Archive for the 'transportation' Category

An island needs a wharf

By Tom Read

Two adjacent signs warn the public to stay off the wharf during repairs. Why two signs? Maybe this has something to do with lawyers and consultants. At least we're finally seeing our only public wharf get some well-deserved repairs.

A few days ago, men with hardhats and heavy construction equipment began repairing Texada’s only public wharf, located at Van Anda Cove. It has taken several years to reach this moment, so I’m glad that it’s finally happening. The cost of labour and materials kept going up year after year while commencement of work was delayed and the wharf continued to deteriorate, so some of us wondered if it would ever be saved.

In fact, we’re losing vehicle access out to the end of the wharf; henceforth, it will only accommodate foot traffic. But that’s all we can afford today, if wharf repairs are to meet the liability-proof standard set forth by an engineering consultant hired by the Powell River Regional District. Consulting invoices, over the years, ate up a mid-five-figures chunk of the “marine services” budget, an unfortunate fact of life. At least we still have a public space where Texadans and visitors can get out on the water, as people of all ages have done for more than a century at Van Anda Cove.

Yes, an island community just ought to have a structurally sound public wharf, and that’s exactly what I expect we’ll get when the current work is done. Then all we’ll have to do is maintain it, which should be easy by comparison to this painful, multi-year wharf rescue project.


Nurturing local arts and culture

By Tom Read

Founded in 2004, TACT is THE place to go for information about arts, culture and tourism on Texada Island. (logo by Shelley Thomson)

About a dozen Texada Islanders got together for a few hours one recent evening under the banner of TACT (Texada Arts, Culture & Tourism Society) to make plans for nurturing on-island arts and culture in 2010. Linda and I, as long-time TACT members, attended the meeting and were delighted with the positive energy and ideas that emerged. Here’s a few:

1) How about starting a new one-day Texada Music Festival (working title only), for the pleasure of local people, bringing together island and regional musicians from many musical genres in an easily accessible location — perhaps even at the old quarry site previously used by Jazz on the Rocks? After some excited discussion that quickly started to become detailed planning, a committee to “make it so” came together right on the spot, propelled by mutual passion for music and community.

2) An astute new member of our group mentioned that the Thursday Handi-Dart bus comes over from Powell River empty, takes Texadans to Powell River and back, then at the end of the day returns to Powell River empty. Could we find a way to fill that bus with visitors from Powell River by giving them something interesting to participate in on Thursdays? Transportation is always an issue for arts and culture events on Texada, so this insight may prove quite helpful in planning future events.

3) It’s been several years since TACT sponsored a community discussion of potential arts and culture activities on Texada. One of TACT’s main purposes is to support islanders who want to put on an event or activity that can be construed, even quite loosely, as having to do with the arts or culture. So the group decided to hold a “Texada Arts & Culture Think Tank” next February 24 at the Texada Legion to invite people throughout the community with new ideas to come forward. As in any brainstorming session, no idea is too crazy; it’s the unusual ideas that sometimes garner the most enthusiasm. Yours truly volunteered to take a leadership role in organizing this get-together.

4) TACT’s website ( is getting updated and improved by Maggie Timms, who also happens to be TACT’s newly elected treasurer. The website provides a comprehensive overview of Texada Island for visitors, and after five years in existence the site has great top-level positioning for anyone who searches on the words “Texada Island.” It’s available for use (cross-link or web page) by any local business for a mere $25 annual membership in TACT. Individual memberships, by the way, are $10 for those interested in participating in TACT but who don’t run a business.

5) TACT renewed its commitment to support both the Texada Fly-In and the Texada Aero-Space Camp for 2010. These back-to-back summer activities keep getting better and better every year, and lots of exciting new ideas and volunteer opportunities are taking shape for the coming year. Consult the TACT website (above) for a link to details as they unfold.

6) New in 2010: TACT visitor information brochure racks will be added at Centennial (gas & diesel) Station, the Texada Island Inn and the Gillies Bay Store, thus complementing the existing visitor centre at Manyana in Blubber Bay. Kudos and thanks to O. C. (Doby) Dobrostanski for the nifty new visitor info logo, which will shortly appear at each of the above locations.

