Quest for knowledge puts boys in real-life settings to help owners

Bill Ensinger, holding daughter Elizabeth, shows a Tulis boy, 10, around Dixie Does farm in Dayton, Tenn.

By David Tulis

Today I delivered a 10-year-old boy to Dixies Does farm in Dayton, Tenn., so the boy could help Bill Ensinger and his wife, Becky, work on the farm. Morning mist clung to the hilltops as we arrived and Mr. Ensinger gave us a quick tour of day’s work before I headed back to my home office in Soddy-Daisy.

“OK, we’re going to be doing some weeding, and this whole row of gardens next to me need to be weeded,” he said as ducks guzzled noisily nearby at the swingset. “There’s potatoes. There’s corn. There’s asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes and a variety of others things. There are a lot of weeds of a similar kind. So we are going to pull out those weeds. So Jacob can recognize the weeds I’ll keep him to the same kind of weed, and I’ll identify the weeds that are of various different kinds.”

Will the weeds come out easily? “They should be, because it is very wet, and come out easily when it’s wet. *** The ducks are all over here,” and he points to a row of bushes with a fence behind. “They are waiting to be fed right now and their eggs, they usually lay those overnight, they’re all along the edge of the yard underneath bushes there where the grass has grown tall — that’s where they like to make their nests, so we’re going to collect those eggs.”

The Ensingers sell the eggs and other goodies Saturday morning at Brainerd Farmers Market on Brainerd and Belvoir Avenue and also at the Ooltewah Farmer’s Market at the Ooltewah nursery on Thursday afternoons from 3 to 6.

If it rains today in Dayton, Mr. Ensinger said, the boy would be inside helping wrap goats milk soaps that Mrs. Ensinger makes and sells online at (see the ad at right). Or he might be helping Mr. Ensinger install some radiant barrier insulation in his attic.

Dogs greet visitors at the Bill Ensinger farm in Dayton, Tenn., host of Dixie farm challenge, involving a boy from the Tulis family.

I had had a struggle to get Jacob to accept going for a second day. The night before, I sat him down in my office and shut the door, talking, listening into long silences from him, ready to wait him out. The only substantive objection I could wring from him was this: “The goats make me feel uncomfortable.” He wasn’t scared of goats, he insisted. We talked long into the evening about why he is taking part in the Dixie farm challenge. Mr. Ensinger is a hard-pressed farmer with a wife and small children, and is struggling to make a living, I said. We care for him.

He is a good man, a Christian, and loves God, and loves the earth. He’s a member of our church. Tulises, I said, are people who value knowledge. For a young man, knowledge is far more important than Federal Reserve notes. It’s important that Jacob, as an apprentice and student, have the run of the place, and that he know how everything works, where everything goes, and what tasks that Mr. Ensinger has before him. He must live imaginatively, thoughtfully, to help this man to prosper, as God requires of His people. For example, I said, Mr. Ensinger knows he has delayed too long making an earthwork repair around the goat barn, and recent rains have flooded the barn. So Jacob needs to be available to help Mr. Ensinger extend the moat.

While Jacob worked under an overcast sky that threatened rain all day, I was at my little radio station interviewing Roger Lemay, who runs Lemay Auto Repair in Soddy-Daisy. A second Tulis boy, 17, is apprenticing with Mr. Lemay, who is one of five generations in the car repair line, his two sons following him in the work at the Dayton Pike shop.

National chains vs. local business

I want my son to learn mechanics — calipers, fuel pumps, alternators — but also the fleshed-out theories of local economy. I ask Mr. Lemay about national chains such as Pep Boys or Goodyear. “I don’t think buying from a big company is always cheaper. In fact, I recommend that your listeners if they go to a major chain, bring me a written estimate *** and I’m just about certain a majority of the time I can meet or beat their price. Because their markup is much higher than what ours are. Because I can give you personal service; I am going to know your needs, what you want you can afford to do at that time. You know, a coupon is a lead-in in my industry. You should never base an auto mechanic on a coupon.” Go by ability, referrals and reputation.

Mr. Lemay avoids trading with big business when he can. “I try to support local business — Soddy-Daisy,” he tells me. “I look at it this way. If I spend my money in Soddy-Daisy, that means that business owner creates a job for someone that lives in Soddy-Daisy. That person in turn, if they get money, that person comes to me to have their car fixed. I can turn around and spend my money at their locations. It stays here. Otherwise you are dealing with big business that they’re in another state or in another country somewhere, just collecting the money, and it doesn’t come back here.” A big business that closes in one’s town “can crumble your economy because of just one store.”

He will never be a big a player in the auto repair field because of the claims of scale. “I want to be personal with my clients,” he says. Much of our interview touches on questions of relational economics. He says the idol of the dollar overwhelms many people, and that readers and listeners need to have relations of trust with service providers so that they can bring a car for repair without shopping out the job.

Craig Lemay, the elder son, 21, is entering the industry and is working toward being a technician. Drew, 17, is a Sequoyah high school student in mechanics. “I hope to have a true family business,” their dad says. “We want to leave an imprint here in Soddy-Daisy. We want people to trust us.”

Small business is “the backbone of America” while Wal-Mart comes into a town and ruins many small rivals. There is “absolutely” a conflict between national and local economy. At the beginning, a big rival with deep pockets outlasts and outprices the small shop.

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