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Farm-steading in the 21st century

   Posted by: trobinson   in Farmsteading, Sustainable living

Homestead view from the top of Timber Butte

Homestead view from the top of Timber Butte

Tri & Nancy first envisioning what their new farm-stead would become

Tri & Nancy first envisioning what their new farm-stead would become

In trying to define our vision for the development of Timber Butte I sometimes refer to what we are attempting as “farm-steading”. We’ve all heard of homesteading in the 1800’s where pioneers were encouraged to move to remote regions of the country and improve a parcel of undeveloped land for the right to own it, but what does it mean to develop a” sustainable farmstead”?

When I was a kid I used to love the old television program, “Wagon Train” staring Ward Bond. Somehow every episode stirred my imagination as I considered the idea of selling everything I owned for the sake of starting a whole new life in a virgin, unspoiled land. It was one of the few television programs that had the ability to make me dream. Families pooled all their resources with one common vision; to build a new home on a bare section of land that could sustain life with a very minimal amount of outside support. Homesteading took serious planning. Everything that went into a covered wagon in Independence, Missouri had to have purpose. Every article chosen for the journey was either taken to provide provision for the long journey or for the development of the new home once they arrived there. Homesteading required deep thought about what were the essentials of life, what did a family truly value, and a mental picture (a vision if you will) of what their new home would one day look like when all had been accomplished. Homesteaders were people who were willing to sacrifice conveniences, who embraced hard manual labor and who cherished the idea of doing it as a family together. I remember the episodes of Wagon Train where pioneer families were forced to make hard choices along the way due to overloaded wagons. The Oregon and California trails were littered with precious furniture, organs, pianos and other family heirlooms, valued, but unessential for the establishment of the potential new homesteads. Plows and other farm equipment as well as tools required for development and sustainability of the new life were never discarded. Not only where pioneers endowed with physical and mental strength, but a deep inner spiritual faith and a knowing that the dreams they had would require a power and strength beyond their own human fortitude.

Building a modern-day farmstead requires many of the characteristics of these early pioneers. It has been my experience that successful attempts at farm steading demands a shared vision within the marriage or family. It requires a deep desire and willingness to break the status quo for the sake of putting everything on the line to work towards a new life of self-sufficiency. Farm steading is not a vocation, but a lifestyle requiring not only planning, but hours of hard work with a commitment to seeing a vision come to reality. It requires the sacrifice of expensive vacations and things like recreational toys, but it also provides the source of great satisfaction, contentment and joy.

My idea of the modern day farmstead is simply this: It is developing a small plot of land for the sake of sustainably supporting one family with a food supply and other basic provisions of life.

It is a place that, once established, should nearly standalone financially with little need for outside support. It is not a place designed to make money like a large cattle or sheep ranch or a commercial farm, but rather one where enough organic food is produced to keep one family fed. A farmstead needs to provide some kind of a small cash crop or other form of sellable commodities to subsidize taxes, fuel costs, provide clothing and the other essential necessities of life.

Our Timber Butte homestead blog is an attempt to share with others who would like to embrace this concept of living. It is an attempt to communicate a lifetime of experience; both the victories and failures we have had as we have slowly but methodically moved towards this ideal.

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Rattlesnake in the berrypatch

Rattlesnake in the berrypatch


Nancy's crisp for lunch

Nancy’s crisp for lunch

The Blackberries were prolific in the garden this year and Nancy has been dreaming of making a Blackberry Crisp. With basket in hand and Jacob her faithful lamb companion by her side she headed for the hedge which separated the duck pen from the garden and started to fill a large basket with beautiful ripe berries.

Being nearly done she thought she might go into the duck pen to see what berries had managed to escape the ducks efforts to clean their side of the fence. That’s when she spotted a rattlesnake that had been only feet from where she and Jacob had been rifling through the vines grabbing berries. The snake, which was good sized for our region of Idaho, had somehow gotten its head stuck in the chicken-wire fence that the berries had been growing on and for some reason neglected to rattle.

Nancy is no stranger to rattlesnakes after so many years of country living but that didn’t stop her from screaming my name at the top of her lungs calling me to run to her rescue. I, being on the back forty at the time, however, failed to hear her plea.

