The online community of knife collectors, A Knife Family Forged in Steel
Our modern society is highly dependent upon we’ll call the “system.” Not only do we rely upon utility services to bring us electricity, water and natural gas, but also on an incredibly complex supply chain which provides us with everything from food to computers. Without that supply chain, most of us wouldn’t know what to do.
This situation is actually becoming worse, rather than better. When I compare my generation (I’m in my 50s) to that of my children, I see some striking differences. In my generation it was normal for a boy to grow up learning how to do a wide variety of trade skills from his father, and seemingly everyone knew how to do basic carpentry and mechanic work. But that’s no longer normal.
If we extrapolate it back, we can see that my father’s generation knew even more – and my grandparent’s generation even more. Those older generations were much more closely tied to the roots of an agricultural society, where people were self-reliant. There are multiple skills they had which modern society no longer considers necessary.
But if we were to have a breakdown in society, those skills which we never bothered to learn would become essential. Those who don’t know these skills would either have to learn or die trying.
Here are 10 skills our grandparents knew that most of us have long forgotten:
1. Gardening for Food
During World War II, there was a campaign for people to plant “Victory Gardens” at their homes. These vegetable gardens were needed to alleviate food shortages, because so much of the nation’s produce was being sent overseas to keep our troops and those of our allies fighting. With fewer men available to work the farms, there was less produce available.
This custom of having a vegetable garden in one’s backyard survived for many years after the war was over, but it gradually died out. Today, when many people think of gardening, they are thinking of a flower garden. While those are nice to look at, they don’t give you much to eat.
Starting and growing a vegetable garden can be harder than most people think. When I started gardening, it took me three years to get more than just herbs and a smattering of produce out of it. I’m glad I didn’t wait until I needed that garden for survival.
2. Animal Husbandry
Although the industrial revolution took place more than 100 years ago, many people continued to raise at least a small amount of their own livestock at home. This led to cities enacting ordinances limiting what animals people could keep within city limits.
Raising dogs and cats is much different than raising chickens, rabbits and goats for the table. A large part of being able to raise these animals is recognizing their needs and being able to diagnose their sicknesses. Farmers don’t depend upon the vet for most illnesses; they take care of it themselves.
3. Butchering an Animal
Raising an animal is one thing, butchering it is another. Few hunters even know how to properly butcher an animal, as most take them to a butcher for cutting up and packaging. Yet, an animal which is not properly cleaned and butchered can cause disease. You can also waste a lot of good meat by not doing it correctly.
4. Food Preservation
It’s rare to find people who preserve their own foods, but in our grandparent’s generation, it was common. Canning food, smoking meats and even making one’s own sausage were all common home tasks, which ensured that people had enough food to get through the winter. Today, it’s rare to find people who know these methods of food preservation, let alone having the equipment needed.
If we go back very far in American live, pretty much every middle class home had a smokehouse for preserving meats. I’ve seen some homes where the smokehouse was actually in the kitchen chimney. Instead of building a normal chimney, they had a very wide one, with enough room to hang sides of beef in it for smoking.
You might think that blacksmithing goes all the way back to the Old West, but in actuality it is a skill that stayed around much longer than that. My dad was a blacksmith in his later years, although most of the work he did was ornamental.
I remember traveling in Mexico about 20 years ago and having a spring on my car’s suspension break. A local blacksmith fashioned me a new spring, tempered and shaped exactly right for my vehicle. Blacksmiths can make or repair just about anything out of metal. Yet few today know this valuable skill.
Maybe we don’t need blacksmiths today, but if an EMP hit the country and we were without electrical power, the skills of a blacksmith would allow people to have their tools repaired — and new ones fashioned. Since the manufacturing plants presumably would be shut down, that ability would be essential for rebuilding America.
6. Basic Carpentry
7. Basic Mechanical Repair
Depending upon the type of disaster that hits, the family car may just end up being a large paperweight. But there are many survival scenarios where it would be useful to be able to fix your car, keeping it running for general use. As long as there is gasoline, that car would be useful.
The ability to diagnose and repair an engine is useful not only for keeping a car on the road, but also for fixing lawn mowers, chain saws and other power tools.
