Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused

Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.

I am aware, in a way few people are, of an historical change. An age died in America, with some very few small pockets left, in about 1957-1960. This age started thousands of years ago in Europe and came to America with the first immigrants, although I suspect the Native Peoples practiced it.

I call it the Age of Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused

It was an age by necessity of self-sufficiency. Time Team, a British archaeology show I enjoy, often discovered how even the Romans would reuse, as did the stone age and iron age peoples. The age died slowly. In the early and mid 19th Century people recognized it was passing. Thoreau and Emerson commented on its dying. Thoreau’s Walden experiment was to some extent about self-sufficiency. His cabin was built of reused materials. I think the experimental communities of that era that interest Bill were strong on self-sufficiency in reaction to this change.

In much of rural America the age was still very much alive through the depression and the two post-war eras. I lived it as a child beside my parents and our neighbors. We lived reduced lives, reduced in the material sense. Ready cash was rare. Toys were few and often handmade. It is the reuse and re-reuse part that strikes me now.

I showed you awhile back me wearing a hand-me-down coat from my sister. In most of the pictures of me before the age of about 12 I am wearing baggy clothing cut down as best my mother could from my brother’s clothes, who was 7 years older than me. People gave my mother old woolen coats, as all coats were then, which she cut in strips and hooked or braided into rugs. My sister still has a rug or two. Her quilts were made of recycled cloth or from remnants she purchased in bundles from Sears Roebuck. The only things she threw away to be dumped on our rock pile were a few cans and bottles. No foodstuff was tossed.

However, it was in the world of my father where I was more aware of the reusing and re-reusing. In the early 50’s people in town were giving up their backyard sheds and now too-small garages. We would demo them, often with other men from the valley. Once we brought one home whole, but I do not remember how. It was my job to remove the boards as carefully as possible. From an early age another of my jobs was to straighten the not-too-rusted nails to reuse. It is a tricky business which gave me a few purple fingernails. We shared the lumber and nails with others or used it to build our own sheds. We built a large machine shed using only recycled wood for the walls, not the roof.

And there were the vehicles. In my very early youth many jokers could be seen around the valley. Jokers were old trucks cut down and rebuilt to serve as tractors or utility vehicles. The header picture is my rendering of the joker my father and my uncle built out of an old logging truck when we lived in the Superior National Forest. The joker moved us down to our farm. After I drew this as best I could from memory, a clearer picture emerged in my memory of a shorter box and chains hanging on it and lots of grease. But you get the idea. This was our tractor for the first year or two we had the farm. Then my father bought a 1923 Farmall and overhauled it, three times. Compare that with Ben’s picture of his tractor in his most recent blog. I am, of course, envious of that tractor of his. That joker became the frame for our all-purpose heavy-duty trailer, which hauled our hayrack, logs, and things like rocks in a box built for it.

By the way, I long thought joker was a local term. However, my research says it was widely used.

The men of the valley in my childhood had many skills, or they traded them. My father had a buddy Martin, who was a genius with engines, but weak at carpentry, plumbing, and electricity, which my father could do well. Martin was often in our workshop working on our vehicles or rebuilding engines of older cars to sell.

Let me tell you the story of our 1936 Chevrolet four-door sedan, which was our family car until about 1953, with its suicide back doors and with both front and back pneumonia holes.

At that point Martin overhauled the engine and transmission while my father cut it down into a pseudo-pickup, always called the puddlejumper.

When I was 12 my father took me down in the mowed hayfield and showed me the basics of how it drove differently than the Farmall. I then spent an hour or more driving around practicing the techniques of using a stick shift.

A few years later the engine died for sure. Now my father turned the box on the back into a dumping trailer, with a hand crank to elevate the front of the box to dump it. I have a story about that, but I will let it pass.

Such men and women still exist in very small numbers, often in the most rural places. Otherwise the only reuse and re-reuse commodity I can think of are children’s clothing passed from family to family.

In 1960 we started to talk about planned obsolescence. The last two years have shown how weak we are at self-sufficiency. I doubt very many people think about it in those terms.

I suspect this community is stronger than most on recycling, retaining, reusing and maybe even re-reusing. Are your roots strong on self-sufficiency?

47 thoughts on “Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused”

  1. An astute observation, Clyde. My knee-jerk reaction is that the end of the Age of R, R, and R was a watershed moment in the history of the world.

