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