November 16, 2007 – Making Money the Old Fashioned Way

I travel rather seamlessly between two disparate worlds - my job in the mortage technology group of Wells Fargo and the farm.  Mortgage finance is now a pertinent and unfolding story.  I marvel how much better rewarded (financially) mortgage finance work is than farming.  This week the Wells Fargo CEO came out and said it was the worst housing crisis since the great depression.  He was roundly criticized by some for not following the finance party line, which is trying to reassure people that everything is all right and keep on spending.  To his credit, Wells Fargo is one of the few companies that did not fall prey to the easy, if suspect, moneymaking financing schemes that have/are crashing down.  That’s not to say that something won’t come out later, but to this point, the company’s conservative finance position has allowed it to keep making profits, even in these times when other banks are reporting losses of BILLIONS of dollars.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the old Smith-Barney slogan “We make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it.” It’s ironic that the company that used to be Smith-Barney has been merged into Citicorp, one of the biggest losers in the latest meltdown.  It makes me think about the notion that you can get something for nothing that has infected American society.  People who have bought houses and expected their value go up tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the span of a few years without doing anything. People who have structured the mortgage loans in new and possibly illegal ways (perhaps only still legal because the law always takes a long time to catch up with crooks in suits).  There have even been cases where people who had their houses recently foreclosed asked a simple question at the foreclosure hearing -Who owns my mortgage – prove it.  Since some people thought to ask that question, 14 homeowners in foreclosure had to have proceedings halted because the “owner” could not produce the mortgage deed showing the finance company’s stake in the loan.  The loans have been sliced and diced so many ways and co-mingled with other loans to make them look legitimate that the trail is broken. Â  Likewise, I’ve come across reports of the same mortgage that was sold to multiple investors.

Hang with me, we’ll get back to the farm.  So what has happened to a country that rewards fund managers to play with numbers on a computer get million-dollar salaries, while others who produce the things necessary for life – farmers, electricians, carpenters, cheesemakers, teachers, and meatcutters are near the bottom of the economic scale?  I don’t have any answers, but I do know a sustainable society cannot indefinitely exist on paper gains only and ever-expanding profits for people that don’t “do” anything.  That’s not to say the finance and providers of capital are not necessary – they are, but the only sustainable way is to invest in enterprises with real worth.  Finance used to exist to help real things happen, now, too often it is an end to itself, with no connection to production of goods or services.  Futures markets are just one such thing – people trading pieces of paper for the future value of commodities – like corn or petroleum future traders.

So I wonder, will there be a time in the future that the work of those that produce real goods and services be rewarded for the importance of their work to society instead of their value to some mysterious financial market?  What do you think?  Will sustainable jobs ever be rewarded?  Will a time come when making money the old-fashioned way – earning it, will come back into fashion?

one year ago…

November 14, 2007 – One Step Closer to Wind Turbine

We are one step closer to getting a residential wind turbine at high hopes gardens!  We had a site visit by an installer and now are waiting for a more final estimate.  If all goes well, it could be up in late spring/summer.  The following bit of information was very interesting to me.  It shows the wind speed and direction over the course of a year.  The site also has monthly charts to see how direction and speeds change over the course of the year.  The site is a branch of the ISU Agronomy Department, of all places! They have the charts for 17 cities in Iowa.


I was very surprised that the most common direction of wind is from the south, although the most common quadrant direction is from N to W.  I’m a bit of a closet weatherman (I think all farmers are) and am impressed how much data can get crammed into a simple graphic like this one.


Here’s a picture from the manufacturer’s web site of the turbine.  It is a Skystream 3.7. We may have to trim the tops of some old silver maples and maybe take down one behind the chicken coop.  More on that later.

one year ago…

November 13, 2007 – Hog Barn Update

Another milestone on the hog barn project.


Here it is as of this week – windows and roof all tucked in for the winter.  The unpainted part will be ripped out and replaced later.


Here it is October 3 of this year. I put this in mainly for myself because it seems I never get anything done, since I rarely have more than a couple hours at a time to work on a project, the progress seems painfully slow, but compared to what it used to be, even I can see improvement!

one year ago…

November 12, 2007 – Lambskin Tannery Burns

There’s been entirely too much news about fires on the blog this month – the fire at the solvent factory, the neighbor’s old house, and we just received a letter from our tannery (Stern Tanning in Sheboygan Falls, WI)  that their workspace burned down and our hides were lost.  We had five hides in process.  It sounds like they might be back by the end of the year.  This got us looking for other places to tan our sheepskins and we really didn’t find too many.  The best link we found was this one that lists 4 tanneries a bit down the page.  So, we’ll try again – we really do like the finished wooly hides.

one year ago…

November 11, 2007 – Corn Crib Phase Finished

One project now falls off the list – the east side of the corn crib!


