Did you know that dynamite was a traditional farm tool? For decades, you could buy it by the case by mail-order from Sears. It had many uses around the farm: blowing stumps, shattering boulders, breaking up plow-pan, digging holes for tree planting, and even (believe it or not) digging ditches.
I’ve republished We Wanted a Farm by M. G. Kains, which has a whole chapter about his newbie experiences with dynamite in the old days, including snake-holing and other semi-exotic techniques. M. G. Kains is the author of the 1936 back-to-the-land handbook, Five Acres and Independence. It turns out that (not surprisingly) the wisdom that went into Five Acres came partly from having a farm of his own, with the triumphs and tragedies that go with it.
If you head over to my We Wanted a Farm Web page, you can check out the sample chapters, including the one on dynamite!
Kains had an interesting approach to the back-to-the-land problem. He had a day job a an editor in New York City, and didn’t want to quit right away. So first he moved from his apartment to a rented house in the suburbs and had a big garden. Then he moved into a purchased house and tried berries and orcharding. Finally, he bought a farm and went into orcharding in a big way. So it’s not just a book about dynamite: there’s plenty about gardening and orcharding, too, more or less alternating with his yarns about his adventures, and even two poems insulting the Ben Davis apple, the Red Delicious of the day, which, among other things, “tastes like a mattress and drives you to crime.”
I think this multi-step approach is good. My parents went back-to-the-land, leaving L.A. (where my dad was an aerospace engineer) and building a campground in the redwoods. Not a bad idea — working in a campground in beautiful surroundings with happy vacationers was the ideal job for me (I was eleven when the campground opened, and had a built-in summer job) — but we did some things wrong. How could it have been otherwise? We hadn’t done this stuff before. The campground was never profitable, and we didn’t have enough money to fix our mistakes. So we limped along rather than flourishing. So I think the model is “three strikes and you’re out,” not “one strike and you’re out.” If you give yourself permission to swing at the ball several times, rather than placing a single giant bet, you’re more likely to succeed.
We Wanted a Farm is a great book but seems to have been forgotten. Not anymore! You can read sample chapters (including the one on dynamite) and order the book on my Norton Creek Press site. Check it out!
(If you just want to know more about dynamite, and don’t care about back-to-the-land books), check out this free online 1912 dynamite handbook.