And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. Deuteronomy 6:5
A lot has changed since this story was written.
As we look back, we have many fond memories, and very few regrets.
The Story of our House
article was written in 1995, and published in Countryside Magazine.
people seem to work towards retirement and in fact miss some of the most
important times in their life. Having
been actively involved in owning and operating various businesses I realized
that continuing in that line would keep me from spending this precious time with
my children when it matters so much.
I made a commitment to not let my children’s growing years slip by.
I semi-retired during those growing years, with the intent to again use
my education and experience in business once my children became adults. I
didn't realize, at the time, how much that training would come to help in
working with my own children. My
children have grown now and are owners of their own businesses and no longer
need my attention.
So for the last years I have
once again returned to the full-time business lifestyle, with
one major change. I have
learned to have a deeper awareness of those around me and their struggles.
It is surprising how much you can learn from spending that time with your
children. Having descended from a
family of teachers, I, too, now know what a blessing it is to work with
children. Money no longer is
my driving force, but rather, serving others.
I hope you find this article beneficial.
If you're poor and you don't want to borrow, you can still have your own homestead! We did it and so can you.
Our house (and a corner of the garage).
When we decided to have a homestead of our own, we had no money saved, made less than $10,000 a year, and had strong religious convictions against going into debt. Yet, three years later we were living on our own 60 acres and we owned every bit of it. We had some friends who also decided to be debt free; it only took them about a year and a half to move onto their own 78 acres starting from scratch.
People who say times have changed and people can't do what they did in the past are not telling the truth. The pioneers of the past started with nothing and ended up with a place to survive on and it was called homesteading.
The following is what I feel were necessary in accomplishing that goal.
One needs to be determined and persistent in what they set out to do. When people told me that I could never own my own place because of my religious conviction of not going into debt, I became determined and persistent! This is an important key to success in homesteading. There will be times when that alone will carry you through.
Adam and Amy on the tire walls we were beginning to build.
Like the time we began our house and found that the north wall we hand built out of tires was leaning. Just as we returned with the equipment to straighten it, the wall collapsed, taking the roof and much of the remaining walls with it. It was determination and persistence that enabled us to put it up again before the neighbors found out.
One needs to be content with the present conditions until one can change them. (If you can't be happy where you are at, you won't be happy where you are going.) Like the first night in our home as we stared in disbelief as a raging stream entered one end of the house and out the other. This was the first night of many where I heard the call of my wife, " Take me to a hotel!" Instead we built a few islands and went to sleep to the sound of a babbling brook and a few what-have-you-got-us-intos from my wife. If we dwell on all the failures we are sure to fail. Too many people overload their minds which makes the task seem overwhelming.
Detail of tire wall, showing concrete packed in the spaces to hold the dirt in the tires.
It is still true that every penny saved is a penny earned. Those pennies add up real fast. Don't despise the small accomplishments, whatever they may be. They will add up a lot faster than you think. After all, isn't that how the lending institutions get rich? A great help in understanding this is to do as Solomon said, " Go to the ant thou sluggard." They will amaze you at what they can do one grain at a time.
Don't wait to homestead. Start investing your time--your most valuable asset. What I mean is find an inexpensive (I like the word cheap) place to live near where you hope to settle. One where you will be allowed to invest your time and collect your supplies. Most homesteaders of the past started homesteading when they loaded up the covered wagon. You may not be traveling across the county but you're beginning your sojourn just the same. So use the time wisely and start working on your homestead now.
Adam and Amy leading the goslings out to the pond for a swim.
We had moved back to Wisconsin from the east coast to take care of our aged parents. They lived on the 80 acre homestead where my mother's side of the family had lived since President James Buchanan signed the land grant for that parcel in 1860. We were living in the old home attached to the newer addition where my parents lived. After my mother passed away we realized it would not be long until my father too would leave us. So we began to put things into high gear (investing our time). We located a number of places we felt would not be worth very much, such as old home sites where the old buildings had collapsed. We hoped to pay about five to six thousand dollars for such a place, but we were broke.
I believe now that broke is a state of mind and not a reality. One cannot be broke in this country. There are too many rich people who are not willing to take the time to invest in little opportunities. This means these opportunities are just waiting for someone like me to invest my time in.
For instance, we began buying sick calves which would not live ( the owner's perspective). One learns fast how to keep them alive when they start to die on you (incentive). By the fall of the second year we still had fourteen to sixteen head of healthy cattle left, ranging from 1,200 to 400 pounds.
Steers in the foreground, children in the mid-ground, and a shot of the house (from the south-ish) in the background. You can see the windows of the "sun porch."
Animals are like children. When you have them you find ways to feed them. We cut hay and put it up loose in piles. Wherever we could glean we gleaned. Many farmers do not have the time to walk in a picked corn field and pick up the cobs which were missed. But time was our asset.
