more thought to make the gifts personal. I really appreciated the new pocket knife from Rich. He knew I needed one, because we work together so much."

Margaret got up and warmed out coffee with more from the pot on the wood stove. She sat back down and said, "Have you noticed we aren't spending money like we used to?"

"We've been spending a lot of money. I suppose it is on different things all the time, but that's farm life."

"No, I mean personal stuff. We have gradually given up those weekend shopping trips to the Wal Mart. We don't go out to eat as much, and we aren't buying things for the house just to have something new. It just hit me the other day that we can't afford nearly as much as we used to. I don't feel poor exactly, but prices have gone up so much that it doesn't make any sense to buy things we don't reallly need."

"Yeah. I know what you mean. My thinking has changed about what I buy now. I saw on some finance forums that they call it "frog stew". It refers to the thing about putting a frog in water and slowly heating it up. He will sit there until he is boiled to death if you heat it slow enough. If you put a frog directly in hot water he would jump out, but if he doesn't notice the change, he's in trouble."

Margaret said, "That's what I mean. We are slowly getting a lot poorer, but nobody seems to notice, unless it's something like gas prices going up 10 cents."

I nodded agreement. "Yes. It means we have to consciously take a look at our financial situation, even when we think we're doing okay, because this is going to get a lot worse, if Jeff and I are right."

"We can't just keep on watching prices go up without planning to do something about it. I think we haven't noticed any sooner because we grow so much of our own food and we've gotten very self reliant. But there are limits to that. Some things we just can't make or grow."

I told her, "We'll do what we can. Look at what we've got going on now. The whole clan grows vegetables, we have an orchard, we feed out hogs, cattle, and chickens for the family. We all have our own water supplies, and now Jeff's family has a cow and provides dairy products for us. We all have wood heat, except Jeff and Lynn, and Jeff is working on it so he can use the scrap from the sawmill. For energy, we all have solar electric power except Rich and Cindy, and I'm working on biodiesel for the farm. Actually, the biodiesel isn't something we really control very well, because of the input chemicals we have to buy, but we can make money on our investment there. What we don't grow or make, we can get through trade somehow."

Margaret was exasperated and it sounded like it when she said, "Sure, Jeff trades sawed lumber for feeder pigs, and we sort of trade meat for dairy stuff to Lynn. But we still buy sugar, salt, coffee, flour, spices, and all the vet supplies and machinery for the farm. We can't do everything here, so if prices go crazy, we are in the frog stew with everybody else."

"Yes, to a degree, but far less than most people. What my folks used to tell me was that during the Great Depression, the main things were to be able to have enough to eat, and money to pay the taxes so they didn't lose their farm. They could get by for everything else, somehow."

"We won't lack for enough to eat. Paying the property taxes is no problem now, but they could raise them any time they want to. And the other things we need are beginning to pinch enough that I notice." Margaret made it clear she didn't like it.

"There are things we can do yet, and it is important to get as much done as possible while we can still afford it. Buying in bulk for the long term will save some money over time. Like the spices you mentioned. You've already stocked up enough to last for years. We can do that with other things, too, and save over the long term. I buy extra work boots and gloves when I find them on sale, and you get work clothes for me at Goodwill. I've got enough to last for as long as I live now!"

Margaret sat and thought a while. She is one of the most sensible people I know, besides being the best friend I will ever have. So I just sat and enjoyed the quiet. Outside, it was a cloudy, dull Sunday afternoon, a time to rest. When my wife decided to share her thoughts, I paid attention.

"It seems to me that if the money goes bad like you say, we won't be able to buy much of anything, right?"

"For a while it could be like that, until things settle down and we figure out what money is worth, or, for that matter what IS money then. There's some talk about issuing new dollars if it all goes to pot."

She said, "If that is the case, we want to have anything we need already bought. So, no matter how it comes out, we don't have to worry. So, there are the things we can grow and make, the things we can't grow or make, and the things that just take money, like taxes, repair parts, internet service, and doctor bills. We're doing fine on the things we can grow and make. For some things, we can trade, like dairy products from Lynn, and lumber from Jeff. The things we can't make, mostly we have bought a supply of them. But the last one worries me. What about the things that just take money? If money is no good, how can that work?"

I had no good answers. I made a try at it. "Some of those things we can probably trade for. Others, we will have to make do without, like doctors, and maybe internet service. Taxes I have no idea how that will work. Repair parts I am trying to stock up, but I am sure to forget something, and have too much of something else. Trade isn't very likely for special machinery parts. Like I said before, we do our best, and then make do. If you can come up with more answers, let me know, and I'll think about it too.'

I didn't like this. Retirement was supposed to be relaxing.

We tabled the discussion so I could go put hay down for the cattle, while she cleaned up in the house. I checked the battery monitor on the way out the door, and noticed it was down to less than full charge. These dark days didn't produce much electricity, so we had to keep our useage to a minimum.

Margaret was like a Pit Bull Terrier with regard to problems. She would chew on it until she had gotten the best of it. On my way out the door, she said, "You better make an appointment to get your eyes checked. You probably need new glasses, and I do too."

I nodded agreement and ducked outside as much to lay down the discussion as anything. I've found that when you are stuck with a dilemna, it's best to go do something else for a while and let your mind digest things. I get better results that way, and it's not so worrisome.


Chapter 47 NEW DIRECTIONS January, 2012

"We're going to build BUGGIES?" Jeannie was surprised, but Nathan always found something to do when business was slow.
"Two Amish men were here while you were gone and asked if we could make running gear for buggies. I took a look at the one they were driving and I've been thinking about it. What stumped me was where to get the wheels. They said they have sources for the wheels, both wood and wire spoke with rubber tires. I took some pictures and said I'd have them a price when they come to town next Saturday."
"Well. That IS a new idea. HEY! Ruby and Clint have horses! We might sell some to somebody besides the Amish! Are you going to make the shafts, too?"
"They said they can get wood shafts made up by an Amish outfit, but steel would be okay if we are competitive. I can bend tubing to shape for shafts, I just gotta figure out the numbers for time and materials. I told 'em that the more I make at one time, the cheaper it gets. They understood that, and it seems that's what they're looking for. These two guys are woodworkers, and they build buggy boxes now, but they are buying the running gear, and it is expensive. I did some searching on the net and found some Chinese made wire spoke wheels that are WAY cheaper than what they said. I'll quote 'em with and without wheels and see how it goes."
"Hmm. I might just be interested in a buggy if gas keeps going up. I just paid $3.249 when I filled up. That's down from last year when it nearly hit 4 dollars, but the guy at the station said it was going up soon because of oil prices. The rumor he heard was 5 DOLLARS by Memorial day!

Michael said, "Mom, can we go to Louisville? I found a bike I like on Craigslist, and it's CHEAP! They said $90 for a NEW Mongoose! It sounds too good to be true, but that's what the ad said. They cost $200 at Wal Mart!"

Lynn was surprised, and asked, "What happened to the dirt bike you wanted so bad?"

"Well, you're afraid I'll kill myself on it. A mountain bike would go places the dirt bike wouldn't and you won't be on my case about riding it, right? I could ride over to Trent's, or down to Gandpa's easy, even over to Jeannie and Nathan's. It's not that far. It would even go through the woods on the deer trail to Grandpa's."

"It's pretty cold out to be riding a bike now."

"Yeah, maybe that's why it's so cheap."

"I think it's got more to do with people needing money. Lots of people are out of work now. Let's see the ad."

Michael brought it up on Craigslist. Lynn didn't see anything obvious that looked like a scam, so she answered the ad with an email and left the computer on. By the time she finished making lunch, she had an answering email with a phone number. When Jeff came in to eat, they talked it over and decided Lynn would take Michael to check it out. The bike was as advertised, only very slightly used, if at all. The woman told her they were moving to a small apartment and wouldn't have room for the bike, and also had a lot of furniture to sell. Lynn had no interest in the furniture, so they left with the bike and headed back to Indiana.

Lynn decided to stop at Rural King on the way, since they didn't get up this way very often. They had a special on ingredients to make homemade laundry soap, so she stocked up on those. Michael saw the sporting goods displays and wanted some steel traps. He hadn't forgotten the coyotes, and he had a plan in mind. They passed by the outdoor clothing and got Michael a new winter work coat a size too big, hoping it would still fit next year. Lynn bought a couple 5 gallon buckets of outside white paint, so the cart was pretty full when they checked out.

I came in with the mail and put it on the breakfast bar. Margaret flipped through the normal pile of ads and farm magazines. She opened the insurance bill and put it on her desk, then read the enclosed flyer. "Wonder what made them do this?"

"Do what?"

"The insurance company sent this flyer on 'Preparing for an Emergency'. I can't figure out why they would do that?"

"Hmm. I dunno. Maybe they are reading some of the same stuff Jeff and I read?"

"Makes me wonder. There was a show on PBS TV about that, too. It was kind of ridiculous, though. It had several families that had 'retreats' out in the country with big fences around them, and were running around in army clothes with guns."

"There's always some of that going on, I guess. But it seems to me that a lot of folks are getting the idea that we're in for some hard times ahead. Most of 'em don't have any idea how to live except to buy everything they need, and they do some silly things like that."

"Well, if the idea is getting around to TV, then more people must be interested. When you and Jeff started talking about this, I thought you were getting paranoid. I saw the good sense in what you were doing, so I went along with it. But I didn't really feel the urgency you were talking about. I guess we have company now."

Jeff had been doing some research. They still had grid electric, because the water pump and the 2 refrigerators and the freezer added up to more than they could make with 8 solar panels. The water from the pond was gravity flow to the barn, no problem. But they still used an electric pump on the well for the house. They had the little hand pump for emergencies, but that was a real pain to use every day. That old fridge that Lynn got for the milk was a good short term answer, but it gobbled power like there was no tomorrow.

He found instructions online for converting a chest type freezer into a refrigerator. It looked simple enough. They had bought a separate thermostat and put the sensor for it inside the freezer, passing the tiny thermocouple lead through the rubber seal on the freezer door. The thermostat had the proper temp range to keep the freezer at normal fridge temperature. The freezer cord simply plugged into the thermostat unit, and the thermostat plugged into your supply. They were saying it used far less power, since the chest unit didn't dump out the cold air when you opened the door. And, the newer freezers were far more efficient than the old ones. If he could do that, then it would make a perfect milk cooler, and probably replace their kitchen refirgerator, too. Adding solar capacity and getting rid of the water pump and 2 refrigerators would do it. They should have plenty of power to run their existing freezer for meat and the converted one for a fridge, plus their lights and other small items.

Jeff did the math and decided to go for it. He ordered 4 more solar panels, another forklift battery, another MPPT charge controller, and the other small items to build a completely separate solar system to add to their capacity. Solar panels had come down a little more, so he got 210 watt panels for a little less than he'd paid for the 200 watt ones they had. By making it a stand-alone system, he had the versatility to keep things going for a while if one system had problems. It also avoided the problem of mixing used batteries with new ones. He wanted to be completely off grid, and he was convinced that this would do it. Their electrical useage was already low. The only thing left was the water pump, and he had an idea to get rid of that by tapping into the pond supply for everything except drinking water. They could hand pump their drinking water, no problem.

What he had been reading had motivated him to work on this. All signs pointed to problems with the US dollar getting closer now. Europe was about at the end of their string trying to prop up Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. It looked like the Euro was going to be in trouble there. The ensuing chaos with the bond market and Credit Default Swaps could easily take down some US banks and it could all come unravelled. He knew his Mom and Dad would be okay. It was Nathan and Jeannie's shop that would suffer most, since they had to have grid electric to run it.

He didn't know that Nathan had been thinking about that, too. and Jeannie had some ideas of her own. She had grown up with a pet horse, and knew what they could do, so she had been shopping all the junk stores and flea markets for old implements. Clint and Ruby Voyles lived right down the road and had 4 riding horses they could barely afford to feed. Jeannie had a plan for working their garden, dragging in firewood, putting in enough corn to feed a couple horses, and cutting their hay. She wanted some chickens, too. It was too far to go to her parent's place for eggs all the time, and she like fried chicken, too.

Nathan had been steadily equipping their shop with non-electric tools and machines. He had restored an old blacksmith forge and a crank powered drill press that he fitted with a modern chuck. He had a lever operated shear that would cut steel flat bars and some lever operated punches for steel. The CNC plasma cutter had to have electricity, so he had an LP fueled generator to run that and his welders. He wasn't finished yet, but he had a good start. He had been reading the news. too.

Rich hadn't said much, but he was paying attention to what was going on around him. He and Cindy talked about it at some length. It wasn't too hard to figure out that if the dollar became worthless, or close to it, they were in better shape to face it than most people they knew. But, there were some gaps. They couldn't afford a big solar setup for electricity, or a lot of other things that would be nice to have.

He had thought about it, and decided there were other ways to deal with this. He figured that if it all went south, Alan wouldn't be able to supply them with electricity, and he wouldn't be able to afford LP gas to heat water and cook food. Cindy had seen Jeannie's wood cook range with the hot water tank and wanted one. Rich hadn't found one yet, but he had found new kerosene lamps at Clarence's hardware store, and he'd found a nice oil barrel at the junkyard with a valve on it. He washed it out with gasoline, and let it air out in the sun for several weeks. When the smell of gasoline was pretty well gone, he began to buy 5 gallons of kerosene when they went shopping. The barrel had 30 gallons in it now, which he thought would last a very long time in lamps. They had used the hand well pump for water the last time the power went out, so he knew they could get by that way.

Rich felt bad about using Alan's chainsaw to cut all their firewood, so when he saw an old 20" Homelite at the flea market store for $60, he grabbed it. He spent a day cleaning it up, filed the chain, and he had a working saw. He invested another $42 in 2 new chains, a file, a spare spark plug, and some bar oil. He bought gas to fill a couple 5 gallon cans he'd bought at an auction, and a one gallon can he bought new to mix gas for the saw. The junkyard provided him an axe head, a splitting maul with a rotten handle, and 3 splitting wedges for $22. He got busy on his off days and put up a woodshed using some cedar posts, lumber from Jeff, and the leftover roofing Alan got so cheap.

Cindy found an ad on Craigslist for a wood cook range, and Jeff bought it for $200. It was a lot of money, but Cindy was happy with it. He bought some stainless steel fittings and hooked into their new metal chimney. Cindy went to work learning how to use it and bake in it, a process that involved some biscuits that were so hard the dogs wouldn't eat them, but she got better quickly with help from Jeannie.

They didn't have much money to spare, and Jonah was growing like a weed. Cindy and Lynn spent a lot of time searching at the Goodwill store for kid's clothing every time they went shopping. She had boxes filled with clothing for the boy in several sizes packed away upstairs in the old house. Lynn had baby clothes, toddler's sizes, and up to 6 year old sizes stashed in her spare bedroom--girl's clothes, since curiousity got the best of her and she'd had an ultrasound test done to learn that they would be having a baby girl. Both women grabbed canning lids when they were cheap at the end of last summer and had a supply put away. They thought they could weather a pretty rough time of it, although there were other things they would like to have.

Nathan and Jeannie made a production run of 12 sets of running gear for the Amish men. They took part of their pay in the form of an enclosed buggy box for themselves, upholstered with soft leatherette and with the required lights in place. They actually build 14 running gears, and when the deal was done, the buggy they planned to keep and the spare gear was paid for. Nathan already had the spare sold to the Voyles family, and took a pair of unbroke young mares in trade for it that were out of Percheron Mares bred to a Morgan stud. They were sturdy black horses, about 1,100 pounds each, with big solid feet and thick hooves.

Jeannie bought a set of single buggy harness and a set of work harness for a team from an Amish harnessmaker. He was a neighbor of the buggy makers and had bought one of their new running gears. She and Nathan had done some work on his farm machinery that he was pleased with, and gave her a good price on the harness. He reccomended a man who made horse collars and gave her his address. Jeannie measured her horses for collars and ordered a pair that size with the optional adjustment sleeves for larger horses. She took the truck to her Dad's and came home with enough hay to do for the winter plus a couple sacks of ground feed. She had trimmed horse's feet before, but never done any shoeing, so she removed the mare's shoes for the winter and ordered several sets from the local Amish Farrier. She let them run barefoot in the 1/2 acre barn lot for now.

Soon Jeannie had her horse equipment in the shop and working on it. There was an 12" walking plow, two 4 foot sections of spike tooth harrow, a 9 shovel cultivator, a slip scoop, and a 5 foot mowing machine, an International No. 7 "Regular Gear" model. They paid $350 for the mower, more than all the rest of the equipment. The mower got the most attention, with all new guards and sickle sections, a new pitman arm and bearings, and new bushings in the gearbox, having them machined to fit by her Dad. She found new cultivator shovels at the local farm equipment dealer, and plow bolts to install them. Nathan made a doubletree set from pipe and rods, and a spare singletree. He forged some 'lap links' to hook up the singletrees and made repairs as needed on the equipment. They bought a wheel rake at an auction. Nathan made a "fore cart", a 2 wheel cart with one seat, 2 wheels and a tongue. It had a hitch on the back like a tractor that allowed the horses to pull any implement with a simple pin hitch. Now they could mow and rake hay. They would have to drop seeds by hand, but it wasn't that big a job for an acre of corn. Jeannie looked for weeks for a 5 foot horse drawn single disc. She finally found one, in very poor condition in the junkyard. They also bought a larger junk disc there, a tractor model, and replaced the disc sections and bearing housings on the horse model. When it left the shop, it looked like a new one.

Come Spring, they had what it took to farm their 12 acres of tillable ground, and would have a goodly pile of horse manure to enrich it. Jeannie went to work on a wood sled to haul out the manure as it accumulated. The sled would be useful for all manner of farm hauling chores, and cost essentially nothing to build out of sawmill scraps. They had spent $1,500 on harness, $180 for collars, $800 on implements including repairs, and had about $200 in materials for the buggy gear they traded for the horses. Their total investment in horse farming was about $2700, plus a lot of work. Her Dad wouldn't take anything for the hay and corn, saying she had earned that and more working in his hay and tobacco. She did spend another $90 on 30 bales of straw for stall litter, but she called that operating expense. Her Dad gave her a bag of open pollinated seed corn, enough to plant an acre.

They still had some fence to build, but Jeannie decided they could call themselves farmers when they got some chickens in the henhouse. That would be when her mother got new chicks this Spring.

Jacob Schwartz, who made horse collars, lived some 50 miles away in another Amish settlement. Nathan and Jeannie had received a postcard saying their collars were ready to be picked up, with directions to his shop. It was a thriving Amish community. They passed by dozens of neat farms and small businesses, arranged like a Currier and Ives print of long ago. When they arrived at the shop, there were two young men industriously working in the back, chattering in German. An older man came to meet them at a very modest desk near the front door.
Recognizing them for 'English', he spoke their language. "I am Jacob Schwartz. Can I help you?"

In deference to their custom of men doing the business, Nathan spoke, "We got your card that our collars were finished. Our name is Tilson."

'Yes. I'll find the order here." He looked through a wall mounted rack with filing cards in it, each one handwritten with a name clearly printed in block letters at the top. He pulled out the card with their name on it, and laid it on the desk, then went to the back of the shop where pegs held an array of shiny black collars with white leather lacing on the edges. He chose a pair and carried one on each arm to the desk, laid them there and picked up the card.

"Two, 17" collars wit' adjusstmint, right?"

"That's right. What do we owe you?"

"That is $76 for a collar, and $14 for the adjusstmint, so $90 each. Times 2 is $180. This is for farm use, right?"

"Yes, it's for our farm."

"So. There is no tax. It is $180."

Jeannie spoke for the first time. "They are beautiful workmanship. Thank you!"

Jacob smiled at her and said, "They are made well, and strong. They should last."

His curiousity got the best of him and he asked, "Most English buy for driving, and not for work. You farm wit horses?"

Nathan affirmed that they were beginning to use horses and would work their young pair in the woods this winter to start training them.
Jacob smiled, "They are not broke yet? That is a job."
Jeannie grinned and said she had done this before. They were gentle, so she expected them to work out fine.
"Really? You train horses?"

"Only the two we had when I was a kid. But I helped with some friends' horses, too. I make them my friend, and they work just fine, but like children, you have to watch for bad behavior."

"AH! Is so." He regarded them with frank curiousity that was not lost on Nathan.

Nathan said, "We have them because we see the world's money being in trouble. Our country has too much debt, and we think that will cause banks to fail, and probably the money, too. We are trying to be ready for that with our own small farm."

"ACH! Yes. Debt is very bad. You tink the money goes bad, eh?"

"It is now. Prices go up and up, because the money is worth less. The central bank is printing too much of it. With more and more dollars printed, each one is worth less, and they can't stop printing because they need the new dollars to pay on the debt."

The young men in the back were listening as they worked, glancing to the front, interested.

"So. It will keep going, you tink? Prices keep going up and up?"

"Yes, and it will not end well. This has happened many times before in other countries. Each time, the money became worth nothing, and people were very poor. It happened in Germany after World War One, and lately in Africa and in Argentina."

"Yes. Some of our people live in Argentina. Our newspaper told of great trouble there. You tink dis happens here?"

"I do, and we have been getting ready for this for a long time. Her parents have a farm, and her brother has a sawmill and a small farm. We have a shop and do metal work, but that isn't enough. We think we will need to grow our own food, too."

Jacob considered all this. He said, "My friend that made your harness, he told me this. He said you are not like other English. He liked your work, too. So, I believe what you say, and I am worried now. When does this happen, you tink?"

Nathan shook his head gravely, saying, "Nobody knows how long it will take. It could be this year, or it could take 4 or 5 years, but most who study this say maybe in a year or two. Some say before the next election this Fall. We don't know. It is a game of the biggest bankers, and we don't know what they will do next."

"How will the English live with no money? We need money, but not like the English. We buy some tings, but we buy much less than others." Jacob ruminated and bit his lip, then shook his head. "If this is true, it is a bad thing."

"That is the best we know. So, we are getting ready the best we can. It is oil that is the big problem. The US buys so much oil that we don't control the price like we used to. If the dollar goes bad, oil will cost much more, some have said 3 times as much for gasoline and diesel fuel. That would ruin us."

"Three times! Then it cost too much to drive, and..." His voice trailed off as he digested this.

"The price goes up and down now because of big traders buying and selling. They hear rumors of wars, and the price goes up. Things settle down, and now people are out of work and can't buy so much, so the price went down last year. Soon it will go up again, with a war possible in Iran. But that is nothing to what will happen if the value of a dollar is lost. Then, it will go up and never come down. That is why we choose to live like you."

Jacob was worried now. This young man was a sober, sensible fellow, and had a good reputation with other Amish. What he said made sense, but it was a terrible thing to think about. What a thing, for an English to choose to live like Amish! He thought about this for the rest of the day, somewhat distracted from his business. His sons asked questions, but he had no answers. He told them, in German, "We will pray about this. All of us."

Nathan and Jeannie stopped at an Amish restaurant a couple miles away ate lunch. The food was good and plentiful. They were pretty stuffed when they left for home. They had both been looking at everything around them in this large Amish community. Nathan said, "I think we need to build a wagon."

Jeannie agreed. "Yes," she said slowly, "with sides that come off, and a hay rack, too. It should be a little smaller than dad's wagons. The horses aren't real big, so we need to size it to them."

Nathan thought a while. "It needs to be light. They can only pull so much, so the less wagon they have to pull, the more load we get out of it. That's tricky. Sort of like designing an airplane. The wheels need to be fairly large diameter so it rolls easier. I want rubber tires on it to take the shock loads off the horses. The choice of wheels and tires is important here. It wants a seat across the front like an old fashioned horse drawn farm wagon."

Jeannie said, "My uncle used to have one he made out of the axles from a Model A Ford, and it worked great. No chance of finding one of those now, though."

Nathan found his answer at the junkyard, a junk Toyota 4WD chassis, the frame rusted through in places. He bought the front and rear axles, the brake pedal and master cylinder and left the rest. He found a junk mobile home frame there and had the yard man torch out a couple ten foot sections of the tall thin I-beams and a couple of the trussed crossmembers. Two days later, he had the axles mounted on the homemade frame and was working on the steering, fashioning a short tongue from 4" channel.

He would bolt a long light piece of wood to that for hitching the horses' neck yoke that steered the wagon. The tongue would be stiff, that is self supporting, so it did not put weight on the horses' necks. Some horse machinery, especially mowers, had too much weight on the horses' necks that caused pressure sores. There was no excuse for that, when you could design around the problem. Their mower had what they called front wheel 'trucks' to support the front end, and a light hinged tongue that put almost no weight on the horses.

He bought oak 2 x 4's from Jeff for cross pieces and laid on treated deck boards lengthwise over that, put on with lag screws into the oak. A band of steel went around the outside edge to make stake pockets where he'd notched the flooring. The side boards he made from thin pine tongue and groove lumber, with oak stakes, all bolted together. Their local Amish friends sold them springs for the seat. When the body was complete, he removed the ring gear from both axles to reduce the drag of gears, installed new wheel bearings and rebuilt the brakes. New brake lines went to the master cylinder and he positioned the brake pedal on the generous-sized footboard in front of the seat. It got a new set of the narrowest tires they could find to fit, and inflated to the maximum pressure to roll easily.

Jeannie was delighted to find that she could easily move the new wagon around on level ground. The bed was only 5 feet wide, instead of 7 feet like a farm wagon, and was 10 feet long. With the 2 1/2 foot high sideboards, it had a capacity of 125 cubic feet, or 100 bushels, grain measure. Nathan figured that the wagon was sturdy enough to haul 3 tons of grain, but he wouldn't ask the horses to pull that much. They could pull it half full of ear corn on the farm, about a ton, or mostly full of firewood and could easily haul it loaded to the max with hay.

Nathan made a temporary short tongue of wood and pulled it home from the shop with the pickup. Later, he was pleased to know the thin steel frame was flexible enough to let the wagon flex going over rough ground, and the spring seat rode comfortably. A tap on the brake pedal would stop a load, too.

They decided it was time to build a corn crib. Shelled corn, wheat, soybeans and other small grains were close to 1 1/4 cubic feet to the bushel, but ear corn had cobs and air spaces in the pile, and occupied twice as much room, about 2 1/2 cubic feet per bushel. So 100 bushels would need 250 cubic feet of storage. If they built a crib inside the barn that was 8 feet long, the distance between posts, and 4 feet wide, it would have to be 7.8 feet high to hold 100 bushels. That was too high to shovel corn comfortably, so they decided to go 6 feet wide by 8 feet long. With 48 square feet of floor space, they only had to go a little over 5 feet deep to be 100 bushels. If they had more corn, they could pile it deeper, since it was 10 feet to the rafters in the corner of the barn. Jeannie called Lynn and told her to tell Jeff what lumber they needed.

