Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick —
There are many things that divide city life and rural life: digital access and politics are often discussed in the media, but access to repair and services in rural America is also vastly different than in our cities. When we need something repaired in the city that we cannot fix ourselves, we either call someone to come to our homes or we bring it to a nearby repair shop.
However, in rural America, finding repair shops is often challenging. But that does not mean that rural America is falling apart. Recently I discovered that rural America contains hidden gems when you need something fixed. You just need to ask around.
My wife and I are fortunate to own a beautiful plot of land in the Central Sands country of Wisconsin that Aldo Leopold beautifully describes in A Sand County Almanac. Much of our land is full of old oak forest, which though lovely, often requires me to cut downed trees when they block our road.
Until we owned this land, I had never operated a chainsaw, so I have learned a lot about how to do so over the 26 years we have enjoyed this beautiful property. While I am pleased to report that I have never injured myself while using my chainsaw, I have learned that the nature of this tool requires frequent adjustments to keep the chain tight so it operates properly.
On a recent trip to Central Sands, I needed to clear some large trees that had fallen over our road. While in the middle of clearing the second tree, I noticed the chain was loose, but when I tried to tighten it, the adjustment would not work. So, I took the cover off and noticed that the adjusting pin was gone. Sadly, our local hardware store had been put out of business by a Dollar General, which had opened right next to it a couple of years ago. So, I called up to the next closest hardware store about a 20 minute drive away, and the owner thought he had the part I needed. Unfortunately, when I got there and showed her what I needed, she realized that she did not have the part I needed.
So, I called the next closest hardware store, which was another 30 minutes away in a different direction. The clerk told me right away that they did not have the part I needed, so I asked him if he knew anywhere in the area where I could find the part. He told me that there was a man on Highway 21 between Coloma and Adams that could fix my saw. I was thrilled and asked for his name. Unfortunately, he did not know his name, but he gave me directions and said there would be a Jonsered chainsaw sign by the highway.
Since my road was blocked, I drove another 30 minutes to search for the repairman. Although I was concerned I might not find it, sure enough, I saw the sign and turned into the drive of a small dairy farm. A sign pointed me to the store, and when I got out of my car, I saw a sign that gave me a phone number to call since nobody was in the small barn that served as the repair shop.
I called the number and nobody answered, so I left a message and waited. I wondered how long I should wait and after contemplating leaving, a grizzled farmer in his seventies came out of a large barn and asked me what I needed. I told him and showed him the saw, and after he took the cover off, he agreed with my assessment. However, since my saw is a different brand than he sells, he was not sure if he had the part. He checked my saw’s model number and asked me to wait while he looked to see if he had the same version in his shop so he could swap the covers.
A few minutes later, he emerged from his large barn with a saw just like mine, and he was able to swap the cover off his saw onto mine, and since the cover had the adjusting pin that mine was missing, after a few adjustments, it worked just fine. After he was done, I asked him how much he wanted for the repair, and he asked for $20, which I am quite confident was far less than I would have been charged if I had brought my saw to the store in Madison where I usually get it fixed. Plus, he fixed it right on the spot, which is what I needed since my road was blocked.
I gladly paid him and thanked him and then I returned to my plot of land to finish clearing my road.
While the urban-rural divide is quite real, my recent chainsaw repair taught me that in rural America, although one must take a few more steps and hunt a little harder for repairs, the repairs one needs can be obtained, and may even be done better and less expensively than in the city. Since I am confident I will need my chain saw repaired in the future, I now know exactly where I will go when that time comes.
This essay was originally published on Jeffrey’s blog at Systems Change Consulting (Nov. 8, 2018).