From Gotham to isolated, code & debt-free West Texas estate

“Seven years ago John Wells sold his heavily-mortgaged home in upstate New York and bought 40 acres in West Texas for $8000. The area (Brewster County) is so isolated there are no codes or zoning restrictions so Wells built his own tiny home (in 9 days with $1600) relying on his set-building experience.

Not wanting to rely on outside labor, Wells has continued to build his own services: a solar shower, a basic composting toilet, a bike-powered washing machine, an Airstream guest house, and a huge greenhouse which also houses 4 shipping containers he hopes to convert to housing/office space.

Wells named his homestead (now 40 acres, he bought a second 20 acres for $500) the Field Lab (short for “Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory”) and he likes to experiment with off-grid solutions: one of his latest is a more-powerful solar oven.”

The Field Lab
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4 thoughts on “From Gotham to isolated, code & debt-free West Texas estate”

  1. I’m buying down there, on the ranch. I’ve lived in small towns. Not *quite* that small, but smaller than the high school I went to. The only thing that put me off doing it for several years was that it was so very far from my family. This year, I have come to recognize that it just doesn’t matter if I am close or not. They’re not big on company. So, I’m buying the land in January, and putting a cabin on it in March. Would love to do the Earthbag fort plan, but I need something I can get on site in a short time period and start finishing the interior. Maybe someday I’ll have my fort. Sigh.

  2. I’ve come within an inch of buying similar tracts of land in Brewster and Hudspeth counties, in western/southwestern Texas. In the end, I always held back for the very reasons that the guy here mentions. I’d hate to commit my resources to a venture like that and then have to abandon it because it’s too much of a lifestyle shock. :-S

    It’s good that people like this guy do these things, though. Once the zombie apocalypse comes, we’ll all need to rely on their experience. ;-]

  3. That’s West Texas for you, where a ranch can run 10 or 20,000 acres of desert. Small one bank towns like Marfa, where you walk in a store and pay for your purchase by filling in a blank check from a stack on the counter. Everybody knows one anther.

    Interesting report. Praise be to cowboys and girls.


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