It wasn’t long for Nancy to realize she was on her own and not wanting to take the chance of the old snake getting Jacob, the ducks, or just slithering into her garden foliage to hide, decided that rather than running to the house for a shotgun would instead behead the poor old guy with a nearby shovel.  This she did and later said with composure and confidence, “It was an easy kill.”

“Holy cow”, I thought, “what a woman”.

Anyway, the snake was soon eliminated from the garden and delicious Blackberry Crips was served for lunch in only a matter of hours. “Holy cow”, I thought again, “What a woman”.

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"The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston" books cover

“The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston” books cover

In 1973 I was a young teacher at Park View Jr. High School in Lancaster, California. While teaching a class that combined American Literature and US History I told my students a story about the legendary figure who most of the world knows as Jeremiah Johnson. His real name was John Johnston, but because of the legend that he had eaten the liver of a Crow Indian, he became known throughout the west as Liver-eating Johnston. He was a trapper, hunter, scout to General Miles Nelson, and a famous Indian fighter in the Big Sky Country of Wyoming and Montana. Even though it was Johnston’s stated wish to be buried in the mountain country he had roamed, after a lingering illness and his subsequent death in California, he was interred in Sawtelle Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles. His final resting place was not more than a hundred yards from the San Diego Freeway.

As I ended the story, the twenty-four students in my class became outraged at what they perceived as a grave injustice that they felt strongly should be righted. That righteous sense of indignation and determination prompted the forming of “The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston” and the commitment to move Johnston’s bones back to Big Sky Country of Montana or Wyoming.

Although the class was victorious in the end, it was not an easily won victory – and actually wouldn’t have come about but for a series of unexpected events that were nothing short of miracles. For example, who could have guessed the timing for the movie Jeremiah Johnson to come to our small town not long after the students had formed their committee? Who could have thought that men like Roy Neil (NBC news correspondent for the lunar landing and Apollo 13) or Robert Redford would endorse a bunch of twelve year old kids doing something so outlandish? Who could have imagined that Montana and Wyoming would end up fighting over Johnston’s remains, even to the point of taking legal action against each other and involving their senators and congressmen in the battle? And, who could have ever thought that reburying a man who had been dead for seventy-five years would attract the biggest crowd ever to attend a funeral in the history of the state of Wyoming?

origianl class resizeAlthough the story is humorous at times, it also presents a valuable message concerning the tenacity and strength to overcome disabilities and life obstacles. It delivers a very moving illustration of how empowering words can impact a life, as well as the vital need for innovative and kinetic education in a world of standardization. 

The Committee for the Reburial of Liver-eating Johnston – Memoirs of a Dyslexic Teacher” is an easy book to read, but not one to be easily forgotten. To order go to .

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Timber Butte Garden after the pre-work is done

Timber Butte Garden after the pre-work is done

Timber Butte has had a blessed early spring with record breaking rainfalls in March and April. The creeks are running and the hills look more like Ireland than southwestern Idaho.  The horse trough has been ice free for weeks now and the trees are greener by the day as they begin to leaf out. Spring has sprung and with it comes the motivation to prepare the orchard, garden and vineyard for another season of productive growth.

I’ve learned from years of experience that preparation is everything when it comes to produce. The more I invest up front the easier the day to day maintenance through the growing season becomes.  Building elk proof fences, raised beds, installing efficient irrigation system (even with timers), and building composting mounds take forethought, financial investment and time consuming work, but the pay offs are more than worth it.  

In the Garden  


Jacob, the bummer lamb helps Nancy seed the onion bed

Jacob, the bummer lamb helps Nancy seed the onion bed

In the garden Nancy and I try to make improvements to the infrastructure every year. For example, in past years we had worked to enrich our soil by developing a system of taking the manure from the barn, the chicken coop and the duck pen and piling it into two different piles. One that comes straight from the animal pens and another that is aged for over a year. In this pile I add grass clippings, moldy hay, wood chip bedding and sawdust from the shop. Several times during the year I turn the pile with my tractor bucket until it becomes fully enriched soil. Another year we invested in the cedar planks to build raised beds so we could control the soil, and another year I spent many days drilling holes in hundreds of feet of PVC pipe to build a Mittleider system of irrigation (See entry #208 under Agriculture category).


