Remember the hit song, “Sixteen Tons,” recorded by several artists and taken to #1 by Tennessee Ernie Ford many decades ago? Whether or not you’re a fan of that type of music, most people are familiar with the famous line, “St. Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the Company Store,” meaning, “Hey, I can’t die … I’ve got bills to pay.”
The line referred to Company Towns of the coal-mining industry, where the company owned everything: coal, land, and houses. Workers were paid with scrip―coupons redeemable only at the Company Store, where prices were artificially inflated. » Continue Reading.
Every morning there are tracks in my driveway. Sometimes they’re deer tracks, or the random dog that occasionally wanders through, or like this morning, they’re fox tracks. With only a dusting of snow on the ground, I’m not sure why different animals seem to frequent the driveway, but I almost always stop on my way to work to see who had come through the night before.
I do mean a dusting too. The lack of snow is great for getting things done outside, but obviously horrible for skiing. Last week we got about six inches. I got the plow hooked up to the four-wheeler and, miraculously, got it started. I plowed the snow off the driveway just to practice with the new set up. By Monday afternoon, the only place there was snow was where I had made snowbanks. Good thing I didn’t actually break my finger putting the plow on. It really felt broken when I slammed it. » Continue Reading.
Having previously shared a vision for Adirondack telecommuting, my plan this week is to describe the current state of broadband and telecommuting in the park in some detail and then point towards the future, laying out a handful of important issues related to its long-term viability.
That plan has gotten a big boost from the readers of the Almanack. A number of you wrote in to illustrate the current state of telecommuting far better than I could have, in comments written in response to last to last week’s Dispatch. They were wonderful, revealing that while telecommuting in the Adirondacks is not commonplace, there is no question that its future is already here, thanks to these pioneer Wild Workers (this label, after the suggestion of a reader, is perfect for the situation, plus it is kind of charming). Choosing to live in the Adirondacks while working elsewhere is something that is happening right now. That fact should give a big shot of optimism to those who worry about the economy of the park. » Continue Reading.
A reader recently asked me what a normal day out at the cabin was like. Unfortunately, most of my days consist of getting up, going to work, and coming home to go to bed. But on the weekends and when I’m not working, I’ve settled into a nice routine mixed with plenty of different chores. No, not chores. Activities.
Pico or Ed usually wake me up on the weekend, so I get to sleep in until about six. After ignoring them for an indeterminate amount of time, I relent and get their food. Then Pico and I take a walk up the Right Trail to the Upper Camp. I check the log cabin that’s another quarter mile or so into the woods. I live in the middle of nowhere, and Upper Camp is even closer to the center of the middle of nowhere. » Continue Reading.
A few weeks ago, I wrote here about Joel Aldrich Matteson, a Watertown native who became governor of Illinois―and among other things, established a level of corruption perhaps matched by recent governor/inmate Rod Blagojevich. To balance the scale, here’s a look at another Watertown native who, during Matteson’s tenure, served as governor of Illinois’ neighbor to the north, Wisconsin. Though there was plenty of corruption in Wisconsin’s government during that time, the governor was not believed to be directly involved.
At worst, the wrongdoings of others may have soiled his good reputation, but he left plenty of accomplishments behind as well. He also became tied to a pair of signature events in American history. » Continue Reading.
Before embarking upon our extended July visit to Lost Brook Tract (where we are as you read this) Amy and I made our food list. Per my recent Dispatch it is quite a list, including a fair number of fresh or perishable items. At the top of the list is bacon, we have to have bacon. Now we both love bacon as much as the next person, if not more, but normally we wouldn’t opt for it as it is unwieldy, doesn’t keep well and makes a real mess.
In the world of women’s rights, there has been great progress across many issues that are still being debated. A North Country native stands at the forefront of the ongoing battle, taking on a number of concerns: jobs for single mothers; equal pay for equal work; the negative effects of drugs and cigarettes on young women; the horrors of trafficking in women for sexual purposes; food labeling; the restriction of food additives; the rights to patented and copyrighted works; women’s ability to serve in the military; and the issues faced by families of soldiers serving overseas.
