Rural Life (for the beginner)

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Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Elaura » Sun Mar 22, 2015 8:43 pm

This is kind of a "what I've learned" thread. Its purpose is to illustrate what one might come across if one suddenly decides to "up and move to the country" having been a suburbanite or a city-dweller for at least one generation. Translation: unlike your 80 year-old neighbors who have been living in the same house since somebody's grandfather moved west in a covered wagon, you have no idea what to do if your well pump goes out.

Jac and I live in a fairly modern home. It has indoor plumbing, with new-style water conserving toilets. It has brand-new wiring AND is finally grounded as of last year. Half of the house has energy conserving windows and the other has rotting wood sashes that have to be nailed in position every other year. Our septic system is less than twenty years old. We even have a dishwasher.

However, the house was built around 1975 and has never had central air and heat. We have a propane tank which feeds our water heater, stove, and wall-mounted room heaters. We rely on a well for water, septic tank for sewerage, and we burn our trash.

The thing about country living is that when anything but the electricity goes out, you actually have to figure out what to do. For example, as always happens when one's life is in upheaval, things invariably break.

Items that "broke" since Mom died last month:

Propane tank sprung a leak
Dishwasher stopped draining
Truck check engine light came on and it started making a new noise

Now, I'm not really sure if Eris, the goddess of Chaos, just likes to mess with people at the worst times, or if the ghosts in our machines heard we might come into some money via life insurance, but whatever the cause, the result is the same: we have no hot water, are cleaning our dishes with bleach and water run through coffee makers, and we spent every cent we had getting the truck fixed.

First off, who do you call when your propane system loses $700 worth of propane in less than three months? Not the propane supplier, but a plumber. I didn't know that. Did you? What does the plumber do? He uses an air compressor (like the one we have) and a spray bottle full of soapy water, and you guessed it, he pressurized the system and sprayed the pipes looking for bubbles. Unfortunately, he found none. This means the leak is either somewhere inaccessible or in the service line under the ground, between the tank and our house.

One nice thing about being out in the country is that the people you call care about your circumstances and tend to listen when you tell them what your budget is. The nice man told us he'd bill us for the initial visit and to call when the life insurance comes in. Estimated repair cost: "a couple thousand" to re-plumb the whole house or "considerably cheaper" to replace the service line. Either way it'll be "a week to ten days" before we hear back from the insurance company.

Now, the dishwasher. I spent about a week cleaning the calcium carbonate scale off the poor thing with vinegar in the hopes it was simply clogged. Limescale build up and subsequent maintenance of major appliances that use water are not something people talk about when they brag about how good their well water tastes compared to fluoridated chlorinated city water. Hard water is a big problem. It isn't as simple as having a water softener, either. First you have to have a filter, or else your water softener will clog, too. As a matter of fact, thick scale will actually ruin a hot water heater. These are also things veteran country folk know that is not self-evident to your average urban cowboy.

Sadly, although our dishwasher now looks like new, removing the buildup didn't solve our problem. It is now #2 on our list of things we have to do when (if) the money gets here.

Finally, the truck. When you live in the country, a pickup truck is mandatory. If you ever plan to tow anything heavier than a jetski, You will want a real pickup, not the kind that comes in designer colors. Pickups are mandatory because road maintenance is not. Unpaved roads will tear up the bottom of a car and it seems everything is bigger in the country, even speedbumps.

We were towing a fifth wheel trailer once upon a time so we got a diesel RAM 2500. It's our only vehicle, so we got a four-door with a pretty comfortable ride. The bad part is, diesels are expensive to fix and they don't have any wiggle room when the check engine light comes on. That light means, every mile you drive could raise your repair bill exponentially. Our light was a result of the AC going out. Apparently, if we'd let that go, it could have destroyed our entire electrical system. Fortunately, Mom had some old jewelry which included quite a bit of gold, so we took it to the jewelry store and sold it. The truck was repaired the next day.

In the end, country living requires, more than anything else, a good sense of what is essential and what is not. Hot showers? NOT. A working stove? NOT. A dishwasher? Not even when you don't have hot water. As long a you have bleach, who needs hot water? A functioning pickup? Absolutely. You have no public transportation to rely on in the country and there's only one cab company, with one cab.

So endeth lesson #1.
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby fable2 » Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:55 am

Neat post, Elaura. Nice insights into what it's like to be refurbishing a home in the country, and trying to figure out the essentials while living in it.

Can't say I've ever been in your shoes, but my wife and I did buy what amounts to a country house in the tiny town of Lousiburg, North Carolina (the self-styled "Capitol of Tobacco," now grown to 3300 people), back in the early 1990s. It was no longer primitive, though it had been originally built in 1900 for a pair of spinster sisters of the then-famous town mayor. A strange, jury-rigged place constructed in three sections over time, with an enormous flight of stairs leading to a tiny second bedroom, and nothing else. One small bath. No dishwasher, no disposal. No air. Wood-burning fireplace (which we didn't use often, after discovering how my lungs hated it). Bats. A leaking sub-floor area that looked like something out of a WWII bomb zone. Our first house after getting out of an apartment. It was cheap, and we lucked into a street where everybody was academia or just plain weird as others usually see it, and we fit right in.

