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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Heavy Equipment

The basement of my wife’s church had been hand dug after the church was built. It was quite the undertaking in New Hampshire’s flinty soils. The men of the church got together and built the basement over the course of a summer. It wasn’t really all that long ago, as there are still living members who worked on the job.

A single operator of a piece of heavy equipment can dig a basement in a day or two. A few gallons of diesel fuel can replace weeks of back breaking labor. The equipment is a lot more expensive than picks and shovels, but it can dig an awful lot of basements before wearing out.

We’ve gotten used to our petroleum burning slaves. Few people today would do that kind of labor. No one would hire a crew with shovels to dig a basement. Even at minimum wage, it would be more expensive than the guy with the machine.

Fuel would have to get a lot more expensive than it is before human labor would make sense. However, what if there was no fuel? What if the country was cut off from oil imports? Fuel would be rationed for the most important uses. Digging your basement probably wouldn’t make the cut.

The men who dug the church basement knew it would strengthen the community. There would be a place for community meals and celebrations. Back in the day, a church was often the center of a small town. That hand dug basement still serves it’s purpose as a community meeting place, but now it’s welcome has been extended beyond church members.

Some projects are worth doing, even if you have no choice but to do them the hard way. Those were busy hard working men, mostly farmers. Hard physical labor was their day to day life, yet they volunteered for more hard labor.

My guess is that if petroleum was cut off, it would be a long time before similar labor intensive projects were attempted. It would take a while for our cubical raised work force to develop the muscles and callouses necessary to do the job. Of course, most of those cubical jobs would go away without cheap abundant petroleum, so they’d have to get used to a lot of physical things.

I’d like to think that we would rise to the challenge and pitch in for projects greater than our own personal needs -projects that help bind the community together.



  1. Today we no longer have community we have home owner assosations.You know a sub division with 500 homes and 500 people wanting to run things. cubicals i think were invented to prevent workers from working togeather.People may rise and work together but im afraid it will only happen after they have fallen so low they cant see out of the hole with out help.If people could work together our goverment wouldnt be in the shape it is.

  2. the last big "handbuilt" was the brocklyn bridge

    and myselt dug pits and trenches by shovel, pick, and buckets remember just how intensive the work was...

    nowadays try hirring anybody to handdig a simple pit is impossible to find


  3. I expect that part of the problem these days would be finding people who believed that it is even possible to raise a building and dig the basement by hand.

    The generation who could build a house without power tools (because there was no power) is gone now.

    And I am not sure that we could find a volunteer foreman who was willingly to direct his neighbours.

    These skills will be re-developed, of course, but it will be a challenge.

  4. I know two groups that wouldn't have a problem....the Amish and those who live in the back hills of Appalachia.

  5. Funny, I was just thinking today as I was out on the boat at work; how many "fishermen" would be out here if they had to sail? If they had to haul nets by hand, or human powered winch versus power machinery? Does the knowledge even exist to do this successfully today? I covered a lot of water in search of some speckled trout broodstock today (in unfamiliar territory) thanks to a 150 HP outboard. If I had to cover the same amount of water by sail, it would have taken two days. The shrimp boats I saw wouldn't even function as they do, dragging trawls behind them. And their crews would have to be four times as large at least, to operate a sailing vessel and human powered nets. Their productivity would drop immensely without petroleum. As would the earth's population...

  6. Disturbing to see how dependent we are on our petro slaves.