If you follow the news, you’ll recognize most of those topics from current or recent headlines. They are the very same issues that were current between 1880 and 1900, when St. Lawrence County’s Charlotte Smith was American’s groundbreaking and leading reformer in the fight for women’s rights. » Continue Reading.
In a tragic story compounded further by a shocking turn of events, a North Country woman once buried her husband twice in less than thirty days. Admittedly, that seems impossible without some sort of extramarital shenanigans going on, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, there were actually three burials in the story within that short span of time, capping a series of highly unlikely occurrences. To complicate matters even further, the woman actually had only one husband.
Before reading further, if you like solving puzzles, read that paragraph again and try playing detective. How could all that be true? At this point, everyone should be sufficiently confused and anxious for an explanation. And here it is. » Continue Reading.
Frederick Douglass’ great-great-great grandson Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., will give the keynote address at the annual John Brown Day celebration to be held on Saturday, May 5, at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, NY. Morris will talk about the friendship and enduring legacy of Douglass and fellow abolitionist John Brown.
The two men first met in Massachusetts in 1848, a decade after Douglass successfully escaped from slavery on a Maryland plantation and eleven years before Brown’s history-changing raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. By the time they met, Douglass had become one of the most eloquent and sought-after champions of freedom and equal suffrage for women and men, regardless of race.
Founder and President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, Morris will also discuss the Foundation’s work today to create a modern Abolitionist Movement in schools all over the country through the vehicle of Service-Learning.
There are an estimated 27 million men, women and children held in some form of slavery in the world today, generating billions of dollars along the supply chain of labor and products that make much of our daily lives possible.
Joining Morris will be Renan Salgado, a Human Trafficking Specialist based in Rochester, who will shed light in his remarks about slavery and trafficking in New York State today. According to the U.S. State Department, there are approximately 17,500 people trafficked into the U.S. each year. Along with California, Texas, and Florida, New York ranks among the states with the greatest incidence of documented slavery in the country.
Young, award-winning orators from the Frederick Douglass Student Club in Rochester will recite from Douglass’ speeches and excerpts from Brown’s letters. The folk quartet The Wannabees and the hip-hop recording artist S.A.I. will also perform.
John Brown Day revives the tradition dating back to the 1930s of making a pilgrimage to remember and honor Brown by laying a wreath at his grave. Over the last 13 years, the grassroots freedom education project John Brown Lives! has worked to keep that tradition alive and relevant.
John Brown Day 2012 is free and open to the public and it is held outdoors. A brief reception will follow in the lower barn at the site. Donations will be appreciated.
For more information, contact Martha Swan, Executive Director of John Brown Lives! at 518-962-4758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the John Brown Lives! Friends of Freedom on Facebook.
It’s sometimes surprising what catches my attention or sparks an interest, and the subject of this piece is a good example. After all, why would anyone want to hear about North Country linemen, those workers who climb power poles or telephone poles as part of their daily job? Well, their daily routine might be as boring as any other job most of the time, but linemen have a measure of danger built into their profession, beginning with working high above the ground.
When something goes wrong, the results can be spectacular. The stories that follow do not address tragedies, which were once frequent. These instead are amazing stories of survival, coming from my category, “No bones were broken.” » Continue Reading.
What happens to philosophy when we liberate it from the Ivory Tower and from the confines of coursework, academic publications and specializations that can feel like falling head-long down the rabbit hole? What does a philosopher become when she isn’t simply a teacher of curriculum, evaluated and validated by measurable outcomes? What is to be done when the hand-wringing and concerned looks of parents and friends turn into real questions like how in the name of all the esoteric nonsense will the rent get paid? Or more to the point: what are you going to do with this training?
Not to worry. When all else fails there’s always a coffee bar (been there). Or a low-level editorial job at a local newspaper (done that). And if the Gary Larson cartoon my mother sent to me years ago when I declared my intentions showing a “Philosophy and Bait Shop” is any indication, entrepreneurial opportunities abound. But all kidding aside, there is a reason that thousands (yes, thousands!) of us choose this route and my reasoning may be a little surprising: I am a philosopher because I want to be of service. The question of what becomes of philosophers and philosophy when we cut loose from careers that can be easily described and universally understood becomes yet more pronounced when we think about philosophy as a public profession. But there is rich precedence for this and I follow in the wake of great practitioners.