Jeannie went work looking for a feed mill of some sort. She wanted it to do everything--grind chicken feed, grind corn for the horses, and make flour. Maybe hog feed, too, if they got some. It

shouldn't be too big, because it would take too much power and cost too much. And it would be nice if they could power it with a horse. She settled on a burr mill made by C. S. Bell Company. It needed a 2 HP electric motor to power it, they said, and could grind 200 pounds an hour, or a little more depending on how fine you set it. She would let Nathan figure out how to run it with a horse. She had confidence in him.

That would have to wait a while, because they had gotten an order in for 4 solar heaters. They had the materials on hand, so she thought they could get that out within the week. That would pay for a new burr mill, she thought with satisfaction.


Chapter 48 A NEW SHOP March and April, 2012

Nathan and Jeannie had been driving to town every work day to their shop at his Dad Jerry's place. Jerry had a huge old barn that they had maintained and improved over the years with a concrete floor, a partial ceiling, and a couple rooms for the CNC plasma cutter and it's computer controls. The old barn was going to need some serious work if they were to continue there. Time and weather had caused some damage to siding, the roof needed recoating, and there was some rot here and there. Jerry was retired now, and didn't do much in the shop, except for some personal projects. They had all talked it over and concluded to build a new shop for Nathan at their place. They did not depend on walk-in customers, and in fact discouraged that sort of trade, preferring multiple lot orders.

In the back of Nathan's mind was that his Dad and Mom were getting older. The old folks had bought a weekend getaway place adjoining Nathan and Jeannie's ground some years ago. Jerry liked to go out there to for hunting deer, rabbits, and mushrooms, and sometimes just for a quiet weekend in the woods. He had parked a small mobile home there, and had it ready to use, but drained the pipes in the Fall. Nathan and his parents had seen the property as a bug-out spot for the old folks if it was ever needed. In that case, Nathan would much prefer to have his expensive shop stuff at home. So, he and Jeannie did some serious planning for a new building.

Their small house sat well off the county road behind a thickly wooded strip along the road. Where the lane wound it way up the hill to the house it circled a spot they planned for the shop. The house was set high enough to still see the road over the top of the proposed shop. They staked off where it would go and he used the new team of horses and the slip scoop to remove the top layer of forest duff. That went into a pile to compost with horse manure and other things.

Some slight sculpting was needed, but was easily accomplished with the team, now settling down to work like they knew something about it. Jeannie had spent a lot of time with them, first dragging a small log all over the farm, just to give them the idea of what pulling something was about. They graduated to pulling the sled and hauling up firewood, then hauling out their own manure from the barn. Soon they were dragging the rebuilt disc over the garden spot, and now with some more quiet teaching and being led the first few times, they had the slip scoop figured out. They moved an amazing amount of dirt in half a day, and had the spot ready for gravel and then concrete.

March was unseasonably warm this year, which speeded up the building. They had posts in the ground and a concrete slab poured by the middle of the month, and Jeff had delivered 2 wagon loads of lumber. A week later, the frame was mostly in place, except for the roof trusses. The end of the month saw the trusses set, purlins on them and roofing well under way. Their neighbors, John and Susie Avery were there to help, so the 32' x 48' building was roofed in 3 days. The weather got really hot at that point, in the 80's. Thankful for the breezy hilltop location, they worked for the next week putting on siding.

The building had one long side facing South, where it could be seen from the house. They installed windows on both long sides and made openings for a 12 foot door and a 3 foot entrance door on the South side adjoining the driveway. By the end of the month, the building could be locked up, so they began to move shop equipment every time they had a reason to go to town. It would be another month before that was finished and longer yet before they had everything in operation. Costs had been kept to a minimum by several means. The small door and windows were free, from some past salvaging Nathan and his Dad had done. Jeff supplied sawmill lumber and posts at half of what they would cost at the lumber yards. Labor cost nothing out-of-pocket, since they had helped their neighbor's when they needed it. The metal roofing and siding were "seconds", which were really leftovers from runs at the manufacturer, and cost 60% of normal prices. The concrete was the worst of it, with concrete running $118 a yard. The floor averaged 6" thick, which used 28 1/2 yards, costing almost $3,500 by the time all the miscellaneous charges were added on. The roofing and siding, 3400 square feet of it, cost $32/100 square feet, a total of $1,100. Total cost to that point had been a little over $10,000, counting the purchased roof trusses, bought from a bankrupt contractor sale near Louisville. They paid more to have the trusses hauled home than they cost to buy.

The ground was getting warmed by the hot weather, so they took a day to teach the horses how to plow a garden, and another day for them to get acquainted with discing and harrowing in plowed ground. The corn ground would have to wait until the shop was moved.

When the big items were moved so Nathan didn't need her help, Jeannie got the horses busy on the corn patch and had it plowed and worked down within a couple days. Not trusting the warm weather, she started seeds in pots on the windowsills for tomatoes and peppers. Cabbage, broccoli, spinach, chard, kale, lettuce and radishes she planted directly in the garden. They were small plantings she was willing to risk to a late frost, and would probably survive it anyway.

The corn crib was finished, and as yet unused, so it got to be temporary storage for garden tools. Things were not very organized yet, but the shop had to come first. Once all the equipment was moved in, the forge needed a chimney, the CNC plasma cutter needed its' two small solar panels and batteries set up to power the computer, the generator to power the plasma cutter needed a secure shed of its' own to prevent possible theft, and keep the exhaust fumes out of the main building. Wiring needed to be re-installed for that. The list of jobs seemed endless, but day by day, they made progress. More than once, Jeannie hitched a horse to a machine to relocate it to a better spot. Easter lilies had come and gone, and the garden was starting to grow by the time they felt like they could actually do some paying work in the new shop.

The horses had made a muddy mess of their barn lot. They were still eating hay and lusting after the lush new grass beyond their fence. Jeannie took pity on them and staked them out a few times, to get them used to the new grass. They needed a larger lot fenced badly, so they took a couple days to run some barbed wire. They did not take the time to make a real gate, but used barbed wire and small poles to make a "gap gate". It wasn't what they wanted yet, but the horses had a couple acres to graze, and it was that much they wouldn't have to mow later. They talked about an electric fence, but decided against it. There were just too many trees that dropped limbs to make that practical. And it would have meant buying a solar powered fence charger they didn't plan to use long term, so they opted for barbed wire strung from tree to tree for now.

With everything needing done at once, they got an order for 4 more buggy frames. The money was welcome, but they had too much to do. They put every effort toward getting them out fast, and found they actually made a better profit on those 4 than the first 12, but it took a few days they needed elsewhere. Their isolated shop had let them work uninterrupted on the job, and it paid off.

"Nathan, did you see this video?"

"What video?"

"They call it "Confiscation and Inflation'. It's on Youtube."

Jeannie was enoying their new satellite internet connection. They had been using the internet connection at their old shop at Jerry's place, but since they weren't going there every day, she'd had the satellite link set up. It cost more than their the old shop's wireless linkup and it wasn't as fast, but out here in the boonies it was all they could get. At least they had internet at home now. Nathan had created a separate solar system to power it, with a gel-cell battery for low maintenance. He believed in multiple systems where power was concerned, his theory being that they wouldn't ALL fail at once. He called it their "Department of Redundancy Department".

"You need to watch this. They are talking about the dollar failing."

Nathan put down his tools and went over to the desk to watch. When it was over, he said, "That's pretty much what Jeff said about it."

"Well, I don't like a lot of doom and gloom. It's depressing. But this seemed to make so much sense. It was like watching a bad car wreck. You don't really want to see it, but you just can't seem to look away from it."

"Yeah. I'd rather be doing something constructive, like getting the blacksmith shop going. The more I can do to get us away from the mess, the better I feel about it."

"Time for us to look for holes in our plans, doncha think?"

"Oh, it wouldn't hurt. Always good to check things out."

Jeannie got a pad of paper and wrote some page headings. Food, Water, Energy, Shelter, Income, Medical, Security. She began to jot down what they had done for each category.

Nathan said, "When you run our of ideas there, I'll take a look at it and play Devil's Advocate, okay?"

She was concentrating and just nodded a reply.

Nathan went back to laying blocks for the forge chimney. It was big for a chimney. He was laying 6 concrete blocks per course, to form a chimney that was 16" square on the inside. The idea was to keep a large volume of hot exhaust moving up. Since coal smoke was so obnoxious, he didn't want to smell it any more than necessary. He was up to about 6 feet tall now, and nearly finished with the block laying. He would add a 12 foot section of old culvert above that for a total height of 18 feet. The concrete blocks just made it easier to make a solid base for it. He had already

fabricated a spark arrestor of stainless steel mesh for the top, complete with a rain hat, and a heavy steel bracket to mount the culvert to the building at the top. The culvert was free, salvaged from the county road crew when they replaced one down the road. He had simply torched off the bad ends.

They talked about her Prep Audit, as she called it, over lunch.

Jeannie said, "I think we're covered for energy for a long time, except possibly for the fridge on LP. But we can go a LONG time on that big tank, now that we aren't using gas for heat or cooking. We can move the wood stove out to the back porch in hot weather now that it is screened in, and cook on it all year. If gasoline gets too high, we can use the buggy. These horses won't go as fast as some, because of their big clunky feet and legs, but they can go all day. We don't need gasoline for anything else but the generator and the chainsaws, and they don't take that much. How much gas will we use in a year?"

"Oh, I don't know. I think I cut all the firewood and did a lot of clearing last year on less than that 5 gallon can full. I've still got some left. Now the generator, it depends. We wouldn't HAVE to use it hardly ever, if we are careful about when we do the washing and such, now that we have more solar panels. The shop generator needs the LP tank filled, so I'll attend to that. I won't use that 500 gallon tank in a long time. The arc welder will use about 4 or 5 gallons a day, if you are working pretty steady. That's why I put up the 250 gallon tank for it, and it's full. I won't use that in 2 years or more. But I want some in cans, too. Easier to handle and it's a backup plan."

Jeannie thought for a while. "On food, this is the first year for the corn patch, and we have never made a hay crop yet, either. I think they will be okay. We could cut some hay over at John and Susie's if we had too. I'm afraid we'll have a weed patch in that cornfield this summer, but it should grow something. The new part of the garden will take a lot of hoeing, too. And picking rocks out. I never saw so many rocks as on this place. The ground is good, though. We need chickens, but we knew that. I'm not sure about pigs. Dad feeds out pigs every year, so I don't see any point in it now. Maybe when he and Mom get old enough they won't want to fool with it anymore."

Nathan said, "Yeah, our folks aren't getting any younger. They'll need more help someday."

"I think it will be several years yet, so I'm in no hurry on pigs, or a cow either. We can go to Jeff and Lynn's for milk once a week, it wouldn't take long in a buggy. I think it's a good thing for her to be making cheese, too. It's not something I want to get into."

"Yeah, that's how I feel about the sawmill, too. Jeff can have it."

"Water. We've got that covered, now that the pond is filling up and the cistern is working. I don't mind pumping water to the tank for the toilet. If there is enough power to run the 12 volt pump, that's nice, but I can do it if there's not on dark days."

"I think we have income covered. We don't need much, and if there is any business at all going on, I'll find something to do in the shop. We've still got money ahead now, and I want to keep enough to pay the taxes for a couple years, and keep it in silver coins. You know Indiana had a bill in the legislature last year to take silver and gold coins as payment for debts owed to the state. It didn't go anywhere, but if they are already thinking about that, you can bet it will happen if they need it. But I don't see us running short of money. We don't need that much."

Jeannie said, "Medical needs, I just don't know. I've got enough herbs put up to last for ages, and we never go to the doctor for much of anything. A broken bone, maybe. We need to keep some common stuff on hand. I should buy some drugstore things, I guess."

"Yeah, I can sew up a cut better than a lot of doctors I've known. Some pain pills would be good to have on hand, but I don't know how how you'd go about getting them. Same with some antibiotics."

"I'll talk to Mom. She should know about that."

Jeannie read her shopping list. "So far, we need chickens, some drug store stuff, keep the gas cans and the LP tank filled, and ask Mom about some antibiotics and pain pills. I need to go to the drugstore. I want to store more coffee. I just can't get started in the morning without it. I like the cheap instant, so I'll get some. I need to check out our canning supplies. Oh! And I need to get some vet supplies, in case the horses come down with something."

Nathan had some additions. "Get some 2 cycle oil for the chainsaws and a couple spark plugs for 'em, too. Better get a couple 5 gallon buckets of motor oil, for several reasons. And I'm thinking that I want about 4 rolls of barbed wire. That could come in handy for a lot of things. I want to get some shotgun shells, and some .45's, too, but that can wait until we go to Clarksville."

"What about the shop building? Anything we will need for that?"

"Uh, well, maybe some nails and other hardware. I'll have to think about that. Looks like a couple shopping trips and we'll be in good shape. I better go to the bank and get most of the money out. I'll stop and see that guy at the jewelry store about some silver coins, too. I won't take out too much, and you can write checks for what you buy. We can have most of our money either spent or in cash pretty quick. I've got a good sized steel order to make, so I'll write a check for that. Steel looks like a good place for us to park some money right now. It ain't gettin' any cheaper, and I want the shop stocked up to the max."


Chapter 49 GETTING READY FOR SPRING March and April, 2012

Jeff finally found what he thought was a good answer for a combine after many searches online and around the area. The local farm consignment auction just didn't have what he wanted. All the smaller, older combines were either junk, or not for sale. An online ad from Ohio looked promising. It was in the price range he had set, and looked to be in decent shape. It was a model F2, Allis Chalmers Gleaner, well known for doing a good job of cleaning grain. The 4 row corn head was easy to handle in smaller fields, and the 15 foot grain table was reasonable for the acrage jeff planned on working.

After a long phone call to the seller, he made a trip to see it. He took some money along in case he decided to buy it, because there just weren't that many of these around for sale. It looked better in person than it had in the pictures. The machine appeared to be ready for the field. The old farmer was retiring, and had put his entire farm in the government set-aside program for the past several years. Jeff told him it looked to be in great shape, and the man told him he had only run his own grain with it, about 60 acres a year, since his main business had been raising registered hogs for breeding stock. Health issues had caused him to give that up 8 years ago, so his son had used it on this same farm since then. He had maintained it well, and told Jeff what to

expect it would need done soon.

Jeff paid him his asking price of $8,500. The next problem was how to move the machine the 275 miles home. Mr. Ohaus had thought about this, and called a local machinery dealer who had a suitable semi truck for the job that would allow hauling the combine with the 4 row corn head mounted. He wanted $2.20 a mile loaded, and $1.90 empty for the return trip, plus a $150 loading fee, a total of $1,277. It was expensive, but Jeff hadn't found a machine nearly as good any closer to home. The 15 foot grain table had its' own transport wagon that Jeff would pull home with the pickup. Since the dealer knew Mr. Ohaus, Jeff gave him directions to his farm and set up to meet him in town and guide him the last 8 miles to the farm.

Four days later, the combine was sitting in Jeff's barnyard, and he had the grain table moved into the corncrib driveway for shelter. He drove the combine into the now empty tobacco barn. It just cleared the doorway, but it went in. Jeff now had a couple wagons sitting outside again, but they didn't matter so much. He bought a couple plastic tarps to protect the wood wagon beds and called it a good job. By the time Jeff had replaced the battery, changed the oil and filters, and filled it with fuel, he had spent almost exactly $10,000. It had a diesel engine, and although the local price of diesel fuel was now $4.19 a gallon, Jeff knew they would soon have biodiesel available. He had plans to raise some soybeans this year. His Dad planned to raise another 10 acres of beans and had put 10 acres in winter wheat last Fall. The machine was capable of a lot more acreage, so Jeff had arranged to rent one of the farms that had been repossessed by the bank last year to put in corn. He would be busy for a while getting the plowing and planting done.

Jeff and Lynn didn't have much left of their savings when the crops were in, but they had no debt, they had 11 head of cattle that were ready to breed, and feeder pigs that would be ready to sell this summer. Their living expenses were low, so they weren't concerned about their finances. Unlike all the bigger farmers around them, they didn't have to borrow the money to put the crops in, worry about paying those loans off, with interest, before they made any money. What they made would all be income.

Michael had bought 500 asparagus root crowns, and was busy planting them. It would take 2 or 3 years before they really began to produce, so he tried to hurry them along with some well composted manure. Jeff had the greenhouse going with tobacco plants and also raised a couple trays each of tomato and green pepper plants for the Farmer's Market. Lynn tended the greenhouse while Jeff spent a lot of hours on the tractor getting the ground ready to plant.

Rich and Cindy had a monster garden started. She had cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, a couple varieties of lettuce and radishes already growing. Rich had used my old shovel plow and the 135 tractor to put in several rows of potatoes, enough for the whole clan. A couple days a week we worked on the new building, running wiring for 12 volt lights and getting the processor plumbing installed. We ran lines to the 2 fuel tanks outside for storage of the finished biodiesel.

An old feed mill in town had closed several years ago and was sitting empty. I made arrangements to buy the mixer and feed storage bins to store soybean meal. We had to disassemble the big bin to move them, being over 10 feet in diameter. The good part was the augers that came with them, for filling and unloading. They needed some work, but were usable. The whole setup fit inside the new building, but had to be assembled in place, and just barely fit under the roof in the center. Storage for chemicals was on the back wall, accessible with the tractor and front loader. I had made pallet forks to fit in the loader bucket, so moving the barrels

on pallets was no problem now. Rich built a hopper to unload a gravity wagon of soybeans into the feed auger for the screw press. We were about ready to start making fuel as soon as the weather warmed up enough that we wouldn't have to heat the building. That would be sometime after crops were planted.

I expected the 600 bushels of beans I had to make up to 800 gallons of fuel, based on the best information I could find. The proof would come when we actually did it. We planned on running the beans through the press a second time while the meal was still hot from the first pressing to increase the oil yield, which was standard practice on a small operation. It avoided pre-heating the beans to get the most oil out of them.

At 1.4 gallons per bushel, if we did that well, and with diesel price at $4.20 a gallon, we would gross about $3,400 worth of fuel, but the chemical cost, labor and equipment depreciation came out of that. My best estimate at this point was between 80 cents and a dollar a gallon for our costs. So, the profit on the fuel would be $3.20/gallon, or $2,560. Soybean meal on the futures market was running about $385/ton at present. At 7 pounds per gallon of oil removed, and 1.4 gallons per bushel, we would remove about 10 pounds of oil per bushel leaving 50 pounds of meal per bushel. The 600 bushels of beans should produce about 50 lbs. x 600 bushels = 30,000 lbs. of soybean meal, or 15 tons. That figured out to $5,775 worth of meal at current prices. We would net $2,560 + $5775 = $8,335 for the 600 bushels of beans, or $13.89 a bushel.

That was about the same as the futures price for the whole soybeans, but we would make more money feeding the meal to our own livestock. If we could keep our costs down on processing the fuel, it would get better. The best part was, we would not be at the mercy of market prices for either selling beans, or buying fuel. And I expected fuel prices to go up dramatically before long. It gave us control of our own costs. It has been said that a farmer is the only businessman who buys everything at retail prices and sells all his production at wholesale prices. I wanted to put a stop to that in our family operation.

If I had to BUY soybean meal, it wouldn't be the bulk price. It would be $13 or more for a 50 lb. bag at the feed store, which comes out to $520 a ton. Amazing how when you put it in a bag, it is worth almost double. That's why we would come out on this deal, by getting our feed ingredients at wholesale price. And, we could sell some to neighboring farmers at better than wholesale, for what we couldn't use in our own operation.

Spring in Indiana brings bad weather. This year it was really bad weather. On March 2nd, the weather radio went off and said to take cover, there was a very severe storm system coming, and it was moving at over 50 MPH. We took cover in the root cellar room, after Margaret called the kids and made sure they knew to hunker down. We took the battery powered TV with us so we could watch the radar reports.

Thankfully, it passed South of us by 15 miles, so all we got was some heavy rain, strong winds, and a little hail. South of us, they weren't so lucky. It hit first West of Pekin, and cut a swath 150 yards with utter devastation through the town and beyond for over 50 miles. The little town of Henryville literally disappeared off the map, along with 3 or 4 other tiny towns. The death toll in Indiana from multiple tornadoes was 19, the last I heard. We knew relatives of 4 of those fatalities, and had good friends who lost buildings, businesses, and had terrible damage to their properties in various ways.

I spent several days helping a friend clear his hayfields of trash and tree debris. Then, we got down to the business of getting a couple dozen broken trees out of the fields. Not small trees, either. These were Oaks, Hickories, and other hardwoods up to a foot and a half in diameter that were twisted off and tossed around like dry leaves. We would never get all the broken trees off the hillsides and out of the hollows. It was just too dangerous to deal with the broken and tangled mess. Even logging in the area years later would be hazardous. There would be plenty of firewood for a few years, since the tree trunks were splintered and cracked, making them worthless for lumber.

Aid poured in to the stricken area from many sources. Several charities, all the area churches, and hundreds of individuals gave freely of their money, goods, time and labor to help however they could. We never heard any reports of any disorder of any kind, nor any looting. Instead, we heard that there was a public shelter set up at the local fire department in Pekin but nobody needed it. Friends and neighbors had taken in everyone who needed a place to stay, immediately. Rescues of the injured were taken care of by local First Responders before FEMA could get their people to the area. I never heard what FEMA did, if anything, beyond signing people up for government loans. I suppose that FEMA sent their people home after that.

By mid-March, the clean up was well under way. I could still hear chainsaws screaming in all directions whenever we went through the area at the end of the month. Our friend there had lost the roof of his workshop, but was given huge tarps to cover the roof to prevent water damage. Most people had some semblance of normality within a week or two after the disaster, a tribute to the response by those who gave generously to help out. I was proud of the way our local and state agencies got the situation under control in record time.

If what we expected to happen to the economy did come to pass, I thought we were in a pretty good place to endure it.

Cindy had improvised a long skinny cold frame in front of the house with some leftover tomato stakes and clear plastic. There were a lot of small plants growing there that she intended for the Farmer's market, and she had a couple of batches of soap curing for that, too. When nobody wanted all the lard from last winter's butchering, she asked for it and had plenty of fat to make soap. She and Lynn had been going to the first yard sales of the year, scouting for kids' clothing and had some success.

Lynn thought their best find was a like new baby bed that she grabbed for $10. The Goodwill had a pretty nice small chest of drawers for $15 that would do for baby clothes and diapers. Nowhere could she find a deal on cloth diapers, though, and had to order them online and pay retail price. That irritated her, but she consoled herself with the savings on the baby bed. She had taken over part of the living room for the baby's bed. The old house was just not laid out very well. At some time in the past, what had once been the "Front Parlor" was merged with the family living room by removing half of the wall between them. That left a suitable corner for the baby bed and the baby's chest close to their bedroom door. The spare upstairs bedroom could be used after the kid grew up a little.

Lynn's plants were coming along well in the greeenhouse, so she began to look for something to pot them up in for sale. She found what he needed in the trash behind the big box store, where they had dumped a bunch of damaged plastic trays of dead plants. She plopped the whole pile in the back of the truck on the way home from shopping there. There should be enough of them to share with Cindy, and most of them still had the potting soil in them!

The horses had big "grass bellies" from the Spring pasture. Jeanie had to adjust the harness to fit again when she harnessed them up to disc the corn patch and the unplanted part of the garden again. Weeds were starting to come up pretty fast with the warmer weather. Some record warm days reached 70 and 80 degrees in March, but had dropped back nearer normal. She debated in her mind about when to plant more in the garden and decided to go ahead and plant some squash, cucumbers, and melons, reasoning that when the ground got warm enough, they would sprout. It worked.

Nathan had his hands full for a couple days, adding onto the storage rack so he could store away his shipment of steel. The challenge there was to make it happen using what junk he could find, so he could keep all the new steel to sell. He had to use some of his better grade scraps of steel, but he got it done. After he gave it a coat of aluminum paint, it all looked alike, so it came out pretty well. They had spent well over $5,000 on steel, and the pile wasn't all that big. He had thought long and hard about exactly what to buy, hoping that he guessed right on what he would sell, staying mostly with angles, many sizes of flat bars, and sheet stock. He bought a good selection of cold rolled rounds for shafting and other needs.

I saw an ad in the classifieds that Oliver Rice was having an auction. The listing included his bigger manure spreader, which began to sound like a better idea the longer I thought about it. Jeff needed one, too, so maybe I could sell him my smaller one if I could get this one bought for something reasonable. I had no interest in his big tractor, combine, heavy field cultivator or spray rig. Jeff and I decided to go to the sale, because the sale bill never lists everything, especially the small lots of stuff.

Hard telling what would show up for sale. Oliver had lived there for ages, and it looked like he was cleaning things out. He had inherited the farm from his parents, and there was a long list of antiques that reflected the collection of generations. We arrived early and spent some time trying to look over what was laid out on farm wagons and tables, the machinery lined up in the mowed pasture, and boxes and piles of odds and ends. We spent most of the early morning talking to friends and neighbors. We knew more than half the people there, since we had all lived in the county for most of our lives.

They started with the boxes of junk, as usual. Cindy bought a box of old garden tools for a few dollars and was happy with it. Rich was looking over the old tool boxes, and wound up buying some things pretty cheap. I didn't see anything I wanted, but Margaret was looking at the household goods and found a box of sewing things she watched over like a mother hen until she got it bought. She proudly showed me a small box of attachments for her old Singer sewing machine that she had given to Jeannie.

Meanwhile, Jeannie ignored all the household goods and went to the wagon in front of the barn that had old horse harness and paraphernalia. The stuff was dusty and dirty from hanging in the barn on old nails and pegs for the past 50 years. She bought an old wooden box with dried up oil cans, mouse-eaten rags, bolts and old files in it. I walked over to where she was and looked in the box. The auctioneer was going strong, trying to get another dollar bid on something. She didn't try to talk above the noise, but bent over and moved the junk aside in the box. Underneath were nippers, clinch cutters, a couple hoof rasps, a rusty coffee can full of horseshoe nails, and all the rest of what it takes to shoe a horse. She looked up at me with a big grin, and then covered the stuff back up. I think she had paid $2.50 for it. She turned her attention to some singletrees that were coming up for bid.

Jeff and I wandered over toward the machinery that would sell later. We passed a wagon full of

more barn cleanings and I stopped to wonder at what I was looking at. A very old man was looking at it, who informed me it was a corn grading machine. I learned from him that when people used to save their own seed corn, this device of wood and perforated sheet metal was used to sort the grains by sizes so they would fit the corn planter "plates" that dispensed seed into the ground. The leftover small round and flat grains were used for feed. He cranked the machine and showed me how it worked. I stopped right there and waited for the auctioneer to get there. Apparently, that old man and myself were the only people there who knew what it was, and we weren't telling anybody else. After a fruitless try for bids on it, the helper threw some other stuff in with it. I finally bid $5, and bought it along with a pair of rotten rubber boots and a busted shovel. I carried my trophies to my pile of plunder with my name on a couple of the auction tags.