And that’s just the meeting highlights. Not too bad for a rainy night in mid-December, eh?

The harbingers of Transition

By David Parkinson


You’ll never live like common people,
You’ll never do what common people do,
You’ll never fail like common people,
You’ll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there’s nothing else to do.

(Pulp, “Common People“)

Today I attended a meeting at the Four Square Church in Powell River whose purpose was to bring people together who are concerned about poverty, especially its effects on children and youth. BC has had the highest rate of children living in poverty in Canada for six years now. Meanwhile, the funding that helps to alleviate some of the worst effects of this poverty is drying up as a result of government funding cuts, resources and volunteers are stretched thin, and children and youth are waking up hungry, going to school hungry, and going to bed hungry.

There were about fifty people present, many of them from the social service agencies in the region which provide services to children and their families. Representatives of numerous churches and service clubs were also in attendance, as were various members of the community.

The main part of the two-hour meeting gave everyone an opportunity to speak for about two minutes, so that we could give our perspective on the situation, what we are trying to do about it, and where we see a need for more effort. The top three concerns which emerged as we went around the room were food, housing, and transportation. That makes perfect sense: if for whatever reason you’re living on a low income, you’re going to be struggling at the most basic level: keeping food on the table, keeping a roof over your head, and affording to keep a car on the road (or taking the bus if you’re unable to afford a car).

What occurred to me as we went around he room and the same themes kept coming up over and over, is that poor people are ahead of the rest of us in their struggle with the absolute basics. Everything I have read about the effects of peak oil, climate mayhem, and economic decline, compounded by the special problems of a small isolated community, leads me to believe that we are all going to be struggling to keep food on the table, a roof over your heads (including the heating and utilities), and a car on the road (or some alternative way to get around).

So far, we are still able to keep the problem of poverty on the margins, out of sight where it is conveniently out of mind. The mass media keep pumping out the message that everything is returning to normal, the recession is ending, and soon we will all be back to the froth and frivolities of the industrial economy. This news comes as a constant relief, because it means that we will not have to face the breakdown of the simplest and most essential aspects of living in society: food, shelter, and transportation (plus a few others not yet even up for discussion, among them a reliable supply of potable water and a functioning electrical grid).

We are raised to associate poverty with shame and failure, specifically personal failure. We are almost entirely unable to see poverty as a collective or systemic failure; instead we choose to see it as the unfortunate side-effect of an otherwise perfectly functioning system. And although we may acknowledge — when we think about directly — that some poverty is not solely the fault of the poor themselves, we aren’t good at thinking of how our social systems make it easy to fall into poverty, and hard to climb out of it. We are uncomfortable in the face of real poverty, and we have a hard time coming to grips with people who are suffering in the midst of a social system which is supposed to be the best and richest one the world has yet seen. Poor people confound our worldview.

What we all try  hard not to recognize is the non-accidental nature of poverty and other forms of human misery, many of which are on the rise in this society which promises so much and delivers much of it, increasingly to a select few. Any social system which produces so much teenage suicide, death by chronic alcoholism or other substance abuse, beaten children, beaten wives, chronic depression, and the rest of the panoply of ‘unfortunate side-effects’ really has a lot to answer for. And so we put a tremendous amount of collective effort into ignorance, denial, and victim-blaming. The myth that everything is OK is a powerful one.

As it all starts to slowly come unwound, as we all start to slide downhill a little bit at a time, almost imperceptibly but nonetheless surely and steadily, as we begin to lose our collective faith in the stories we grew up believing, as we face the fact that we are struggling to put food on our tables, to keep a roof over our heads, and to easily get from one place to another at will, at what point will we wake up to realize that we have slid into the margins of the world we knew? Will we have to admit to ourselves that we have joined the ranks of the poor? As this becomes a general phenomenon, not limited to people who have made bad choices or were just born less fortunate, who will be there to provide the services that we need in order to make it through the day? When almost everyone is poor, who takes care of relieving the poor?

