Grit Blogs > News From The Nest In Rural Pennsylvania

Rising Fuel Prices: The Struggle to Stay In Business

 As the price of fuel at the pumps started to go up, our family, like many other families, had to make some adjustments. Initially, we cut down on eating out and thought twice about splurging on anything. As the price of fuel kept going up, it hit my family directly where we make our living.

Saw Sharpening

My parents and I have owned and operated a small sawmill operation for many years. I worked there (most recently as a sawyer) for the past 17-18 years. It isn’t easy work, but it has definitely kept me in shape, and I loved it.

Let me explain a bit how a sawmill works, or rather how our sawmill works. We bought logs from various places, cut them to length (8 feet, 10 feet, 12 feet, etc.), and then sawed them into various products depending on the wood species and its quality. Nice walnut logs were typically sawed into grade lumber (lumber that would go on to be used for furniture). An oak log that was solid, but had a lot of unsightly knots or streaks, might go for a railroad tie.

There was very little waste at our mill. The slabs from the sides of the logs made good firewood; a local dairy farmer, and lots of hobby farmers in the area, used the sawdust as bedding for their animals.

Operating the mill, and the other equipment that goes along with it, uses quite a lot of fuel. From the two large diesel engines that power the mill itself to the log truck and loaders, the price of fuel was a real concern for us. But that was really just the tip of the iceberg. The price we paid for logs went up because it cost more to truck them to us. The prices of all the other things we needed to operate such as banding, saw teeth, files, etc., went up too for the same reason.

Unfortunately, as our costs were rising the slowing economy resulted in a lower demand for our product. It simply wasn’t possible to get the prices we needed; we had no choice but to shut everything down.
  
We went from a two-income family to a one-income family overnight.

In our a very rural area, demand for experienced sawyers is pretty low even in the good years, and there aren’t many job opportunities close enough to make the commute pay. So, we tightened our belts to save money wherever possible. We got rid of the satellite television, committed to put out a large garden, and can or freeze as much of our own food as possible. We also started a small flock of chickens so we can have our own eggs and meat. In the future, we plan to use some of our acreage to grow as much of the feed our animals need as possible.

I know that many people are feeling the same pinch that we are, but some of the greatest ideas come out of need. If anyone out there has some great money-saving tips, I would love to hear them!

In the meantime, I will be gardening, taking care of my chickens and ducks, taking photographs of everything in sight, because I love photography, and doing everything I can to keep our bills down and our spirits high. We have no intention of letting our rural dream slip away.

- Lori Dunn is a freelance photographer specializing in rural subjects and nature. Contact her at chickadeezl@yahoo.com.

cindy murphy
7/30/2008 9:48:02 PM

Hey, look at me - I've got my 'd' back! Thanks, Hank and the IT department. I've been on a motorcycle just a few times, Lori - always as a passenger though, and not very recently. But I remember that feeling of being in the center of things - "experiencing every aspect" of the place you are traveling through, rather than seeing it from inside a vehicle. It's a similar feeling to being out on the beach in the winter; you feel the bite of the wind and icy spray of water, hear the snow crunching beneath your feet, and the deafening roar of the waves. Sure it's warmer watching from inside a car, but it's just a pretty scene, not a sensory experience. Oh, those sure are pretty scooters, Hank. Maybe there is some romance in saving fuel afterall.


hank will_2
7/30/2008 2:50:46 PM

Hey Cindy -- I have made the request to our IT department to fix your user name. Check out this site for some cool Vespa scooters with sidecars on them. I heard that they can go close to 70 mph ... http://www.americanscootercenter.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=49&products_id=1008


lori
7/30/2008 1:00:20 PM

Hank and CinDy, My hubby and I take the bike to run most of our errands, including the grocery store, if we don't need a lot. With the saddlebags we have and a fairly large backpack attached to the sissy bar, it is amazing how much we can take with us. Cindy, if you've never ridden before you should give it a try sometime. Not only is it economical, but I LOVE to ride. You don't get to experience things in a car or truck the same way you do on a bike. When you're in a car you basically see things going by, but on a bike you truly experience every aspect. You feel the warm and cool pockets of air as you ride through them. You feel where the air blows stronger in the valleys and open fields. But, the best part for me is the smells! The smells are not always good smells. It is definitely not pleasant to drive past an animal that has been hit on the road and baking in the sun for awhile. However, there is nothing like the open air smells of fresh cut grass, or a newly mowed hay field, and the smell of multi-floral roses in bloom, or the smell of acorns in fall! I absolutely love it!