Then, Jeff soon got interested in an old wooden box affair with a hand crank sticking out one side, and some rotten leather flat belts on it. That item I recognized as a Clipper Seed Cleaner. That was stencilled in black letters over faded red paint on the wood hopper. It had a vast array of wood framed screens piled on top of it. It was in great shape for being that old, only needing the belts replaced to work. I tried turning things and assured myself of that. I told Jeff I thought it was okay to use. He waited until the bidding on it had died down near $100 and upped it by $10. He bought it for $125, and grinned at me. "I saw one of these without the screens on eBay for $250," he said.

I asked, "What are you going to do with it?"

"Clean clover seed, Fescue seed and wheat," he told me. "I think I can sell seed. That will pay a lot better than selling grain at the elevator."

I nodded approval. He was thinking. "That's what I had in mind with that corn grading gizmo. At least it will keep our planter plates from stopping up or dropping two at once."

The bidding was now on things we didn't care about, so we joined other folks at the food stand and got some coffee and donuts. I told Jeff that bidding is hard work, so I had to keep my strength up. I got got wry look at my slightly bulging belly, but but he didn't say anything about it. We rejoined the women and I asked Jeannie, "Where's Nathan? I thought he'd show up today."

"He was going to come, but he's got a guy there about a job he's working on. He didn' t want anything here anyway, except some log tongs. I haven't seen any, so no loss there."

Jeff said, "I saw a set over there on that wagon-better run over there!"

She did, and the bidding went farily briskly up to $35, then slowed. I thought that was plenty to pay for them, but she bought them for $55. She drug the heavy tongs to her pile and smiled great big about it. She asked me, "D'you know what those things COST now?"

"No idea. I thought they went kinda high."

"Huh. Not really. The small size is over $100 now, and this size is about $140, I think. Nathan will be happy about it. Thanks, Jeff!"

We ate lunch while the rest of the small stuff sold, including old reel lawn mowers, lots of junk, some badly rusted steel posts, and collections of old bottles and cans. Margaret said, "The antique dealers are here today. Some of that old kitchen stuff brought quite a lot."

Jeff said, "The junk dealers are here too, buying the scrap iron. Can't do very well on some things because of that. Junk price for steel I heard was at $275 a ton now."

Jeannie said, "You think that's high, you oughta try buying NEW steel! Most of what we just bought was around a dollar a pound. It was 70 cents last summer. We about choked on that."

Michael hadn't said anything much, but was eating like a teenager. I noticed his eyes seemed to follow a couple girls, but I kept quiet about it. At that age, kids are sensitive about that. I had a surreptitious look and noted that he had picked some pretty ones to watch.

"Looks like they are headed to the machinery, Dad. We better get going," Jeff told me. I nodded, chewing a mouthful of burnt bratwurst and pickle relish. I chased it down with some cold coffee and followed him.

"HEY NOW! Pay attention folks. This here field cultivator is in good shape, and it's just what you need to get over some ground in a hurry. Give me $3,000 to start it out! HEY now, gimme 3, gimme 3, gimme 3, gimme 3 Thousand! It's JOHN DEERE, boys! How about $2 thousand? Gimme 2 gimme 2, gimme 2 thousand! YEAH! I got 5 hunnerd, gimme 6. I got 5 hunnerd, gimme 6! THERE! I got 6 hunnerd, gimme 7..."

The auctioneer kept his line of chatter going until he finally got $2,650, not far from what he asked to start with. He knew what things were worth, and was doing his job. Jeff and I just listened, taking in the going prices for things until they got closer to the maure spreader I wanted. They sold the big spray rig and the spreader was next. Jeff and I had looked it over and decided it was basically sound, if in need of a little TLC. There was some rusted sheet metal in the predictable places, so I got where I could turn a jaundiced eye at the worst parts when the bidding was going.

It ran quickly to $1,200 then slowed down to 50 dollar bids. I had bid a couple times, and let it wait a little before I responded when it came my turn between just two of us now. The other guy bid $1350 rather reluctantly. I looked hard at the damaged areas and frowned a little, then bid $1,400. The other guy thought about it, and finally bid $1,450. I quickly bid $1,500 like I had made up my mind to buy it whatever it took, and he dropped out.

"GOING ONCE! I got 15 hunnerd, GOING TWICE! SOLD! for 15 hunnerd, to number... "

I held up my bidder's number card. "Number 27 bought it for $1,500."

He looked at his girl writing on the bid sheet, decided she had it down, and moved on to the next item.

Jeff stuck around to watch the 12 foot haybine sell, but decided it was more than he wanted to spend and didn't bid. I mentally reflected on the prices I had seen and thought that stuff had gone a little low on the big equipment. Oliver took care of his stuff and everybody knew it, so I thought it should have done better with such a large crowd. I knew I had expected to have to pay a lot more for the spreader. I hoped that Oliver was satisfied with the sale. It would probably be a nest egg for him and his wife, toward their eventual retirement.

We had already talked about it, and Jeff gave me $500 for my old spreader. It was in good shape, and worth that at least. The one I bought would haul almost 3 times as much per load and save me a lot of trips and time cleaning the barn. It made a good deal for both of us, since his herd was smaller and took less time accordingly. It was a nice day, so Margaret and I quickly wrote the cashier a check and loaded our stuff in the truck.

As soon as we got home, I fired up the big tractor and went after the spreader. I spent half a day with the pressure washer getting the big spreader clean before I took it to the shop for a checkup and whatever repairs it wanted.


Chapter 50 PIGONOMICS and SPRINGTIME, April 2012

Corn prices had hit record highs the past few months and stayed up. To raise a 250 pound hog on the conventional diet took 800 lbs. of ground corn and 200 pounds of soy meal. With corn at $6.70 a bushel (56 lbs.) and soy meal at $385 a ton for those who could buy in bulk, it cost about $135 for the feed. When live hogs were selling for $61/hundredweight, or about $152 for a 250 pound hog, you couldn't pay $40 for a feeder pig. You would be losing at least $50 to $60 per hog. Hog operations were going broke, right and left.

Scott Barger and Alan had a better idea. Scott would breed his sows to farrow in early Spring, and feed them a mix of half clover hay ground with his corn/soy meal mix. When the sows were bred again and gestating, he would let them run on pasture, a mixture of Clover and Lespedeza, then supplement their feed with some corn/soy meal mix for the last month before they farrowed again. He could sell feeder pigs at market price and still make some money. He would feed out most of the summer piglets on mostly pasture, finishing them with grain feed, saving over half the feed cost.

Alan and Jeff could buy feeder pigs from his Spring batch and feed them about 80% on pasture, cutting their feed cost dramatically. They could make a little money while the big hog confinement facilities went broke. By staying in the business until a lot of the big guys were gone, they would be in position to take advantage of rising hog prices after the supply was reduced. It was an old game, and one that small farmers knew well. They played it like a fine violin, and made money at it, about every other year. But it took fortitude and discipline to get in and out of the hog breeding business at the right times. Sometimes, commodity traders threw them a wild card by monkeying with the prices of everything, but the little guys could change their plans overnight, where the big producers could not.

This was the time to be getting into hogs, while profits were down. Alan and Jeff both decided to bet on it and expanded their hog operations, each raising half a dozen sows and buying a boar pig each for breeding stock. By the time these were grown and having baby pigs, the market should be up again. Meanwhile, they would be feeding them farm raised corn, soy meal from the biodiesel operation, and a lot of pasture and ground hay at low cost. The hogs that were butchered for their own food use were a big profit anyway.

Beef was more profitable at the moment, so their cattle operations would pay well this year, if prices held up.

Nathan and Jeannie had caught up in the shop again, and business was slow. They took advantage of the time to build permanent fencing around another 8 acres of their hilltop. They put one cross fence in to allow rotating the use of them for pasture, and get a hay crop off one lot. By going at an angle, the cross fence split the pond so each lot had water available. Each lot had some shade from trees on the South side. It required fencing a short lane to make both lots connect with the barnlot, but it worked. The perimeter fence ran mostly through the trees at the edge of the surrounding deep gullies, so few fence posts were needed there. They used steel Tee posts between trees in the woods where digging a posthole was impossible, due to tree roots. Even driving a Tee post was a challenge.

I watched the commodity markets daily as a basic tool for farm decision making. The price of crude oil had been stubbornly above $100 for a while now, inching upward to $108 this week. Gas at the pump had gone up to $3.999 by the end of March, and some places was well over $4.00 now. Diesel stayed about 20 to 30 cents higher than gas, now was around $4.369 most places. That made the biodiesel look a little better, but it played hob with everything else. Transportation costs were up for everything and that was showing in retail prices everywhere. The last I saw on, unemployment remained about 23%, and inflation was starting to creep upward, but even that site didn't reflect the whole picture, since housing was a part of it, and housing prices were down due to the Depression. Yes, Margaret and I had begun to call this a Depression, at least at home. I had heard that word from a few other people, too, no matter what the TV said about it with their smiling, lying, commentators.

Despite the farm not showing a big profit at the moment, we decided to give Rich an extra 20 bucks a day for when he was working on our time. We wished we could do more, but the money wasn't there. What we did do was make it official that he had full freedom to use any of the farm's tools and equipment, and we would provide a front quarter of beef and a whole hog for them to butcher if they helped with the process. Since they both were avid fisherfolk, they didn't buy any meat to speak of. Rich had come up with a .22 rifle somewhere, an old bolt action that Cindy had gotten pretty good with during squirrel season last year. Plenty of squirrels made it into her skillet.

Rich got aggravated about rabbits in their garden, so I showed him how to make wood box traps with a figure 4 trigger of sticks. He made 3 of them and had rabbit for dinner a few times. We found an old roll of light chicken wire in the barn and put that around the garden on some stakes Rich cut in the woods. That ended the rabbit raids, but there was a deer that liked Cindy's plants too well. I heard the .22 go off one morning, and that was the end of the deer. Farmers in Indiana are allowed to shoot deer that are "committing depradations" on farm crops. You are supposed to report such kills, and I think the Game Warden is supposed to haul them away, but I never knew any farmers who reported such kills out here. Those deer simply disappeared. The local farmers held the opinion that they were FEEDING those deer, so they should be allowed to eat as many of them as they wanted. Once venison is in the freezer, it is hard to tell whether it was a tagged kill, or not. And .22's are pretty quiet. I suspected that a lot of deer got shot from the cabs of combines, and tossed into the grain wagon to haul home, covered with grain on the way.

With warm weather, Patches had become a full time outside cat. She hung out around the corn crib watching patiently for unwary mice, and got her share. She preferred to sleep in the barn now that there was a cow in residence, so she could be on time for the morning milking when a friendly cat would be blessed with a pan of warm milk. She sat on the top of the wall by the milk stall, squinching her eyes and smiling at Michael while he did the milking. Michael noticed she was getting pretty fat. One morning she didn't show up, and Michael was worried, but he filled her pan with milk anyway, in case she came later. It was empty when he went out to feed the cow that evening, and Patches came out to see him, looking pretty gaunt. Relieved, he didn't think much about it. She acted hungry the next morning, so he gave her some extra milk with her cat food.

A few weeks later, Sarge told Lynn that the dog had to go out, and spotted Patches on the back porch, carrying a tiny kitten. Sarge smiled and went to sniff it up, with Patches approval. Lynn brought the kitten in the house, followed closely by the Momma cat, and put it in the cat's bed by the chimney. Patches wanted out again, and trotted to the barn. When she was finished ferrying kittens, there were 4 in her old bed. She elected to stay inside with them, and have her meals catered to her for a couple weeks, complete with warm milk in the mornings. The kittens soon got experience waddling around in the old pie pan with the milk and drank some of it. They got fat in a hurry.

Oliver Rice had not completely quit farming, he had just downsized. He had reduced his holdings to what was originally his parents' place, of 120 acres. It had almost 80 acres tillable where he now raised hay and cattle. At 61 years old, he was ready to take things a little easier, and this was just enough to suit him. The loans were all paid off now and they had a nice savings account and some bonds reccomended by the investment service in town. With income from the tax-free municipal bonds and what the cattle operation would bring in, he and his wife could relax a little now. They took to attending some functions at the Senior center in town in the evenings, and bought a younger pickup truck. His wife had time to do some quilting with her friends and Oliver liked to join other farmers for breakfast and coffee at the local diner. Life had gotten better for them. Next year, they would sign up for Social Security and maybe back off a little more on the farming.

Things were not so pleasant at the local bank. More mortgages were failing. Farm loans from the biggest, most reliable operations were in trouble. Some contractors had gone bankrupt and left the bank owning unfinished houses that had construction loans gone bad. That had a big impact on the banks reserves available for loans, so they had to tighten up on the lines of credit extended to local businesses. As a result, a few of those businesses had failed. A restaurant, a couple used car dealers, and a video store had to be liquidated, with poor results. The proceeds of those liquidations brought in less than half what was owed to the banks.

Most of those small businesses had the loans guaranteed by the owners' personal assets that were then attached and sold, an assortment of homes that were illiquid due to the dismal real estate market. Having the foreclosed homes on the bank's books as assets were all that was keeping the bank's reserves from dropping below critical levels. The foreclosed homes were unlikely to sell before they depreciated greatly from sitting empty, with the associated lack of maintenance and minor vandalism and theft. The bank directors had grave doubts that the economy would pick up any time soon. They cut expenses wherever they could, laying off a couple tellers and an adminstrative assistant. One of those had a car loan that immediately went bad. Soon the bank owned a car they did not want in addition to all the rest.

The next director's meeting held discussions about where they could find a suitable partner bank for a merger.

Oliver's sister was the administrative assistant who got laid off. She had overheard some things and told Oliver that all was not well at the bank, despite her oath to keep mum about bank business. Oliver and his wife talked about this, then moved some of their money into US Treasuries, and took a goodly amount home in cash, leaving only a third in the municipal bonds. Then they talked about doing some things like their parent's had during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Oliver plowed some more ground for the garden and put in some late potatoes, then added a few more rows of green beans and corn. He did some fix up on the old hen house and they bought the last of the baby chicks at the local farm store. They began to watch very carefully how they spent their money.

His wife bought a new gasket for the pressure canner and began to wash canning jars. She cleaned out the cellar and had Oliver build some new shelves in there, and some bins for potatoes. She had him put up new clotheslines and she pulled the plug on the electric dryer. She knew exactly how this all worked. She grew up doing it.

Chapter 51 THINGS TIGHTEN UP, May, 2012

"Spaudling and Spaulding Attorneys, how can I help you?"
"This is Melinda at the bank. I need to speak to Lewis, please."
"I'm sorry, he's not in. Can I take a message?"
"When will he be in?"
"I can't say. He has some meetings today."
"Tell him to call me when he gets in. My extension is 341. It's important."
"Okay, I'll tell him."

Sherry Gates punched the phone button for Lewis' office.
He answered, irritably, "Yes?"
"Melinda called from the bank again. She said it's important. She's at 341."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Click.

Sherry had heard enough over the past few months to know that Lewis had money problems. That meant that her job was not all that secure, and it gave her a cold feeling in her stomach about how she would live without this job.

Lewis was hiding in his office. Hiding from his several creditors, the bank, the contractor who he still owed for the last 2 stores he had built in the mall, and hiding from anyone else who wanted money. He was 3 months in arrears on the mini mall loan. A year after opening, the mall still only had 5 of the 9 stores rented. It had seemed like a sure thing. There was an excess of renters right up until a couple weeks before the stores were completed. Then they vaporized. Worse than that, the renters he had were less than break-even. A hair dresser and a tanning salon were late with their rent, and the nail salon was due to be evicted for non-payment. He had counted on the proceeds from a contigency lawsuit to catch up his loan there, but he had lost the case and got nothing.

Payments were eating him alive. Normally, the income from the law office was more than enough to keep current on everything and provide a nice lifestyle, but business was abysmally slow. His lavish home and the H1 Hummer had relentless payments and maintenance costs. Even the Hummer conspired against him, getting only 9 miles to the gallon instead of the 12 they had promised. With gas at $4.39, a week's worth cost him over 100 bucks. He had kept the payments up, but it had meant cutting back on a lot of things.

The bank had not taken action yet on the mall loan, but they would soon. He knew two of the bank directors, which was the only reason they hadn't filed on the loan already. He knew a thing or two about those two directors, which helped. But it was big money here, and it wouldn't hold off much longer. Lewis had to find some money fast. He had well over a million riding on the mall deal, and it included the land it was sitting on he had owned outright. Something had to give, and soon. He might know how to handle this, if he was willing to take a chance.

Later that afternoon, Melinda Horn, Loan officer, went in to see the Loan Manager and closed the door. Lewis Spaulding had just moved some money from two escrow accounts at another bank and paid one month's payment on the mall loan. Melinda knew the girl who worked at the other bank--it was her daughter. Lewis could be sued for that, if the aggrieved parties were to learn of it, and they would if he didn't replace the money in time. Melinda knew what the lawyer's account balances were and gave them to the Manager. Lewis Spaulding was sinking fast, and the bank had better be ready for it.

They had told Andy Bruner that he would never walk again after the truck crash. His back was shattered in too many places. With the faint hope that he would one day walk again, Andy had laid perfectly still on his back in the cast between surgeries, and there were several surgeries. After almost 2 years, he had been able to get out of bed, and spent the next year learning how to walk again and rebuilding the muscles to do so. That was 27 years ago, and he had not been able to hold a job since then, because of the excruciating pain after spending a few hours a day on his feet. Eventually, he had qualified for Social Security Disability payment. Then, he had inherited his parents' property so he had a place to live, but the Disability payments had not kept pace with inflation.

Andy did a little gardening, enough to keep himself in vegetables. He could spread out the garden work over time to avoid getting in bad shape again. He had a small woodworking shop where he turned out rolling pins, bowls, honey dippers, and wooden spoons on a lathe, something he could do mostly sitting down. The craft fairs and flea markets gave him an outlet for his work, but the income was small. He had become an expert at living frugally, and prided himself on that. He was a creative sort with mechanical things, and made most of his own woodworking equipment.

Despite his best efforts, he was feeling pinched ever harder as gasoline, groceries he had to buy, and everything else kept going up. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out a better way to live, but always came back to being thankful for the 5 acres he had. It allowed him to buy a bottle calf every couple years and feed it out. He wasn't able to butcher it himself, and had to arrange for someone to haul it to the slaughter house, but he had very little cost in it otherwise. He kept 2 or 3 chickens most of the time, letting them run free in warm weather, then faithfully shutting them indoors at night to protect them from coyotes and stray dogs.

Andy had learned to cook pretty well from his Mom. He was a fair hand at baking. He made bread sometimes, when he felt like it, and made biscuits often. He had even learned to make jellies and jams from the wild black berries and strawberries he grew. Laundry was a chore for him, since he had to handle it in small amounts to avoid lifting too much. His housekeeping was minimal, mostly tending to dusting, cleaning floors, and taking care of his cat. It would be nice if he could afford a dog. He checked the price of dog food and decided he had better not get a dog. Things just cost too much, and it was getting worse.

"I have to have some kind of a reason to fire him!"
"Well, FIND a reason then! He's the low seniority guy and we can't keep him on the payroll without money coming in!"
"Whatever," Jake said. He closed the office door a little harder than was necessary and went back into the garage. He found Larry and put him to work on his own truck, installing a new air conditioning compressor.

Larry Henley finished the install after lunch and recharged the truck's system with Freon. Jake fired it up and let it run for a while, but no cold air came out. "What'd you do to this thing? That was all it needed to fix it! You've messed something else up! I don't need screw-ups around here! Get your tool box in your truck and get out of here! You're fired!"

Larry stood there for a minute thinking, then decided there was no future in pursuing this, no matter what the real reason was for him being fired. They both knew the truck needed a new condenser, too, and wouldn't get any better without. Larry just shook his head and put his tools away.

Jake stormed back into the office and told his wife, "Cut his check for him, and do it now. That made me feel rotten to do that to him. Why couldn't I just tell him we didn't have the business? He knows that the same as we do!"

"It would make us look bad with the other mechanics, and you know it. If they think we are in trouble, they'll go look for another job. We have to keep people to have a business."

"It wasn't right, and you know it."

'I'm just taking care of US!"

When Larry told his wife what had happened, she was understandably irate. Lisa said, "Well of all the nerve! Looks to me like they just didn't have enough work to keep you on. He could at least have told you the truth! He could have warned you ahead of time so you could be looking for a job! That was rotten."

"Yeah, it was rotten. There's a lot of that around these days. I'll find something. In the meantime, I'll sign up for unemployment tomorrow and get that going. We'll make out okay somehow."

A month later, it was clear that they were not going to make out okay. Lisa didn't wait for Larry to tell her they couldn't afford to keep her two riding horses. She knew how much it cost to keep them fed and cared for, and there was a mortgage payment to make. She put the horses on Craigslist, and included the tack at what she thought was cheap. She had other listings on there, too. Their tractor and front loader, manure spreader, and pasture mower. She hoped that would make the $440 mortgage payment until Larry could find work. Her health prevented her from working, a diabetic with complications and kidney problems. She loved the horses and had kept them through thick and thin, but she knew it was time for them to go. They didn't have many other choices. Larry had canvassed the area for a 40 mile radius and found no work of any kind. He was drawing unemployment, but it wouldn't do any more than pay the mortgage and buy food. When taxes and insurance came due, they were in trouble.

The horses got no takers at her listed price. After talking to some other horse owners, she dropped the price and re-listed them, at $250 each. Finally, after three weeks, she got one call. She let him think she would bargain on the price, and told him the saddles were worth more than what she was asking. He came to look at them and offered her $400 for the two horses and the tack. He had a horse trailer behind his truck. Lisa thought for only an instant and agreed. They loaded the pair and she pocketted the cash. That would pay their homeowner's insurance for 6 months. They'd had to drop the medical insurance last month, and were applying for Medicaid, but at the moment, they had nothing, and she didn't feel very well. She needed to see the doctor about her medications. Her feet were swollen again.

Larry met the man who had responded to the tractor ad. He was an amateur trader who bought and sold machinery as a sideline to supplement his retirement. The offer was a real lowball, but Larry couldn't talk him up any. He sold the works, and got paid $2,600 for the lot. He had paid almost $4,000 for the equipment, and they still owed $1,800 on the stuff, but at least that payment was gone and they had $600 in cash. He spent $200 of that for a junkyard transmission for his truck and put it in himself in the driveway. The crude process he had to use to lift it into place cost him a fingernail, but it would grow back and he had a truck that ran again. He spent another $100 for gas in the truck and hoped he could find a job before that ran out. He didn't drive any more that he absolutely had to now.

He took Lisa to the emergency room to deal with her swollen feet, and got her meds straightened out. Without insurance, the bill they incurred was about double what the insurance company would have negotiated. He had no idea how he could pay the $2,300.

Business was hectic at the welding shop. David Fisher was running about a week behind schedule, but nobody had complained all that much. He did the best he could, and they knew it. David saved a lot of money for his customers, repairing parts that would be very expensive to replace, or in some cases, not available at all. He kept a lot of old farm and garden equipment running, doing some small engine work and tinkering with chainsaws besides patching worn and broken parts for the bigger equipment.

He kept his prices reasonable, working on the basis of the labor time and the cost of what he had to buy to fix things. There had been a couple other shops in nearby towns that had seemed to price things according to how bad the customer needed it. They were gone now. Nobody argued about his prices, and in fact seldom asked what it would cost, except for what he recognized as the poorer ones who were concerned about being able to pay him.

He had only had one customer that never paid him in the last 15 years in business, and he knew that guy was a no good drunk when he showed up. Now, the guy ducked out of sight whenever he saw David around town. That one bad apple wouldn't bother him any more, so he figured it was cheap enough to have gotten rid of him. Everybody else always paid him when they picked up the job. Lately, he had a few people waiting a week or two to pick something up, which was due to them not having the money sooner, he figured.

The worst effect of the hard times for David was the worse that things got, the worse was the condition of things he was asked to fix. People were putting off repairs until they couldn't do without them. Most times, that meant it would cost more to fix, but he didn't say anything about that. People would make their own decisions, and he knew it. But some work he had to turn away now because it was too far gone to be repairable.

David worried that if things got any worse, he would see a drop in business when people had to simply do without for lack of money to even fix something. They had already quit buying a lot of new things, and chose instead to have them fixed, was what they told him. So, he was being very careful now about how he spent his money. He kept his old equipment going himself, and refused to buy anything new, because he wasn't sure there would be future business to pay him back. It was a different world now, for sure. He was glad he had quit the tool and die job and opened his own shop some years ago, because that tool and die shop no longer existed. It had closed 2 years ago. He had gone to the auction and bought some small things for his own shop.

He was getting calls now from factories who were having trouble finding machine shops to do what little work they had. Lots of shops had gone bankrupt, and those remaining weren't very healthy from what he could see. He wasn't interested in business from factories. They had a habit of beating you down on your prices and then waiting several months to pay you. More machine

shops were going out of business. Used tooling at auctions was only bringing a little above junk price now, and lots of big machines were scrapped out because nobody had enough business to justify buying them. So much for "globalization", he thought. That was biting us hard now, and it was getting worse. Those jobs went overseas and never came back.

David wondered what the future would bring. He had figured out that he was in a good position for the moment, but it most likely wouldn't last as things got worse. He had been thinking about trading with farmers for meat and grain, or even dairy products. That could only go so far, though. He had to bring in enough cash to buy supplies so he could keep going. That made him think more about saving what junk steel came his way. He patched up the small barn on the back of his place with some used roofing metal, and began to squirrel away the best of what junk metal he came across in the course of business. He had a pretty good stash in the barn, and he began to find uses for it to save his customers some money. If they didn't mind him using junk to fix their junk, it was cheaper for them, and most said that was fine by them.

But scrap metal was up to $280 a ton now, and it was getting hard to find as people desperate for money dug up anything they could find to sell. That had an odd effect, in that now David could go to the junkyard and find steel, usable old tools, and parts much easier than before. He stocked up some things and began to fix them up to sell. It was one more way to make a buck. He often had some things sitting in the yard for sale, and people had begun to watch for them. They knew whatever he had wouldn't stay there long, because he made sure it was a good deal. He began to build up a trade in buying old lawn and garden tools and related things to fix up and sell. It didn't matter to David what he was doing, as long as he could make a living at it. It meant smaller sales and more of them, but that was okay. He enjoyed dealing with people.

Greg Burns owned and managed the local internet provider business and computer store. He had been having an upsurge in internet customers lately, and wondered about why this was happening in the face of such dismal economic conditions. One day he overheard his counter man signing up a new customer, who said he HAD to have internet now to sign up for unemployment and to report in each week. That solved that mystery, but it gave Greg some grave doubts about how long this would last. Sooner or later, the UE benefits would run out, and these new customers would not be able to pay for the service. He began to think harder about how to cut his operating costs. It didn't help that a couple family members worked there.

He also began to think about his personal situation and what he could do to keep the wolf away from their door. That involved some homesteading concepts that he hadn't thought about much since he started this business. Not one to waste time on decision making, he started the processes of making their rural home more depression-proof. He stopped on the way home and bought a couple bricks of .22's. At home, he looked over the contents of the old barn and then got on the internet to do some research.