This all sounds pretty grim. I could be wrong: we might not be on the downside of Hubbert’s Curve after all; the economy might just have a case of the hiccups; technology will save our bacon after all. But if the peak oil prophets and so-called ‘collapsniks‘ are right that we are entering a protracted period of economic decline and social turbulence, then we are going to have to learn that poverty is not necessarily a pathology to be treated by means of band-aid programs like soup kitchens, food handouts, and vouchers redeemable at local stores. Poverty will become a general condition of life as some of the things we now take for granted become scarcer. And dealing with this poverty, which will be much more widespread, is going to have to take place at the centre of economic activity, not — as now happens — as a kind of afterthought which gets by on the surplus of the main activities in the economy, the crumbs which fall from the table.

Looked at from this angle, there is actually much to celebrate in the generalization of poverty. It’s time we recognized, as a society and as individuals, that there are limits to the things we can take without someone somewhere getting burned. And it’s time we saw to it that everyone has a basic level of decent subsistence in the areas that matter, the ones which are pinching the poor most severely now. In this respect, the poor of our society are like the harbingers of where we’re all headed. The sooner we figure out how to address their problems, and to do so in a sustained manner, the sooner we assure everyone’s safety and security in the time of transition to a post-carbon economy.

Texada’s solid waste conundrum

By Tom Read

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

Texada’s forests, streams and lakes are notably pollution-free, and I hope we keep ‘em that way by dealing responsibly with our solid waste. Here's a 2007 photo I took of Case Lake, which feeds Rumbottle Creek, which in turn empties into the sea at Raven Bay.

On Monday evening, Linda and I and about 20 other Texadans attended a presentation in Gillies Bay about the future of solid waste in our region. Officially it’s called the draft Powell River Regional District Solid Waste Management Plan and its duration is 2009 to 2019. Now, I know that’s not a sexy topic for many readers, but it has serious implications for Texada Island and the Powell River region. So I hope you’ll bear with me for at least a few paragraphs.

The plan’s goal is “working toward zero waste,” a realistic recognition that eliminating waste is desirable but not easy to achieve. Just so you know what we’re talking about here, the term “solid waste” refers to lots of things, including household garbage and trash, construction debris, all sorts of recyclable materials, and organic matter, especially food waste. In fact, food waste alone accounts for about 30% of our region’s total solid waste, and it is fairly shocking to realize that this is the single largest category of waste that we produce.

The presentation didn’t break out food waste for Texada, but I doubt that the 30% regional figure applies to us. My sense, based on being an active member of the community here for nearly 10 years, is that Texadans do a lot of composting and feeding of kitchen scraps to domestic animals. So I believe that the amount of food waste is less here than in “urban” Powell River. Since the plan’s overall goal is to eliminate waste, and since food waste is the single biggest category of waste in the region, it should come as no surprise that the plan recommends more backyard composting if it can be done without attracting bears (not a Texada problem, since we don’t have bears here), along with possible construction of a centralized $2.6 million composting facility.

Texadans will be expected to help pay for the feasibility study for this regional facility, since it’s claimed that Texada could benefit. How? Well, the consultant on Monday evening proposed that Texada, since it has no bears, might be a good location for the region’s centralized composting facility, “transportation notwithstanding.”

Ah, yes, transportation. Leaving aside the question of whether Texada makes sense as a possible location for a regional composting centre, there’s no denying that our island is quite dependent on ferry transportation for nearly everything, including moving our waste off the island. And that’s where the plan worries me. During the next 10 years, the plan calls for greatly reducing export of waste from the region as a whole, but it assumes that Texada will continue to export its solid waste to Powell River. Given what we’ve heard from Texada’s Ferry Advisory Committee members about potential increases in ferry fares during the next few years, let alone by 2019, we islanders could see a significant increase in our waste disposal costs.  More illegal dumping could be the result.