    Another first impression is perhaps this is what the MAGA folks mean when they refer to Make America Great Again. Not so much the social structure of white’s on top and everyone else a second-class or non-citizen. More of the spirit of independence, self-sufficiency, Yankee Ingenuity, and true conservation (aka conservative-ism: to save, conserve, minimize the use of resources, etc.)

    I’d love to be more of an RRR person but it’s tough today because of planned obsolescence. Clothing is notoriously fragile and cheaply made these days. Electronics are virtually impossible to repair, or expensive to repair, so we throw out and buy new just to get an extra bell or whistle on our device or more power or a camera that can take close-up photos of craters on the Moon, or enough power to light a small town for a week.

    I used to try to be more of a DIY guy to save money, but at my age, conserving my health by not falling out of a tree trying to trim a branch, cutting a handoff with a circular saw, or smashing my finger to a pulp with an errant hammer blow is far more economical for me.

    I’m proud to say we recycle as much as we can, don’t buy the latest and greatest gadgets or replace our wardrobes every season. We buy our cars with the intention of owning them until they fall apart and it doesn’t make economic sense to repair them. We throw away very little food. I don’t waste water on keeping my lawn as green as possible, nor do I flood it with fertilizer and pesticides every season (but I do selectively kill a few weeds now and then or apply organic fertilizer occasionally. I even bought an electric lawn mower last year. Works very well for my moderately large yard. (Our lot is approximately 100’x100′, which takes me about an hour to mow, so single battery mowers that last only 30 minutes don’t work. Now I have a two-battery system that switches from the dead battery to the live one faster than it takes to put gas in the tank. And no noxious fumes or oil spilled or burned.

    I”d give myself an A for effort as far as RRR goes, but probably only a C+ or B- on the practical scorecard. Maybe a B- is about the best most of us can do thanks to our consume-at-all-costs economy.

    Great post, Clyde. Thanks for your wise observations.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Agreed. Trump just used the MAGA slogan to hit the right emotional buttons for his followers. Re-reading my post, it looks like I didn’t express my thoughts clearly on that point. I meant to say that the “yankee ingenuity, etc.” trope is more the cover story for their real desire to return to the white-male dominated society we lived in until roughly the 1960s, when things began to change “a little bit.” 😉 (tongue in cheek)

        The rioters who stormed the Capitol most definitely wanted to restore the white-male-dominant system, i.m.o.


        Liked by 6 people

        1. Thomas Frank had a term for the grievances of conservatives who want society to regress to the 1950’s. The term was “Plenty Plaint” – comprisingthe gripes of the culture wars types who think we should all return to pledging allegiance to the flag, everyone should go to Christian churches, women and people of color should know “their place”, gay people should be in the closet so we don’t have to think about them, etc., etc. etc.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll have to admit that seeing the MAGA crowd in the light that you suggest here, Chris, is more of a stretch than I can manage. To my mind, recent decisions handed down by the SCOTUS gives a very clear picture of what their agenda is.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Unfortunately, the SCOTUS isn’t supposed to have any agenda at all. They are supposed to be completely impartial and take each case as it comes to them without bias. Several of them don’t seem to care about that now. They seem goal-oriented and appear to have a partisan agenda which is not what the framers of the Constitution wanted for a 3-part government structure.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    When Lou’s father died in 2014 at age 94, the family home he lived in had been untouched by anyone but him. He had resigned from keeping it up (there were small trees growing out of the eaves troughs and even the roof that had never been replaced in 50+ years). Lou and his siblings got a junk bin and cleaned out the house. When I asked him what was left he said, “Not much. Everything was used down to nothing.” That generation lived through the Great Depression which gave rise to Clyde’s R,R, and R. I have described before my Grandmother’s habit of saving plastic bags which were rare in the early days of plastic. So she saved them long after they were no longer rare. She tucked them between the refridgerator and the wall. When they cleaned out her house, and someone pulled out the refridgerator, the plastic bags almost exploded out of there.

    I re-cycle and re-use as much as I can. Modern packaging, which I so dislike, can make more waste than is imaginable, which gets in the way of conservation efforts. My self-sufficiency roots are very strong, to the point of being a fault. My mother refused to ask for help from anyone but family members. That put way too much responsibility on children who were too young for such responsibility (i.e. it was my job to monitor my diabetic Grandpa for Insulin shock, then get him orange juice, as needed, to regulate his blood sugar. I was 8 years old).