The next day he took a small truckload of old equipment to David Fisher. He told David that he wasn't in any big hurry to get the work done, but he wanted him to make all this old stuff functional again and as durable as he could make it. The load included a cranked corn sheller, a small feed grinder, a couple pig feeders, and a set of chicken nests that needed some tin work. He talked to his neighbor that day on the phone about buying a feeder calf, and bought 2 rolls of barbed wire on the way home. By the end of the month, Greg had some corn stored in barrels, a new fuel tank set up and filled, a feeder calf in the pasture, and the old henhouse patched up and some rather expensive laying hens in it. He was still looking for feeder pigs.

I was shopping at the Salvation Army store one day and ran into a young man I had met briefly at a local store. He was the manager there and had solved my problem returning a purchase. He had quite a tale to tell. It seems that his wife had worked at a factory in the city, and was laid off back in early 2008. She got a job as an assistant for a local realtor, who convinced her to get her realtor's license. She dutifully studied, took the tests, and eventually got that accomplished. She sold a couple houses and split the commission on a couple others that had been listed by other agencies. She was thrilled with her success and bought a nearly new SUV for driving her customers around. Unfortunately, the bottom dropped out of the real estate market and she never sold another house.

Just after she got the SUV, he lost his job when the store closed for good. Unable to find better work, he had used the time to go back to school and complete his degree in business, taking out some school loans to do that. He had found no job upon graduation, and was faced with the college loans coming due soon. By late 2009, they were behind on their mortgage, and were never able to catch up. He found a job, as an assistant manager of a store in Tennessee, but his wife was unwilling to move there. The house got foreclosed and the SUV got repossessed. They bankrupted, but he still had the college loans to pay off. He had negotiated a small payment, but it was still hard for him.

Their relationship had been rocky since he had lost his job, and this was the end of it. She moved home with her aging parents and took their two young kids along. He had taken the job in Tennessee, but it didn't last. That store also closed, and he came back to this area that he knew better. Now, he was a nightwatchman and living in a shared apartment. He couldn't afford to buy a car yet, so he was getting around on a bicycle he found at Goodwill for $20.

I asked him if he was making it now, with all the changes. He said, "Yes, I'm doing okay, but groceries are really expensive. Beef is really high, and before I go to work at night, I like a nice steak for dinner. I've got to find a better paying job to keep up. You just can't make it on the money I make."

I wished him well and we parted company. I thought to myself, no, you can't eat steak on minimum wage now. But he would have to figure that out for himself.


Chapter 52 FAMILY THINGS May, 2012

"Jeff, look at this. I got an email from my sister Julie! She NEVER writes anything hardly, just a card a couple times a year to let me know she's still alive."

"Uh, it looks like she's coming to see you, like tomorrow. I haven't seen her since I left for the military. She didn't say much."

"Hah! That is positively a BOOK coming from her. She's been in Army Intel, and never says ANYTHING. Three lines here is a shocker."

"She says her flight gets into Louisville at 9:50 AM. We better get there early. I'll tell Michael to get off the school bus at Dad's tomorrow, just in case we don't get back in time."

Lynn said, "Something isn't right here. She said she's getting out and needs some R & R. From her that could mean anything, so I'm a little worried."

"We'll see her in the morning, so let's get some sleep, okay?"

"Yeah. But she's up to something. I know her."

"There she is! What's she doing with that cane? She's not walking right. Oh, no..."

Jeff held Lynn's hand until Julie got closer, and Lynn bolted for her sister.

"AH! NO HUGS!" Julie looked serious about it. "I got rods in my back, and hardware that's not ready for that yet."

Lynn said, "Okay. Can I help?"

"No. Just let me do it. I can walk okay, but I'm slow."

They made it to where Jeff was standing and Julie shook his hand, then sat down for a minute.

"Good to see you Jeff!" Julie's smile looked a little pale, but her eyes were steady, like determination was keeping her upright. She leaned back and visibly relaxed. She gave Lynn a look, then said, "Let's get to the car, 'kay?"

Jeff asked, "Do you have luggage to pick up?"

Julie nodded, "Yeah, one bag. Maybe you could carry that?"

"Sure thing," Jeff said, as Julie stood and made her way carefully to the baggage merry go round.

"It's the black soft side there," Julie said, pointing.

"Got it. Let's go, Jeff said. "I'll get the Blazer and meet you at the door." He hustled outside, while Julie and Lynn took it slow.

Jeff drove steadily with traffic on I-264 west, across the newly repaired Sherman Minton bridge and back into Indiana. When they were out of traffic, Lynn asked, "Are you hungry? Need to stop for anything?"

"No, I had breakfast in Cincinnati. Let's just go home."

Lynn rode silently for a while, but her curiousity got worse and she asked, "What's the deal, Sis? Are you going to be all right?"

"Yeah, I'll be fine. Won't be doing any rodeo stuff, but I'll get along okay. I need some more time to heal up and get everything going again. That's why I said I needed some R & R. I'm not supposed to do any lifting for a while yet."

"What happened Sis?"

"Can't talk about it. Classified. Way above Classified, in fact."

"HMMPH! The hell you say! What happened to you?"

"I was injured in the line of duty, and it meant I couldn't go in the field again, so I took my 20 and out, with a Medical. Lucky I had my 20 in BEFORE I got hurt. Hospital time doesnt count. I spent some time in hopitals. Good thing was, most of that was in Germany, and it's the best. Not military, civilian hospital. The German's are good at fixing people. I'm as good as the best can make me. The military said I'm not good enough for duty, so that's over." Julie stared out the window and said softly, "They chew you up and spit you out."

They couldn't get another word out of her about what happened to her, ever. Later, Lynn saw some ugly scars, and some neat, surgical scars all on her left side and on her back. Jeff moved the spare bed downstairs to the baby's area for Julie for a while. She began to get around the house more and more without the cane after a couple weeks, although she was careful about how she moved. She and Lynn spent a lot of time together the first few days, getting caught up, mostly about what we were doing.

After a couple weeks, it came out that Julie had some money coming from the military, again without an explanation. One day she asked Lynn, "Which bank in town is safe?"

"Well, we do business at First State Bank. It's locally owned, and is supposed to be rated better than the others, Jeff said. He found this rating thing online before we set up our accounts."

"Good. I have a deposit coming. I'll have to set up an account so they can wire it in."

"I'll take you in town so you can do that. You haven't been out of the house yet. Ready to see the town? Things have changed in 20 years, you know."

"Not much, I hope. This place is a haven. I needed to just see trees and cows for a while."

Lynn looked at her seriously and said, "Yes. I suppose you did. You can stay here as long as you like. Jeff is okay with that. He told me before I said anything to him about it. He always did like you, you know."

"Thanks," Julie said softly, then looked away for a minute. "This was always home."

"It still is."

Julie hugged her sister harder than Lynn thought might be good for her, and held her while she cried.

"I didn't have a life for a long time, but I always planned to come back here and live. I knew I would need money, so I put everything I got into T-Bills. That was good then. Not so good now. From what I've heard, you and Jeff pretty well did that, too. I've got some other money, but it isn't here yet. I need for you to tell me where I can buy land close here. Something with good water, buildings would be nice, but not necessary. I want farmland I can rent out, or have you and Jeff farm it. I want to get that done as soon as possible. The dollar isn't very stable now. I need to get dollars put into something real."

"Tell me about it. Prices are going up on everything. Gas is going up like there's no end to it! I paid $4.46 this week. Groceries are bad, too. It's everything, but gas is the worst."

'You ain't seen nuthin' yet. Jeff is sharp. I know he has you on the right track, but this is gonna get so much worse. Look, here's what's going on. The US has debt going out of sight and no way to pay it except to print money. They HAVE to print money, because there IS no money left. We're spending it twice as fast as we get it, and the bankers ate the rest. When we print money, it's worth less, so oil goes up. They can monkey with the stock markets, and a lot of other things, but not with oil because we have to buy it from other countries. So the bankers can't control it in the long term, all they can do it smack it around some. We're leaning on the Saudi's to pump more to increase supply and bring the price down, but they are MAXXED OUT. The Chinese actually buy more from the Saudi's than we do."

"The banks are still insolvent. Nothing has been fixed in the banks. They just kicked the can down the road. Europe's banks are on the dole now, too, so the Euro is in trouble. They have the same problem, and it's going to happen there first. Look at Greece and pray that we don't look like that in 2 years. When our banks need Quantitative Easing, edition number whatever, then they will print more money and the price of oil will go up again. Money goes to REAL wealth when the currency is failing. When they print enough that nobody wants to buy our Treasury bonds, we are toast. It's not far off. The Federal Reserve bank is buying a good chunk of the new Treasury Bonds now."

"The dollar was once backed by gold but that is history. Now it is backed by OIL. We have forced other countries to use the dollar to buy oil, so the dollar was made the world's reserve currency. Now, several countries aren't toeing the line. China and Japan have an agreement to trade using their own currencies. The BRIC nations all do that: Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Russia and China trade using their currencies. Iran is making some kind of a deal to trade oil for commodities with China to get around the sancitions on them. Every time another country quits using the dollar for trade, there is less demand for dollars, making it harder to prop up the value of the dollar. The end of that is not nice. I have to spend what money I have to keep the value of it, just like you and Jeff have done. I need to buy a farm."

"Oh, yeah. If a guy comes around asking for me and says his name is Weasel, he's okay. Be SURE you tell Jeff about him. He'll have something for me, and he won't give it to anyone but me. He looks kind of out there, but don't worry about him. He's good people. We go back a long ways."

Southern State Bank had a problem. Melinda knew it was getting critical, because she saw some silk suits in the Bank Manager's office, and nobody said a word about why. Lewis Spaulding had been a disaster. He had tried to pull some kind of big drug deal, probably to get out of his money troubles, and gotten caught, by the Feds, no less. The papers were full of it and everybody knew that the Mini Mall was financed at Southern State, because it had been in the paper after the Feds siezed the Mall, as "drug proceeds". Now, the Bank not only had a bad $1.3 million dollar loan, they also had no collateral from it. Before the day was out, the Bank had a new name. It had been arranged by the Feds, and it was bad for the home team. All the Bank officers were practically frog-marched out of their offices, with an official from the new owners and their muscle guy carrying his personal belongings from his desk in a box. Melinda wondered if she would have a job next Monday.

Mrs. Lewis Spaulding had known that Lewis was up to something, and had in fact anticipated he would someday get in too deep. That's why she had steered him to put the farmland in her name. Not IN her name, exactly. She was Director and owned the stock of a shell corporation in the Cayman Islands that owned a couple other shell companies, the last one of which was

incorporated in Nevada where an attorney was the front man in charge. Attorney-client privilege prevented any digging into just what the companies were and who they belonged to. Lewis had seen this as the way to cover himself in case of a bankruptcy and preserve some wealth. It became hers when he was out of the picture, after she got a divorce in Nevada. Lewis wouldn't be around to trouble her about it for a very long time. She owned the land, what Lewis had in his name had been confiscated and would be fought over in court for a long time. The income was enough to keep her in her nice home, and provide for her in the manner to which she had become accustomed. She traded off the Hummer for something more to her liking that was not encumbered with a loan. She found though, that her newly acquired personal wealth made her something of a social pariah in the town. She began to spend more time in Louisville, where people appreciated her finer qualities.

The new bank owners wanted to dump any and all assets they could convert to cash, ASAP. That included some farmland in Sugar Creek valley. Jeff and Alan had done some sniffing around through Oliver and his retired sister. They learned about the farmland and Julie met the banks' terms. She now owned the rest of the land on the other side of the road between Alan and Jeff, and on down the valley half a mile. That consisted of a total of 240 acres with two old farmhouses on it. Approximately 140 acres of that was tillable land, mostly bottom land, and the balance in timber. There was one 15 acre hilltop field with a pond on it in the 80 acre tract that was on Alan's side of the road and bordered the State Forest on one side.

The homes were old, but in good condition due to only being unoccupied for a matter of a few months. Julie decided to rent them out for the moment. Renters were screened as carefully as possible. The small town grapevine became a major asset in that process. It wasn't much income, but it would almost pay the property taxes on the farms.

The two farm deeds were made out to Ms. Julie Ann Schell. It gave her a real sense of accomplishment to seal those in a plastic bag and give them to Jeff to put in their "safe deposit box", a heavy fiberglas box with rubber gaskets that he used for valuables. It was buried behind a removable stone in the wall of the old cellar under the house. It was deep enough that even if the house burned to the ground, it would be protected. Jeff had other things in that box, she noticed, but didn't ask about them. The deeds were recorded at the courthouse, of course, but having them in her hand gave her the long awaited sense that she had a new life. Land meant that she would not go hungry. She had seen enough poverty in the world to make that important to her.

There hadn't been money for college, growing up with 3 siblings on a small farm. Her parents both worked other jobs to give them all a decent living, but that was all they could do. So the Army had made some sense for her and Lynn, when women in the workplace did not make nearly as much money as men. She had considered finding someone to marry when she graduated form high school, but she didn't feel good about just picking someone, and there was nobody special then. More than once Julie had thought she'd made a bargain with the Devil by joining the military, when her life was nearly forfeited. She tried to put those thoughts behind her, as she began to heal and fit into her old home community. It had been a month of decompression that was still going on, she realized. But she had begun to feel almost normal walking into familiar stores and seeing the 20 years of healthy growth in her home town.

She had a little of her savings left after buying the farms. The bank had sold them for the balance owed. Both farms had been sold back before real estate prices went crazy, so it wasn't that

much. Family connecctions had gotten her a really good deal, but it wasn't like farms were actually selling now, at least not down here in the valley. Prime farmland, if it was all tillable and located in the upland plateau was bringing big money, but the sales were few and far between. The valley land was great in the creek bottoms, but the hillside forests that went with it had little value when hardwood wasn't selling in the poor economy.

Her injuries were healing, but it would be a slow process, so she would stay with Lynn and Jeff until the baby was born and maybe longer to help around the house. It seemed like a good deal for everyone for now. The two houses she owned were rented to good people, one to an older retired couple and the other to a young couple with one child, all sensible people. She had set the rent low enough to be attractive in an effort to avoid renters moving in and out. There were too many stories of renters trashing a place when they got behind on their rent, or the ever present scourge of drugs and all that went with that misery. Julie favored stability, and worked to get it.

It was hard to admit to herself, but a big part of why she liked staying with Lynn and Jeff was that she was lonely. The Army had been her life for so long and now it was gone, and all her friends with it. Friends in the military were never permanent anyway. She had acclimated to that, but down deep, she wanted the lifetime kind of friends she had grown up with. Lynn, Jeff, and his family were balm for her weary soul. She decided that she liked Rich, too, and Cindy was an open, frank soul that you couldn't help but like. Cindy wasn't overwhelming, but she was a kind person and gave Julie the room she needed right now. It would be a while before she could handle the close interraction of too many people. Church was okay. She knew all the people there, at least the older ones, and the younger ones were all right. Julie felt okay with things as they were now. Dating never crossed her mind, unless it was in a vague, dim-futuristic way.

She had money to manage right now. There was the $45,000 in CD's from her mother's sale of the farm, and she had her mustering out pay, plus her Army pension to live on. Her checking account had over $8,200 in it. She had enough to buy a car if she wanted, but decided against it for now, since she didn't want to go anywhere, really. She liked looking out at the green trees when she woke up, and the comfort of knowing there was no war being fought here. She and Michael took some slow walks into the woods behind the barn. He was full of the love of life and everything in it. The boy was delighted to show off what he knew about the farm and forest. Julie hadn't seen that in too long, and soaked it up into her being. Maybe she could feel that joy of life again someday. But Julie noticed that Michael never went away from the house without that lever action rifle and the dog, of course. That fit with her, too. Julie would never be unarmed as long as she lived. And she would never get on an airplane again.

The rent from the houses offset their upkeep and then some. Rich had agreed to do that work as needed. Michael tagged along with him sometimes, and was learning a lot from him. Julie's expenses were nil. She went to the VA hospital for checkups, and there was nothing she really wanted right now. Jeff would pay her the cash rent on the farmland this Fall, as negotiated with the bank when she bought the farms. That was 140 acres times $100 per acre, or $14,000. Lots of people in this county lived on less than that. Jeff had contracted 2/3 of his expected corn and bean crops at a good price, so he was covered against market fluctuations at harvest time. Both farms had enough grain bin storage to hold the rest of the crops, so he could keep the rest until the normal harvest time price drop was over and sell at a good price. So far, the season had been favorable for a good crop. Property taxes were a downside to farm ownership, but the rented houses helped a little. She should have at least $12,000 left out of the rental money.

Julie thought she SHOULD buy a car, but she didn't know anything about cars now. She had ridden with Margaret to go shopping a couple times and liked her little truck. It rode like almost like a luxury car, but it would get around the hills in winter, too, she was told. Julie had enough of Army trucks and other military transports. Maybe she would look for something like Margaret had. There was no hurry that she could see, and she knew that fuel economy would be a prime consideration. Margaret drove like an old lady, but she got good fuel economy with her little truck, so that was a plus. Julie wasn't about to go spend $25,000 on a new car or truck. That was not going to happen. If she was going to spend that kind of money, it had better MAKE her money.

Riding into town one day, Margaret had told her, "You look good. I mean you are pretty. Let's look for some clothes that do you justice, okay? It'll make you feel better, I promise."
It did. Julie discovered that trying on clothes in the Goodwill store where Margaret shopped was kind of fun. And it was very non-threatening. Now why did that thought come up, she wondered?

Somehow, that brought to mind that she hadn't seen Weasel, yet. That was another thing she had to deal with. More decisions to make. And more of her past she could not ignore.


FAMILY THINGS, cont'd. Late May, 2012

The county map showed the road, but not the individual homes, so S/SGT Benny Davis, AKA, Weasel, was within half a mile or so. He didn't want to prowl the roads too much out here and call to much attention to himself, so he had asked directions at the Bait Shop on the Highway. True to form for rural people, yes, Micah knew Jeff and Lynn, but hadn't seen Julie since High School, although he'd heard she was living with them. The directions were impeccable. The drive on quiet county roads was peaceful. He only met one car on the way, and got a wave as they passed.

Michael and Sarge were out by the barn when he turned in the drive and stopped. They walked his way, with a friendly wave of greeting. Benny spoke first.

"I'm Sargeant Ben Davis. I'm looking for an Army buddy, Julie Schell."

"Hi! I'm Michael, her nephew. She's not here right now; she's down at Grandpa's. C'mon up on the porch and I'll call her."

A tractor was running across the road, cultivating corn. When it got to the near end of the field, it turned toward the house. Soon it came in behind Benny's car and shut off. Jeff walked up to the porch and introduced himself.

"I'm Jeff Walter, can I do something for you?"

"I think it was your son that is calling Julie Schell for me. I'm Sargeant Ben Davis. She calls me Weasel."

Jeff grinned at the tall thin man and said, "Pleased to meet you." The men shook hands and both relaxed that almost imperceptible tension they both had before. There was a shared look on both men's faces, of recognition of an equal and mutual respect. "Julie said you'd drop in some time. I'll see if we haven't got something cool to drink in here."

Michael came out and said, "Mom and Aunt Julie will back right away. It's not far away. Mr. Davis, you were in the Army with her, right?"

"That's right. We served several years together."

"Michael looked solemn and said, "She won't talk about how she got hurt. Said she's not supposed to talk about it."

The unasked question hung in the air for a minute, then Benny said, "That's right. I can tell you she did everything right, and it saved some lives. She was good soldier. That's all I can say about it."

Michael thought a while. "Will she get a medal, or something?"

"She'll get a Purple Heart at least."

Jeff came out with two glasses of iced tea and gave one to Benny. They sat in the shade of the porch while Michael went inside to get himself some tea. The dog sniffed Benny briefly and smiled at him, then followed Michael inside.

Benny looked over the cornfields and the farm buildings with a practiced eye and told Jeff, "I can see why she wanted to come here. It's really nice place."

"Thanks. We're trying to make it pay now. That's not real easy these days," Jeff said with a grin.
"Julie said you were a sharp guy. She's got confidence in you."

Lynn's truck pulled in with her and Julie. Introductions were made, then Jeff and Lynn called Michael into the house to let them talk in private. Julie walked out to Benny's car where he handed her a cheap briefcase that had some weight to it. They walked to the house where Julie asked Jeff, "Would you put this away for me? We're going to take a walk and visit for a while."

Outside, Julie and Benny walked slowly back toward the barn and out of earshot. "Sure glad to see you up and around again," he told her.

"That's about all I am right now, but it's getting better. Are you okay? I knew you got hit, but I was out of it then."

"Yeah, nothin' bad. I'm okay."

"What's in that briefcase, and what am I supposed to do with it?"

"It's from the guys. It's a salute, for a job well done. It's yours, so do with it what you see fit. Just do it without making any big waves, okay? There was this stuff laying around on the place, and there was the medevac comin' in, and we didn't want to leave the place messy, y'know? There wasn't anybody left there alive but us, an' dead people didn't need it, so a couple of us shoved all that gold in some rucksacks and boogied with it. We figured we don't get paid enough for that kind of work, so we got a bonus. We found out you'd make it, but would be goin' home, so we cut out your share."

Julie's face went to a deadpan. She said, "You took the GOLD?"


"How the devil did you get it back here?"

"Uh, the less you know the better, but let's say there was some military transport involved. I'da been here sooner, but it took a while to find it where we dropped it. My leave's about up, so I need to get back today. We cut it close on time, but it worked out."

Julie gave Benny a look that a guy wouldn't expect from his CO, then grabbed him in a hug. "Thanks Weasel. You guys didn't have to do that. It coulda cost you big time."

"You got it coming, okay? No questions now. Just live your life and enjoy it. Thanks. From all of us. I gotta go now. You keep watchin' yer six, okay? If you need somethin' we can do, you let us know. We owe you. We'll always owe you."

Julie saw the first emotion she had ever seen on the younger man's face as he turned to leave. She watched him go, then slowly walked back to the house.

There would be no trail anyone could follow to trace Weasel here, she knew. Locals had seen him of course, but the car was not a rental, she was sure. It was too old. His clothes didn't say anything about him, looking like a laborer, and his hair was a little long. He could fit in anywhere and look like a local. That had kept him alive this long. He got in and out of places and nobody noticed him, thus the name Weasel. Now, she had to keep his trail covered and be careful what she did with his bequest.

Late that evening after Michael had gone to bed, Julie talked to Jeff and Lynn. They had to force open the locked briefcase, but a screwdriver did that. Inside were 2 sets of BDU's, rolled and wadded to stuff the case full. When they unrolled them, paper wrapped, pocket size packages fell out, one after another.

"What the heck do I do with this," Julie asked them. "I can't put it in a bank because I don't think banks are safe, and if the Powers That Be decide someday that they need gold worse than the citizens do, they'd get it. They did that back in the 1930's and took it out of safe deposit boxes. Anyway, I can't explain where I got it, so it has to stay out of sight."

Jeff asked, "You ever heard of a posthole bank?"


"Back in the Great Depression, people had lost money in banks when they went broke, so nobody trusted banks for their savings. They'd get silver or gold coins, and hide them somewhere at home. One favorite way was to put it in a canning jar with a zinc lid that wouldn't rust out, and bury the jar. They hid their jar in all kinds of places. They put 'em in wells with a wire loop on it so they could fish it out. They'd bury them under the outhouse. Some put buried them under a corner of the pigpen. One guy hid money in his beehives."

"But a common trick was to pull out a wood fencepost, by wiggling it around until it was loose, then carefully dig the hole a little deeper. They put their jar in the hole, added some dirt, then put the fence post back on top and stomped the dirt back down tight around it. If you are careful about it, nobody can tell it was done after the first rain or two when the grass straightens up again. You commit to memory which post it was, and it will be there when you want it."

Julie said, "I don't have any better ideas. Let's work on a post somewhere soon."

Chapter 53 SUMMER June 2012

It was hot, but a breeze made the gazebo tolerable. Margaret sat breaking green beans while the dogs lay in the shade of the big old trees behind the house. She looked up at the sound of a car she didn't recognize. It was a compact black car, and pulled up in the driveway circle near the house.

She recognized Julie getting out, and said, "Hi! I didn't know who it was. Where did you get that?"

"I decided I should quit bumming rides off Lynn and Jeff. I found this in south Louisville."

"It looks nice. What is it... oh, a Volkswagen, I see."

"It's a Jetta TDI, a diesel. Supposed to get 50 miles to the gallon on the highway. We'll see about that, but the gauge didn't move coming home with it. I'm still getting used to the stick shift. My back doesn't like the clutch, but I think that will get better."

"I'm glad you got something, and it looks new."

"No, it's a 2002. They always shine them up before they put 'em out for sale. It's got 91,000 miles on it, but I only paid $7,750 for it. These things are supposed to be good for well over 200,000 miles. Did my homework on the internet, and this looked like the best deal I could find. It sure beats the heck out of riding in a deuce and a half! I could get used to creature comforts."

"Sounds like it should be cheap on gas, uh, make that diesel."

"It better be. I paid $5.06 for diesel in Louisville. It's a couple cents cheaper out here, but that's still awfully high."

"It's sure going to cut down on driving. People can't afford that."

"Already has. There wasn't near the traffic in the city today. Lynn went on back home, after I got headed out, by the way. She said she'd be down with some milk later. She had put this morning's milk in the cooler, and it should be ready by the time we got back."

"I better get on back home. Just thought I'd stop and show off my new ride." Julie grinned a little.

"That's great," Margaret said. "You all want some green beans for supper?"

"Thanks, but Michael picked some last night. I gotta go. See ya later."


Margaret thought that it was nice to see a smile on Julie for a change. It had taken long enough.

Jeff had finished cultivating the soybeans today. That would be the last time he would be able to get through them since they were getting so tall. He still had some weeds in the corn on Julie's farms, but it was already too tall to cultivate any more. The heat of summer made the corn grow

faster than the weeds, so the row middles were covered by overlapping corn leaves now. It should be all right from here on, so the crop was "laid by" as his Dad used to say. Jeff could turn his attention to other things. Even with the 4 row cultivator, it had been nearly a full time job for the past few weeks.

He drove the tractor to the house and saw Julie's new car there, but Lynn's truck was gone. He'd seen Lynn head for his parent's place.

"Hi Julie. Looks like you got a nice one!"

"Well it beats not having a car. And it's supposed to run cheap."

"Yeah, I've heard they do. That's a diesel, right?"

"Yep, and it will run on veggie oil, they told me. There's a switch on the dash. I haven't read the Owner's Manual, so I don't know exactly how that works yet. But, it looks like I can run it on the soybean oil, straight out of the press."

"Cool! We'll have plenty of it this Fall."

They walked in the house where Jeff washed up and cooled off with a big glass of tea. Julie relaxed in the computer chair and turned on the laptop there. Michael banged the door coming in. "I'm tripping over kittens. I guess it's feeding time," he said.

Julie said, "I think your Grandma wants a couple kittens. She said something about it a few days ago. You might talk to her and see what she says. Uh-oh!"