Ferry fares, and transportation costs in general, tend to parallel the price of oil. It’s way beyond my expertise to forecast the next oil price spike, but I think we’ll need an on-island solution for processing our solid waste sometime in the next 10 years.  Why? Because oil can increase in price much faster than new, strictly regulated solid waste management solutions can be implemented. This poses a conundrum for Texada and likely the region, too.

Fortunately, Texadans have a long history of creative problem-solving. I can envision a cooperative effort whereby Texadans consolidate our transport of solid waste to Powell River, perhaps starting informally among immediate neighbours. Just to be clear, I’m fully aware that Sunshine Disposal runs a reliable and affordable household waste collection service for Texadans who happen to live along its route. But the waste volume any one household can put in the tagged bags is limited, and there are times when a special trip to the Powell River transfer station (aka “the dump”) becomes necessary.

Some of us live off the beaten path altogether, so our only legal choices are to burn our waste or take it to Powell River. I tried burning household waste years ago and found it a smelly, polluting and time-consuming experience, so now we make the dump run to Powell River a couple times a year. There’s no reason islanders couldn’t cut transport costs by coordinating trips with friends and neighbours, which is now easier than before thanks to this website recently created by a Texada community volunteer, Tom Scott. Cooperation builds community and avoids raising our taxes to pay for consultant-driven solutions.

We might also learn something from our neighbour, Lasqueti Island.

Lasqueti already has a landfill exclusively for its local residents. Unfortunately, that landfill wasn’t built to present BC standards, and it might be prohibitively costly for upgrades to conform with provincial regulations. I’m told by our Regional District staff, however, that a new solid waste management plan for Lasqueti is pending but not yet ready for public release. Texada is considerably larger than Lasqueti in population, transportation services and physical size, but we might benefit by observing how our neigbours resolve their waste disposal problem.

The transportation issue remains my overall reservation about the plan, even though as noted above there are potential ways we could cope with it. I’ve also got a few quibbles regarding the plan’s treatment of illegal dumping and its view of glass as mere trash. But on the whole, the proposed plan looks quite positive. I like its emphasis on reducing waste in the first place, especially from over-packaging. In our household we’re already starting to do that by removing excess packaging in the store in Powell River, taking home only the product. Another positive approach is to reuse containers, such as re-filling our pharmaceutical prescriptions in the same bottle (adding a new label each time).  One of the reasons we support Pharmasave in Powell River is because its owner, Wanda, encourages such re-use and recycling wherever possible.

Solid waste is a constant fact of modern life. Thus, the plan’s provision for an ongoing volunteer monitoring committee staffed by a part-time “waste coordinator” will keep this un-sexy but vital topic continuously visible in our region and allow new solutions to be developed more quickly. Maybe it’ll even help solve the Texada solid waste conundrum.

I will never own a car (ask me why!)

By David Parkinson

One of the places in the bike's drive train where radial energy is translated into linear energy.

One of the places in the bike's drive train where linear motion is translated into radial motion (or vice versa). Elegant and efficient.

I’ve got a bike,
You can ride it if you like,
It’s got a basket, a bell that rings
And things to make it look good.
I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.
(Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett [1946-2006])

Sometimes I wonder what percentage of the North American population makes it to the age of 47 without ever having owned a car. 10%? 5%? 2%? I have no idea. Certainly not many, although the number may be about to start rising and never stop.

I got my driver’s license as quickly as I could once I turned 16. I loved having the use of the parental car to get around and see friends, since many of my high-school friends lived all over Toronto. As a boy, I was pretty fascinated by cars of all kinds, and I expected that — like any normal person — I would soon have a car of my own. And then I left home.

For many years, I was too poor to think about buying and maintaining a car. And luckily during those lean years I was living in Ottawa and Montréal, cities which both have excellent public-transit systems which I used extensively. Shortly after I moved to Montréal in 1986, I bought myself a bicycle, an 18-speed Peugeot which cost more than I could easily afford, but I used it a lot to get from Pointe St-Charles, the down-and-out working class neighbourhood between the Canal Lachine and the Fleuve St-Laurent, all the way up to Côte-des-Neiges, where I worked, and then up to l’Université de Montréal, pretty much at the top of the city. I loved that bike. And then it was stolen during some hockey-related mayhem in 1989 (I think after the Canadiens lost the Stanley Cup to the Calgary Flames).

