After two years of looking we finally found our perfect farm. Perfect” in this case being property we could actually afford without having to go back to work. Our find was ten acres of cropland near the little burg of Berlin Heights, Ohio. This property came complete with a farmhouse (rental income to help pay for this adventure), a beautiful century barn (unfortunately showing its age) and a chicken coop (soon to be home to our alpacas).The farm was only a ten-minute drive from our lakefront condo (something I refused to give up), so it would be possible to make a couple of roundtrips a day without going broke buying gasoline.
An interesting feature about this farm was its location across the road from a large nature preserve. This park, in an earlier life,
was destined to become the home of one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world. And years ago (more than I care to remember) yours truly had moved halfway across the country to be part of the design team for this plant.As a young engineer I had visited this site and looked forward to some day living and working in this rural area of Ohio.But before we could turn so much as a shovelful of dirt, an incident occurred on a small island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. The name of this island was Three Mile and what happened there spelled the death knell of nuclear power in this country.As a result I had to find a whole new career and quickly forgot about this bucolic area near Berlin Heights.But fate can also be ironic, and so it was a quarter of a century later I found myself buying property just a stone’s throw from this location.
Roxanne and I have purchased enough property in our lifetimes so that a “closing” is no longer a big deal. Unlike my first house
closing which I emerged from with sweaty palms and a splitting headache, purchasing this farm was a ho-hum affair.The three of us (Roxanne, the title person and I) pushed a multitude of mind-numbing papers back and forth and chatted about raising alpacas. I now realize I am truly getting old when even the red-tape bureaucracies of our banking and legal system can no longer bring my blood to a boil.
Afterwards it was off to celebrate the purchase of our alpaca farm.We decided an event of this importance required something special, so we bypassed our usual fast food joints and selected Berry’s, a reconditioned 1930’s bar and grill in downtown Norwalk
(that’s Ohio, not Connecticut).It was mid-afternoon and this is the heartland of America, so most of the hard-working people of this community were still toiling away at their jobs and we had the restaurant to ourselves.Here we happily toasted our new endeavor with cheap wine; not realizing our lives were about to change forever.
Afterwards I was ready to head home and work on my spreadsheets, but Roxanne wanted to visit our new farm; so at 4 PM we pulled into the driveway. (Actually there was no driveway, just a worn, grassy patch –my list of ‘things to do’ was already growing and I hadn’t even gotten out of my car!) Once inside the house Roxanne proclaimed she could not put up with the “cat” smell a
moment longer.(The previous owner had owned at least fifty cats that had used the house as their personal kitty litter box.) In an attempt to get rid of some of this obnoxious odor Roxanne began pulling down the drapes from the windows.I sighed and reluctantly joined her, all the while realizing my happy retirement days were becoming but distant memories.
We had ripped down half the drapes when suddenly an irate woman came charging into the house.We identified ourselves as the new owners, but this revelation did not placate this women.She said she was the realtor for the seller and we had no right to be in this house destroying her client’s property.As this woman and I stood with our noses just inches apart, Roxanne, who knows me well, realized I was about to loose my cool and wisely stepped between us.
My bride can be quite gracious when required and on this afternoon she worked her magic with this angry woman.I had enough sense to realize Roxanne had the situation under control and forced myself to find something to do in another part of the house.When I returned Roxanne and the lady were laughing and chatting like long lost friends.We ended up learning quite a bit
about the property from this woman.Finally, enjoining us to “have fun” with our new farm, the lady departed. Lesson learned: you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar!
Note: I had always wondered why anyone would want to catch flies.Having now operated a livestock operation during the “dog days” of summer, I unfortunately understand the truth in this old saying. Not only do we catch flies by the bushel, but in our case we use rotting meat instead of honey to attract them.This delicacy gives off an odor which makes me long for the fine aroma of carpet soaked with cat urine.
With the screaming lady out of our hair, we continued our work.As we dragged smelly, dusty curtains into a huge pile in the middle of the living room, I was temped to ask Roxanne if she was having fun, but wisely thought better of it. As I stared at this odorous
pile and contemplated my not-so-bright future, Roxanne called out “Honey, can you come here for a second?” Now these
words may sound innocuous to the casual bystander, but they made my blood run cold. Roughly translated, what they mean
is “Something very expensive and terribly complicated is broken!” As I trudged up the squeaky stairs (yet another item on my ever expanding ‘to do’list), my worst fears were confirmed as I saw Roxanne standing outside the bathroom door with her arms
crossed.She then spoke those fateful words: “The toilet won’t work, dear.”
Some background is necessary.All my life I have lived in homes where the bathroom effluent (this is a fancy engineering term well you know) magically disappears into a big pipe buried under the street. Until this moment, I had never given one thought to what happens to the stuff in my toilet once I pushed the little lever on the side.Now, however, we were the proud owners of our very own septic disposal system.This meant we had the privilege of storing our effluent like some valuable treasure in a big tank buried in our back yard.As I walked into the bathroom I could only visualize miles of dark, ugly pipes installed when the first Roosevelt was in
the White House.And on the heels of this picture came an even scarier one: a fat, smiling contractor gleefully rubbing his hands together as a huge backhoe tore up our yard.I wondered if it was too late to chase down the realtor lady and tell her we had
changed our minds.
It is with these dark thoughts I entered the bathroom –expecting the worst.Instead I found everything to be quiet: in fact, too quiet.
I carefully pushed the magic little handle on the side of the toilet.Nothing happened.Hmmmmmm, very interesting.I removed the top of the toilet tank and peered inside its dark depths.(I was reminded of a person who lifts the hood on his stalled car to stare at the
engine, not having a clue as to what he is looking at. But in this case I was pleasantly surprised.I could actually see what was wrong! There was no water in the tank.Even a novice sewer man like me knows that a toilet works by dumping a bunch of water into the bowl to flush out the icky stuff. Without water nothing is going to happen.
I next twisted open one of the faucets on the bathroom sink.No water here either!As I cackled softly to myself (not a very healthy sound to say the least), I began to deduce what had happened.Apparently the previous owner of this house had boarded the Starship Enterprise immediately after the closing ceremony and at warp factor ten had traveled to the Water Department to have the service shut off.This had left us new owners with no water and a toilet full of unmentionables.
Roxanne called the Water Department and confirmed this. She also learned we had until noon the next day to get the service put in our name or we would be without water for several days, as this was the start of the long Labor Day weekend.Seeing me preparing to deliver a prolonged sermon regarding the ingratitude of the seller and the laziness of government employees, Roxanne quickly agreed to take care of it the first thing in the morning.
With this crisis averted, we locked the doors and said goodbye to our new farm.It had been a long day. What I didn’t know at the time was this day merely gave us the briefest glimpse of what was in our future. For better or worse, we were now contractors, farmers and landlords, which brought with it all that entailed –both good and bad alike.