Tri uses his homemade seeder to seed the onion bed

Tri uses his homemade seeder to seed the onion bed

This year I replaced half of my raised bed soil with fresh compost; a task that took several days of shoveling, but when we planted our early rows of potatoes, onions, beans and peas it was rewarding to be able to work the soil with my hands. I used my home-make seed planter (See entry #198 under Agriculture category) to set the seed holes at exact depths and spacing. This was one more of those tools I invested a little extra time in to make the job like seeding not only quicker, but better.

The Vineyard and Orchard

I include the orchard and the vineyard into one category here because they are enclosed within the same fenced area and have similar needs. Because we grow organic produce we avoid using pesticides or weed killing chemicals. This requires extra work up front. Most commercial vineyards use Roundup between the vine stalks to keep weeds from taking over. Cutting or hoeing weeds in a large vineyard or orchard is not only time consuming backbreaking work, but dangerous for the plants. It is very easy to lose concentration while doing such a mundane task and de-bark a tree or vine with the string of a weed-eater; I know because I’ve done it more than once. Therefore I take the time to cover the rows with flacks of old hay or straw which not only stops the weeds from growing, but holds moisture in the ground.  This saves water and enables it to irrigate the deep roots.  I do the same with the fruit trees.


The vineyard - prepared for spring growth

The vineyard – prepared for spring growth

The vineyard and orchard required as much, if not more, preliminary infrastructure as the vegetable garden. Like the garden it had to be fenced to keep both deer and elk at bay (See entry #214 -115 under Agriculture category). Irrigation and trellis systems took hours of time consuming work to compete, but in the end the Falls harvests have been abundant.

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Nancy's new lambing shed

Nancy’s new lambing shed

Here on the ranch certain animals seem to become more Nancy’s concern than mine. I consider everything on the farm that’s small and cute hers and often find myself making references like, “those are Nancy’s baby lambs or Nancy’s baby ducklings”. Anyway, anything small, cute and cuddly get special preference on the homestead and lately it’s been the new baby lambs.

We raise Barbados Black-belly lambs for several reasons; first, they are considered the best meat lamb, second, they are the easiest to take care of (they shed their wool and don’t require shearing), and third, they were the cheapest lambs on Craig’s list when we were in the market for sheep. They don’t look like normal wooly lambs, but a lot like they’re related to Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep.  



The rams have full curl horns when they grow to maturity and they act a lot like wild deer. The fences here on the ranch have to be in perfect repair and quite a bit taller than a normal sheep fence (about six feet high). These sheep are very athletic and can really jump. But, saying all that, the new baby lambs are very cute and a whole lot of fun to watch when they start playing with their little lamb buddies.

A few months ago Nancy decided the pregnant ewes needed a better shelter to birth and care for their new babies and as a result commissioned me to build a new lambing shed. After a lot of consideration we decided the best place to construct such a structure was right in front of the house. This would make it easy for us to keep our eyes on things, but also would make it the first structure folks would see as they drove up the front drive into the yard.

Nancy and her new addition

Nancy and her new addition

 For this reason we felt the design had to be in keeping with the other homestead structures and not a typical shanty looking shed.   After a bit of planning I decided to build the new building out of log slabs and rap it with natural granite rock to keep the snow off the bottom four feet in winter. We are very satisfied with the way it came out and thought we’d share the design.

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New Arrivals at Timber Butte #219

   Posted by: trobinson   in Country living reflections, Livestock

Max the Cat makes a new friend

Max the cat makes a new friend

We woke up this morning to two new twin lambs but one had his umbilical cord wrapped around his hind legs and was lying limp in the straw. We thought he was dead until we saw his tiny chest moving. Nancy picked him up and carried him to the house where she warmed and revived him by the fire with the help of Max the cat. We are attempting to reintroduce him to his mother but  it’s beginning to look as if Max will be adopting another new friend.

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Elk on the Butte this morning

   Posted by: trobinson   in Country living reflections, Environment

The last week of rain has been a welcome blessing after such a long, cold, dry winter here at the base of Timber Butte. Everything warmed up a bit and the rain melted the frozen snow off the south slope of the butte. Every evening the elk and deer had been poking out of the timber near the summit in small groups looking for a little exposed grass. But this morning they showed up in a great massive herd from one end of the slope to the other now that the snow has melted away and feed is in abundance.  I stopped counting after a hundred realizing there where so many. They covered the butte from bottom to top and from one side to the other.  

