On Gadgets


It’s a little known fact that the managers at the local Tractor Supply Co and Home Depot franchises have recently seen the same specialist to cure the same problem. It seems their salivary glands go hyperactive anytime they see me roll into the parking lot.

If you have a small farm, you know that there are all sorts of gadgets you can buy to “help” you.  Now, I’m a gadget guy – and my wallet and I are drawn to them like bugs to a zapper – but I’m also honest with myself.  I’m firmly convinced that very few of these machines, slicers, dicers, and automatic car washers actually result in a net gain in productivity, though some of them are just downright fun (as in the “Whiz-Bang Chicken Plucker,” which we don’t currently own… yet).

What’s a Whiz-Bang?  The story about it is on the inventor’s website, with some great photos and descriptions; however, while a photo says a thousand words, a video is even more verbose.  A bit of Google-Fu gives us an example:

Where were we?  Oh yeah, why gadgets rarely result in a net gain:

Say a person makes the US median income – about $45K a year, or $22.50 per hour.  He or she takes pride in his/her lawn and edges it every week from April to September using  an old-fashioned rotary-blade manual push edger for the task, a good workout that takes an hour to complete.  By the way, we’re talking about “a person,” not me.  I don’t edge my lawn.  It’s not visible from the road, I’m not exactly sure how one edges a gravel drive, and my wife normally mows the lawn anyhow… a long story involving lions, beavers, and USAF flight training.

Back to the story.  One day at Home Depot, said person notices that the Binford 2000 gas-powered Lux-o-Edger (with patented dual counter-rotating blades of turf death) is on sale for only $250.  The sales associate expresses horror when hearing about the old-fashioned edger our person currently uses and says “This baby will do the job in half the time.”

Our gadget guy (oops – I just lost the non-gender-specific edge, I guess) buys the edger, gas can, oil, extended warranty, storage cover, and auxiliary lighting system, and laser grass illuminator, checking out for $350.  Over the two-year life of edger (exactly the length of the extended warranty), he also spends another $100 in gas and parts, bringing the total cost to about $450.  In the end, he saves 20 hours of labor (24 minus  the 4 he spends changing the plugs and oil, and sharpening the dual counter-rotating blades of turf death), which at his hourly wage is worth about $450.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close my Macbook and go spend some time adjusting our automatic chicken coop door.  Maybe I’ll use the tractor to turn the manure pile also, since it’s so much easier than using a shovel.  Afterwards, I’ll go scrounging for a food drum for a project I’ve been considering.  I’ve already got the motor….

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