HOME & HEART: The Ladder

Richard, Karen, and Bob-O, circa 1989.

Kismet. Fate. Serendipity. Are there no coincidences? I have felt for a long time that our meeting with Home Power publishers Richard and Karen Perez was meant to be. Our connection, that seemed random at the time, changed the course of our lives in wonderful ways that continue to this day.

My husband Bob-O and I were living on a mining claim called Starveout on the Salmon River in California. We were off-grid, using a small hydroelectric turbine to power our cabin. We had a scary old Tripp Lite inverter for when we needed 120 VAC, but the rest of the house was 12 VDC.

One wintry day in 1987, we were in town at the local laundromat and found a notice on the board about a renewable energy magazine called Home Power. We could get a copy at the laundromat office just for asking. We did, and Bob-O devoured the first issue while our clothes dried.

We liked what we read and subscribed. We told our off-grid friends about the magazine. In issue HP2, Richard wrote out the instructions to build a charge controller to use with a 12 V automotive alternator turned by a small gas-engine—a popular (and cheap) way to recharge batteries in those days. Bob-O, who needed a charge controller for our microhydro system, figured that he could adapt the circuit for that, and built one. It worked so well he sent a fan letter to Richard, who responded with an enthusiastic, “Far out!”

At about the same time as HP5 was published, our friend Big Butch contacted us and said, “Let’s go visit these people. They are not that far away.” We met with Big Butch and Benny from Scott Valley Feed & Nursery and set off in Butch’s four-wheel drive. Luckily, the weather was cooperative. We found the right dirt road and headed up—and up—toward Agate Flat, Oregon, where Richard and Karen lived. We were all ham radio operators, and Richard (N7BCR), was able to direct us (KG6MM, KB6MPI) the last few confusing miles on the two-meter radio band.

We met Karen and Richard face to face. We also became acquainted with Sam Coleman, aka the Wizard (who had a column in Home Power), the dogs, and a wealth of “puddy cats” (Karen’s term of affection for her clowder of cats). Up to that point, Bob-O and I had believed that we lived “remotely,” but Agate Flat won that description hands down.

After that visit, our correspondence with Home Power grew, and eventually Bob-O and I began writing articles for the magazine. When Richard upgraded their computer, we got their old “Fat Mac” to write our articles to floppy disk and mail them to the Flat, aka Home Power Galactic Central.

Meanwhile, because of the devastating wildfires on the river the year before, Bob-O was working felling dead, burned trees far up in the Salmon Mountains known as Betchawannaland (“once you get there, betchawanna go home”). A tree he was felling hit a burned hardwood, which lifted up off the stump and chased him along his escape route. The tree won the race and broke his leg. It was a compound fracture, and it was five hours and a helicopter ride before he saw a doctor. After the surgery, I told him, “You weren’t fast enough to dodge that one and you’re not any faster now. No more felling timber.” Both Bob-O and his doctor agreed with me.

We were sitting in Bob-O’s hospital room, wondering what our next move would be. Our future felt like a deep, dark hole, although we had some savings. We really didn’t want to use that money—we had earmarked it for buying land—but it looked like we would have to, to weather this storm. Suddenly, the door opened and Karen came in, with a growler of ale from the local brewery and a proposition for us.

The Home Power business had been renting a house off Agate Flat, which they were using for storage, paste-up of the magazine, showering, and a landline phone. The owners decided they didn’t want to be absentee landlords anymore and were selling the house. Karen told us, “Buy the house and we will give you both jobs.” It was an offer we didn’t refuse.

Bob-O took over the day-to-day operation of Electron Connection, Richard’s renewable energy installation business. The business had practically been abandoned as the pressures of distributing Home Power grew as fast as the subscriptions. Bob-O got his electrical contractor’s license, first in California, and then in Oregon. I helped with whatever publishing job they needed, taking care of mail and subscriptions, mailing out back issues, and typing and editing articles. I also became the voice at the other end of the 800 phone number.

In those days, all magazines and most newspapers were “pasted up” on large sheets of thick paper, four or more pages to a sheet. The type was printed out on a quality laser printer, but all of the photos, camera-ready artwork, and ads had to be pasted onto the sheets in precisely the right spots. The bimonthly magazine paste-up day at our house became an event. Richard and Bob-O did the page paste-up on drafting tables strategically placed close to big windows for adequate light. Karen, John Pryor, and local artist Stan Krute were gofers, finding the articles and photos, and painting gum adhesive on the backs as Richard and Bob-O called for them. I spent that time cooking the most elaborate finger-food meals I could come up with. After paste-up was done and packaged to go to the printer, we would sit down to a well-deserved celebration.

After a year had gone by, Richard sold Electron Connection to Bob-O. For the magazine to be sent via second-class postage, the owners had to divest themselves of businesses connected to the magazine. Richard told me he had no qualms, as Bob-O had proven himself more than capable to carry on.

Our adventures together were legion. We traveled to energy fairs all over the country and a whole world of renewable-energy-minded people became our friends. Most of those friendships have stood the test of time.

In giving me advice on teaching my first solar cooking workshops at the fairs, Richard told me to anchor my points to a story. He said that people will remember the stories. My articles and my stories evolved into my “Home & Heart” column. It was Richard and Karen who gave me this platform.

Karen and Richard researched every choice made about the magazine’s production exhaustively, with an eye toward its environmental impact. The kind of paper used, the type of ink, who did the printing—all of it, all the time. Corners were not cut. Richard and Karen devoted their lives to Home Power, enriching us all. As Richard used to say, “Let the mutant spore spread.”

When it felt that we had fallen into a deep, dark hole, Richard and Karen Perez put down a ladder and helped us climb out into the sunlight. We will be forever grateful that they were our friends.

Comments (1)

Anna E. Scott's picture

Thank You Kathleen for the remembrance of Richard & Karen - amazing people who's work lives on. I'm so glad that I got to walk in some of your memory shoes.

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