Elk on the Butte

Elk on the Butte

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When it was all said and done - I felt a sense of satisfaction

When it was all said and done – I felt a sense of satisfaction

My last three entries on the subject of constructing concrete fence posts has attempted to answer the question of why building your own concrete posts is a good idea.  I had walked interested folks through the how to’s of constructing posts that will last forever, and  gave pointers on building both braced corner posts and gate entree posts. Actually, there is not much left to say with the exception of some general thoughts concerning the fence line insolation process.  So here are a few closing pointers for folks who might even consider such a work intensive undertaking.

First, I would suggest placing your post at ten foot intervals. Because concrete posts have both strength and substance, I believe that  foot spacing is very adequate for a mess wire type fence. My great-grandfathers posts, as I mentioned in my first entry, (see entry #215) were spaced at fifteen foot intervals with spacer wires in-between. He was using them for a four strand barbwire fence.

Second, Concrete posts are very heavy. I never weighed one, but they must weigh at least a 100 to 150 pounds apiece. Thus, if you bury them two feet deep there is a lot of weight above the ground. That means that they need to be set ether in really solid soil or in a concrete post mix. I did both. I set all corner posts along with their bracing in concrete mix plus several line posts if the run was more than fifty feet between corners.

The third thing was setting my posts not only in a straight line by using a long snap line, but making sure they were perfectly straight up and down by using a long level.  Because concrete posts are so visible due to their size, if one is out of line it sticks out like a sore thumb. Many times I was tempted to say “good enough” to a post that was off an inch, but later was glad when I went the extra mile to re-dig a hole or reset a post when I didn’t really feel like it.

Once the posts were set in place, stretching the wire mess went pretty easy with strong corners to stretch to and plenty of wire eyes to hook the wire too. After all was said and done after a long summer of hard work I sat back feeling a deep sense of satisfaction for what I considered a job well done.

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Wooden gates on concrete posts and header

Wooden gates on concrete posts and header

Now that we have discussed how to prepare and pour a normal in-line concrete post I want to share some additional thoughts concerning specialty post such as corner posts, hinged gate post s and header rails. You might recall that in my second entry on the subject of concrete post construction I mentioned how my great grandfather had the forethought to place a bolt in his posts while pouring them in order to attach pipe bracing when installing his fence line. I thought that was a great idea and did the same. In fact I sometimes put two or three bolts in posts that would require extra steel support bracing. Again, I was trying to keep my costs minimal and so I opted to use six foot steel fence posts as my bracing material rather than expensive galvanized pipe which would have had to be an inch diameter to work effectively.  (Hopefully the images will better explain how this all looked and worked.) In the end I was very satisfied how well it all functioned when I eventually put the corner posts to the test by stretching the mess wire under some serious tension.


Steel post braces

Steel post braces

My next challenge was to improvise a means of hanging gates. My great grandfather had used normal wire to stretch gates but because this particular fencing project was in my front yard I wanted something a little more aesthetically looking. I not only wanted to build wooden gates, but I decided to include a concrete header beam as well. I hadn’t seen either of these things done before, but because I was so into what I was doing I decided to give it a try.  I forgot to mention that I used heavier rebar on my corner posts than I had in my normal inline posts as I did on my gate posts. In order to swing my gate off of the concrete post I had to attach hinges onto the concrete while I was pouring them. I did this using heavy galvanized lag screws about three inches long. While my cement was still wet I wiggled them in and gently tapped the cement around them with a small stick. That process turned out to be effective and simple. Constructing and installing the header on the other hand took some special thought. I used the same forms to pour the header but blocked them off at the exact length I wanted my gate posts to be spaced.  I put an extra length of rebar in them and wired a

Bolts and hinges were set into the concrete while it was still wet

Bolts and hinges were set into the concrete while it was still wet

foundation bolt to the rebar in such a way that they could stick out of the header 4½ inches on each end. In this way they would be exactly long enough to reach through the gate post and take a large washer and nut. In order for them to go through the gate post I placed a steel tube through the top of those when I poured them. (Again, a picture can illustrate this better than I can describe it.)   To my amazement everything came together  and the gates I later built swung perfectly.