"What'd you see?" Jeff saw concern on Julie's face.

"Weasel and the whole bunch are getting RIFFED* out! Those cutbacks in the military are getting deep. He just emailed me and asked if there was a place to rent around here. Said he liked the area, and he and Charlie don't have any family left, so they are thinking about near us."

* RIF = Reduction In Force.

"Wow. I never thought they'd cut back the Rangers. It sure don't seem like the time to do that."

"I would never have dreamed it either, but that's what he says. Is there any place you know of they could stay around here? Gotta be cheap. They won't have a lot to spend until they can find some work."

"Mmm. Well, I still got that RV down on the back of Dad's place. I drained the pipes and all, but they could stay there. I'm sure Dad wouldn't mind. It's got water and a couple solar panels, but it's pretty small for two guys full time."

"Hah! If you'd seen how these guys have lived for the last few years, you'd know they would love it. Besides, they don't like a lot of people around. That oughta be perfect."

"I'll call Dad and see what he says. Hang on a minute."

Julie waited while Jeff talked to his Mom, since his Dad was in town. Lynn was still there, and

apparently vouched for Weasel.

"Mom says it's fine. Tell them to come ahead. Dad could use some help for the haymaking, whether he says so or not. It would be handy to have some more help around."

Julie responded to the email and left the laptop on. She set about fixing supper. Michael came in and set the table, his usual job.
Jeff said, "Come to think of it, I could use help cutting tobacco later on. Two acres is a pretty good sized job without more help. And I might find some more work around here."

Lynn drove in and was soon in the kitchen.

"Hi. Took your Mom some milk and cheese. She said she'll skim her own cream and make butter. Said they don't need to be drinking that much butterfat. Say, Julie! Is that right that Weasel is coming here?"

"Said he wanted to. I emailed him at the base. He'll probably get back to me by tomorrow. He's out-processing at Fort Campbell Kentucky, so he's not that far away."

Lynn said, "Well, I like the guy. He's a real gentleman and I think those guys in your unit really loved you."

They sat down to eat, beef barbecue, green beans, mashed potatoes, and some of the first sliced tomatoes from their early started plants. Later, when Michael had taken Sarge out for his evening walk, the computer made the 'Bing!' sound indicating a new email. Julie checked, and there was a reply from Weasel, saying he had a couple weeks yet before his discharge. He would get a bus to Scottsburg, as close as he could get by Greyhound. Could somebody pick them up there? Final plans to follow.

Julie replied that she would come get them, and to send her the date and time.

Evelyn Martin called 911, and told the dispatcher she thought her husband was having a heart attack. She was reassured that an ambulance was on its' way, with her address in Sugar Creek Valley. She stayed on the line and told the woman, "I don't think he's breathing!"

The dispatcher gave her instructions for chest compression and mouth-to-mouth. The old lady tried, but when the ambulance pulled in after 15 minutes, he was already gone. They did all they knew, but the old man did not respond. Evelyn spent the night at her daughter's house in town, getting what comfort she could from her family.

She decided to stay with her daughter, unable to afford the rent on the reduced amount of Social Security she would have now. Her son in law moved her personal belongings out of the rented house, and her daughter called Julie Schell to notify her they would no longer need the house.

"Guys, you've got choices," Julie told Benny and Charlie, "You can look for something in rent in town, where an apartment goes for around $300 a month, or can live in Jeff's old RV for free, if you lend his Dad a hand now and then, or I can rent you the house that just came empty. I wouldn't charge you for it, but I really need the money to help pay taxes on the farms. I was getting $450 a month from the last folks there, and that is below the market."

Charlie looked at his friend and said, "Town ain't for me. I'd like to be able to pay you the rent, but free sounds real good right now. What d'you think Ben?"

Benny nodded, "Yep, free sounds real good. We're not exactly broke, and we could get hold of some money, but We'd rather not do that right now. Yeah, I'd like to go for the RV."

"I thought you would, so I set it up with Jeff's Dad, Alan Walter. We'd just as well go see him first."

Julie drove through the almost unpopulated countryside west of Scottsburg at a steady 50 MPH, giving the ment time to look around some and get a feel for what this area looked like. The next 15 miles they rode without talking, as Julie noticed the peace of the wooded hills began to have its' effect on the men. When they got into town, Charlie asked, "Is there a burger joint around? I'm getting hungry."

"Can't let you spoil your appetites! Lynn has a big spread cooking for dinner, so you gotta do it justice, if you can wait about 20 minutes."

"That's nice of her, but we planned to feed ourselves. Don't want to impose on your sister," Charlie said.

"It's not imposing. These are country folks, and they all figure if you are there at mealtime, you eat. They plan to have extra at any meal in case somebody shows up. What's left gets eaten at the next meal. Been that way forever around here, so don't buck tradition. You can cook for yourself later. We'll get you settled in first and worry about that later."

Lynn, Jeff, and Michael had put an extra leaf in the extendable kitchen table and had it set for 6 people. There were big bowls of fried potatoes, greens, fried green tomatoes, pork chops and gravy. Two pitchers of iced tea were on the table, a pound of what was obviously homemade butter in a bowl, and hot cornbread. There were the normal polite noises as the men came in and got introduced all around. After Jeff said Grace, the bowls and platters were passed around and the only sound for a while was the clinking of knives and forks. Charlie and Benny did their share of eating, and even found room for some blackberry cobbler with fresh cream on it.

"I give up," Charlie said, "I can't eat another bite!"

He moved his chair back from the table and stretched his long legs, leaning back in the chair to ease his overfull stomach.

Benny chuckled, "I told you we wouldn't starve around here."

Jeff said, "If you do, it's your own fault. Lots of food on a farm for the growing of it. As soon as you guys feel like moving we can go down to Dad's and get you into the RV. I took some canned food down there, and the cabinets still had all the other stuff that wouldn't spoil. I turned the water on and the batteries were up from sitting there charging on the solar panels. It's ready to just put your clothes away and you're home."

Benny asked, "What do we need to do in return for this? Your Dad needs help on the farm, Julie said. How about you? It's your RV, right? We need to do something for you."

Jeff shook his head, "No, don't worry about that now. I'll need some help with hay, too, and there will be tobacco cutting coming up, so you'll have plenty of chances. It doesn't cost me anything for you to be there, and it's better for it to be lived in. I'll loan you a weed whacker and you can trim up around the place, and call it good for this week."

"We'll do whatever work you want, just say the word," Benny said. "You'll have to show us what to do for while, but we catch on pretty quick. We both grew up out of town, just not on farms."

Lynn said, "From what I've seen out of you two, you're not scared of much. You'll be fine."

Charlie mumbled something about having to wait until all that food digested before he would be worth much, but they threw their stuff in Jeff's Blazer and rode to their new abode.

Charlie and Benny stood in front of the RV trailer and looked around, pasture sloping away from it on three sides, just beyond some trees and brush that hid the RV from casual sight. The RV sat in a small clearing, with the forested hills behind it. They didn't say anything for a few minutes, just got their duffel bags and went inside. The RV trailer was a 24 foot long Jayco Hawk, with an open floor plan, with living/dining/kitchen in one end, the bathroom and storage in the middle, then a big bedroom with a double bed and 2 bunks in the back. They dropped their bags and looked around.

Jeff said, "The fridge is gas, so all the solar does is the lights, a fan if you use it, and the radio and TV. The satellite dish isn't hooked up right now, but we can get it going next week. You won't get much TV without it. Radio is on the big antenna, though, so it works. I put underpinning around it and in the winter we just put a row of hay bales around it to insulate and keep the pipes from freezing. It's easy to heat with the gas furnace, but I set up 100 pound bottles so you don't have to fill them so often."

"Uh, Jeff?" Benny began, "We got our stuff shipped by Fedex, and gave your address. There'll be a couple boxes for each of us. Then we need to buy something to drive, 'cause we gotta go pick up some stuff. Maybe you can point us at a car lot or something."

"We'll get you a ride if you need it to start with. Take your time buying something to drive. Look around and think about it. I thought I'd have you guys run me home and then bring the Blazer back with you for now. We'll get your civvie license and all that later. Oh, and there's a .30-30 behind the back seat of the Blazer, and a couple boxes of ammo. I thought you'd feel naked without something."

"Uh, we got our carry guns, but that's good to have a rifle 'till we get our stuff here."

"Okay. Let's go see Mom an' Dad and the neighbor's, Rich and Cindy that works for Dad. They're all anxious to meet you, but they'll let you alone back here. As long as you don't shoot any cows, you'll all get along great!"

"Ain't plannin' on shootin' anything if I can help it," Charlie said with a grin. They all piled back in the Blazer again.

That evening, after another get-acquainted meal with Alan and Margaret, the two men sat and watched the sun go down over the hills across the pasture. The night sounds began to be heard as it got darker.

Benny asked, "You okay with this?"

Charlie said, "Best I've seen in a long, long time. Think I'll just set here a while and get used to the critter sounds. As long as they are talkin', ain't nothin' bad happenin'."

"I saw a six pack of beer in the fridge. Want one?"

"Yeah, that'd be good about now. They sure didn't miss much gettin' this ready, did they?"

"Nope. Sure didn't. We gotta do right by these folks."

They slept soundly that night.

The tornado that had devastated New Pekin, Indiana had many side effects. Margaret volunteered at the local food bank, distributing boxes of donated groceries to the needy, many dispossessed of their homes by the storm. She came home each Tuesday worn out from the lifting and carrying. Truckloads of food came into the back room and needed to be sorted so someone could pick out sensible assortments to go in the giveaway boxes. People needing food tended to arrive in groups, frequently because they had car-pooled to get there. Most of these people had lost their jobs when the tornado destroyed the business where they worked. More than once the Food Bank ran out of food before they ran out of people who needed it. One fellow told her that most of what he ate was what he shot, so the food he got there was a real help. The county had a lot of people hurting, but the local crime rate hadn't gone up noticeably. People were finding ways to cope, so far.

One of those businesses was a cabinetmaking factory whose building and much of its' assets were blown away. A local consignment auction house volunteered to sell what they could salvage at no cost to the business owner. The equipment had been left in place, some of it covered with tarps while the insurance appraisers did their work and the building debris was cleared away. It was sold on an "as-is, where-is" basis.

The day of the auction, Jeff looked over a 24" wood planer/moulder that had been severely dented on top by something falling on it. The damage appeared to be all in the sheet metal on top, but the knife head was stuck by that dented cover, preventing it being turned to check it for straightness. Only scrap dealers bid on it, apparently because of this, so Jeff waited until they slowed down and made his bid. He bought it for $420.

He'd brought his Dad's torch, some tools,and Benny and Charlie to help. They cut the bolts holding it to the concrete floor, and with the help of an on-site forklift and some chains, got it loaded on Lynn's truck. Jeff's tractor and front loader got it off the truck and into the sawmill building. A concrete foundation was poured with anchor bolts, and a month later he had it belted up to the sawmill engine and the feed tables installed. The planer/moulder had side moulding heads that could surface boards on all 4 sides. By changing blades in the side heads, he could make tongue and groove lumber, or shiplap edges. He had to order those spare blades, since the originals had been scattered by the tornado. Some diligent work with a sledge hammer had undone the dents in the top covers and got it functional again.

Jeff researched solar kilns on the internet and decided it wasn't rocket science to dry lumber that way. It looked very much like a greenhouse with only the South-facing side covered with clear plastic and the North wall insulated. A black painted metal chimney provided air circulation when the sun warmed it. An old cabinet maker in town, now retired, went to their church. Upon quizzing him about kiln drying, Jeff, a child of the technical age, asked if he needed to buy a moisture meter to determine when the lumber was completely dried?

The old fellow laughed and said, "Can if you want to, but I always got by with a rule and a pencil. You hand plane the edges of the widest board in the load, measure the width, and write it on the board. When you start drying it, you check the width of that board every day and write it on the board. When she stops shrinkin', she's dry! Cedar dries faster than anything else, but Poplar don't take much longer. Oak an' Maple, now they'll take a while, so don't get in no hurry on them. Air dry it as best you can first, of course."

Jeff thanked him profusely and asked what he wanted for his information?

"Don't want nothin'. If you get some nice cedar sometime, I'd like to make a cedar chest for my daughter, though."

Jeff promised him he'd get it. He was confident now that by next year he would have kiln dried, planed lumber to sell.

Another side effect of the tornado was a lot of destroyed automobiles. All the local car lots had sold out of low and medium priced vehicles of every sort. So many had lost cars in the storm that used ones were at a premium. Benny and Charlie would have to look further afield to get transportation. Lynn and Jeff talked about it and decided Jeff needed something younger to drive and heavier duty for farm use. They offered the 1998 Blazer to Charlie and Benny for $2,500, which was about trade-in value, and they jumped on the deal, splitting the cost.

Jeff had his eye on a diesel, but the prices were high. He found a 2002 Ford F250 Super Duty with 130,000 miles on it at the car auction in Jeffersonville and bought it for $9,500. He gave his car dealer friend $500 to do the buying for him. After a trip to the shop for servicing, they found it needed a few things besides tires and exhaust work. The brakes weren't all that great, so he did a brake job, and put on all new belts and hoses while it was in the shop. He still had less than $11,000 in it, well under market price, and the truck ran great. The last owner had been a contractor, according to some scrap paperwork found in the cab, and the bed showed it. Jeff used his Dad's Mig welder to repair a tear in the bed, then gave the bed a coat of white paint to match the truck.

Charlie had quickly found a job as a bouncer in a local bar on Friday and Saturday nights, but it didn't pay much so he was still looking for something more. Benny found some erratic part time work climbing communication towers to do repair work for Greg Burns who owned the local internet company. Jeff had known and worked for Greg and made that connection for Benny. That job got Benny acquainted with the local satellite TV company who also hired Benny on occassion to climb their towers for service work. His military communications experience helped there.

They both looked for more work, but had no success that summer. Neither of them minded. They kept busy. Margaret got help digging and dividing the horseradish, picking beans and digging early potatoes. They helped Alan with haymaking, something Rich was glad to see, since they had been short handed, and Rich had "a lot of irons in the fire", as he put it. He had been operating the biodiesel system and had run last year's soybeans through it, netting close to 800 gallons of fuel. It was almost time to combine the winter wheat, there was fence to fix, calves that needed castrated and wood to cut for next winter, besides their garden and keeping Jonah out of trouble.

As soon as the Blazer had new license and insurance, Benny and Charlie took a trip to Louisville to empty the small storage unit they had rented. They turned in the keys to the storage unit and

breathed a sigh of relief when they got their load home. It wasn't all that much to show for 8 years of their life in the military, but it was valuable to them, a collection of souvenirs from around the world, their personal rifles and some ammunition, some liberated surplus stuff, mostly non-toxic, and importantly, a .30 caliber ammo can that was pretty heavy. They opened that and took out some gold coins to pay Jeff for the Blazer and returned his .30-30 rifle. On a later trip to Louisville, they sold a few coins each to put some money in their pockets and plenty to spare. The rest of the contents they divided and put into their personal stashes.

A side benefit of working for the satellite company got Benny a hookup at the RV trailer for TV and internet, since Greg's wireless service didn't reach the hollow where they lived.

Business continued to be slow for Nathan and Jeannie's shop. Prowling the junkyard one day to find metal for a project, he came upon an antique and bought it--a mill for crushing sorghum cane. A couple weeks later he had cleaned off the rust, done the needed repairs, and had new Babbitt bearings poured in it. They built a steel frame to mount it on a poured concrete footing. Next they built a "doghouse" to cover it outside when not in use. Nathan cut a new pole for turning it with the horses walking in a circle, tried it out, then put the pole away in the barn out of the weather. Next year, they could plant some sorghum and make syrup. That gave them time to make an evaporator pan, build a shed over it, and a brick stove under it.

Before he went any further with the sorghum project, Nathan wanted to get the burr mill powered by the horses. He had seen something the Amish had done, on their trip to pick up the horse collars. The first step was to find a rear axle from a 1 1/2 ton truck, stand it on end, and set the bottom end in a yard of concrete. He drilled and tapped a new oil fill hole at the top of the axle housing so it could be filled to the top with oil. The concrete locked the axle on the bottom end. He ran the driveshaft out away from the vertical axle in a ditch in the ground and coupled it to a long shaft mounted in bearings. The shaft was covered with a board so the horses wouldn't step on it. He put a truck wheel on the top axle end and bolted a long pole to it. The horses would be hitched to the pole and turn the wheel, and thus, the driveshaft would rotate. With one end of it locked in concrete, this made the driveshaft turn at twice the speed it would otherwise, getting it up to a useful speed on his shaft, which extended beyond the horses' path. There, he set up belts and pulleys to turn the burr mill.

It all ran very qiuetly. It was easy work for one horse, and Nathan had already figured out he could run some shop equipment with the rig, so he had placed it accordingly near the shop and built an attached shed to house the burr mill. Thereafter, the horses ground their own feed, plus flour and cornmeal as needed. Jeannie's chickens were getting to the size they ate more feed than she wanted to buy, so they ground some for them, too, mixing in some of her Dad's soybean meal to raise the protein level. She began to think about getting a couple pigs. If they were going to be home more, it wouldn't be that much trouble to take care of them.

The tornado had also created an instant housing shortage in the area. Victims had immediately moved in with friends and relatives, but began to search for a place of their own as they got their lives going again. One such couple in their early 40's were willing to drive the longer distance to their Louisville jobs and rented the empty house from Julie. They liked the peace and quiet of the country, and wanted out of "tornado alley". Rents had risen with the shortage, so Julie was able to get $450 a month with no complaint and a one year lease.


Chapter 54, FIREWORKS July, 2012

Pekin, Indiana proclaimed again their longest continuous July 4th celebration, and started the festivities on Friday, June 30th, since the 4th would be officially celebrated on Monday, July 2nd. There was the usual parade to open the party on Saturday, with everything from tricycles to fire trucks, and the huge open air flea market and midway rides for the kids. The local Lions Club had their Fish Fry going, there were all the teenage garage bands banging out what they called music, and the little town tried for a few days to forget the tornado damage.

Benny and Charlie, like most young men under 30, had to go see it all. They took Michael along to enjoy it, to be joined later that day by Jeff and Lynn. There were girls of all ages there, and the three had no trouble finding company to enjoy the day. Michael was particularly good at throwing a softball, so he won some trinkets for himself and the girl he met there. Charlie had a good time at the dart toss, popping balloons at every throw, and won some stuffed animals that he gave to a young lady. Benny met a girl at the flea market who was selling T shirts to benefit the tornado victims.

Alan and Margaret came in for the flea market and spent some time, then Jeff, Lynn, and Julie showed up. They all met for supper at the fish fry concession, except Rich and Cindy who were going to wait for Monday to take in the sights and see the fireworks then. Benny had the girl he'd met in tow for the meal. Charlie was off somewhere else, clearly having better things to do.

Nathan and Jeannie showed up later, Jeannie carrying Sidney the Cockatoo on her shoulder. Margaret met them on the midway when Jeannie was explaining to some small kids that, yes, she bites and she can take a finger off, so DON'T mess with her. Sidney, however, was enjoying herself and treated them all to her comments about the fun and excitement. Sid was a big hit. The kids were delighted and went to get their friends. Jeannie finally extricated herself and the bird and toured the midway with the family and friends. Sid had her picture taken at the western dress-up photo booth, wearing a sombrero and a bandana around her neck. She was getting a little overwrought, so they left early for home, Sid chattering all the way and proud of her new picture.

Monday, the whole group returned about dark for the fireworks display, and Jonah had a grand time, whooping at the sky show. The crowd was even bigger that night, making it a matter of half an hour to get out of traffic and on the road home when it was over. Lynn was glad to get home and off her feet that night, as she put it, "being great with child".

Financial markets were closed on Monday and again on Wednesday, with nothing of importance happening on Tuesday between. Thursday was a different matter. The financial fireworks began with the news that both Italy and Spain had been found to have done some creative accounting and their sovereign debts were far worse than they had told before. European bond markets, and the associated derivatives markets went into a tizzy over that, which the European Central Bank sought to quell with announcement of yet another ineffective "plan". Nobody paid much attention to that, so the fear spread to other European bonds, prompting the Federal Reserve to announce a line of currency swaps with the ECB to prop the Euro up. This had a reverse effect, causing a panic in the bond markets. Knowing the state of US affairs, China kept a close watch on the events. At the end of the day, the ECB had announced they would issue loans as bond guarantees to the amount of 1.2 Billion Euros.

When the markets opened in Asia that night, China was selling T-Bonds in large amounts, fearing that the US would have to print beau coup gobs of dollars to back up the swaps with Europe. They rightfully feared a major loss of trade from a coming dollar devaluation. Friday morning in the US, the Fed reacted with a knee jerk to the benchmark 10 year T-Bond trading at up to 12% yield. Perceiving the imminent demise of the dollar, the Fed and the Treasury Secretary issued a statement that the US would devalue the dollar by 20% effective Monday. The market didn't wait for Monday. By close of business on Friday, the US dollar was trading down by 40% in the Foreign exchange markets. Oil futures had spiked to $168/barrel, and were rising.

Monday morning, with the dollar opening sharply lower yet, the Fed Chairman, with an accompanying speech by the President, announced an official devaluation of the US dollar of 50%. Financial markets stabiized for the rest of the day, enough to re-open trading on Wall Street for the last hour before the close. Lengthy speeches were made by all and sundry politicians in all countries, and were generally ignored. Monday night, a few people figured out what this meant and had gone shopping, writing checks and burning down their credit card accounts in favor of any and all imported goods, notably gasoline, diesel fuel, oil products of all kinds, and a lot of foods. Wal Mart had long lines, late into the night.

Tuesday, European markets closed an hour after the opening, in the face of utter panic selling. US news reports showed European stores being thronged with customers, often unruly. The US population began to get the idea and stores became utter chaos, reminicent of the Black Friday mobs. But more than a few stores had altercations worse than the Christmas rush. Gas stations were worse, after gasoline went up to $6.99 and then $7.84 in the Midwest US, with talk on the news of $12 gas, as oil topped $250 a barrel. Before the day was out, panic buying had caused many stations to put plastic bags over the pumps with signs saying "No Gas". The news was full of reassuring speeches that night, by many heads of government making glowing promises despite empty budget coffers. Nobody was particularly impressed, as prices on everything in sight more than doubled in a matter of 48 hours. The President issued an Executive Order proclaiming price controls on everything. Nobody paid much attention to that, easily making an end run around it by attaching "Service Charges" on every sale, usually equal to or more than the mandated price.

The financial markets were declared closed for the duration of the emergency, and banks were likewise closed in an attempt to prevent runs. But the runs were electronic and had already started. Soon, debit and credit cards were being rejected at points of sale, due to the banks being closed and a hold put on all accounts. More people got unruly when they found that their plastic no longer worked, and their cash was inaccessible, if they had any.

Some wag at a Louisville radio station played an old song by Warren Zevon, "Lawyers, Guns and Money" as their theme song of the day for most of the morning before the more politically correct management had that DJ taken off the air.

Sugar Creek Valley was pretty quiet that evening, as the family and friends of Alan and Margaret Walter had a meeting at their home. It was decided by mutual accord that none of them would try to go to any town for the next few days until things settled down. Any needs any of them had could probably be met by others in the group, so they stayed home and tended to their personal business. All agreed that having a night watch was probably a good idea in the coming days, so they began to form a plan for that.

Micah had been listening to the news and had a pretty good idea what it would mean. When the gas station at the main intersection in town closed with bags over the pumps saying "No Gas", he

managed to get some at the most expensive station in town. He went to the feed mill and got several big bags of salt, then to the hardware store and told Clarence to get busy boarding the place up. Micah had several sheets of plywood in his truck bed and told Clarence to hustle to the lumber yard before other people thought about it. He then drove to the bulk food store back in the country and bought a good supply of dry beans, spices and 20 pounds of hard cheese. From there, he went home and went to work boarding up windows on the Bait Shop. It didn't take long with his wife's help.

When darkness fell, Micah backed his truck up to the back door of the Bait shop and began to load it with his stock in trade. No light showed from the highway as he proceeded to empty the shop and lock the doors. His utility trailer was already loaded with the food he had bought and what his wife had canned. She had emptied the refrigerator into two large coolers with ice from the ice machine, and dumped the contents of cabinets into some cardboard boxes saved for the purpose. She loaded blankets and clothing in bags hastily made from sheets, and threw contents of the bathroom cabinets into a couple pillow cases.

Micah put the truck in gear and drove the corner of the front bumper into the front door of the bait shop, crunching the lower panel out. He hooked a chain around the inside handle of the security door and backed up, ripping the door open. He drove the truck around back to hook up the trailer, then went back inside the bait shop and scattered the displays of cheap fishing lures and other small items on the floor. He made sure there were a number of catfish size treble hooks spread around the floor by the entrance. He took the computer and threw desk drawers around the room. He pried open the cash register with a crowbar and left a little change on the floor, then dumped the live bait tanks over, leaving the minnows, crawdads, crickets, and worms to mingle to their hearts' content. He hadn't done any serious damage, but the place was an unholy mess when he left.

The moon was pretty full, so he drove without lights as quietly as possible down the highway to the next county road. Turning there, he drove through mostly State Forest land to Sugar Creek Valley and turned downstream toward the river. They unloaded everything at their river fishing camp, and then drove back the way they had come. He parked the trailer back in the shed, then called the Sheriff's office, reporting a break-in and robbery. Late that night a deputy came out and surveyed the damage, took their statements. He nodded as they described coming home from setting up their camp on the river and finding the place torn apart. He told them he would investigate what he could, but they were overloaded at the moment. They told him they were going to lock up the best they could and go back to the camp, since it looked too dangerous to stay at home.

The night shift deputy checked with a couple sleepy neighbor's, but they were a half mile away on either side of the Bait Shop and hadn't heard or seen anything. He went back to the office to fill out his reports and tell the Sheriff what he had found. After the deputy left his office, the Sheriff thought about this and then went back to his paperwork. He hoped he had it figured out. If he was wrong, then there were a lot of guns in the wrong hands now.

Julie had mentioned at the family meeting that she needed to talk to the two families renting her houses. The next day she set about doing that. Roy and Mandy Bates rented the nearest house, down the road on the opposite side from Lynn and Jeff's. She found them at home, with 4 year old Shari. Roy spoke first.

"Come in. I need to talk to you."

Julie took the offered seat and said, "Nobody knows what's going on right now, so I thought I should tell you that as long as the banks are closed, I won't be trying to collect rent. If things get back to normal soon, we'll work it out."

The couple glanced at each other and looked relieved. Roy said, "I think I lost my job. Somebody at the plant in Louisville called and said they would be closed until further notice. I don't know if they will open again, or what. Have you heard anything about when the banks might be open again? We have to get some groceries."

"Nobody knows when the banks will open, but this can't go on for long. How long before you really need groceries?"

