Mail Call: March/April 2012

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Alan Easley, Columbia, Missouri, made a feeder by recycling an old pickup bed liner and a tire.
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Buddy, Karen and the Victorian, also known as Karen’s Carriage.
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Alan Easley’s recycled pickup bed liner and tire feeder works great in the pasture.

My good life  

I have been a subscriber for several years now, and I always look forward to my new copy of GRIT. I have been living a natural life since 1982 when I picked up my first copy of Mother Earth News. I started with quail in a large cage under my apartment window. I had enough fresh eggs to enjoy on weekends — the only time I had to enjoy breakfast. As time passed, I raised a family on a private three-quarter-acre lot in southwestern Ohio. We had a large garden, and I would can up to 300 quarts of produce a season. My husband hunted and fished, and I raised rabbits and chickens. I put in all kinds of fruit trees, and we always had plenty of food.

Here it is years later, and I’m off on a new venture. I now have six acres, and I still garden, can, and raise our own food. However, realizing I would probably not get to retire as one would normally conceptualize retirement (I’m 54 and plan to retire at 62), I have started a new business for supplemental income now and in the future.

I have always dreamed of driving a carriage, and I have owned horses for the last 15 years, so keeping one more equine would be no problem. So, when a neighbor had a runabout cart and harness for sale, I bought them and let everyone know I was looking for a horse to drive. The same neighbor called me two years ago and told me about a horse.

When I went to look at the horse, there was a fellow riding it. Well, I didn’t want a horse to ride, and I had brought long reins with me, so I took the reins off the horse’s bridle, ran my long reins through the stirrups and hooked them to the bit. I drove him around enough to know that he would drive, and away I went with a Haflinger.

The horse, Buddy, had been trained by the Amish, but was afraid of a lot of things – mailboxes, bicycles, manhole covers and street markings to name a few. I drove him with the cart for more than a year, getting him used to a not-so-rural life.

Then my sister, who drove a carriage in a nearby city, called and told me about a Victorian carriage for sale by the company she drove for. The city had changed its requirements, and the company could no longer use a four-passenger vehicle. They required a six-passenger vehicle, which meant they no longer had a use for the Victorian, also known as a Wedding Carriage. I went to look at it, and it was the carriage of my dreams. My dear husband helped me acquire it, and home it went. I drove Buddy and the Victorian all winter and was sure we were up to being a carriage for hire.

I live 12 miles from a small, older river town that was trying to be a tourist haven with small quaint shops — and no horse-drawn carriage. I worked diligently with the committees in that town and finally got permission to start driving in May 2011.

In May, I started driving from noon until 4 p.m. The first day was hot. I got sunburned, and Buddy was not very happy — and we had no fares. The next Saturday was more of the same. I talked to a local shopkeeper, and he suggested moving to evening hours, which I gladly did — 5:30 until 9 p.m. — and my business started to take off.

I had signs and press-and-apply decals made for the carriage. I was now “Karen’s Carriage.” I started getting calls to book special events. Buddy and I did a wedding last September and an anniversary the following month. Then the town I drive in booked me for the two days following Thanksgiving, and the next township over booked me for its special event in December. All that time spent sitting in my Victorian waiting for fares has paid off as, from the beginning, the business paid its own expenses. I haven’t seen any income, but the calls are picking up and bookings are coming in. I have a carriage and will travel. It looks like I will start seeing an income from my venture this year.

If you have a dream, live it. Don’t wait until you’re too old or feeble to follow and act on your dreams. Get started today, and see where your efforts will take you. You may be surprised.

Karen Grosheim
Goshen, Ohio 

Raising rabbits

My letter is in reference to the rabbit article Raising Rabbits for Meat and Breeding Stock in the May/June 2011 issue of GRIT.

Rabbit meat was our only source of meat the last two years of finishing college together, while raising four children. We kept New Zealand White rabbits – three does and a buck – arranging for three litters of kits to arrive each year.

The kits were adorable, of course, but since they all looked exactly alike, we avoided the hazard of naming them. And each of our children already had a pet rabbit, never to be eaten.

All three litters were harvested each year just before weaning, and the meat from the milk-fed bunnies was excellent. As stated in the article, anyone planning to start raising meat rabbits must think ahead and know “who” and how the harvesting is to be done.

By planting worms in the catch area for droppings, we gained compost for our garden and never had fly problems, even though we lived in a city and our rabbits were a backyard project.

Phyllis Chisholm
Tijeras, New Mexico

We love that: being resourceful, providing for yourself, and remaining close to your food – no matter where you live! We are proud and lucky to call the Chisholms and other Mail Call contributors our loyal readers. – Editors

Tasteless tomatoes

I read the article about the tasteless tomatoes (Tomatoland: The Many Problems with Commercial Tomato Production, July/August 2011) and had to share this story.

For the past couple of years, my husband and I have been experimenting with growing tomatoes in raised beds, and it seems the grape tomatoes really like it. They are huge and plentiful.