One such colleague is the 19th century philosopher William James who argued that the pragmatic (philosophical) method is a useful way to gain greater understanding about the world. For example, one perennial question that reaches into the culture of crime and punishment is whether we have free will or whether everything, and thus all of our behaviors, are predetermined. Another contemporary favorite played out in the vicious discourse between science and religion asks whether the world is material or spiritual? Philosophers in the pragmatic tradition continue to assert that we can use pragmatic principles to get a handle on what the practical consequences would be, if one or another of these claims about the world are true. But what comes after this “all the way down” thinking that we owe to James is where it gets interesting, and where the contribution of a public philosopher can be seen. Once we have traced the practical consequences of an idea and we have a working understanding of what those consequences mean for humanity, for environment etc. then philosophers are obligated to do something to advance whatever we resolve to be right or good! Only when we see the method through to its end, have we done justice to the term pragmatism that is from the Greek pragma meaning action, practice or practical.
This is on my mind because I’ve just returned from a conference dedicated to the work of American pragmatic philosophers. Here most of the attendees were “theoretically” committed to what could be called practical philosophy or philosophy that is focused on questions of agency and experience including what compels us to act in the face of injustice or conflict, what happens in that moment when we are not merely thinking but acting according to an ethical or moral code? Why do we sometimes fail to act and when we do (or don’t) what criteria can we measure our behavior by? As an applied and a public philosopher myself, I had high hopes for this crowd. From my work in the Adirondacks for the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry I take a mandate for action seriously. I’ve learned to appreciate the urgency of real situations that don’t present a clear path of right or wrong, of yes we should or no we’d better not. I understand that more often, like any complex set of realities, the way forward doesn’t resemble one well-marked trail and indeed the closer we look, the more possible directions are revealed.
If this kind of work is undertaken with and for the benefit of a range of communities, and if it is done in service to the public good, what does it look like for us in the Adirondacks and for me in particular? The answer is simple and I think, powerful. SUNY ESF owns more than 20,000 acres of land in the Adirondack Park, with an institutional mission to support research dedicated to advancing the scientific knowledge of Adirondack ecosystems. Through close collaborations with a variety of government and non-government agencies and organizations, ESF has had extraordinary success putting scientific data in the hands of policy makers. Policy makers have translated these findings into guidelines and strategies that continue to direct the future of the Park. With this kind of influence comes a three-fold responsibility: to ESF students dedicated to the pursuit of science, that they understand how their work will guide practical decisions on the landscape; to the Adirondack community who will be impacted by the policy implemented based on the findings generated through ESF; and to regional agencies and organizations, that they understand the ethical considerations involved in using this information to enact regulations that impact the complicated balance between culture and nature in the Park. SUNY ESF is on the leading edge linking good science with care for the communities that it impacts through a commitment to provide a representative entrusted with addressing the range of human impacts of this unusual partnership between scientific research and the policy that it advances.
During the conference I had a chance to talk about my work at ESF and the variety of publics that I interact with. In the process I realized that we at ESF, and in the Adirondacks more broadly, are doing what many in attendance and across the discipline are merely talking about doing. As the conference drew to a close, the Society’s President urged an audience of hundreds of academic philosophers to become involved in public discourse, to bring the philosophical method to bear on practical questions of ethics and moral right-doing, to reach out to communities in an effort to bring them into discussions and deliberations and to enrich the public space through competent and thoughtful facilitation of contentious issues. In effect, what William James said of Pragmatism can be said of the practice of philosophy, that it unstiffens all our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work.
New York’s Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) supports industries that generate approximately $40 billion annually for the State’s economy and sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to a recent analysis.
The report, prepared by The Trust for Public Land (a national conservation organization) in collaboration with the New York Environmental Leaders Group, concludes that the EPF generates jobs, supports local economies, and elevates property values. The analysis also concludes that for every $1 invested to protect lands under EPF, $7 in economic benefits is returned to New York through “natural goods and services,” such as filtering air and water of pollutants, and flood control. » Continue Reading.