Among my circle of friends and acquaintances who lived in Montréal at that time, I can think of only one who owned a car. For the most part, people were able to walk or take a bus or the Métro just about anywhere and at any time. For longer trips there was the Greyhound buses and trains. I cannot remember one time when I really wished I owned a car. I especially rejoiced in not owning a car when I would hear the sounds of a vehicle being towed away for being on the wrong side of the street and preventing street-cleaning or snow removal.

I bought another bike not long after losing my Peugeot, a very slick Bianchi mountain bike with Biopace chainwheel, which was the newest geeky hardware. Not long after that, I moved to Ithaca, New York, where I lived down in the town and had to get to campus every day up a long hill. Much of the time, though, I ended up walking in snow and rain. But when the weather was nice and not too hellaciously hot, I would slog up that hill in the morning and then get to sail home downhill all the way.

Six years later, I moved to Seattle and for some reason put my bike into storage. There was a moment, right before I made the move, when I was seriously considering buying a car, because I expected that I would need one to commute from home to work. But by that time I was beginning to enjoy the challenge of non-car-ownership: I was becoming more conscious at that time of the serious environmental downsides to widespread car use, and willing to put effort into going without a car so long as that was feasible. So I commuted by bus for a number of months, and then discovered the joys of vanpooling and carpooling. We were lucky to have friends whose cars we could borrow if we needed to do errands requiring something bigger than a backpack. Otherwise, we walked a lot in that very walkable city.

Still, I was not using my bike at all. I tried to bike to work a couple times, but that was about 28 miles and required me to get on the road at an ungodly hour. So that experiment didn’t work out.

And now I live in Powell River, a very small city with very large potential for bikeability. I use my bike to get around everywhere, mainly but not exclusively within city limits. There are some aspects of biking around here that I am not so happy about, one of them being the sometimes inexplicable reaction from car (and truck) drivers. Some of them come up so close beside me that I wonder if they see me at all. Others pull this really irritating stunt where they hang back in my blind spot — or so they think, but I have a rearview mirror and I can see what they’re up to — and then wait for the right moment when they can pull way over to the left, sometimes right into the oncoming lane, pound on the gas pedal, and roar by me. Hey, thanks!

Sometimes I’ll walk into a store or office and someone will say something like, “Good for you, biking on a day like today.” (I usually get this in the wintertime, or during other periods of crummy weather.) But I don’t feel particularly virtuous about riding my bike, since I don’t have much choice. The thing I do feel virtuous about is not having a car. And even that, to be honest, I don’t really congratulate myself for. I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to choose not to own a car. It would be different if I had children, or a job which I needed to commute to, or a physical disability, or any number of good reasons to need to use a car frequently. There are real disadvantages to not owning a car, and I simply need to live with those. I believe that for my situation and physical abilities, I have no need to own a car. I don’t expect to own a car, although I might end up owning a piece of a shared vehicle at some point in the future when I can no longer bike everywhere I need to go.

Car ownership provides certain obvious benefits. But the costs are very real too, and assuming that the cost of oil will continue to rise into the foreseeable future, these costs will take a larger bite out of an ever-shrinking average household budget. For some people, the cost of car ownership already exceeds the benefits. I believe that this is going to be the case for more and more people over the next months and years. But not many of those people are ready, able, or willing to use a bike to get around. Ditching the car in a world built for cars is hard. Some can do that, and more will be giving it a go.

I expect to see much more interest in bikes, conventional and electric, over the next few years. A bicycle is far and away the best way of traveling short distances. The drawbacks come from weather, road conditions, aggressive drivers, and people’s physical limitations. But these can be overcome to a large extent. The problem is that all of our attention goes to making the roads car-ready, and very little goes to making the roads ready for alternative, low-cost, healthy modes of transportation.