Here’s what the east side looked like a few weeks ago.


Here it is today – all done except for putting the rake and corner on the corners.  But now when the east winds blow mist and rain for days, the old boards will not sit in wetness and rot.  Although it doesn’t look as good and the other sides, I do like the 3 foot clear panels that are on the top of the walls.  You can see I ripped out a couple of the original boards to allow more light in and it really does work to let light in.  So next year new doors are built to put the finishing touches on this farm building renovation.

one year ago…

November 10, 2007 – “You’re Invited to Watch a House Burn Down”

Martin received an unusual invitation in the mail the other day.  Here it is:


How could you turn down an opportunity like this only about 2 miles away? It was an old house on a property with a newer house and this one had seen better days and was claimed by ‘coons and other critters.


Here are the three boys, watching the fire, including the host, all dressed up in fireman gear.


The firemen used it as a training, although, they really didn’t want to put the fire out.  Previously to this day, they had filled it with smoke and practiced retrieving straw dummies in their respirators, etc.


They just wanted to prevent other things from burning.


Without fire hydrants, rural fire departments set up these temporary pools for the tanker trucks to dump and go get more water.

one year ago…

November 9, 2007 – Mellencamp

Tonight we went to the Los Lobos and John Mellencamp concert is Des Moines.  I’ve finally figured out Mellencamp – he’s a folk singer trapped in the body of a rock-n-roll star.  He’s got the weight of all these much-loved rock hits from his younger days – “Hurts so Good” “Jack and Diane”  But at his heart, he keeps writing some of the same songs over and over - songs about America – with justice and liberty for all.

I think some people don’t “get” the satire in some of his songs, especially “Pink Houses.”  One of his most recent songs about the nooses in Jena, Louisiana is the latest example of John Mellencamp’s America with justice and liberty for all.

The most talked-about part of the concert happened when he invited John Edwards up on stage for a moment during an acoustic version of “Small Town.”  Along with cheers, there were angry boos, which aren’t quite as noticable in the video than in person.

You can see his version of Small Town with the introduction of Edwards on this clip from YouTube of last night’s show.

one year ago…

November 6, 2007 – Prufereedarz Hard two Fynd?

A few days ago I ranted about the poor service at Menards.  Now, talk about putting a knife in the heart of an English major – check out the labels on the steel siding!


I hope Manuel can read English! I can see in his eyes, he’s ready to install!


In addition to Manuel, I’m sure the chickens that walked over this piece of siding are protesting the poor spelling and unclear verbiage!  I’m still wondering why the “hols” need to be 1/16 of a foot bigger than the screws as well!

one year ago…

November 5, 2007 – Grain Bin Collapse at Melbourne Elevator

Around 8:00 this morning, as a semi-truck was loading grain from this bin, some workers heard some popping noises and buckling and quickly told the semi-driver to drive the rig out immediately.  Not much later, this 95,000 bushel grain bin collapsed and would have easily buried the truck and driver.  Everybody is thought to be safe.


You can see a new shiny bin next door – there were lots of workers around, putting the finishing touches on those bins that are much larger than the older one that collapsed.  There is still no reason given – it was a very windy day, but the bin was full, they were working on an adjacent bin, but the cause is only speculation at this point.  All the bins were full – so all this corn will have to be trucked out to somewhere else once the investigators have a look. It’s hard to get a sense of scale in this photo, but if you look just to the right of the left-most bin, you can see the top of the 2nd story of the old Melbourne school.


Here’s another closer view.

one year ago…

November 4, 2007 – More Child Labor!

Today’s child labor was much more excited to work.


A paint brush in the hands of a six-year old is a treat for this particular boy. Although the brush he was provided was small, he persisted for a long time, painting the bottom few rows of boards. He and Emma got the remaining unpainted lower portion of the hog barn completed. Now that the roof is done, “all” that remains is to tear out half the south wall and rebuild it inside for the “porch” and put in the new windows and doors.

one year ago…

November 3, 2007 – Child Labor!

Today was another milestone on the hog barn project.  The roof was finished today!


But, oh, the agony, as the girls complained when they were “invited” to help by cleaning up the waste from torn-off roof from the ground and sort the asphalt shingles into the trailer for the landfill and wood into the loader bucket for the burn pile.  But to their credit, they did.

one year ago…