Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Miscellaneous thoughts that might do someone some good down the road.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

For some reason or other, I woke up this morning thinking about when we first moved here, so long ago. Now I'm having my morning coffee and I want to write those things down so that perhaps some people who are moving to the country will be aware of them.  I wasn't, and through the years these issues reared their heads to trouble the councils of the weary and the unaware.

Wells and Springs

You have to get water from somewhere.  If you are out in the countryside, you aren't going to get it from a county water line.  If some realtor shows you a piece of land with a nice spring on it, then caveat emptor.

Springs and creeks go dry in drought years.  For the first few years we were here my spring was more than adequate. A pipe gravity fed a cistern, then a small pump sent the water to the house.  Then came a drought and the stream dried up.  I had to sink a well, and because it was drought time, the well was 176 feet deep. You get charged by the well drilling company on a "per foot" basis, and on top of that you have to buy the pump, casing, etc.  Nor are wells themselves proof against going dry. If you can afford it, don't have the well drilling company quit when they strike water. An extra 20 feet or so can be good insurance.

You have to have quite a rig for a well to work.  Usually, the well is some distance from the house. A line runs to a big pressure tank , either in the pump house or in your basement. There's a filter on the line, and a pressure gauge.  Out on the pump there's an electric control box that will periodically quit working, usually on a Sunday so the well company can charge you double time if they come out.  If they replace the little box you will pay $100.00 for it, but if you buy one ahead of time and replace the bad one yourself when it quits, the box costs about $22.00 at a hardware store.  Sooner or later your pump will quit. If you live in an area with a lot of lightning, it will be sooner.  A new pump will run you about $1,500.00.  You will have to help fix it, too, because the pump guy won't be able to pull the pipe out of the casing and get at the pump by himself. A submersible well pump looks like a metal water cooled machine gun barrel  and it weighs a lot.

You have to test your well water every year. No big deal, you buy a kit at the hardware store, fill the little bottles, mail them off to the lab in the prepaid envelopes, and they send you back a report.

Be careful where you sink your well.  You don't want to be down slope from or in close proximity to barn yard activities and animals, or your own septic tank drain field.

Just a final word on wells.  Lots of rural counties are now enacting laws that make it illegal to sink a new well. Especially in the West and Southwest, water is getting to be a problem and wells exacerbate that problem.  Before you plunk your money down on a nice piece of land, beware the hidden restrictions, codicils and "rights" that are lurking in the county court house, filed with the plats and the deed. In some places, you don't even own the water rights to the land you are buying.  Don't let that issue crawl out from under a rock to bite you in the derriere.

Access and Easements

Be sure you can get to your property.  This usually isn't a problem if there's a preexisting structure on it. If it is raw land, hold on to your hat!   Here's one way people wind up on the short end of the stick with this. They find just the right site, but there's no road in there. So they buy the land, and they hire a guy with a dozer and dump truck to put a gravel road in for them.  But he goes out there, and sees that the route you have chosen runs between two streams.  If he gets out with his measuring line and comes back shaking his head, you are sunk. In many states, there are laws that preclude any kind of construction within X yards of a stream. That means you can't build a barn, a house, or a road in that area.  If the route that just went up in smoke was the only economical route to your site, you now have a very big problem.

Easements are insidious and they cut both ways.  An easement is a deal where great, great grandpa Joseph told the people who owned the land behind his that they could use his access road to get to their property. It was duly recorded on the deed, and then those people went broke, moved out, and nobody has driven back there in 60 years.  Now, out of the blue, the Screwem Good Petroleum company comes riding up in their big truck and tells you they will be out next week to put in a hard surface road so their fracking trucks can get to the old property site behind yours, which they have just leased from the owners in New York City. You are SOL. You can't stop them. The good folks in their pent house in NYC don't care if you have methane coming out of your water taps or if your stock all dies. The Sheriff will tell you the easement is legal and there's nothing he can do. Finito.

Let's reverse the issue.  You buy a piece of land, but then you find out that the access road route you had planned on won't work, and the only way to get in there now due to topographic features is across your neighbors land. Now, if you can prove it's the only way (at huge cost and expense in survey fees, geologists fees, court fees and legal fees), you can probably force the owners to grant you an easement, since it is illegal to land lock a property in most states. But if you do that, you have just made implacable enemies out of everyone in the county.  Here are these out of town people, who come here with their slick shysters, and force old man Wilson to let them cut across his land.  The Wilsons have owned that land since the 1800's, and here these people come and just walk right over him.  Property rights are important in rural areas, and there's a deeply ingrained anger against laws that override those.  We didn't have zoning laws here until just a few years ago because no one would vote for laws that told a man what to do with his own property. When the state finally forced the county to adopt zoning laws, the long time commissioner who was in power at the time was chosen as the scape goat and swept from office in a landslide. He couldn't have stopped it but someone had to pay.  So, you don't want to get into a situation where you turn the whole community into enemies.  Country people NEVER forget or forgive, remember that.

Don't ever grant an easement, no matter how nice the people asking are. Remember, that nice young couple might eventually sell to the Cult of Cleotis Satanist Brotherhood, and you'll have new neighbors you might not want. Easements are forever. Once recorded, they pass with the title to the land.