Do you have a number of friends in the area? Do you have ready access to medical assistance, should you need it?
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby neildarkstar » Mon Mar 23, 2015 4:27 am

I love this kind of thing. As a youngster living with my parents, I spent a great deal of time living in the country... or in Los Angelas, or Oakland, or... well, we moved a lot. My dad worked construction, eh? But... through all of the moves, we always had a home in the backwoods somewhere. I spent much of my time in a home that was 25 miles from town, on 500 acres we owned, and another thousand or so we leased from the BLM. That's the home I'll tell you about, and who knows, maybe something helpful will come out of it.

So, our house was wayyy beyond power lines. No electricity within about fifteen miles at best. Our dishwasher worked great though, in fact my momma called it "son". My Dad called it "If those dishes come out greasy again, you're gonna regret the day you were born!" Kind of a long name, huh? ;)

We had a big propane tank, unfortunately it was almost always empty. I never asked for an explanation, I just assumed we were probably broke again. Heat was wood and coal, and we burned wood to cook on the kitchen range. There was a tank up above the main part of the range, and the stovepipe ran through it. That was our source of hot water. When we had water at all... Every winter the pump would freeze up, and we'd be without water until the next thaw. We got water from a state park that was about ten miles down the road, and carried it in ten gallon cream cans. I had me some muscles in those days, yessir!

For vehicles, my dad always had a pickup truck, my mom had a station wagon, and we also had a two ton GMC truck with cattle racks, an old tractor with a crank starter, and some small motorcycles that weren't street legal. I occasionally went to town by horseback, but it was only twenty miles or so as the crow flies through the National Forest and part of the reservation.

Living there, I didn't watch much TV or listen to the radio, and books were not easy to read after dark, so I spent a lot of time working for fun and profit. Well, mostly fun, 'cuz my dad had this idea that paying me wasn't really something he wanted to do while he was feeding and clothing me as well, eh? :biggrin: Anyway, we had cattle for milk and beef, chickens for eggs and fried chicken, and hot and cold running deer and elk on the back porch. Along with a cougar or two. There was always wood to chop, fence to mend, calving to tend to, eggs to gather, butter to churn, but... I never once had to mow the lawn.

Currently, I live in a very small town in rural Oregon, so I have a 1965 Chevy pickup with a 350 C.I. big block engine. I use it for a variety of things, but the most important is towing my 19 foot boat. I vastly prefer older technology to new trucks, and definitely don't want diesel. In a pinch, I could rebuild the engine in my living room, and there's nothing on it that is so technical that I can't fix it beneath a shade tree... or a tent if the weather is bad.

So, let me tell you about showers up there on the ranch... in warmer weather, the shower was outdoors and open air. The source of water was a small elevated tank painted flat black to soak up heat. In cold weather,we'd shower indoors in the bathroom like normal folk, but we'd have to heat the water and pour it into a tank above the shower stall. Since then (in other circumstances, like working Search & Rescue), I've also used five gallon plastic water bags (also black) and just hung them in the sun for a couple of hours. Five gallons goes a lot farther than you might think.

We had a lot of conveniences though. There was a log cabin in the front yard that had been built about 1850, and it made a great spare room. We had a graveyard in one corner of the yard with maybe ten headstones and old wooden crosses. My dad told me once when I was complaining about bucking bales that the graveyard was a great convenience. He said that if he worked me to death, he at least wouldn't have to drag my carcass all the way into town... At the time, I thought he was kidding...

The interesting thing is that we had mail delivery all the way out there to a mailbox that was always full of bullet holes at the end of our driveway. Yet, the little town I live in now, has no street delivery....

Anyway, Elaura, as I see it your problem is that you are neither here nor there. I mean, you don't really live primitive like that ranch I am telling you about, and so you're not prepared to do so. At the same time, you're not really in civilization either so your primitive conditions occasionally gang up on you.
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Jac » Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:05 pm

fable2 wrote:Do you have a number of friends in the area? Do you have ready access to medical assistance, should you need it?

No and yes. There's a rather large hospital not ten minutes from our house and we go to the Army base the next town over (~40 miles) for her non-emergency needs. We get by, but we sure do miss those modern conveniences like running hot water. :blink:
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby fleet » Mon Mar 23, 2015 12:26 pm

I can relate. I spent my growing-up years on an 80 acre farm with a well and septic tank. We had a coal furnace in the basement. When the coal ran out, we went into the woods and cut down trees for firewood. We lived on a dirt road, but we did have electricity (no gas lines on our road). We didn't have a dishwasher, other than my brother and me.
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Elaura » Mon Mar 23, 2015 4:50 pm

Exactly, Neil! We're definitely in a sort of limbo. Having no children, we just don't have the strength to build the things that would make life easier. I mean, how weird is it that we have 4G internet and Dish Network, but no hot water and no heat? We have plenty of wood on our land, but our wood-burning stove hasn't been installed yet and we don't have so much as a firepit built. All we have is a 55 gal drum that is shrinking in height due to rust and we burn our trash in that.