There’s a half dozen black capped chickadees hanging around the cabin now. They finally found the bird feeders, though the blue jays have been scarce. One of the jays was hanging out in an apple tree this morning, but I haven’t seen them at the feeders in a few days.
I was recently asked why I decided to live off the grid. Long story short: It’s free and I can’t afford to pay rent. But when I really think about it, this has been a long time coming.
The idea of being self sufficient has always appealed to me. I just couldn’t afford to buy a piece of land to do this on, and until this winter, I had never been lucky enough to have someone just offer to let me live in a place for free. When Amy asked if I wanted to stay out here, I didn’t even think about it. I just said yes.
I’ve usually moved around a lot, mainly because I get restless, and the grass is always greener somewhere else. In 2006, when I moved to Florida, I was in desperate need of a change. I had battled depression most of my life, and Jacksonville seemed like a good escape. Eventually, I manned up and sought help for my depression. And part of my therapist’s plan was to help me realize that I could do what I want with my life and not be afraid of the consequences. After all, it was my life to screw up.
The more I thought about this new, happier phase, the more I knew that I couldn’t keep living in Florida. I gave up two jobs, health insurance, vacation time, a pension, lots of friends, and agreed to a long-distance relationship all to move back to the mountains and work a seasonal job with no benefits so that I could hike and play with my dog Pico. I knew that I would be broke and I didn’t care.
I think that’s why I am adjusting so well to living off the grid; because I’ve been mentally preparing for it for years. And now that I’m actually doing it, I couldn’t be happier. Sure, I’m broke, single, and have to ask friends if I can take a quick shower at their houses (They always say yes!) but what could be better than having an adventure like this? When I look back twenty years from now, I know that this time will have been a major turning point in my life.
The experience I’m having is already shaping the future me. I’m making plans for a cabin of my own, looking for land, and reading and taking classes on farming, homesteading, food preservation and draft horse handling. I’m not shy of hard work, and when I can afford some land, I plan on building a log cabin and living off the grid. But, since I’m not the Unabomber, I will also have solar panels, running water and indoor plumbing. Plus I’m pretty sure the Unabomber didn’t have a blog.
Justin Levine is living off the grid in a cabin in the Adirondacks with his dog Pico and blogging at Middle of the Trail.
A plan to spend $100,000 to fund free ice skating in the City of Albany is drawing the ire of a local Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) workers who have been without a contract for nearly three years.
“CSEA workers at Gore, Whiteface, and the other Olympic facilities have spent the last three years without a contract making wages commensurate to the working poor,” says a mailing that arrived in local mailboxes this week from the Civil Service Employees’ Association (CSEA), the union that represents ORDA workers. “As they struggle to support their families here in the North Country the ORDA CEO Ted Blazer is spending $100,000 for an ice skating rink in the City of Albany!” » Continue Reading.
In the 1830s, hundreds of inventors around the world focused on attempts at automating farm equipment. Reducing the drudgery, difficulty, and danger of farm jobs were the primary goals, accompanied by the potential of providing great wealth for the successful inventor. Among the North Country men tinkering with technology was Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington in northern Franklin County.
Functional, power-driven machinery was the desired result of his work, and while some tried to harness steam, Briggs turned right to the source for providing horsepower: horses.
This particular branch of the Briggs family had many members across New England, descended from Irish ancestors who fought in America’s Revolutionary War. A number of them later moved to New York in southern Washington County, which is where Eliakim was born in 1795.
Dozens of Vermonters and eastern New York State residents were among the first to move farther north and settle along the border with Canada from Clinton County to western Franklin County. Several members of the Briggs clan, including Eliakim, made the journey around 1820.
With a background in foundry work, young Eli began experimenting with building a “traveling threshing machine.” Around this time, he married Chateaugay’s Russina Allen (a descendant of Vermont’s Ethan Allen), who had moved there from Ticonderoga. They settled in Fort Covington, and by 1827, Russina had given birth to five children. Only the fifth, Janette, survived infancy.