Wood, Timber and Clearing Land. A cautionary tale.

I guess I am going to have to do another post because I'm getting worn out.  But this topic I will hit because it's one of the important ones.

If you are moving to a place where the land is heavily wooded, you'll have to clear some forest for your access road, and your building sites. That means making a bargain with a guy who owns a big caterpillar tractor and has a gang of chain saw men and wood burners working for him.  You will have to strike your own bargain based on how hard it is to get to the site, how much you want cleared, etc.  Remember, if you can't get a big tractor in there without building a road that will hold it's weight, you aren't going to be doing much clearing. The fact that you can drive your CJ 5 up there doesn't mean a D4 cat can make the trip over the same trail or road.

What the guy you are bargaining with isn't going to tell you is that he doesn't make his money off clearing. Instead, he makes it off selling the lumber he brings down to a saw mill.  The paper you sign with him, several pages long and filled with fine print, says so.  When I had my land cleared, there were two huge trees that had to be over 100 years old, at least.  They were magnificent and I didn't want to kill them. But the guy doing the clearing fed me a line about how , without other trees around, they would fall over and crush somebody. If I had used common sense I could have looked at how they towered over the forest and realized that was not true. But I was raw, and he clipped me.  He cut down those superb trees and hauled the wood to the sawmill.  I learned years later that just one of those trees brought him ten times what I paid for the work.  Country people are like all people. Some of them are honest, some of them are not, and you need to think carefully about what you are asked to sign.

I'll write some more on this later.


  1. Harry - with the new rush of people getting into prepping/survivalism and whatnot, and wanting to leave the city/suburbs and get some land - these kinds of posts will provide them with much-needed and good information. thank goodness when we started to get closer to my retirement, we were heavily involved in the apn and cpn. we made many good friends there who had made the move previously and they provided us with excellent information, information like your post. i am really looking forward to more posts like this. making mistakes and hindsight - we've all been there/done that. but if someone can learn from the mistakes, they aren't mistakes anymore.

    your friend,

    1. The biggest mistake I made was in how I designed the house. I figure, given the number of new situations I was dealing with, it didn't work out too badly overall. Wish I had read Ragnar Benson's book on moving to rural areas first, though.

      You and J have done yourselves proud up there. You have everything you need and more.

    2. oh Harry - trust me when i say that we have had waaaay more many failures than successes but we are learning and we are trying and we have many people to go to for advice - like you - thank goodness! we made a few good choices but being here in an uninsulated cottage for our first winter - remember we moved here in the winter - duh! and boiling snow to get water - oh man! we have made so many mistakes, but we keep trying. and that is the best that any of us can do.

      teehee. i read a ragnar benson book when i was TD'd in maryland in '92 - he's banned in canada - did you know that? crazy eh? but it was something that i read by him that lead me to kurt saxon. not sure what tho? and if there is anyone that i could ever really thank for sharing so much info about survivalism - it's kurt. if i ever win the lotto - there are a ton of people that i am sending money to. like your kids. but the first person i am sending it to is kurt. yep - he was THAT influential!

      your friend,
      (i love having these chats eh?)

  2. Good post.

    Also, don't sink a well in a fracking area ; t'would be a waste of money...

    1. That's very true. The sad thing is that the oil and gas companies are coming in and fracking where people have lived for a long time. I worked for an oil and gas company for 20 years. It's a very brutal business, run by people who by and large have only one goal and that's to make money. They are so hand and glove with the federal agencies that are supposed to regulate them, that people routinely move back and forth between the oil and gas company and the regulatory agencies in terms of employment. Fracking is really a bad thing but nobody is going to stop it.

  3. Really excellent timely post. Thank you. Best wishes.

    1. +1 to what my friend Jane said.

    2. Seems like a good many people are thinking about moving to the country. They'd all probably make it on their own but it would be nice to help avoid a pitfall.

  4. Some comments about taking money from oil company exploration for oil - THINK HARD ON IT! During the 1970's, my Grandfather was approached by one of them who expressed an interest in sinking some test wells to see if they'd find anything. Iirc, the payment was $30,000, paid over 10 years. Just need to clear a 1 acre plot in several areas (3 in our case). Grandpa considered and took the money.

    Those 1 acre plots are only now recovering from those efforts. I don't know what they sprayed on the land to keep it from growing back, but whatever it was - it worked.

    Others have found oil lease money too good to pass up, but the land sure does take a beating. If you don't care about it and only see $$$, I guess that works for you but many later regret the heavy handed clearing which occurs. Like a 100 foot wide root plowed lane for a 6" wide line (!!!) Money in pocket but you are left with some property that is ugly to see and it takes years to come back (see above).

  5. You're right. If you deal with oil and gas companies, you are shaking hands with the devil. I worked for one for twenty years. I sometimes think we would honestly all be better off going back to horse and buggy days and getting rid of the oil companies. They are a virus gnawing away at our society, and they are run by men who make Genghis Khan look like a philanthropist. Since they are so tight with the government, nothing is going to get done to stop them or control them, though. If you take the money, they own you. If you don't, they'll make sure you wish you had before very long. They can force people to do what they want, because they have the lawyers and the politicians to make sure the "law" is on their side no matter what.