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.
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