Not having the built-in labor a son would provide, or the skills and knowledge acquired by experience, we're pretty much winging it. We do have some 5 gal water bottles we got in the event our well stopped working temporarily, so we should probably fill them up and put them out in the sun, but building the structure to hold them over our heads is a bit beyond us. Of course, if this situation was permanent, you can bet we'd find a way.

Oh, I have to remember to get some Rid-X down the drain, too. With all the bleach we've been using, we're likely to sterilize our septic tank and that would be bad.

As for friends, fable, Jac and I have been pretty insular. We socialize online, but not in public. We're not church goers and that is really where you meet the kind of people who might actually volunteer their sons to help. The only other places you're likely to meet folks is the Moose Lodge or a bar and, well, we're not lodge or bar-type people.

As for home-grown vittles, I'd love to raise chickens and goats (in lieu of cattle), but if anything happened to either me or Jac, neither of us could care for livestock on our own, even if it was just a temporary illness. The best we can do is a couple of raised beds for gardening. Is there really such a thing as owning too much land?

Fleet, there is a natural gas service out this way, I think, but we'd have to pay to link the main line with our house. Our road is also paved, being one of the roads that link our town with the next one to the south, but it isn't kept up very well. No shoulder and lots of low spots.
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby fable2 » Tue Mar 24, 2015 2:29 am

Elaura, what led you to live in the country, as opposed to suburbs or cities?
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Mr.Shadow1234 » Tue Mar 24, 2015 5:17 am

I lived in a Suburb as a kid.

It looked like a haunted House.

My parents repaired it in, about 1995-1996.

We did not have any sort of amnesties.

No colour TV, no central air conditioning.

We didn't even dream of running hot water. You need hot water? get off your lazy ass and heat it yourself, or have your mother do it for you.

Don't even ask about the Bathroom.

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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Jac » Tue Mar 24, 2015 10:48 am

fable2 wrote:Elaura, what led you to live in the country, as opposed to suburbs or cities?

Her mother bought the house after her first husband died. Well, she bought the house after the house she bought after he died was bought by the city so they could put in an on ramp to the bypass. We bought the house from her because neither of us liked living in a city. Plus it was cheaper than buying another one.
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Re: Rural Life (for the beginner)

Postby Elaura » Tue Mar 24, 2015 2:00 pm

yup. Mom was here when I got divorced and after about a year of trying to "make it on my own" I moved back in with her and my step-dad. When I joined the Army, this was my home of record and I came back when I got out. She was considering a reverse mortgage and after we figured out what she'd get for it, I got a loan and bought it from her instead.

I've never been a city girl and the economy was never at a point where living on my own was financially feasible. Besides, by the time I got out of the Army it was pretty obvious the folks were going to need a caretaker sooner rather than later. Kind of a classic tale of bad marriage, single daughter comes home to take care of the parents, with a few years overseas thrown in for excitement.

It didn't take Jac long to decide to stay here, either. He and his roommates were barely scraping by in Tampa and they were working full time. We never really considered me moving down there. Cost of living is lower here, of course, but since we own the house and land, overhead is lower and while Mom was alive we had enough to cover everything but the repairs. As soon as we get the life insurance money, we'll be fixing up the place so we won't have to do it again in our lifetimes.

We live just outside the city limits of a town that is the county seat, so it's small, but everything we could possibly need is between here and OKC. It's quiet, it's green most of the year, and although it gets damn hot in the summer, the winters are relatively mild. Every now and then I consider the fact less land and less house would be easier to keep, but then I remember what it's like to open your windows and hear your neighbors conversations.

I did try the suburban housewife thing with my first husband, but frankly, with or without him, it wasn't my bag.

So, when we get the money, our priorities are:

  1. make appointments for the dogs at the vet
  2. have the service line to the stove and water heater replaced
  3. pay off all of our credit cards and personal loans (and never use them again)
  4. get the dishwasher fixed
  5. have a metal roof put on the house. We just won't be able to afford another roof and by the time a metal roof wears out, we'll be ready for assisted living
  6. have HVAC installed. It's just time. I'm tired of window units and refilling the propane tank three times a year (when it isn't leaking)

Further renovations, like replacing the rest of the windows, will probably have to be on the save the cash for a couple years, then decide whether to fix something or take a trip basis. Once we have a proper roof and the dust is under control, I think it'll be easier to keep house and keep it comfortable. Maybe we'll be able to squeeze a good tractor-mower into the budget, but, if not, I think hiring a yard man may be in our future.
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