Enter The Big Red Dump Truck

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts kid...

I did it.  I bought a frickin dump truck.  Its BIG.  Its red.  And it will tow over 10,000#’s… with another 3000#’s in the dump bed.  Its a beast.

I’ve been talking all winter about the fact that I am Scaling Up this year.  Harvests and Compost will no longer be measured in pounds and yards, but TONS. The business and fertility plans call for 20 tons of compost this year.  That is 40,000#’s and beyond the limits of my utility trailer and pitchfork.  To increase the amount of good that I wish to do, I need to mechanize.  2 years ago that meant a Grillo.  The Year of the Tiger calls for something a bit more drastic – this is the first salvo.

First off, let me make something clear.  I bought this truck cooperatively.  That means a buddy of mine and I bought it halvesies.  We are not sure about all the ins and outs of that yet, but it will be titled in both our names and jointly insured.  It is a leap of trust.  It is an investment in community.  It is the kind of thing that people don’t do anymore, but a manner of living that I deeply believe we need to relearn.  Dump trucks are like many wicked useful tools.  When you need one … you REALLY need one.  And then it will sit for awhile until you need it again which is a waste.  My partner has a 30 acre farm and is converting it to a Permaculture Sanctuary full of Do Goodery.  Doubling the top soil on 30 acres means you need ALOT of organic matter.  Much will be grown on site, but with multiple horse and natural dairy farms nearby this truck will help his family jump start their healing of the land.  But, like many of us, he still has a day job, meaning that the truck will sit idle much of the week.  I have BIG plans for a truck like this.  AND I also happen to be off during the week when the truck is idle.  Neither of us really wanted to spend the full $4000 a well used dump like this costs.  Hence the dual titling.  Will it be easy?  No – there will be conflicts over use, repairs, etc.  …but EASY got us into this societal mess.  There is more to Being the Change than planting potatoes in sheet mulch.  I want my kids to grow up in a world where property lines are blurred somewhat – where sharing is a community value and joint ventures are more common than sole proprietorships.   Where what is mine is yours if you need it, because I know that what’s yours is mine in a pinch.  We’ve got each other’s back.  Its scary, but its also wicked cool.  I am very grateful of his trust.

This truck will hold 8 cubic yards of mulch or over 2 tons of manure or restaurant waste. It will tow a chipper large enough to eat 4″ willow trunks all the live long day.   It is inexpensive when considering the ROI and is all but fully depreciated given its current price of $3500.  Its engine is a Chevy 350 V-8, one of the more common in existence and its not fancy – you want air you crank the window, buddy.   As we power down this vehicle could be in use for decades to come in a salvage economy.  As a gasoline engine- it can run on syngas, propane, NG, methane, ethanol, or gasoline with little modification.  If the EFI goes, we may consider retrofitting a carb just to ease fuel conversions.  Dang useful.

This blog was founded almost 4 years ago as I worked to heal the land of my .5 acre HOA lot.  I have learned so very much in the past 4 years of reading, writing, and discussing the issues with you all.  I have acquired skills.  I have surrounded myself with an insane network of incredibly skilled, knowledgeable and connected people.  And I have now found myself at a point where I can push a paradigm a bit into a direction in I feel is vital.  Over the past 4 decades we have relearned how to garden organically.  More importantly we have learned how to heal land damaged by 6 decades of industrial abuse.  We also know that the problems are so much bigger than our forefathers in the Back to Land movement could have ever imagined.  No longer is it enough to grow local organic food – now we must literally think about carbon sequestration and energy production in conjunction with food farming.  This century calls for Energy Farms.

Farmers, not tractor drivers, but real hands in the soil farmers know natural systems better than any scientist. They are generalists with keen senses of observation, economy, and a work ethic to get it all done.  And it is these farmers that will play a pivotal role in connecting the dots to a more sustainable future.  That knowledge of natural systems will prove essential as we transition from rigid, linear solutions to fluid, organic solutions to life’s eternal struggles for Food, Shelter, and Energy.  Permaculture gives us many of the tools to help design this methodology, but my grandfather didn’t need a fancy word for what he called common sense.   And Energy Farms make ALOT of common sense.  Essentially I am asking farmers to function stack their parcels – to turn the ethanol debate on its head and produce Food AND Fuel in addition to resources like soil amendments, services like carbon sequestration, and to create skilled jobs.  On farm.

I have talked through my version of positive feedback loops starting with a biomass gasifier providing the heat and power for methane, aquaponics, 4 season harvesting, ethanol production, and carbon sequestration in biochar.  This system partners beautifully with large scale organic waste recycling using hot composting, vermiculture and mushroom beds allowing the produce and coppice fields to be even more productive.   As the tons of produce leave the farm, even more organic matter is back hauled on site to be converted to fuel, food, and resources effeciently with some of the surplus leaving  the farm to continue the healing elsewhere.  Waste begins to refer less to things  like plastic bags and more to a loss of potential or poor design.  Cradle to Grave produce planning is possible.  We are now running an Energy Farm.

