In Praise of Pack Rats

By , March 26, 2010

The man who built our homestead is a master pack rat, a quality that I greatly admire. When he and his family moved away, everything they left behind came with the property—and they left a lot behind. Not a week goes by that we don’t bless them for something; usually, it’s for squirreling away items of value that we find we need.

One evening, a neighbor and I worked together on one of our generators. When he asked if I had a certain tool, I told him I didn’t know. He remarked that it was the kind of tool any homestead should have. In my defense, I said, “I probably do have it, I just can’t lay my hands on it right now. In all likelihood, I have seven of them in the shed.” I try hard not to buy something I need until I’ve made sure there aren’t any here already.

I checked the next day, and I was wrong. I actually have ten of that particular tool, not seven!

The shed is a treasure trove of secondhand items, waiting to be used for their intended purposes, or adapted to new ones. Often, when I go to town in need of something, I recognize it when I see it—I’ve already got some in the shed. Other times, someone will show me the manufactured item I’m looking for, but will then tell me that I could make the same thing for less. Once they show me the needed components, I’ll realize I’ve got them all in the shed. If they explain how they go together, I can go home and make them myself with what I have on hand.

My favorite example of this came when we decided to build a new, cantilevered tower for our wind generator. I needed a 20-foot length of schedule 40 steel pipe to make a tower that accommodates the generator’s mounting sleeve. When I priced this, my jaw dropped, and I decided to think it over. I knew of several lengths of pipe around the homestead that were long enough, but I discovered that they were a smaller diameter than I required. However, in the shed, I found a 3-foot section of schedule 40 in the correct diameter. I quickly discovered that it fit perfectly over one of the other pipes—all I had to do was drill them, slide one over the other, and bolt it into place to have a tower top of the correct diameter. My cost: a couple of bolts to secure it. In addition to the cost savings, I avoided the chore of carrying 20 feet of steel pipe to the homestead.

Part of the pleasure of benefiting from this horde of items is the as-yet unexplored potential. I have an amazing collection of doohickeys, designed for purposes I have yet to discover. Who knows what I could build with what’s on hand?

The mind boggles!

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in the ebook, Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger. The ebook version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

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