Some of the infrastructure we’ll need to put in place:

  • Dedicated bike lanes;
  • More places to buy and repair bikes;
  • A community cooperative workshop with parts, tools, and skilled technicians;
  • More and better ways of integrating bikes and buses, cars, light rail, etc., so that longer journeys are feasible;
  • Incentives for shared car ownership and/or regular bike use.

A good place to start would be a regional bike club. Anyone want to start one?

As car ownership becomes less feasible for more people, they will be looking for alternatives. Increased bicycle use is one of many likely avenues worth exploring. The days of single ownership of fossil-fuel-burning vehicles are numbered. And we’ll be doing well to start investigating the options which will allow people to get around, work, and take care of their families. It will be a slow transition, but a steady one, and we’re not ready yet.


This recent podcast from Vancouver Cooperative Radio‘s Redeye program has an interview with one of the curators of the Velo-City show at the Museum of Vancouver, which runs until September 7, 2009. Worth a listen, and the show sounds worth seeing if you’re in Vancouver.

Local economy betrayed by the $5 customer

By Tom Read

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service, not a mere commodity seller, but a key part of our island's local economy

Centennial Service has the best commercial location on Texada Island. Its prominent spot at the corner of Blubber Bay Rd and Gillies Bay Rd greets traffic flows coming in from the ferry, or travelling between Van Anda and Gillies Bay, making this a true corner gas station. Even the greenest first-time visitor just can’t miss it.

The owners, John and Linda, have lived on Texada much of their adult lives. I’ve observed the way they conduct business during my nine years living here, and I’d like to point out a few realities that visitors and Texadans alike should consider about our only local gas station.

Let’s start by getting one thing clear: Centennial is not really a commodity-selling business, like gas stops in the cities. For example, if you ask the city gas station attendant for directions, you might get a very brief, often uninformed answer, as in “I don’t live anywhere near here, sorry” while they shift their focus back to the long line-up waiting to buy junk food. Note that it’s an “attendant” you’re usually talking to, not an “owner” or someone who thinks and acts like an owner.

But if you ask John or Linda or Ian (whom I consider an honorary owner, given his dedication) for help, you get real, well-informed, interested help. This could include detailed directions (with a local map) if you’re lost, being a trusted drop-off point for an envelope or package for pickup by someone else later, or having the station opened up after hours so you can get gas if you’ve run out. That’s service, not commodity-selling.

Speaking of after-hours service, consider that in last winter’s snowfalls, our local gas station owners came in to work very early and stayed very late so that our intrepid highway maintenance guys, Al and Sy, could refuel the island’s snowplow/sand truck as often as needed to keep our roads open.

Yet this is a business where volume is everything. If you don’t sell “x” amount of gas each month, you’ll end up paying a higher wholesale rate than your competitors, who will eventually drive you out of business if people choose to buy their gas solely on the basis of price. Our Texada station really can’t offer the lowest prices in the region. It must contend with being off the beaten path for fuel distribution, so the owners often must pay more to bring gas and diesel here. Thus, we “regulars” typically pay a bit more per litre than the city people across the water do. But that’s ok for a loyal customer, because we know that the price spread on fuel between island and mainland isn’t price gouging, it’s just necessary to stay in business. And, believe me, this community really doesn’t want to lose this particular business.

Conclusion: there is just no way this gas station can survive without the loyal support of local people. My understanding is that Texada’s Centennial Service has about 75 such loyal customers who are keeping the station afloat, sometimes just barely. So where are all the other hundreds of vehicle owners who live on Texada buying their gas? Ah, here’s where the $5 customer comes in, pulling up to the pumps right now: “I’ll take $5 worth,” says the polite lady in the nice car, who has lived here a decade or two. “I just need enough to get to Powell River,” where, obviously, she will buy her fill of gas.