8. Herbal Medicine
The roots of medicine were herbal medicine. While doctors have existed for millennia, it hasn’t been until recent times that those doctors had such a wide range of pharmaceuticals to work with. Before that, doctors made their own medicines.
Many women also learned to use what nature provided for medicine. It was not uncommon a few generations back for mom to take care of her family’s medical needs, using recipes that she had learned from her mother. Today, that sort of medicine is called “old wives’ tales” but it works just as well as it always did.
9. Horseback Riding
This may not seem like much of a survival skill, but in the Old West, stealing a man’s horse was a hanging offense. That’s because being stranded without a horse was generally a death sentence. While horseback riding today is only done for sport, if the automobile becomes no longer usable, people will be looking for horses once again.
Riding a horse is actually more complicated than the movies make it appear. Breaking a horse is a skill that few know. Likewise, there are few today, outside of the drivers for the Budweiser Clydesdales, who know how to hitch and drive a team of horses. But in America’s past, our ancestors drove teams with as many as 40 horse or mules in them.
Now, I know there are a lot of hunters out there, maybe even some who are reading this. But I have to say that a lot of what we call hunting today and what I learned as a kid are nothing alike. I have a hard time calling it hunting when corn is put out as bait and the hunter hides in a blind, waiting for their choice deer to come to eat.
Real hunting, at least what they did in the past, involved knowing the animal’s habits and staking out a place where the animals were likely to come. It required patience, understanding of the animals being hunted — and a pretty good shot with the rifle.
My Grandfather kept a variety of poultry for eggs and meat , also every year he had a pig which he raised for meat. I remember seeing him brushing his pig who liked it a lot , I don't know if he killed and butchered it himself though I wouldn't be surprised if he did . I have done some deer stalking as opposed to shooting them from a hide and have butchered quite a few , though not for a few years now.
Funny John that few would think that riding a horse or hitching and driving a team could be considered a dying skill and something as simple as growing food would become a lost art
another I would add to the list...fishing
I think that a lot of the old skills are lost because to learn them properly you do need a deal of commitment . Skills were learned in the past by being shown something and then repeating the same thing over and over , every day until mastery was achieved . Now things are taught in a classroom and an intellectual understanding is enough . I learned to make my own bread from books it took years , if I had been able to learn from someone who had mastered the art then it would have saved me an awful lot of time. I had no one to learn from so just went on making mistakes until I ran out of mistakes to make .
Jan, Amen to what you have written- Fortunately, I am 61 and grew up on a farm and was exposed to all of the above 10, even the blacksmithing-- My dad wasn't a blacksmith, but my small hometown did have a blacksmith--I grew up watching the blacksmith work, as that is where you went if you broke a tine or a blade on farm equipment- I spent many, many hours at Robey's Blacksmith shop- I do, however, have 2 additions to your list---
1- Teaching your children a work ethic-- I started working on the farm when I was knee high to a grasshopper- How I learned to do most everything you mentioned, plus that work ethic of hard work equals reward carried me throughout my career.
2- Foraging for food- I used to read everything Euell Gibbons( now deceased) wrote on" Stalking The Wild Foods"- Wild things you never thought of as a food source are surprisingly delicious and nutritious- Heck, you can even make a very tasty wine from dandelions- BTW, for those of you who never heard of Euell Gibbons, he authored several books on the subject, and was a monthly contributor to the old True magazine-- My favorite magazine of the day--
Got to thinking adout this after a friend on Facebook posted a photo of the first Foxfire book. Great series that discusses these lost skills. Several volumes are still available as PDF downloads on the internet. http://www.shtfinfo.com/shtffiles/books_and_reading/Eliot%20Wigginton/
JJ thanks for the link. I downloaded all six and read the introduction in book 1.
1 - 4 are good copies, James. 5&6 are poor copies, but readable. I was able to find 10&11, but cant remember where.
With my other studies and trying to get a business off the ground, these will likely keep me in reading material for a while. I did notice 5&6 have problems, but as long as I can read the page it will be good. Thanks again.
I LOVE those books, this past winter Donnie and I have been re reading the est at least 1-5. Rabun County Ga is just 29 miles from where we live now
That is some great information. I am always wanting to learn more and especially the ways of old. I am glad to have learned even the small amount of skills I have and hope I can learn more of these in the years ahead.
You need to visit the Foxfire museum, in Mountain City, Jan.