I took a bag of them to our daughter, who put them in the refrigerator. The next day she decided to fix herself a salad, so she opened the bag of grape tomatoes. She said at first she thought they had gone bad already because they actually smelled like tomatoes. Store-bought ones do not! But, no, the tomatoes were perfectly all right and very tasty indeed.

Another friend tried some of the grape tomatoes I shared with a study group, and she loved them. Now, after the frost and freezes we have had, and no more tomatoes, my friend can’t bring herself to buy the ones in the grocery store because, she says, “They are just not like yours at all!”

My husband and I will definitely be using the raised beds again for growing grape tomatoes. They grow really well and are easy to get at. Thank you for your articles in GRIT. I read every issue from cover to cover.

Marilyn Holt
Joice, Iowa

Cow intelligence

We enjoyed Jerry Schleicher’s article, Farm Animal Intelligence: How Smart Are Your Cows? in the November/December 2011 issue, but we take exception to his analysis of cow “smarts.” Too bad Mr. Schleicher never had a chance to meet Miss Moo, our beloved Hereford, who passed away last year.

Adopted as a starved and pinkeye-infected calf from some city slicker wanna-be cowboys, Miss Moo was raised with horses and dogs, so she never developed a herd mentality. Moo was a local character, about whom our old veterinarian wrote funny articles for a local paper.

When it came to effective learning, Miss Moo had everything she cared about down pat. She would bring you her grain bucket on command, throw a shoulder into electric fences and calmly mow them down, take turns chasing and being chased by the colts, come from a long ways off to the call of “carrots,” and completely charm and manipulate any human being in her realm. She was also an effective watch-cow, guarding her home against intruders. Her best friend was a Cocker-Heeler cross, who often sprawled along Miss Moo’s back for a nap. She is greatly missed by all who knew her.

Ann Allen
Cochise, Arizona

It sounds like Miss Moo was quite a cow, Ann. Jerry’s article was intended to be light-hearted and humorous, not offensive to anyone – human or animal. – Editors

Book of adventures

I just read the “Bona Fide Country Folk” letter in Mail Call: May/June 2011, and I had to chuckle.

I was born and raised in Southern California. I taught school and coached in high school for 34 years. In 2004, my husband and I retired to 78 acres in the state of Washington. We started out with three horses and two dogs. We now have 13 horses, five dogs, six head of cattle, 14 chickens, and a cat that adopted us. I have been writing about my adventures since we got here, and I am in the process of writing a book.

I have learned and blundered through so many things, and I so love what we are doing. This is a whole new life for me. In fact, I recently shared a story with my medical technician and told him I was writing a book about such adventures. After he quit laughing, he said, “You have to write a book. Nobody could make this stuff up.”

Thank you for the magazine and great stories. I do enjoy it a lot, and I learn a lot from it.

Jo Ann Byars
Elk, Washington

Thank you, Jo Ann, for sharing your story. Good luck on your book, and be sure and let us know when it’s finished. It sounds like it will be an adventurous read! – Editors

True and false

I have a comment about an article, Beginners Guide to Canning Food, in your July/August 2011 GRIT.

In the article, under the subheading “All about the acid,” it says, “The natural acidity found in some fruits and vinegar provides an inhospitable environment for botulism-causing microorganisms. Foods without this acidity must be processed at a temperature that cannot be reached in a boiling water bath, and so a pressure canner must be used.”

The first sentence is true, but the second sentence is false.

In the 1940s, no one in rural Alabama ever used a pressure canner, only water baths were used – for everything. Our family canned up to 500 jars of produce each year, and none of us ever got botulism, nor did we ever hear of any of our neighbors getting it.

Jack Dukes
Cullman, Alabama

Thank you for your letter, Jack, and we completely understand your comment. Over the years, USDA guidelines have changed, and now, according to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, pressure canners are the safest way to prevent botulism in canned foods. – Editors

Homemade feeder

I enjoyed reading about the “DIY Cattle Feeder” in GRIT’s Mail Call: July/August 2011. I created a homemade feeder, too, although it’s not as green as the one Steve Roth made.

Instead of native poles, my feeder is made out of a tire and an old pickup bed liner, which makes good use of otherwise worthless materials.

I cut sections out of a discarded rubber pickup bed liner and bolted the sections onto old tires with 4 1/4-inch bolts. They make fast, cheap and portable salt and mineral feeders.

This is just one use I’ve found for the old bed liners. I also place them on the floor in front of the workbench in my shop. It’s a lot easier on your feet than standing on concrete. They also work well on the floor of the stock trailer. They give lots more traction than hay or straw.

If used-car dealerships realized how many uses there are for these old bed liners, they would probably start selling them instead of giving them away.

Alan Easley
Columbia, Missouri

It sounds like you’ve come up with some useful and creative ways to recycle. Good stuff, Alan! – Editors

Share your thoughts

GRIT welcomes letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send a letter (with high-resolution photographs, if available) to GRIT, Mail Call, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609, or email us at