By the time we closed on our land, we were excited – more excited than 2 adults should be – about things like tree removal, brush piles, and gravel. We were ready for our acreage to be livable yesternow and couldn’t wait to do what it took to get there.
Settling land is like a chess game. You look at the big picture and make a series of big, scary moves to hopefully reach your happy place: in our case, that’s as rural homesteaders with a lovely [on-grid] home and minimal debt. Our first move ended up being a farm truck. Farm truck! (It’s a phrase you have to yell.)
We thought move #1 would be to buy a UTV, a magical blend of golf cart and ATV. Our thinking changed immediately after pricing UTVs. Even a used UTV can easily cost 6x more than a used pickup truck. Weird world.
Plus, a pickup truck can handle trips to the gravel pit, moving trees, dirt, lawnmowers, etc.
For a week or two, Chris reached out to sellers on Craigslist with full-sized, longbed, 4×4 pickups around $2K, which seemed reasonable for a truck that, while powerful, would only need to drive 15 miles a week.
On a freezing Sunday morning, we clicked with the seller of an F150 north of Knoxville, dug ourselves out of nearly a foot of snow and drove to the big city to test drive the what would become our new pickup.
Read our tips for buying a farm truck. Farm truck!
It’s not just any pickup. It’s a bona fide farm truck: a gas-guzzling, ear-drum-bruising, long-bedded beast with a rebuilt modified big block and a block of wood for an emergency brake.
Hey, on our budget we traded a little style for luxuries like parking brakes and working door locks. This badboy growls like a bear, clutches like a boss and, like any self-respecting farm truck, keeps all its power on the low end, making it the perfect tool for dragging trees, hauling rocks, and bouncing around town looking cool. We call it Black Sunshine.
Why Did We Need a Farm Truck?
And why did we need a truck first thing? After all, we had a 4×4 SUV already.
Because trucks can carry bigger, heavier, messier loads, and we needed a driveway first thing. That means gravel.
We thought we needed power and an outbuilding or barn first, but once again, we were starting in the wrong spot. After walking the land with a few local people who know this area and this soil, in particular the power-company rep, we learned that our driveway needed a lot of work.
Here’s the low down: our land sits 1/3 mile from the nearest road, and our homesite is 1/2 mile off the road. An old single-track rambles up our right-of-way, but only the first 1/4 mile is well surfaced with layers of gravel. After that, the drive is more mud than solid ground. Weekly rains since late fall – a blessing to Gatlinburg and the rest of us in the path of 2016’s Appalachian arsonists – have been less kind to the driveway.
Predictably, each trip we take up it to clear dead trees, clear brush, and remove drought debris from the creek has rutted the road even more. Even Chris’ nimble 4×4 SUV started threatening to take up permanent residence in one of the muddiest parts.
And what about running power and building a barn? There’d be no way power-company crews or building materials could make it up.
Another issue: we share 30 yards of our right-of-way with other families. They don’t live on the land and aren’t as vested in keeping the driveway civilized, but they do rightfully expect access their land. It would be beyond rude to leave our shared road in bad condition.
The first job of the Farm Truck! was to help us be good neighbors (by showing, not just saying, that we’re considerate) while maintaining access to our own land as well. The truck has been essential in hauling tons of gravel to establish the surface on that portion of road that was becoming unstable.
The part of the driveway that isn’t shared needs more than gravel, so our second big “move” (or large purchase) is hiring the excavator to grade, “crown,” and gravel a permanent driveway to our homesite.
Find Your Own First Move
Maybe you already have a truck and a driveway. Figuring out your own first steps into settling land can be intimidating, and you often won’t end up where you start.
To demonstrate, our first-quarter list initially looked like this:
- Collect tools to clean up the land; begin clearing trees and helping the creek run better.
- Install a barn, shed, or Quonset hut to securely store tools and maybe even begin to establish a home and fencing for animals to graze our acre of kudzu. We’re anxious to start knocking down the kudzu.
- Run Power.
Turns out the power guy (the rep from the power company who is helping us connect our land to the grid), was born here and settled his own acreage. He shed light on a few issues with our goals, including that the power company won’t put poles where there isn’t access.
In his mind, we shouldn’t be in a rush to have power anyway. You don’t need to start paying that bill until your house is closer to being built.
As he put it, “You gotta get to your house.” You want a shed or power? You need access.
Access is now our #1 goal.
The power guy gave us the names of 3 excavators who don’t rip people off. “Get quotes from all 3,” he said, and he repeated it. “Get quotes from all 3.”
And we did, and each of those people taught us more about the land as well. Locals who have visited our land have been generous with their opinions, and we’re listening.
The local forester who walked with us, also a raiser of goats, said not to get any animals before moving out there, electric fence or not. He noted too much predator sign. So even though we want a barn to shelter our tools, we don’t need to worry about fencing or animal housing yet.
We do need to worry about more than just the kudzu in the invasive realm. “Trees of heaven,” privet/Ligustrum, and Amur honeysuckle are currently working away at our soil in about 1/3 of the acreage, threatening the future of some beautiful native trees, so we’ve replaced a goal of grazing goats with other means of mitigating invasives, like pulling those plants up by the roots. The goats will be here soon enough, when we can better protect them.
Wait, So, What’s My First Move?
If you search “homesteading” on YouTube, you’ll uncover a universe of innovative ruralites. If you’ve got data to burn (yes, city-folk: limited data on your home internet is a thing), sit a spell with the Fouch-o-matic Off Grid channel.
Their authentic sharing is like a salve. It personally let me know that it’s okay to feel like we’re crazy to take on this whole project. They also advise to take time with your land after you purchase it and before you dive in. Learn where and when the sun shines. Test the soil. Ask others who know the area to weigh in on your plans. This will help you make the right decisions for long-term success.
In other words, your first move is to listen. Good luck!