"We don't have much of anything in the house. We go every two weeks when I get paid, but if the plant is closed for good, I don't know if we'll have the money. Things were really high priced when I stopped on the way home the other day, and we don't have much in the bank."

"Hmm. Okay. Have you ever raised a garden before?"

Mandy said, "My Mom used to grow some tomatoes and stuff in the back yard. I helped with that a little, but we haven't had a garden."

"All right. Let me get hold of Jeff today and we'll get somebody down here to plow up the old garden spot and get something started. This could go on for who knows how long, so we should expect it to last for a long time. We'll have to get something going for you pretty fast."

Roy said, "But we can't pay you to do that. We don't have any garden seeds, or anything. I don't know how we can do this."

Julie explained. "My sister and her husband Jeff have a farm. Jeff's Dad and Mom have a farm just down the road. There are some other people living there, too, Rich and Cindy Hammond, and a couple other friends of mine live in a trailer there. We had a meeting last night and decided that we need to keep a neighborhood watch going on, because there could be some trouble spill out from the cities. Would you be up for pulling watchman duty?"

"Why sure, if you can help find a way to keep us fed, I'll do whatever it takes."

"Okay. Do you have a gun?"

"A gun? What for? You mean like a security guard?"

"Yes. Do you have one?"

"Uh, no, I don't have a pistol or anything. Just my Dad's old shotgun, a 12 gauge pump."

"Do you know how to use it?"

"Uh, yeah, I've hunted a little with it."

"Good. You have ammunition for it? And how much?"

"I think there's part of a box of shells in the closet, birdshot, and I bought a couple boxes of slugs

to go deer hunting, but I didn't get any time off to go. You think we'll have to use guns to keep people away?"

"I hope not. Better to be safe than sorry, though. Find a place where you can keep that gun handy, loaded, and out of the little girl's reach. I don't mean locked up in a closet, either. I mean hung up high where you can grab it fast. You get busy on that and I'll see to the garden. We need to look around the barn to see if there are any tools here."

Roy brightened up some, saying, "I looked in the old shed behind the house, and there are some rakes and shovels and stuff in there. I'll show you."

They all went exploring. Julie explained that she had only bought the property recently and hadn't had time to look things over. Jeff was farming it, and Rich did repairs on the house, so she needed to learn what was really here. They found quite a bit in the shed, garden tools, an old wheel barrow with a steel wheel on it, some odds and ends of rusty wrenches, cans with old parts in them, and old bottles of bolts and nails. Julie tried the old hand pump outside the kitchen door and got some rusty water out of it. She dumped the bucket and kept pumping until it came out clear. She cupped her hand under the pump and took a drink.

"That'll do. If the power goes out, at least you can get a drink. You'll have to use the outhouse, but I think it will be okay after you chase the bugs out."

"What I was told," Julie began, "The old couple named Tanner who owned this and the next farm that I bought, had moved in with their kids in town and now have passed away. The kids rented the house out and a farmer rented the ground. When the old folks died, they just left their stuff here because it wasn't worth having an auction they thought. The next owners never bothered with the farm, just rented out the land and mowed the grass, so they didn't mess with anything either. Rich patched the roofs on the old buildings, but nobody has used the barn or the outbuildings in years. Let's go look in the barn."

"We haven't been in there. We didn't think it was part of the deal, so we left it alone. I just mowed up to the barn and that's it."

Inside, they looked over the collection of several generations of farmers. There was old equipment Julie didn't recognize, but looked like it was meant for use with horses. High in the peak of the barn was a big bundle of what looked to be harness, hanging from the hay forks that had once put loose hay in the hay mow. Julie immediately thought of Jeannie and Nathan.

Julie said, "Come down to Jeff's with me and get some stuff out of their garden. We can't have you folks going hungry. There's more food than you an imagine. Get some cardboard boxes or bags and come with me. Mandy, can you cook from scratch?"

"I can cook fresh vegetables, and make pies, if I remember how. I've got a cookbook. I never baked bread or made cakes, but I can put a meal on the table."

"Great. Let's get you some food."

At Jeff and Lynn's place, Julie introduced the couple to Jeff and Lynn and explained what she had in mind. They directed Michael to take Mandy to the market garden and get enough to eat for a few days. Roy and Jeff sat down to talk about a shift rotation for watchmen, then went to the converted freezer and got out two half gallons of milk. He explained about the cream rising on

fresh milk and sent him to the car with it and a frozen beef roast. They went on to the garden to dig potatoes. Mandy and Michael had picked some green beans, a few tomatoes, cut some okra, and picked some lettuce and a couple cucumbers. Lynn came out with a couple pounds of corn meal and some freshly ground flour in plastic bags, and a plastic bowl of butter. She looked really pregnant, so she and Mandy talked about that while they worked.

Mandy asked, "How come you have such a huge garden? I've never seen anything like it!"

Lynn said, "Michael and I have been selling at the Farmer's Market in town. Fat chance of that now, so we're going to put it where it will do us the most good."

Roy asked, "What do we owe you for all this? This is enough to feed us for a week or more."

"How about you show up for night shifts this week for watch duty and we'll call it even? Later, we may want to trade off some watch time for help at harvest time. Julie, stop down at Mom's and get 'em some eggs, will you?"

"You're sure saving us. I don't know what we'd have done without this. The cupboard was getting pretty bare."

"Food we have. We need more eyes and ears, so if you're okay with it, we've got a deal. We'll get you a garden going. There's still time for a lot of late stuff. If we plant enough, you should have plenty to can for winter."

Julie's visit to the couple renting the second house went similiarly, but Kenneth and Carolyn Porter were older, both 42. They had more resources, but were short of food like the Bates family. Another deal was struck to provide food and housing in exchange for some watch duty and help on the farms. The Porters both worked at a factory in Louisville, and had already lost their house in the tornado last Spring. They had saved everything in their basement and separate garage, plus some things from the house, but the house was a total loss. The insurance had paid off, so they had been replacing things since then.

They had some money left from that and when the first devaluation was announced, they had stocked up on everything they could think of. What was missing was fresh food. They had canning supplies and had bought garden seeds and a new tiller, but had not gotten a garden started yet. Kenneth had hung onto his bedside handgun, a Smith and Wesson 9MM, and one spare magazine. He had bought a used shotgun from a friend of his, but had only gotten a couple boxes of shells for it. Overall, they were in pretty good shape, but needed a way to go forward now.

Julie explored the barn with them, and although it had less in it, there was a horse drawn corn planter and a grain drill, plus a pile of odds and ends in the the loft that included many old wood apple boxes full of canning jars, stacked 3 high. Most of them had zinc lids on them, so they had been there for a long time.

After supper, Julie had them drive down to Jeff's and get some fresh vegetables, milk, butter, flour and cornmeal, plus some frozen meat. Carolyn knew how to bake, so she got a big bag of flour and some lard. Michael told them where to find blackberries by the creek near their house. Carolyn was feeling a lot better about it all until they turned on the TV that night and heard the news.

Martial law had been declared in several major cities, including Louisville, Indianapolis, and Saint Louis. The President had also implemented his Executive Order to nationalize food, water resouces, energy, and transportation which would take effect immediately in those cities and surrounding areas to maintain order and assure the well being of all the citizens in those cities. An exodus had already begun to take place from Louisville.

Micah heard the news, too, but he didn't much care what they said. He had his plans made and right now that meant setting a trot line on the river. Last night's catch from his limb lines was already in the smoker, and smelling good.

The next day, Jeff walked through the woods to his Dad's place and drove the backhoe home. He had a big root cellar to dig, because the early potatoes were ready to dig and the Farmer's Market wasn't going to work without something to use for money. He needed a place to store 4 or 5 tons of potatoes.

Jeff's first effort, though, had to be the gardens. He took the bigger MF165 and 3 bottom plow. In an hour and a half he had half an acre plowed for each of the renter families and was back home dropping the plow. He hitched the disc, hit the hydraulic lift and was off down the road. He went over the ground repeatedly with the disc to get a fine seed bed, and headed home again. Julie loaded her car with garden seeds and some of the earliest potatoes from Lynn's kitchen that were a little soft. She and Michael spent the afternoon teaching the Bates and Porter families how to plant a garden. On the way home, they stopped at Alan and Margaret's to talk.

"Hi, Julie. Hello Michael," Margaret said. "What are you up to today?"

"We've been at the Bates and Porter places and got them each a garden put in."

"I saw Jeff go flying by on the tractor a couple times. I thought he'd probably do that. People have to eat, no matter what."

"We took a good look in the old barns there and found some things."

Alan had just walked in. He asked, "What'd you find there?"

"Horse machinery. I don't know for sure what some of it is, but I know a corn planter and a grain drill when I see them. There's a mowing machine, too, and what looks like a cultivator of some kind. There's some things at the Porter's that I didn't recognize."

"Oh? Well, old man tanner never threw anything away, that's for sure. He probably still had his Grandad's stuff in there."

"I'm thinking that if we can get Jeannie involved, she and you can get some use out of that stuff. Gasoline is going to run out, and everything won't run on biodiesel. If this goes on very long, we are going to have a problem farming. If we can do some of the work with horses, it will make what fuel we have go a lot farther."

"Yes, you're right about that. That old equipment, though, is probably in pretty rough shape. If we are going to use any of it, especially hard like we would farming a lot, it will need some work. The limiting thing though, is horses and harness. Jeannie only has the one pair and they aren't big

heavy horses."

"Right. But Jeannie's neighbor had a couple they could hardly afford to feed, she told me. And there was harness hanging in the big barn on the Tanner's home place. Would it be good after so long?"

"Oh, hard to say. Have to take a look at it. It will be hard and dry, so we'd have to soak it in oil until it softens up. Then we'll see if it can be used or it if is mouse eaten, or rotten."

"It's hanging on the hay forks, way up at the top of the barn. We'll get it down tomorrow and see what if it amounts ot anything. I've seen people do a lot of farming with horses and donkeys and cows in other countries. No reason it won't work here, in my mind. What are those two young bucks in the trailer doing tomorrow?"

"Oh, they have been standing watch daytimes, but we could shift 'em around. You need 'em?"

"They need to go see Jannie and Nathan and see if we can round up some more horses to use. Better them than me. I break too easy now."

"Speak of the devil and he's bound to appear. Look coming here," Margaret said.

Benny and Charlie walked up to the patio and flopped down on the chairs there as Margaret went out. "You guys thirsty?"

"Sure are. We've been to the head of the valley on both forks and back. Talked to Scott and he's got Trent watching nights up there, so we don't have to worry about that end. And guess who's down on the river?"

"Where do you mean?"

"At Micah's fishin' camp. Looks like he an' his wife done moved in there."

"Did you talk to him?"

"Naw, I didn't have time to go that far on foot. I just saw him with the binoculars. He had a lot of fish. Maybe we ought to go see him about tradin' for some, huh?"

Margaret and Alan agreed that some fresh fish would be a treat. "It's good to know who is down on that end of the valley," Alan said. "Won't much get past him."

Plans were made to go see Jeannie and Nathan the next day, and a call confirmed that there were indeed horses for the asking. In fact, they were sharing pasture with hers now, due to the neighbors being short of grass.

The news that night indicated that the banks would re-open for limited business the next day, with limits on the amount of cash withdrawals and checks written per week thereafter. Plans were in the works to get the economy moving again, blah, blah, sure to be successful, blah blah, our government says it will all be fine.

Everyone watched, and then Charlie said, "We'll be fine if we take care of ourselves, that's what. We'll be up early to go see Jeannie."

Julie drove home and thought that she needed to quit using the car if she could walk. Fuel wasn't the only problem if things didn't straighten up soon. If something went wrong with the car, parts might not be available, let alone affordable.


Chapter 55 BUSINESS, NOT AS USUAL July, 2012

Charlie Thorn and Benny Davis drove the mile and a half up to Nathan and Jeannie's place. They didn't see any traffic, although John and Susie Avery were out working in their vineyard and waved as they went past. Nathan was in their shop as they drove in so they stopped there. "Hey boys, what's goin' on today?"

Charlie, ever ready with a comeback, said, "We was just out drivin' around and thought we oughta make sure you all are still alive. And we thought we might steal a few horses if we find some."

Not to be outdone, Nathan said, "You don't have to steal 'em, they're givin' 'em away today!"

Jeannie walked down to the shop and said, "You guys gonna help us catch these wild horses?"

Benny and Charlie looked just a bit doubtful at that, then Benny said, "I guess we'll have to. We ain't supposed to come back without 'em."

Jeannie laughed and said, "C'mon and have a look. We might have to wake 'em up, but I don't think they'll give us much trouble."

As they approached the barn lot, two dark bay colored horses and a big paint all hung their heads over the fence to sniff at the people. Jeannie tossed a couple chunks of hay over the fence and talked to them as she ducked between the barbed wires. She walked in amongst them and got sniffed up and slobbered on while she petted noses. The paint was jealous and rooted one away so he could get his share of petting. She rubbed their necks as they ate, and explained.

"Here's the deal. The William's have made big pets out of these three, and would keep them all forever, but they can't afford hay and their pasture is eaten down. We can use them all we want, as long as we feed them good and take care of them. They don't want to sell them, but they might have to if they can't come up with pasture to rent and hay for the winter. They've been feeding hay until lately when Dan got laid off, so they have to do something with them."

Benny asked, "So, how do we haul them to Walter's place? Is there a horse trailer around?"

Jeanie chuckled, "No. None of us has a horse trailer, but they are quite able to walk there. Dan and I just led them with a lead rope and walked down here with them. I didn't want to walk a mile with three of them, so I had in mind for each of us to take one. Nathan was coming down to look over that old horse machinery, and he'll probably bring some back here to work on it, so we can ride back with him so you can get your truck."

Charlie hitched up his pants and said, "I s'pose that means we better get acquainted, huh?"

"Yep. C'mon in here. Just don't walk behind 'em and spook 'em. Any horse is liable to kick the snot out of you if you do that, but these guys are gentle as can be. They are downright spoiled

rotten, is what they are."

After walking the horses around the barn lot a couple times, the group formed up and began the long walk to Alan's. Nathan said he would wait a while and follow in their truck. Except for some minor detours toward some lush grass in the roadside ditches, they settled down and followed the people very well, clearly enjoying the new scenery and all the new smells along the way.

Meanwhile, Jeff was still working on their new root cellar. He did his best to get the side walls as smooth and vertical as he could with the backhoe. Not wanting to spend the money on concrete, nor even sure he could afford it, he had decided to set a row of oak posts 2 feet apart around the inside and simply drop oak boards behind them for walls. It was a lot of postholes to dig, and the clay ground wasn't easy digging. But, he HAD the 4 x 4 oak, essentially free for him, and he did NOT have the concrete. He set the posts about 2 feet deep into the cellar floor, and had them sticking up 7 feet. Michael helped him get them set vertical and nailed on temporary braces while Jeff tamped dirt back in around the posts.

Next, he cut 2" thick oak boards to fit and set them outside the posts, then shovelled dirt behind them and tamped it in tight to hold the boards in place. When they got the walls high enough, he would spike 2" x 12" oak joists across the top and lay a 2" thick floor on it, then cover it all with dirt a couple feet deep. The entrance was made the same way. Because he had set this into a steep hillside, the entranceway came out level with the floor and would allow any water seepage to drain out under the door. If it got really cold in winter, he could pile some hay outside the door to insulate it. He had hired Rich to help with the framing and dirt moving, but even so, it looked like it would take another couple days to finish up. Meanwhile, he had Roy Bates building boxes out of 1/2" oak slats for storing the potatoes. Roy hadn't done much carpentry work, but he was catching on fast, and this job didn't have to be perfect.

Nathan passed the group with the horses and went on to look around the barns at horse equipment. He dragged out one ancient piece and thought a while, then went up to see Alan about it. "Hey, Alan. I got something for you look at down at the Tanner barn. I think it's a potato digger. Would you know about 'em?"

"Yeah, Tanner had a potato digger, but it's been 30 years since it was used. Let's go look."
"Well, if that's what it is, Jeff is gonna WANT that! They planned to dig all those potatoes with a shovel plow and pick 'em up by hand. That's what they've been doing so far."

Upon inspection, it was indeed a potato digger, and was in surprisingly good shape. It did want some rust removed, a coat of paint in the right places, and some greasing and adjusting. Nathan had figured out how it worked, and was confident he could make it go again. Right behind it in the dark corner of the barn was an odd looking affair with 2 seats and a cupped wheel in between that Alan confirmed was a potato planter. Jeff would be estatic when he heard about this. Nathan took Alan back to his farm to get the tractor so they could use the front loader to put the digger on Jeff's truck. Nathan had a chain hoist in his shop to unload the thing so he could work on it, but before he took it home, they rode down to Jeff's to show him their find.

Jeff climbed out of the root cellar when he heard the truck pull in. Nathan yelled at him, "C'mere, Jeff! I go t somethin' you want."

"Is that...a potato digging machine?"

Alan smiled and said, "It sure is. We found it in the barn on Julie's farm. Nathan is going to spiff it up for you. It might cost you some potatoes for that, but I don't think Julie is going to be too hard to get along with about using it. It was horse drawn originally, but old Mr. Tanner pulled it with his old tractor, an F20 Farmall. You just have to go slow, and it sifts the potatoes out of the dirt, then runs them down that chute onto the ground. Tanner had a sled he pulled behind it to catch the potatoes, but I didn't see that anywhere."

"Hah. I can make a sled. This is the best news I've heard in weeks! I was really dreading diggin' all those potatoes," Jeff said.

Alan told him, "I think he had a grading machine, too. It was a wooden box like thing that you cranked. You pour potatoes in the bin on top and it sorted them into 3 or 4 sizes. I'll bet it's still around there someplace. It's makes it real easy to sort potatoes. We'll do some looking. You go ahead with what you're doing, and we'll take care of this."

On the way back to Alan's, Nathan said, "If we can get those horses trained to work in time, he can save the diesel for that job, too. I found some old steel singletrees and a doubletree and threw them in the truck, so I'll make sure that's ready."

Everyone had decided to avoid going to town for a couple more days until the rush slowed down at the banks and the stores. All except Benny and Charlie, who wanted to go shopping. There were things they wanted and were wondering if the stores might run out of some things. As soon as they all got back to Jeannie's, they helped Nathan unload the machine and then took off for town. Banks were not their concern, since they had sold some gold coins as soon as they could and had a hefty supply of cash.

The town was kind of chaotic, at least in the stores. Most of the stores were open, but were taking cash only, afraid the banks could close again and not be able to collecct on credit card charges. This raised a lot of tempers. In the pharmacy, a middle aged man was loudly berating the young clerk for refusing his credit card. Benny and Charlie sidled up to him smiling, one on each side. Charlie whispered in his ear, "Be real quiet and I won't have to shoot your worthless butt. You got that?"

The man felt a gun barrel in his ribs on both sides, and choked on his words. Charlie said, "That's a lot better. Now. You can just ease on out of here an' we'll be polite just like you are. Time to go, fella."

Charlie and Benny slipped their .45's back under their shirts and backed up. The man, so recently red in the face, but now pale, almost ran out of the store.

Charlie smiled at the little girl behind the cash register and said, "Now, you go on and take care of these folks. We'll go back to the end of the line again."

He smiled and winked at her and her mouth dropped open, but she didn't say anything. The old lady next in line hadn't seen the guns, nor heard what they told the man. She gave a surprised look at the young men, then turned to the girl and put her purchases on the counter. The girl was still getting over the sight of two guns pointed at the offender. She figured out that the best thing to do was go back to work, and went to checking out the old lady's things. She looked at the two men in the back of the line and saw them smile gently at her. She calmed down and by the time they got to her register, she gave them a red-faced, "Thank you!"

"Our pleasure, Ma'am. Hope you have a better day now."

They took their stuff out to the Blazer and got in, then both cracked up laughing. Benny said, "Now, I bet she never saw anything like that before, d'you reckon?"

They both laughed some more before going to their next stop.

Prices were outrageous. They didn't buy quite the quantity of things they had planned on, but got enough. Gasoline was now $8.65 a gallon, and there was a line at the pumps. They hadn't caught the news today, so they learned at the gas pump that "odd-even rationing" was in effect, an old plan first done in 1974 during the Oil Embargo of that time. The guy at the counter said, "Well, you're lucky this is an odd day. It's Friday, the 13th. You can get gas 'cause your license plate number ends with 5, an' that's an odd number too. And you can only buy 5 gallons. It's to keep people from running us dry before we can get more."

Benny said, "He's right, it's been an odd day, for sure!"

Charlie said, "I think we better get all we want while the gettin' is good. I only saw a couple semi's since we been in town, and that ain't right. I don't think deliveries are comin' in like they should."
Benny nodded agreement then said, "Yep. You notice the shelves weren't stocked too good in the drug store?"

"Uh huh. The gas station didn't have much milk, either."

"That's one thing we don't have to worry about. But I want to get some more stuff at the hardware store, and we oughta stock up good on salt and spices and coffee. All the stuff that's imported, you know?"

At the grocery, the cheap store brand of instant coffee that had been about 6 dollars a jar was now $11.99. They splurged and got Folgers for $14.69, and got half a dozen jars of it each. Sugar had gone from $2.19 for 4 pounds to $4.59, a less dramatic jump, but big enough. They each paid over $300 for what was in their carts, mostly quantities of seasonings and spices, some cold medicines that were cheaper here than the pharmacy, and a lot of sugar, canning lids (they cleaned out the shelf), and a couple boxes each of canning jars. They headed for the hardware store.

Clarence had a lot of customers, and not much help. He had a hand lettered sign that said,

"Unless I tell you otherwise, prices are 2 1/2 times what is marked."

The young men went to the back and bought a couple bags of garden bug dust, some more canning jars and lids, a couple big metal trash cans, four 5 gallon plastic gas jugs, 2 galvanized buckets, a big coil of 1/2" rope, some clothes line and clothes pins, a hand cranked meat grinder, a big pressure canner, and a Ball Blue Book to learn how to use it. Clarence's wife sold them a kit of stuff to lift out jars and pick up hot lids.

The Blazer was pretty full, but Benny stopped at the feed store and bought a big bottle of Combiotic, some Tetracycline powder, some disposable syringes and fine gauge needles, and a suture kit. They bought 200 pounds of salt and some small salt blocks for livestock. The salt got stuffed under Charlie's feet, but he didn't complain. On the way out of town, they stopped at another gas station and got another 5 gallons there. It took time to wait for the line to clear, but they did get the tank nearly full.

Once back home, they siphoned out enough gas to fill 2 of the 5 gallon cans, and put them under a piece of black plastic covered with a pile of leaves and brush until they could find a better place for them. The empty ones they stuffed under the trailer. Their canning equipment went into a trash can, the lid duct taped shut and stuffed under the trailer. The canning jars and lids had to go inside, so they filled a few of them with other purchases for now to save space. The salt was in 50 pound plastic bags and went under the trailer.

Charlie looked at Benny and said, "We're gonna have to build a shed, 'cause I ain't done buyin' stuff. We still got a lot of money, but the longer we keep it, the less it's worth."


The new Bank Manager was pleased at how things had worked out. As soon as he had taken over the purchased bank, he had been told to reduce the head count, so he had approached the oldest teller with that directly. Choosing his words very carefully, he let her know that he was forced to get rid of some people, and led her to believe that he was doing her a favor by "allowing" her to retire early. She had been a reliable employee for many years, but she wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and followed his instructions. She could access her bank annuity and apply for Social Security because she was past age 62. He had talked her into believing that what was entirely a voluntary matter, was saving her from a being 'downsized' out of a job.

In the Manager's view, a bank should present a nice face to the world, and the old gal's face wasn't that nice. Good riddance. Then, he told the newest teller that he was forced to let her go because the bank needed to reduce expenses to suit the new lower level of business. Fortunately, in his view, this was another improvement in the bank's appearance, because the young lady was seriously overweight. That left him short two tellers, but he reassigned Melinda Horn from her job as Loan Officer to being the new Senior Teller, her previous job. The reassignment came with a commensurate cut in pay, of course. With the most sincere face he could put on, he told her he liked her work and wanted to keep her on as a member of the bank's 'family', but he was forced to put her job in the hands of an employee from headquarters. The fact that Melinda was a very attractive young lady had not escaped him, either.

The new Loan Officer turned out to be the Manager's wife and the message was not lost on Melinda. She had no better options and that rankled, because she saw right through the fake smile to the lecherous creature behind it. Melinda thought that the fact that his wife would be working there every day would force him to behave, so she put those thoughts in the back of her mind. There was enough to distract her anyway. The Federal mandate to close for a week, followed by the ensuing chaos of reopening kept her frazzled as she vainly tried to keep up with work, being one teller short and overloaded with irate customers. She had to work late every night to stay caught up with things.

The Manager's wife, however, never worked late. There weren't any new loans happening now anyway, just keeping up with the existing ones. The Manager regularly did stay late, and one evening, he called her in to his office to talk. She didn't like what he had to say, and made for the door, but he pushed a button and locked it. He told her to consider his proposition carefully, since jobs were impossible to get now. She sat down in the chair opposite his desk and he thought he had won her over. Until she popped out her cell phone and dialled 911. He grabbed for her phone and missed, raking her arm with a well-manicured fingernail.

A city patrol car was nearby, and got the call from dispatch in seconds, the dispatcher only having

heard screams and a cry for help, but they could track her phone's GPS location. When the city policeman got to the front door, she and the older man were in a battle royal on the floor of his office. She had managed to pull him off balance on top of her as she screamed and fell backward into the chair. The policeman saw it all, but was unable to get into the bank's locked doors.

Melinda screamed again and kicked him hard where it hurt. She then got his door unlocked, tore her blouse while she had her back to the door, then ran out to the front where she let in the policeman, who was on his radio calling for backup. The scratch on her arm was starting to bleed a little. Being a savvy young lady, she made sure the policemen took DNA samples from under the manager's fingernails on the spot. The Manager was handcuffed and stuffed into the back of a patrol car.

The bank had a new temporary Manager the next day. The old Manager was indicted for attemped rape at the next session of Superior Court. The witness list against him included, besides Melinda, 2 city policemen as eyewitnesses and a DNA expert witness. Things did not look good for him. The police had pictures.

Melinda got her job back as Loan Officer. The new Bank Manager was an improvement. He treated her like a queen, and rehired the overweight teller at her reccomendation. They both had decent jobs again. The problem was, their wages would only buy enough to barely exist, if that.

Oliver's sister had been a Godsend to him. She had stayed in touch with her friends at the bank and had learned last month that certain Municipal bonds looked to be shaky. She told Oliver it was time to sell what he had for whatever he could get, and he did. The bonds had already fallen before he got the transaction done the next day, but he got out before there was no bid for them at the end of the day. He only netted $48,000 out of his $70,000 investment, but he considered himself lucky to get that.