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I learned by trial and error (mainly error), was how rich to mix my cement

I learned by trial and error (mainly error) how rich to mix my cement so the posts wouldn’t crack

In my previous blog I had explained my motives for spending the better part of my free time this past summer constructing concrete fence posts. I shared how we had needed to protect our orchard and vineyard from meandering deer and elk, and how I had become motivated to build posts that would outlast me. Having said that, I’d like to share in my next few blog entries on the construction process itself and what I learned from the experience.  

As I explained, I’d been around concrete post construction all my life having been raised ( most weekends and vacations )on our old family ranch where my grandfather and great-grandfather had fenced the entire place with homemade posts. The problem was, like so my things in life, I took all those old posts for granted. What I mean is, because they had been there all my life I had never given much thought as to how they had been constructed or how much work that construction must have taken, especially in days when cement was mixed by hand and sand and gravel was shoveled out of dry creek beds. There were a few things however that I did notice.  I had been aware that corner posts had been braced with large steel pipes (2” diam.) which had been attached to bolts that had been preplaced in the concrete at the time the posts had been made. I had also noticed that each post had small tubes running clear through the cement at one foot intervals allowing bailing wire to run through them in order to connect the fencing wire; both barbwire and mess-wire. I also noted that they had been poured in forms that created four inch by four inch posts. (In those days a 2 X 4 was really two inches by four inches unlike today’s smaller dimensioned lumber.)


I spent the better part of a morning building four wooden forms that would be used over and over

I spent the better part of a morning building four wooden forms that would be used over and over until all my posts were ready to use

As I prepared to start my project I spent the better part of a morning building four wooden forms that would be used over and over. I used long deck screws to attach the form lumber knowing that they would take quite a beating after an entire summer of service.  I also created wooden removable top caps that would form a rounded end at the top of each post. I had noticed, as I mentioned in my previous blog, that in Spain many of the posts had rounded tops which gave them a bit of character. I then cut sticks of rebar steal into long lengths so they could later be set into the wet concrete at the time the post were poured. Having thought through the project in advance I chose not to run small tubes through my posts as my grandfather had done so many years before. I remembered noticing broken posts on the old ranch which had been broken at the very spot where those tubes ran through the concrete. Because the thought occurred to me that maybe they had weakened the posts, I decided I might try something different. Here is what I did.  I purchased 4 X 8 sheets of concrete

Setting rebar and eyed foundation wire into wet cement

Setting rebar and eyed foundation wire into wet cement

mesh; the kind you might use to reinforce a small slab or sidewalk. Using bolt cutters I cut them so that I had one long eight foot strand of steal wire with shorter six inch lengths extending from it at six inch intervals. I then bent the short six inch extensions into loops. It was my plan to place the eight foot length into the cement alongside the rebar with the heavy wire loops slightly sticking out of the cement.  (See picture.) After the posts were installed this would give me places to adhere the fencing wire later. One other innovation I made was to cut ½ inch PVC tubing into eight inch lengths in preparation to set them (again when the cement was being poured) into the very top of each post. My thinking was that if I desired to make my fence another foot or two higher to discourage ambitious athletic deer I could later slide a short piece of rebar into the PVC tube that would have already been in place to provide a hole in the center top of the post. This was all that would be needed to construct the common posts, but the supporting corner posts and gate posts would need a few additional considerations. I’ll speak to this in a later blog.


The finished posts made it easy to stretch and attach the mess wire

The finished posts made it easy to stretch and attach the fencing wire

One thing I learned by trial and error (mainly error), was how rich to mix my cement and how long it needed to let my wet posts cure in their forms before removing them. One thing I forgot to mention was that I decided to give my posts a slight bit of adobe color. I did this with a dark brown / red concrete die. I was trying to keep my posts under ten dollars each to prove that I could construct them at lesser cost than treated six inch farm posts. For that reason I almost chose against the die, but when all was said and done I managed to construct each post for a little over eight dollars (not considering labor) and was very pleased to have a little tint to the color. At first I mixed my concrete a little richer than necessary (four to one) and not only used more cement than needed, but weakened the posts. I also learned that a little wetter mix than I might use for masonry work made for a better outcome.