    I must get going. I have a heavy schedule today. Yesterday’s parade post and discussion was really fun. Thanks VS.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Love the drawings, Clyde. My father washed off his dental floss and had a special place in his bathroom to hang it to dry so he could reuse it.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This started as I develop my sketch journal, which includes my childhood. There are a few things I thought had not been photographed, such as the puddlejumper, but often in the background are the things I want to sketch. The puddlejumper is in the background of a picture of the three of us kids sliding. But I could have drawn in from memory.
    I am admirer of Wendell Berry. I have read almost all of his fiction, which is much like the first novel I wrote, a fictionalization of childhood and an age gone by. However, his ideas of agrarian reform, re-reform, are to take us back to the 1950’s. This topic verges on the topic of farming practices, about which I know too little to say anything.
    Of the three R’s it is the first we could practice as a society. This town is full of extended cab large pickups, which we once called ¾ ton. Many are parked badly in handicapped spots, sometime intentionally taking up two spaces and the zebra stripes. How many of them have no need for such a vehicle, the modern joker? So much could be said about that. But I wanted to hail a generation which I admired then and do now.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. I wondering, Clyde, if you know how or why the term “joker” was used for old trucks that had been cut down and altered for reuse as something other than their original purpose? I did a few searches on the internet and didn’t come up with an answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trying to Google “joker” truck is a singularly unsatisfying exercise, isn’t it? It drives me nuts when pop culture, which I care nothing about, overwhelms any possibility of learning something.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. very nice Clyde, thank you.
    My dad could fix anything. It wasn’t always pretty and it usually involved baling wire, twine, and friction tape, but ‘pretty’ wasn’t the point. Yeah, things were made different and it was possible to fix more stuff back then, but I still think of him often and especially if I’m preparing to throw something out, I think to myself “Dad could have fixed this.”.
    Born in 1925, he was pretty young during the depression, but I think they still learned from their folks how to survive that way. I’ve been in the homes, and helped clean up some of them when they saved everything ‘just in case’.
    Straightening bent nails. Man… yes. Been there, done that. When I got old enough (smart enough? Brave enough?) to throw out the old nails and just buy new ones, I thought I was pretty special. Little did I know it was the beginning of this slippery slope.

    We do recycle as much as we can. It would help if Olmsted County had more than a 1 lane recycling center. Never fails I pull up with my sorted recycling and there’s someone with a garbage bag of mixed sorting it out one item at a time. Drives me bonkers. So I hate going there.

    Self-sufficiency? Sure, as long as the banking system stays intact and the electricity stay on. I don’t know how to make gas or electricity.
    On dark days we joke do we have enough cash to buy more bullets and rifles on the black market, but then what??

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Oh man, we really are off the map in the same way you are, Clyde. Bent nails, re-use other side of printer paper… I bring home barely used paper napkins from restaurants to use for kitchen spills

    Use everything till it falls apart… this is not so great when they all finally go kablooey in the same year.

    Love the co-ops where I can bring my own containers instead of accumulating more plastic ones, even if I reuse them, I can only use so many.

    Hate to think of all the appliances, large and small, and electronics that could be repaired but are trashed – where do we think we’re going to go when there’s no space left?

    I remember Husband’s ’63 VW bug sat in a spot our friends’ farm when we were with them, and got just the right temp inside to be a homemade yogurt maker.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I like to think that I am resourceful and I do practice some of the three Rs. I re-use a lot of plastic packaging that comes from the grocery store. Much of it can be re-purposed, like pump sprayers can be used for something else once the product is gone and some plastic containers with covers can be used for food storage or taking lunches to work. I do wash plastic bags and re-use them. My mom did it and I do it too. I also wash and re-use aluminum foil.

    But I’m not so great in other ways. I feel defeated by planned obsolescence. If there is a conspiracy, I think that is it. Unfortunately the planet is suffering from our wastefulness and corporate greed. I do become anxious and depressed about this, among the many other things happening lately, and the feeling of being helpless in the face of the enormity of all of it makes me want to give up.

    This is a great post, Clyde. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. And then there’s the life I grew up in. Both my parents survived the great depression along with some other fairly dysfunctional family stuff but instead bringing any RRR habits with them, they embraced the “we no longer have to do that” mindset. Not in a wild way but we never saved aluminum foil or had a big collection of tupperware and no recycling at all. Neither of my folks were particularly handy either, so nothing ever got jerry-rigged around our house.