Being more suspicious than most about paper investments, this led him to reconsider the US Treasury bonds they held. He and his wife decided the money would be a lot safer in cash, so they told their bank to sell them. The proceeds were wired to his bank and deposited in their checking account. Oliver had learned from his sister that savings accounts could be held until the bank was ready to give you the money, but checking was a "demand deposit" that had to be honored when you asked for it. They had a checking account that yielded a slight amount of interest on such a large deposit, so they left it in the bank for now.

Oliver took the Municipal bond money out in cash. He had to wait for 3 days for the bank to gather that much cash, he was told, but he got it. They asked him what he needed with so much cash, and he said he was going to a big farm auction up North and didn't know exactly how much he would spend. When he got home, it went into several canning jars and into the bottom of an old rusty milk cooler, a left over from when his father had dairy cows. The loss on the bonds stung, but he was grateful to get what they did. He thought about what Jeff Walter had said about the value of a dollar going down, and took a trip to a big coin shop in Louisville that Jeff had used. He came home with 16 new gold Kruggerrands, and 50 US Silver Eagles.

When the devaluation came and the bank closure, Oliver and his wife vowed that if they could ever get hold of the money they had stuck in the bank, they would never put another cent in a bank as long as they lived. As soon as the banks reopened, he was there to take out the withdrawal limit of $500 for that week.

Now, all he had to do was figure out what to do with the cash they had at home. Their money from the sale of the other farm and the auction sale had totalled $210,000. He had kept $70,000 of that in cash, mostly in the bank for a while, but gradually withdrawn it. After buying the gold and silver, they had $22,000 left in cash from the Muni bond fiasco, for a total of $92,000. The buying power of that had gone down by more than half since they had gotten it. He had to find some way to preserve that if he could. He never thought he would see the day when a dollar bill wasn't a safe thing to keep.


The internet business wasn't what it used to be. Greg Burns knew that. There was room for growth yet, which he had taken advantage of by getting into rural wireless networking a few years back, then taken the added step of setting up his own small internet based telephone company. One of the big players had shown some interest in buying him out a couple years ago, so he checked with their representative to see if they were still interested. In early May of this year, they had responded with an offer. He countered with an offer of slightly different terms and was accepted. He had given a little on his price to get cash up front, with an agreement to keep his employees on and for him to act as manager for a transition period of a month. They closed the deal on May 22nd, whereupon, Greg had their payment wired to his bank. He set about dispersing that into 5 banks, and withdrew a quantity in cash.

What followed was probably a record for preparations. Greg was used to delegating resposibilities, so he used his skills to the utmost. His wife settled the mortgage on their 80 acres and newly remodelled home. He contracted to have a barn and a root cellar built, and a big cistern installed. Another contractor did fencing on the 20 acres nearest the house while Greg went to auctions and bought farm equipment, feed storage bins, another tractor and hay equipment. His wife was busy ordering in seeds, canning supplies, home schooling curriculum, buying clothing for their two boys, ages 6 and 13, and having two large LP tanks buried in the yard, then getting that hooked up to supply the kitchen stove and the tankless water heater.

They had been gardening for several years, and had almost an acre planted. His wife and boys did most of the work there, Greg helping out when needed. They had an outdoor wood furnace in operation for the past couple years and a woodshed filled. The heating system required electrical power, so Greg bought a big enough solar PV system to operate the furnace hot water pump and provide lights in the house and barn. He found four 300 gallon farm fuel tanks on Craigslist and bought them all. Those he set up behind the barn in a brushy thicket and had them filled, two with gasoline and two with diesel fuel.

By July 4th, he had just brought home 6 bred Yorkshire gilts and an unrelated boar pig the same age. They were happily ensconced in the pasture he had planted with Clover and Orchard Grass, with some Milo seed broadcast over that, now about knee high. There was a second lot for them nearer the barn that had been sown with turnips and pumpkins where they would be allowed in the Fall. His chickens seemed to be happy in their lot, too.

Early in the crisis, the authorities had implemented capital controls in an effort to keep badly needed foreign investment from fleeing the US. It was too little, too late. The runs were electronic and had begun as soon as bond prices had begun to fall, the first sign of real trouble. Many billions of dollars had left the US markets in a matter of hours, causing the stock and bond markets to fall. The Federal Reserve Bank had been shoring up US Treasury Bond sales at an increasing rate over the past 3 years. Lately up to 80% of new bond issues were being bought by the Fed in roundabout ways through their member banks. Now, with no foreign money at all willing to buy

them, there was no alternative to simply monetizing all the US government debt. That is, they created the money out of thin air, and took a "bond" as collateral that someday, somehow, they would get paid back with tax money. That was, in the words of one Federal Reserve Branch Manager, "Not bloody likely".

The government was well aware of that created money reaching the markets through bank investment in commodities, notably oil, and that it would destroy the economy. They grabbed for any other sources of revenue they could hope to get. The first target was retirement accounts. The 401K's, IRA's and all the other alphabet soup of retirement funds were quickly authorized by decree to be converted into US Treasury Bonds which, of course, were backed by the "full faith and credit of the US". That credit and the faith in it had evaporated at an alarming rate.

OPEC had initially made an announcement that they would stop all oil shipments until the world financial system stabilized. This was quickly retracted the next day after a cogent military threat by carriers and missle carrying subs in the Mideast. Notwithstanding that, world oil markets paid no heed to military threats and the price of oil on the futures market passed $300 a barrel and was headed higher.

Oil prices drove all other major commodities higher, adjusting for the devalued dollar. That, in turn was making its' way back down the chain to the retail level in all countries, provoking protests and worse by the world's poor. Instability was rife everywhere.

Margaret tried to call the Food Bank and got no answer. She called Mr. Bromer who had headed the effort and was told the Food Bank was closed until further notice, due to lack of donations.

Andy Bruner and many others found a sign on the door saying the same thing, and went away wondering how they could get along without that very important source of help in their lives. Andy drove to the grocery stores, one after another and looked by the back doors for thrown out food. There wasn't any. As Andy walked out from behind a dumpster behind the JayCee store, he saw Sherry Gates also looking.

They had met at the Food Stamp office, and again at the Food Bank and shared stories after they had gotten better acquainted. She had once managed the office for Spaulding and Spaulding, but was now unemployed. Her Unemployment money wasn't much, and she had no job prospects. Today, she told how her mother had drawn a modest Social Security check, but had recently had a stroke and was in a nursing home who got her SS check for her keep there. She had put her house in a trust for Sherry, but the Fall property tax payment would be due in a few months and Sherry didn't have the money. The old house was in bad shape and needed a lot of repairs. Sherry had sold her car to get some cash, knowing she had no chance of getting a job in another town. All she had now was her mother's 20 year old car that barely ran. She was crying when she finished telling her story.

Andy asked her if she could cook? Sherry said of course she could cook, it was getting the food that was the problem. Andy offered her a deal. His parents had both passed away some years ago, so he had a fairly large house by himself that was really hard for him to keep clean and do the cooking. She was welcome to come have a look if she was interested in a free place to stay, and there was plenty of room for her to have her own personal space. Sherry didn't have any better options. It went against her upbringing, to be very cautious about men, but she had to do something. She agreed to have a look. He gave her a ride to her mother's old house in a poor

part of town. He sat on the porch while she gathered some things and tossed them in her old car. Sherry followed him out of town the 6 miles to his home. He asked her to come in and look around, apolgizing for his lack of cleaning.

Sherry was amazed that he had a pantry full of home canned food, and a some meat in the refrigerator. He said it was a couple squirrels he had shot out of season. She didn't mind. It was food. The kitchen was neat and clean. Only the floors showed some dirt tracked in, which he said was really hard for him to get to, because of his back problems. Andy was a few years older than her 55 years, but not much. She agreed to stay the night and set about putting lunch on the table. In the back of her mind, she had already decided that this was a gift from God, and she had better not mess it up.


Chapter 56 FINDING RESOURCES Late July, 2012

When Jeff lived in the RV trailer, he had encouraged the wild blackberries behind it at the edge of the woods, sticking the tips of briars into the ground to root and make new plants. Those were head-high now, and very thick. Michael had tramped through the woods to visit his Grandparents and gotten involved with berry picking there. Runoff from the hillside watered the plants and provided nutrients from the forest debris. It was a heavy crop of berries, and the briar patch was long. Benny and Charlie were picking, too, and talking as they worked, trying to get finished before the sun got too hot at midday. Three buckets of berries sat by the trailer door in the shade, while the guys worked to fill more. Sarge sniffed around the hillside, looking for intruders.

Benny asked, "How big a shed do we need?"

"One of those metal yard sheds would do, I guess," Charlie said. "But it'd be hard to lock up good. They're flimsy."

"We could ask Jeff about some lumber."

Michael asked, "What do you want a shed for?"

Charlie answered, "We need a place to keep stuff. We're goin' shopping and buy some things, an' we need a place to keep more food around close. The trailer is packed up tight with stuff. Can't hardly get around in there."

"How about the old root cellar?"

Benny asked, "What old root cellar?"

Michael giggled, "The one you're about to step in!"


The boy grinned and said, "Right there, under that old door!"

The ancient wood door lay almost flat on the slope, and was half covered with leaves and such, looking like a cast off piece of trash.

"That's just junk layin' there...ain't it?"

Benny found it hard to believe he had been walking around a root cellar and didn't know it. He kicked at the trash on the door and raked it away with his foot. Blackberry vines got in the way, and he began to trample them so he could get to the rest of the door. After some heavy kicking around, he uncovered the entire door. There was a very rusty chain attached to it with a ring for a handle, and equally rusty heavy hinges. The old oak was half rotten on the surface, but proved to be thick and still mostly sound.

Michael chuckled again. "I wouldn't just go running in there. There's prob'ly some snakes and crawdads and stuff that live down there."
Benny gave him a sharp look, and got more cautious as he dug at the door. Some dirt had washed over the top edge of it and into the crack around it. Charlie came over to help. Both men pulled on the chain. After several hard tugs, it broke free and came up a couple inches, then yielded to more pulling. They pushed the door open, and laid it back against the briars around it. Under it was a set of stone steps leading down into blackness. Sarge came down to investigate the new noises, and peered down the steps.

"I'll get a light,"Charlie said, and trotted off to the trailer.

They didn't find any snakes, but the flagstone floor had some mud on it, although there was what appeared to be a drain hole, so there was no standing water. Spider webs and bugs were everywhere. Along both walls were the remains of some old wood shelving that had partly collapsed. It was barely tall enough for the 6 foot men to stand in. It was maybe 8 feet wide and 12 feet long inside. The ceiling was somewhat arched, and poured of concrete, with some defects that looked like it had been done a little at a time, probably hand mixed on the spot long ago. It appeared to be sound, though. The air stank of damp, rotted wood and mold. Sarge snorted at the smells and went back outside. They followed the dog back up the narrow steps, laid without mortar except at the ends where they met the stone side walls.

Michael grinned from ear to ear. "You all didn't know this was here?"

"Not a clue," Benny said. "This'll work!"

"There used to be an old house back here. I guess whoever lived here then dug the well and built the cellar," Michael told them.

Charlie brushed off some spider webs and dirt. "Yeah, it'll work after we do some cleaning up. Looks like mebbe it could use a new door, too."

"Dad's got stuff to make a door. Nobody's buyin' much lumber lately."

"We'll go see him about that," Benny said. "We'll need something to make new shelves, too."

Charlie said, "Y'know, prices are goin' up about every day. I think we oughta do the shoppin' first, then we can work on this."

"Where we gonna put it until we get this done?"

Michael said, "Grampa's got lots of room. You could put stuff in the barn, or the shop or something until you get this ready."

He enjoyed being helpful, but he was still grinning about them not knowing the cellar was right in front of them. They weren't used to the country yet, or they'd have known to look for a cellar where they found a well.

Benny said, "Yeah, you're right. Let's get these berries up to Mrs. Walter and take off for town. I wish there was a military surplus store around here, we could use...."

Michael interrupted, "There is one, but it's in Brownstown. It's not too far. I could show you. I'd like to go back there with you and get some stuff." He was loving this.

Charlie grinned at him, "You're just full of good ideas, ain't you?"

"Yep, sometimes I am. You goin' today? I gotta ask my Mom."

Benny and Charlie looked at each other, then Benny said, "Yeah. Let's go take these berries to the house and call your Mom."

"We'll have to take Sarge home. Dad doesn't want him running around without me."

"No problem. I'll ask your Dad about some lumber while we're there."

It was a pretty big pile when they got it all on the counter. The lady at the surplus store was delighted to sell so much today. Michael said, "I'll keep my stuff over here or it'll get mixed up with yours."

Charlie told him, "Put 'er up here pard, 'cause I'm buyin'. Yer money ain't no good today."

Benny went back to get another handful of socks, and grabbed a ball cap on the way. He threw it on the pile and told Charlie, "We pretty much got the same stuff. We can split the bill when we get home."

Charlie nodded and got out his wallet. The lady was looking around for some sacks and Benny told her, "Just pile it all on those ponchos and we'll sort it out later."

They had spent over $500 in the store, and even with the prices at double what they had been, it was still cheap. They each had a pair of Jungle boots, a pair of paratroop boots, several pairs of socks, field jackets and liners, warm weather jackets, boonie hats, web gear, pouches, canteens, BDU's, paracord, and ALICE packs. As they got in the Blazer, Michael asked, "Did ya get everything ya wanted? 'Cause there's another surplus store in Seymour, and they've got everything, but their stuff costs more. That's why I said to come here."

The two men looked at each other, then Benny asked, "Have you seen magazines there? Not magazines you read, magazines for ammo."

Michael nodded, "Yeah. I saw a whole bunch of 'em, but I don't know what they fit. Dad got some for his pistol, though."

Charlie grinned. "Hey! We're in business. Let's go. Better get some gas first, though, if we can. What is today?"

Benny said, "It's Monday, the 25th. That's why I brought the gas cans."

They filled the tank in Brownstown, and the cans at two stations in Seymour. It was a common thing to hit several stations. They saw some of the same cars show up at the next station when they got there. It wasn't an effective way to ration gas. It was just more trouble. The price is what did the rationing. There wasn't much business at the gas stations now, because people simply could not afford it. Almost every car had several people in it, and those coming out of grocery stores packed the cars with people and the trunks with groceries. There were a lot fewer cars in the parking lots of all the stores. Most of them had signs up that they took credit cards now, but it hadn't increased their business from the looks of things. They stopped at a couple groceries and looked around, but the shelves weren't stocked very well and the prices were even higher than what they had seen at home, so they didn't buy much.

The surplus store did have higher prices, but the quality of the items was top notch. There were few of the cheap Chinese knock-offs and the real military gear was new, or nearly new. They both got .45 magazines and pouches for them, cleaning kits, replacement barrels and bushings, butterfly stoves, and trioxane fuel tabs for them. Michael spotted a big ammo can with empty .45 brass in it and pointed it out to Benny. The price was right, so they bought a couple ammo cans full apiece, and some extra ammo cans. This pile wasn't so big, but it still was expensive.

Home Depot was next for some bolts, hinges, and big lag screws to build a new cellar door. Benny noticed a big pet store in the same strip mall and looked around in it while Charlie was getting the hardware. He came out with a supply of amoxicillin and some flea powder.

On the way home, they tried one more grocery and found tuna packed in the plastic pouches and bought a supply of that, some canned Spam, more sugar, 4 big jars of peanut butter, several boxes of ziplock bags, and some mayonaisse in single serving foil pouches. Wal Mart had a shipping hub nearby, so the Wal Mart store was well stocked. They bought a couple boxes each of .45 ammo and .30-06, then went to the archery area. Charlie bought a compound bow, 4 dozen cheap graphite arrows, and several packages of broadheads. Benny bought some fishing gear. Those things were all bulky, so they checked out and locked it all in the truck and went back in.

Charlie said, "Y'know, that Blazer stands out like a sore thumb. How about we paint it somethin' besides red and white?"

They settled on a dark green, and bought some primer and paint in spray cans. Benny picked up a couple packages of sandpaper and a can of solvent to prep-wash it with. On the way out, they got half a dozen big plastic totes and lids, and several rolls of duct tape. That would waterproof anything they decided to put in the root cellar. It took some re-packing to get it all in the limited space in the Blazer, but it went in. Michael was a little crowded in the back seat on the ride home.


Andy knew that meat was going to be a problem. Beef was outrageous, running $7 a pound and up, for cheap burger. He ate a lot of chicken, but that was high enough. He had to come up with something he could afford to feed 2 people. He and Sherry both got food stamps, but that wasn't enough to do it, even with all he could grow in the garden. He couldn't depend on wild game to feed them. There just wasn't enough of it, and it took too much time to hunt.

His first step was to go dig around the junkyard for materials. He spent $25 and came home with

an odd assortment of things, wire mesh, old pans, some metal furnace duct, an oil drain pan, metal roofing sheets, and a big can of rusty nails. He got busy the next day tearing down an old tractor shed. The only other building on the place was the barn where he had his workshop. He used the old lumber from the tractor shed to do some renovation inside the barn. His shop only used 1/3 of the barn, leaving the central driveway and the other side for him to work with. The driveway of the barn became a chicken house and a rabbit hutch. The stalls on the other side needed work, but he would do that later. The first goal was to get something producing meat fast.

He'd been planning to do this, so he'd plowed up over an acre this Spring and planted most of it in corn the hard way, dropping seed by hand and covering with a hoe. Thankfully, he had a cultivator for the small Cub Farmall tractor. It was a hard job to get the plow off and the cultivator put on, but he had devised some tricks to make it easier. He still had his Dad's old crank corn sheller, but didn't have a way to grind feed yet. The corn was more than waist high now and didn't need any attention, so he could work in the shady barn where it was cooler. What had once been the tack room, he now added metal roofing to the inside to help mouseproof it, and turned into a corn crib. He had 3 old steel barrels to store ground feed and they had good tight fitting lids. He gave them a bath and dried them in the sun, them gave them a coat of paint, inside and out. When they had sun-dried until they didn't smell like paint, he put them in the barn driveway.

An old small hammermill showed up at the junkyard that he bought for $40 and used his brother in law's truck to get it home. Thankfully, it had a fine screen in it that would grind cornmeal, and maybe flour, if he ran it through several times. The rotor was stuck, but that didn't scare Andy. He had done mechanic work most of his life. It took him a few days to get the thing apart, find new bearings for it, and get a coat of paint on it. His Cub had a PTO attachment, so he could run the hammermill powered directly by the tractor. He ordered 50 baby chickens at the farm store, and put them in his garage in a cardboard pen for now. He bought a bag of chick starter feed that would keep them going for a while, and watered them in an old stainless steel skillet he had gotten with the load from the junkyard. More of the salvaged lumber got turned into chicken nests and roosts. He put wire mesh over the two windows on the South side of his new chicken part of the barn, to keep stray birds out when he opened them for ventilation. The oil drain pan and round furnace duct got turned into a hanging feeder for the growing birds.

He and Sherry put 28 of the birds, all roosters, in the freezer by the time the corn was ready.


"Whoa! Easy, Back up. Come on BACK."

Jeannie drawled out the last word, and got the pair of bay horses to back up almost in unison.

"Okay, WHOA!"

She tied the driving lines to a stake on the newly build sled to hold the horses. Jeannie was confident enough of the team to walk up beside them and unhook the trace chains without someone else to hold them now. She hooked the trace chains up on harness of the first horse and walked around the front of the team to unhook the other horse. She spoke softly and to

them and petted noses on the way past.

"You did good today. I think we'll let Jeff have a try with you tomorrow. Will you guys work for Jeff?"

She knew they didn't understand much of what she said, but a soothing voice was always a good idea around horses learning new things. She got the second horse unhitched and went back to the sled, untied the lines and told the pair to "Get up!" She flipped the lines on their rumps to get their attention and they started off together. A tug on the right driving line she accompanied with "GEE!". They turned pretty well, almost in step with each other and headed for the barn. They it figured out that going to the barn meant unharnessing and feeding time. The stepped out smartly, directly for the upper side of Alan's barn where they had been keeping the harness.

Jack and Bess were brother and sister, and had been together all their lives, so Jeannie had elected to teach them as a team. Buck, the paint horse was bigger, and more independent minded, so she had worked him single, and was rewarded with a very well behaved horse. He had done some work with the sled the hastily put together and hauled some firewood to the house, and also spent some time dragging a section of harrow around part of Margaret's garden after things were harvested so they could plant the Fall vegetables. He had even pulled a one-horse cultivator a few rounds to dig up the garden before planting. He still wanted to travel a little faster than necessary, but he was willing to work and followed orders.

Jeannie saw her Dad come out of the house as she walked to it and said, "Looks like we've got a team for that potato digger!"

"It looked like they were doing just fine," Alan answered. "Jeff is ready to dig now. He called and said the vines are all dried, so the potatoes are ready."

"I'll call him and see when he wants to try it. If they act up, he can always use the tractor, but I'd like to keep them working for a few days to get the routine set in their heads."

"I'll give you a ride home if you want. You want to eat supper with us?"

"No, and no. I need to get Buck some work in today, so I thought I'd ride him home. He needs to learn to walk a little slower when I say so. I thought if I give him a chance to get some exercise that would be an easier lesson. I need to get home and tend to our critters tonight."

Alan asked, "Will the machine be ready soon?"

"Yeah. Nathan should have the potato digger loaded up tonight. He said he'd finish it up today. He put in the those bronze bushings you made and that took the slack out of that big shaft that drives it. He welded up the worn places and has it running really well. He ground the edge of the big shovel on the front and has it polished up and shining."

Jeannie giggled, "He cheated on that. First, we used our horses to pull it through that real rocky stretch along our driveway we were trying to garden. THAT was a cool idea! It got all the rust rubbed off that plow shovel, AND, it sorted out all the rocks at the same time! He even hooked our sled to it and caught the rocks in it. We used the rocks on that bank by the driveway where there was a soft spot."

Alan asked, "How's that old harness holding up?"

"It's just fine," Jeannie said. "The parts we broke to start with seems to have been the only problem with it. We've still got most of the other two sets of old harness. I think I can use the four sets to come up with 3 sets that work. I'll check into making a set up for Buck when I can get to it. His collar is a little big, but I wrapped some old burlap sacks around it at the top and we are getting by. I'd like to find more harness, though. This stuff must be 60 years old or more. It'll do for this light work, but if we had to plow or pull logs, it might give up. I don't know. Try it and see, I guess."

Alan said, "Well, I soaked it for a week in that oil mixture I made,and then hung it to drain for a week in the sun, so it should be soft enough to keep from breaking if it wasn't rotten. I'll ask around about more harness. There may be some I can locate."

After Jeannie got home, a call to Jeff confirmed that they would be at his place the next day to try out the potato digger.

After a some hard digging, Charlie and Benny had located the broken clay tile in the root cellar drain. There wasn't anything handy to replace it and they still had a list of things to buy, so they made a trip to town. The plumber's shop had some junk cast iron drain pipe out back that was destined for the scrap yard, so they went to look at it. It fit pretty well inside the good piece of clay tile they had brought for a sample.

Benny asked the plumber, "What are those pieces worth?"

"I was gonna sell it for scrap metal. I think cast iron is bringing about $300 a ton now. That's 15 cents a pound, and the lead in the joints is worth about $2.00 a pound. I got a bathroom scale in here somewhere. Wait a minute."

He dug in the back of the shop and found it, then weighed the pipe. "I'm gonna say there's about 4 pounds of lead in those two joints, so that's 10 bucks, and the pipe weighs about 80 pounds."

He got a pencil and paper out of his pocket and figured for a minute.

"That's 12 dollars for the scrap iron. Would the lot be worth $25 to you?" Saves me a trip to the junkyard, and I make a couple extra bucks."

Benny said that would be just fine. Charlie had been thinking. He asked, "You got any more scrap lead around like that?"

"Yeah, I got a bucket I throw it in. Shoulda sold it by now, but there may be some thing in it. We never put cast iron pipe in now. Always replace it with PVC plastic."

He rummaged a while and came out with the bucket. The scale said there was 42 pounds of lead in it. Charlie asked for a price.

"Oh, let's see. We got 42 times $2.50 is....$105. Gimme $120 for the whole works, pipe an' all?"
Charlie nodded agreement and dug in his pocket and paid the man, then as an afterthought, he asked, "You got any solder?"

"Yeah, I got a few 5 pound spools I bought as Army Surplus. I think it's 50/50 stuff--half tin. I know it runs good on copper pipes. I'd have to have $25 a pound for it. The 40/60 stuff I sell goes for that now."

Charlie dug in his pocket again. "I'll take two of those 5 pound rolls."

The man looked at him, surprised, and said, "You must be doin' a LOT of plumbin'!"

Charlie sighed and said, "Yeah, we sure are. Got a lot of stuff to fix up." He handed over another $250.

When they got it all loaded in the truck, Benny asked what in the devil are you gonna do with all that lead and solder?"

Charlie grinned and said, "Old Mr. Walters has reloading gear, an' bullet molds! I'm gonna make .45 bullets to fill up all that brass we bought! I been readin' his book on it. They said to use 5% tin in pistol bullets to keep from leading up the barrel, so that's why the solder to mix in with the lead. The book says I need some paraffin wax for lube on the bullets. Beeswax is better, but it costs a fortune, an' besides, I dunno where to get beeswax. So stop at the grocery and let's see if they got paraffin in the canning stuff. We could use some to cover jelly jars with for all those blackberries. Cheaper than canning lids, and you can re-use it. Margaret was tellin' me that. Said you could store jelly and jam in any old glass jar that way, an' save on canning jars."

They bought the 4 pounds of paraffin the grocery had and headed home.

Margaret had a couple bags of cooked blackberries hanging from hooks in the gazebo, dripping purple juice into kettles. There were more berries cooking over a slow wood fire outside. Lynn, Julie, and Cindy were in the kitchen washing jars and getting ready to cook the jelly when the sugar was added. Benny took 2 pounds of the paraffin to the women and said, "Charlie says this will work in place of canning lids for jelly".

Lynn said, "It sure will. Just in time, too. What did it cost and we'll settle up with you?"

Benny grinned and said, "Just give us a share of the jelly and that will do it."

There was no way she could keep living in her apartment with all the higher prices. Melinda had a few days until the end of the month before rent was due again, and she didn't see how she could pay the rent and buy groceries. Rent hadn't doubled like groceries, but it had gone up by half. She sat at her desk and opened a brown bag lunch, something that almost everybody in the bank did now. Someone knocked on her office door, so she said, "Come in".

Allison Kemper came in, asking, "May I join you?"

"Sure! Sit down. Good to have company while I eat."

"Yeah, me too. I need a shoulder to cry on. My boyfriend and I broke up. No great loss I guess, but I've got to move out, and I don't want to move back with Mom and Dad. They didn't like the guy, and I'd hear about it forever. I can't afford to rent anything, so I guess I'll have to listen to it."

"I'm going to have to find something cheaper, and quick," Melinda told her. "I just can't afford it now that everything has gone up so much. I've been looking and not had any luck."

Allison kept eating and didn't say anything for a while. Finally she asked, "Would you want a room mate to help out? I was buying half the groceries and helping with the rent with my boyfriend."