 After a few trial and errors I used a five to one mix and found that the curing posts had less tendency to crack and later break. I also discovered that I needed to be picky about the sand and gravel mix I used. Because the posts are narrow it is crucial to use good clean sand. Also, I discovered that it was best to let the posts cure in their forms not moving them for at least forty-eight hours even in the hot summer sun. When I first started I had dropped them out of the forms at about twenty-four hours not realizing that it took longer for the concrete to cure in the bottom of the forms than on top where I could visibly observe the dryness.

Practice makes perfect and as time went by I became more proficient. It took me about one hour to mix and pour four posts at a time if all the needed materials were present and everything was cut and ready to go.

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Concrete fence posts protecting our vineyard

Concrete fence posts protecting our vineyard at Timber Butte

This past summer I decided to build concrete fence posts tall enough to keep deer and elk out of our orchard and vineyard. Last year in just one night they did havoc; stripping fruit ready for the picking and breaking down our vineyards trellis posts and wire. Nancy and I had already decided to invest in a protective fence but hadn’t decided what materials we would use. The kind of fence we needed would not be cheap to build or without serious sweat equity. In the end I decided to form my own concrete posts for reasons I feel important to explain.  It took me most of the summer to pour them, set them in hard sun backed ground and finally, stretch mesh wiring on them. It was a work intensive undertaking no question, but I did it and now see it as being more than a fence but as a testimony of wanting to build something that would last for future generations. In the next few blog entries I will share the particulars of the project itself and what I learned in the process of construction, but before I do I need to explain the motives that inspired us to start the undertaking in the first place. 


Fence posts made by my great-grandfather surrounded the old family ranch

Fence posts made by my great-grandfather surrounded the old family ranch

In May of this year Nancy and I traveled to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail of St. James.  [See our journal entries and pictorial record of the Camino walk at:] One of the things that struck me while passing through so many old villages and farmlands in that beautiful country were all the structures we encountered that had been built with a mentality of permanency. Farmhouses, barns and animal shelters, walls and fences, inns and churches were built out of rock and mortar in such a caring and thoughtful way that they have stood up against the test of time. Many had clearly been functional for literally hundreds of years. We were struck by the attitudes of those early builders who had not only used what was natural, available and, for the most part, free for the taking, but by the sense of pride and beauty their structures displayed. After days of walking through farms and villages I began to question my own motives for much of what I had built in my life on Timber Butte Homestead and on the previous places Nancy and I had built up. I reflected back on an old statement I remembered saying while purchasing some treated wooden fence posts for some project I had been doing. The words echoed in my mind; “these posts only need to last for twenty years”, thinking because I was in my 60’s I would be too old to care if they rotted and fell down after I was gone.  My old idea of “building to last” was now feeling short sighted realizing that it meant things only had to last for me. I hadn’t considered I might leave something of substance behind for others to use and enjoy after I had long left this earth. I had fallen into the mindset of so many of my generation who had become satisfied with what was quick, inexpensive and temporary. I remembered something my great-grandfather and grandfather had done many years before I was born, clear back in the 1920’s and 30’s when they had established our old family ranch on Mt. Liebre. They too had built homemade wooden forms and poured hundreds of concrete fence posts to fence about 500 acres of land.  To this day I don’t know where they got the idea to take on such a project, especially considering that in those days concrete had to be mixed by hand, but they did it and their fence line is still functional to this day, standing as a monument to their tenacity and long range vision. It was because of this that I decided to build my own wooden forms and begin constructing my own concrete posts. It was a project that required some innovative thinking and experimentation; some successes and failures worth passing on to whoever might desire to give it a try. This will be the focus of my coming blogs.

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Nancy was weeding in the vineyard

Nancy was weeding in the vineyard

What a difference a little time can make in the development of any small farmstead; both for good or for bad.  Sometimes I feel like I am just spinning my wheels or running chest deep in molasses as I labor to build up the Timber Butte Homestead project but then I look back at where things were only a few years ago and I’m amazed at the progress and growth here. It’s true, we have worked had to do our part building with sweat and even sometimes a bit of blood, but the things that really show the most difference are the things human hands could never do.  I can’t help reflect on the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians where he reminded the people of God’s miraculous work in their life when he said, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow”. For me it is a humble reminder that all of my hard work and effort to do any good thing in my life is totally and completely dependent on God’s miraculous intervention.