    I’ve swung a bit the other way. Not sure why – can we blame coming of age in the 60s/70s? A friend of mine once told me that I have “a relationship” w/ my tupperware. And we recycle quite a bit, happy to have organic recycling now. I tend to wear clothing under it basically fades to nothing and use my appliances until they fall down gasping for breath, although neither of these tendencies apply to YA unfortunately (at least from my point of view).

    But like Chris, I think my intent gets a higher score than ,y actuality!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. There was a trend, probably not so much in rural places but in suburbia certainly, for people who had been children in the depression and had made it through WWII and were now married and enjoying the post-war prosperity to disdain prewar sensibilities. When I was a child, I remember it was somewhat looked down upon to have a vegetable garden in your yard. It was like having a butter churn in your kitchen. The culture was unconsciously rebelling from the values that had come before. Naturally the children of those rebels embraced the tokens (though not necessarily the substance) of those values their parents’ generation was trying to leave behind.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I no longer have a fishing pole. My gopher traps were rusted away long ago. I haven’t had a gun for over 50 years. I have no garden. There is no way to burn wood for heat in my apartment. My camping skills are nil. I do have an emergency to-go bag! That will last for two weeks.

    Liked by 7 people

  11. Now when it comes to using all available material, I am deeply rooted.
    I learned a lesson from my old boss in Fargo.
    We were doing flooring remodeling in many of the Fargo public schools one summer. There was one very large (60ft × 30ft) classroom to carpet. Easy peasy.
    Finished up and reported back to the shop.
    Boss: “Where’s the piece?”
    Me: “There is no piece ”
    Boss: “Where’s the piece?!”
    Me: “There was no piece. It was 5 30ft drops.”
    Boss: “Where’s the piece from off the column?”
    Me: “That scrap?!”
    Boss: “There’s no such thing as scrap until the job is done ”
    Yes, there was a 2ft x 2ft column in the middle of the room. I was made to go back and retrieve it from the dumpster.
    Later that summer we did work at the music department of a Jr high school. The practice rooms were pie shaped and the layout allowed for a length cut doing two rooms. But one set was slightly larger. We needed that 2×2 “scrap” to finish off the little triangle shaped ends.
    How he figured that out still amazes me.

    Liked by 7 people

  12. This is such a big and convoluted subject.
    Our parents lived in an analog world; everything that functioned did so mechanically with a cause and effect that one could see or simply test. Most of that world would have been comprehensible to their grandparents. Tools and equipment tended to have a single function and to be built from standard and modifiable parts and materials. You can cut and weld or braze steel. Carbon fiber and other sophisticated synthetic materials, which might be stronger and lighter or otherwise better suited to their function are not amenable to modification.

    Digital mechanisms don’t necessarily have visible processes; unless one is a programmer or a hacker digital equipment is not susceptible to tinkering.

    Money tended to be reserved for things that couldn’t be supplied by time and effort. That’s a product of having more time than money, though both were likely in short supply. It would be obsessively parsimonious or impractical to spend time straightening nails or scrounging used wood unless you don’t particularly value your time and have access to conveniently available and suitable lumber. There’s nothing wrong with reusing lumber but you’re likely to spend more in time than you save in money assembling it and you are likely to have to make some compromises in your design. Cheapness, like speed, is a trait, not necessarily a virtue.

    Vehicles that were basic enough to be chopped and reconfigured were also crude enough that they rarely lasted for 100,000 miles. Some of them may have been repurposed or rebuilt to extend their usefulness, but more of them ended up rusting with the rest of the worn out machinery somewhere behind the barn.

    My Dad was a sheet metal worker, working HVAC mostly in commercial settings. When he needed something, sheet metal was his go-to material. As a child, I had a sheet metal wading pool. On sunny days you had to be careful not to touch the sides when you got in. He was fairly handy and I learned a certain amount from working with him, installing a water heater, some basic plumbing and electrical work. But in terms of Do-It-Yourself household projects, I’ve gone beyond anything I learned from him. I’ve added bathrooms, completely remodeled a kitchen, replaced galvanized plumbing with copper, rewired the upstairs in this house, built decks.and a gazebo, rebuilt the stairs, replaced all the windows, replaced a garage door, built furniture—mostly bookshelves—and done some roofing. I used to do basic car repairs as well but never enjoyed it and these days if I got under a car I’d never get out. So anyway, I consider myself fairly self-sufficient but what money I save I save in labor costs and not in settling for sub-optimal materials.