"There's only one bedroom. But there's a Futon in the living room. Do you want to come over to see the place? I have to do something fast. If I pay rent, I can't afford to eat."

"You live on in the apartments on North Main Street, right?"

"Right, 104, in the back. I walk to work now, since it's only 6 blocks and I have to save the gas."

"Yeah, me too. I'll drive you home if you want, and take a look."


Chapter 57 THE WARS BEGIN August, 2012

Solemn faces on Japanese businessmen showed the gravity of the situation when Sony laid off 10,000 employees back in the April of this year, but today they were crying in public as it's last employees were let go when the company folded and closed its' doors. The Japanese economy had been hammered continuously. Most recently, after 23 years of recession, they had endured an earthquake and tsunami that destroyed half a dozen nuclear power plants. That crippled their ability to provide electricity for industry, on top of a world recession that cut demand for their products.

The export dependent country had been living on the personal savings of their frugal citizens while they punished those citizens by devaluing their currency to continuously trying to stay competitive with China's manufacturing. The latest round in the currency war by the US, devaluing the dollar by 20%, then another 50% left the Japanese Yen too precious, at 2 1/2 times its' old value in dollars. There were zero orders from the US. Japan's economy was in free fall.

China tried vainly to keep the Yuan pegged to the US dollar after the US devaluation. But this promoted tremendous inflation at home and the country erupted in rebellion as the citizens could not afford food. The currency peg was dropped and the Yuan was allowed to "float" on the world markets. The second day, the Yuan climbed briefly, adjusting after a prolonged period of being held artificially low in value by the dollar peg. As currency markets absorbed the news of dismal export numbers, the Yuan sank again in value again and the rebellion grew. The Chinese leaders were aghast at what the US had done to them, and dumped all their remaining US Treasury bonds on the open market.

The US bonds couldn't find a bid from anyone, neither foreign nor domestic. The Federal Reserve banks were forced to monetize the entirety of the US deficit, now over 70% its' $6.8 Trillion budget. US government debt climbed ever faster, the graph heading nearly straight up now. At this point, European leaders were facing a similiar meltdown as their central bank tried to suppport Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece, all with sovereign debt failing, and their bonds reaching new price lows. Nobody wanted the Euro, the Dollar, or the Yuan. Their was no safe haven in any currency, since they were all fiat and all were failing at varying rates. Traders sought safety in commodities again and drove the prices of oil, corn, soybeans, rice, beef and all the metals to new heights.

The US had made an unlimited currency swap with the European Central Bank, that now came back to bite the US again, and fatally this time. The dollar dropped again, relative to commodities of all kinds. International shipment of goods came to a screeching halt for lack of credit financing. The Baltic Dry Index of dry bulk shipping sank to almost zero. Ports were blocked by idle vessels, and crews marooned in foreign countries. US oil supplies fell by 29% overnight. Canadian oil was still flowing to the US, by a hastily cobbled together agreement, but Canadian citizens were irate about the artificially low oil price, since the US dollar had fallen to 48 cents Canadian. The long friendship of the US with Canada was strained to the breaking point.

Lynn's cellphone rang as she headed out of the grocery pushing a cart. She took her time, leaning on it to ease the strain of her pregnant profile on her back. When she looked at the phone, it was a text from an old Army buddy, with just one line. "Please send hellos to Frank from me." It was a simple coded message. Leave off the first and last words, and you get, Send Hellos To Frank. SHTF. It was something she and her military buddies had cooked up long ago, in case they were privy to any major threat intelligence and could warn others. Lynn hurried to get another big load of groceries and baby things before she got in the truck to drive home. This was a poor time for her to be 8 1/2 months pregnant. She had to tell the others, ASAP.

At a hastily assembled meeting of the family, plus Benny, Charlie, Rich, and Cindy, Lynn passed on the warning call. It would have been made from a throwaway phone, used once, destroyed and buried deep. There was no way of knowing who had made the call, but there was full certainty of its' validity she said. Charlie and Benny nodded solemnly, affirming the truth of that. They talked for an hour and went their separate ways to make last minute plans and preparations.

Three days later, a blustering US President was on the TV news shrilly denouncing the stoppage of oil shipments from the Mideast, vowing to retaliate against Iran as the scapegoat. China objected strenuously to any threats against its' oil supplier. Iran said if any overt military action came its' way, Iran would obliterate Israel from the map. Israel and the US went on a war footing. Aircraft carriers lined up in the Mediterranean Sea and near the Straits of Hormuz. Nobody knew who shot first. Communications were lost in a matter of minutes, and propaganda was the only news from anywhere. Israel and Iran had exchanges, as the US pounded Iran. China launched surprise EMP attacks on the West coast of the US, knocking out power throughout California, Oregon, and Washington state.

Russia told the world that they would retaliate against incursions into Iran. China, long suspicious of their near neighbor, shot some EMP weapons their way along with a couple ICBM's from bunkers near the Mongolian border. Russia, smarting from damage to their oil interests in the Mideast, and unable to track everything with their damaged communications, launched EMP and some conventional nukes at the US east coast from deep cover submarines in the near Atlantic. New York City was first blacked out, then flattened from the air. Washington DC ceased to exist. The Eastern Seaboard went dark. Missles aimed for major cities and some military targets in the West had been intercepted and destroyed in their flight over the Arctic regions, but one got through and hit Chicago. A stray with multiple warheads also hit the oil refineries along the Gulf coast of Texas.

Hardened communications got orders to US assets in the Pacific. A more or less synchronized attack by multiple heavy warheads hit the Three Gorges Dam, taking out one end of it. The world's largest Hydroelectric dam failed as the anchors into the mountainside gave way. A flood of Biblical proportions washed clean the valley below, sending much of China's manufacturing capacity into the Pacific. Cascading electrical grid failures wiped out a majority of their power, as sub-launched weapons took out the government headquarters and personnel.

Julie listened to the shortwave radio the night Lynn got her call, and heard an unusual amount of traffic on certain military bands. She decided to waste no time. That evening the three of them headed for three different destinations to shop. They concentrated on medicines and ammunition first, then on other things. The three of them had done their best to get across the urgency they felt to the rest of the group, that Lynn's message could mean anything up to and including nuclear war. There would be no way to know the exact situation until it was too late to do anything about it, so they had better prepare for the worst. Michael was assigned to listen to news broadcasts on the shortwave from several countries. The reception wasn't particularly good, because of the cyclical increase in sunspot activity, but on the right bands it was possible.

Nathan and Jeannie had left the meeting and immediately went to Corydon. Nathan dropped his wife off at Wal Mart where she loaded up on over-the-counter medications, several bolts of cloth, and sewing notions. Meanwhile, Nathan made it to two farm stores in time to get a batch of vet supplies, some halters for the horses, four bricks of .22's and assorted other ammunition from each store, spools of rope, winter work clothing, boots, and socks, and all the salt and mineral blocks he could load on the truck. They had ordered some harness from the local Amish maker and were supposed to pick it up today, but put it off until later. He put the purchases on their business credit card, and kept the receipt, in case he decided to return some of the excess later. They had another list for the next day: a steel order, some filled spare welding gas tanks, a big LP tank to be set and filled, and topping off the gasoline storage tanks.

Rich went to the grocery that night and stocked up on the things they could not grow. The next day, he went to the junk stores in town and bought every old hand tool he could find, getting a big discount on the quantity. He bought a new chain saw and spare chains and parts for it. He had found some old crosscut saws, too, but he was going to use the chainsaw as long as possible. Cindy bought buttons, zippers, needles and thread, and more work clothes and shoes at the Goodwill and a used clothing store.

The whole group bought whatever they could think of they would need if supply lines didn't work for an extended time. Barns and sheds, basements, spare rooms, and cellars all got filled. They kept the vehicle radios on when they were travelling and carried a hand held radio to stay in touch with whoever was with them. Their first news that the missles were flying came when the 6:00 PM news feed from New York went black. The local station said they had technical difficulties and then kept repeating local news. It would be a long time before they put the story together of what had happened.

In the Mideast, some US Navy ships turned toward their home ports at top speed, unaware that those ports no longer existed, but fully aware of the need to get out of the area.


Driving to Clarksville after the family meeting, Margaret asked, "How much do you trust what Lynn said?"

Alan replied, "I don't doubt her in the least. And she believes her source a hundred per cent. So do Benny and Charlie. I think we had better believe it too. At the least, this means the US has gone to war. We don't know how bad it will be. We haven't seen major war on US soil since the Civil War, at least around here. The news has been talking about Iran and China and Russia, so I think we have to assume that they are all going to be involved, and it could go nuclear."

"I don't want to think about that."

"I don't either. But we had better think about it. There aren't any big targets here in the Midwest like there are on the coasts. The big cities, maybe, but it depends on how it goes."

"We'll get fallout. We don't have a fallout shelter. I'd rather get hit in the first blast than die slowly from radiation poisoning."

"I've been thinking about that. If they hit something to the West of us, the wind will bring it here, but it will take a while. We have some time to get ready for that, probably. What bothers me is the stuff staying in the soil. Around Chernobyl, there's a huge zone they won't let anyone live in. But a couple hundred miles away, life goes on. I think we have a good long term chance here. Probably increased risk of cancer, but we'll just have to wait and see. For right now, we need to expect supply lines to be broken and get whatever we may need for the foreseeable future."

Margaret frowned, thinking.

Alan said, "If they take the electrical grid down, we have a problem. Nothing else would devastate the country like that. Like Benny said at the meeting, the next day we would all be living like Amish, whether we're ready for that, or not."

Margaret said slowly, "That helped to put it in perspective." She paused and then said, "That's the best we've got. We'd better go with it. That means we want all sorts of things that couldn't be made without electricity."

"We need to think about it as though we would never have electricity again. What would you want if that's the case? What would you buy now if this is your last shopping trip, ever?"

Margaret dug in her purse for a pen and notepad. She looked at the pen and notepad for a second, and wrote down "paper and pencils" at the top of a long list. Alan gave her ideas he wanted to buy, so she started separate pages for him. Everything was not available in any one place, so they began shopping at Wal Mart where they loaded up with 80 pounds of sugar, iodized salt for the table, canning lids, more canning jars, OTC medications, lots of vitamins, reams of plain white printer paper, boxes of pencils, erasers, duct tape, kerosene lamps and wicks, socks, underwear, jeans, sweat shirts, Tee shirts, and other clothing for them both. The carts were loaded up and they planned to hit another Wal Mart later, so they checked out and went 5 blocks to a restaurant supply store.

Gordon Food Service stocked spices in large plastic jars of approximately a pound each. Margaret ran through the shelves and knew what to get in quantity--pickling spice, dry mustard, cream of tartar (several, to make baking powder when combined with baking soda), bay leaves, cinnamon, and several more. They checked out hurriedly and tossed the sacks in the back of the truck cab. Alan headed for the Rural King farm store. They both had carts loaded to the max and went back for a second trip, buying quantities of 15W40 diesel rated motor oil, greases, 30 weight oil for general lubrication, lithium pressure grease, gear oil in 5 gallon buckets, transhydraulic oil, and more filters for all the tractors and vehicles.

Alan went back a third trip for vet stuff--Providone gentle iodine, blood stopper powder, suture kits, Combiotic liquid, Sulfa Boluses, Tetracycline powder, scalpels, and syringes, then several gallons of machinery paint, thinner, roof coating, and paint brushes. A pet store in a mall across town had Doxycycline for treating birds, and Amoxicillin for treating fish. Harbor Freight supplied stainless steel kettles in nesting sizes. Margaret bought 5 sets, while Alan bought a cartfull of large heavy duty tarps. The truck was overflowing, so Alan tied a tarp over the load and headed for home. No need to advertise what they had, he was thinking.

They didn't try to organize their purchases, just unloaded it in the workshop and closed the door. They were off again the next morning. With no set timetable as to when disaster would strike, they were in full blown panic buying mode. Before they left that day, Alan had called an order in for driveway stone to be delivered, covering the driveway as needed with #9 crushed limestone and then leave a triaxle load each of #9 crushed stone and one of sand in piles by the biodiesel building. Rich had directions to supervise that delivery and Alan had promised he'd take care of their list of purchase needs.

Alan took his 3/4 ton truck to Louisville to pick up spare forklift batteries for the solar system, shipped in dry with the acid in separate bottles. Margaret took her S-10 to Sam's Club and came home with another 200 pounds of sugar, large jars of black pepper, big bags of baking soda, bagged rice, and pinto beans.

Nathan and Jeannie had been busy, too. He ordered a list of steel for Alan that included O-1 drill rod, tool steel flats in O-1 and A-2 grades, music wire for making springs, a stack of sheet metal in several gauges, Cold Rolled Steel rounds for shafting, Hot Rolled Steel flats in many sizes, bearing bronze bars, and 40 pounds of Babbitt metal for pouring bearings, all for next day delivery on the wholesaler's truck. Jeannie went to the local hardware store and bought concrete nails for making small tools, common nails in several sizes for building, more kerosene lamps and wicks, and got a 55 gallon barrel filled with kerosene while it was sitting in the truck.

When they got the truck unloaded, they hurried off to buy metal roofing and plywood, brought that

home and made another trip with side boards on the truck bed for 2 tons of blacksmith coal. They got that shovelled off in time to make a trip to Seymour to Wal Mart for more dry foodstuffs and clothing, then the farm store for work shoes and boots.

Nathan stayed home the second day to supervise unloading the steel order while Jeannie hustled out in the truck to make another load. For 3 days, the family kept their truck engines hot hauling things home. Julie had rented a small U-Haul trailer to pull behind her Jetta and did some shopping of her own. She was thinking that if money was going to be worth nothing in a post-collapse world, better get what she could with it now. Michael went with her to help handle the loads, having left Mandy and Roy Bates to take turns listening to the shortwave radio at night when they were gone, and doing the farm chores. Kenneth and Caroline Porter did the same at Alan's place.

The third day after Lynn got the warning, Alan was coming home from Louisville with a load of Portland Cement bags and mortar when he heard the President on the radio ranting about Iran being the cause of the oil shipment stoppage. Alan got home as fast as he could.



The "3 C's" of military targets, command, control, and communication, were either severely damaged or absent for most of the world's major powers, but none of them knew that. Paranoia ruled the decision making of all concerned for some time after the initial salvos. Most of the damage from the world war had been done by and to electronics. Major attacks by hacking and EMP weapons had been directed at banking systems, communications and intelligence assets, such as satellites. China had correctly assessed that EMP weapons gave far more bang for the buck than bunker busters. Likewise, post-collapse Russia had also concentrated on eliminating energy systems--oil and electricity--to cripple their enemies' ability to conduct any extended campaign. That was largely successful.

The US government facilities on the East coast no longer existed. New York's Manhattan Island had a newly formed lake in the center and the Hudson River was about 3 miles wide at its' mouth now, flanked by rubble on all sides. London had suffered a similiar fate from Russian attacks, as reprisal for backing the US play toward Iran. Only France had some semblance of their homeland in its' original state in Europe, but much of it had suffered major fallout from the attack on Britain. The European banking system had collapsed financially before the attacks, but now with London decimated, the major banking center of the world was history. That put an immediate end to international trade as it had been known for the past century or so. Most countries continued to use their own paper currencies for a matter of weeks, but trust in those evaporated quickly and the populace quickly devolved to barter in most countries.

The West coast of the US had not suffered major physical destruction like the East coast, but with no electrical grid power, most vehicles disabled, and no more fuel supplies for the foreseeable future, society crumbled fast West of the Rocky mountains. Cities and towns descended into chaos as food supplies rotted for lack of refrigeration, water was unavailable, sewage backed up and disease spread rampantly. The Central Plains and Midwest US were undamaged by the war directly, but with many refineries in the Gulf region destroyed or damaged, and electrical power out locally, those refineries wouldn't function again for a very long time. Enough electrical power remained in the central US to keep nuclear plants up and running, after some hasty patchwork along the fringes where the grid had cascade blackouts as safeties tripped when coastal plants failed.

The limited use of heavy nukes on the US East coast sent fallout into the upper atmosphere, where it would remain to some degree for decades, but the lion's share of it dropped on Europe and to a lesser degree in Asia. The new level of background radiation around the world had increased significantly and would have long term health impacts around the world.

The Midwest US was intact, except that there was no fuel coming in, and what was there would disappear quickly.

Despite several temporary blackouts, the electrical grid was funtional in the Midwest US for a time. Indiana, with a majority of coal-fired generating plants, were at the mercy of coal deliveries. What TV and radio stations remained on the air, were there at the behest of state governments dictating they stay running, most with state personel, since the currency was generally considered to be worthless and nobody else came to work. Announcements were made of critical shortages of diesel fuel for trains to deliver coal to the generating plants. Several states quickly entered into an agreement to ration electrical power by rotating blackouts, increasing in frequency and length as more and more generating plants were shut down for lack of coal.

By the end of September, there would be power available for 4 hours twice a day in most states from the Appalachian mountains to the Rockies. The hastily formed States Power Cooperative was supplied by nuclear and hydroelectric facilities only. As maintenance issues came up later, those supplies would diminish even further, but for the moment, there was enough to keep most refrigeration going, and water flowing at least some of the time.

Currency was an all-important issue among the Cooperative States. For lack of any other, the old US dollars were to be used at a new devalued rate, relative to gold, silver, and a basket of commodities, primarily food items. Gold was now priced at $6,400 an ounce, and Dry Yellow Corn was initially set at $28.00 a bushel. This system proved unworkable, as soon as the impact of a greatly diminished supply was felt due to lack of fuel to harvest the crops. Barter became the order of the day in most communities while the State Governments tried their utmost to establish order out of chaos.

Those State governments were limited by the increasing difficulty of communication, since newspapers and many radio and TV stations were either insolvent, or lacked supplies and materiel to keep operating, or both. Manufacturing, for all intents and purposes, had ceased in the US when supply lines failed along with the currency. Many companies with headquarters on the coasts had ceased to be.

The US had devolved into what was once called a "Third World Country" almost overnight. Added to that, was the pain of almost no energy supplies of any kind being available. Some natural gas continued to be supplied for a while from the Gulf States, in exchange for electrical power from more northerly states that had more power available. The governments of Texas and Oklahoma had brokered the deals, with most of producing wells in Louisiana had been taken over by the State of Texas. There was almost no government in Louisiana to object, since vast areas were now flooded from a combination of war damage to levees and lack of electrical power to run pumps. There was a serious refugee problem in surrounding states. The heat of August took a heavy tool on the old and infirm, with no air conditioning and no supplies to medical facitilities. True to form, the average persons in the South did what they had to do to keep on living and

provided for themselves as best they could. They had big problems, but at least there were no Yankee carpetbaggers this time around.

Despte the best efforts of all, the death toll in cities everywhere was tremendous. There was nothing recognized as money, no credit available, no fuel to speak of, and little in the way of goods that were helpful for surviving this new deprived world.

There were pockets of what still looked like the old world in some places, but they became targets as soon as others figured out they were there. Those who managed to make it out of the Louisville area mostly went South, because the bridges were quickly blocked on both ends by their respective cities and States. The New Albany/Clarksville/Jeffersonville area soon began to look like some parts of Detroit before the War, with fierce fighting over the limited food and other supplies. There had been hasty moves out of the area by the good, the bad, and the really ugly, provoking smaller towns to the North to block access on major roads to limit those incursions. Those seeking to go North found a poor welcome. The death toll climbed as cooler weather approached.

The Sheriff in Washington County assumed his historic role as the highest law enforcement official, and with the County Council to back him, ordered all roads into the County blocked and guarded until further notice. Those blockades helped somewhat to stem the influx of refugees, but they leaked badly as desperate people sneaked through fields and forests at night simply trying to get away from the misery of the cities. Those who could find enough to eat and had some sort of weapons volunteered to help guard those blockades, with those who lived the closest being the most motivated. The concept of a neighborhood watch took on a whole new meaning.

A tax system of sorts was enacted to support the local law enforcement. There were some extra deputies appointed, and sent to levy a tax of food and whatever sustenance those more fortunate individuals could contribute to support the efforts toward law and order. The problems were not confined to those from outside the county, as food supplies ran out. Early on, major food producers had been asked to help feed the multitudes, but that met with mixed results and some dead people. Some farmers who ran large confinement feeding operations were more cooperative. They bargained for the best deals they could get, typically some worthless promises for farm labor to be done later, but everyone soon knew that they could not feed their animals for long without supplies from off the farms.

One farmer who raised hundreds of thousands of egg layer chickens, had less than a month's worth of feed on hand for them when disaster struck. The Sheriff had approached him about helping to feed the townspeople and been rebuffed. Some few people came to him daily and made their own bargains, but when his feed supplies were nearing an end, he gave some to the town to do with as they saw fit and then turned the rest loose to fend for themselves.

That turned into a disaster. The local dogs who had survived thus far on what they could scrounge for a meal, had a field day. The coyote population was well fed for a while and got bolder about raiding farms. Local neighbors tried to catch what they could in an attempt to keep them for food and eggs if they could come up with feed for them. Many escaped and became someof the most wily creatures around, earning them the moniker, "Survival Chickens".
Without their daily doses of antibiotics from the farmer's feed, many of them sickened and died, to be eaten in turn by dogs, coyotes and other predators who in turn also sickened and died. That included whatever refugees who were able to catch what they thought was a fortuitous meal. The

farmer did manage to keep a couple hundred of the birds for his own use that he could feed from his own grain supplies, as long as he had fuel to grind the feed.

Michael was by turns elated and despondent because school was out of the question. Food, water, shelter and security came first and were more than most could do. There was no lack of things for him to do, much of it nerve wracking because of the ever present dangers around now. He did like the idea of spending more time with his family and neighbors, particularly his grandparents and the two ex-Army guys who lived on their place.

They had taken to teaching him about military field craft, which he both enjoyed and understood how badly he needed to know those things. The men gave him strict lessons about how to stay alive when those around you wanted you dead. He had a head start on the men because he knew the forests that were his own back yard. He was taught how to make the best use of that knowledge to evade and escape a threat. By the time cold weather threatened, Michael was almost a ghost in the woods.

Chapter 58 MUDDLING ALONG Late August, 2012

Lynn had been extraordinarily busy this morning making breakfast, cleaning as she went along, and putting everything away when finished with it. The kitchen was neat as a pin when they sat down to eat. Halfway through the meal, she frowned and grunted loudly, "UNNHGH!"

That was followed by the sound of splashing and dripping water. Jeff looked up from his plate at Lynn who had made the noise. "Are you....?"

He left he question unfinished as Lynn nodded and said, "Gotta mop the floor. I made a mess."

"To hell with that! I gotta go get Mom. No! Michael! Go tell your Grandma we need her NOW!"

"Take your time Michael. My water just broke. There's no hurry. This is gonna take a while."

She got up from the table and got a sponge mop to deal with the wetness on the vinyl floor.

Jeff took exception to that. "You need to be in bed! I'll get the floor."

Lynn shook her head. "Just stay out of the way, will you? I can get this and it gives me something to do. I'm better off up and walking around for now. It will speed things up. This could take all day."

Michael tore out the door, rifle in hand, with Sarge hot on his heels. The screen door banged shut behind them and they were gone.

He arrived breathless at his grandparent's home and charged in the door without knocking, prompting Alan to put a hand on his shoulder holster until he saw who it was.

"Mom's havin' the baby! Gramma, you gotta come now!"

Margaret took it a lot more calmly, having been through many deliveries while she was an OB nurse. She and Lynn had talked about this at length. "Settle down young man, and tell me what's going on. Has her water broke, then?"

"Uh huh. And she's having labor pains. She was bent over with the last one!"

"How long between pains? Do you know?"

Michael calmed down some hearing his grandmother's calm voice, and began to catch his breath. "Uh, I dunno, maybe a few minutes. Uh, wait. She made this big grunt and the water hit the floor. Then she got up to mop it up, and her and Dad were arguing whether she should do that, but she was finished with mopping and had sat down when I left, and hadn't made any more noise."

Margaret nodded understanding and told him, "You just relax. We have plenty of time to get there. It will likely be this afternoon or later before the baby comes. Since it is her second one, it shouldn't take as long, but the labor won't be getting serious for a couple hours yet, I don't think. I'll have to get my stuff to take along. You get yourself a drink of water and I'll be along in a minute or two."

Michael hurried to the sink and got a glass of water, and was ready to run home when Margaret came out of their storage cellar with a gym bag full of things. He was full of questions as they walked down the road. Margaret did her best to explain.

"We planned for this, you know," Margaret told Michael. "In case something should go wrong that we couldn't take your mother to the hospital for delivery. Well, things have gone wrong. There's no electricity most of the time now, and no supplies coming in. I don't know if the hospital is even open now, and if they are, I doubt if there is always a doctor there. Besides, things are too dangerous in town now. There are too many people that don't have enough food, and too much trouble to be safe in town."

Margaret explained to him that it would take a while for his mother to dilate enough to let the baby be born. It was a natural process and much easier on the woman the second time. She had talked to Lynn about this and learned that Michael was born naturally, so that and the fact that Lynn was big woman with broad hips would make the birth that much easier for her. Michael was reminded that he had attended the births of several calves, and this was no different.

Margaret grinned and told him, "Don't tell anybody I said that. They wouldn't like it much."

Michael chuckled at that. He was calmed down by the time they walked into the driveway at Jeff and Lynn's house.

Lynn told Margaret as she came in the door, "I timed them. The first contractions were 20 minutes apart. Uh-oh..."

She bent over and then sat down on a kitchen chair. In a minute or so, the contraction subsided and she looked at the clock.
Jeff was looking worriedly first at his wife, then at the clock.

"That one was about 15 minutes," he said.

"Okay, let's get you to bed and propped up," Margaret told her. "Jeff, do you need to go boil some water or something? We can do this just fine, so do your best to relax."

Jeff nodded and told Michael, "Let's go outside for a while."

Rachel Ann Walter was born at 2:30 that afternoon after an uneventful labor. Jeff had insisted he be there to hold her hand and offer moral support, but Michael had been banished to the outdoors. Lynn and the baby were cleaned up and letting the baby nurse when Jeff and Michael came back in together to see them. Lynn was bone tired, but doing fine.

Margaret smiled at her granddaughter, when Lynn told Jeff, "She's got your wavy blond hair and blue eyes!"

"She's beautiful," he told her, "Are you okay?"

Lynn nodded affirmatively, while Margaret said, "She's worn out, of course, so let's let her rest now. They could both use a nap. When she wakes up I'll give her some Tylenol and Ibuprofin. Those two together are more effective than most narcotics for pain relief and won't hurt anything. She didn't need any stitches, so she will be back on her feet pretty fast. It went as well as any birth I have ever seen."

In the following days, Lynn was thankful for the cow's milk that filled her craving, and the fresh garden vegetables that quickly put color back in her cheeks. In 3 weeks, she was pretty well back to normal and had to argue with Jeff about what she should be doing around the place.

Jeff's potatoes had been dug, allowed to dry and cure in the shade of the big trees i