The other day I caught Nancy weeding on a rock terrace that had been planted with grapes three years ago. It was our first crack at planting grapes and although we had high expectations we knew little of what it meant to be vintners. After a short crash coarse from the nursery owner in Central Washington [See blog entry #160 – April 12, 2010] we did the best we could with the little information we had. In a way you might say Nancy planted and I watered, but only God could have made it grow; and he really did. The fact that our vines are now loaded down with heavy clusters of Cabernet Franc grapes to me is nothing short of a miracle; a miracle that could only be realized over the course of time.

Everywhere I look as I walk around our small homestead I see the same story over and over. I remember the hours of hard work, the seasons of dreaming of what could be, but in the end it was the faithfulness of God to make our human efforts into something of substance and beauty.   

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Meanwhile back on the ranch

Meanwhile back on the ranch

I realize it’s been awhile since we’ve been contributing to the Timber Butte Homestead journal and especially for those of you who have been so faithful to constantly visit it, we apologize for such a long season of silence. Our silence has not been caused by a loss of motivation or because our lives have been dormant. On the contrary, this past year has been so full that time and priorities have kept Nancy and I focusing on getting through a most major transition of our lives.  Our job descriptions as you may remember from reading our last blog entry recorded last winter, changed from being the lead pastors of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Boise, Idaho last November to becoming the founders and directors of a ministry called “i-61”. I-61 (named after a passage found in Isaiah 61) is a ministry of compassion, justice and mercy among the extreme poor of the world. For greater explanation please have a look at . Among many other things this new ministry venture has required us to establish a full time staffed training base in Nicaragua, an extreme poor country in Central America. Establishing a base in a country like Nicaragua has required a tremendous amount of time and energy as we have renovated a large home in the city of Managua. The house is now called the “Isaiah House” and its four member staff has been receiving teams of willing people from across the United States for the purpose of equipping them to address seven world crises issues. Again, this is a subject for later, but for now only to say that is has required much of our time, passion, thought and energy.

AA Blog Shop door resizeIn addition to this new undertaking we had been given the amazing opportunity to travel to Spain in the month of May for the purpose of walking the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage Trail of St. James through the Galatian Mountains and on into the city of Santiago. This adventure and the provision to do it was a retirement gift given to us by our church family. To have a look at this really wonderful adventure you can look at my journal blog on .

In the midst of it all, Timber Butte Homestead has carried on and has in fact continued to develop into the sustainable farmstead we had originally envisioned it to be. We hope that you will once again visit and revisit the Timber Butte homestead blog site to catch up on the activities here for ideas and the inspiration to pursue a smaller foot print for the purpose of making a larger handprint on the world.  

Passing on a healthy Vineyard

Having served as the founding pastors of Vineyard Christian Fellowship Boise for the past twenty three years has given Nancy and I a rich sense of reward. As we now let go of our Senior pastoral roles to enter yet a new phase and season of ministry we can’t help but look back at all the Lord has done with deep gratitude and thanksgiving. We give thanks first to the merciful hand of the Lord and also to all the wonderful people who had dedicated so much of their lives to see a vision to build a vibrant life giving church come to pass. It was always our intention to build a fruit bearing church that could one day be handed off to the next generation. It was our dream from the beginning that all the many years of laboring in that Vineyard; the plowing, seeding, weeding, pruning and watering would end in harvest. It was our dream that the Vineyard would grow to maturity and eventually bear an abundance of fruit. That it would be a Vineyard where the next generation could not only enjoy the fruits of our labors, but take it yet to a greater level of fruitfulness.

To view the last two transition Sundays at Vineyard Boise; please
click here

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My dad with the 51 Dodge on the old ranch

Nancy and I were married in 1970 after graduating from the College of Idaho. We remained in Idaho for our first year of marriage before moving the first load of our modest household to my family’s old homestead in the mountains of Southern California. It was then that we purchased our first bona fide pickup; a 1951 half-ton Dodge with a flathead six engine. One of our first really memorable adventures as a young married couple was driving our newly acquired pickup back to Idaho. It was a journey of eight hundred miles across the deserts of Eastern California, Nevada and Oregon. We took it for the purpose of gathering the remainder of our meager belongings and transporting them back to our small rural cabin in California. Top speed on the old Dodge was forty-five MPH and as I recall, the trip took three days each direction traveling in temperatures that exceeded one-hundred degrees.