    Planned obsolescence is an easy trope and it’s often a fact, but in the world of digital equipment it’s often not the mechanical apparatus that breaks down, it’s the equipment’s ability to communicate with newer technology and operating systems. In the pre-digital age, something like a telephone would function for decades. If you still have an analog phone line to your house, just about any antique phone will continue to work. My experience has been, with computer equipment, that it has become incompatible before it has ceased to function. You could say that it was made as well as it needed to be. I think that computer equipment could and should be designed to be updatable, with microprocessors that could be swapped and whatever accompanying components replaced without having to discard the entire shell.

    In terms of everyday waste, since almost everything I cook is from scratch, we have less packaging to deal with than we otherwise might have, but plastic, especially plastic bags, are a plague. Unfortunately they are also convenient and washing them out, depending on what they contained, can be more trouble than it’s worth. Since plastic film can be made of starches that are compostable, I’d like to see those mandated for all bags and plastic containers.

    The self-sufficient world that began to fade in the fifties and sixties was based on technologies that are gone, based on a population that was primarily rural, and based on an economy where money was scarcer than the raw materials of repurposing. The MAGA crowd is no better equipped to go back to that way of living than anyone else and their retrograde fantasies are for a different sort of simplicity.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. I think of myself as self-sufficient, or at least I used to be, but I acknowledge there are a lot of things I can no longer do.

    The idea of “waste not, want not” was hammered into me throughout my childhood, and, practiced in a thoughtful manner, I still think it’s good advice. Part of that is taking care of your possessions. I would have never dreamed of letting my bicycle or toys lie around on the sidewalk, or exposed to the elements at night. But as Bill points out, some things just don’t make sense. I’m not convinced that washing plastic bags or foil is a good use of water. Husband washes plastic bags, and I’m not confident that they are safe to use, depending on what was in them before they were washed. It’s a conundrum.

    When I was younger, I thought nothing of sewing my own clothes, growing a lot of our vegetables, and doing all kinds of minor home and car repairs. Now I have neither the strength, dexterity or inclination to do much of that. I still cook meals from scratch most days, and I’m pretty adept at finding creative ways of serving up leftovers.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I have a used garage. I didn’t buy it for parts, but to use as is. There used to be a guy who would remove old garages, mostly single garages, and resell them. The people who removed the garages probably replaced them with double garages.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. My maternal grandfather frustrated my cousins when he kept encouraging his youngest son, my Uncle Harvey, to tear down the old, ramshackle barn and build a new one with the old wood.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The house in Neddenaverbergen, Germany where my grandfather grew up in was built in the 1600’s and is still standing and relatives live in it. May be you can recycle better there than here.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. We handled scarcity better than abundance. We were more trusting in scarcity, and better neighbors. But these men I knew were ignorant and uncaring of societal issues. Most, not my father, would have bought into 45. In part because they were bigots. (My father hated the rich with intensity.) they looked for simple black and white answers. Could fix things but not their emotions and relationships.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. The end of not a very good day: In February my eye dr. thought I might have a tumor pressing on my optic nerve. Had a scan. No tumor. But something showed up on my brain, which try as I might I cannot get a clear picture on. I was referred to neurology who made an appt. with an NP for 5 weeks later. Two weeks later NP said she would only end up referring me to the neurologist. So made an appt for four months later on July 19. Today at 4;00 that department called to tell me that the neurologist needed my appt. time and I was to be referred to the NP. I told the clerk what I had happened before. They had to do what the Dr. said. Appt for NP on Aug. 2. At 4:30 NP called me and asked why I was referred back to her. I explained. She said she would check. My July 19 appt. was taken. She said she would pursue the matter further but she could not handle the issue but would only refer me to the neurologist.


    1. For what it’s worth, the Nurse Practitioner I was referred to by Urgent Care for my two skin cancers did a beautiful job of removing the cyst on my back. She was also instrumental in cutting through the red tape to get me a speedy appointment with a dermatologist, something a referral from my own doctor had not accomplished. The NP alerted the various specialists she thought the biopsy report warranted. By the time I had the Mohs surgery on my scalp, it was obvious to me she had been a strong advocate for my care, and that both the dermatologist and the surgeon who removed the lesion on my scalp, were fully briefed by her, and respected her professional judgment. Your NP may well refer you, Clyde, but I’d sure go see her; she may be able to speed up the process. Good luck.


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