Saturday, August 27, 2016

Playing on your Rural Property

I've spent a little too much time writing about work, work, working the land. Getting it prepared for a weekend retreat. Here's where I messed up. Our country property is already a retreat!  We camp, we watch sunsets, we observe wildlife, we go out for steak dinners, and we socialize with our country friends and neighbors.

Whether you own rural property or you just love the rural lifestyle, remember that any time you're away from the city, it's rural and it's peaceful. Tammy and I have our own private campground. However, it's the 100th Anniversary of the National Park System, and these national treasures are your rural property, so get rural wherever you are!

Big Bend National Park

Get your gear during Labor Day Sales

The Labor Day weekend is a few days away, and the Labor Day sales have started.  It's a great time to get great prices on camping gear, grills, outdoor clothing, and such.  I opened my inbox this morning, and it was chock full of great sales. I'll share some of this stuff with you, so that you can get your weekend rural gear gathered up and ready for fall fun.

  1. REI Labor Day Sale & Clearance - The Elite Grand Master of everything outdoors is having one of their big sales. The REI Garage is full of top of the line gear from last year, so get the good stuff for as much as 50% off. REI sells the very best in hiking boots - I only buy my boots from this store. They also sell North Face, Merrel, REI brand, Mountain Hardwear, and many more high quality brands in clothing. Shop online, or I recommend going to a store because all of these brands size a little differently. If you're a medium in Mountain Hardwear, you might be a large in North Face.
  2. The Clymb - This is a well kept secret for those who do the serious deal shopping that I do. The Clymb is a repository of deep discounts on high end outdoor clothing, shoes, and gear. Today, they're having a 60-80% off sale. I see lots of boots and shoes on sale, but I also see they're having a ski and snowboard sale. I'm sure it's overstock and closeout stuff, but go for it. Think of the The Clymb as the TJ Maxx of outdoor adventure. You do have to "join" this online store, but that just means giving an email, and you want to do this so you know when there's a new inventory of goods.
  3. Sears - Yes. Sears. Here's why. They carry one of the best known brands in appliances and grills - Kenmore. Sears will have a big Labor Day Sale on Kenmore, and you can start shopping right now. Sears also promotes the heck out of grills. Country living and camping requires a good charcoal grill. I dug around on the website, and I found that Sears also sells fire pit rings. I think I'll buy one because it's just plain easy to deal with, and it contains your little campfire in a safe way.
  4. Academy - Of course. They're inexpensive, they anchor many shopping centers, and they sell everything. If you want to test the open sky, but you're not sure the outdoor life is for you, go to Academy and buy your stuff. You'll find cheap tents, camp stoves, canopies, clothing, hunting and fishing gear, and the necessary cooler. You already  know your way around this store because you've been buying your kid's soccer shoes here since forever.

The Best Time to Camp

I've timed this blog entry to coincide with optimal camping. Camp after Labor Day. Things get much quieter because the kids are back in school, and family vacations have wrapped up for the summer. It won't be scorching hot, and it won't be unbearably cold and wet. October is prime time in Texas. Since Austin becomes a tourist mecca in October, it's really the best month to leave town and enjoy a quiet camping trip. 

Alaska Marine Highway

There's probably a National or State Park very close to you. Even county parks can be awesome outdoor destinations. The National Park Service makes it easy to find a park. You can search by state or browse featured parks and getaways. 

I encourage everyone to ground the kids from Pokemon Go, lock up the phones, pack up the car, and go rural this fall.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hiring Rural Contractors

This will come as a surprise to some, but I have not purchased any power equipment since we bought our land in Carmine.  I did borrow my friend's chainsaw, and I quickly learned that chainsaws are for small jobs. Like a tree falling on your fence or cutting up a tree for firewood. A little over a year ago, I reported that we hired a dozer guy to start clearing the land.

That's been done, and then it started to rain. No drought no more. That took our land project to a muddy stop. Heavy equipment operators can't work when it's muddy, and we've been waiting ever since. 

This is my first bit of advice to share...

You have to be patient when hiring rural contractors

Things move at a slower pace in the country.  There are plenty of people making a living with a dozer or a backhoe, but they don't rush around like us city folk. And they like a short commute. Therefore, you need to be patient.  Here are a few tips for hiring a rural contractor.

  1. Ask a trusted neighbor or the rural banker who he/she recommends. The bank is going to point you towards the person that pays his bills. Your neighbor is going to point you towards the guy with a good reputation. Often it's the same guy. Often that guy has a lot of friends. In the country, a well connected guy is the right guy.
  2. Be prepared to never have a phone call returned. Most of these small contractors feel like they have enough work.  They don't think too far into the future, and they don't think you'll be a regular customer since you only own that one piece of property. Keep asking for recommendations, keep calling, and the right guy will answer your call.
  3. When I talk about local contractors, I mean local. Like 5 miles down the road and no further. I mean just around the corner and no further. Here's why. It is very expensive to trailer up a bull dozer and transport it to a job site. The shorter the distance, the more likely you'll land a contractor. Therefore, when your neighbor makes a recommendation, he's probably going to refer you to a neighbor.
  4. Be patient.  In our case, the rain created such a muddy mess, no one could work even if he wanted to. Just be patient.  It takes time to get everyone serviced; especially if you're a small job. Think about it. If someone loads up some heavy equipment for a $500 job, that's some pretty crappy margins. If the job pays thousands, you move up the schedule.
  5. Since you're being patient, try to have a big enough job to make the work worthwhile. Our first land clearing job was smallish. I think the next clearing job will be about double in size.  We've hired another contractor to tear down and rebuild our front fence, put in a new entrance, move an existing culvert, and build a road that leads to a small building pad that he will build, too.  That's worth it.
  6. Pay your bill. Not in 6 months. Not when you get around to it. And definitely not when you have the money. Have the money in advance. Put it away. Don't touch it. Be patient.