Daughter Kate helps load the truck - 1970's

The Dodge served all of us well for many years on the ranch. My dad and I used it for many years hauling firewood to keep us warm in the winter, carrying rocks and sand for construction, and transporting animals such as pigs, sheep, calves, our kid’s pet ponies, and once even a pair of full grown donkeys. In addition to a ranch truck I used the old truck for many years as a commuting vehicle between our home in the mountains and my work in town; a journey that took me an hour each way.

When we moved off of the California ranch and returned to Idaho some twenty years later the old Dodge was left behind, worn out and forgotten after having serviced our family for nearly twenty years. Leaving the ranch the old truck was parked and abandoned in what could have been its final resting place among the sage brush had it not been for Brook our son. After being settled in Boise for several years Brook had turned fifteen years old and started dreaming about reclaiming the old Dodge and using it as his first vehicle. With a lot of persuasion he eventually convinced me to return to

Brook drove the old Dodge through high school years

California to retrieve the 51’ Dodge with the intention of restoring it. He had visions of driving it through his high school years.  With the help of a friend who volunteered to transport it back to Idaho on a trailer, we once again headed back to the family homestead.  I’ll never forget seeing that lonely looking old pickup after so many years of abandonment sitting in the sagebrush with flattened tires and a cab and engine compartment filled with mouse and rat nests. It really was a sad sight for a truck that had served our family so well for so many years.  We checked the fluids and added what was necessary, aired the tires, cleaned out the nests and with the help of another truck pulled it to the driveway and started it rolling on down the mountain. After gaining some speed I popped the clutch and to all of our surprise the engine kicked and sputtered, belched a cloud of black smoke and in a matter of a few minutes took off running down the old county road.

Back in Idaho it took Brook and I nearly a year of work to complete our restoration project in order to make the old ranch truck road worthy once again.  For the next couple of years Brook drove it every day to school and took it on many adventures until he eventually graduated and headed off to the University of Alaska. Once again the old truck became forgotten, and  retired to a field at the back of our Idaho property. We moved several times after that, each time airing up the Dodge’s tires just enough to load it onto a trailer and transport it to its next out of the way spot; that is until the summer of 2012.

Hope and her grandpa pull the truck out of storage

Hope is our thirteen year old granddaughter. For years she had been hearing the legendary stories of the life and times of the old 51 Dodge as if it had been a part of the family. She heard it from her mother and her uncle who had both grown up with the pickup. She had heard of how it had served our family on the original homestead as well as of her uncle’s excursions during his teen years. And so it was; Hope announced to us all her desire and intention to restore the famous old truck to serve her as well though her teen years. She commissioned me, her grandfather, to begin the next restoration project as soon as possible so that it might be completed before her sixteenth birthday. What could I say?  So this is where my story now stands or maybe I should say, begins once again.

This past summer, Hope, Nancy and I cleaned out the mouse and rat nests, replaced the rotted tires and towed the truck to the workshop next to the barn. After power washing the engine and I might say the inside of the cab as

Hearing the old engine run again reminded me how this old truck had faithfully serving family for four generations - Brook & Kate late 70's

well, we replaced the six volt battery, poured five gallons of gas in the dry fuel tank, changed the oil, cleaned out the oil bath air filter and primed the carburetor. We were just about ready to see if the engine would turn over when Brook and his wife Andrea pulled up the lane. Now, the entire family was present, Brook and Andrea, Kate our daughter, Nancy and I and of course Hope (who is the fourth generation of the family to use the truck) gathered once again around that old Dodge truck to see if it had one more season left. I rapidly pumped the gas pedal, pulled the chock out as far as it would go and pressed the large silver starter button on the dash. The engine slowly cranked over complaining and protesting for several rotations of the tired old pistons until, to all of our amazement and joy, it kicked over and started to run. It spewed black smoke blowing out the cobwebs of neglect as it had done so many years before, but soon it began to smooth out with the familiar old sounds of a sixty year old pickup truck stirring our memories of past adventures and giving promise of things that yet could come.

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