There are several Energy Farms being started in some scale or another thanks in large part to work by the Post Carbon Institute over the past several years and now being continued by Michael Bomford, PCI Fellow.  I will be working within my network to do my best to have one going here in Southern WI with in the next year.  This Dump Truck is the first BIG step (its got a 12′ bed for cripes sake!)  in that direction.  3000 sq ft greenhouses, manure spreaders, skid steers, ethanol stills (the dump gets 8mpg) and 20kw generators powered by methane are in my future.

Be the Change!


13 Responses

  1. Congratulations!

    With your big red dump truck, your contribution to the cause will be immense!

    I wonder if Milwaukee soil growers/gardeners would be worth your considering as a market for your new service capabilities?

    Viva, big red dump trucks!


    • Godsil – we are certainly open to making this vehicle a resource to The Cause. The bed will hold about 8 yards of chips or 3000#’s of manure or compost.

      Barter deals for composting worms, compost sifters, or aquaponics material are certainly on the table. Cash deals are always welcome, but pro bono work for Really Cool Projects are possible as well.

      Please be in touch and continue your awesome work at Sweet Water Organic!

  2. One fuel you forgot to mention:


    And if it isn’t annoying, I’d just like to reiterate that it is less fond of water than ehtanol, and so takes less energy to distill, and is less corrosive on fuel systems.

    • Joel, those are good points, but though the energy density and ease of use in butanol are certainly in its favor, it does not appear to be as easily fermented compared to ethanol from what I have read –which is not overly much. Do you have some articles to recommend?

      Methane is my current winner -mostly due to ease of access to feedstocks and simplicity of production. But we have both a methane digester and a ethanol still about 80% complete.

  3. Man, you’re an inspiration! It’s great to see people like you not only pioneering these types of approaches, but doing it so openly so that others can reproduce your efforts (with suitable localisations) around the world.

    I’m loving reading along, and vicariously sharing your journey.

    • Wow, thanks Darren! The open source aspects are critical. Winning isn’t getting a patent, its in changing society by providing real answers and pushing the envelope a bit so others can push it even farther. My ideas are so much richer thanks to the commentary and people I have met through this blog and my work – it takes a Village to save the world!

      And it can work in the business world too. I read Small is Possible, by Lyle Estill and was very impressed by their business model of giving ideas away for free which creates buzz and excitement and free marketing, which builds your client base. You then charge for consulting, construction, and / or your product (Biodiesel in their case).

      Thanks again Darren for joining in the conversation!


  4. I have recently found your blog and I am more than impressed! You are unpaving a way to the future and it is very inspiring. I hope to be able to catch up on all your old posts and stay current with all the new ones. Thanks for your direction through this long decent!

  5. YES! I can’t even imagine how much this will expand your capabilities…what a boon for the Cause!

    I gotta say, after reading all of posts, this one is definitely the most inspirational…and NOT necessarily because of the truck…

    The stuff you said about sharing, blurred property lines in your kids’ future, and the fact that “EASY is got us into this societal mess” REALLY hit home with me. People need to stop whining that making a difference and saving the world isn’t going to be easy or cheap…doing the right thing never is!

    Boy am I glad that there are people like you working to make my future better!

    • Thanks Kevin. Hopefully one thing you will come away with from our meeting next week is that I got a chip on my shoulder –usually in a good way. I come from a solid mix of Gaelic, Gaulic and Norse stock and didn’t fall too far from the family tree, and that’s on top of the fact that I likely have read too much Nietzsche and Robert E Howard to be entirely good for the psyche. There are things worth fighting for and there are things worth getting angry over. Passion is the fuel of the soul.

      The great thing that I have found though – that that ditching EASY makes life so much more fun. Last week pushing wheelbarrow loads of sandbags up the mild inclines through the snow on the farm was very physically taxing –arm quivering work. But by the time I was done, I felt more rested than I had in weeks. Working with purpose is deeply satisfying and so much of our modern lives are devoid of meaning making holes we try to fill with stuff. Or it could have just been the endorphins.

      See you next week!

  6. Your truck puts my truck to shame.

    • If you say so, but right now the passenger door doesn’t close and it starts like hell in the cold. I am actually looking forward to making this thing hum. I’ve been driving new imports for too long: finally something that breaks once and a while! Now I just have to find my non-metric tools…

  7. Nice, and much more practical than our Big Red Dump Truck. I wanted something like you have but couldn’t find one I could afford and somehow ended up with a monster (full size dump truck). Ours was the old town plow truck. Manual transmission from 1969 but no clutch which makes it interesting to drive. It sits mostly. I envy you your more useful sized truck!

    • Those BIG trucks are tempting – they can get be had very cheap. They literally wouldn’t fit on the lanes on our farm -sized for draft horses and Ford 9N’s so we waited for 3 months until this one came along. Being near 2 mid sized urban centers (Milwaukee / Madison) is very helpful at times.

      Thanks Jeff. Will need to repair the passenger door latch this week as well as try to troubleshoot a cold start issue. hopefully both are minor.


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