Eli’s inventive efforts proved successful, and he began patenting his creations. Unfortunately, a fire in December 1836 destroyed 80 percent of the Patent Office’s 10,000 records. Among the documents to survive were those covering Eliakim’s “Horse Power Machine” (patented July 12, 1834), and his machine for “mowing, thrashing, and cleaning grain,” patented February 5, 1836.
The 1834 machine was an improvement in design and function of the existing horse treadmill, which was subsequently used to power his threshing machine. Looking to the future, Briggs perceived all sorts of possibilities from harnessing the power of horse-driven treadmills.
In the following year, on the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad (one of New York’s very first rail lines) was a most unusual sight. Instead of the customary single rail car being towed along by a horse, the car was moving silently forward with no visible means of propulsion.
Gawkers could hardly believe their eyes, but the secret lay within, where a horse on a treadmill propelled the car forward at the then blazing speed of 15 miles per hour, prompting one reporter to observe, “This is indeed an age of wonders.” He was witnessing the handiwork of Eliakim Briggs of Fort Covington, whose remarkable invention was being manufactured and sold in Ogdensburg at the time.
Briggs felt that the greatest potential for financial success was in agriculture, and after a trip to the West (which was Indiana, since there were only 26 states at that time), he was convinced. The family pulled up stakes and relocated to Dayton, Ohio.
In 1839, Thomas Clegg, one of Dayton’s pioneer industrialists, operated the Washington Cotton Factory, which had an extensive machine shop. Clegg partnered with Briggs in producing his automatic threshing machine, to the great financial benefit of both men.
Eliakim became one of the leading entrepreneurs of Dayton, but after three years he moved on to Richmond, Indiana for a year. In 1841, the family settled in South Bend, and it was there where Eliakim really made his mark. The fledgling settlement of perhaps 700 citizens soon experienced rapid growth, driven in part by Briggs’ threshing manufactory (powered by windmills), one of the first industries in the town’s history.
After three years of success, the company outgrew its quarters. Briggs built a large new factory, providing employment for many residents, some of whom later became leading businessmen themselves (the famed Studebakers are one example).
Briggs’ traveling threshing machine was a big success, and not only because of the inventor’s great abilities. Eliakim’s charisma was evident in his open, friendly treatment of customers who came from Indianapolis, Lafayette, Richmond, and other western locations. He opened his expansive home to visitors and customers alike, earning a reputation far and wide as the most hospitable and generous of businessmen.
He also remained a family man to a brood that had grown to nine by 1844, including sons John, George, and Charles, who eventually followed business pursuits as aggressively as their father had. John caught gold fever and ventured to California in 1849. As his brothers became old enough, they joined him in several business exploits, including mining. One part of their legacy, still producing gold today, is the Briggs Mine, about 20 miles north of Denver.
Successful in business, Eliakim combined his personal beliefs with financial profits in pursuit of a personal passion: the anti-slavery movement. He was a fervent abolitionist who sought freedom for all. Briggs abhorred slavery and was a longtime, ardent supporter of the Underground Railroad, despite the inherent dangers.
In early 1861, at the age of 66, Eli was still securing patents on new devices, while his horse-driven machines remained very popular. That same year, previous failures in the effort to process sugar cane in the West finally met with success when new equipment was introduced: “…a horizontal, three-roller, horse-power press for expressing the juice, manufactured by E. Briggs of South Bend, capable of pressing out sixty gallons per hour …”
Eventually, the development of steam and other power sources would replace Eliakim’s creation, but during his lifetime, it remained an important component of industry.
Briggs died in September 1861, still successful in industry, and still battling for the abolition of slavery. A year later, in September 1862, his wife, Russina, passed away as well. Much of the family fortune was placed in the hands of daughter Janette, a widow whose husband had also done quite well for himself.
Janette became very well known for philanthropy in South Bend. When she died in 1916, several bequests were included in her will, including $15,000 to an orphanage and $12,000 to the YWCA. Those two bequests alone were equal to approximately $500,000 in 2011, reminiscent of the generosity her father exhibited throughout his life.
Photo: Patent drawing of Eliakim Briggs’ horse treadmill (1834).
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
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