Since then we have seen a lot of other ways one can invest time and pennies to save up dollars. Your brain cells are worth their weight in gold so look for opportunities in your area and think.
When you have what you think is enough saved do not be afraid to go for it. We had found some land for our friends that at one time was the proposed site of a nuclear power plant. 78 acres...price--14,000 dollars. They talked to the owner and paid what they had down with the agreement to pay the rest in one year. If not, the owner could keep the money. Now doesn't that sound like incentive.
My friend cut back on living expenses and he saved enough to buy that land and began construction of his house. That winter he was living in a small part he had enclosed. His building material was new blocks ( there was a price war going on between two companies--10" blocks for 46 cents each delivered) and new lumber. Previously he had spent seven years paying for a new house he had owned. When it sold he got enough to pay off the mortgage. Just think: buy now , pay later equals in seven years nothing for your effort. Pay as you go equals one and a half years you own your own place. Which method would you choose?
Brownie (the steer), Andrea, Amy, Adam, and some assorted sheep, in front of our garage (the garage was moved onto our property from the site of a house that we "recycled" in Wisconsin Rapids).
Our sick calves and the time we invested turned into about $5,000 and we began to make our deal for an old homesite. It turned out that my father decided to sell us some of his land instead. Most of it was wet land but after a struggle with the septic laws (another long story) we found a legal buildable site on that land so we bought it. Which means we still hold that land grant signed in 1860 by our ancestors.
Annual income: under $10,000
By this time you should be saving any and everything that you think would go into a home. Keep in mind we were making less than $10,000 a year with a family of five to support. Our building material would be tires, rocks, and lumber from old barns which our neighbors were glad to have torn down. My thoughts were to build with that which would be the most abundantly available.
Showing the tire construction, as well as how we built a corner and a door way.
When you own the land, get on it. The sooner you are living there the more wisely you will invest your time. Once we owned the land we began to put up our tire walls. I shoveled dirt into them and my three children packed them tight. We had three walls up with the south open. After it fell over we built it again. It is surprising how much faster you can do it the second time through.
Two months later my father found out he had cancer and our time was invested in taking care of him night and day and in four weeks we buried him. This happened in December. The farm went up for sale and was sold. We had to be out by March. It's cold here in the winter, but just like the pioneers of the past we now had all the incentive we needed. With the help of a couple of friends, some for pay and some from love, we began to thaw out the four feet of dirt which we had to remove from the center of the tire house we were building. We put a temporary roof overhead and plastic along the south wall, heated it and scraped off the mucky clay inch by inch and hauled in out in a wheelbarrow. Then we poured some concrete and moved in at the end of March to enjoy our first spring rain!
This is what we moved into.
Once you are living on your homestead stick it out. Just like in pioneer days, times will get rough. But remember that most of them survived, we survived, and so can you. Just think, they did it with just a few hand tools and no neighbors. We had unlimited resources and a pickup truck. (My youngest daughter just said, "If you don't have any children, give up." She feels the children were an important part of the project. And I agree.)
Amy, Andrea and Adam in front of the house, showing the beginning of the second story.
Be sociable! By this time you should be getting all kinds of visitors stopping by to gawk, question, give advice and drop off their donations to the cause such as windows, used plywood and in our case extra tires (your treasures). Face it, you are a community oddity and deserve a lot of attention. It's time well invested. When your goal becomes you neighbor's goal, there are few problems.
And do not be afraid to share your collected wealth (scavenged treasures) with others even if you could use it all. It will come back countless times over. There are a number of farm wagons and vehicles with the best of my building materials being used as tires that now supply our neighbors with eggs, food and help.
It has now been five years since my father died and we moved onto our homestead. I could not begin to tell you all that has happened since, but I will give you an update.
A view of our house from the east side.
We now have a warm, large, two story, six bedroom home, large two stall garage, two chicken coops, a 34' x 24' barn, lots of animals, the beginnings of a berry business, and enough junk (my wife's words) to start all over again if we decide to.
Our "barn", built mainly from recycled materials. It has housed goats, calves, sheep, ducks, geese, and chickens.
And, yes, my father's death did bring our way some extra capital. However, it went towards buying the estate's possessions, an extra 10 acres, a well, and a half dry pond which supplied the material for a better driveway. Other than that we pretty much are still living on less than most families get on welfare. My wife just finished our taxes and we made $9,950 last year. This income level is our choice. We prefer to spend our time with our children (home schooled) and serving God. We feel this is a better investment of our time than just making money.
For us, homesteading was not a goal, but the obvious way to live when you have strong principles which differ from others in this day and age.
View of our house from the south.