Be the nicest new person in the area

Always be nice to everyone you meet. I know I said this in an earlier post, but don't be arrogant. Don't act like your city life is superior. Try a little small talk.

Tammy is a master of small town friendliness

When I moved to the country in 2000, I was agitated by the slowness of the people.  I wanted it done yesterday. I don't know if I learned my lesson or if I slowly assimilated.  Although I am squarely back to my surly urban self, when I head for Carmine, I try to be the mellow country me. This is the best advice I can give you.

Buy local

Tammy and I will likely put a prefabricated cabin on our land to begin with.  We'll buy it from a local dealer. As we build, we'll buy our building supplies from the local lumber company. We buy our beer at the local grocery store. 

The Village Market, Carmine Texas

Support the local economy.  The contractor we hired to do the road and fence work casually mentioned that his sister owned the local grocery store.  I was happy to inform him that we go there all the time, and that we love that place. In a community of 240 people that good word will get around.  It signals that we want to be part of the community. Leave the Wholefoods gluten-free, organic, fair trade snacks in the city. Buy some locally baked good, locally sourced beef jerky, and a bag of Doritos when you're in the country.

Build that solid reputation. It will take awhile, but once you do, you won't have to be as patient when hiring a contractor because you've slowly moved yourself up the schedule.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Always Pay Attention - It's a Good Place to Start

It's been a really, really long time since I paid attention to this blog. I even bought a dedicated domain for it.  But I didn't pay attention, and when it expired, some nefarious shoe seller grabbed it up to sell adidas shoes. Black hat jerks. Stupid me.

In the meantime, I've made some shaky commitment to get back to the writing. I suspect that the domain name was drawing enough traffic to make someone buy it and put up a sneaker store, or maybe, buy it and hope I'll buy it back for some stupid amount of money.  Right now, I'm not going to do that.  I'm just going to try to pay attention to this blog.

I asked Tammy to forward any interesting pins from her Pintrest account.  See the Tammy tab above to visit her boards yourself. Tammy's sick today. In a foggy stupor she sent me a link to "Planning a Small Farm Home." After all, that's how this whole thing started - Tammy & Christy wanted land and a weekend escape.

Tammy wasn't paying attention, I don't think.

See Below:

California Agricultural Extension Service Circular 168, December 1950.
That's what she sent me.
O.K. I can work with this.

What can I learn from a 67 year old UC-Berkeley Publication?

  1. Start Small - we didn't do that. We start with 12 raw acres.
  2. Be realistic - I think we knew what we were getting into.
  3. Take it easy - I'm going to interpret this as "be patient."
Once I read through this little circular, I was struck by the timelessness of its practicality. We've owned our land in Carmine, Texas for over a year. My earlier posts about quixotic jaunts through the dense woods, with a chainsaw, seem downright stupid today. It is unbelievably hard to develop a raw piece of land from your city home.  In short, we've created a world that traps us in really long work days.  We lack spare time.

It would be awesome if we could leave Austin and move to Carmine and live happily ever after. The following image, from page 6 of Circular 168, would have been helpful in March of 2015. Point #1 is so important if you're planning on buying rural property.  So the hippies are very practical on page 6.

Don't get me wrong.  We are not unhappy with our choice. We are just more realistic about the time it will take to make it amazing.  Or let me say that Christy is more realistic. I think Tammy has always understood this.

This idea that city folks are farmers is a little silly

I want to say, right here, that we KNOW how much work goes into "livin' off the land." At this point, our patch of land is a great real estate investment.  We know that it will slowly become a beloved rural get away (I'll go into more detail in a later post, but point #7 in the above image has been the surprise wrench in the cog this year. The Texas drought is over and Noah may rise from his mythical grave to build an ark again.)

If you read this blog because you want a rural property, I want you to take note of my highlights from page 4.

In short, keep your day job.

Gear Down 

We've learned that planning goes beyond the real estate transaction.  I speak for myself here; although we got an amazing deal on what will be an amazing piece of property, I wish I had created a better budget and timeline for getting the place usable. 

It's important to build a network of contractors, get estimates for any work you need done, and sock that cash away. I've been doing that as we go, so we're basically waiting for our turn on each contractor's schedule. And the rain has slowed everything down. 

That is to say, we bulldoze one acre at a time because that's a cash transaction instead of a bank loan. We install infrastructure a little at at time (road, building pad, power source, erosion/pond control, water supply, septic). We take our time planning and buying/building a cabin.

We don't give up.

You can read Planning a Small Farm Home here. If nothing else, it proves that society never gives up on getting back to the basics.