cindy murphy
7/30/2008 11:39:04 AM

Hi, Lori and Hank. I really need to get this thing fixed. Who the heck misspells their own name? It seems I left out the 'd' in 'Cindy'. Hi - let me introduce myself; I'm Cindy...with a 'd'. Cool beans, Lori, that you and your husband have been saving gas by riding a motorcycle. Shhhh....don't tell my husband that; saving fuel is his latest argument for wanting a Harley. Interesting to learn that scooter sales are up 70 percent. I'm seeing more and more of them out and about; my friend got one last year...she's now trying to figure out how to attach a side-car for her dog. I'll have to mention the cargo boxes you built, Hank. Maybe her husband can rig her up something; she goes nowhere without her dog. I've wanted a Moped since way-back-when, after driving one down the streets of a small town in Spain. Ah...but that had more to do with the romance of the moment, and nothing at all to do with saving fuel. And unfortunately, work is too far from my home; scooters are not highway material. But I am lucky enough to live in a small enough town that I'm able to complete most errands on foot, or bicycle...or in the winter, on skis. Talk about people thinking you're nuts, Hank - imagine the odd looks I receive sliding up to the doors of the library, movie rental store, or the bakery on cross-country skis!


hank will_2
7/30/2008 9:48:37 AM

Hey Lory and Ciny -- I am one of those guys who would prefer to spend my vacations at home. Kate is more of a traveler and has gotten me to some fairly unlikely places over the years (London, Hong Kong). I am glad to have experienced different cultures and places, but at the end of the day, I would just as soon walk the farm every day, work on some little project, putter in the gardens and smoke a bit of brisket and pork shoulder. When I was in graduate school, which was at the tail end of the first fuel crisis, we grew about 150 pounds of alfalfa sprouts for local groceries and food buying coops. I built cargo boxes for a couple of mopeds we got cheap, and that's how we made deliveries. People thought we were nuts, but we didn't care.


lori
7/29/2008 5:06:39 PM

Hi Ciny. I'm sure there are lots of people feeling the squeeze from the rising cost of fuel. My family usually takes a week vacation every year. That is absolutely out of the question this year. My husband and I have a motorcycle that has been a saving grace for us when it comes to fuel. He can run it back and forth to his work for so much less than he could in his truck. I read that scooter sales are up by 70% this year,and I'm not surprised. People can afford to buy one because of the fuel savings they get. I changed the way I do things at home to save on electricity too. I may to a blog entry on that. In the meantime, thanks for the encouraging comments!


cindy murphy
7/29/2008 11:10:47 AM

Hi, Lori. Thanks for sharing your story of how the cost of fuel has affected your family's livelihood. I stand grumbling at the fuel pump once a week while filling up my car, getting just enough gas to make it to work and back that week. I am disappointed I will probably cancel my trip down to North Carolina this fall to see friends because the cost of gas to make the trip will put too big a dent in my pocketbook; flying is out too - I can't justify with myself the expense for a short "Girls' Weekend" vacation without my family. I see my grocery bill getting higher and higher, while my cart seems less full. These are ways close to home that the cost of fuel has affected me. Small things - very minute in the big picture. As I grumble and complain, I don't often stop to think how some families - families just like mine - have been hard hit. I wonder if other people realize it; I don't think a lot of people take the time to think outside their own world sometimes. People come into the nursery where I work looking to buy fertilizer for their home gardens and lawns, and are shocked to find how much it costs. The price of bag of basic 12-12-12, a petroleum-based product, has doubled in the last year, and I think how the small-scale family farms in this area must be suffering. Do the tourists - the weekend visitors from Chicago - stop to think about things like this when they visit the "quaint little" fruit-stands on the way to their summer homes at the beach? It's just not a part of their lives, living in the city. Thanks again for opening my eyes and making me see outside my own small corner of the world. I can't say I will grumble any less, but I am thankful I have so little - at least for now - to grumble about. Keep your chin up, spirits high, and I'm looking forward to reading any money-saving tips you have to offer along the way. We could all use a little help in that area.