Does this hurt? Of course it does, especially for local business people who pride themselves on giving the community superb service that would be unheard of in a city. Local business people who care about their customers are treasures, the very foundation of our local economy.

The ATV as a tool

By Tom Read

Here I am yesterday returning from working on our latest pallet fence, bringing tools back home in the wagon. The quad and wagon can haul up to 14 pallets in one load, then distribute them over rough ground to create a fence line.  By the way, I don’t bother with a helmet at home in mild weather because I never drive faster than 15 kph, and there’s usually no other vehicular traffic on our property.

Here I am yesterday returning from working on our latest pallet fence, bringing tools back home in the wagon. The quad and wagon can haul up to 14 pallets in one load, then distribute them over rough ground to create a fence line. By the way, I don’t bother with a helmet at home in mild weather because I never drive faster than 15 kph, and there’s usually no other vehicular traffic on our property.

All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) like to play.  These rugged little gasoline-powered four-wheelers are also known hereabouts as “quads,” (which I like better for no particular reason) and they’re built and marketed for fossil-fuel-burning recreation. Advertisements show the machines splashing through mud or in mid-flight on an obstacle course. Lots of Texada Islanders own quads, often using them for motorized exploration of the island. I’ve taken a few such excursions, too, and I’ll admit it’s fun. But that’s not why we bought our quad and wagon three years ago. For us, it’s primarily a tool.

When we moved to our seven acres in the Slow Farm area of Texada back in 2000, it never occurred to us that transportation on our own property would become a critical concern. Seven acres is big enough to have a significant number of steep hills, plus several clearings and a creek flowing right through the middle of everything. To get around we developed our own network of roads and trails. Our self-contained transportation network carries some heavy stuff: lumber, gravel, sand, soil and compost, fence posts, firewood rounds and split firewood, tools, furniture, buckets of wet concrete and concrete blocks, wood pallets, bee hives, and, in years past, many bales of hay and straw.

Up until 2006, we typically used our lone motor vehicle, a mid-sized pickup truck, to move these things. The only alternative, and it got used a lot, was a battered wheelbarrow. For example, sometimes I wanted to fill a few potholes or move just four hay bales or maybe a half-dozen concrete blocks.  In such cases I’d often choose the wheelbarrow, because the truck couldn’t go on the little trails behind the house or garden, or it simply seemed like too much trouble to use a whole truck for such small loads. I vividly remember, not fondly, the struggle of pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with rocks and gravel uphill so I could fill post holes for a new garden fence. Then, as now, the leaky wheelbarrow tire would require inflating daily with a hand-operated tire pump before it could go into service.

Then along came an opportunity to buy a quad and wagon, and soon thereafter we traded in the truck for a new little hatchback passenger car. The car can haul a 5’x10’ trailer, a passable pickup truck substitute. But the quad, which is much cheaper and easier to maintain than the car, can haul just about anything, anywhere, using very little gasoline. I’ve mentioned the wagon a few times, but it might deserve an essay of its own. One of my favourite uses of this thing is to haul seaweed from Raven Bay to our compost pile, then hydraulically dump the seaweed (or soil, or firewood, whatever) exactly where it’s supposed to go. The four fat tires provide excellent stability and can support a load of up to 1,600 lbs.  It’s a wonder.

The quad also has a winch, which I used last year for pulling the entire quad and fully loaded wagon up a steep and very rough hill when it wouldn’t otherwise make the grade. We also have a specially-made harrow, a gift of our friend and neighbor Marv, enabling our quad to smooth out rough ground and collect medium-sized rocks from our fields. Our quad came with a plow attachment which helped keep our driveway clear of last winter’s snow, too.

This small-scale machine has become so vital to everyday work at Slow Farm that I now consider it even more important than the car. In a pinch, such as when we were snowed in last winter, the quad can take me into town for groceries, and it enabled us to visit friends on New Year’s Eve while the car was literally stuck in a snow bank.

So if anybody tells you that quads are frivolous, you can mention that you’ve heard they can be quite useful. It’s a tool, not a toy.

Post facto

June 2018
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